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Martes, Mayo 31, 2011

Bu Tinah

In terms of global prominence, it is nowhere near as well-known as the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand or Yemen's distinctive Socotra archipelago. Yet the Bu Tinah shoals, a tiny cluster of islands 25km from Zirku Island in Abu Dhabi, is leading both its competitors in an online competition to be named as one of the seven new wonders of the world by the New7Wonders Foundation, a non-profit Swiss-based organisation. 
Home to rare birds such as the flamingo, as well as turtles, dolphins, dugongs and other creatures, the Bu Tinah shoals are currently ranked eighth in the competition, being held on 
The poll, New7Wonders of Nature, has seven categories, each with between 20 and 60 entries. The vote runs until Tuesday, when 77 out of the 261 nominees will be selected to enter the final round. 
Competing in the islands category where there are 30 entries, Bu Tinah has already emerged ahead of Ko Phi Phi and Socotra. So far, the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, which inspired Charles Darwin to formulate his theory of evolution, lead the category. 
The 28 finalists will be announced on July 21. Voting for the new seven wonders of nature will continue until the end of 2010, with the winners being declared the following year. 
"I definitely think it has got a chance,” said Dr Thabit al Abdessalaam, the director of marine biodiversity management at the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi, who is urging UAE residents to vote for Bu Tinah. 
"It is about putting the country and Abu Dhabi on the map,” he said. "It could help us in a number of ways. 
"Raising awareness about the area will increase our responsibility towards protecting it. It will provide us with impetus and a moral obligation to ensure its continued survival.” 
Bu Tinah is a cluster of low-lying islands and shoals, joined, or almost so, at low tide. The most elevated point within the archipelago is no taller than three metres above sea level. The shoals are surrounded by coral reefs and seagrass beds. The main island has a sheltered lagoon opening to the south, lined with mature mangroves. 
The archipelago is part of the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve, the largest protected area in the country, with a territory of more than 4,000 sq km. Bu Tinah is a core zone within the protected area, meaning fishing is prohibited and only a limited number of supervised visitors are allowed. 
"In terms of biodiversity, Bu Tinah has got a good balance between sea and land species,” Dr al Abdessalaam said. "The island is very important as a nesting ground for some birds such as the osprey.” 
Bu Tinah is also visited by a number of rare migratory birds such as the Socotra cormorant and some species of tern. The area's mangroves, as well as its rich seagrass beds and coral reefs, make it a hospitable place not only for birds but also for many marine creatures. 
The area is one of the country's best places to spot dugongs – large, peaceful and shy marine mammals who feed on seagrass. Some 600 out of the estimated 3,000 dugongs in the country live in the waters around Bu Tinah and the creatures are listed as a species vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
The archipelago is important for turtles, too. The waters around Bu Tinah are foraging grounds for the two species of turtles most common in the UAE, while the shoal's sandy banks provide nesting habitat for the hawksbill turtle. 
There are also healthy coral reef habitats with as many as 16 species of coral recorded in the area. And the reefs survive in conditions that would kill coral species in other parts of the world. 
The Gulf's waters are among the most saline in the world, as well as among the warmest. Corals live in water that is between 23°C and 28°C but in the UAE water temperatures go as high as 35°C in summer. 
"It is a natural laboratory of how corals can survive in very harsh conditions,” Dr al Abdessalaam said. "It offers an avenue for scientists to study how these marine communities survive and maybe provide answers towards protecting similar communities elsewhere. 
"Another fact that gives Bu Tinah a unique aspect is the continued survival of the area's inhabitants under harsh conditions and also significant surrounding pressure.” Population growth and the need for infrastructure and development are putting more pressure on the UAE's coastal zones than ever before, he said. 
The development of ports and harbours, industrial and oil and gas facilities, as well as real estate, particularly the market for second homes, are all causing pressure on the coastline, he said. Pollution from shipping sewage and desalination plants are further degrading marine ecosystems. 
While Bu Tinah is expected to remain off limits to the public, the agency is looking into ecotourism initiatives that could allow guided access to some parts of the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve. 
The New7Wonders Foundation was founded in 2001 by the Swiss-born Canadian filmmaker, author and adventurer Bernard Weber. 
In 2007, the foundation organised a global vote to select the new seven man-made wonders of the world. That campaign was based on the list of the seven ancient wonders of the world compiled by the ancient Greeks 
The modern seven wonders, as designated by the New Open World Corporation, are the Great Wall of China, the Petra archaeological site in Jordan, the ancient Mayan site of Chichén Itzá in Mexico, the Statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, the Roman Colosseum, the pre-Columbian Inca site Machu Picchu in Peru, and the Taj Mahal in India. 
The Bu Tinah shoals are not alone among UAE beauty spots in the online competition to determine the world's top seven natural wonders – but it is the only one expected to make it through to the next round. 
Liwa Oasis and the Empty Quarter currently rank fifth out of the 21 entrants in the landscapes and rock formations group. But it is unlikely that the desert locale will be allowed to continue further in the competition. 
According to the campaign's rules, natural sites that cross political borders must have an official supporting committee in each country. Besides the UAE, the Empty Quarter also spreads into Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, but the UAE is the only one of the four that has a committee. 
"It is really a great shame, but it looks like this quite fascinating place will not be eligible to be one of the official finalists,” said Tia Viering, the head of communications at the New7Wonders Foundation. "The Bu Tinah shoals are a very worthy nominee, and I believe that many people will discover them through the campaign for the first time”. – The National 


