May the road rise up to meet you.
A popular Irish blessing (in Irish Gaelic: Go n-éirí an bóthar leat). One of the main characteristics of Celtic Christianity is the use of images of nature to show how God interacts with people. “May the road rise up to meet you/ May the wind be always at your back/ May the sun shine warm upon you face …” uses everyday images to mean, may God remove obstacles in your journey through life.
One of the most famous Bridges that I have visited was definitely the Bridge on the River Kwai. During World War 2, the Japanese used Allied prisoners of war to build a railway from Thailand to Burma so they could supply their army without the dangers of sending supplies by sea. Many prisoners died under appalling conditions during its construction, and the line became known as the ‘Death Railway’.
It was immortalized in David Lean’s 1957 film ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ which centers around one of the line’s main engineering feats, the bridge across the Kwae Yai River just north of Kanchanburi. The Bridge on the River Kwai really exists, and still carries regular passenger trains from Bangkok as far as Nam Tok.
.According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
“The notorious Burma-Siam railway, built by Commonwealth, Dutch and American prisoners of war, was a Japanese project driven by the need for improved communications to support the large Japanese army in Burma. During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labour brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma. Two labour forces, one based in Siam and the other in Burma worked from opposite ends of the line towards the center.”
One of my first great adventures was exploring England, nearly ten years ago. Very high on my England Travel wish-list was definitely the much speculated about Stonehenge. It is one of the mystical places where it seems nobody actually knows what it was used for or by whom it was built. It is surrounded in mystery and your imagination can run wild with all the different stories about Stonehenge out there.
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England and undoubtedly one of the most famous sites in the world. Stonehenge is the remains of a ring of standing stones Archaeologists believe was built anywhere from 3000 BC to 2000 BC.
As we approached Stonehenge we could actually see it from the bus as the main road actually passes right by it. This was very disappointing as it took a bit of the magic away for me. I imagined walking across a green field with Stonehenge in the distance. surrounded by nature and quiet.
As a child I used to spend hours watching Asterix and Obelix and in my mind they are synonymous with the magical Stonehenge found in the South West of England. As I walked around the massive stone obelisks I could almost imagine a Druid lurking somewhere between these huge rocks. I read somewhere that Stonehenge appeared due to the druids that used it as a sacrificial temple for making their gory rituals. It was one of the first visions disproved with the development of the science and technologies but I still like the idea.
Wild theories about Stonehenge have persisted since the Middle Ages, with 12th-century myths crediting the wizard Merlin with constructing the site. More recently, UFO believers have spun theories about ancient aliens and spacecraft landing pads.
Here are five major (and not necessarily mutually exclusive) reasons Stonehenge might exist.
1. A place for burial
Stonehenge may have originally been a cemetery for the elite, according to a new study. Bone fragments were first exhumed from the Stonehenge site more than a century ago, but archaeologists at the time thought the remains were unimportant and reburied them. Now, British researchers have re-exhumed more than 50,000 cremated bone fragments from where they were discarded, representing 63 separate individuals, from Stonehenge.
2. A place for healing
Another theory suggests that Stone Age people saw Stonehenge as a place with healing properties. In 2008, archaeologists Geoggrey Wainwright and Timothy Darvill reported that a large number of skeletons recovered from around Stonehenge showed signs of illness or injury. The archaeologists also reported discovering fragments of the Stonehenge bluestones — the first stones erected at the site — that had been chipped away by ancient people, perhaps to use as talismans for protective or healing purposes.
3. A soundscape
Or perhaps Stonehenge’s circular construction was created to mimic a sound illusion. That’s the theory of Steven Waller, a researcher in archaeoacoustics. Waller says that if two pipers were to play their instruments in a field, a listener would notice a strange effect. In certain spots, the sound waves from the dual pipes would cancel each other out, creating quiet spots. The stones of Stonehenge create a similar effect, except with stones, rather than competing sound waves, blocking sound.
4. A celestial observatory
No matter why it was built, Stonehenge may have been constructed with the sun in mind. One avenue connecting the monument with the nearby River Aven aligns with the sun on the winter solstice; archaeological evidence reveals that pigs were slaughtered at Stonehenge in December and January, suggesting possible celebrations or rituals at the monument around the winter solstice. The site also faces the summer solstice sunrise, and both summer and winter solstices are still celebrated there today.
