Posts Tagged With: architecture
In a faraway land called India, a great emperor named Shah Jahan adored his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. When she died giving birth to their 14th child, he built her the most magnificent tomb in the history of the world—the Taj Mahal.
“We’ll meet at the bus at 5:30am,” our India tour guide informed us the night before. “We want to be first in line.”
Ugh! Near the front of the line, we stood in the dark for what seemed like forever, waiting for the gates to open. Luckily we were squeezed between “stand in line” railings, so I had something to lean on in my groggy condition.
When we finally entered at sunrise, all sleepiness disappeared, and we were struck by the ethereal beauty of one of the world’s most beloved edifices. Consistently named one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the ivory-white marble tomb takes your breath away when you see it up close for the first time. Its name is Persian for “Crown of Palaces,” and so it is, reigning on a marble base, or plinth, at the far end of a narrow reflecting pool, and guarded by a minaret at each corner.
The tomb was commissioned in 1632 and finished in 1643 using materials from all over Asia (white marble from India, jade and crystal from China, turquoise from Tibet, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, sapphire from Sri Lanka), and it’s thought that more than 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. The rest of the 42-acre complex—finished between five and ten years later—includes a mosque, guesthouse and formal gardens. Total cost in 2015 U.S. dollars—$827 million. The project employed some 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects. In 1983 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India.”
Clever subterfuge: To protect the building during WWII, the Indian government erected scaffolding around it in anticipation of air attacks by the Japanese Air Force. Scaffolding was again used during the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971 to mislead bomber pilots.
To this day, the Taj Mahal still stands as a symbol of love. Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore poetically described it as “the tear drop on the cheek of time.” And so it was for Shah Jahan. When he died, he was laid to rest in a sarcophagus next to his beloved Mumtaz.
In my previous post, I took you on a visual tour of Lake Pichola in the India city of Udaipur, district of Rajasthan.
Today we embark on an exploration of Udaipur’s City Palace, which is one of the architectural marvels of Rajasthan.
Indeed, Udaipur City Palace on the banks of Lake Pichola is the most-visited tourist attraction of Udaipur and the largest palace complex in Rajasthan. It was started in 1559 and not completed until the 18th century because each new ruler kept adding on to it using granite and marble in a surprisingly harmonious blend of Medieval, European and Chinese architecture.
Inside its walls are eleven palaces, including Manak Mahal (Ruby Palace) that features figures of crystal and porcelain, Bhim Vilas and its collection of miniature paintings, and Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors). Other palaces hold Chinese and Dutch ornamental tiles, murals, wall paintings, silver art, inlay, and an amazing amount of colored glass.
There is also an arena where elephant fights were staged, and an area of marble arches where eight times, maharanas were known to weigh themselves and then distribute their weight in gold and silver to lucky locals.
In addition, there are bird cages and carrier-pigeon boxes in tower rooms; glass mosaics of peacocks representing the three seasons of summer, winter and monsoon; ubiquitous Indian scalloped arches, and towers that look out over the city on one side and Lake Pichola on the other.
Check out workers cleaning the palace walls while perched on bamboo scaffolding, which is really amazing when you remember that bamboo is a grass.
My apologies for the blurry photo of the palace gate. It was a grab shot as the bus was driving past, but I did want to show you the gate’s spikes. They were installed to prevent the enemy’s elephants from pushing through the gate.
Click on any photo below to enlarge, and then use the arrows to move back and forth. Likes and comments are always appreciated, and if you’ve been to India, I’d love to hear about your travels there.
There is a beautiful lake in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India….. Its name is Pichola.
On one side, its waters lap at the base of ancient homes; boat docks; wide concrete steps called ghats, where women come to wash their saris or string marigold garlands; and the towering fort-like walls of the City Palace. On the other side, hazy mountains seem to float in the sky.
Legend has it that the lake was created in the 15th century when a gypsy Banjara tribesman built a dam so that his livestock could cross a stream. Maharani Udai Singh II built his shining city of Udaipur around the lake in 1560, while strengthening the dam and enlarging the lake. It’s currently 3-miles long, 2-miles wide and 30-feet deep.
Within its waters are two natural islands, each supporting a palace. The white Taj Lake Palace is exclusive to guests staying at its hotel, but you can see its interior in the 1983 James Bond film “Octopussy.”
The Jag Mandir, or Lake Garden Palace, made of marble and yellow sandstone (including 8 white-marble elephants guarding the palace), was built in the 1550s as a hiding place for Prince Khurram, who became Shah Jahan—builder of the Taj Mahal. Later, Maharana Swaroop Singh sheltered several European families here during the revolt of 1867. The hotel caters to weddings and other lavish events, and the palace gardens bloom with roses, jasmine flowers, palms, frangipani and bougainvillea.