What would a visit to Athens be without going to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon? And still people ask me why the Parthenon is so important. Its because it was the most perfect building built by the world’s most advanced civilization and even though we have been studying it for centuries we are still not sure how they did it.
Athens: Acropolis The Acropolis is the one historical site you can’t miss. You can take a tour or wander up there yourself but during the summer, whatever you do, unless it is overcast, go early or late in the day. It can get very hot up there and gasping for breath can take way from your ability to marvel at the greatest of all archaeological sites. Getting to the Acropolis is easy and more pleasant than ever because the large avenues which border the south and west of the site (Apostolou Pavlou in Thission and Dionissiou Areopagitou in Makrianni) have been turned into giant pedestrian streets with cafes and restaurants and the walk is quite pleasant. From the Plaka and Monastiraki side it has always been a car-less, enjoyable walk and all you have to do is walk uphill from wherever you are and when you get to the top and there are woods instead of buildings, and steps, take a right.
Athens: Acropolis PropyleaAfter climbing the steps you are at the entrance, or the Propylaea, which was completed in 432 just before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian wars. The main architect was Mnesicles, a colleague of Phidias. To your left is the Pinacotheca and a Hellenistic pedestal and on the right the tiny temple to Nike Athena or the Athena of Victory which commemorates the Athenians victory over the Persians. This small temple stands on a platform that overlooks the islands of Saronic Gulf and used to house a statue of Athena. It was dismantled by the Turks in 1686 so they could use the platform for a large cannon. It was rebuilt between 1836 and 1842 and again taken apart and rebuilt in 1936 when it was discovered that the platform was crumbing. If you looking from the propylaea towards Pireaus on a clear day you can see ships waiting outside the port of Pireaus, the islands and the mountains of the Peloponessos beyond.
Athens: Acropolis from PhilippapouThe Parthenon and other main buildings on the Acropolis were built by Pericles in the fifth century BC as a monument to the cultural and political achievements of the inhabitants of Athens. The term acropolis means upper city and many of the city states of ancient Greece are built around an acropolis where the inhabitants can go as a place of refuge in times of invasion. It’s for this reason that the most sacred buildings are usually on the acropolis. It’s the safest most secure place in town. As little as 150 years ago there were still dwellings on the Acropolis of Athens. Those of you who have read Aristophanes will recall that in Lysistrata the women have Athens barricaded themselves in the fortress in protest, being tired of their men going to war against Sparta. Depriving them of sex, cooking and care it was a terrific strategy that might even work today. Regardless, the play opened the door to the subject of sexual frustration in comedy and without it we might not have Woody Allen. Nowdays there are still protests which occasionally take place by site employees closing the Acropolis to tourists, some of whom have waited a lifetime to come to Greece. Thankfully these are rare and of short duration.
Athens: Acropolis, the Parthenon The best time to go up there is the late winter or spring when even this stone mountain is not immune to the proliferation of grass and wildflowers which seem to burst from every crack. Even in December, January and February the Acropolis can be surprisingly green. Even having seen a thousand photographs one is still not prepared for the immensity of the Parthenon. The building was designed by the architects Kallikrates and Iktinos as the home of the giant statue of Athena. It took 9 years to build and was completed in 438 BC and is probably the most recognizable structure in the world next to the golden arches of McDonalds. From a temple it became a church, a mosque and finally as a storage facility for Turkish gunpowder. In 1687 the Venetians bombarded it from below. A cannon ball hit the gun powder and blew it up. What makes the Parthenon so facinating is that to look at it you would think that is is made up of interchangable pieces. For example the columns are stones placed on top of each other and you could replace one piece of a column with any of the others. Not true. Each piece of the Parthenon is unique and fits together like the world’s biggest and heaviest jigsaw puzzle. Lines that look straight are actually not. The ancient Greeks understood the mechanics of site and that to make a line look straight it had to be tapered or curved. The Parthenon is the most perfect and the most immitated building in the world. The restoration work you see has been going on for the last 30 years and may go on for another 30. The more they try to put it back together the more respect and awe they have for the ancient Greeks.
Athens: Acropolis: Erecthion The Erecthion sits on the most sacred site of the Acropolis where Poseidon and Athena had their contest over who would be the Patron of the city. Poseidon thrust his trident into the rock and a spring burst forth, while Athena touched the ground with a spear and an olive tree grew. Athena was declared the victor and the great city of Athens was named for her while Poseidon was given a small village in Syros after it was discovered he had merely ruptured a water main. (not really).The building itself contains the porch of the maidens or Caryatids which are now copies, four of which have been placed in the Acropolis museum, hopefully to be reunited with a fifth taken from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin and put in the British Museum more than a century ago.
Athens Acropolis: Parthenon from PhillipapouA question in my mind is why not rebuild the Parthenon to it’s former glory? It is not as if the destruction of it is sacred history that must be preserved, in fact the 300 years since the explosion is a relatively short time-span in the history of the building. Much of the Parthenon has been taken apart and put back together with pieces being replaced or clamped  to remedy the wear and tear of centuries, in particular the last 20 or so years of air pollution. As it stands now, though it is a tribute to the glorious past and the achievement of the Ancient Athenians it is also at the same time a reminder that whatever is good in man is eventually overcome by ignorance, war and a hunger for domination. I say rebuild the entire Acropolis as an inspiration that whatever is wrong with the world can be righted. (Until some idiot blows it up again).
My favorite spot is at the flag where Athens stretches out endlessly below. You can see the Plaka beneath you, the ruins of the giant Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Olympic stadium nestled in a pine covered hill, an island of green in a sea of concrete. To the left of the stadium is the Zappion building and the National Gardens. To the right of the stadium you can see another large patch of green which is the First Cemetery. The Acropolis is a great place to get your bearings and get an understanding of the layout of the city. In fact the more you know Athens the more interesting it is to come up here and see familiar landmarks.