5. A team-building exercise
Or perhaps Stonehenge was something like an ancient team-building exercise. According to the University College London’s Pearson, the beginning of the site’s construction coincides with a time of increased unity among the Neolithic people of Britain. Perhaps inspired by the natural flow of the landscape, which seems to connect summer solstice sunrise and winter solstice sunset, these ancient people may have banded together to build the monument, Pearson suggested in June 2012.
Published as part of Throwback Thursday. It is a weekly reminiscent movement where you re-post past events or photos. They can be from years ago or from just a few days ago. Its a great way to look back fondly on some of your favorite memories……
The history of Korea is filled with wars. Korea has suffered from many attacks by Mongolians, Chinese and Japanese, but has always survived. The War Memorial Museum in Seoul gave me a glimpse of the turbulent history that Koreans have been through.
There were some very interesting information inside and the military tanks and planes outside were quite stunning to see and have a closer look at. I have visited war memorial museums in different countries and each time it leaves me saddened at the horrors that we as humans do to each other.
As the sun was setting we drove up to the North Seoul tower on Namsan Mountain. We went up the mountain by cable car with spectacular views of the whole city as the sun set. From the Seoul Tower you get a spectacular view over the city from 370 meters above sea level. The 218-meter high tower is built on the peak of the Namsan Mountain located in the heart of Seoul.
That evening I booked into a love motel, as it was the cheapest I could find that evening and I didn’t have the energy to look for a hostel. All I wanted was a warm place to sleep before catching the bus the next morning.
During January ’08 I taught English at a winter camp in South Korea. The school was in the South so I only got to explore Seoul for a weekend. My month in South-Korea was very interesting and definitely a culture shock but not a place I would like to live in for too long. I was offered a longer contract after my winter camp finished but I declined ads I was hungry. Yes, I was hungry as I don’t much like the spicy food of South Korea.
Visiting Seoul was a great way to get to know a bit more about the culture of this interesting country. The city bus tour is a great way to see the city and everything it has to offer but in the winter everything closes after 3 pm so maybe exploring during the summer would be more rewarding.
The main tourist attraction is Gyeongbokgung palace. It is the biggest palace in Seoul, and reminded me of the early years of Korean dynasties that I have read about or seen in movies. Most of the buildings had been reconstructed after the Japanese destroyed nearly all 330 buildings. The 48-columned pavilion still give you an idea of how it must have looked once.
It was very cold outside and all the ponds were frozen over. The grounds of the palace is barren in the winter but it was so beautiful! Unfortunately it seems like each palace or temple in South Korea looks like the previous one you just saw and it is quite hard to distinguish them from each other.
The only obvious thing that stood out about Changdeokgung palace which was its big gardens stretching throughout the palace. This palace is on the World Heritage site and took me along Seoul’s oldest stone bridge, the mansion of Naksonjae and the wonderful secret gardens of Biwon.
I only had 24 hours to explore Seoul and think that there are a lot more to see and experience. Which places would you recommend for my next visit?
I took my family on the hop on hop off red bus tour of Cape Town and one of the main stops was the Castle Of Good Hope. I actually live just down the street from the Castle, a star or pentagonal shaped fort built in the 17th century here in Cape Town, South Africa. Its position, although unremarkable today, indicates the original position of the shoreline, which, thanks to land reclamation, has been extensively changed. It’s strange to think that the original entrance to the fort had to be moved due to the waves that sometimes pounded against its doors!
The main entrance to the Castle still bears many reminders of the nearly one and a half centuries of Dutch presence in the Cape. Sections of the moat, which previously formed part of the defence system of the Castle, were rebuilt in 1992 and it adds to the authentic castle atmosphere.
Built by Jan van Riebeeck and the Dutch East India Company, the building was completed in 1679. The Castle of Good Hope is now the oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa. The building’s 18th-century décor has been restored and it now functions as a popular museum.
At 11am we joined the first free Castle tour of the day. Not only did we get to see the castle but we also learnt a lot about its history and what went on here years ago.
During the tour the guide took us for a walk atop the battlement. The Castle was planned from a central point with five bastions, named after the main titles of Willem, the Prince of Orange. The Western bastion was named Leerdam, followed in clockwise order by Buuren, Catzenellenbogen, Nassau and Oranje. From the battlement we had a phenomenal 360 degree view over Table Mountain, Devil’s Peak, Lion’s Head, the towers of the city centre and the other districts in the east.
The tour lasted just about 30 minutes leading us through all the main features of the Castle.
