Sunday, December 30, 2007


Timbuktu Mali Africa

Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu

Center of a significant written culture of Africa

Africa is often dubbed as a dark continent; but those who heard of Timbuktu can never call it so. Timbuktu; the ‘center of significant written culture of Africa’ is -located in Tombouctau District, Mali- was a torch spreading light all around; it was at a time when rest of the world groped amidst the gloom that encircled. Eight centuries back the district of Tombouctau was home to leading universities like Sankore and the Djinguereber and Sidi Yahya. They were the centers of excellence not only in theological disciplines but scientific and historic wisdom as well. These ancient universities did a great thing they kept written records of what was taught, these records prevail to tell all.

A golden period

Sankore Madrasah in Timbuktu

During the good times this city had a population 100,000 people but the pupils of these institutions alone were about 25,000; that means it catered the educational needs of pupils belonging to a large portion of the surrounding area. These buildings made out of clay in a typical Timbuktu style are standing tall heralding their past prominence; they are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Three centuries from the 13th to the 15th was for Timbuktu its golden period when these three centers along with numerous madrasas shone like stars spreading world-class knowledge to its pupils these ancient wisdom in the form of manuscripts if not existed; no one would have believed that such an impoverished nation like Mali was home them.

No Christians please; we are traders

Mali’s population mainly consists of Songhay, Tuarog, Fulani and Mande people and numerous nomadic tribes. The Tombouctau region where the Timbuktu sites are located is about 15 km north of River Niger; it is in the northern most part of Mali –a land locked and one of the most backward nations in the African Continent. Being located in the Sub-Saharan area these places were hard to access. The traders kept this place secret from the Europeans as they knew that the Europeans will outsmart them in trade. In the attempt to explore the location many non-Muslims traders and their informants got killed.

An entrepot

Tombouctau is located in the meeting point of the trans-Saharan trade routes and flourishing trade made this region rich. Tombouctau was an entrepot (a place where merchandise can be imported and exported without restriction, an ancient system for the present duty-free ports). The ban was only for non-Muslims and commodities of all sorts were welcome! Timbuktu even catered the needs of Europe by supplying rock salt from Taoudenni (an oasis known for its salt deposits) although the trade was not direct.

‘From here to Timbuktu’

Map of Timbuktu

Timbuktu even engaged in indirect trade with far away countries of Europe, for Europeans Timbuktu was a weird place; a symbol of all that were exotic and distant and something they have never seen, the phrase ‘from here to Timbuktu’ also means a place as far as one can imagine. Though Timbuktu was the creation of the Tuaregs (a tribe who live in the surrounding areas); it was the merchants and brisk trade that made the town rich; various kingdoms were born and flourished in the soil of Timbuktu; like the Ghana, Mali and Songhay empires.

A different style

The structure made of clay in typical style; that stands as Timbuktu University building was built on 1581; which was built on the older and the original structure which was built about two centuries back. In curriculum as well as method of teaching adopted here was entirely different from what existed in other parts of the world. There is much for the expensive modern universities can emulate from Sankore of Sidi Yahya to cut costs and make education more student friendly. It is surprising to see that Ancient Universities like Nalanda and Taxila had many similarities in their functioning with that of Sankore.

Collection of schools

Timbuktu, Mali, Africa

These great universities like Sankore, Sidi Yahya, Djinguereyber etc were in fact collections of small institutions; each managed by single faculty known as the Imam. Students were associated only with that single master. The classes were held in the open or in mosque compounds. The main theme was teaching of Qur’an but classes on logics, astronomy, history etc were also held. Ahmed Baba –a prominent historian was one of the most celebrated faculties of the university, his name is referred in classic works like Tarikh- es Sudan etc.

The real treasure!

The scholars had to write their own books based on their curriculum, socio-economic issues and all that they were taught. It is this system that has generated the numerous manuscripts (written in Arabic or Fulani) which later turned out to be very valuable documents for the historians to understand the progress the people have achieved in this part of the land. The real treasure of this time is not just the 15th century complex but the 100,000 plus manuscripts (written in Arabic or Fulani) intended for didactic (moral teaching) purpose. These manuscripts were written in various times some of them were even older than Islam itself. When the older ones mainly dealt with theological subjects; comparatively recent ones were containing history, law, science and music.

In private hands

These manuscripts had been kept by the rich families of the surrounding areas as their family treasure and most of them were being lost for lack of proper preservation. It is estimated that there are between 300,000 and 700,000 such manuscripts existing in various houses; as the possession is secret no one is able to assess exact number. At present the Ahmed Baba institute (Cedrab) founded in 1970 by the Government of Mali in collaboration with UNESCO has acquired some of them for preservation and digitalization.

