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History and culture

History and culture

Castle of Love

Ukraine1

The Swallow’s Nest is a romantic symbol of Crimea and has a compelling history.

 

Perched on the edge of a cliff on the Crimean south coast, the Swallow’s Nest is the postcard picture favourite of Ukraine’s southern peninsula. This miniature medieval castle hoovers some 40 metres above the water, but the more compelling view is the horizon towards the Black Sea. Beyond its touristic appeal it has featured in several books and Soviet films. “It’s very popular,” says Sergey Sorokin, a private tour guide on the peninsula. “Swallow’s Nest is the symbol of Crimea.”

The castle looks as if it could tip into the sea any minute. Once it went close. But it has stood its ground since 1912. The foundations were laid earlier. At the end of the 19th century a wooden cottage was constructed here in commemoration of a general of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877 and 1878. It looked nothing like the castle of today. But that did not stop it from acquiring the name ‘Castle of Love’, which is still used by some. Continue Reading…

History and culture

Key West – To Have and Have Not

Key West Sunset

Located closer to Cuban capital city Havana than it is to Miami, Key West is one of the most curiously located towns in the USA – and it certainly has a cultural history that reflects its unique position. The last major settlement of the Florida Keys, before reaching Cuba, Key West seems at first to have more in common with its closest Caribbean neighbour than it does with the mainland.

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Asia, History and culture

In the shadows

Krishna.Wu

Beside the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort stood as an impregnable bastion under the Mughal Empire.

 

In 1565, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, the third ruler of the Mughal Empire – which controlled large parts of India in the 16th and 17th centuries – built the main constructions of the Agra Fort. He erected walls around what became a fortified city. The provincial city of Agra became the empire’s capital.

In 1627, Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, became the empire’s fifth ruler. Years later he moved to Delhi. He constructed the Taj Mahal, the famous white marble monument, in memory of his deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal. He built it only a few kilometres from the Agra Fort.

Jahan fell ill in 1657 and resigned his throne to Dara Shikoh, the eldest of his four sons. His brothers were jealous. They attacked the Agra Fort and defeated Shikoh. The third son, Aurangzeb, appointed himself ruler and locked his father inside the fort. “He did it because Shah Jahan didn’t want Aurangzeb to become the ruler,” says Ruknuddin Mirza, conservation architect at the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. “It wasn’t revenge, but more about taking the power by force.” It is said that Jahan could see the Taj Mahal from his balcony. He died after eight years in imprisonment. Continue Reading…

Asia, History and culture

City of temples

Alexey-Stiop

In a Cambodian forest, the temple of Angkor Wat stands as a grandiose symbol of the mighty Khmer Empire.

 

In the early 12th century, Suryavarman II, the king of the Khmer Empire, decided to build a temple. Around 50,000 people were sent to work, slaving away for 37 years. They dug a 200-metre moat, bridged by a causeway. They built three square plateaus on top of each other, protected by towering walls. At the top they erected five large towers. Around the temple, they created fine artwork, courtyards and corridors. In 1150 they completed the job. Angkor Wat was ready for use. Continue Reading…

History and culture, Middle East

A golden age

OPIS-Zagreb(2)

The city of Jerash is an archaeological titan among the Roman relics of the east. But what sparked its monumental constructions?

 

In their magnificent forum, one can only wonder what the wealthy citizens of Jerash got up to. The city became a booming trade centre in Roman times, as evident by its grandiose facilities: paved and colonnaded streets, towering temples, fine theatres, public squares, city gates, fountains and baths. It became a prime example of Roman urbanism. How? Well, because it could afford it. Continue Reading…

Asia, History and culture

Empty fortress

tibet03

Towering above the mountainous landscape of Tibet, the Potala Palace is the most prominent symbol of Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama.

It carries more meaning than one can imagine. Placed upon the Red Mountain overlooking Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet region, the Potala Palace is the altar Tibetan Buddhists now turn to in worship. Since the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso, constructed it in the 1600s, it has been the centre for political and religious leadership. The Dalai Lama always resided there. That was, until the Tibetan uprising in 1959, when the 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, fled Lhasa for shelter in Dharamsala, northern India. The palace has stood empty ever since. Continue Reading…

Europe, History and culture

The institution

vienna1

The Viennese coffee houses served as home to Austria’s chief literati for decades. Today they are still recognised as one of the country’s finest cultural treasures. 

 

There is one rule to remember when entering the spacious rooms of a classic Vienna coffee house: never order ‘coffee’. The days when Nobel Prize winners filled the Thonet wooden chairs and debated contemporary issues in smoke-filled chambers may be over, but, casting a look at the bow-tie-and-jacket-wearing waiters, the rich selection of continental newspapers and journals, and the thick menus containing only variations of coffee and cakes, the sense of sophistication is still very much present. Continue Reading…

Europe, History and culture

Buried in time

pompei02

On 24 August in 79 A.D. the eruption of Mount Vesuvius condemned the Roman city of Pompeii to 1,700 years under ash and debris. Today it is a unique gateway to life in ancient times.  

 

Nobody could have predicted what happened. On a summer morning, a pillar of ash rocketed into the sky, branching out over Pompeii, plunging it into darkness. Volcanic rocks soon hit the rooftops like meteors. Houses started to shake. The ground trembled. People ran for their lives. Continue Reading…