February 27, 2012

0133 POLAND (Lesser Poland) - The castle that hides the treasure of Incas

Niedzica Castle (also known as Dunajec Castle) is located in the southernmost part of Lesser Poland (Małopolska), in the Pieniny mountains, on a hill 300 m upstream from the Dunajec River mouth, and it was an important centre of Polish-Hungarian relations since the 14th century. Built by the Hungarian Kokoš from Brezovica between 1320 and 1326, in 1470 it became the property of the Zápolya family. In 1528 Viliam Drugeth got the surrounding county (including the castle) from John Zápolya as a reward for the support of his aspirations for the Hungarian throne, on which he occupied two years earlier.

February 24, 2012

0131 GERMANY (Brandenburg) – Trabistörche (Trabi storks)

The Trabant was one of the best known symbols of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic) and even of the whole European communist camp. Produced by former East German auto maker VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau in Zwickau, Sachsen (in the factory in which Audi made the cars before the WWII), was the most common vehicle in East Germany, being also exported to countries both inside and outside the communist bloc. With its mediocre performance, inefficient two-stroke engine, noxious fumes and production shortages, the Trabant is often cited as an example of the disadvantages of centralized planning. However, in communist countries was regarded with affection, the Trabant owners forming a unique category, organized in numerous clubs.

February 23, 2012

0130 UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (Dubai) - Dubai City

On 1962 the first cargo of crude oil has left Abu Dhabi. On 1969 Dubai also began to export oil. Shortly after, on December 2, 1971, these two emirates, together with five other, have formed United Arab Emirates, after former protector, Britain, left the Persian Gulf. Two of so-called Trucial states, Bahrain and Oman, chose not to join the federation. Now, after only 4 decades, Dubai is one of the fastest growing cities in the world (from 95,000 inhabitants in 1963 to 8,264,070 in 2010), because the country's net migration rate is also the world's highest.

February 22, 2012

0129 CHILE (Valparaiso) - Historic Quarter of the Seaport City of Valparaíso (UNESCO WHS)

The second postcard sent by Hernán (gracias, amigo) shows Valparaiso, which played an important geopolitical role in the second half of the 19th century, when the city served as a major stopover for ships which traveled between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by crossing the Straits of Magellan.  Cosmopolitan, exotic and colorful, the city was then called The Jewel of the Pacific (but also Pancho, diminutive form of Francisco), but the opening of Panama Canal in 1914 ended its golden age, even though it remained a vibrant center of Chilean culture.

February 18, 2012

0127 EL SALVADOR (San Salvador) - The cathedral of suffering and rebirth

I said here that "about the civil war that devastated El Salvador 12 years (1980-1992), [I will write] when I will have a postcard with Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador (the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador), where was buried Archbishop Oscar Romero, killed by a member of the death squads." Well, my pal from El Salvador read this and sent me a postcard with the cathedral. Gracias, Guillermo, usted hizo me una gran alegría.

It can be said that the history of the cathedral, a succession of tragedies and rebirths, is identical with the country's modern history, even with the history of many other Central American countries. In fact even the name of the country - at origin Provincia De Nuestro Señor Jesus Cristo, El Salvador Del Mundo (Province of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World) - seems to have been predestined, because what else is the story of Jesus, than tragedy and rebirth?

On the today's location of the cathedral, in downtown San Salvador, was in the 19th century la iglesia colonial de Santo Domingo (the colonial church of Saint Dominic), thrown down in 1873 by an earthquake which destroyed almost completely San Vicente town, at that time the capital of El Salvador. After 15 years was finished a wooden cathedral, which served until 1913 as seat of the Diocese of San Salvador, then of the Archdiocese until 1951, when it was devoured by a fire. In 1956, Archbishop Luis Chávez y González took the initiative to rebuild the cathedral, a process that lasted more than four decades, until 1999.

In 1977, when Óscar Romero became Archbishop, the works were reached only to the half. He used the church for Sunday's divine services, and there he held most of his sermons in defense of human rights, but on the other hand he delayed completion of the building to finance projects for the poor.

In 1975, the Popular Revolutionary Bloc has occupied the cathedral in protest against repressive government policies, and actions of this type were all repeated until 1980. In 1979, 24 demonstrators were killed on the church steps by security forces of the military regime, backed by U.S. (Slaughter of the stands of Cathedral). In fact, Romero was neither the first nor the last assassinated by the Escuadrón de la Muerte (Squadron of Death), which proved to have been soldiers of the Salvadoran military, which receiving U.S. funding and training during the Carter and Reagan administrations.