The Dolphin Pool, today is a recreation after the original had been demolished by the British.
The tour took us into places the public wouldn’t ordinarily be allowed to visit including the old prison cells and the gunpowder store room underneath one of the bastions. We even got to go into the torture chamber where confessions would be drawn from men whether they were innocent or guilty.
The fortress was once the centre of civilian, political and military life. Today the Castle of Good Hope is seat of the military in the Cape and hosts three museums, including: Castle Military Museum, Iziko Hope Gallery and William Fehr Collection, in which rooms are historically decorated with furniture, paintings and accessories of the 17th to 19th century.
The fortress housed a church, bakery, various workshops, living quarters, shops, and cells, among other facilities. They say the yellow paint on the walls was originally chosen because it lessened the effect of heat and the sun. It didnt do much to cool us down on this hot and sunny day, except when you were inside the cool building.
After the tour there was enough time to stroll around, take photos and to visit one of the museums before we continued our red bus tour.
I must admit that the tour should be a priority for anyone looking for a fun and well informed venture around the castle. The Castle of Good Hope is not just for history lovers or military fans but also for families, tourists and locals a perfect excursion, a Cape Town must!
This week, share an image of something creepy. Unsettling. Eerie. Disgusting.
My most unsettling and creepy travel experience was visiting the Killing Fields of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. This mass murder site, where the Khmer Rouge executed about 17,000 people between 1975 and 1979 is definitely very unsettling. The place is filled with mass graves containing thousands of bodies , many of the dead former inmates in the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Pehn. Displaying the skulls and bones of these murdered people in a grisly tower definitely brings to home the horror of this place.
This huge Buddhist stupa, also known as the Choeung Ek Memorial is filled with more than 5,000 human skulls; many of which are shattered showing the brutality of the killings. It is believed that the Khmer Rouge soldiers killed their victims by smashing them on the head, in order to save on bullets.
This was one of my most disturbing visits ever. The most horific part was to be reminded how cruel humans can be towards each other.
This shows the ugly side of Cambodia which is a beautiful country!
The first week I was in Moscow I couldnt wait to explore the iconic Red square and my wanderings took me into St Basils Cathedral with its ice-cream coloured onion domes. This Cathedral represents Moscow on so many postcards and photos that it has become one of the first things people think of when Moscow is mentioned.
This beautiful and very colourful Cathedral was erected over the spot where Basil the Blessed, a Muscovite ‘holy fool’ was buried. According to legend he used to run around the red square naked and tell everybody their fortunes! That must have been a very funny site indeed, and quite weird that Moscow would name a Cathedral after a crazy naked dude.
The building of the Cathedral was ordered by Ivan the Terrible in1552 and was only completed in 1560. Taking into account that everything has to be done by hand, 8 years is probably not that long.
Walking up to this colourful Cathedral I could hardly contain my excitement. I was about to enter one of the most famous sites in the world!! I stood staring at the cathedral for quite a while as it took my breath away. The Cathedral chapels is a riot of colour and shapes, each unique and dedicated to a specific saint. I can truly believe that Basil’s Cathedral is unmatched anywhere else in the world.
I found this quote from a French diplomat that perfectly describes what the onion domes look like:
“the scales of a golden fish, the enameled skin of a serpent, the changeful hues of the lizard, the glossy rose and azure of the pigeon’s neck” and wondered at “the men who go to worship God in this box of confectionery work.”
There are no cars allowed on the Red square, but I think there once must have been as there is a zebra crossing painted in front of the Cathedral. I made sure to get a photo of me sitting on this zebra crossing. And had a failed attempt at getting a photo of me jumping in fron of St Basils.
A huge bronze statue commemorating Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin, who rallied Russia’s volunteer army against the Polish invaders in the late 16th century dominate the front garden of St Basils.
I found that the inside is a maze of galleries winding from chapel to chapel and level to level through narrow stairways and low arches. I soon found out that it’s easy to lose your bearings and end up in the same little chapel more than once while attempting to walk through this maze. Unlike most of the other Cathedrals found in Moscow, St Basils is not a working Cathedral anymore, which is quite sad as it is so beautiful.
As I got to the top of the first flight of stairs and entered the huge round chapel I was greeted by beautiful choir music. Although its not a working Cathedral, a small choir singing the most beautiful songs can be found here every day. Having the Cathedral filled with their beautiful music creates a warm atmosphere and adds to the feeling of the place being holy. I stood listening until they finished their set and then even bought their music CD. Its the [perfect music to play on a cold rainy night and will always bring back very fond memories of Moscow and my Russian adventure.
