Monday, July 27, 2015

Cartagena, Colombia


Cartagena/Cartagena de Indias – UNESCO Heritage Site

Cartagena, also known as Cartagena de Indias, is a city towards the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean Coast Region as well as the capital of the Bolivar Department. The city was established on June 1, 1533 and was named after Cartagena, Spain though the settlement of this region surrounding Cartagena Bay of various native people dates back to 4000 BC.

At the time of the colonial era, Cartagena played an important role in the administration as well as the expansion of the Spanish empire and was a centre of political and economic activity which was due to the presence of royalty and affluent viceroys. Towards 1984, the colonial walled city of Cartagena and the fortress had been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city initially, was the first Spanish colony on the American continent as well as one of the first sanctuaries of freed African slaves in the Americas.

Presently it is populated by an ethnic mix representative of Colombia’s own range. According to the 2005 census, the port city comprises of a population of 892,545. It is the 5th largest city in Colombia as well as the second largest in the region following Barranquilla.

Important Trading/Slave Port

The Cartagena urban area is also considered to be the fifth largest urban in the country wherein economic activities comprises of maritime and petrochemicals industry together with tourism.Cartagena was also an important trading port especially for precious metals where gold and silver from mines in the New Granada and Peru were laden in Cartagena on the galleons that were bound for Spain through Havana.

Besides this, Cartagena was also a slave port where Cartagena and Veracruz – Mexico, were the only cities that were authorized for the trade of African slaves. The first slaves is said to be transported by Pedro de Heredia and were utilised as labourers incane cutting to open roads, to destroy the tombs of the aboriginal populations of Sinu as well as to construct buildings and fortresses. Cacheu, the agents of the Portuguese company, sold slaves from Cartagena to work in mines in Venezuela, the Nuevo Reino de Granada, the West Indies and the Viceroyalty of Peru.

Popular Tourist Destination

Cartagena is the most popular city in the country for tourists and tends to get crowded during December holidays as well as the holy week, when schools are closed and most of the Colombians are on a vacation. The city has two interesting sites to explore where tourist tend to go, namely the walled colonial city `Ciudad Amurallada, which is amazing with several fancy restaurants, clubs and hotels together with long strip of hotel towers and condos near the beach, which are known as Bocagrande. Visiting the elite neighbourhood of Castillogrande is also appealing which is filled with recently built condos, a serene beach to soak up some sun as well as places to do some jogging.

Cartagena a modern port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast has at its core, the walled Old Town, comprising of 16th century plaza, cobblestone streets with colourful colonial buildings. Having a tropical climate, it is a popular beach destination. Nearby shores like the Isla de Baru and Isla del Rosario, known for their coral reefs and scuba diving, can be reached by boat.
Historic Old Town
Cartagena’s most appealing charm is its historic old town which is surrounded by the city wall where the main entrance is the Clock Tower building. The walled city comprises of the neighbourhoods Centro, San Diego, Getsemani as well as the modern segment La Matuna while the oldest section of Cartagena is surrounding the Plaza Trinida in Getsemani. Its 500 hundred year old coral stone forts together with the great parts of its walled city are amazingly intact, representing some of the beautiful examples of civil as well as military architecture of the Spanish colonial era.

Castillo de San Felipe, a fortress which had been designed by Richard Carr, the Dutch engineer, had been built in 1657 by the Spanish for the purpose of protection against the pirates at the time of shipping gold out to Europe. In the proximity of San Felipe fortress is the 150 m high La Popa hill that provides amazing glimpses over Cartagena as well as the harbour region. Santa Cruz monastery, of 17th century has beautifully restored courtyard together with fine image of the Virgin of La Candelaria.

Tourists are advised not to walk up here, since it could be a bit dangerous. Most of the churches in the historic area are worth exploring especially the Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, which was built in honour of the priest St Pedro Claver, who was the first saint of the new world for his work with the slaves. Besides this, La Catedral, near Plaza de Bolivar and the Iglesia de Santa Domingo are also worth visiting.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Gran Via, Madrid


Gran Via – Decorative & Upscale Shopping Street

Gran Via is a decorative and upscale shopping street which is located in central Madrid.The street presently is known as the Spanish Broadway and seems to be one of the streets that has more nightlife in Europe and is known as the street that never sleeps. It leads from Calle de Alcala close to Plaza de Cibeles to Plaza de Espana.

The lively street is the city’s most important shopping centre, comprising of a number of hotels and large movie theatres and is also famous for the grand architecture dominant among several of its building. Presently most of theatres are now being replaced by shopping malls. They are considered as a showcase of the early 20th century architecture with patterns that range from Vienna Secession style, Plateresque, Neo-Mudejar, Art Deco among various others.