Like gold; like salt; like wisdom

These manuscripts that cover every aspects of human life is properly scrutinized can yield a lot of information about the culture, society, history and human relations and the depth of their knowledge. There is an old saying that stated the importance of Timbuktu “Salt comes from north, gold from south and wisdom from Timbuktu”. If salt is for health, and gold for wealth, wisdom was for the very existence of culture without which man is beast.

The African Ink-Road

Timbuktu had nothing but wisdom as its own to exchange; and as the store-house of wisdom (being home to Sankore etc; it had no dearth for it. In exchange of the commodities received Timbuktu offered its wisdom in abundance. These treasures of wisdom in the form of manuscripts traveled all through the routs and reached every where the commodities reached; thereby forming the African Ink-Road that stretches between the West Africa to the east and the south. If ancient Asia had a ‘Silk-route’ Africa had a far valuable ‘Ink-Road’. More than sixty libraries are there on this ink-road all richly endowed with these invaluable manuscripts.

The stunning abundance!

Sankore, Djinguereyber, Sidi Yahya all combined gave birth to manuscripts that is so abundant that no one is sure how much of them exist and how much have perished; most of them are secret holdings of the surrounding families. There are about 60 to 80 libraries dotted here and there along the Ink-Road like the Mamma Haidara library, Fundo Kati library (which has a collection of about 3000 manuscripts of the Andolusian origin. At present UNESCO is working in liaison with these libraries to get these manuscripts preseved.

The decline

A typical street scene at Timbuktu, Mali, with omnipresent bread-baking ovens

The Portuguese and other European traders landed in West Africa changing its entire scenario –this region was so far kept away from the Europeans- they devised alternative trade routes thereby diminishing the potential of the existing routes. With the fall of the trade routes the city lost its prominence as a trading center. The attack made by Morisco (Moriscos are Muslims of Spain who were forcible converted to Christianity, the word means Moor-like) mercenaries hastened its fall.

Present Timbuktu

Timbuktu is a UNESCO approved World Heritage Site since 1988 and on that merit it has an international air-port and some amount of tourists visit its sites. This town has a population above 30,000 and headquarters to the local Governor. Whatever its status as a heritage site the people of this town live in utter penury and water scarcity; the Sahara Desert keep on advancing to swallow this little town. UNESCO placed this site in the ‘endangered sites list’ as it was on the verge of getting buried by the desert sand, after necessary works done in 2005 it has been taken out of the endangered list.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Kiyomizu-dera the Temple of Kiyomizu, Kyoto Japan

Kiyomizu-dera the Temple of Kiyomizu, Kyoto Japan

Kiyomizu Temple Rear view of Pagoda and adjacent building

Kiyoto’s Pride

The ancient Buddhist temple at Kiyomizu is located at the eastern part of Kyoto City in the Honshu Island Japan. This temple complex is a World Heritage Site approved by UNESCO since 1994. For a long time; this temple remains as a place for pilgrimage to the Japanese and the entire complex consists of several other shrines and pagodas; among them the most important being Jishu Jinja the shrine of the god of marital bliss and provider of good matches. The Kiyomizu dera remains as the most prominent sight in the city of Kyoto which was once the capital of Imperial Japan this city was also a stronghold of the Buddhist clergy during the 8th century.

The monk and his golden dream

Kiyomizu-dera the Temple of Kiyomizu, Kyoto Japan

Statuettes of Ksitigarbha (or Jizou) en masse (Kiyomizu Dera Temple)

This temple of Kiyomizu belonged to the Hosso-Sect of the Buddhist religion founded by a Chinese monk by name Doshi, This sect was a comparatively small one in number of followers but one of the oldest Buddhist sects in Japan. The Kiyomizu as per the legends was the creation of another monk by name Enchin, he did it with the help of a warrior by name Tamuramaro. Here is the legend.

200 years on a log!

One day Enchin the monk saw a dream about a golden stream flowing down from the hill to the Yadogawa River. Next morning itself he set to the hill on the pursuit of the golden stream. There on the hill he saw an old man sitting on a big log. To the enquiries of the monk the old man replied that he was sitting on that log for the last 200 years reciting hymns of God Kannan intending to make an image of that God out of that log. The old man then asked the monk to sit there until his return and went to the top of the hill.