View from the AcropolisIf you stand by the flag and look to your left you will see Mount Lycabettos rising from the neighborhood of Kolonaki , with the Hilton and the Athens Tower at Ambelokipi in the distance. The large green area is the National gardens. The Acropolis is a great place to get your bearings in Athens. You can see as far as Kifissia on a clear day.
When the Germans occupied Athens in WWII, the Evzone who guarded the Greek flag which flew from the Acropolis, was ordered by the Nazis to remove it. He calmly took it down, wrapped himself in it and jumped to his death.
Plaque to Glezos and Santas on the AcropolisThe plaque by the flag commemorates Manolis Glezos and Apostolis Santas, the two eighteen year-old heroes who tore down the Nazi flag flying from the Acropolis on the night of May 30th, 1941. It is of particular interest because these names are known not only by Greeks, but by many Europeans, because this act of  courage and  resistance to Nazi oppression was an inspiration to all subjected people. Later through reading the book Athens:The City by John Tomkinson I found out that Glezos, who became a member of the Greek resistance, was condemned to death for treason in 1948 and imprisoned for being a communist. He was later elected a member of the Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK).
Herod AtticusBelow the Acropolis is the theater of Herod Atticus built by the Romans in 161 AD and  still used today for classical concerts, ballet, performances of high cultural value and Yanni. Further on is the Theater of Dionysious the first stone theater and home to Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes. It was rebuilt around 342 BC by Lykourgos and then enlarged by the Romans to be used for gladiator fights. In July of 2003 I saw Jethro Tull here. It was the first rock concert held in the ancient theater and though perhaps some people hope it was the last I would be happy to see more. How about Deep Purple with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performing Jon Lord’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra? Maybe Procul Harum? Emerson, Lake and Palmer? The Stooges? Where’s Leonard Cohen when you really need him?
AraeopagosBelow the Acropolis is the rock of Areopagos or what we called in high school ‘Blow Hill’. (Don’t ask). The steps are very slippery so be careful as you climb them, but once you do you won’t want to come down (unless it is 100 degrees). You have a great view of the Agora, the Plaka, Monastiraki, Omonia and much of Athens. Great place to watch the sunset. Or come up at night with a bottle of wine and your true love, and watch the lights of the city. This is where Saint Paul spoke to the people of Athens in AD 51 and the tablet imbedded in the stone contains his words. There is a cleft in the rock at the bottom of the hill that is a shrine to the Furies. Afterwards, continue back around the Acropolis and  down the hill into the Ancient Agora below. Part of it is free and you can go through it to get back to Adrianou Street, or you can pay the entrance fee and walk the streets of ancient Athens. If you decide to hang out awhile in the ancient Agora take a look at the rebuilt Stoa of Attalos, now a museum which features many of the every day items found in the area.
Fun Fact! The ancient agora which to the untrained eye looks looks like a jumble of rocks and broken pavement (to the trained eye as well) was once a vibrant neighborhood and part of the Plaka and Monastiraki. The American School of Classical studies came in the fifties and kicked everyone out of their houses and businesses and demolished the buildings that had stood there for centuries to dig here. So next time you are walking through the Plaka and thinking that you wish there was more of Athens like this, remember that there used to be and be thankful that they did not destroy it all. But to be fair it is archaeological excavations like the agora which give Athens much of its precious green space.
ThissionThe small temple known as the Thission was built in 449 BC and is virtually intact. Supposedly named for Theseus because his exploits were shown on the frieze, it is now believed that it was actually a temple to Hephaestos and Athena. Unfortunately they realized their mistake too late and the entire neighborhood is called Thission. The temple was used as a Church, dedicated to Saint George, known as Saint George the Lazy because it was only open one day of the year. The neighborhood of Thission is full of cafes, bars and restaurants and like other areas around the Acropolis has been made pedestrian friendly, it’s streets turned into walkways and landscaped with trees and flowers.
Theresa Mitsopoulou famed archaeologistYou may notice at the entrance to the Acropolis and the paths leading up to it the licensed guides who for around 50 Euros or so, will give you a tour so that you may leave the area more informed then when you got here. One of the most well-known was Teresa Mitsopoulou, an Archaeologist and writer of some renown. Several of her books are considered controversial by her fellow archaeologists because they seem to prove a link between Chinese and Ancient Greek culture that if correct could change much of what we believe about the past.  Theresa has gotten older now and cannot climb the ancient hill as quickly and as easily as she once used to and is no longer guiding tours. But she has been described by one travel agent as “… to the Parthenon, what an old monk is to a monastery. If one has the time and patience to sit with her much can be gained. She has been a licensed Acropolis Guide since 1954, in my view a contemporary priestess”.
See Theresa’s website at
Athens Walking Tours also offers an Acropolis Tour that begins at Syntagma Square and visits the major sites around the Acropolis. You can also contact them for individual tour guides.
Giorgos Gavalas, bass player, street musician, athens, GreeceIf it’s a warm sunny day and you are walking along the pedestrial avenue that goes around the Acropolis, directly in line with the Propylea and close to the Cave of the Nymphs you will find Giorgos Gavalas, playing his guitar, tamborines and kazoo as he has for many years. Girogos was the bass-player for Dionysious Savopoulos during his Kitato-Vromiko Psomi period and considered one of, if not the best bass player in Greek rock. (Those who have listened to the album Vromiko Psomi will certainly remember his playing). Having played the concerts and the clubs Giorgos prefers to play his jazz-folk influenced songs for the people who pass by. He has a dozen or so self-produced CDs which he sells for 5 euros each. As you will realize, Gavalas is no ordinary street musician. This is a man who has paid his dues and now performs on his own terms, beneath the Acropolis where Plato, Socrates, Pericles and the other ancient Greeks once walked. He also represents a period of Greek rock music which slipped under the radar screen of those of us in the west, when bands played in underground clubs and sang anti-government songs, masked in poetry, during Greece’s military dictatorship. Giorgos Gavalas is a living part of modern Greek history and a visit with him following your trip to the ancient Acropolis, to hear a few songs and pay your respects or just to say hello is something I recommend.

