June 29, 2014

1059, 1123 NEPAL - Faces of Nepal

Posted on 14.04.2014, 29.06.2014
Nepali society is multiethnic and multilingual, Nepalese people (or Nepali or Gurkha) being the descendants of three major migrations from India, Tibet, and North Burma and the Chinese province of Yunnan via Assam. Even though Indo-Nepalese migrants were latecomers to Nepal relative to the migrants from the north, they have come to dominate the country not only numerically, but also socially, politically, and economically. Nepal's 2001 census enumerated 102 castes and ethnic groups. There are three main ethnicities: Khas (Bahun, Chhetri, Damai, Kami etc.), Mongoloid (Tamang, Gurung, Magar, Sherpa, Thakali and Kirat) and mixed (Newar). Nepali, a derivative of Sanskrit, is the official language; Newari, a language of the Tibeto-Burman family, and numerous other languages are spoken. About 90% of the population is Hindu, and the remaining Buddhist.

June 27, 2014

1122 PERU (Puno) - Lake Titicaca (UNESCO WHS - Tentative List) and its floating islands

Located in the Andes, on the border of Peru and Bolivia, Titicaca (Titiqaqa in Quechua) covers 8,300 square km and is the largest lake in South America, and also the highest navigable lake in the world, with a surface elevation of 3,812m. Its waters are limpid and only slightly brackish, and the surface temperatures average is 14°C. The lake averages between 140 and 180m in depth, reaching its greatest recorded depth of 280 m off Isla Soto in the lake's northeast corner. It holds large populations of water birds and was designated as a Ramsar Site on August 26, 1998. Several threatened species are largely or entirely restricted to the lake. In addition, approximately 90% of the fish species in the basin are endemic.

June 26, 2014

1119 FRANCE (Occitania) - Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne (UNESCO WHS)

Situated in the Aude plain between two great axis of circulation linking the Atlantic to the Mediterranean sea and the Massif Central to the Pyrénées, Carcassonne has about 2,500 years of history and is famous for its medieval fortress, located on a hill on the right bank of the River Aude, and restored by the theorist and architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1853 and added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. At the beginning of its history it was a Gaulish settlement then in the 3rd century A.D., the Romans decided to transform it into a fortified town. The main part of the lower courses of the northern ramparts dates from these times. Visigoths had occupied Carcassonne in 453, and built more fortifications. In 725 Saracens from Barcelona took the citadel, but King Pepin the Short drove them away in 759-60.

1118 BARBADOS - A traditional chattel house

In 1625 Barbados was claimed by England, and the first settlement in the island was founded in 1627 by Henry Powell, who arrived with 80 settlers and 10 slaves (kidnapped or runaway English or Irish youth). In 1640 was introduced the sugarcane from Dutch Brazil, and this completely transformed the society and the economy, Barbados becoming one of the world's biggest sugar industries (in 1660 it generated more trade than all the other English colonies combined). As the cost of white labour rose in England, more slaves were imported from West Africa, so if in the mid 1600's there was over 5600 black African slaves on island, by early 1800's figure reached 385,000, in the 1700's Barbados being one of the leaders in the slave trade from the European colonies.

1115, 1116 RUSSIA (Arkhangelsk Oblast) - Cultural and Historic Ensemble of the Solovetsky Islands (UNESCO WHS)

The Solovetsky Islands (or Solovki) are a group of six islands located in the Onega Bay of the White Sea, with a population of only 861 inhabitants. They have been the setting of the Russian Orthodox Solovetsky Monastery complex, founded in the second quarter of the 15th century by two monks from the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery. The existing stronghold and its major churches were erected in stone during the early reign of Ivan the Terrible at the behest of St. Philip of Moscow.


By the end of the 16th century, the abbey had emerged as one of the wealthiest landowners and most influential religious centres in Russia. At the onset of the Schism of the Russian Church, the monks staunchly stuck to the faith of their fathers and expelled the tsar's representatives from the Solovki, precipitating the eight-year-long siege of the islands by the forces of Tsar Alexis. The architectural ensemble of the Solovetsky Monastery is located on the shores of the Prosperity Bay on Solovetsky Island, and is surrounded by massive walls with 7 gates and 8 towers, made mainly of huge boulders up to 5 m in length.

