August 25, 2013

0804 MEXICO (Federal District) - Historic Centre of Mexico City and Xochimilco (UNESCO WHS)

0804 Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City

Built in the 16th century on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the old Aztec capital, as the capital of New Spain, Mexico City, with its chequerboard layout, the regular spacing of its plazas and streets, and the splendour of its religious architecture is a prime example of Spanish settlements in the New World. From the 14th to the 19th century, the city exerted a decisive influence on the development of architecture, the monumental arts and the use of space, first in the Aztec Kingdom and later in New Spain.

0803 LAOS - The map of the country

Placed between Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, consists mostly of mountains, with some plains and plateaus, and has a tropical climate, influenced by the monsoon pattern (with a rainy season from May to November, followed by a dry season from December to April). Though only about 4% of its area is arable, it is one of four in the opium poppy growing region known as the Golden Triangle. Actually its location has made it a buffer between more powerful neighboring states, as well as a crossroads for trade and communication. Migration and international conflict have contributed to the present ethnic composition and to the geographic distribution of its ethnic groups (about which I wrote here).

August 24, 2013

0797-0802 POLAND (Holy Cross) - Sandomierz

Although today is only a small town with 27,000 inhabitants, Sandomierz, located at the junction of Vistula and San rivers, on the path of trade routes, was in Middle Ages one of the most important urban centers of Poland. The first historical mention of the city comes from the early 12th century, when it appears, together with Kraków and Wrocław, as one of the main cities of Poland. In 1138, when the country was divided, it was designated as a capital of one of the resulting principalities, the Duchy of Sandomierz. Its wooden buildings were completely destroyed by Tatars in the 13th century, and in 1286 it was refounded under Magdeburg Law. In the middle of the 14th century it was burned again, by the Lithuanians, being rebuilt by the king Casimir III. The layout of the city has survived practically unchanged since that time until the present day.

The following 300 years were quite prosperous for the city, and the most important historical buildings were built during this period. In 1655, in the course of the Deluge, the Swedish forces blew up the castle and caused heavy damage to other buildings. A great fire in 1757 and the First Partition of Poland in 1772, which placed Sandomierz in Austria, further reduced its status. After 1815 it found itself in the Russian Empire, where it remained until 1918. As part of the independent Poland it began to grow quickly, but in 1939 was occupied by Nazi Germany, and in 1944 by the Soviet army.  No major development took place in Sandomierz during the communist era.

Today the layout of the Old Town retains its medieval character, and is a major tourist attraction. In the first postcard is right a view of the Old Town, and in the second one a row of heritage building on the main market square, with an old wooden well. In the third one is the Basilica of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Gothic church constructed in 1360, and renovated in the baroque style in the 18th century, which received the rank of cathedral in 1818.

In the fourth postcard is the Church of St. James, also known as the Shrine of Blessed Sadok and 48 Dominican martyrs, Monastery of Dominicans (Convent of St. James), Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary. Founded by Ivon Odrowąż in 1226-1250 as the second Dominican convent in Poland, after the Kracow one, is one of the oldest brick churches in Poland (probably in Europe). During the Mongol invasion in 1260, Sadok and 48 other Dominicans were murdered there. Because of this martyrdom, the Polish Dominican friars may use red belts in their habits. This church is a unique indirect form of Romano-Gothic style, and has beautiful Roman ceramic decorations on the outside walls, and gorgeous stained glass windows (designed by Charles Frycz and dating from 1910 to 1918).


In the fifth postcard is the Royal Castle, built on a slope of Vistula River, in Gothic style, by Casimir III the Great (on the site of the existing stronghold in the 10th century) and extended in the 16th century. The existing tower was built during the reign of Casimir IV Jagiellon in the 15th century as an integral part of the so-called Great House, the seat of the prince. As I wrote before, the original building was blown up in 1656 by the retreating Swedish troops of general Sincler, leaving only the west wing standing. It was later transformed into a Renaissance styled residence with the west wing preserved as a museum.


In the sixth postcard is the former Gothic town hall, a building on a plan of square and topped with a high octagonal tower, built soon after the Lithuanian raid in 1349. In the 16th century it was developed into a form of an extended rectangle and topped with an attic, and the tower was rebuilt in the 17th century. On the ground floor there is the section of the Regional Museum, in the basement there is the Club of Sandomierz Cultural Society "Lapidarium". On the first floor there are presentable rooms of the Town Council and the Office of Civil State. Next to the Town Hall, from the east, there is a statue of the Virgin Mary from 1776.


In the last postcard is Opatowska Gate (Brama Opatowska), a Gothic entrance to the city founded by the same King Casimir III. The original system of the Gothic walls consisted of four gates leading to: Opatów (the only preserved), Zawichost, Lublin, and Cracow and two wicket gates (of which one - the Dominican wicket gate, called “the Needle Eye” - has been preserved) as well as twenty-one defensive towers. On the northern facade of the gate there is an original guide bar which was used for lowering the portcullis. The Opatowska Gate is crowned with a Renaissance attic.