Lunes, Mayo 30, 2011


The Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex of the Moorish monarchs of Granada in southern Spain, occupying a hilly terrace on the southeastern border of the city of Granada.
Mohammed I, the first king of the Nasriden—a Moorish dynasty in Granada—converted a ninth-century castle into his private royal residence, and it is this which we now know as the Alhambra. The structure, currently a huge museum exhibiting exquisite Islamic architecture, is renowned for its stunning frescoes and interior detail. A Renaissance palace was also inserted by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. The buildings are some of the finest examples of Moorish architecture in the world and the site is among Europe’s most-visited tourist attractions.
Over the years, the Alhambra has had widespread influence on art, music, and architecture.
The Alhambra was listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1984. The selection was based on the following criteria: That it represents a masterpiece of human creative genius; it exhibits an important interchange of human values; and it is an outstanding example an architectural ensemble which illustrates a significant stage in human history.


The terrace or plateau where the Alhambra settles, measures about 2,430 feet in length by 674 feet at its greatest width, extends from W.N.W. to E.S.E., and covers an area of about 169,831 square yards. It is enclosed by a strongly fortified wall, which is flanked by 13 towers. The river Darro, which flows through a deep ravine on the north, divides the plateau from the Albaicín district of Granada; the Assabica valley, containing the Alhambra Park, on the west and south, and beyond this valley the almost parallel ridge of Monte Mauror, separate it from the Antequeruela district.
Ground plan
Moorish poets described it as "a pearl set in emeralds," in allusion to the brilliant color of its buildings, and the luxuriant woods around them. The park (Alameda dé la Alhambra), in spring overgrown with wild-flowers and grass, was planted by the Moors with roses, oranges and myrtles. The park's most characteristic feature, however, is the dense wood of English elms brought there in 1812 by the Duke of Wellington. It is celebrated for the multitude of its nightingales, and is usually filled with the sound of running water from several fountains and cascades. These are supplied through a conduit five miles long, which is connected with the Darro at the monastery of Jesus del Valle, above Granada.

In spite of the long neglect, vandalism, and sometimes ill-judged restoration which the Alhambra has endured, it still remains the most perfect example of Moorish art in its final European development, freed from the direct Byzantine influences which can be traced in the Mezquita cathedral of Córdoba, more elaborate and fantastic than the Giralda at Seville. The majority of the palace buildings are, in ground-plan, quadrangular, with all the rooms opening on to a central court; and the whole reached its present size simply by the gradual addition of new quadrangles, designed on the same principle, though varying in dimensions, and connected with each other by smaller rooms and passages.

In every case the exterior is left plain and austere, as if the architect intended thus to heighten by contrast the splendor of the interior. Within, the palace is unsurpassed for the exquisite detail of its marble pillars and arches, its fretted ceilings and the veil-like transparency of its filigree work in stucco. Sun and wind are freely admitted, and the whole effect is one of the most airy lightness and grace. Blue, red, and a golden yellow, all somewhat faded through the lapse of time and exposure, are the colors chiefly employed.
The decoration consists, as a rule, of stiff, conventional foliage, Arabic inscriptions, and geometrical patterns wrought into arabesques of almost incredible intricacy and ingenuity. Painted tiles are largely used as paneling for the walls.
Associated sites
Along with the Alhambra, two associated sites in Granada—the Albaycin and the Generalife—were also selected in 1984 for World Heritage status. According to UNESCO, " Rising above the modern lower town, the Alhambra and the Albaycín, situated on two adjacent hills, form the medieval part of Granada. To the east of the Alhambra fortress and residence are the magnificent gardens of the Generalife, the former rural residence of the emirs who ruled this part of Spain in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The residential district of the Albaycín is a rich repository of Moorish vernacular architecture, into which the traditional Andalusian architecture blends harmoniously."

The Alhambra resembles many medieval Christian strongholds in its threefold arrangement as a castle, a palace, and a residential annex for subordinates. The Alcazaba or citadel, its oldest part, is built on the isolated and precipitous foreland which terminates the plateau on the northwest. These are the sole remaining massive outer walls, towers, and ramparts. A turret containing a huge bell was added in the eighteenth century, and restored after being damaged by lightning in 1881. Beyond the Alcazaba is the palace of the Moorish kings; and beyond this, again, is the Alhambra Alta (Upper Alhambra), originally occupied by officials and courtiers.
Access from the city to the Alhambra Park is afforded by the Puerta de las Granadas (Gate of Pomegranates), a massive triumphal arch dating from the fifteenth century. A steep ascent leads past the Pillar of Charles V, a fountain erected in 1554, to the main entrance of the Alhambra. This is the Puerta Judiciaria (Gate of Judgment), a massive horseshoe archway, surmounted by a square tower, and used by the Moors as an informal court of justice. A narrow passage leads inward to the Plaza de los Aljibes (Place of the Cisterns), a broad open space that divides the Alcazaba from the Moorish palace. To the left of the passage rises the Torre del Vino (Wine Tower), built in 1345, and used in the sixteenth century as a cellar. On the right is the palace of Charles V, a cold-looking but majestic Renaissance building, out of harmony with its surroundings, which it tends somewhat to dwarf by its superior size.