In my wanderings I found a little empty chapel and inside where they were showing a video that depicted the demolishing and then re-construction of St Basils. Although it was in Russian, like most of the signs inside, it was worth watching.
On my way out I got a coin stamped with the image of St Basils as my souvenir of the day and crossed the Red Square again to continue my exploration of Moscow.
Definitely going to visit St Basils again!!!
Throwback Thursday, is a weekly reminiscent movement where you re-post past events or photos. They can be from years ago or from just a few days ago. Its a great way to look back fondly on some of your favorite memories……
Symmetry. Architecture that is balanced in its use of lines and shapes creating rhythms in the structure. These are the magnificent pillars found at Luxor Temple in Egypt. Its amazing what can be built without the help of technology.
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Leicester Square is London’s home of entertainment. This is where you can enjoy a west end show, an international cinema premiere, relax in one of the many hotels, restaurants and bars or visit one of London’s top attractions.
With Trafalgar Square to the south, Piccadilly Circus to the west, China Town to the north and Covent Garden to the east, Leicester Square is right in the thick ofThe West End.
Published as part of Wordless Wednesday.
Ephesus which was established as a port, used to be the most important commercial or trade centre of the ancient world due to its very fertile valley and its strategic location. It was definitely a magnificent city during its prime and was filled with many important structures.
The city was not only famed for the Temple of Artemis or the Library of Celsus but also for its theater which was capable of holding 25,000 spectators. This Theater is believed to be the largest outdoor theater of the ancient world. The Great Theater, is a dramatic and impressive sight.
This Outdoor Theater, built on the slopes of Mount Panayir, was constructed during the reign of Lysimachos. Like all the other ancient theatres, the theatre consisted of three main sections: the skene (stage building) , the orchestra ( place of action for the actors) and the cavea (auditorium) where the audience sat. Of the skene, which was approximately 18 meters high, only pieces remain.
The theatrical productions in the classical period were performed by male actors who wore masks on their faces. These and other elements related to the social life in Ephesus during its period of greatest splendour have been inferred from the frescoes decorating several walls of the so-called Houses on the slope.
This Great Theater was used initially for drama performances, but during later Roman times gladiatorial combats were also held on its stage. The first archaeological evidence of a gladiator graveyard was found in May 2007. It must have been an amazing sight having around 25 000 people watching Gladiators fight to the death in this beautiful valley.
The auditorium is actually still used today for seating the public during the performances in this theatre. This Outdoor Theater is arranged in three large semi-circles broken-up by eleven wedges of steps separated by entrance staircases. The original theatre could seat about 25 000 and the auditorium originally rose for at least 30 meters over the orchestra, crowned at the summit by a porticoed structure which had the function of further improving the acoustics in the complex.
There are magnificent views to be had from the top. Most of the marble paving and some lower elements of the backdrop remain on the stage.
The cavea has sixty six rows of seats, divided by two diazoma (walkway between seats) into three horizontal sections. There are three sections of seats. In the lower section, Marble pieces, used for restoration, and the Emperor’s Box were found. The seats with backs ,made of marble, were reserved for important people. The audience entered from the upper cavea.
Today, the theater is restored and is put to use every May during the Selçuk Ephesus Festival of Culture and Art.
Another treasure to be found at Ephesus is the remains of the Temple of Hadrian. It is quite spectacular that any of this beautiful temple has survived through the destructive history of what once was a magnificent city.
An inscription shows that the Temple of Hadrian was erected around 118 AD but underwent repairs in the 4th century and has been re-erected from surviving fragments. The facade of the temple has four Corinthian square columns supporting a curved arch. It was during the course of restorations that the four decorative reliefs were added to the lintels of the interior of the porch. In the arch over the main portalon the the keystone is a carving of a half-nude woman surrounded by acanthus leaves. Some identify the figure as Medusa, symbolically keeping evil spirits away others say it is Tyche, goddess of victory.
The name “Temple of Hadrian” is not really accurate: it is more a monument than a temple, and was dedicated not only to Hadrian but also Artemis and the people of Ephesus. The temple was depicted on the reverse of the Turkish 20 million lira banknote of 2001–2005 and of the 20 new lira banknote of 2005–2009.
