March 31, 2013

0583 JAPAN (Chūbu) - A morning market in Takayama

Located in the heart of the Japanese Alps, Takayama developed its own culture in the last 300 years, because the high altitude and separation from other areas of Japan kept the area fairly isolated. The city and its culture, as they exist today, took shape at the end of the 16th century, when the Kanamori clan built Takayama Castle. In 1936 it merged with Onada, and in 2005 with other nine towns and villages, becoming the largest city in Japan by surface area.

March 30, 2013

0582 BELARUS (Brest) - The ruins of the Ruzhany Palace

The ruins of this palace is situated beside the little town of Ruzhany, on the river Ruzhanka, in Western Belarus. Between the 16th and 19th centuries Ruzhany (then called Różany) was the main seat of the senior line of the Sapieha family, a Polish-Lithuanian princely family of Ruthenian origin, descending from the medieval boyars of Smolensk, who acquired great influence in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 16th century.

0581 ITALY (Veneto) - Burano - part of Venice and its Lagoon (UNESCO WHS)

Situated at the northern end of the Venetian Lagoon, near Torcello, Burano it isn't in fact an island, but an archipelago of four islands, linked by bridges. Although it was inhabited since Romans time, it rose in importance only in the 16th century, when women on the island began making lace with needles, which was soon exported across Europe. Trade began to decline in the 18th century and the industry didn't revive until 1872, when a school of lacemaking was opened.

March 29, 2013

0580 SPAIN (Castile and León) - Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct (UNESCO WHS)

As many other cities in Iberian Peninsula, Segovia, located at about 90km north of Madrid, was founded by Celts, to become then a Roman possession. It is believed that the city was abandoned after the Islamic invasion of Spain, but after the Reconquista was restocked with Christians. Its position on trading routes made it an important center of trade in wool and textiles, its golden age being at the end of the Middle Ages. There followed a period of decline, but, in a strange way, the economical decadence favoured the preservation of its monumental patrimony built between the 12th and 17th centuries.

0579 DENMARK (Sjælland) - Roskilde Cathedral (UNESCO WHS)

After uniting the Danes and Norwegians, around the year 960, King Harald Bluetooth moved his capital closer to the new kingdom's centre of power, to Roskilde, on the island of Zealand, where it remained until 1443. Around 1160 the bishop Absalon decided the building of a Romanesque cathedral on the site of the old one, on the top of a hill, with a great view over the fjords. Absalon's successor embraced the new French Gothic style, so he made significant changes to the plans. With the exception of the two towers on the west facade, finished in 1405, the cathedral was completed in 1280, several chapels being added afterwards. The city's importance is evident from the fact that the Roskilde Domkirke (Roskilde Cathedral) was the only cathedral in Zealand until the 20th century.

March 28, 2013

0578 CHINA (Tibet) - An old Tibetan man with a Mani wheel

Tibet lies on the plateau located north-east of the Himalayas (the highest on earth, with an average elevation of 4,900m) and emerged in the 7th century as a unified empire, divided afterwards into a variety of territories. In the next millennium, its western and central regions were often unified by local rulers, under Mongol or Chinese overlordship, while the eastern regions maintained more decentralized structures, often fallen more directly under Chinese rule. Since the mid 19th century, the Qing Dynasty authority over Tibet became more formale, and in 1913, after its collapse, the region declared its independence. Shortly after the comunists took control over the most part of mainland China and established the PRC, Tibet was occupied by the chinese army and in 1959 the Tibetan government was abolished. Even though most countries have recognized (formal or tacit) the annexation, there isn't the slightest doubt that it was done and is maintained against the wishes of Tibetans.

March 26, 2013

0577 SLOVAKIA (Banská Bystrica) - Historic Town of Banská Štiavnica and the Technical Monuments in its Vicinity (UNESCO WHS)

Located in the middle of an immense caldera created by the collapse of an ancient volcano, Banská Štiavnica was a mining settlement since the time of the Celts (3rd century BC), being occupied afterwards by Romans, and then by the early Slavs, in 1156 the site being called terra banensium (the land of miners). Starting with 13th century skilled German settlers were joined the Slavic population, adopting for settlement the name Schemnitz.

0576 POLAND (Lesser Poland) - Wooden Churches of Southern Little Poland (UNESCO WHS)

As I wrote when I presented the Wooden Churches of Maramureş, in a wide area in Carpathians, which transcends the countries borders, the ethnic affiliation and religious beliefs, the locals have developed the craft of building wooden churches. Now is the time to write about Wooden Churches of Southern Lesser Poland, included in 2003 among UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This site contain six churches, located in Binarowa, Blizne, Dębno, Haczów, Lipnica Murowana, and Sękowa, representing "outstanding examples of the different aspects of medieval church-building traditions in Roman Catholic culture."