From the comfort of a marigold-draped boat, our small tour group cruised the lake and then disembarked for an exploration of Jag Mandir, where we learned that jazz legend Kenny G, who had been on our flight from Delhi to Udaipur the previous day, was scheduled to perform on the palace stage that evening.. Afterwards, we re-boarded our boat and headed back to the city proper.
I hope you enjoy the visual tour of Pichola Lake. As always, click on any photo to begin the slideshow.
In 1956, actor Yul Brynner, as the king of Siam, sang and danced through a gilded palace in the movie, “The King and I.” The country of Siam has since changed its name to Thailand, but its Grand Palace in Bangkok is still something to sing about.
The older Thai capital at Ayutthaya in the North had been destroyed in 1767 during a war with Burma, and newly proclaimed King Rama I ordered his men to remove bricks and other materials from the forts, walls and palaces (but not the temples) of this ruined city and send them by barge down the Chao Phraya river to the new capital city of Bangkok. Not only was he updating his wooden palace, but to solidify fortifications around his riverside capital, Rama I dug canals along its eastern edge, turning the city into an artificial island.
The Grand Palace is not one large structure in the tradition of most European palaces. It’s divided into four main courts separated by walls and gates and originally housing royal offices, state ministries, the royal chapel, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, ceremonial throne halls, and the king’s harem quarters. After a second expansion during the reign of Rama II, the palace covered an area of 2,351,000 square feet and was Thailand’s administrative and religious center, with thousands of inhabitants including guardsmen, servants, concubines, princesses, ministers and courtiers. And just like Rome’s Vatican City, the Grand Palace was considered a city within a city, subject to its own set of laws.
Gradually the government ministries grew in size and moved to other locations. The King, too, relocated to more modern palaces. In 1932, a student-launched revolution overthrew the absolute monarchy of King Rama VII, replacing it with a constitutional monarchy. Today, the Grand Palace still serves as a royal ceremonial venue, as well as a museum and tourist attraction.
I found the Grand Palace to be a photographer’s eye-candy wonderland rife with golden temples; bejeweled pavilions; and giant, elaborately painted warriors. I’d love to return, without having to follow a tour guide, and get lost in the visual magic of it all. Have you been to Bangkok’s Grand Palace? If so, what were your impressions?
Click on any image to see the slideshow.
A mere twenty-one years ago, Pudong—on the eastern shore of the Huangpu River, opposite the city’s celebrated Bund—was a mix of farmland, squatters’ shacks and swamp. Now it has a population of more than five million and is home to some cloud-scrapers even Superman would have to think twice about leaping over in a single bound. As these behemoths neared completion, Shanghai residents gave them nicknames.
Designed by architects in Chicago, the Jin Mao Tower has a pointy top that looks like those needles you stick into eggs that whisk them from inside the shell. Some call it the Egg Beater, others the Marinade Injector or Syringe. As a business center and home to the Grand Hyatt Shanghai hotel, it stands at 1380 feet or 88 stories high. For an entrance fee, you can shoot up at thirty feet per second to the top floor observation deck along with 999 other like-minded people for a stunning view.
Once the tallest structure in China from 1994 to 2007, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower at 1,535 feet (387-foot broadcast antenna included) is no longer the tallest, but definitely the most unique. Its eleven spheres, fifteen observation levels, and three gigantic columns host a combination of exhibition facilities, restaurants, shopping mall and hotel. The highest observation deck, at 1148 feet, is known as the Space Module and has an outside area with glass floor. Its architects designed it to resemble two dragons playing with pearls. It’s called, simply, the Pearl Tower.
Next up is the Shanghai World Financial Center. It’s a sleek, modern beauty at 1,614 feet (101 floors), the glass-and-metal façade reflecting sky and clouds. It, too, has a sightseeing top floor and can survive a devastating magnitude-8 earthquake (good to know if you’re sightseeing on that top floor when the earth shakes). With its distinctive trapezoid hole near the top, it’s easy to see why it garnered the nickname, Bottle Opener.
And at the top of the heap, so to speak, is the almost-finished Shanghai Tower. When completed in 2015, it will stand 2,073-feet high, with five basement levels, 121 floors above ground and five podium floors, and it will be, not only China’s tallest building, but also the second tallest in the world (Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is taller). Since Shanghai is on a seismic belt, engineers poured a twenty-foot-thick underground baseboard over almost a thousand 282-foot-deep foundation piles to ensure stability. And, since Shanghai is also subject to frequent typhoons, they designed the building to twist about one degree per floor to offset high winds. The building spirals upwards like a snake climbing a tree. Because of its twist, it’s called the Screwdriver. Or sometimes the Egg Whisk.