Romero was buried in this cathedral, and the funeral mass was attended by more than 250,000 mourners, which means that it was the largest demonstration in Salvadoran history, some say in the history of Latin America. During the ceremony, a smoke bomb exploded on the Cathedral square (Plaza Gerardo Barrios) and subsequently there were rifle-fire shots that came from surrounding buildings. Journalists indicated between 30 and 50 dead. Later, the square in front of the Cathedral was the site of rapturous celebrations after the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords that ended the Salvadoran Civil War in 1992. The Cathedral was completed and inaugurated on March 19, 1999, and finished off with a festive tiled facade by the Fernando Llort (the country’s most recognized living artist).

The church was twice visited by Pope John Paul II who said that the cathedral was "intimately allied with the joys and hopes of the Salvadoran people." During his visits in 1983 and 1996, the Pope knelt and prayed before the Tomb of Archbishop Óscar Romero, which means that had given his imprimatur to all that the "bishop of the poor" had exemplified. All Christendom awaits his canonization, which the Vatican postpones it because of his closeness to liberation theology.

In terms of architecture, cathedral, as most buildings of its kind in Latin America, whether old or new, respects the European model (in this case neo-Romanesque), to which were added local elements, that give it a distinct identity. The festive and colorful facade of the cathedral borders a shrine to an image of the Divine Saviour of the World, sculpted by Friar Francisco Silvestre García in 1777. The bright Churrigueresque dome (as also the two campaniles) it’s adorned  with orange and black zigzags, which approach it to the local's spirit, remained merry and, why not, candide, despite the attempts which seems never ended.

The main altar features an image of the Divine Saviour donated by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1546. The image rests on a four-column baldacchino surrounded by images of the prophets Moses and Elijah, who take part in the Transfiguration story. The main altar is surrounded by 8 great paintings showing scenes from the life of Christ painted by Andrés García Ibáñez.

But unfortunately, if upon some prelates descended the Holy Spirit, others seem to act driven by poverty of spirit. "In late December, the Archbishop of San Salvador, Jose Luis Escobar Alas, gave orders to remove the ceramic mural facade of San Salvador's Metropolitan Cathedral - without consulting the national government or the still-living Salvadoran artist, Fernando Llort. A large white sheet covered the cathedral's front as workers chipped off all 2,700 pieces of mural tile", wrote pulitzercenter.org on January  6, 2012. What exhorted the archbishop to order, and the architect Tatiana Molina to execute the destruction of a National Heritage site, only the devil knows, because I don't think that God has been informed.

Fernando Llort has answered to this stupid barbarism through a public letter published on January 3rd, in which he said, among others: "The request of the Church to decorate the façade of the Cathedral is the greatest satisfaction that God has given me in my career. The destruction of that work by the Church is the saddest thing that ever happened in my life". The mosaic's destruction aroused, naturally, the outraged of the Salvadoran art world.

The first stamp on the left is part of a series dedicated to the 125 Aniversario Fundación Cuerpo de Bomberos (125 Fire Brigade Foundation Anniversary), issued on January 15, 2008. Published in the largest edition ever made by Correos de El Salvador, series include four stamps with the same value ($0.15).  

The second stamp is also the second of the series Bicentenario del Primer Grito de Independencia de El Salvador 1811-2011 that I receive it, and shows General Manuel José Arce. About this series I wrote at length here.

The postmarks are also special, but I can not give details about them.

sender: William Guillermo Romero Martinez (direct swap)
sent from San Salvador (El Salvador), on 15.12.2011

February 17, 2012

0126 PHILIPPINES - The map and the flag of the country

Says Wikipedia: "The Philippines has been part of several empires: the Spanish Empire during the age of Imperialism, the United States after the Spanish-American War of 1898, and the Japanese Empire during WWII, until the official Philippine independence in 1945." The phrase is so wonderfully dry and at the same time filled with content, that it seems literature. Kurt Vonnegut would be added finally "So it goes".

February 16, 2012

0125 GERMANY (Bremen) - Bremerhaven

Who controls the mouth of the River Weser on the North Sea controls the access to the Hanseatic port Bremen, located at 60 km south on the river, so this area was intensely disputed in the Middle Ages. Eventually in 1827 the city of Bremen bought those territories from the Kingdom of Hanover to retain its share of Germany's overseas trade. So was born Bremerhaven (i.e. Bremian Harbour), which become the second harbour for Bremen. Due to the trade with and emigration to North America, the port and the town grew quickly.