The interior of the monument is decorated with panels of reliefs along the top. The reliefs in the upper sections are casts, the originals now being exhibited in the Ephesus Archaeological Museum. A number of figures are depicted in the reliefs, including the emperor Theodosius I with his wife and eldest son. It is said that Emperor Hadrian was one of the Five of Good Emperors. The Five Good Emperors is a term that refers to five consecutive emperors of the Roman Empire— Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius.
Hadrian was active in the wars against the Dacians and reputedly won awards from Trajan for his successes. Due to an absence of military action in his reign, Hadrian’s military skill is not well attested, however his keen interest and knowledge of the army and his demonstrated skill of administration show possible strategic talent.
Hadrian appears to have been a man of mixed sexual interests. The Historia Augusta criticizes both his liking of goodlooking young men as well as his adulteries with married women.It is belived that he tried to poison his wife. When it comes to Hadrian’s homosexuality, then the accounts remain vague and unclear. Most of the attention centres on the young Antinous, whom Hadrian grew very fond of. Statues of Antinous have survived, showing that imperial patronage of this youth extended to having sculptures made of him. In AD 130 Antinous accompanied Hadrian to Egypt. It was on a trip on the Nile when Antinous met with an early and somewhat mysterious death. Officially, he fell from the boat and drowned.
Hadrian died in 138 on the tenth day of July, in his villa at Baiae at age 62. However, the man who had spent so much of his life traveling had not yet reached his journey’s end. He was buried first at Puteoli, near Baiae, on an estate which had once belonged to Cicero. Soon after, his remains were transferred to Rome and buried in the Gardens of Domitia, close by the almost-complete mausoleum. Upon the completion of the Tomb of Hadrian in Rome in 139 by his successor Antoninus Pius, his body was cremated, and his ashes were placed there together with those of his wife Vibia Sabina and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who also died in 138. Sounds like he is spending eternity with the woman he tried to poison.
One of the most recognized and most famous buildings of the ancient city of Ephesis is the Library of Celsus. Before traveling to Turkey and reading up on the history of this ancient city I admit that I thought this Library was the most significant part of Ephesus. I quickly learned that it is the one structure that is most in tact although other buildings like the Temple of Artemis was actually what made Ephesus famous.
Ephesus contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. As I walked through these ruins on the marble pathways and roads that have been restored I again marveled at the amazing structures there must have been. Only an estimated 15% has been excavated so far and so many treasures could still be unearthed. The ruins that are visible give some idea of the city’s original splendor but as so much has been destroyed or removed I think it is going to be hard to picture the full magnificence of what this city once was.
As I walked down the column lined Harbor Street down towards where the the harbour used to be I was greeted by what is left of this magnificent Library of Celsus. All that is left of this world famous library is the façade which has been carefully reconstructed from all its original pieces.
Designed with an exaggerated entrance the building faces east so that the reading rooms could make best use of the morning light.
This Library was originally built c. 125 AD in memory of Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, an Ancient Greek who served as governor of Roman Asia (105–107) in theRoman Empire. Celsus paid for the construction of the library with his own personal wealth and is buried in a sarcophagus beneath it. It is not clear of they have excavated this sarcophagus or if he still rests below his beloved library. The library once held nearly 12,000 scrolls, histories and legends that are now lost forever. Every now and again there are stories or legends about some of these scrolls that survived but they have never turned up anywhere.
When visiting Ephesus in Turkey I was greeted by the remains of a magnificent ancient culture and people of which today nearly nothing remains. Ephesus was an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia, three kilometers southwest of present-day Selçuk. It was built in the 10th century BC on the site of the former Arzawan capital by Attic and Ionian Greek colonists.
According to myth the founder of Ephesus was a prince of Athens named Androklos, who had to leave his country after the death of his father, King Kadros. According to the legend, he founded Ephesus on the place where the oracle of Delphi became reality (“A fish and a boar will show you the way”). Androklos was a successful warrior, and as a king he was able to join the twelve cities of Ionia together into the Ionian League. It was during his reign that the city began to prosper.
The city Ephesus had many amazing structures but it was famed for the Temple of Artemis which was completed around 550 BC. This Temple is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World although there is scarcely anything left today. The Ephesians were surprisingly modern in their social relations back then. They allowed strangers to integrate, education was valued and through the cult of Artemis, the city became a bastion of women’s rights. Ephesus even had female artists which is unheard of in those days.
