Tag Archives: architecture

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.

mustard-chapel

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 Europe.so-bohemia-folk-baroque-architecture

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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Ancient Agora: Shock and Awe

Ancient provides a pretty broad frame of reference provided you can get your head around it. The shock of the importance and awe of the Ancient Agora site solidifies its place in Greek history. Now a field of humble ruins for the most part, this heart of the ancient city of Athens continues to tell its story all these centuries later.

The Ancient Agora was the center of Athenian democracy for more than 800 years. It was here that the most important administrative and judicial functions and political assemblies took place. Speeches were given, political announcements made, and a place for demonstrators to gather. Close your eyes and envision the chaotic scene.

Ancient-Agora-mapThe Agora, meaning ‘to assemble’ or ‘to gather’, was a 10-acre rectangle on the northwest slope of the Acropolis, home to social and religious activities, and featured a bustling marketplace – can you hear the sellers hawking their wares to the crowds? It also hosted theatrical performances under the stars, and was the site of numerous athletic competitions. Excavations show the area has been continuously inhabited since the Neolithic Period (3,000 BC). Now that’s ancient!

Archaic Period – 700-480 BC
The Archaic Period – much younger than the ancient period – and onwards is the timeline in which the Ancient Agora expanded and developed with more public buildings, temples to the gods, fountains, statues and tree-lined boulevards. Stoas were an important architectural element of most main buildings. These covered walkways provided shoppers and ruling officials protection from the sun and rain and offered much welcomed shade. The massive columns holding up the stoas were perfect for leaning against to rest a bit or maybe even engage in some good old-fashioned gossiping.inside-stoa

With the establishment of a democratic government and reforms in 508/507 BC, extensive building began in earnest. The Agora’s first and main buildings included the erection of the Old Bouleuterion (council chambers) the Royal Stoa (seat of the ruler), and the well-preserved Painted Stoa (Temple of Hephaestus) on a hill overlooking the ancient Agora grounds. The Agora, however, would reach its peak during the first two centuries after Christ.

The Ancient Agora was repeatedly destroyed and pillaged throughout its history. Its persecutors included: the Persians (480 BC), the Romans under Sulla (86 BC), the Herulians (267 AD) and the Slavs (580 AD). In the tenth century AD, following a long period of desertion, a Byzantine neighborhood formed in the Agora area, and the small Church of the Holy Apostles – which is charming and quaint – was built.commercial-street

Invaders again destroyed the area in 1204 AD as well as in 1826-27 during the Greek War of Independence. By the late 19th century, the Agora was buried under the new city of Athens. Site excavation began in the 19th century and continues today.

Attalus Stoa
The long Attalus Stoa is now a museum filled with excavations from the Agora. The most important exhibits are connected with the functions of Athenian democracy, which date back to the Classical (8th century BC) and Late Classical periods (300-600 AD).long-stoa

Because the museum presents the daily life of its citizens, many of its findings on display were discovered in houses and shops of the Agora, as well as in tombs because part of the area was an early cemetery. Figurines, coins, lamps, everyday cookware and utensils, and inscriptions to and sculptures of various gods are also exhibited.

Also unearthed and displayed are clay-created public measures, official bronze weights, part of a marble ballot box, jurors’ ballots, a clay water clock used for timing speeches, important inscriptions denouncing tyranny, and names of ancient politicians etched in stone and marble.ballot-box-from-ancient-Agora

Central Area
In the marketplace center was the Odeon of Agrippa, constructed in 15 BC, and used for musical performances. Later on, lectures were delivered from it as well, including teachings of St. Paul. It was destroyed in 267 AD and rebuilt as a gymnasium. Not only did the new space feature athletic competitions, but also educational forums as well as entertainment venues.

Imagine the monuments and temples springing up on all four sides of the agora hemming in the bustling square. Sprinkled with temples and altars among trees, statues and fountains, Athenians had ample Emperor-Hadrian-statueopportunity to make an offering to their gods before going about their daily business. They met their friends here, did their shopping, listened to discussions with revered philosophers, took in plays and concerts, and probably enjoyed a goblet or two of sweet red wine in a nearby tavern. Imagine being one of these social magnets! The Agora was not simply for the wealthy or strictly for men; on the contrary, middle class and even lower middle class men and women routinely gathered here.

Church of the Holy Apostles
One of the most “modern” structures is the charming little Church of the Holy Apostles. It was constructed around 1000 AD on the ruins of an ancient temple atop a sacred spring, and commemorates St. Paul’s teaching in the Agora.

This church became the prototype for later Athenian – and Cypriot – churches in that the floor plan consists of four equal arms topped by a single dome and featuring tall horseshoe-shaped window arches. Bricks creating Kufic calligraphy script, popular in Muslim mosques, encircle the church’s eaves. Over the years, 17th century Byzantine-style frescoes have been uncovered, and though badly faded, have been restored as best they can to their original state. At the top of the dome is a painted icon of Jesus, which appears in every Greek Orthodox church.church frescoes

Temple of Hephaestus
Perched on the top of Agoraios Kolonos Hill and overlooking the Ancient Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus, in all its grandeur, also known as the Theseion.

It is a smaller version of the famed Parthenon; built between 460 and 415 BC (during the reign of Pericles and prior to the Parthenon) with the same pentelic marble and the same 13 columns on its long side and six on its narrow side. According to the sign at its base, an unknown architect designed the temple.

Temple-of-HephIts relief sculptures depict the feats of Greek Mythology heroes Heracles (Hercules) and Theseus (son of Poseidon) along with other stories.

Following decades of wars and destruction, the temple was one of a handful that still had a roof. During the early years of Christianity (7th century), the temple was converted into the Church of Saint George. During the Ottoman rule, the Turks allowed the church to remain open but permitted services only once each year – on St. George’s Day. Sometime after 1821, the temple was used as a museum; the first national archaeological museum of modern Greece, until the 1930s.

If walls could talk, think of the stories and secrets this grand temple could tell.

temple-statuesAgora’s Legacy
To an extent, history repeats itself, but not necessarily in the same form. Now that the Ancient Agora for the most part is no longer, other areas of Athens have become hallmark locations of what once was the case for the Agora. For example, people shop at the Central Market now for their fresh fruits and vegetables; modern malls for clothing; Syntagma Square is the government center of Athens; the light rail has replaced the Panathenaic Way, the main street of Athens that led from the Ancient Agora up to the Acropolis; and Monastiraki Square is the new hub of social life for modern day Athenians.

It’s a shame the Ancient Agora site is not better preserved, as the scattered ruins do not do its storied history and importance justice. Then again, consider what ‘ancient’ takes into account, and the awe value quickly returns.

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