Tamuromaro cometh

Kiyomizu-dera the Temple of Kiyomizu, Kyoto JapanStatuettes of Ksitigarbha covered by fern in Kiyomizu Dera temple

Not seeing the old man back the monk went in search and found only a pair of shoes on the peak of the hill. The monk was convinced that the old man was god Kannan himself and started to make the image of Kannan and a temple out of the log on which he sat. By that time a warrior (Tamuramaro) came there while hunting for a stag. Finding the monk and hearing what happened; the warrior donated his house to build the temple as per the wish of the monk, more over he spotted the golden stream to the monk had seen in his dream and helped in building the temple. Tamuromaro’s magnanimity was honored by the king and a palatial house granted to him in return.

The spring of wisdom, an answer to Japan’s technological superiority!

In Japanese ‘Kiyomizu’ means pure water which denotes the three springs situated in the complex just beneath the main hall. These three springs; known as ‘Otawa no taki’ is sourced from the nearby hills, which fall in to a pond; is collected by the devotees –in fact people from far away places visit this shrine to collect this water believed to have therapeutic effects. Of the three springs one for health the second for longevity and the third for success in education (wisdom). This belief and ritual is akin to the Indian ritual of collecting water from holy rivers and keeping it in places where holy images are placed. This water will be dropped in to the mouth of laid up people either for cure or at the time of death.

Jump in to your wish!

This Buddhist temple complex include many structures built in different time, its main hall is having a prominent veranda standing on hundreds of pillars standing magnificently tall from the hillside giving an impressive view. There is one belief among the Japanese that one who jumps from the 30 meter tall veranda and survives will be lucky and his wish will be realized. Up to recent times there were no dearth for these ‘sacred jumpers’; around 300 – 400 people used to jump for the fulfillment of their wish; of which about 15% alone died! The lush green woods grew underneath had done the trick as the tree branches cushioned the impact, yet 50% of the jumpers left with high spirits but fractured bones! Now this jumping is banned by the government. A phrase still exist in Japanese ‘go and jump from Kiyomizu’ equivalent to that in English ‘take a plunge”

Blind love; any takers?

The Jishu Jinja temple is dedicated to Okuninushino Mikoto the god of love and marital matches. There are two rocks placed in this complex at a distance of 18 meters, if one person touch on one of the stone and walks eyes closed to the other stone and succeeds in touching by him self; he will be fortunate enough to find a life-mate himself. Those who have to find others’ help for the job will require other one’s help in finding a partner!

Whatever be the truth it is funny to find devotees and tourists walking eyes closed and occasionally clashing one to the other, these collisions if between a man and a woman can result in to an eternal ‘collision-free’ union! At times middle aged husbands are found in hot pursuit of their ‘closed eyed’ wives; lest they may bump upon an able bodied man! How much bliss it would have provided to the loners if such a temple existed in New York or Chicago! It is a tragedy that Mikoto is only in Japan.


Kiyomizu-dera the Temple of Kiyomizu, Kyoto JapanOne of the lovestones in kiyomizu dera temple

This temple complex is extremely popular among tourists (to see the temple and strange rituals) and devotees (to collect holy water and pray). Summer and the O-bon festivals are season time and it is a mess here when tourists, devotees, students (who come here in search of gaining good grades by drinking water from Otawa no taki; there by saving efforts of hard work!), and touts selling ‘O-mikuji’ (talisman or folded paper with fortunes written in it) for easy access to fortunes etc. It is said that these touts have two types of O-mikuji those who pay well will get good fortune and those bargain for a lesser price will get O-mikuji that will bring bad lucks! Strange Japanese business technologies!

Kyoto and all its missed emissions!

The Kyoto City where this temple complex stands gained fame for hosting the ‘International Framework Convention on Climate Change’ first held in 11th December1997, then in 2005 and 2007 to pursue ‘action on green house gas emissions’; those events related to the convention still occupy top slots in media even during these times. The presence of such a wonderful Buddhist shrine (built in 798 AD and the surrounding monuments built after nine centuries (1633) was not adequately mentioned in most of the reportings related to the meeting of climate changes.

How to reach

Kiyomizu-dera the Temple of Kiyomizu, Kyoto JapanThe main gate of Kiyomizu Dera Temple

Kiyomizu is just 15 minutes from Kyoto by bus (bus number 100 or 206), alight at Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka; and another 20 minutes walk take you to the shrine, the path is clean clear and safe early morning is fine for the climb. There are numerous stalls that vend local delicacies and souvenir shops, to make a tour worth to remember. A walk between the stones of Jishi Jinja Temple with closed eyes alone may be enough to for a life long reward; if not convinced go to the Kiyomizu and feel it youself!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Alhambra, Granada Spain- The Red Palace

Alhambra Granada SpainAlhambra Granada Spain

Something odd in Spain!