The present entrance to the Palacio Árabe (Moorish palace), is by a small door from which a corridor conducts to the Patio de los Arrayanes (Court of the Myrtles). This court is 140 feet long by 74 feet wide; and in the center there is a large pond set in the marble pavement, full of goldfish, and with myrtles growing along its sides. There are galleries on the north and south sides; that on the south is 27 feet high, and supported by a marble colonnade.
The Salón de los Embajadores (Hall of the Ambassadors) is the largest in the Alhambra, and occupies all the Torre de Comares. It is a 37-foot-square room, while the center of the dome is 75 feet high. This was the grand reception room, and the throne of the sultan was placed opposite the entrance. It was in this setting that the Edict of Expulsion was signed and Christopher Columbus received Isabel and Ferdinand's support to sail to the New World.
The celebrated Patio de los Leones (Court of the Lions) is an oblong court, 116 feet by 66 feet, surrounded by a low gallery supported on 124 white marble columns. A pavilion projects into the court at each extremity, with filigree walls and a light domed roof, elaborately ornamented. In the center of the court is the celebrated Fountain of Lions, a magnificent alabaster basin supported by the figures of 12 lions in white marble. It has been said that the lions were most likely sculpted by members of the Jewish community who had inhabited Spain prior to their extradition along with the Muslims.

The Sala de los Abencerrajes is a perfect square, with a lofty dome and trellised windows at its base. The roof is exquisitely decorated in blue, brown, red, and gold, and the columns supporting it spring out into the arch form in a remarkably beautiful manner. Opposite to this hall is the Sala de las dos Hermanas (Hall of the two Sisters), so-called from two very beautiful white marble slabs laid as part of the pavement. These slabs measure 15 by 7.5 inches, and are without flaw or stain. There is a fountain in the middle of this hall, and the roof —a dome honeycombed with tiny cells, all different, and said to number 5000— is a magnificent example of the so-called "stalactite vaulting" of the Moors.

Among the other wonders of the Alhambra are the Sala de la Justicia (Hall of Justice), the Patio del Mexuar (Court of the Council Chamber), the Patio de Daraxa (Court of the Vestibule), and the Peinador de la Reina (Queen's Robing Room), in which are to be seen the same delicate and beautiful architecture and the same costly and elegant decorations. The palace and the Upper Alhambra also contain baths, ranges of bedrooms and summer-rooms, a whispering gallery and labyrinth, and vaulted sepulchers. The original furniture of the palace is represented by the celebrated vase of the Alhambra, a splendid specimen of Moorish ceramic art, dating from 1320, and belonging to the first period of Moorish porcelain.
Of the outlying buildings in connection with the Alhambra, the foremost in interest is the Palacio de Generalife or Gineralife (the Muslim Jennat al Arif, "Garden of Arif," or "Garden of the Architect"). This villa probably dates from the end of the thirteenth century, but has been several times restored. Its gardens, however, with their clipped hedges, grottoes, fountains, and cypress avenues, are said to retain their original Moorish character. The Villa de los Martires (Martyrs' Villa), on the summit of Monte Mauror, commemorates the Christian slaves who were forced to build the Alhambra, and confined here in subterranean cells. The Torres Bermejas (Vermilion Towers), also on Monte Mauror, are a well-preserved Moorish fortification, with underground cisterns, stables, and accommodation for a garrison of 200 men. Several Roman tombs were discovered in 1829 and 1857 at the base of Monte Mauror.

Moorish period
The name Alhambra derives from the color of the red clay from which the fort is made. The buildings of the Alhambra were originally whitewashed; however, seen today they are reddish. The first reference to the Qal’at al Hamra was during the battles between the Arabs and the Muladies (a mixed-ancestry group that lived in the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages) during the rule of the Abdallah (reigned 888-912). In one particularly fierce skirmish, the Muladies soundly defeated the Arabs, who were then forced to take shelter in a primitive red castle located in the province of Elvira, located in today's Granada.
According to surviving documents from the era, the red castle was quite small and its walls were not capable of deterring an army intent on conquering it. The castle was then largely ignored until the eleventh century when its ruins were renovated and rebuilt by Samuel ibn Naghralla, vizier to King Bādīs of the Zirid Dynasty, in an attempt to preserve the small Jewish settlement located on the Sabikah hill. However, evidence from Arab texts indicates that the fortress was easily penetrated and that the actual Alhambra that survives today was built later, during the Nasrid Dynasty.
Ibn Nasr, the founder of the Nasrid Dynasty, was forced to flee to Granada in order to avoid persecution by King Ferdinand and his supporters during attempts to rid Spain of Moorish dominion. After retreating to Granada, Ibn-Nasr took up residence at the Palace of Bādis in the Alhambra. A few months later, he embarked on the construction of a new Alhambra fit for the residence of a king. According to an Arab manuscript published as the Anónimo de Granada y Copenhague, “This year 1238, Abdallah ibn al-Ahmar climbed to the place called the Alhambra inspected it, laid out the foundations of a castle, and left someone in charge of its construction…”
The design included plans for six palaces, five of which were grouped in the northeast quadrant forming a royal quarter, two circuit towers, and numerous bathhouses. Over the reign of Nasrid Dynasty, the Alhambra was transformed into a palatine city complete with an irrigation system for the lush and beautiful gardens located outside the fortress. The creation of the “Sultan’s Canal” solidified the identity of the Alhambra as a sumptuous palace-city rather than a defensive and ascetic structure.
The Reconquest

Alhambra Decree
The reconquest of Granada, the last bastion of Muslim Spain, was accomplished by Christian forces and was completed at the Battle of Covadonga in 1492. Despite its previous status as a haven for Jews and a glorious emblem of Arabic architecture, the Alhambra would soon be known to history as the place where peaceful coexistence among Christians, Muslims, and Jews in Spain came to its final end. In the Alhambra's Sala de Embajadores (Hall of the Ambassadors), the magnificent tower overlooking the city with the galaxy of stars embedded in its arched ceiling, the Catholic monarchs Isabel of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon signed a decree ordering the expulsion of Jews from Spain, on March 31, 1492. The Alhambra Decree, also known as the "Edict of Expulsion," demanded that all Jews leave the Kingdom of Spain and its territories and possessions.