When Alexander the Great defeated the Persian forces in 334 BC, the Greek cities of Asia Minor were liberated. Unfortunately in 356 BC the temple of Artemis was burned down by a lunatic called Herostratus. The inhabitants of Ephesus at once set about restoring the temple and even planned a larger and grander one than the original. The city flourished again after it came under the control of the Roman Republic in 129 BC. According to estimates Ephesus had a population of 33,600 to 56,000 people in the Roman period, making it the third largest city of Roman Asia Minor.
In 268 AD, the Temple was damaged in a raid by the Goths. Emperor Constantine I rebuilt much of the city and its temples after 268 AD and even erected new public baths. Unfortunately, what remained of this amazing temple was destroyed in 401 AD by a mob led by St. John Chrysostom. And then the town was again partially destroyed by an earthquake in 614 AD. There seems to be one disaster after the other where Ephesus is concerned.
The rest of the history of Ephesus is very vague untill in 1304 the city surrendered to Sasa Bey, a Turkish warlord. It is said that contrary to the terms of the surrender the Turks pillaged the church of Saint John and deported most of the local population to Thyrea, Greece and many of the remaining inhabitants were massacred. The city knew again a short period of prosperity during the 14th century under new Seljuk rulers who added important architectural works such as the İsa Bey Mosque, caravansaries and Turkish bathhouses (hamam).
Ephesians were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire for the first time in 1390. The Central Asian warlord Tamerlane defeated the Ottomans in Anatolia in 1402, and the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I died in captivity. The region was restored to the Anatolian beyliks. After a period of unrest, the region was again incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1425. Ephesus was completely abandoned by the 15th century and left to fall into ruins.
The Temple of Artemis, is represented only by one inconspicuous column, revealed during an archaeological excavation by the British Museum in the 1870s. The Temple of Artemis, was one of the seven churches of Asia that are cited in the Book of Revelations, proving how old and important this temple was.
If you look at the history of this amazing place it had to rise out of the ashes like a phoenix more than once but lost in the end.
Turkey is one of those countries which has changed identity and cultures so many times that it has turned into a unique country with a unique culture. Exploring this culture rich country has been one of my most amazing adventures.
The beautiful Hagia Sophia, Turkeys’ Church-turned-Mosque served as the principal mosque of Istanbul, then Constantinople, for almost 500 years.
If you ever get to visit Istanbul you have to make a point of exploring Hagia Sofia, one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture in Turkey. It is one of those places you will have to visit more than once as it is so overwhelming that you cant take everything in during your first visit.
I have already posted about my visit to this amazing building but had a couple of Sepia Photos of the mosque I wanted to share with you all. The mosque looks like it is something from a fairytale when viewed in Sepia.
Although scaffolding cluttered a part of the interior the thrill of experiencing the extraordinary spaciousness of this famous church-turned-mosque is hard to overstate.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, facing Aya Sofya and mirroring its domed silhouette, is popularly known as the Blue Mosque. It is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period. This huge mosque was build to calm God after the unfavorable result of the war with Persia. The mosque was built from 1609 to 1616 on the site of the palace of the Byzantine emperors, so big parts of the mosque rest on the foundations or the vaults of the old Grand Palace.
I must admit that I do have a lot of blonde moments in my travels and having only read about this mosque and never actually having properly looked at pictures of it, I did expect a bluish mosque. So I was quite disappointed when I was told that this huge great mosque in front if me is the Blue Mosque. It was only once I stepped inside that there was any sign of colour.
Although the mosque is known for the blue iznik tiles adorning the walls of its interior the overwhelming colour is white and red. Well , still it is not noticeably blue, because the blue tiles are mostly on the inaccessible upper floors.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is first in Turkey that has six minarets. And to add to my frustration of the day I just couldnt get all six into one photo. Well, it is said that when the number of minarets were revealed, the Sultan was criticized for being presumptuous, since this was the same number of the Haram Mosque in Mecca (the holiest in the world). In the end, the sultan solved the problem by sending his architect to Mecca to add a seventh minaret. I would have thought that removing one from the Blue mosque would be way more cost effective.
In the past the muezzin or prayer caller had to climb a narrow spiral staircase up a minaret five times a day to announce the call to prayer. Today, a public announcement system is being used, and the call can be heard across the old part of the city, echoed by other mosques in the vicinity.