Alhambra (means ‘the red’ in Arabic) is in Granada in Southern Spain, the name may make one to think that it may be located in Turkey or Saudi Arabia. The Alhambra Palace Complex has passed through turbulent times of the Europe and there are many historical events behind its construction, reconstruction, additions and finally to its change in to a museum of exquisite Islamic arts and architecture. In the middle age (between the 1st and 10th centuries) Spain and its surrounding areas were in turmoil as the Semitic Religions playing different games (most of them bloody) for adding maximum numbers to their respective groups as well as doing everything for the elimination of the others.

On the edge of the sword!

Alhambra Granada Spain Alhambra from the "Mirador de San Nicolás" in the Albaycin of Granada.

Romans; that called the shots during the reign of Augustus Caesar colonized Spain along with neighboring regions and formed ‘Hispania’. Visigoths from the Germanic regions were there with Christianity. Muslims from Africa rose as a major power after the weakening of the Roman Empire. Paganism of Rome was crumbling before the new wave of Semitic Religions. Christianity of Visigoths and Islam from Arabs all struggled for supremacy; in between them were some pockets of Jews finding it hard to survive. Religious persecutions became the order of the day, human blood flowed like river. Conversions and re-conversions at the edge of the sword prevailed. By 5th AD major parts of Spain fell in to the hands of Muslims and that spell lasted up to the 10th Century AD until the return of ‘reinforced’ Christianity. The Alhambra is a product of this period.

And quietly flows the Darro!

The River Darro which flows beside the Alhambra was a case point, its initial name was Aurus (meaning gold as its sand contained traces of gold and small-scale gold extractions were taking place there), when Arabs took over the land they ‘converted’ the river and named it as ‘Hadarrb’, lately Christians took over the reign and re-Christened the ‘Muslim’ river in to a Christian river and named it ‘Dauro’. This river is presently known as ‘Darro’. If the fate of and ‘innocent’ river is this what would be that of historical monuments. The changes of rulers had corresponding changes in the Alhambra, many additions, many desecrations and many modifications.

The original Qal’at al Hambra

The Muslim rulers known as the Moors engaged in massive conversion of Christians and Pagans in to Islam; these new converts to Islam were known as Muladis; the Muladis grew in strength and power and finally drove out the Moors who were forced to take shelter in the original Qal’at al Hambra (the red fort) they used it as residence as well as court. At that time Alhambra was a medium sized building. Enemies easily entered in the fort and destroyed it. This building lied there in the state of ruins; ignored by all for centuries.

Second and the third births

Alhambra Granada Spain The Court of the Lions, a unique remain of islamic animal statues.

Samuel Ibn Naghrallah Vizier (top official under Muslim rulers) to King Badis of the Zirid dynasty rebuilt it with red-clay; which also got eventually destroyed. It was Nasser of the Nasrid Dynasty who finally built the structure that stands intact today. The Nasrid Dynasty was established by Ibn Nasser found asylum in Granada running away to avoid persecution from King Ferdinand in early 13th century.

A palatine city

The architecture adopted by Nasrid was different from the Umayyad style that existed here before (The Cordova Mosque is a typical Umayyad Style structure), Nasrid got the entire complex transformed in to a palatine city with six palaces (four of them royal residences), an advanced irrigation system known as acequias (al saqiya in Arabic for community water supply), numerous bath-houses and all paraphernalia required for a royal city.

Not an inch to spare

Alhambra Granada SpainFountains and flowing water are a common feature around the Alhambra

Not even an inch is spared from artworks, arches were made only for aesthetics, walls covered with expensive and enchanting ceramics and ornate plasters, coverings made of wooden frames carved so beautifully. As in the case of typical Muslim palaces walls are adorned of calligraphy depicting poems. ‘Zawi ben Ziri’ (founder Nasrid dynasty), Allah Aqbar (meaning god is the victor), etc. The decorative elements frequently used are inter lacing vegetative forms with nets of rhombuses (net-shaped carvings known as ‘jallies) as human figures are taboo, Now let us see some of the individual items

The Column

The Alhambra is creditable with unique styling the column on which it is built is a cylindrical shaft with molded concave base and decorative rings at the top. Its capital is divided in to two; the first one is cylindrical it has a prism with round base with ornate carvings.

The Hall of ‘Abencerraejes’ is decorated with arches and marble floors, it is said that the knight of Abancerrjes was beheaded at this hall and hence the name. There are markings on the floor said to be the blood stain of the knight. No one is sure which knight was beheaded and who ordered for it.

Hall of Two Sisters has the name denoting two marble stones placed in it. It was built by Mohammed 5 and includes bed chambers, gardens, emperor’s chamber and porticos connecting them together.

Comares Palace; the official residence of the king, has several rooms surrounded by Court of Myrtles. All rooms have galleries with porticos, this complex include Hall of the Boat and the Hall of Ambassadors. Its walls are decorated with holy-verses.