These buildings and many others in Pudong draw attention to themselves in the evening by switching on an incredible, constantly changing and colorful LED lightshow. I admit to sitting by my Bund hotel-room window after dark and watching, fascinated, as the lighting display created a mesmerizing backdrop for the barges, ferries and sightseeing boats plying the river.
The Pearl Tower with its bulbous spheres is easy to spot, but can you pick out the Egg Beater, Bottle Opener and Screwdriver? Hint: at night, the unfinished and lightless Screwdriver disappears in the blackness.
The most delightful maze in the world is not a maze—it’s a 5-acre plot of tranquility in Shanghai’s Old Town. But once you pay your entrance fee and step inside Yu Gardens, it’s easy to get hopelessly turned around amid the tapestry of winding walkways, caves, red pavilions, carp-filled lakes, stone bridges, whimsical doorways and myriad artful rock formations (which I suspect are feng shui inspired). “Haven’t we been to this spot before,” I asked my husband more than once as we wandered around gawking at the aforementioned sights, and peering through different-shaped openings that framed the garden’s treasures.
The largest and most prestigious of its era in Shanghai, Yu Gardens was built in fits and starts during the Ming Dynasty between 1559 and 1577 by Pan Yunduan as a peaceful place for his aged father. It was first opened to the general public in 1780. Despite damage during the First Opium War, Taiping Rebellion, and in 1942 by the Japanese, it was repaired by the Shanghai government and declared a national monument in 1982.
Don’t expect orchids and other floral arrays here, but if you’re ever in Shanghai, Yu Gardens is a must-see. Be sure to go when it first opens to get ahead of the tour busses.
If you’d like to wander with me through this enchanting garden. just click on any photo to start the visual tour. But, as the sign says, “Be Careful,” because here there be dragons.
It’s an ironic story line—after raiding and pillaging towns and villages in countries throughout the north Atlantic, Vikings returned home and went to church.
Perhaps they did, but if so, they didn’t attend services in a stave church—so named for its interior, weight-bearing pillars, or staves. There may be dragons on the roof, but stave churches weren’t built until after the Viking Age ended. That date is traditionally marked in England by the failed invasion attempt by Norwegian King Harald III, who was defeated by Saxon King Harold Godwinson in 1066. Ireland and Scotland note their own dates, predicated on victories against Vikings.
At one time there were more than a thousand stave churches throughout Europe. Most were built between circa 1130 and 1350 AD. Construction stopped when the Black Death started to spread through Europe, and congregating in small spaces became life threatening.
And the stave church is indeed a small space. So small, in fact, that most of its congregation had to stand—men and boys on the right, women and girls on the left. The elderly and sick could sit on benches along the walls.
Today only 28 stave churches survive, and all are in Norway where there is a long tradition of building in wood (remember those sturdy Viking ships). Earlier churches were built on often-soggy ground and succumbed to wood rot. Lesson learned. Stone foundations solved that problem.
While visiting the stave church in Borgund, I was surprised to see that it—like other stave churches—had no windows. The only light entered through a few small portholes high up on the walls. The altarpiece depicts Christ’s crucifixion. Animal masks adorn the south door, and serpents and dragon-like creatures decorate the main-door side panels and lintel. On the roof turrets, Christian crosses and dragonheads keep each other company. Old legends die hard I guess, and it seems that the parishioners were hedging their bets—honoring old gods and new.
I found it interesting that the timber used in construction of the church was most likely seasoned on the root, strategic cuts drawing the tar to the surface before the tree was felled. After construction and during renovations, additional tar was applied to protect the wood.
It was common to bury the dead under the church floor, but that practice stopped at the end of the nineteenth century thanks to the unpleasant smell. However, stillborn infants and babies who died before being baptized could not be buried in the consecrated ground of the churchyard. Tiny coffins were placed under the floor, even in recent times. It seems odd to me that the ground around the church was considered consecrated, but the ground under the church was not.
If you stand inside the church and look up, you’ll see that the roof above the nave looks like an inverted boat with ribs. Hmmmmm! I wonder what inspired that design.
While in Europe this summer, our cruise ship stopped at Helsingborg, Sweden, and we spent several hours exploring the town. One must-see on our agenda was The Keep. Once a castle stood on the hill overlooking Helsingborg’s streets, but now the only thing left is The Keep—a walled entrance behind which stands a lone remaining tower. We climbed the steps up to The Keep, and I looked back to capture this image of the town (far) framed by one of the arches (near).
Helsingborg, Sweden is across the narrow Oresund strait from Helsingor, Denmark—a town famed for its Kronborg Castle, which is said to have been the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Looking like a collection of doll houses, this perfectly manicured community is the residential part of Gamle (old town) Stavanger, on the southwestern coast of Norway. Lovingly restored and maintained, 173 wooden houses from the 1700s wind along narrow walkways paved with cobblestones. It’s the largest collection of such houses in Western Europe.
