Category Archives: spotlight

Holasovice’s Commitment to Preservation

Tucked away off a narrow country roadway in the Czech Republic’s South Bohemia region sits a tiny well-preserved village. The entire village! Rows of gabled white houses, some in various stages of renovation, line each side of the village green of this charming medieval town. Behind tall gates are barns, most having now been transformed into modern day garages. Each uniquely styled home is similar yet different maintaining authentic details of the past as they undergo their exterior facelifts.bird-in-nest

Holasovice, situated 15 km west of Ceske Budajovice, is a picturesque village that can be traced back to 1292. The entire village – something very rare – is a well-preserved example of a traditional central European community encompassing an 18-19th century architectural style known as South Bohemian Folk Baroque. The village also preserves a “ground plan” dating from the Middle Ages.

Visiting historical destinations is one of the fastest growing activities for U.S. leisure travelers. What’s more, according to America’s National Trust for Historic Preservation, historic preservation is an important component of authentic destinations and experiences. And since American travelers extend their sojourns to overseas historic sites as well, it’s no surprise that I have sought out this UNESCO-listed world heritage site while traveling through the Czech Republic.


A mustard yellow chapel dwarfed by a thin wooden maypole stretching skyward, punctuated by lush green grass and a pond set against today’s backdrop of incoming navy blue storm clouds and warm summer temperatures, define Holasovice as we make a left-hand turn into the peaceful rural village of 140 inhabitants.

In Europe, May Day (May 1) has traditionally been observed with celebrations extending back to pre-Christian Europe. May 1 was the first day of summer, while the summer solstice on June 21 was “midsummer”. May Day might be best known for its tradition of dancing around the maypole.

Erected each spring, maypoles are tall wooden poles with several long colored ribbons streaming from the top. On May Day, village children would dance around the town’s maypole weaving multi-colored ribbons in and out creating striking patterns. That tradition continues today in the Czech Republic.maypole

In Europe, May Day (May 1) has traditionally been observed with celebrations extending back to pre-Christian Europe. May 1 was the first day of summer, while the summer solstice on June 21 was “midsummer”. May Day might be best known for its tradition of dancing around the maypole.

Erected each spring, maypoles are tall wooden poles with several long colored ribbons streaming from the top. On May Day, village children would dance around the town’s maypole weaving multi-colored ribbons in and out creating striking patterns. That tradition continues today in the Czech Republic.

Strong encircling stucco walls and wooden gates tightly embrace as they join homesteads together along with a shared barn at the property’s rear, an example of traditional rural settlements of central

Historians liken the unique architecture to the South Bohemian countryside. Outlines of the homes, they claim, appear to copy the roundish shapes of the surrounding landscape with numerous elements of nature represented on gables between windows, and on front entrances and gates.

Historically, the individual homestead fronts are more than 30 meters deep and connect into one unit with the granary at back. This original layout – another reason why this village earned a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1998 – consists of a long middle hall that connected the house to stables and sheds at the rear without needing to venture outside. In other words, the barn at the rear center of the property is jointly connected to respective sheds and a house on either side.

The yard was enclosed by a large barn centered in back with doors at the front and back allowing farmers to pass directly through with their animals and primitive farming equipment into the fields. This Gothic ground plan remains intact.typical-shared-yard

Each July, this old-time village comes alive with its annual two-day fair. Festivities typically include music and traditional dance performances, theater productions, horse rides, jugglers, and national handicrafts for sale that are hand made by artisans from Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia.

This miniscule jewel well hidden among the surrounding flat countryside of grain- yielding fields was a welcome surprise. Holasovice’s preservation has kept the charm of its simple past intact… tantamount to its image from the canvas of history.


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Four Historic Heritage Houses in Doha, Qatar

Msheireb was the original heart of downtown Doha, Qatar and the oldest part of the city, charting Doha’s first hotel, bank, pharmacy and cafes. Doha’s ongoing transition from a sleepy pearl-diving town to an emerging world city is now showcased in the newly opened Msheireb Museums.

The four restored heritage houses – Radwani House, Company House, Mohammed Bin Jassim House and the Bin Jelmood House – all clustered around traditional courtyards uniquely capture the massive changes Qatar underwent during the past century.