Court of the Myrtles; one of the most beautiful structures of the complex made of pure white marble, with a pond that reflects the building it stands in contrast to the lush green myrtle bushes and hence its name (this building has got different names in different times).

Mexuar including tower and a gallery is believed to be built by Nasrid but it had undergone several modifications and its original shape has become hard to guess. It is so named as the architect Michuka lived in it during the construction.

The Oratory; located behind the Mexaur has arches and walls with inscriptions and verses from Qur’an. This hall suffered extensive damages in an explosion and renovated in 1917.

Gilded Room (Cuarto Dorado); it is part of the Comares Palace and got its name for its painted Mudejar style and coffered ceiling. It has highly decorated walls and is connected to the Mexaur with a little arch. Patio of the Gilded room was renovated in 1943 and fountain reinstalled as per the exact original design.

Bath complex

The bath complex is comprised of many chambers typical to Arabic style big bath tub alone are provided and no swimming pool. There is provision for cold, hot as well as steam baths. The first to come is the ‘frigiderium’ with large cold water basin, ‘tepidarium’ (provided at the central hall) with warm water and finally a ‘caldarium’ for steam bath. Inside the hall there is a copper boiler in which water is boiled and piped to the required basin by underground pipes. Remnants of these pipes are still visible.

The Royal bath; What a royal bath!

The Royal Bath; is built at the east of the Comares Palace, with a fountain in the middle surrounded by columns. The Hall of Beds was the place to undress before bath with an open side for the emperor to watch. The lady who catches his attention had gets an apple thrown at her as a mark of her approval. With the apple she gets the privilege to spend that night with the emperor. Such a throw with emperor’s apple was rare chance to that lady as the harem is filled with numerous ‘wives’ and only lucky ones get a chance to spend one night with the emperor!

Evolution of styles

Alhambra Granada Spain A room of the palace and a view of the Court of the Lions.

If the Darro River had to carry many names with change of rule; the shape of the palace also has undergone changes in accordance with the change of the rulers. First names were Arabic then came Spanish names. Some of the names mentioned above are just English translations of the Spanish names. The Islamic artists living cut off from the mainstream Islamic arts slowly evolved in to a separate entity by name ‘the Andalusian’ artists. Most of the Islamic traits got transformed and a new style specific to the region of Andalusia which remains as the uniqueness of Alhambra structures.

The Christian era

By the beginning of the 15th century whole scenario changed Granada became the seat of the Christian Arch Bishop! The Moors were expelled and those Muslims who stuck to Islam fled to Africa. Charles V established a university in Granada and a court in Alhambra. The renaissance and the Baroque deleted the Islamic remnants from the landscape. There were tremendous activities of construction, churches were made in fashionable designs, facades, canvasses, sculptures all were started dotting the entire city-scape.

French occupation and after

The French occupation was not as sweet and almost all the original structures were destroyed, nothing came up to replace what was lost. Even the expulsion of the French could not usher the old charm of the city as revolutions and revolts were regular. Only by the end of the 19th century a building boom that followed could add something to make the city’s charm. At present Granada remains as a modern city with sparkling gems of the yesteryears with well restored monuments. Its main dependence is on the students who flock to the 450 years old University as a center of excellence.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Acropolis, Athens

Acropolis of AthensAcropolis at Athens image courtsey:

The most invaluable monuments of the Western World

The word ‘Acropolis simply means high city, ancient settlements were generally made on the top of hills due to security concerns and Acropolis was no exception. In that sense there are many acropoleis in the world. Rome, Jerusalem, Athens, Thebes, Corinth etc all have acropoleis, but the word if plainly used; means the Acropolis of Athens; because it is that much associated to decisive historical events that shaped the destiny of Europe. The Acropolis complex was the epicenter of social, cultural and religious activities of a bygone era 3,000 years back is a flat topped hill in the center of the city of Athens that houses several monuments including the Parthenon the temple of Athena -the Greek Goddess and other rare and valuable monuments of the history of Greece.


Acropolis of AthensTthe Erechtheum at the Acropolis at Athens

The Acropolis is also known as Cecropia after the legendary King Cecrops -with a man’s head and a snake’s body - who is believed to have established the Athenian Empire. There are evidences that these people who lived here from 10th century BC knew the techniques of making bronze. Pottery pieces retrieved from this place prove that this hill was inhabited from the late Stone Age. There are remnants of a 13th century BC fortification made of cyclopean wall (made of lime-stone without using mortar) built around the complex. It was the establishment of the cult of Athena Polias in the 8th century BC that made this place the status of a pilgrim spot for the Greeks. A temple of Athena Polias is located in the north eastern side of the hill.