June 25, 2014

1114 INDIA (Goa) - Churches and Convents of Goa (UNESCO WHS)

1114 Goa - The Tower of the Church of St. Augustine

Situated at 10km east of Panjim, Old Goa is a historical city,  founded in the 15th century on the banks of the Mandovi river by the rulers of the Bijapur Sultanate, to replace Govapuri, used as a port by the Kadamba and Vijayanagar kings. It served as capital of Portuguese India from the 16th century until its abandonment in the 18th century due to a plague. It is said to have once been a city of nearly 200,000 where from the Portuguese traded across continents. As center of Christianisation in the East, the city was evangelised by all religious orders, since all of them had their headquarters there.

June 24, 2014

1113 MICRONESIA (Pohnpei) - Pohnpei Surfing

Pohnpei "upon (pohn) a stone altar (pei)" (formerly known as Ponape) is an island of the Senyavin Islands, which are part of the larger Caroline Islands group. It belongs to Pohnpei State, one of the four states in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Palikir, the FSM's capital, is located on Pohnpei Island, the largest, highest, most populous, and most developed single island in the FSM. The locals have a reputation as being the most welcoming of outsiders among residents of the island group. Pohnpei is one of the wettest places on earth, and contains a wealth of biodiversity.

1112 UNITED KINGDOM (Scotland) - A Highlander piper near the Eilean Donan Castle

For centuries the inhabitants of Scotland have been building fortifications and strongholds of one kind or another, so that at one time there were over 3,000 castles, larger or smaller. Many of them are in ruins or have disappeared completely, but hundreds still remained, to remind the tumultuous history of these lands. One of the most picturesque of them is the castle located on the Eilean Donan (Island of Donnán), a small tidal island where three lochs meet, Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh, in Wester Ross.

June 22, 2014

1110 MONGOLIA (Övörkhangai) - Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape - Erdene Zuu Monastery (UNESCO WHS)

For many centuries, the Orkhon Valley, located in Central Mongolia, some 320 km west from the capital Ulan Bator, was viewed as the seat of the imperial power of the steppes. The first evidence comes from a stone stele with runic inscriptions, which was erected in the valley by Bilge Khan, an 8th-century ruler of the Göktürk Empire. Some 25 miles to the north of the stele, in the shadow of the sacred forest-mountain Ötüken, was his Ördü, or nomadic capital. Mountains were considered sacred in Tengriism, but Ötüken was especially sacred, because the ancestor spirits of the khagans and beys resided here. Whoever controlled this valley was considered heavenly appointed leader of the Turks and could rally the tribes. Thus control of the Orkhon Valley was of the utmost strategic importance for every Turkic state.

June 21, 2014

0535, 554, 1109 JORDAN - Petra (UNESCO WHS)

Posted on 02.03.2013, 15.03.2013, and 21.06.2014 
"...from the rock as if by magic grown, / eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!", as described it John William Burgon in a poem from 1845, Petra is undoubtedly one of the most amazing cities ever raised on this planet. (Re)discovered by Europeans 200 years ago, after a millennium of oblivion, this city lies on the slope of Mount Hor, in the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba, today in Jordania. Pliny the Elder and other writers identify Petra as the capital of the Nabataeans (ancient Arabs of North Arabia) and the center of their caravan trade, controlling the main commercial routes which passed through it to Gaza in the west, to Damascus in the north, to Leuce Come on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf. Came into prominence in the late first century BC, Petra continued to be a prosperous city 150 years after the Roman conquest (106), even if the native dynasty came to an end, but after that, probably because Palmyra attracted the Arabian trade, it gradually declined in importance, and ended by being completely deserted.

Nabataeans ability to control the water supply and also the flash floods, using dams, cisterns and water conduits, allowed them to create an artificial oasis and to build a city in the midle of the desert, simply carved into the rock, as the name implies (Petra means stone in Greek). The eastern entrance leads steeply down through a narrow gorge (in places only 3-4m wide) called the Siq (the shaft), which served as a waterway flowing into Wadi Musa. At the end of it stands Petra's most elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh (popularly known as the Treasury - in the first postcard), hewn into the sandstone cliff. A little further, at the foot of the en-Nejr mountain, is a massive theatre. At the point where the valley opens out into the plain, the site of the city is revealed with striking effect. The amphitheatre has been cut into the hillside and into several of the tombs during its construction.