Stavanger was originally nothing more than a pretty village with a well-sheltered harbor. It’s growth spurt started in 1125 when an English bishop came to build a cathedral. Like in so many other places during the early Middle Ages, the cathedral made the town, almost overnight. More people meant more commerce, and Stavanger grew into a fishing capital. Once herring stocks became scarce in the 1800s, the town turned to sardines, and a canning factory was built. By 1900, there were more than 50 sardine canneries here. Shipbuilding also filled the town’s coffers, and then, in the 1960s, Stavanger became Norway’s oil capital after oil was discovered in the North Sea.
For this shot, I had a perfect vantage point from an upper deck of our cruise ship.
When visiting another country, we have to decide: Do we drink the water or not? For Turkey, travel guides often advise buying bottled water. We followed that advice and went a step further—lugging a charcoal-filter pumping system with us. Nothing spoils a vacation faster than a case of Montezuma’s Revenge. On the other hand, I have a friend who always drinks the water wherever she goes—including Turkey—and never gets sick. I think it depends on your constitution. Cast-iron digestive system—go for it. Otherwise, err on the side of caution.
But that’s not exactly the subject of this post although there is drinking water involved. So to get to the point, I’d like to introduce you to Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern.
The largest of Istanbul’s underground cisterns, it was built in 542 AD by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (way back when Istanbul was Constantinople), and was capable of holding 100,000 tons of water, which arrived via two aqueducts from a source in the Belgrade Forest (about 19 kilometers away). Back in the day, the water level was a lot higher, and citizens retrieved their water through large, round, well-like holes in the ceiling of the cistern. Justinian may have thought this oversized well, which supplied water to his palace, was pretty slick, but future conquerors—the Ottomans—not so much. By some accounts, they preferred running water, so the cistern system fell into disrepair.
Everybody pretty much forgot it was there until 1545, when a Frenchman who was researching Byzantine antiquities noticed that some residents got their water (and sometimes caught fish) by lowering buckets through holes in their basements. He also found an entrance at the back of someone’s garden, and steps leading down into the cistern.
The chamber was alternately restored and ignored over the years, and even used as a dump for junk (and corpses). Then in 1987 Turkish authorities realized what a great tourist attraction it would be and cleaned it up, pumping out tons of mud and dirty water and building a walkway around the interior perimeter.
Although it’s not in somebody’s garden these days, the cistern entrance is still not that obvious. Just go to the northern end of the Hippodrome, across the street from Hagia Sophia and opposite the yellow building of the Tourist Police, and look for the queue in front of an inconspicuous ticket booth. Once you’ve paid your ten Turkish lira, follow the 52 stone steps leading down into the chamber.
I had seen pictures, but nothing prepared me for actually viewing it firsthand. A forest of 332 marble columns and their watery reflections mesmerized me, and it was hard to focus on the task at hand—getting that one killer photo. After setting up my camera and tripod as inconspicuously as possible, I waited patiently for the hoards of people swirling around me to snap their pics and move on. Eventually, a space opened up. I moved in and took a quick series of shots: f11-22 for maximum depth of field (sharpness), and shutter speeds ranging from 3 to 15 seconds.
Just a note here: tripods are actually not allowed, although in my defense, I didn’t know that at first (if there was a sign, I didn’t see it, officer. Honest). I found out when I was later asked, politely, to put it away, and I can see the reasoning. Lots of people crowding around (even groups of schoolchildren on outings), and it’s too easy to trip over extended tripod legs. Again, in my defense, I kept the tripod legs in a very narrow stance, and blocked them with my legs during the few minutes I was shooting.
Getting that shot was the highlight for me, but there was more to see. A dozen or so merchants have set up shop just below the entry steps, selling art, kitschy souvenirs, photos of you dressed in sultan/harem costumes (which they supply), and food. There are fish swimming in the shallow water, and musical concerts are sometimes held here (the acoustics must be awesome).
If you’re into ancient architecture, it’s interesting to note that the cross-vaulted ceiling is made of brick, and the column tops (capitals) are from different periods: most Corinthian, some Doric. Even the columns were gathered from various ruined buildings. So although it’s a magnificent feat of engineering, it was, in fact, cobbled together.
Two of the cobbled parts (and no one knows where they came from) are blocks carved as the head of Medusa—that gorgon whose unruly hairdo—a mass of writhing snakes—could turn a man to stone with one glance. Both blocks support columns. One head is planted upside down, the other sideways (the why of that is also a mystery).
Since you’ve read this far, here’s your reward—a bit of movie trivia. In “From Russia With Love,” James Bond (Sean Connery) gets away by rowing a boat through the Basilica Cistern.