March 25, 2013

0575 OMAN - Bedouin women in desert

As even their name says, the traditional homeland of Bedouin ("those in the desert" in Arabic) is Arabian Desert, but some groups have migrated north into the Negev Desert region. Mainly nomadic herdsmen divided into tribes or clans, Arabic-speaking and Muslims as religion, in the late 19th century they began transition to a semi-nomadic life, forced by the Ottoman Empire authorities. As a result, today there are two basic groups, the "true" Bedouin, who are nomadic shepherds, and Fellahin, who embraced farming. The "true" Bedouin have been known for raiding any caravans that cross their paths while journeying across barren deserts. They move into the desert during the rainy winter seasons and back to the desert's edge during the hot, dry summers. They speak Badawi, or as it is more commonly called, Bedouin Arabic.

March 24, 2013

0574 JORDAN - Um er-Rasas (Kastrom Mefa'a) (UNESCO WHS)

Located south-east of Madaba, on the edge of the semi-arid steppe, Um er-Rasas is an archeological site, largely unexcavated, which started as a Roman military camp and grew to become a town from the 5th century. It contains remains from the Roman, Byzantine and Early Muslim periods (end of 3rd to 9th centuries AD) including a fortified Roman military camp and sixteen churches, some with well-preserved mosaic floors, the best known being the one of the Church of St Stephen, made in 785 and illustrating the most important cities of the region.

March 22, 2013

0569 GERMANY (Bavaria) - Hitler’s nest

The Kehlsteinhaus (also known as Eagle's Nest) is a chalet-style structure erected on a subpeak of the Hoher Göll known as the Kehlstein. It was built as an extension of the Obersalzberg complex (formerly Hitler's home and southern headquarters) erected in the mountains above Berchtesgaden. Commissioned by Reichsleiter Martin Bormann for Hitler, it was formal presented to the Nazi leader on his 50th birthday on April 20, 1939. The road leading from Obersalzberg to the Eagle's Nest parking lot is considered to be a feat of engineering. It remained unscathed from the bombing of the Allied Forces during WWII, and since 1952 it has been open to the public as a mountain top restaurant with a spectacular view and is accessed only by special mountain buses from Obersalzberg.

0028 & 0568 MALAYSIA (Kuala Lumpur) - Petronas Towers

Posted on 06.11.2011 and completed on 22.03.2013
Maybe I'm too conservative or excessively pragmatic, but I must admit that I don’t understand this "race for the highest" started in the last two decades. As though there's no other purpose in the world other than to erect the tallest building. It’s true that this desire for "higher" has always existed for different reasons - be closer to the divinity (the tower of Babel, Egyptian pyramids, Gothic cathedrals, mosques minarets), illustrate social status (Italian noble residences towers in the Middle Ages) or simply more efficient use of space (American and Australian skyscrapers from the late 19th century and early 20th century). Currently, however, enormous costs and urban problems created by these buildings no longer justifies their erection.

Petronas Twin Towers from Kuala Lumpur (Petronas Menara in Malay), erected between 1995 and 1998, were the tallest world’s building from 1998 to 2004 until surpassed by Taipei 101 and has remained until today the tallest twin buildings. The towers have 88 floors each, of which 78 served by elevators, a maximum height of 452 m (up to the roof top antenna), and the top floor height is 375 m. Taken together, the two buildings have office area of 1 million square meters, 93,000 square meters are for those 270 stores, cinemas and fast-foods, and in addition was arranged a concert hall with 840 seats and an art gallery.

As regards the costs, I found several amounts, very different from each other, from 0.5 billion to 1.6 billion USD. The initiators of the project were a consortium of private investors in association with the Malaysian government and Petronas, the national oil company. The main problem met by the Argentine architect Cesar Pelli and his team was unstable ground (not rightly in Malay Kuala Lumpur literally means "muddy confluence"), so towers are also the building with the deepest foundation from the world, which dealt Bachy Soletanche, a large geotechnical company from England. Somewhat strangely, the two towers were built by two different companies, both from South Korea, creating a competition between them.

Petronas Towers were designed to symbolize strength and grace and principles are based on typical Islamic architecture, first the cross section based on a Rub el Hizb - a star with eight arms, but also steel and glass facade that imitate the Malay traditional motifs with curved arches reminding of temple towers. The towers can be visited up to floor 41, where is the Sky Bridge that links it, and the curious can cross the bridge, but can’t linger on it longer than 10 minutes. The famous French urban climber Alain "Spiderman" Robert wasn’t satisfied with an ordinary visit and escalated the towers in 2009, using only his bare hands and feet, after two other failed attempts due to police intervention in 1997 and 2007 .