In the decree, proclaimed less than three months after the surrender of Granada, the monarchs accused the Jews of trying "to subvert our holy Catholic faith and trying to draw faithful Christians away from their beliefs." All Jews were ordered to leave the kingdom by "the end of July of this year." They were permitted to take their belongings with them—except "gold or silver or minted money." Punishment for a Jew who did not leave was death. Punishment for non-Jews who sheltered or hid Jews was the confiscation of all belongings and hereditary privileges.
The Alhambra Decree stood in stark contrast to the policy of La Convivencia ("Coexistence"), describing the situation in Spanish history from about 711 to 1492, when Jews, Muslims, and Catholics in Spain lived in relative peace together within the different kingdoms. The phase often refers to the interplay of cultural ideas between the three groups, and ideas of religious tolerance.
Architectural changes
After the reconquest, much of the interior of the Alhambra was damaged and furniture was ruined or taken. Sections of the complex were either rebuilt in the Renaissance style or leveled so that Charles I of Spain (who was also Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire) might build an Italianate palace. Charles built the grand circular Christian palace known as the Palacio de Carlos Quinto, which stands today in the midst of the Alhambra, for the simple reason that he thought the Alhambra was a fine place to live, but wanted a building commensurate with his importance.

In spite of its artistic clash with the delicate Moorish style of the Alhambra, some of which had to be destroyed to make way for it, the palace has an artistic value of its own, being the first Renaissance building made outside of Italy. However, due to financial problems, the construction was a stop-and-go affair which continued over several hundred years, not being completed until the twentieth century, when it was made use of for the first time as a concert hall.
Damage also occurred to the Alhambra in 1812, when the French blew up some towers, and later in 1821 from an earthquake. In 1828, restoration of the Alhambra began and continued into the twentieth century.
Art of the Alhambra

The art within the Alhambra embodied the remaining portion of Moorish dominion in Spain and ushered in the last great period of the Andalusian art of Granada. Trapped without influence from the Islamic mainland, the Alhambra created a unique style characterized by its exquisite refinement and beauty, was perfected over the course of the Nasrid Dynasty. Elegant columns seem to soar effortlessly towards the sky and intricate muquarnas, a stalactite-like ceiling decoration, creating an airy appearance in several chambers. Interiors are often decorated with elegant arabesques and graceful depictions of calligraphy.
The splendid arabesques of the Alhambra interior are ascribed, among other kings, to Yusef I, Mohammed V, Ismail I, etc. After the Christian reconquest, walls were filled in with whitewash, painting and gilding was effaced, and furniture was damaged or removed.
Philip V (1700–1746) further Italianized the rooms and completed his palace right in the middle of what had been a Moorish building. He ran up partitions which blocked up whole apartments. In subsequent centuries under Spanish authorities, Moorish art was further defaced; and in 1812 some of the towers were blown up by the French under Count Sebastiani, while the whole buildings narrowly escaped the same fate. Napoleon planned to demolish the whole complex. Just before his plan was carried out, however, a soldier reportedly defused the explosives and thus saved the Alhambra for posterity. In 1821 an earthquake caused further damage. The work of restoration undertaken in 1828 by the architect José Contreras was endowed in 1830 by Ferdinand VII; and after the death of Contreras in 1847, it was continued with fair success by his son Rafael (d. 1890), and his grandson.
Influence of the Alhambra

Parts of the following novels are set in the Alhambra:
Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra (1831) is a collection of essays, verbal sketches, and stories written while Irving lived in the palace. It was instrumental in reintroducing the site to Western audiences.
Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh (1995) is also set in part in the Alhambra.

The Alhambra has directly inspired musical compositions including
Francisco Tárrega´s guitar song Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Alhambra Remembrances)
Claude Debussy´s preludes for piano Lindaraja and La Puerta del Vino
The first movement of Manuel de Falla´s Noches en los Jardines de España, entitled, En los Jardines del Generalife
Pieces by composers Ruperto Chapí, Tomás Bretón, and many others are also found ambiance in the Alhambra and its surroundings.
Painting and graphic art
M. C. Escher's visit in 1922 inspired his following work on regular divisions of the plane after studying the Moorish use of symmetry in the Alhambra tiles.
Many other artists have used the Alhambra as a study for their paintings.
Recent architecture
From nineteenth-century Romanticism until today's architecture, a host of uneven, artistic-quality buildings, or portions of buildings, worldwide, have been inspired directly by the Alhambra

Angkor Wat

The whole Angkor period spans for more than VI centuries, and more precisely from IX till XV century. During this period the Khmer empire reached its maximum splendor as one of the most powerful southeast asian kingdoms. In this period the whole area of Angkor was buit. We can consider Jayavarman II  as the man that started everything. He define himself Devaraja (good king) and he established the Khmer empire in 802.