The Radwani House traces domestic living displaying traditional furniture and showing how a typical Qatari family lived in the 1920s and throughout the decades. Ali Akbar radwani-house-majlisRadwani bought the courtyard house, originally constructed in the 1920s, in 1936. The family abandoned the home in 1971 and it sat vacant and derelict until 2007.original-well

Between 2012 and 13, archaeology experts excavated the ground and discovered an old well and one of the walls of the original house. The family home is situated around an open-air rectangular space. A number of interesting artifacts uncovered are on display.

original-oil-pipes.jpgThe Company House, the former headquarters of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, is devoted to the history of Qatar’s petroleum industry. It features various tools and appliances from the early days of the oil industry in 1939, firsthand accounts of the grueling labor by pioneering workers, and six white life-sized plaster statues showing the different jobs these men performed during the mid 20th century.statues-in-courtyard.jpg

The Mohammed Bin Jassim House, built by the son of the founder of modern Qatar, is a work in progress located near the new modern Msheireb mosque. It currently displays Doha’s unique architectural heritage in the old Msheireb district and shows how it evolved over time. The displays balance the sophisticated requirements of 21st century living and the responsibility to preserve local heritage and culture, and provide a good overview of how the sudden oil wealth impacted everyday life in Qatar.

The arrival of cars, air conditioning and the first cement shipment – all in the early 1950s – transformed the old commercial area into an important business hub. In 1951 Doha had just 20,000 residents, quadrupling in size to 80,000 in 1975. This house also features firsthand interviews and stories with residents of the time who lived in the Msheireb district.

legal-abolition-1952The most interesting house, in my opinion, is the Bin Jelmood House, named for a renowned Qatari slave owner, which features the history of slavery in Qatar, an overview of historical slavery stemming from the Indian Ocean region, and contemporary slavery – human trafficking – around the world. The historical accounts and firsthand testimonials of Qatar slaves are powerful and relevant. Despite a shameful legacy, it was refreshing to see that Qatar did not sugarcoat slavery in this country. It was a very detailed and informative museum house that encourages discussion of historical slavery in the country, as well as modern day slavery worldwide.

slave-pricesAs stated at the renovated house entrance: “Bin Jelmood House exists to promote reflection and conversation on important truths about historical slavery in Qatar and the critical issue of contemporary slavery around the world.”

Detailed slavery history culminates with the Middle East ban on child camel racing jockeys in 2005. Twenty-first century slavery discussed human trafficking worldwide.


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Kakopetria Village: Beauty, Serenity and Tragedy

Kakopetria (Greek for place of stones) is one of those villages brimming with history and begging to be explored.


Nestled into the side of the Troodos Mountain some 2200 feet high and surrounded by thick forest, Kakopetria is the highest village in the Solea Valley. The Troodos Mountain was formed from an explosion of a volcano in the area. When the lava stopped, it became solid.looking-toward-sea-from-Kakopetria

The higher our tour bus crept hugging the heavily vegetated roadside, the more I felt I was shifting further into the center of the earth. It’s difficult to describe the beauty and serenity – and, of course, photos never do justice – but try to imagine the lush green vegetation popping in and out of a forest of pine trees, majestic oaks and even wild olive trees. Hillside terracing spotlights various fruit-bearing trees, such as apple, pear, plum, cherry, apricot and fig that the villagers grow and cultivate.

waterfall-in-KakopetriaA gentle waterfall spilling into the basin within the old village offers melodic serenity and natural beauty. The village was built on the banks of two rivers, which join in the center of the 1500-inhabitant 14th Century village. A hike to the top of the village provides the most beautiful vista of the surrounding landscape as far as one can see. In fact, on a clear day the sea is visible off in the distance.

The entire village is under the protection of the Department of Antiquities requiring special permission if homeowners want to change the exterior appearance of their home. The village’s uniqueness are the narrow crooked lanes mostly impassable by car, and the distinct home construction. The lower portions are constructed with stones while the upper part with clay, mud and bricks. The houses all have tiled roofs and wooden balconies. I found the architecture very

Almost half way up the steep main street, we came upon the nondescript Church of the Transfiguration. We spent a few minutes inside the small church lighting a candle and snapping a few photos of the interior. I was surprised that even in this tiny remote village, the Greek Orthodox Church also boasted an impressive interior of iconostases. The elderly nun inside knew no English making it impossible to learn anything about the

