October 30, 2014

1322, 1323 NETHERLANDS (North Holland) - Zuiderkerk and Westerkerk in Amsterdam

Built between 1603 and 1611 in Amsterdam Renaissance style, as a pseudo-basilica in Gothic style, after a design by Hendrick de Keyser (buried in the church in 1621), the Zuiderkerk (Southern church) was the city's first church built specifically for Protestant services. It was used for church service until 1929, since 1988 serving as a municipal information centre. The distinctive church tower, which dominates the surrounding area (it has around 75m high including the wooden spire), wasn't completed until 1614 and contains a carillon of bells built by the brothers Hemony, installed in 1656 along with four bells which are rang monthly. Three of Rembrandt's children, and also Ferdinand Bol, one of Rembrandt's most famous pupils, were buried in the Zuiderkerk, which is very near to Rembrandt's house in the Jodenbreestraat. French Impressionist painter Claude Monet painted the church during a visit to the Netherlands. The composition is centred on the church spire, with the Groenburgwal canal leading up to it in the foreground. The painting is now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Westerkerk (Western Church) was the city's third church built specifically for Protestant services (after Zuiderkerk and Noorderkerk), and today it remains the largest church in the Netherlands that was built for Protestants. Erected between 1620 and 1631 by the same Hendrick de Keyser, it has the highest church tower in Amsterdam, at 85m. The spire, called the Westertoren (Western tower) has in top the Imperial Crown of Austria of Maximilian I. 14 of the 50 church bells were made by François Hemony in 1658. Here was buried Rembrandt, who at the end of his life lived nearby, at Rozengracht 184. When he died in 1669, the painter was so poor, that he was buried in an unmarked church grave, with several other people, where human remains were buried only for 20 years, to make place for other poor people. That is why the exact place of Rembrandt’s grave remains unknown. His lover Hendrickje Stoffels is also buried here, as is his son Titus van Rijn. The Westerkerk is located also close to the Achterhuis (now Anne Frank House) where the girl, her family and others hid from Nazi persecution for two years during WWII. The Westerkerk is mentioned frequently in her diary - its clock tower could be seen from the attic of the Achterhuis and Anne Frank described the chiming of the clock as a source of comfort. A memorial statue of Frank is located outside the church.

October 29, 2014

1321 GUYANA - Kaieteur Falls

Located on the Potaro River, in Kaieteur National Park, Kaieteur Falls were discovered in1870 by the British geologist Charles Barrington Brown. They have 226m high from its plunge over a sandstone and conglomerate cliff to the first break, and are among the most powerful waterfalls in the world, with an average flow rate of 663 cubic metres per second. In other words, this single drop waterfall is about four times higher than the Niagara Falls, and about twice the height of the Victoria Falls. In terms of the human heritage of this area, it was said to still be inhabited by native Amerindians. In fact, Kaieteur Falls was said to be named after an Amerindian chief by the name of Kai who gave his life by canoeing over the falls. Apparently he did this in order to protect his tribe from a rival Carib tribe by means of divine intervention (i.e. I guess the Great Spirit would intervene if Chief Kai sacrificed himself). The word "teur" meant falls in the native Amerindian language so technically it would be redundant to include the word "Falls" in Kaieteur.

1320 VIETNAM - Hồ Chí Minh

Hồ Chí Minh led the Vietnamese nationalist movement for more than three decades, fighting first against the Japanese, afterwards against the French colonial power and then against the US-backed South Vietnam. He was a key figure in the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in 1945, becoming also its prime minister (1945-1955) and its president (1945-1969). Today, he has in Vietnam an almost god-like status, still being called Uncle Ho. In 1987, UNESCO officially recommended to Member States that they "join in the commemoration of the centenary of the birth of President Ho Chi Minh by organizing various events as a tribute to his memory", considering "the important and many-sided contribution of President Ho Chi Minh in the fields of culture, education and the arts" and that Ho Chi Minh "devoted his whole life to the national liberation of the Vietnamese people, contributing to the common struggle of peoples for peace, national independence, democracy and social progress". In his honor, after the Communist conquest of the South in 1975, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.

October 26, 2014

1319 UKRAINE (Donetsk Oblast) - Sviatohirsk Lavra

Named also the Holy Mountains Lavra, due to the surrounding mountains, Sviatohirsk Lavra is a historic Orthodox Christian monastery (a lavra) located on the right bank of the Seversky Donets River. The first monks settled in the area in the 14th century, but the first written mention of the monastery was in 1526, and in 1624 it was officially recognized as the Sviatohirsk Uspensky Monastery. During times of the Crimean Khanate it was invaded a couple of times, being restored in 1787, and in 1844. The lavra's main Dormition Cathedral was designed by Alexey Gornostaev, who included a traditional Byzantine tower. Before WWI It was inhabited by approximately 600 monks, in 1922 it was rebuilt and converted into a residence, and during the 1930s it was destroyed by the Soviets. After the fall of the Soviet Union the monastery was restored again.