 After him, Indravarman, a king considered by many of its time an usurper: we prefer to remember him for starting building the Baray, a complex irrigation system to bring waters in the area of Angkor. He also started to build the Bakong and the Preah Ko temples. His son Yasovarman went further in his father's project: he built the Phnom Bakheng and the Lolei temples, and with him, Angkor become the new capital of the kingdom. These two king further extent the Baray's system too.

Then the capital was moved to Koh Ker for a short period, under the kingdom of Jayavarman IV, an usurper, but after only 14 years Angkor become again the capital under Rajendravarman II. His son, Jayavarman V, was instead a great king, and with him the empire expanded to its maximum extent. Two wonderful temples, as Banteay Srei and Ta Keo were built.

After him, Udayaditavarman II built the pyramid of Baphuon and the western Mebon (we are now at the half of XI century), and here we are really close to the very peak of the Khmer civilization, two great king the left once forever their footstep in the history of this planet and they are Suryavarman II and Jayavarman II. The first king built Bang Melea but it also the one that built Angkor Wat. The second king has built Preach Khan, Ta Phrom and Angkor Thom.

 As you will see with your eyes these last temple are traces of a high level civilization, with an exquisite taste for art. An enormous job that involved not only an army of thousands workers doing the hard job,  building, moving rock and materials and so on. There was another parallel army of thousands of artists and artisans. Angkor Wat is also them. We will never know their names, or their faces, but what they left us fulfill our hearts with something magic. The walls of Angkor, they also speak about their lives, their customs, their salaries: Angkor was not only a religious place, but a capital crowded with a million people.

Miyerkules, Mayo 25, 2011

iguazu falls

Taller than Niagara Falls, twice as wide with 275 cascades spread in a horsehoe shape over nearly two miles of the Iguazu River, Iguazú Falls are the result of a volcanic eruption which left yet another large crack in the earth. During the rainy season of November - March, the rate of flow of water going over the falls may reach 450,000 cubic feet (12,750 cubic m) per second.

These matter of fact details do nothing to describe the grandeur of the falls, the tremendous amount of water (an average of 553 cubic feet per second) thundering down 269 feet, the tropical location and the sheer beauty that led Eleanor Roosevelt to say Poor Niagara. Four times the width of Niagara Falls, Iguazu Falls are divided by various islands into separate waterfalls. One of the best known is Devil's Throat, or Gargantua del Diablo with its perpetual spray high over the falls. Other notable falls are the San Martin, Bossetti, and Bernabe Mendez.

Iguazú Falls, called Foz do Iguaçu in Portuguese, and Cataratas del Iguazú in Spanish, lie on the Argentina - Brazil border and are a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site.

Getting there is an easy matter. Check flights from your area to locations in either Brazil or Argentina for connections to the falls. You can also browse for hotels and car rentals.

Browse through the Iguazu Falls Photo Gallery for an idea of the might and grandeur of the falls.

The falls are part of a singular practically virgin jungle ecosystem protected by Argentine and Brazilian national parks on either side of the cascades. Two thirds of the falls are on the Argentinian side of the river where you can also tour Iguazú National Park where there are jungle trails and bird hikes. Plan a full day in the park to fully enjoy the wildlife flora and fauna.

It is possible to see the falls and surrounding area in a lightning trip but it is better to plan at least two days. The view from the Brazilian side is the most panoramic and there are helicopter rides out over the falls from Foz do Iguaçu. You may also take boat rides out to the falls. The light is best in the morning for photographs.

Best seen from the Brazilian side is the spectacular Devil's Throat, garganta del diablo, where fourteen falls drop 350 feet with such force that there is always a 100 foot cloud of spray overhead. Watch for the rainbow! For a close up view, walk through the subtropical forest of National Iguaçu Park to the base of Salto Floriano and take the elevator to the top of the falls. or walk out over the falls at Salto Union. From the Argentine side you can take a series of catwalks over the water rushing into Devil's Gorge. Protective rain suits are provided. There are some areas where it is possible to swim in the spray of the cascades. Ask locally for instructions but be aware that you might have a resulting problem with cuticle parasites.

The best times to see Iguazu Falls are in the spring and fall. Summer is intensely tropically hot and humid, and in winter the water level is considerably lower. There are hotels on both sides of the river and many tour agencies provide sightseeing opportunities around the area. Browse through this list of hotels on the Brazilian side of the falls, or these on the Argentine side.

Downstream from the falls where the Parana and Iguazu rivers meet, so do the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Each country has created a landmark in their national colors on a spot in each of their countries where you can see all three.

The name of the falls comes from the Guaraní word for "great water." The first Spanish explorer to see the falls (did you see the film The Mission?) was Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1541 but the vast power of the falls was not fully utilized until the construction of the huge Itaipu hydroelectric power plant built jointly by Paraguay and Brazil. Completed in 1991 the dam is open to tours and provides 12,600,000 KW of power satisfying almost 40% of Brazil and Argentine power needs. The dam one of the largest in the world is touted by both countries as a masterpiece of technology.

Lunes, Mayo 23, 2011

The Red Square

The Red Square is the square where the most important historical and political events in Russia took place since the 13th century.

It is the most famous city square in Moscow and it separates the Kremlin, the former royal citadel and currently the official residence of the President of Russia, from a historic merchant quarter, known as Kitay-gorod (china-town). All major streets of Moscow radiate from this place in all directions, and the Red Square is often considered as the central square of Moscow.

The word “Red” in the name of Red Square is not aimed to indicate communism but derived from the Old Russian word 'krasniy' meaning beautiful. It is a well known place

for May Day parades and celebrations during the Soviet regime and is also the site of Lenin's Mausoleum and the colourful Cathedral of St Basil. Behind the Mausoleum is the Kremlin wall which contains a mass grave of Bolsheviks who perished during the battle for Moscow in 1917, together with the ashes of a number of well-known Russians, including writer Maxim Gorky and Yuriy Gagarin, the first man in space. The State History Museum stands at the north end of the square and contains a vast array of archaeological findings and relics pertaining to the history of the city. The length of the square is around 330 meters (1100 feet) and the width is of 70 meters (230 feet).