Back out on the slippery and uneven stone-cobbled road, we walked past numerous winding side lanes the width of a bicycle path and not much more. I can imagine how easily it would be to get turned around if you were trying to find someone’s home. Fortunately for one enterprising homeowner, visitors searching for Irene’s house have a sign indicating the way. Lush green foliage and multi-hued flowers dotted the lanes and flower boxes adding color to the mostly shaded homes. Homeowners lucky enough to have room for a carport utilized the space to grow their own grapes.Irene's-house

There is another reason why this charming village has gained notoriety. Anchored at the start of the climb upward to the residential area is the famous Stone of the Couple. Following an ancient pagan custom of honoring Aphrodite, the goddess of love, newlyweds performed a ceremony by walking around the stone and making a wish. One couple was crushed to death when they lost their footing and tumbled down the rocky incline. From then on, the rock became known as the Stone of the Couple, although locals often refer to it as the Bad Stone. Even today a few couples honor the custom. Eleni, our tour guide, explained that many Cypriots continued to practice pagan customs after the advent of Christianity as many of these practices were deeply rooted in Greek mythology.stone-of-the-couple

Kakopetria is a popular summer and winter resort since its location offers visitors a respite from the sun-scorched temperatures of the large cities, most notably Nicosia, Cyprus’ largest city, an hour or so drive down the mountain. In the wintertime, the mountains are snow-laden offering outdoor activities popular with Cypriots. On weekends, people flock to the village and its handful of hotels are fully booked.

Wandering the narrow lanes and catching glimpses of older Kakopetrians in their windows and doorways smiling as we passed was an enjoyable reconnection with simplicity.

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BUDAPEST: A City of Contrasts

History has blended Buda and Pest into one. But they were two very distinct and separate medieval towns at one time. Buda and Pest each honor their own culture and historical glories amidst the horrors of war and an extraordinary will to survive. Inspired by the past, Budapest’s split personality beckons.

Every city is smudged by contrasts – old and new, east and west, secular and sacred, opulent and downtrodden. From the dignified Parliament building in Pest to the pockmarked, machine-gun riddled buildings on Castle Hill in Buda; Budapest, Hungary is a city of contrasts and complex history.busy Budapest street

The mighty Danube River not only slices Hungary’s capital city geographically, but also culturally. Native Hungarians are quick to correct the naïve tourist unknowingly referring to Budapest as one city. I was one of those bumbling travelers set straight by our tour guide Yuri.

A Tale of Two Cities
Buda, older than Pest and positioned in the western hills, was a very Hungarian town and birthplace to the historic Castle District. It is also the more affluent, prestigious piece of the city. Narrowly crammed cobblestone streets winding slowly in and around a hilly terrain permeate this predominantly residential area of trendy addresses.

The Castle District of Buda became a town seven and a half centuries ago. The former royal palace towers swirl toward the sky on the Buda hillside. Its formation began in the 13th century and was added to over the centuries with its historic buildings detailing the splendid architectural styles of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance.

Pointed arches and ribbed interior vaulting identify Gothic architecture. Baroque is characterized by ornate decoration, carved surfaces, sculpture, color and oval spaces, while Renaissance style architecture, the European dominant style after the mid-16th century, is marked by round arches and symmetrical composition.

But cross the Danube via the Hungarian landmark Chain Bridge, blown up during World War II by the Germans, and you clearly sense the difference.Chain Bridge

Pest, the eastern part of the city, is the newest section – a mere 1,000 years old – boasting modern streets, flat terrain, glass-encased commercial buildings, fast food restaurants, luxury hotels, and the other numerous tribulations of a capital city.

Buda, a Slavic word for ‘water’ and the city of Pest, meaning ‘hot’, assimilated to become Budapest in 1873.

Hot water is just one of the city’s surprises, discovered by the Turks in the Middle Ages. There are nearly 150 thermal hot springs in Budapest supplying 50-some medicinal thermal baths, spas, and medical center therapy pools. The springs supply 15.4 million gallons of water daily ranging in temperature from 70° to 170°.

The thermal baths, constructed in Pest during the 20th century, are in the modern Art Noveau architectural style, a distinct contrast to Buda’s Gothic and Baroque architecture.

Typically, women and men have designated days in which to use the thermal baths, according to Yuri; however, Budapest does have some co-ed baths now.