What makes the street special is the architectural design of most of the buildings and while walking through this amazing street, ensure to look and admire the regularly lavishly decorated grand edificious. Towards mid-19th century, urban planners in Madrid decided to create a new thoroughfare connecting the Calle de Alcala with the Plaza de Espana. The project needed several building in the centre of the city to be demolished.

Created Buildings in Latest Architectural Styles

The construction had not started for years even after the first plans were made and the media derided the project sceptically calling it the `Gran Via’ or `Great Road’. Eventually in 1904, it was approved and the construction began a couple of years thereafter and the last section of the street was finally completed in 1929. This road gave rise to opportunities for architect who had the potential in creating large buildings in the latest architectural styles and the first appealing building started with the Calle de Alcala which is the most famous of them all, the Edificio Metropolis or Metropolis building.

After the design of architects Jules & Raymond Fevrier, the landmark was constructed between 1907 and 1911 and the original statue had been replaced in 1975 by a statue of a winged Goddess Victoria. Going further along the Gran Via towards the left area,is another landmark, the Edificio Grassy, another corner building with a small tower which was built in 1917.

Gran Via – The Calle de Princessa

One can see the tower of the Telefonica building, a skyscraper which was constructed between 1926 and 1929 for the Spanish telecommunication company,from the Edificio Grassy. The construction of 88m/290 ft. building was the largest in Madrid and would have been appropriate in Chicago. The architect of the Telefonica building was an American – Louis S. Weeks.

Walking further in the direction of the Plaza de Espana, the Gran Via crosses a small square known as the Plaza del Callao which is the heart of cinematic Madrid. It comprises of six movie theatres one of which, is the Capital, situated in an amazing Art Deco building.

The last section of the Gran Via was constructed between 1925 and 1929 and leads to the Plaza de Espana, which is a large square dominated by two skyscrapers that were built in 1950, namely the symmetric Edificio de Espana and the Torre de Madrid. It is here that the Gran Via tends to become the Calle de Princessa that leads to the north of the Arco de la Victoria.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Tiber Island, Rome


Tiber Island – Amazing History

Tiber Island is a small island also known as Isola Tiberina which is located in the middle of Rome’s Tiber River. The island has amazing history which originallywas a home to an ancient temple of Asclepius the god of healing and is associated with healing since the Roman Republic era.

 As per legend it is said that from god’s temple a snake had come to the island from a boat where the island itself resembles a boat. Towards the 16thcentury, a hospital was built there which is still functioning. One can take glimpses of the island by going from the Jewish Ghetto to Trasteverse and get views of the river and the island on the bridge and then follow through the tiny squares on the island.

Besides the hospital there is also a church, San Bartolemeno all’Isola on the island and a lovely area to stroll through the Eternal City.Emperor Otto III had ordered the construction of the church in 998 AD, on the foundation of the Temple of Asclepius.

The church was constructed with materials that were taken from ancient structures and was dedicated to Saint Adalbert, the former bishop of Prague as well as a friend of the emperor.

Important During Roman Period – Enabled Crossing of the River

The island measuring about 270 meters in length and 67 meters in breadth at is widest point, was said to be important during the early Roman period since it enabled the crossing of the river. It is connected by two bridges to the main land which have existed since the antiquity, the Ponte Fabricio that travels towards the Theatre of Marcellus on the left bank from the northeast area of the island and the Ponte Cestio that connects the island to Trastevere which is a neighbourhood towards the right bank.

According to legend Tiber Island came to be formed when Roman citizens had expelled the last of the Tarquin Kings and in anger the rebels had thrown wheat sheaves that had been stolen from the king into the river. Silt and dirt had accumulated around the wheat and eventually formed an island. However, the island in reality had developed much before the Etruscans ruled over Tome by natural means due to the river getting wider and the current less stronger.

Tiber Island a Mystery/Shrouded in Legend

The island had always been a place of mystery and shrouded in legend which is surrounded by the river and inseparably linked to the origins of Rome. It has been heralded by the Ponte Rotto, the Pons Aemilius, the first stone bridge in Rome, and restored many times due to the turbulence of the Tiber which then had won the battle, besides only a few.

This amazing island in the middle of the Tiber was known as `Intra duos pontes’ by the Romans and the island seems to be connected to the terra firma by two bridges, which were originally made of wood. One of the bridge is Cestio which was built in 46 BC by Lucius Cestius being restored many times with the flooding of the river so that what was a single span bridge ended up with three arches. It was also called Ponte San Bartolomeno and ponte ferrato – bridge strengthened with iron.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Passetto di Borgo, Rome


Passetto di Borgo – Long Elevated Walkway through Centre of Rome

The Passetto di Borgo or Passetto is a raised passage which connects the Vatican City with the Castel Sant Angelo and is around 800 meters long elevated walkway which runs through the centre of Rome. It is located in the rione of Borgo and was erected in 1277 by Pope Nicholas III while parts of the wall seemed to be built by Totila during the Gothic War.