Acropolis of Athens

Cecrops a mythical king of Athens

Artemis; the fem-fatale!

Even though Greek folklores say that the Athenian Empire was established by Cecrops; the first human king who ruled the empire was Actaeus of Allica. (There is one Actaeus who while on hunting in the woods happened to watch Goddess Artemis (daughter of Zeus and sister of Apollo, she also used to go on hunting spree) taking bath in a stream and was discovered by the Goddess. The enraged Artemis cursed Actaeus and he became a stag and got killed by his own hunts).

Athena her beauty was not just skin deep

Acropolis of AthensAthena

Athena the daughter of Zeus was the sum total of all a man expected from womanhood. And there is seldom any woman in history; a woman remained in the fantasies of a community for so many generations. She was the protectress of Acropolis and her temple (made in 5th century BC; still remains as the best of the monuments of this complex. Athena Parthenon (Athena the virgin) was to the Greeks far more than being a goddess. She was goddess of wisdom, art of weaving (as Athena Ergane), she was goddess to battle (Athena Promachos) and victory (Athena Nike) education and was everything a person wished to attain.

Several Gods; Several Portfolios

Poseidon, Aries, Artemis, Hephaestus, Apollo, Hermes, Aphrodite, Herse, Festia, Demeter were her brothers; all with their own duties as Olympians (the twelve gods who live on the Olympus Mountain).

Xerxes and his revenge!

Acropolis of AthensThe Propylaea at Acropolis at Athens

The Acropolis had the fortune of evading the mass destruction several times but once. It was Xerxes the son of Darius a Persian king who captured Athens (in 480 BC) and entered Acropolis; he ‘succeeded’ in burning it in to ashes before being driven out by the combined army of Greeks. For Xerxes it was a sweet revenge for the defeat Persians suffered in Marathon. In the dark ages that followed numerous monuments were ruthlessly destroyed by the tribals. The remnants of these destroyed structures were dumped in a pit for new constructions, archaeologists recovered numerous materials from this site, these debris turned out to be a gold mine for them! These are known as the Persian debris.

Too good to resist!

The Acropolis has lured surrounding tribes and numerous wars were fought for its acquisition. The Kylonians conquered and took control of it during the Kylonian revolt. Peristratus conquered it twice and took it over; but he only played a creative role by adding structures to it. Propylaea the monumental colonnaded gate made of marbles; is his addition to the monuments. The temple of Artemis (daughter of Zeus who later came to be identified with moon and got adopted by Romans as Diana) was also a Peristratus creation.

Pericles and the golden age

Acropolis of AthensThe western side of the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens

The time when Pericles ruled is considered as the golden age for the Acropolis; as most of the constructions were made during his time. Phidias; the great Athenian sculptor, Ictinus, Kallikrates were all involved in the reconstruction works of the Acropolis. Erechtheum; a complex of temples of Athena, Poseidon, Erechtheus, Cecrops, Pandrosos, Herse etc all were made during this golden period.

The sacred temple for the Athena Parthenon was constructed after the Greek victory over the Persians on the banks of Eurymedon River, Propylaea; is a tetra-style Ionic structure with colonnaded porticos. Its facade was designed by Kallikrates with monumental gates in front and rear with marble columns originally built by Peristratus was rebuilt on its remnants.

A Greek Tragedy

The Greek Gods represented in these temples are related by the myths as follows, Hephaestus once unsuccessfully tried to rape Athena Parthenon; in his vain attempt his semen spilled on her legs. She wiped it by a piece of wool and threw on the earth. This impregnated the Mother Earth (Gaia in Greek) and a child was born by name Erichthonius. Athena wanted to make this child immortal and gave it to her three sisters (Herse. Pandrosus and Aglaulus); packing it in a basket. Athena told them not to open it at any events! But Herse could not withstand her curiosity and one day opened it; what she found was a horrible half-snake child. Seeing such a horrible sight Herse and Aglaulus ran mad and jumped off the Acropolis to death.

Acropolis now

Acropolis of Athens Site plan of the Acropolis at Athens showing the major archaeological remains

The Acropolis being in the middle of the modern city of Athens; access is easy and there are large walkways with shopping arcades and restaurants in the southern and western sides of the site. After the climb the first monument that appears is the Propylae and then the Pinacotheca and Hellenistic Pedestal that stands beside the Athena Nike. There is yet another pedestal that carries the statue of Athena which was destroyed by the Turks in 1686 during their occupation. There they destroyed the statue and placed a huge cannon it Athena’s pedestal, real connoisseurs they must be! Later the statue was rebuilt in 1842 and a second time in 1936.