Stripping off layers of history, I learn that in the 18th century, Pest was Catholic and more of a German town than Hungarian with allegiance to the German Habsburgs. Under the Habsburg reign, only Catholics, Serbs and Greeks were allowed to build places of worship within Pest’s town walls. An exception was made for the German-speaking Lutherans although not for the Jews and Hungarian-speaking Calvinists.

In 2006, Budapest’s religious delineation encompasses 67% Catholic, 27% Protestant, 1% Jewish, and 1% Eastern Orthodox. The remaining 4% are atheist.

Historic Landmarks in Buda
castleCastle Hill, home of the first royal palace and town hall in Buda, was conceived under King Bela after the Mongol invasion of 1241-1242.

King Stephan, the first Hungarian King, commissioned a cathedral to be constructed on Castle Hill. It was named for him in 1850, yet it would take until 1906 before completed. St. Stephan’s Basilica remains the largest Catholic Church in Hungary. King Stephan, canonized in 1083, was responsible for converting Hungarians to Christianity. In the Basilica’s St. Leopold chapel rests Hungary’s most religiously guarded relic – the embalmed right hand of St. Stephan.

Budapest History Museum in the Castle District presents the history and events relating to the capital from the past 1,000 years. The Holy Crown of Hungary is housed here.

Gellert Hill, the rocky limestone hill bordering the Liberty Bridge, is a protected area and named for Gellert, an aristocratic Venetian who came to Hungary to convert the “heathens”. He befriended King Stephan and was eventually killed in 1046 by rebels trying to eradicate Christianity from the country. A small chapel is tucked away in a dark cave on Gellert Hill in his memory.

Fisherman’s Bastion, located on the Buda hillside overlooking the Danube, consists of seven pillars. Each pillar represents the seven tribes that conquered Hungary in the ninth century. Town legend says this section of the medieval town wall was defended by the fishermen’s guild.

Mathias Church steepleMathias Church, built within the castle grounds after 1350, was constructed in a Moorish style of architecture from Spain with its green spire puncturing the blue sky. Mathias Church, as the Hungarians commonly know it, has had seven names. It has had its current name of Coronation Church since 1916 although it is better known as Mathias Church. Remarkably, all of its original stain glass windows survived World War II. Mathias Church sits next to Fisherman’s Bastion and across the street from City Hall.

Historic Landmarks in Pest
The majestic Parliament building, constructed of limestone, rises stately along the banks of the Danube. It houses the largest library in Hungary. If you think it resembles London’s Parliament building, you are correct. The structure was indeed modeled after London’s.

Before and during World War I, the aristocratic Gellert Baths were incorporated within the splendid Gellert Hotel. The baths were badly damaged during World War II and subsequently miraculously repaired to their former glory. The Gellert Hotel is also renowned as an international meeting location for foreign dignitaries.

In 1896, Europe’s first Underground Railway was constructed and became one of the stops for the famed Orient Express. It also served to connect Budapest to Vienna providing the rich and powerful relatively easy access to the Austrian capital’s abundant cultural offerings.

Hero’s Square, an open-air square built in the late 19th century, exhibiting the Millennium Monument, the focal point of Hero’s Square, is a symbol of Budapest. The clustered monument consists of the allegorical figures (War, Peace, Knowledge, Work, Welfare, Glory), the Archangel Gabriel holding the Cross of Lorraine and the Hungarian Holy Crown, the seven Hungarian chieftains on horseback, while behind them in a semi-circle pose the 14 Hungarian kings, ruling princes, and statesmen.

Hall of Exhibitions (including the Museum of Fine Arts) and Opera House are to the right and left of the Millennium Monument, respectively.

When the Budapest Opera House was built from 1875-84, it had to compete with the Vienna Opera House. So, in addition to headlining the best: Wagner, Verdi and Gounod, Hungarians added opulence, the most modern stage machinery of the time, extravagant refreshments, fine art, and gold gilding everywhere to create a resounding effect.
Good railway links assured Budapest and Vienna opera fans of being a four- to five-hour train ride from each other so as not to miss out on the latest opening of a new production or a famous opera singer’s performance.

World War 11’s Destruction
Unlike Prague and Vienna, Budapest was hard hit during World War II destroying its architectural splendor. More than 70 percent of the walled city was damaged and/or destroyed by bombs.

At the time of the war, there were 50 Jewish synagogues in Budapest; all but one was destroyed. The Germans missed the surviving yellow temple, which purposely bore no resemblance to a traditional looking synagogue.