Inside the mosque is lined with more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles, made at Iznik (the ancient Nicaea) in more than fifty different tulip designs. The decorations include verses from the Qur’an.
There are more than 200 stained glass windows with intricate designs which admit natural light. These windows were once filled with 17th-century stained glass. Sadly, this has been lost and replaced with inferior replicas. The many windows do create a spacious impression.
The mosque has some of the most beautiful chandeliers, giving off a soft and calming light. The many lamps inside the mosque were once covered with gold and gems. Among the glass bowls one could find ostrich eggs and crystal balls. Sadly all these decorations have been removed or pillaged for museums.
When visiting keep the following into mind:
1) Because of the intense crowds, and the fact that the Sultan Ahmet is a working mosque, you must plan your visit carefully. Prayer happens five times a day and the mosque closes for 90 minutes at each pray time. It is also closed all morning on Fridays (until 14:30/2:30pm).
2) Before you step in to Mosque you take off your shoes and put them in a plastic bags provided at the entrance(so wear shoes that are not a hassle to take off).
3) If you are a women bring with a scarf or shawl as a head covering when you enter the Mosque. Don’t worry if you forget there are head coverings available at the Blue Mosque entrance for free. They actually tell you not to cover your face as the covering is meant to hide your hair only.
If you ever get to visit Istanbul you have to make a point of exploring Hagia Sofia, the church-turned-mosque. Not only is it unique in this aspect it is also one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture in Turkey. It is one of those places you will have to visit more than once as it is so overwhelming that you cant take everything in during your first visit.
Although scaffolding cluttered a part of the interior the thrill of experiencing the extraordinary spaciousness of this famous church-turned-mosque-turned museum is hard to overstate. As I walked in I was greeted by the marble pillars and huge decorated domes.
The central dome (which was unfortunately filled with scaffolding) has a diameter of 31 m, which is just slightly smaller than that of the Pantheon in Rome. The dome looks like it is floating upon four great arches which are decorated with seraphim or six-winged angels and other decorative mosaics.
I read that Hagia Sophia is famous for the light that reflects everywhere in the interior of the nave, as its is very bright inside without the need for electric lights. This effect was achieved by inserting forty windows around the base of the original structure.
Most of the interior surfaces are covered with marble, even the floor that you walk on. It is a lovely contrast against the walls which are green and yellow with gold mosaics. Huge parts of Hagia Sophia is decorated in a purely decorative geometric pattern mosaics.
The huge Islamic calligraphic roundels suspended from the main dome also make for a fascinating religious contrast with the uncovered Christian mosaics on the upper part of Hagia Sophia. These gigantic circular-framed disks or medallions are inscribed with the names of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, and the two grandchildren of Mohammed: Hassan and Hussain.
As I walked through Hagia Sophia I could see that most of the sights date from the Islamic period. A beautiful marble structure in the apse is the mihrab, a niche found in all mosques that indicates the direction of Mecca
I just love these beautiful pendant chandeliers that fill the huge interior. Although they are hardly needed for light during the day as light seeps through the countless windows.
The gallery of this magnificent place provides a commanding view of the nave from all sides. It definitely gives the best vantage point from which to view and experience the vastness of this church-mosque.
The Byzantine mosaics are being gradually uncovered, but only those on the higher gallery levels, which can be accessed by stairways. This means that Muslims do not have to confront much Christian imagery in the main chamber of the building, which was a mosque for nearly 500 years and retains all the equipment of a mosque. Unfortunately this part of the gallery was closed due to restoration that day.
Because of its long history as both a church and a mosque, a particular challenge arises in the restoration process. Christian iconographic mosaics can be uncovered, but often at the expense of important and historic Islamic art. Restorers have attempted to maintain a balance between both Christian and Islamic cultures. In particular, much controversy rests upon whether the Islamic calligraphy on the dome of the cathedral should be removed, in order to permit the underlying mosaic of Christ as Master of the World, to be exhibited (assuming the mosaic still exists).
Turkey is one of those countries which has changed identity and cultures so many times that it has turned into a unique country with a unique culture. I couldn’t wait to explore this culture rich country and there is no better place to start than in Istanbul, once named Constantinople.
After checking into my hotel in the old quarter I immediately found my way over to the Byzantine masterpiece, Hagia Sophia.