The Monastery (in the second and the third postcard), Petra's largest monument, dates from the 1st century BC. It was dedicated to Obodas I and is believed to be the symposium of Obodas the god. This information is inscribed on the ruins of the Monastery (the name is the translation of the Arabic "Ad Deir"). It is similar as design with the Treasury, but is much larger and much less decorated. The flat plaza in front was carved out of the rock, perhaps to accommodate crowds at religious ceremonies, and was originally surrounded by a colonnade. The interior consists of a single room with double staircases leading up to a niche.

1108 SAUDI ARABIA (Makkah) - King Fahd's Fountain and Water Tower in Jeddah

Jeddah is the largest sea port on the Red Sea, and the second-largest city in Saudi Arabia after Riyadh, with a population of 5.1 million. It is also the principal gateway to Mecca (Islam's holiest city, which able-bodied Muslims are required to visit at least once in their lifetime), and a gateway to Medina (the second holiest place in Islam). Probably the main landmark of the city is King Fahd's Fountain, built in the 1980s and listed by the Guinness World Records organization as the highest water jet in the world at 312m. The fountain was donated to the City of Jeddah by the late King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, after whom it was named.

June 20, 2014

1107 PERU (Cusco) - A Quechua mother with her children on the Sacred Valley of the Incas

As it is known, the territory of present Peru was the heart of the Inca Empire, the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. It had a short life of only about 100 years, but at peak it included a population estimated between 4 and 37 million people, from 100 different cultures and speaking at least 20 languages. Since 1438 the official language of the empire was Quechua. After the Spanish Conquest, the local population decreased to around 600,000 in 1620, and Spaniards and Africans arrived in large numbers. Gradual European immigration followed independence, and many Chinese arrived in the 1850s, replacing slave workers. As result, today Peru is a multiethnic country, but despite all these, 46% of the population is Amerindian. The two major indigenous ethnic groups are the Quechuas (belonging to various cultural subgroups), followed by the Aymaras. A large proportion of the indigenous population who live in the Andean highlands still speak Quechua or Aymara, and have vibrant cultural traditions, some of which were part of the Inca Empire.

June 18, 2014

1105 UNITED KINGDOM (Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha) - The flag of Tristan da Cunha an its place on the map of the world

Located in the south Atlantic Ocean, Tristan da Cunha is the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world, lying 2,000km from nearest inhabited land, Saint Helena, and 2,400km from the nearest continental land, South Africa. The territory consists of the main island, with the same name, which has a north-south length of 11.27km, along with the smaller, uninhabited Nightingale Islands and the wildlife reserves of Inaccessible and Gough Islands. Tristan da Cunha is part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, and has a permanent population of 266 inhabitants (all of them descendants of 15 ancestors, 8 males and 7 females, who arrived on the island at various times between 1816 and 1908).

June 17, 2014

1104 KUWAIT - Mohammed Nasser el Sabah Mosque in Kuwait City

Built in 1981 in Ras-Salmiya area of Kuwait City, Mohammed Nasser el Sabah Mosque (aka Sheikh Nasser Mosque) is probably the only mosque in the World shaped like a stepped pyramid. Besides 30x26m pyramid shape main prayer hall, it also has a two storied annexe attached at the rear which houses ablution room and administrative offices etc. on the ground floor. The second floor houses a prayer section exclusively reserved for women, a library and an Islamic research centre. The minaret has 50m hight. Main architect for the mosque were Bureau D'architecture, Henri Montois, Belgium.

1103 SURINAME - The map and the flag of the country

As I wrote here, the Guianas (Las Guayanas in spanish) refers to a region which includes French Guiana, Guyana (former British Guiana), Suriname (former Dutch Guiana), the Guayana Region in Venezuela (former Spanish Guyana), and Brazilian State of Amapá (former Portuguese Guiana). Colonized by the English and the Dutch in the 17th century, Suriname was captured by the Dutch in 1667, who governed it as Dutch Guiana until 1954, when became one of the constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and in 1975 an independent country. It is the smallest sovereign state in South America, with a population of only 566,000, most of whom live on the country's north coast, where the capital Paramaribo is located. Founded at the beginning of the 17th century, Paramaribo houses more than half of Suriname's population, and the historic inner city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2002.