A visit that is worth

The Acropolis a World Heritage Site is a crowd puller of tourists from all over the world, even to people who are accustomed of seeing the photographs of the temple of Athena several times the real vision; would definitely a marvelous surprise. It took more than 15 years for its construction and has served as a temple, church and a mosque in its long history. The best time to visit this site is either in winter or in spring when there will be a grass and other plants may be all around and the rocks may not be terribly hot.

Monday, December 17, 2007

New Seven Wonders of the World

New Seven Wonders of the World

The Magical digit '7'

Seven happens to be a magical digit for man and the earth as well, seven continents, seven seas, seven colors, seven musical notes, and the ancient concept of Seven Wonders of the World.

7th July 07 (7-7-07) was also a rare date all of sevens and was apt to coin 7 existing wonders for the world to wonder!

The 7 Wonders Society a non-profit organization promoted by Bernard Weber coined 7-7-7 for selecting the wonders, and the method he chose was unique, through voting via internet. The response from the public was tremendous; more than one hundred million people cast their vote (neglecting differences of region, religion or race), a phenomenon quite unheard of in the history of the world,

The results include worldwide online, SMS and telephone voting. The results were also miraculous, winners were from different continents while Latin America (3, Macchu Pichu, Chichen Itza and Christ the Redeemer) and Africa (2, Petra and Pyramid of Giza) and Asia (2, Great Wall of China and Taj Mahal of India) as expected topped the list (Africa has Pyramids the extra and superb wonder) Europe had to be content with just one the Colossium of Italy.

We congratulate Mr. Weber’s efforts to create awareness among public regarding the cultural heritages they have inherited, and the organization duly deserve the dramatic success it received. Mr. Weber has rightly said “if we want to save anything, we first need to truly appreciate it”. His campaign has been successful in getting people appreciating the monuments, preservation will follow.

New Seven Wonders of the World

(All the New 7 Wonders are equal and are presented as a group without any ranking.)

The Pyramid at Chichén Itzá (before 800 A.D.) Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico new seven wonders of the world
The Chichen Itza monuments are the creation of the Maya Civilization that existed in this are during 600 AD. The whole monuments are located in the northern center of the Yucatan Peninsula and managed by National Institute of Anthropology and History Mexico (INAH) Read the full article here

Christ Redeemer (1931) Rio de Janeiro, Brazil new seven wonders of the world
The statue has a height of 39.6 meters and a total weigh 700 tons. The work started on 1926 it took just five years and monument was declared open on 31st October, 1931. Read the full article here

The Roman Colosseum (70 - 82 A.D.) Rome, Italy new seven wonders of the world
The Colosseum is the biggest structure built in the Roman Empire. The size of Colosseum was such (165feet in height and 200 feet in length) that it could easily accommodate 50,000 spectators Read the full article here

The Great Wall of China (220 B.C and 1368 - 1644 A.D.) China new seven wonders of the world
This great structure has been granted the World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1987 and it remains as a hot destination for tourists’ world wide (since opening up of the economy China has started to emerge as a tourist destination) and this great wall remains as one of the most photographed structures in the world. Read the full article here

Machu Picchu (1460-1470), Peru - new seven wonders of the world
The site is 7000 feet above sea-level and consists of temples, giant walls, pathways, gardens, ramps and remnants of buildings and halls all built on the terraces made on mountain slopes. Read the full article here

Petra (9 B.C. - 40 A.D.), Jordan - new seven wonders of the world
This city is at present uninhabited but has the remnants of all amenities its dwellers enjoyed; all made of carved and finished granites and sandstones. The Petra city was located in the ancient trade routes between Gaza, Bosra and Damascus. Read the full article here

The Taj Mahal (1630 A.D.) Agra, India - New seven wonders of the world
The Taj is an architectural marvel formed of the fusion between Indian, Persian, Turkish and the Islamic styles. Its construction started on 1632 took 16 long years when it was finally completed in 1648! Read the full article here

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christ Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Christ Redeemer Statue Rio de JanieroChrist Redeemer Statue Rio de Janiero

An idea and its time

The 130 feet giant statue of Jesus Christ standing arm stretched on the peek of Corcovado Mountain; the most impressive landmark not only of Rio the Capital of Brazil; but the whole nation of Brazil. This giant statue is to Brazil what Eiffel Tower is to Paris or Kremlin to Moscow. As the case of every noble idea; this Brazilian dream also took a long- long time to get accepted. The credit of first seeing such a wonderful dream goes to one Catholic Priest by name Pedro Maria Boss. Fr. Boss’s resourceful mind envisaged a giant statue standing on the mountain overseeing city of Rio and the giant port beside. He proposed about the project to the then ruling Princess Isabel expecting financial aid from the Government.