The second largest synagogue in the world was built in 1863 in Budapest, and unfortunately, was one of the totally destroyed structures.

The retreating Germans blew up every one of the bridges over the Danube in 1945, including the Chain Bridge, the first permanent bridge spanning that river and linking the two cities. It was rebuilt and is again a symbol of the shared Hungarian capital.

After the fall of Communism in Europe in 1989, investors flooded Hungary, and Budapest in particular, throwing up quick and cheap business centers and buildings. These are easily identified in Pest by the sheer numbers of glass-enclosed commercial structures, as glass is an inexpensive building material.

bullet ridden bldgToday, city and country leaders are faced with the dilemma of how to renovate their historic and/or broken-down structures seared by the war. Hungary’s economy is still recovering since the fall of Communism; thus, empty shells of buildings and bullet-ridden structures are painfully obvious with a lack of government funds to repair.

As we cross the Danube a final time, one last sweeping, panoramic view spotlighted by postcard-studded landscapes reinforces the complex and difficult history Buda and Pest share. They are survivors.

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The Paphos Mosaics of Cyprus

Today, their luxury vehicles, private jets and sleek yachts identify the rich and famous. But in the third century AD, the very rich – at least in Cyprus – showed off their wealth and influence with amazing mosaic floors that told stories borrowed from Greek mythology.

The entire city of Paphos, a seaport on the southwest coast of the Cypriot island, and the surrounding area, is on the UNESCO heritage list due to the exquisite mosaic remains discovered. UNESCO extended the area suggesting extensive remains are still buried underneath.

A farmer cultivating his field accidentally discovered the Paphos Mosaics in 1963. No one was aware there were mosaics in the area prior to his discovery. The excavations indicated a large and wealthy series of residences of the Roman period, the first of its type to be found not only in Paphos, but also in Cyprus as a whole. As more mosaic floors were located in the surrounding areas, archaeologists realized that such elaborate and rich mosaic floor decoration was not the exception, but rather the norm for Paphos during the mid-Roman period.

Eleni, our Cypriot tour guide, clarified that in the Roman times, especially in the mid-Roman period, most of the wealthy houses were decorated with mosaic floors. She explained that apprentices or ordinary craftsmen created the geometric frames and background filling in workshops, and the master artisans created the extremely accomplished figured compositions.

At the Paphos Mosaics, the amazing floors are featured in three third century AD noblemen’s villas – House of Dionysus, House of Theseus, and the recently excavated House of Aion – and are considered among the finest in the eastern Mediterranean. The mosaics mostly depict scenes from Greek mythology and are beautifully rendered and preserved. All are in their original location.

Also on site are the remains of Saranda Kolones Castle, an odeon, and the Castle of the 40 Pillars. Excavations are ongoing, and I observed workers slowly and meticulously scraping away layers of sand under the hot midday sun.

Eleni revealed that in 1964 near one of the newly uncovered ruins on the Paphos Mosaic site a skeleton was discovered. What was so special about it, however, was that in the skeleton’s arms was a jar of more than 2,200 silver coins from the Tollemite Period. Apparently sometime in the fifth century BC during an earthquake that destroyed Paphos – this part of the island was a notorious earthquake zone – this individual ran from his house with the jar of money and died on the spot. The jar and all of the silver coins are now in the Archaeological Museum in Nicosia, Cyprus.

House of Dionysus
hunting-scene-mosaics-from-Dionthos-houseThis house belonged to a very rich person, according to Eleni, and was named for Dionysus because Dionysus – the god of wine – is portrayed in two of the extensive mosaic floors. The villa ruins encompass about 21,500 square feet with approximately 6,200 SF consisting of mosaic floors. More ruins outside also belong to the house.

The first mosaic we saw as we entered the covered structure was that of Narcissus. The mosaic is estimated to be about 600 years old. Eleni immediately launched into a story interpreting the mosaic pattern: “Narcissus was a very handsome man and all of the girls in the village were in love with him. But Narcissus did not love any of the beautiful girls; he seemed more intent on himself. So the maidens decided Narcissus should be punished. They told Zeus that Narcissus would spend his days sitting by the side of the river watching himself in the water. According to Greek mythology, to this day, a narcissus flower is at the bottom of the river.”