June 15, 2014

1102 BELIZE - The Keel-Billed Toucan, country's colorful ambassador

Belize is a country with a rich variety of wildlife, because of its unique position between both North and South America, on the Caribbean coast, and a wide range of climates and habitats. Belize's low human population, and approximately 22,970 km2 of undistributed land, provides an ideal home for more than 5000 species of plants, and hundreds of species of animals. In other words, Belize occupies a key place in the globally significant Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.

0590, 1101 ITALY (Tuscany) - Piazza del Duomo, Pisa (UNESCO WHS)

Posted on 08.04.2013, and 15.06.2014
Located on Tuscany, at the junction of the rivers Arno and Serchio, which form a laguna at the Tyrrhenian Sea, Pisa has an ancient history, even if the origin of its founders is uncertain. As the only port along the coast from Genoa to Ostia, it have a prominent maritime role during the Romans time, which grew up in the early Middle Ages, together with its military involvement in the peninsula. Its power as a mighty maritime nation reached its apex in the 11th century, when it became one of the four main Maritime Republics of Italy (Repubbliche Marinare). After Sardinia, Carthage (in North Africa) and Corsica, Pisa conquered Palermo, and the golden treasure taken from the Saracens allowed the Pisans to start the building of the monuments in Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square), which had a great influence on monumental art in Italy from the 11th to the 14th century. Known also as Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), it is a walled area to the north of central Pisa, partly paved and partly grassed, dominated by four great religious edifices: the Duomo, the Campanile, the Battistero and the Camposanto.

Duomo (the Cathedral) - located in the heart of the square, is dedicated to St. Mary of the Assumption. Its construction began in 1063, and set the model for the distinctive Pisan Romanesque style, with strong Byzantine influences, mainly in interior.

Battistero (the Baptistry) - stands opposite the west end of the cathedral and is dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The round Romanesque building was begun in the mid 17th century, and is the largest baptistery in Italy. The portal, facing the façade of the cathedral, is flanked by two classical columns, while the inner jambs are executed in Byzantine style.

Campanile (the Bell Tower) - located behind the cathedral, was erected between 1691 and 1889, when was added bell-chamber, built to accommodate seven main bells. Five years after construction began, when the building had reached the third floor level, the weak subsoil and poor foundation led to its sinking. It was left for a century, and in 1825, when construction resumed, the upper floors were built with one side taller than the other. By the time the building was completed, the lean was approximately 1 degree, and reached 5.5 degrees, its maximum value, prior to 1990. As of 2010, has been reduced to approximately 4 degrees.

0036, 1100 ITALY (Umbria) - Assisi, the Basilica of San Francesco and Other Franciscan Sites (UNESCO WHS)

Posted on 13.11.2011, and 15.06.2014
Built by the Romans on a series of terraces on Monte Subasio, Assisi stood out only along with the foundation of the Franciscan religious order by Saint Francis of Assisi (born Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone) and of the Poor Clares order also by him, but together with his disciple, Saint Claire of Assisi (born Chiara Offreduccio), both at the beginning of 13th century. Saint Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in history and shares honors with St. Catherine of Siena as the patron saint of Italy (from 1939).

Orthodox as religion and grew up under the Ceauşescu regime, I found out about St. Francis only late, after the age of 30, when I got in my hand an excellent written and structured volume, Gospel Living: Saint Francis of Assisi Yesterday and Today, that I strongly recommend you. The book has three parts, each with a different author: Francis of Assisi: Life - Life Program - Experiences (by the Capuchin Anton Rotzetter), Franciscan spirit over the centuries (by the Capuchin Eillibrord-Christian Van Dijk) and Francis of Assisi and his followers today (by the Franciscan Thaddee Matura). The book impressed me and made me think more to some things, on me, the agnostic who reads with great pleasure Céline, Samuel Beckett and Emil Cioran.

June 14, 2014

1099 GREECE (Crete) - Men in a cafeneon

Crete, the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece, while retaining its own local cultural traits, with roots in its long history, that spans thousands of years. Even if it is one of the few Greek islands that can support itself independently without a tourism industry, its economy relies however on services and tourism. European Union integration and modernisation has had a huge impact on local culture and attitudes, so the Crete of today is very different from the Crete 20 years ago, and further is a contrast between town and village life.