0567 EGYPT (Cairo) - Cairo

About Cairo I wrote here, I will focus exclusively on the images depicted in the postcard, which I like it, because presents the all three main components that created the Egypt of today: Ancient Egypt, the Copts, and the Muslims.

March 21, 2013

0566 SWITZERLAND (Zurich) - The Grossmünster

On the northwestern shore of the Lake Zurich, where today is Zurich, there were human settlements since 6,400 years ago, and 2,000 years ago the Romans founded Turicum. During the Middle Ages Zurich gained the independent and privileged status of imperial immediacy and, in 1519, was the place of origin and centre of the Protestant Reformation in German-speaking Switzerland. The church from the postcard, the Grossmünster (Great Minster) is one of the three major churches in the city.

0565 GREECE (Peloponnese) - Corinth Canal

Thought since antiquity, but become a reality only at the end of the 19th century (1881-1893), the Corinth Canal, which connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea, cutting the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separating the Peloponnesian peninsula from the Greek mainland, is now used mainly for tourist traffic, although it saves the 700km journey around the Peloponnese. Dug at sea level , without locks, it has 6.4km in length and only 21.3m width at the base, it's unpassable for most modern ships. Actually it never attracted  the level of traffic anticipated, because of its narrowness, of navigational problems and of periodic closures required to repair landslips from its steep walls. It was seriously damaged during the WWII, when it was the scene of fighting due to its strategic importance.

March 20, 2013

0564 MOROCCO - A Berber village on the M'Goun Mountain

The High Atlas, the greatest mountain range of North Africa, is perhaps the most beautiful and intriguing part of Morocco, with its high plateaux, its gorges and box canyons, and its peaks sometimes splintered by erosion. Several peaks exceed 4,000m, Jbel Mgoun (M'Goun Mountain) being the highest (4,068 m). The area is populated by Berbers (about who I wrote a little here and here), and it has retained a remoteness which until recent decades was virtually complete and contains villages where the way of life has changed little for centuries. Unfortunately, lately "civilization" gets also here, and an conclusive example is the road from Azilal to Ait Bougmez, tarmacked a few years ago, which led to the disappearance of traditional villages. The revenue from tourism has given villagers the means to put to one side the traditional building materials such as adobe and stone, and to instead embrace unsightly and ecologically-unfriendly alternatives such as concrete, following the false perception that modern materials and methods are always superior.

March 19, 2013

0563 BAHRAIN - Coffee pot maker

It is believed that the coffee comes from Ethiopia, from where he arrived in the Arab world and then, through Ottoman Empire, in Europe. The earliest credible evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree appears in the middle of the 15th century, in Yemen. By the 16th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia, Turkey, and northern Africa, then in Italy and in the rest of Europe, in Indonesia, and in Americas. In fact in English and other European languages the word coffee derives from the Ottoman Turkish kahve (via the Italian caffè), borrowed from the Arabic qahwah.

March 18, 2013


To get to Manila by sea you have to get inside the Manila Bay, which is guarded by four islands: Corregidor, El Fraile, Caballo and Carabao. All were fortified during the American occupation of the Phillipines (begun in 1898), the most important being Corregidor, the largest among them. In 1908, a Regular Army post was established on the island, designated as Fort Mills, and in following year began the construction of concrete emplacements, bomb-proof shelters, and trails. Fort Mills, together with Fort Hughes (on Caballo), Fort Drum (on El Fraile) and Fort Frank (on Carabao), could withstand a six-month-long siege, after which the United States would provide aid.

March 17, 2013

0560 & 0561 POLAND (Lesser Poland) - Auschwitz Birkenau - German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (UNESCO WHS)

Nearly two years ago, when I started to be interested in UNESCO World Heritage Sites, I was surprised to find among these sites, alongside the Taj Mahal, Iguazu Falls, or the buildings constructed by Gaudi, for exemple, the nazi concentration and extermination camp from Auschwitz Birkenau. Of course that I searched the motivation on the UNESCO official website, and I found there that the site was included on the list in virtue of criterion VI, that means that it is "directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance", with specifying that "the Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria". In this case probably was not considered necessary.