The atrium of the house depicted four stories through its mosaic floors. One of them is the love story of Thisbe, a very pretty girl, and Pyramos, a handsome man. The two were in love with each, but their parents refused to allow them to marry. The two decided to elope and agreed to meet in the forest under a mulberry tree. Thisbe arrived first. She saw a lion and was so frightened that she began running. In the process, she lost her veil. As the story goes, the lioness snatched the veil, which had some blood stains on it. When Pyramos arrived at the meeting point, he saw the lioness with the stained veil. He immediately thought the animal had killed his beloved Thisbe, so he committed suicide. When Thisbe came back, she saw her dead lover and committed suicide next to him. Does the storyline sound familiar? Shakespeare adapted it for Romeo and Juliet.

Apollo-&-DaphneAccording to Eleni, the best story of the House of Dionysus is that of Daphne, again, a very pretty girl. Daphne means laurel. Apollo was in love with Daphne, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with him. Apollo continually followed her, begging her to marry him, but the nymph refused and ran from him. Apollo began chasing her. Seeing that he was bound to catch her, she called upon her father, “Help me, Peneus! Open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger! I don’t want to be a woman any more. Let me be free of this man from this moment forward!”

Her father touched her on her legs and she turned into a laurel tree. When Apollo discovered this he said, ‘If I cannot have you as my wife, I would have you as my laurel tree.’ Since then, according to the story, the laurel tree has been the holy tree of Apollo. To this day, laurel leave crowns are presented to winners of athletic events.

House of Theseus
circular-mosaic-from-house-of-TheseusConstruction of this building began in the second century AD and underwent many modifications. It was inhabited until the early seventh century AD. According to the excavators, the building was the official seat of the Roman governor of Cyprus.

The main feature of the House of Theseus is its gigantic floor mosaic depicting the birth of Achilles. A second composition is Theseus and the Minotaur. What makes this mosaic renowned is that unlike other mosaics depicting Theseus, this mosaic has the hero Theseus shown in the center of the picture.

Due to the immense size and proportions of this structure, the building has not yet been completely uncovered – nor enclosed to protect the mosaics from the elements. The House of Theseus is the largest residential structure of its type found on the island so far and one of the largest in the Mediterranean.

House of Aion
Excavations began in 1983 and only a small part of this house has been excavated. The uncovered rooms include the reception hall and a portion of the main room. The house was given its name because in the center of the main room is a composition of the depiction of the god Aion, the personification of eternal time. To date, most of the mosaics are in a geometric pattern.

seascene-house-of-AionThe story behind the mosaic named Scene on the Sea depicts the three most beautiful of Nereus’ daughters. They are returning from a competition judged by the impartial judge Aion in which none of the girls won. “Although beautiful and elegant in their dresses, they are angry and dissatisfied with the result of the competition,” Eleni tells us by pointing to various figures on the mosaic. “They ride away on the back of a friendly sea centaur and a young triton, the surface of the sea. A saddened Eros is riding a bull and Zeus and Athena are watching from above.” Eleni mentions that representations of this particular story are extremely rare and those that exist do not surpass this excellent example.

It is interesting to note that these mosaic renderings were made around the middle of the fourth century AD during Christianity. Yet the Paphos Mosaics are believed to represent a deeply cultured and rooted traditional value and creed of the ancient gods, which these artists were attempting to reinstate for the old pagan aristocrats resisting Christianity, who commissioned the works.

Saranda Kolones Castle
arch-and-steps-in-castleThe castle was erected around 1200 AD after the Frankish conquest of Cyprus on the site of an earlier Byzantine fort. It was destroyed by the earthquake of 1223 and was never rebuilt or cleared.

The structure was a compact fortress surrounded by a massive external continuous wall with eight towers and a moat. The approach was via a wooden bridge over the moat. The interior of the castle was rectangular shaped with four corner towers.

Tall columns remained as they fell and the arch above the main entrance still stands.

We did not have time to hike over to the Castle of the 40 Pillars, although from a distance the standing pillars were visible with the sea as a backdrop.

It’s amazing just thinking about the painstaking process of making, painting and creating the detailed mosaic patterns this site is so famous for. But then too to wonder what these people were like who lived here; the ultra rich and conservative who refused to accept Christianity. It’s almost as though their mythology-related stories told through the gorgeous mosaics represented their personal rebellion. The Paphos Mosaics site must be an archaeological connoisseur’s dream.