The Redeemer Princess!

Christ Redeemer Statue Rio de JanieroChrist Redeemer Statue Rio de Janiero

Somehow the idea did not ring bells in the mind of the ruling princess (Princess Isabel daughter of Pedro-2. It remains an irony that the same princess who slept on the request for years and finally rejected it; got nicknamed ‘princess redeemer’! Strange naming (nomenclature) indeed! However the liberal princess has done a lot of other good things like abolition of slavery etc, she was the first female ruler of Brazil since it got out of the colonial status.

The power of the people

Good ideas never die; like matured seeds they keep on sprouting out of fertile minds. The ‘rebirth’ of the Christ the Redeemer idea occurred in 1921; when Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro proposed it before the believers; and organized a Semana do monumento (monument week) to create awareness and to collect donations for the purpose. The response was tremendous; all people assured their support, money flowed like river; and the idea became an instant hit. The machine worked like a well oiled one; people of Rio could not hide their enthusiasm as whole atmosphere became electric.

How was it built?

Heitor da Silva Costa a local engineer prepared the design and sculpting was done by Paul Landoski a French of Polish origin; from his selections Christ standing stretching both hand side ways as if the embrace the people of the whole city was selected. The whole statue was planned to make in re-in forced concrete. The concreting job was under Albert Caquot and the upper surface of the statue was covered with soap stone imported from Lymhamn Sweden. Soap stones are metamorphic rocks rich in magnesium and known for its endurance and easiness to use. The statue has a height of 39.6 meters and a total weigh 700 tons. The work started on 1926 it took just five years and monument was declared open on 31st October, 1931.

Rio de Janeiro the pride of Brazil

Christ Redeemer Statue Rio de JanieroChrist Redeemer Statue Rio de Janiero

Rio de Janeiro (meaning river of January) is one of the most wonderful cities in the world, not only as it holds the pride of having two World Wonders in its lap like Christ the Redeemer and the Port of Rio de Janeiro; both accredited as world wonders and are World Heritage Sites in the UNESCO list. One wonder overlooking another world wonder is rarity in itself; it is the place where the ‘Carnival’ is held when people simply live in sheer abandon in the spirit of festival for a whole season, forgetting everything except merry making!

A pilgrimage spot, Carnival starting point

The Corcovado Mountain and the Redeemer statue (called Christo Redentor in Portuguese- Portuguese is the national language of Brazil) have the status as a pilgrimage spot and many people visit this sight as pilgrims. There is a small church adjacent to the statue and regular mass is held in it. During festival season prior to Easter; the Carnival Parades are held; this spot (known as the Christ’s armpit) is selected as the place from where the parade starts.

Too impressive to go unimpressed!

Christ Redeemer Statue Rio de JanieroChrist Redeemer Statue Rio de Janiero

The imposing statue standing atop an impressive Corcovado Mountain has impressed connoisseurs all over the world. The Redeemer Statue has inspired numerous statues to be built over hilltops. In the hill top encroaching spree; those who cannot afford to build a statue started placing at least a cross over every hill tops! Though their basic theme is a copy of the Christ the Redeemer there are two or three worth attention due to their innovativeness.

Christo Rei (meaning Christ the King) is a remarkable work that stands overlooking Lisbon the Capital of Portugal. This statue erected by the notorious dictator of Portugal (Antonio de Oliveira Salazar in May 17 1959 is 28 meter in height but the column on which it is placed has an astounding height of 75 meters.

Christ Redeemer Statue Rio de Janiero


Christ of the Ozarks is yet another statue inspired by the Redeemer which is 20 meters in height and the shape of Christ is remarkably different. It is located at Eureka Springs, Arkansas in the Southern part of the US. Christ of the Ozarks is a creation of Gerald L K Smith and was erected in 1966.

Christ Redeemer Statue Rio de Janiero

Christ of the Ozarks

How to get there?

Christ Redeemer Statue Rio de JanieroChrist Redeemer Statue Rio de Janiero

Rio de Janeiro is a metropolitan city well connected by air, road and sea. The Corcovado Mountain on the top which the statue is placed is reachable by foot although a bit strenuous; the effort is worth the pleasure. One can see the statue in close up is only one thing; but a vision of the entire cityscape of the Rio from the hill top is far more astounding. The huge natural port that houses so many ships, yachts and boats each struggling for space to park is also a sight for a lifetime! There is cogwheel train facility in every 30 minutes for those who find it hard to climb. Go Rio ‘the fun city’ climb the Corcovado and see the world!