More specifically, UNESCO considered that the site meets criterion VI because: "Auschwitz-Birkenau, monument to the deliberate genocide of the Jews by the Nazi regime (Germany 1933-1945) and to the deaths of countless others bears irrefutable evidence to one of the greatest crimes ever perpetrated against humanity. It is also a monument to the strength of the human spirit which in appalling conditions of adversity resisted the efforts of the German Nazi regime to suppress freedom and free thought and to wipe out whole races. The site is a key place of memory for the whole of humankind for the holocaust, racist policies and barbarism; it is a place of our collective memory of this dark chapter in the history of humanity, of transmission to younger generations and a sign of warning of the many threats and tragic consequences of extreme ideologies and denial of human dignity." Frankly, I wasn't convinced by the arguments. I don't think that if I would see in reality the camp's remains I would be more impressed than when I read certain books and I saw certain photos and movies or documentary about this subject. But that's just my opinion, which doesn't matter: Auschwitz-Birkenau is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Is known that during WWII Allies simply didn't believe that so-called Nazi labor camps were actually an extermination camps. What is less known is that the information which finally convinced them was provided by the Polish resistance, namely by the Secret Polish Army (Armia Polska Tajna) and the Home Army (Armia Krajowa). Much less known is that the first intelligence report on Auschwitz, the Witold's Report, which enabled the Polish government-in-exile to convince the Allies that the Holocaust was taking place, was drafted by Witold Pilecki, who volunteered to be imprisoned in the camp to provide information from inside and to organize a resistance movement there. He survived in the camp between September 1940 and April 1943, when he escaped, taking with him documents stolen from the Germans. After that he took part in the Warsaw Uprising. He survived again, but only to be executed in 1948 by the Stalinist secret police because he remained loyal to the London-based Polish government-in-exile. Until 1989, information on his exploits and fate was suppressed by the Polish communist regime.

March 16, 2013

0558 POLAND (Lower Silesia) - Centennial Hall in Wrocław (UNESCO WHS)

Founded as a Bohemian stronghold at the intersection of two trade routes, the Via Regia and the Amber Road, and later becomed the capital of Silesia, Wrocław it has been part, throughout history, of the Kingdom of Poland, the Austrian Empire, Prussia, Germany; and, since 1945, of Poland. In this city, on 10 March 1813 King Frederick William III of Prussia issued the proclamation An Mein Volk (To my People), by which he called upon the Prussian and German people to rise up against Napoleon's occupation. In October of that year, at the Battle of Leipzig, Napoleon was defeated.

March 15, 2013

0555-0557 BULGARIA (Burgas) - Ancient City of Nessebar (UNESCO WHS)

For miles, the road from Varna to Nessebar creeps like a snake along the coast, through the forests where coniferous and deciduous mix like the ethnic groups in the Balkans. But that's not what saw with three millennia ago the Thracians, who came from inland to built the settlement named Menebria, neither the Greeks, who came from the sea to lay the foundations of the prosperous colony named Mesembria. In 71 BC the town fell under Roman rule, yet continued to enjoy privileges, and from the 5th century AD onwards had become one of the most important strongholds of the Byzantine Empire. In the following centuries it passed several times from the hands of the Byzantines in those of the Bulgarians, and even of the Crusaders in 1366. The Bulgarian version of the name, Nesebar or Mesebar, has been attested since the 11th century. Conquered by the Ottomans in the same year as Constantinople (1453), it gradually declined until returned to Bulgaria in 1885, becoming since the beginning of the 20th century a key Bulgarian seaside resort.

As an "outstanding testimony of multilayered cultural and historical heritage", a place where many civilizations left their tangible traces, from the Dorians Black Sea colony's structures, with surviving remains of fortifications, to the churches from the Middle Ages and the vernacular wooden houses built in the 19th century, Nessebar was included in 1983 on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, under the name Ancient City of Nessebar. Nessebar is sometimes said to be the town with the highest number of churches per capita, because a total of forty churches had survive, wholly or partly, in the vicinity of the town. The ancient part of the town is situated on a little peninsula, previously an island, linked with the mainland with only a relatively narrow passageway.

One of them is the Church of Christ Pantocrator (in the second postcard), constructed in the 13th-14th century and best known for its exterior decoration, rich and colourful. Designed in late Byzantine cross-in-square style, was builded from stones and brickwork, a construction technique known as opus mixtum. Used today as art gallery, is among Bulgaria's best preserved churches of the Middle Ages.

The Old Windmill shown in the third postcard, located on the passageway from New Nessebar to Old Nessebar, is a lovely, very intact Black Sea style wildmill. Aren't known too much about it, but it's supposed that was built in the Bulgarian revival period from the 17th to the 19th century. The building have a rough style, the design being entirely functional. The windmill base reveals a wooden guiderail and direct wood-to-wood contact.