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A Passage to India

Everywhere I turned, I faced a riot of color. Pumpkin oranges, paprika reds, spinach greens, sunflower yellows, glamorous gold’s and every other captivating color imaginable. It was an amazing visual feast.little-girl-in-traditional-dress

My husband and I were not in some exotic, far-away land; in fact, we were at Katara in Doha, Qatar for the second annual two-day Indian Festival this past weekend. The performers, along with the thousands of Indian expat women and children garbed in traditional dress, displayed their love of vibrant clothing colors woven into their cultural fabric. They certainly proved they were guardians of their homeland’s cultural clothing tradition. An amazing 500,000 Indians live in Qatar.

Culinary and Cultural Diversions
Food stalls set up along the Katara esplanade featured traditional and popular Indian fare, including tandoori chicken, masala dosa, biryani, naan and various kebabs. Although shawarmas are not a typical Indian dish, one food stall was selling camel shawarmas – a first in Doha – and I could not resist. It was tender and delicious. My husband enjoyed the Indian food, which is far too spicy for my palate.

With a full belly, it was much easier to begin navigating the crowded stalls that featured jewelry, Sari designs and traditional female Indian clothing, paintings and handicrafts. I couldn’t resist a black beaded necklace with an accompanying black bracelet. Bob chose a handsome homemade teakwood comb for himself.

fabrics-&-spicesIndividual stalls highlighted various regions and states of India. For example, Karnataka, a southern state known for its sari fabric designs, had colorful material on display along with some of the spices indigenous to that area. Another stall – from the state of Ponjaya – depicted portrait and paintings on glass and silk, while still another had fabulous photographs on display of nature’s splendor in waterfalls.

Set against the backdrop of the sea, one of the main festival attractions was a replica of the famed India Gate – constructed on the esplanade and rising just shy of 33 feet high. The India Gate is a national edifice – and some say synonymous with India – and a massive war monument in the heart of New Delhi, India, I learned. It was designed by Sir Edwin Lufyens and built between 1921 and 1931 in the shape of a triumphal arch. The gate was built to commemorate the 90,000 Indian soldiers in the British-Indian army, who sacrificed their lives in World War 1 and the Afghan War for the Indian Empire. The gate’s inscription prominently states this.

According to Indian Cultural Center president Girish Kumar, the gate replica was built “to symbolize the nation, to mark the entry to the festival, and to inspire overseas Indians, families and children to pay tribute to the heroes who sacrificed their lives. Even on a joyous occasion as this festival, we shouldn’t forget them.”India-gate

As the late afternoon unfolded, we made our way to the amphitheater. A sweeping view of the huge stone structure confirmed my suspicions: It was to be a full house this evening.

As the sun slowly dropped from its spotlight in the sky and dusk began to spread about, multi colored lights on the stage flickered alive. For me, the main feature was about to begin. India has quite the layered cultural history I was about to discover.

The emcee proudly explained to the throng of thousands, who were primarily Indian but a decent representation of Arabs and Western expats as well, that in India, dancing correlates with happy occasions and official celebrations, both of which hold social significance. Dancers and performers this evening were about to partake in homespun storytelling put to music and folk dance. “Each dance conveys a specific story, and each state has special dances, clothes and music,” the emcee announced.

The opening act featured a group of various aged youth demonstrating karate moves and poses. Their act was followed one after another for the next two hours of jaw-dropping costumes that dominated the color palette. Each stage performance was a sensory extravaganza. The vivid, colorful performers and dancers – all students from various Doha middle and high schools – presented a mix of classical and folk dance featuring the different facets of India.

4-girls-dancingDespite the majority of the songs in an unfamiliar language, the audience’s enthusiasm combined with the high energy of the performers shown through providing entertaining dances and stories that were obviously preserving their time-honored traditions.

Indian culture, often termed as an amalgamation of several cultures, spans across the Indian subcontinent and has been influenced by a history that is several millennia old. The country consists of 29 states, seven union territories and a population of 1.2 billion. It is the world’s second most populous country.

The festival highlighted an interesting mosaic of a people from India’s 29 states through displays, music and folk dances, which share a diverse culture. Clicking away, I fervently tried to capture as many moments as possible digitally.female-performers

Kumar stated that the objective of the festival was to “get together and share the wealth of India’s vibrant cultures, to embrace differences that make our country unique, and to discover similarities that unite people regardless of their origin. We wanted to provide a platform to come together to present India’s great cultural diversity to a multi-lingual, multi-cultural audience of Qatar.”