It is quite sad that nothing remains of the original Hagia Sophia which was built in the fourth century by Constantine the Great. It was burned down in 532 and then rebuilt between 532 and 537. For over 900 years this Cathedral was the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople until it was ruthlessly attacked, desecrated and plundered by the Crusaders in 1204. Despite this violent setback, Hagia Sophia remained a functioning church until May 29, 1453, when Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror entered the city of Constantinople and converted it into his imperial mosque.
Pieces of what remains of the Cathedral decoration can be found in the courtyard of the Hagia Sofia as well as the Islamic fountain for ritual ablutions.
Stone remains of the basilica ordered by Theodosius II, showing the Lamb of God
Hagia Sophia then served as the principal mosque of Istanbul for almost 500 years. At some point, all the faces depicted in the church’s mosaics were covered in plaster due to the Islamic prohibition of figurative imagery. These mosaics were discovered during restoration between 1847-49. They straightened columns, revised the decorations and also added the huge calligraphic roundels.
In 1934 the prayer rugs were removed and Hagia Sofia was turned into the Ayasofya Museum. After walking around the building I couldn’t wait to enter and explore the interior.
The Bo-Kaap is definitely the most colorful part of Cape Town and a great place to explore. I think I wouldnt mind living in one of these brightly coloured houses either. This part of the city, situated on the slopes of Signal Hill above the city center was formerly known as the Malay Quarter. They have a lovely view over the city especially at night.
The colourful Bo-Kaap with its romantic cobble stoned streets is actually a multicultural area, very rich in history. Many of the residents are descendants of slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia and various African countries, who were imported to the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch during the 16th and 17th centuries. The slaves were known as “Cape Malays” thus is Bo-Kaap still known today as the Cape Malay Quarter.
I followed Wale Street uphill from the Company Gardens until I got to the brightly painted Georgian terraces where wandering down the narrow cobbled streets is the best way to experience the area. I didnt realize that it was all up-hill to get there and the cobbled streets arent flat either. I learned the hard way that it would probably be a good idea to wear sneekers next time as my sandels caught in the cobbles and I tripped, nearly falling down on my face.
These steep streets are all lined with colorful traditional houses, painted in vibrant colors. Not only do they look cheerful but the people who live here are also very friendly. As I walked around with my camera people were more than willing to talk to me and to tell me a bit about the area and the history. I was surprised to find out that the owners often change the colours of their brightly painted houses and what is today a bright pink might be a pale blue house next year.
It surprised me that most of the people spoke Afrikaans until one of the ladies told me that the Afrikaans language was developed here in the Bo Kaap as a language for the slaves, as well as their masters, to be able to communicate effectively. Today Afrikaans is actually widely used in the Western Cape and the surrounding areas.
Many of the inhabitants of Bo-Kaap are descendants of the people from Indonesia (Batavia), Sri Lanka, India and Malaysia thus many were Mulims and others were converted to Islam by the Cape Muslim community. No wonder Afrikaans has so many words in common with Malaysian and other random languages. Even in Russian we have a couple of similar words which helped me a lot while living there.
As a result of Cape Town’s economic development and expansion, and after the demise of forced racial segregation under apartheid, property in the Bo-Kaap has become very sought after. This is not only because of its location but also for its picturesque cobble-streets and unique architecture. While the majority of Bo-Kaap’s residents are still of Cape Malay origin, the housing boom in the past fifteen years has seen an influx of foreigners buying up the beautiful, quaint, historical homes of Bo-Kaap.
But despite the apparent “gentrification” the residents say that they are still a very close knit community and not only help each other out but also work together to keep their neighbourhood safe. According to the residents the Bo-Kaap is one of the safest areas to live in Cape Town because they all look out for each other and they even have a neighbourhood watch to keep things orderly.
Veering of the usual tourist path my mom and I entered the jungle in search of Ta nei temple which is known for its fallen and crumbling walls. To get there my mom and I had to walk along a dirt path for about 1km from the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom until we reached the ‘French Dam.’ This ‘ French Dam’ is actually a holy reservoir dedicated to the Buddha and not very big but we were so glad that we actually found it and didn’t get lost in the dense forest. We crossed the dam and after another 200 meters through the forest we reached Ta Nei Temple.
What a beautiful sight! We were greeted by fallen blocks and trees covering what was left of this temple. Most of the fallen blocks or walls are being reclaimed by the jungle with trees growing over them and half burying them. The temple itself is very small, only 55meter x 47meter. I think that is a big reason this semi-ruined jungle temple is not part of the main tourist route.