February 11, 2012

0122 SOUTH AFRICA (Gauteng) - The great, wealthy and choleric Johannesburg

A dusty, harsh and disorganized settlement located to the end of the world, populated by white miners from all continents, black tribesmen who perform unskilled work, African women who cook for and sell beer to the black workers, European or South African prostitutes, gangsters from New York and London, impoverished Afrikaners, insidious tradesmen, and AmaWasha (Zulu men who dominate laundry work), all in search of better opportunities, so it was Johannesburg to the end of the 19th century, after that in 1886 had been discovered gold in the range of hills named Witwatersrand, the source of 40% of the gold ever mined from the earth. 

February 9, 2012

0121 COSTA RICA – "Doooon’t booootheeeer meee, pleeeeease…"

I remember as if would be now that in elementary school I got a 10 (maximum grade) to Geography because I was the only one in class who knew which is the only continental country in the world without army (the things happenings in the late '70s). And I remember also that when I learned this, a few months before being asked, I considered it an amazing trickery. "How to attack a country that has no army? Who could do such a baseness?" It's excusable, I was 12-13 years old when I put to myself such questions. Therefore I have pleasant memories about this country, without to have ever been there. Just as Sophia (who sent me the postcard - muchas gracias), who has fond memories about Romania, also without to have ever been here. Even more than that, as you can read on the postcard, she now learn Romanian language. Romanian is a Latin language, as well as the Spanish, so it will be easy, even if the grammar is quite complicated.

Despite the limited number of cultural sites, Costa Rica is the most visited nation in the Central American region, with two million foreign visitors in 2008, because it ranks 6th worldwide in the natural resources pillar. Costa Rica was also a pioneer in ecotourism, and the country is recognized as one of the few with true ecotourism. System of national parks and protected areas is the largest in the world as a percentage of the country's territory (around a quarter), and home to a rich variety of flora and fauna. Costa Rica has only 0.03% of the world's landmass, but it's estimated that contain 5% of the world's biodiversity.

Among the thousands of species of animals living in Costa Rica is the sloth, the world's slowest mammal, so sedentary that algae grows on its furry coat. On the picture is a brown-throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus), the most common of the four species of three-toed sloth. The size of this sloth is being 42 to 80 cm in total body length, he has a rounded head, with a blunt nose and inconspicuous ears. The face is generally paler in color, with a stripe of very dark fur running beneath the eyes. Brown-throated sloths sleep 15 to 20 hours every day, and are active for only a few brief periods, which may be during either the day or night. Three-toed sloths also have an advantage that few other mammals possess: they have extra neck vertebrae that allows them to turn their heads some 270 degrees.

A last parenthesis before going to stamp: Costa Rica also knows to protect the national "wealth" which is the natural environment. For example it has successfully managed to diminish deforestation from some of the worst rates in the world from 1973 to 1989, to almost zero by 2005. Moreover, in May 2007 the Costa Rican government announced its intentions to become 100 percent carbon neutral before 2030.

In terms of franking, the story is long and I must admit that surprised me, because I know almost nothing about this system, used in more and more countries. In 2001 Correos de Costa Rica began a plan that tried to set in motion an integrated computer network for the management of all the services of the company. As part of this plan, were installed 148 franking scales in all the postal branches around the country. The system was changed and improved constantly, until it came to what is seen on my postcard, which has printed on it the service, postal branch and postal employee code, at the centre of the label (2.1200 JDURAN, in the image), whilst in the lower blank area are the balance number (24146), the date of issue (18ENE12 - 18 January 2012) and the 10-digit face value (*******340).

In mid-2010 Correos de Costa Rica ordered the production of new rolls of labels (which are not considered as philatelic material). Following the proposed designs, rolls were manufactured with 2 new designs, dedicated to the Golfo de Papagayo and the Tortuga Lora. In the picture is the second model, dedicated to the Olive ridley sea turtle or Lora turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), the smallest of sea turtles and spawns on the Pacific beaches of Costa Rica.