DSCN-8264The charm of India’s past appears well intact, and its heritage was beautifully portrayed this evening through music and dance. With my photos and video, I can now revisit my brief passage to Incredible India over and over again.

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Larnaca Fort: Cannons, Tombstones and Gallows… Once Upon a Time

After a steady diet of Greek mythology and archaeological ruins, touring the small somewhat restored Larnaca Fort in Larnaca, Cyprus was a nice diversion.

Located a few blocks from our hotel on the southern edge of the coastal corniche road, the fort is classified as a Byzantine structure, but there are two drastically different versions of when it was constructed. It is generally agreed upon, however, that the fort’s purpose was to defend the southern coasts of Cyprus, and in particular, Larnaca’s town harbor, and was later used as a prison, artillery center and an outpost.Larnaca-fort inside-Larnaca-fort

Since it is unclear as to when exactly it was built, most historians accept the late 12th century theory as the initial period given the fact that Larnaca gained great importance as a seaport during the medieval ages. Written accounts add credence to the claim that the fort was built during the reign (1382-1398) of King James 1 of Cyprus. The form of the entrance arch suggests a 14th century date.

fort-layout-diagramIts original shape was never decisively determined, but the fort appears to have taken the form of a square tower, and based on restoration of a monument, the foundations of an earlier phase were discovered indicating that the original fort was larger than the current structure. Documentation exists to support the evidence that it was rebuilt in 1625 during the Ottoman period.

Today, located in the center of the stone-walled fort is a small, nicely landscaped courtyard. Its north-facing entrance consists of a two-story building, now a museum, and is believed to have been from the Ottoman period. This is based on the Turkish inscription above the main entrance. The courtyard is currently used for cultural events, and the day we visited a stage was in place along with about 50 chairs in anticipation of a final concert of the season.

A sign on the grounds explains that the fort was ransacked, destroyed and rebuilt several times “since it was at the center of conflicting economic interests, which had to do mainly with the export of salt from the port of Larnaca.”

According to the fort brochure, famous explorer Abbot Giovanni Mariti, who lived in Larnaca during the first half of the 18th century, records that “the fort was built by the Ottoman Turks, but was already in a semi-ruinous state at the time, even though a garrison was still maintained here.” The abbot also wrote that the fort was mainly used as a firing-gun salute to passing Christian warships.4-medieval-cannons

By the late 18th century, Larnaca Fort lost its importance and the Turks abandoned it. Apparently the next written documentation comes during World War 1 when the Germans occupied the fort from 1914-1918 using it as a military outpost. At the end of the war, the British retook it and converted it into a prison where a gallows was installed to execute prisoners. The last execution was held in 1945. In 1948, the fort was converted to the current archaeological museum, but not opened to the public until 1969. The installations of the gallows were discovered during conservation and restoration works, but a date was not given as to when that discovery was made.

gallows-photoA sign above the gallows states that relatives and friends of the condemned were allowed to watch the execution from the courtyard, but far enough away, where they could not hear the sound of the trapdoor opening. Looking down the steep ladder to the deep hole of the former gallows was certainly an eerie feeling.

Highlights of the fort include a number of cannons on display in the courtyard – some dating to the medieval ages – and a room of tombstones dating from the 14th Century that are mainly from gothic churches of Nicosia, a town about 20 miles away. A second room featured various inscriptions carved into stone on the walls in various languages. Yet another room that faced the sea had a cave where numerous tombstones were originally uncovered.

As I clambered up some metal stairs to the two-room museum on the second level, a quick view of the calm blue sea beyond the old stone wall reflected the medieval character of the fort. Ducking inside the old door, I discovered displays of pottery, including crude utensils and dishware the soldiers used, along with photos from Early Christian churches (4-7th Century AD), Byzantine mosaics of the Early Christian period (same centuries as above), and Byzantine and Medieval Cyprus monuments from the 4-16th Centuries AD. A second room portrayed wall paintings of Cypriot Byzantine dating from the 11-16th Century AD.utesils-used-at-fort

No graceful architecture or any furnishings, for that matter, provided any hints of how comfortable or crude the fort must have been. Based on its size and the display of common household pottery discovered on site, this barren structure must have been sparsely furnished and somewhat lonely; probably not conducive to a “home away from home” for its occupants.

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