August 18, 2013

0796 QATAR - Skyscrapers of Doha

In 1939 were first discovered the oil reserves in Qatar Peninsula, located on the northeasterly coast of the much larger Arabian Peninsula. In 1971, Qatar officially gained its independence from the United Kingdom, and three years later the Qatar General Petroleum Corporation took control of all oil operations in the country, and Qatar rapidly became a rich country. In 2012, it has the highest GDP per capita in the world, and approximately 14% of households are dollar millionaires. Probably the most visible and simultaneously the most impressive evidence of the country's economic success are the buildings erected in recent decades especially in its capital, Doha, a relatively young city, founded in 1825.

August 17, 2013

0795 NETHERLANDS (Netherlands / Friesland) - Woman in traditional costume

Friesland (Frisia) is a coastal region along the southeastern corner of the North Sea (from the northwestern Netherlands across northwestern Germany to the border of Denmark), i.e. the German Bight, the traditional homeland of the Frisians, a Germanic people who speak Frisian, a language group closely related to the English language, and very distinct from Dutch, German, and Danish. The Frisians are divided into three groups, the West Frisians, the East Frisians and the North Frisians. There are currently about 500,000 speakers of Frisian, the vast majority speaking West Frisian, recognized as a language in the Netherlands.

August 16, 2013

0794 UKRAINE (City of Kiev) - Kiev: Saint Sophia Cathedral and Related Monastic Buildings, Kiev-Pechersk Lavra (UNESCO WHS)

Erected to rival Hagia Sophia church in Constantinople, the church with the same name in the capital of the Kievan Rus', created in the 11th century in a region evangelized after the baptism of Saint Vladimir in 988, is one of the major edifices representing the culture of Eastern Christianity, inspired by Byzantine models. Dedicated to the Holy Wisdom, not to a specific saint named Sophia, it is one of the city's best known landmarks and the first patrimony on territory of Ukraine to be inscribed on the World Heritage List along with the Kiev Cave Monastery complex in 1990.

August 13, 2013

0793 NEW ZEALAND (North Island) - Tongariro National Park - Mount Ruapehu (UNESCO WHS)

In 1993 Tongariro National Park became the first property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List under the revised criteria describing cultural landscapes. The mountains at the heart of the park have cultural and religious significance for the Maori people and symbolize the spiritual links between this community and its environment. The park has active and extinct volcanoes, a diverse range of ecosystems and some spectacular landscapes. The park includes many towns around its boundary, and has in the centre the active volcanic mountains Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro.

0792 MEXICO (México) - Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacan (UNESCO WHS)

0792 The Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan

Located in the Basin of Mexico, 48km northeast of modern day Mexico City, Teotihuacan was established around 100 BC and continued to be built until about 250 AD. It may have lasted until sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries AD, and at its zenith, perhaps in the first half of the 1st millennium AD, was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas (with perhaps 150,000 inhabitants). Although it's a subject of debate whether Teotihuacan was the center of a state empire, its influence throughout Mesoamerica is well documented.

August 11, 2013

0790 SOUTH AFRICA - Shangaan warriors

The Tsonga people inhabit the southern coastal plain of Mozambique, parts of Zimbabwe and Swaziland, and Mpumalanga and Limpopo Province of South Africa. The Tsongas are a diverse population, generally including the Shangaan, Thonga, Tonga, and several smaller ethnic groups. Actually depending on the ethnic groups included in Tsongas can say that are between 4.5 and 13 million, so they are a minority in one country, but a majority in the subcontinent. Although many of them are Christians, many also adhere to their own traditional religion, which entails constant attention to the propitiation of ancestral spirits.

August 10, 2013

0788 & 0789 JAPAN (Kantō) - Sumida River Fireworks Festival

The first mention of a firework dates back to 7th century China, from where this custom has spread to other cultures. It seems that in Japan they reached in 17th century, and became popular due to the lords who resided in Edo, today’s Tokyo. In 1733, the eighth shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune, organized the first such festival, Water God Festival, on the Sumida River, launching fireworks to honor the souls of the dead from the previous year, when some 1 million people had died of famine. According to Teruhiko Muto's Nihon no Hanabi no Ayumi (History of Fireworks in Japan), this river was preferred as place of holding the festival to avoid the summer heat. This became an annual event since 1810, under the name Ryōgoku Kawabiraki, which held on the last Saturday in July. The tradition continued nearly every year until 1920s, ceasing entirely during WWII and for several decades afterwards. Finally, in 1978, the tradition was reinstated, and continues to nowadays.

Now is known as Sumida River Fireworks Festival (Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai), and follows the Japanese tradition of being an competition between rival pyrotechnic groups (previously organized into guilds). Each group tries to out-do the last, and the result is an incredible variety of fireworks, not just in different colors and patterns, but forming shapes as complicated as Doraemon, Pikachu, or Kanji.  A key characteristic of many Japanese fireworks is that they are spherical, being named according to their effects. Some of the names are flowers, including kiku (chrysanthemum), botan (tree peony) and yanagi (willow). Street vendors sell various drinks and food, and held various games, such as Kingyo-sukui (Goldfish scooping). Even today, men and women attend these events wearing the traditional Yukata (summer Kimono), or Jinbei (men only), collecting in large social circles of family or friends to sit picnic-like, eating and drinking, while watching the show.