It served as an escape route for the Popes in times of danger on many occasions. When Charles VIII had invaded the city and the pope’s life seemed to be in danger, Pope Alexander VI had crossed it in 1494. During the Sack of Rome in 1527, Clement VII had escaped through this passage to safety, when the troops of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V had massacred most of the entire Swiss Guard on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica.

 The Assassin EzioAuditore da Firenze fought his way along the Passetto di Borgo on December 28, 1499to reach the Grand Master of the Templars, Rodrigo Borgia. Four years later, after Rodrigo’s son Cesare had him killed by using a poison filled apple and the Passetto was used by Cesare to reach the Apple of Eden which Rodrigo had hidden in the courtyard in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Constructed for the Purpose to EscapeIn Emergency

His attempt was a failure since Ezio had managed to go ahead first to the location and recover it shortly escaping the Vatican district thereafter. Pope Nicholas III who had constructed it, was for the purpose of enabling escapes of the Pope in case of an emergency.

The secret passage was also utilised for another reason, to lead in prisons, characters that were famous without arousing much suspicion and not letting anyone know about it. Passetto di Borgo was also known to inspire the famous American author of the thriller Dan Brown for his latest novel `Hell’ wherein around 50 thousand copies were said to be sold in a single day. Presently in the capital, mainly in summer, the passageways are kept opened for visits of Rome and other tourist who can also get glimpses of it in a beautiful night atmosphere.

In 1906 – Turned into a Museum

In order to reach the Passetto one would have to take the subway to Republic Battistini for 6 stops in Cipro after around 600 meters where one could reach the Vatican walls.The Passetto also played an important role in the Dan Brown novel Angels & Demon wherein the antagonist, a Hashishin had transported four abducted cardinals to the Castle of Sant’ Angelo and the protagonist Robert Langdon as well as Vittoria Vetra had later on used the Passetto as a shortcut to the Vatican City.

In 1630 the upper footway had been covered with a roof by Pope Urban VIII and had it turned into a second gallery.However this addition was removed sooner than 1949 when the restoration work saved the original shape of the passage. Towards 1906, it was turned into a museum and for many years the gallery running through the Passetto remain closed to the tourist since most of its parts became unsteady and insecure.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Stourhead Garden

Stourhead – Britain’s Most Picturesque Garden

Stourhead has been considered as one of Britain’s most picturesque garden for centuries. Situated in the midst of a 2,650 acres estate near Warminster South of Bath, this amazing garden is around a peaceful lake, like a jewel among surging hills. Around the shore, placed in planned spots, one will find several architectural features which include various monuments and an arched stone bridge where each one serves as a focal point for memorable photograph.

The garden had been designed by a wealthy English banker, Henry Hoare II – 1741 to 1780, who had been buying works of art in Italy at the time he had inherited the Stourhead estate and improved with new varieties of trees from America between 1791 and 1838 by Richard ColtHoare, his grandson.

Richard was also responsible in importing several American species which included tulip trees as well as swamp cypresses. The woodland walk seems to be amazing while moving through mature woods that have been planted with a variety of colourful trees.The second garden `Claudian’, of Henry Hoare II was developed in an unusually well-proportioned valley behind the house while the Temple of Flora at Stourhead was built in 1745 and the grotto in 1748.

An Unsurpassable Location

However the key date was 1754 when the lake as well as the Pantheon was completed.The ambition of Henry Hoare II was to make Stourhead an unsurpassable location which gave rise of an installation of remarkable garden features, from medieval cross and classical temples to cosy cottage and modern ice house.

Centred on the Pantheon in Rome, the walk through the estate is based on the journey of Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome and the five arched bridge was created in 1762, together with the Temple of Apollo in 1765.Stourhead seems to be the perfect example of a garden which has been inspired by great landscape painters of the 17th century.

Later on, Gothic features were added – Alfred’s Tower, a Rustic Cottage as well as Hermitage while the Stourhead woods were under-planted with Rhododendron ponticum after 1791 with the addition of more exotic species in the twentieth century. The latest rhododendrons and the selected azaleas, according to the literature, were added around 1900.

World’s Finest Landscape Garden

Observing the colossal size of the rhododendron hybrids like Cynthia and Pink Pearl towards the shore, it seems that these old standbys could have been the latest introductions around a century ago. Placed in secluded isolation in its own valley, Stourhead in Wiltshire features the world’s finest landscape garden making it appropriate for an outdoor experience.

The magnificent lake is the central design at Stourhead which is edged with classical temples with enchanting grottos together with rare and exotics trees. The Hoare family history can be traced in Stourhead House, which is a majestic Palladian mansion with unique Regency library together with fabulous collections of Chippendale furniture as well as paintings set amidst beautiful lawns and parkland.

 The best time to visit Stourhead is in spring for rhododendron and early summer for azaleas though it can be visited anytime to witness an amazing wonderful landscape garden experience which is one of the great gardens of the world.