The labels are produced using self-adhesive thermal paper, printed by letterpress, with a holographic varnish - or foil impression - on the surface finish design. For security, the labels include the usual central C score and, for the first time, a spot varnish with the text CORREOS DE COSTA RICA, in 2 lines, visible only when tilting the stamp slightly, in front of a light. Here you can find many other details about this system and the history of its usage in Costa Rica.

sender: Sophia Machado (direct swap)
sent from San José (Costa Rica), on 18.01.2012
foto: Adrian Hepworth / 1999

February 8, 2012

0120 BRAZIL (São Paulo) – "I am not lead, I lead"

The first Portuguese permanent settlement in the Americas, São Vicente, was founded in 1532, at 32 years after the fleet commanded by Pedro Álvares Cabral claimed the land now called Brazil in the name of the Portugal. In the following decades settlers were spread along the coast, establishing some trading points, without having penetrate in the interior lands of Brazil. This made him the bandeirantes, composed of Indians, caboclos (people of Indian mixed with white), and some whites who were the captains. Named bandeiras because they used to carry a flag to identify them (bandeiras means flags in Portuguese), these adventurers have pursued in the beginning to capture and force amerindians into slavery (1580-1670), but later began to focus their expeditions on finding gold, silver and diamond mines (1670–1750), without wishing to conquer land (as it was happening in the US).

February 7, 2012

0119 JAPAN (Chūgoku) - Hiroshima Peace Memorial (UNESCO WHS)

Hiroshima isn't history, isn't past. Hiroshima haunt us and will haunt us, and so it must be. When talking about Hiroshima, should not be used figures. The deads isn't count, the deads should mourn. When talking about Hiroshima, should not be used words like "necessary", "payment", "inevitably", "blame"... The crimes aren't erased with other crimes.

February 6, 2012

0117 UNITED KINGDOM (Scotland) - The Hub - part of Old and New Towns of Edinburgh (UNESCO WHS)

0117 Ramsey Gardens (in the front) and the Hub (in the back)

About the Ramsay Gardens I wrote here, so I'll pass straight to The Hub (former Tolbooth Church), of which can be seen only the steeple, the highest of Edinburgh (73m). Located on the Lawnmarket, just down from the Edinburugh Castle, this Gothic landmark, also known as St John's Highland Church, it was built in 1839-1844 to served as both a parish church and the annual meeting place for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

February 5, 2012

0116 IRAQ (Baghdad) - Republican Palace in Baghdad

The palace in the picture, Republican Palace, located in the Karada Mariam, a high-end neighborhoods of  Baghdad, in Karkh, on the west bank of the Tigris River, was built by Harold A. Claridge, major in the British Army of New Zealand origin, and architect to the Armed Forces. Claridge built it in the '50s on the orders of King Faisal II as the new official royal residence following his planned wedding with Egyptian Princess Sabiha Fazila Khanim Sultan. The palace didn't ever hosted the king, because he was assassinated before his wedding in the 1958 coup undertaken by a group of army officered led by Abd Al-Karim Qasim.

0115 AUSTRIA (Styria) - A friendly alien

Founded by Slavs sometime in the early Middle Ages, Graz undoubtedly owes its development to the Austrians, who had turned it since the 12th century into an important commercial center. Possessed the first of all by the house of Babenberg, the city was later taken over by the Habsburgs, who had turned it in residence of the Inner Austrian dukes, who ruled Styria, Carinthia, and parts of today's Italy and Slovenia (Carniola, Gorizia and Gradisca). With a strategic location at the head of the open and fertile Mur valley, Graz was often but unsuccessfully assaulted, printre alţii de Hungarians in 1481, and by the Ottoman Turks in 1529 and 1532. I will talk more about the city's history when I will receive a postcard with the historic center, added to the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage Sites in 1999.

February 3, 2012

0114 DENMARK (Faroe Islands) - ...bygði þenna stað fyrst (...lived in this place first)

I received this wonderful maxicard issued by Faroe Islands from Kajo, which is Finnish and apologizes that had no maxicard from his country within reach and therefore he sent me this one. No problem, Kajo, the maxicard looks so good, that I make an exception, so to speak. And how an exception is followed, as is well known, by another, the maxicard arrived to me in envelope, so it wasn't circulated normally, as I like it. But if you look on her back, you will notice that couldn't otherwise, so this exception isn't even an exception.

February 1, 2012

0113 GHANA - Osei Tutu II

If the first postcard received from Ghana illustrated traditional houses, the second one depicts Osei Tutu II, King of the Ashanti. I'm convinced that those who collect in particular royalties will envy me for this postcard. And they have all the reasons, frankly speaking.

Ashanti, or Asante, are an Akan people who live predominantly in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and currently include about 7 million people. In 1670 Osei Tutu, military leader and head of the Oyoko clan, strengthened the centralization of the surrounding Akan groups and expanded the powers system within the centralized government, founding the Ashanti kingdom, with its capital at Kumasi. Opoku Ware I, Osei Tutu's successor, extended the borders and created a true empire, that stretched from central Ghana to present day Togo and Côte d'Ivoire, bordered by the Dagomba kingdom to the north and Dahomey to the east.