1318 KENYA - Maasai morans

The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group of semi-nomadic people inhabiting southern Kenya (840,000) and northern Tanzania (430,000), in the African Great Lakes region. According to their own oral history, they originated from the lower Nile valley north of Lake Turkana and began migrating south around the 15th century. As with the Bantu, the Maasai and other Nilotes in Eastern Africa have adopted many customs and practices from the Cushitic groups, including the age set system of social organization, circumcision, and vocabulary terms. They are herdsmen, and had a fearsome reputation as warriors and cattle-rustlers. The raiders used spears and shields, but were most feared for throwing clubs (orinka) which could be accurately thrown from up to 100m. In modern time they have resisted the urging of the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle.

1317 IRAQ - The Dominican Clock Church in Mosul

With a rich ancient history, Mosul was an important trade center which linked Persia and the Mediterranean, so it was allways a cosmopolitan city. Christianity was present among the indigenous Assyrian people as early as the 2nd century, and later the city became a center for the Nestorian Christianity (it contains the tombs of several Old Testament prophets such as Jonah). After the annexation to the Rashidun Caliphate, the Islam became the dominant religion, but the city maintained, more than 1300 years, until Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took over it in 2014, a multicultural and multi-religious mosaic, despite the institutional ethnic persecution by various political powers.

October 25, 2014

1316 UNITED NATIONS - Ban Ki-moon, the eighth Secretary-General of the UN

The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UNSG) is the head of the UN Secretariat, and acts as the de facto spokesperson and leader of the organization. He is appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council, and serves for five-year terms that can be renewed indefinitely, although none so far has held office for more than two terms. The selection is subject to the veto of any of the five permanent Members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The current UNSG is Ban Ki-moon, elected in 2006, and re-elected in 2010. He was named the world's 32nd most powerful person by Forbes Magazine's List of The World's Most Powerful People in 2013, the highest among Koreans.

1315 PAKISTAN (Punjab) - Taxila (UNESCO WHS)

Now, Taxila (in Sanskrit Takshashila, literally meaning City of Cut Stone or Rock of Taksha) is a small town situated about 32km north-west of  Islamabad, but the ancient settlement was a noted centre of learning at least several centuries BC, and continued to attract students from around the old world until its destruction in the 5th century by the Huns. Generally, a student entered Takshashila at the age of sixteen. The Vedas, the ancient and the most revered Hindu scriptures, and the Eighteen Silpas or Arts, which included skills such as archery, hunting, and elephant lore, were taught, in addition to its law school, medical school, and school of military science. Situated at the pivotal junction of India, western Asia and Central Asia, Taxila also illustrates the different stages in the development of a city on the Indus that was alternately influenced by Persia, Greece and Central Asia. It is a vast serial site, that includes a Mesolithic cave and the archaeological remains of four early settlement sites, Buddhist monasteries, and a Muslim mosque and madrassa.

October 24, 2014

1314 UNITED STATES (Vermont) - The Arlington Green Covered Bridge

Arlington is a little town in Vermont, with only 2,317 inhabitants, known only by history lovers, because was the capital of the Vermont Republic (1777-1791). Near the town, off Vermont Route 313, is the Arlington Green Covered Bridge, which crosses Batten Kill. The picturesque red bridge was built in 1852 using the Towne Truss design. Looking through the bridge one catches a glimpse of the Inn on Covered Bridge Green, now a bed & breakfast and formerly the home of painter Norman Rockwell between 1943 and 1954. The Inn was built in 1792. The view from the south (on the postcard) shows the steel cables which hold the bridge in place during storms. The cables are typical of all these bridges. On August 28, 2011, the bridge was damaged by flooding caused by Hurricane Irene, but it was fixed in the following months and has since reopened.

1313 PORTUGAL (Coimbra) - University of Coimbra - Alta and Sofia (UNESCO WHS)

In Coimbra are many archaeological structures which date back to the Roman era (the well-preserved aqueduct and cryptoporticus for example), and also buildings from the period when it was the capital of Portugal (1131-1255), but this city is best known for its University. During the Late Middle Ages, with the decline of Coimbra as the political centre of the Kingdom of Portugal, it began to evolve into a major cultural centre, helped by the university finally established there in 1537. The university, one of the oldest in Europe,  influences educational institutions of the former Portuguese empire over seven centuries, receiving and disseminating knowledge in the fields of arts, sciences, law, architecture, town planning and landscape design. It demonstrates also a specific urban typology, which illustrates the far-ranging integration of a city and its university.