August 9, 2013

0786 PHILIPPINES (Central Visayas) - Chocolate Hills Natural Monument (UNESCO WHS - Tentative List)

The Chocolate Hills are located in Bohol Province and is a rolling terrain of haycock hills, mounds of a generally conical and almost symmetrical shape. Estimated to be from 1,268 to about 1,776 individual mounds, spread over an area of more than 50 square km, these cone-shaped or dome-shaped hills are actually made of grass-covered limestone, that turns brown (like chocolate) during the dry season, hence the name. The domes vary in sizes from 30 to 50m high with the largest being 120m in height. They have been declared the country's third National Geological Monument and proposed for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006, under the name Chocolate Hills Natural Monument.

0785 COSTA RICA - Oxherding and Oxcart Traditions in Costa Rica (UNESCO ICH)

The oxcart was a common means of transportation in many countries of the world for millennia, but only in very few has been given it so much importance as in Costa Rica. Considering it essential for the daily life but also for the commerce, the locals developed a unique construction and decoration of these carts, that is still being developed. The parades and traditional celebrations aren't complete without a oxcart parade. More than that, in 1988, the traditional oxcart was declared as National Symbol of Work by the Costa Rican government, and in 2005, the Oxherding and oxcart traditions in Costa Rica were included in UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

August 6, 2013

0784 GERMANY (Baden-Württemberg) - Monastic Island of Reichenau (UNESCO WHS)

Reichenau, called Augia Dives in medieval Latin manuscripts, is an island upon the Untersee (Lower Lake) of the Bodensee (Lake Constance), a lake on the Rhine, situated between Germany, Switzerland and Austria, near the Alps. The island is connected to the mainland by a causeway completed in 1838, interrupted between the site of the former castle Schopflen and the eastern end of island by the 10m-wide Bruckgraben, a waterway which is spanned by a low road bridge that allows passage of ordinary boats. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000 because of its monastery, the Benedictine Abbey of Reichenau.

August 4, 2013

0783 UKRAINE - Traditional costume of Ukraine (1)

The array of the Ukrainian traditional clothing is characterized by wide regional and ethnic diversity, even adjacent villages displaying important dissimilarity. The conception of traditional dress is related to the region of Central Ukraine, just as the present-day standard Ukrainian language, that also has formed in this region. The most widespread garment, inherited from the ancient Slavs, is a long shirt decorated with embroidered magic ornament with a waistband. Incidentally, embroidery is the major adornment of the traditional costume, and always enclosed certain information.

August 3, 2013

0362, 0782 PHILIPPINES (National Capital Region / Ilocos Region / Western Visayas) - Baroque Churches of the Philippines (UNESCO WHS)

0362 Paoay Church

Posted on 18.10.2012, 03.08.2013
As I said here with reference to the Philippines, "from Spaniards have remained Christianity and the name". Regarding the Christianizing of the native population, it began with the arrival of Magellan in 1521, and the Spaniards proved to be very effective, so that today Philippines is one of two predominantly Roman Catholic nations in Asia (the other being East Timor), about 93% of the population being Christian.

In parallel with the conversion of the indigenous were built many churches, "in the European style", but not a few of them suffered major destructions due to earthquakes in the area. For the Church as institution, this didn't mean only material damage, but also a loss of image and credibility, so the churchs builders had to make major structural changes. So appeared a new architectural style, EarthquakeBaroque, used also in Guatemala and even in Lisbon, characterized by more robust proportions, smaller height, and thicker and heavily buttresses.

0781 FRANCE (Brittany) - A women from Pays Bigouden wearing "la brouette"

I wrote a little about Brittany and its pays or bro ("country" in French, respectively Breton) here, but if then it was about a dance from Pays Pourlet, the old woman depicted in this postcard is from Pays Bigouden (in Breton, Ar Vro Vigoudenn). As says Romain, she was photographed on the quay of the harbour of Saint Guénolé, one of the four villages which forms the municipality of Penmarch. The area has distinctive customs and costumes, and during the 19th century local costumes became increasingly elaborate and colourful.

August 2, 2013

0780 SWEDEN (Södermanland) - S/S Ejdern of Södertälje

0780-1 S/S Ejdern of Södertälje in nowadays

Located at 30km southwest of Stockholm, on a bay of Lake Mälaren, which is here connected with the Baltic Sea by the Södertälje Canal (56 km in length), Södertälje is the main site for truck manufacturer Scania AB and also for pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Furthermore, the port of Södertälje, the second in the Stockholm region, hosts something unique: the oldest coal fired propeller driven steamer, with original engine, in the world.

0780-2 S/S Ejdern of Södertälje in 1905

Built in 1880 in Gothenburg to frequent the archipelago, in nowadays S/S Ejdern makes day trips during the summer to Birka, Adelsö, Drottningholm, Stockholm and Mariefred. A voyage with S/S Ejdern is like travelling back to the past. The propulsion is provided by a Compound engine at 65 IHP, and a boiler of Scotch type, coal fired. Between 1914 and 1957 it had a single captain, Rikard Fredmark.