The Red Square ranks among the most symmetrical objects ever observed by scientists. “If you fold things across the principle diagonal axis, you get almost perfect reflection symmetry,” said study leader Peter Tuthill from the University of Sydney in Australia. “This makes the Red Square nebula the most symmetrical object of comparable complexity ever imaged.”


The Red Square is the most famous place in the city of Moscow, the capital of Russia.

Historical Importance

The Red Square served as the site of frequent Soviet military parades and manifestation on major national holidays, such as the anniversary of the October Revolution,

International Workers Solidarity Day etc. The most remarkable military parade was held in 7th November, 1941. The Soviet troops celebrated the victory over the Nazis at this square in 1945.

During the Soviet era Red Square maintained its significance, becoming the main square in the life of the new state. Besides being the official address of the Soviet government, it was renowned as the location for military parades.

On May 28, 1987, a German pilot named Mathias Rust landed a light aircraft on St Basils' Descent next to the Red Square. In 1990, the Red Square was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List. In recent years, Red Square has served as a venue for high-profile concerts with many celebrities like Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd performing in this place.

The rich history of Red Square is reflected in many artworks, including paintings by Vasily Surikov, Konstantin Yuon, and others. The land that Red Square is situated on was originally covered with wooden buildings, but cleared by Ivan III's edict in 1493, as those buildings were dangerously susceptible to fires. It became a market place gradually and later, it was used for various public ceremonies and proclamations.

Nearby Attractions

Moscow Kremlin
It is the most famous historical and political landmark. It is a walled-in complex of cathedrals, palaces and government offices, with several buildings open to the public, including the Armoury, the Patriarch's Palace and the State Kremlin Palace.

St. Basil's Cathedral
Built by Ivan in the 1550s, this intriguing cathedral bordering Red Square consists of nine separate chapels, each capped with its own individually shaped and colored dome.

Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow
It is the oldest theater in Moscow, rebuilt following a fire and later a hurricane. It magnificent both inside and out, and its resident opera and ballet troupes rate among the finest in the world.

Sabado, Mayo 21, 2011

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower History

The Eiffel Tower was built for the International Exhibition of Paris of 1889 commemorating the centenary of the French Revolution. The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII of England, opened the tower. Of the 700 proposals submitted in a design competition, Gustave Eiffel's was unanimously chosen. However it was not accepted by all at first, and a petition of 300 names - including those of Maupassant, Emile Zola, Charles Garnier (architect of the Opéra Garnier), and Dumas the Younger - protested its construction.

At 300 meters (320.75 m including antenna), and 7,000 tons, it was the world's tallest building until 1930. Other statistics include:

2.5 million rivets
300 steel workers, and 2 years (1887-1889) to construct it.
Sway of at most 12 cm in high winds.
Height varies up to 15 cm depending on temperature.
15,000 iron pieces (excluding rivets). 40 tons of paint. 1652 steps to the top.
In 1889, Gustave Eiffel began to fit the peak of the tower as an observation station to measure the speed of wind. He also encouraged several scientific experiments including Foucault's giant pendulum, a mercury barometer and the first experiment of radio transmission. In 1898, Eugene Ducretet at the Pantheon, received signals from the tower.

According to NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally, the 'Arctic is the canary in the coal mine.' What do you think would happen to the Eiffel Tower due to global warming? Please send your thoughts to our Webmaster! ... and do not be surprised if these are published on our Web site.

After Gustave Eiffel experiments in the field of meterology, he begun to look at the effects of wind and air resistance, the science that would later be termed aerodynamics, which has become a large part of both military and commercial aviation as well as rocket technology. Gustave Eiffel imagined an automatic device sliding along a cable that was stretched between the ground and the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. (reference)

The tower was almost torn down in 1909, but was saved because of its antenna used both for military and other purposes, and the city let it stand after the permit expired. When the tower played an important role in capturing the infamous spy Mata Hari during World War I, it gained such importance to the French people that there was no more thought of demolishing it.- used for telegraphy at that time.

From 1910 and on the Eiffel Tower became part of the International Time Service. French radio (since 1918), and French television (since 1957) have also made use of its stature.

During its lifetime, the Eiffel Tower has also witnessed a few strange scenes, including being scaled by a mountaineer in 1954, and parachuted off of in 1984 by two Englishmen. In 1923 a journalist rode a bicycle down from the first level. Some accounts say he rode down the stairs, other accounts suggest the exterior of one of the tower's four legs which slope outward. (reference)

Of the 7.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity used annually, 580 thousand are used exclusively to illuminate the tower. The tower's annual operation also requires the use of 2 tons of paper for tickets, 4 tons of rag or paper wipes, 10,000 applications of detergents, 400 liters of metal cleansers and 25,000 garbage bags. (reference)

On the four facades of the tower, the 72 surnames of leading turn-of-the-century French scientists and engineers are engraved in recognition of their contributions to science. This engraving was over painted at the beginning of the 20th century and restored in 1986-1987 by the Société Nouvelle d' Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, a company contracted to operate business related to the Tower.

Other landmarks: Christ the Redeemer, Colossus, Delhi pillar, Eiffel tower, Golden Gate bridge, Great Buddha, Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao), Guggenheim Museum (NYC), Normandy bridge, Oresund crossing, Quebec Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Thames Barrier, Titanic, Tower of the Orologio