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China’s Terracotta Warriors

Imagine the shock a group of simple Chinese farmers quietly digging a well in a field one day experienced when they stumbled upon an upright life-size terracotta figure of a warrior.

The discovery was uncovered in March 1974, and the site was soon identified as Emperor Qin’s place of burial.

Who was Qin?
Born Ying Zheng in 259 BC, he succeeded his father as king when only 13 years old. Qin Shi Huang, founder of the Qin dynasty, ruled as China’s first emperor from 221-207 BC. More importantly, Qin was responsible for China’s unification, initiating groundbreaking reforms during his reign.

In 230 BC he began his campaign to conquer China’s remaining six kingdoms, thus unifying the country for the first time in its existence. History indicates Zheng accomplished this feat in less than 10 years, and proclaimed himself the first emperor of a unified China.

Marble-statue-of-Qin-Shi-Huang-The-First-Emperor-of-Qin-Dynasty

It was then that Zheng took the title Qin Shi Huang, which means “first emperor of Qin”. Consequently, Qin Dynasty became the first imperial dynasty of China.

One of Qin’s most important reforms was abolishing the old political system and dividing his empire into 36 districts. He instituted this to avoid political chaos.

He then appointed officials based on merit rather than following hereditary lines, as had been the custom. Military officers who distinguished themselves in battle were rewarded with important military positions.

Two other reforms under his rule were the unification of the law and standardizing the Chinese units of measurement and currency.

His most significant act, however, was to unify the Chinese written language by creating a novel, and more simplified, script that became the standard.

Nevertheless, Qin was an unpopular ruler and considered inhumane through much of China’s history. Ruling with an iron hand, he had more than 450 scholars, whose views he disagreed with, killed and ordered most existing books to be burned. Because of this, Confucian scholars portrayed him as a brutal tyrant and upon his death publicly undervalued his achievements.

Qin is credited with commissioning the original version of China’s Great Wall, designed to protect against barbarian invasions. Showing little regard for human life, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of men died during the construction of the famous defensive wall. While little of this wall remains today, it was the precursor to the Great Wall of China.Great-Wall-of-the-Qin

Now, however, the massive mausoleum complex he had constructed for himself near the ancient city of Xi’an reflects his legacy despite the untold numbers who died during construction and the artisans he ordered killed in order to preserve the secrecy of the tomb’s location and the treasures buried within.

Perception of Death
“Treat death as life” was the ancient Chinese traditional perception of death. According to information in the Chinese exhibit that is on display at Doha, Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art, “they considered death another form of living, believing that the afterlife one enters after death is an exact copy of the present one.” That is why personal objects used during their lifetime, such as clothes, daily necessities and status symbols, can usually be found in their tombs or mausoleums.

Terrified of death, Qin was obsessed with acquiring immortality. Later in his life he ordered his court physicians and alchemists to create a tonic or medicine that would grant him eternal life. What they came up with were mercury pills, which would supposedly make him immortal. He died on September 10, 210 BC allegedly due to mercury poisoning.

The Terracotta Army Mausoleum
In early China societies, the custom of human sacrifice was followed as part of a funeral ritual. During the Zhou Dynasty that preceded the Qin Dynasty, this philosophy changed to using clay and wooden figures rather than humans. The Qin terracotta warriors exemplify this philosophical shift.

photo-of-terracotta-soldiers-pitQin ordered work to begin on the famous mausoleum soon after he became king. Historians believe it took 700,000 men and 38 years to construct the mausoleum, which was larger than any city of the world at that time. His burial chamber was to be enclosed within the structure.

The life-size warriors in military formation – more than 6,000 of them – “guarded and protected” Qin’s tomb in the afterlife from evil spirits for more than 2,200 years after his death. In addition to this large pit the farmers discovered in 1974 were three other pits. A second pit contained cavalry and infantry unit sculptures, a third consisted of high-ranking officers and chariots, and a fourth was empty, suggesting that the burial pit was left unfinished following the emperor’s death.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this discovery is that the pits were designed with a sophisticated layout, as load-bearing walls were discovered every 10 feet between where the warriors and horses stand.

Chinese Sculpture vs. Western Sculpture
Within China’s art history circles, the Qin terracotta warriors rank extremely high in artistic value. Every detail of the figures was modeled on real persons from their height and proportion to their facial features resulting in a life-like sculptural style. What makes these terracotta figures so unique is that they all differ from one another not only in facial features and expressions, but also clothing, hairstyle and even their gestures. Every terracotta warrior was originally painted in bright colors, which is believed to have added immensely to their vividness.

4-warriors-&-horse

Western sculpture places its focus on form and muscle. “It uses light and shadow to create a sense of depth, and applies the principles of human anatomy to express the human body’s muscular and dynamic beauty,” according to art historians. Chinese sculpture, however, focuses more on portraying a subject’s temperament, which is why the sculptures show a strong realistic feel with artistic exaggeration of facial detail. Rarely does Chinese sculpture indicate a subject’s muscles or detailed body form.

The Terracotta Army and Their Weapons
The soldiers, archers, horses and chariots discovered during restoration work indicate they were created using molds and an early assembly line-type construction. It is believed that only eight molds were used to shape their heads, while distinctive clay surface features were added after they were assembled indicating a high level of craftsmanship and artistry. This explains why each soldier appears to be unique in its facial features yet most of the figures’ hands are identical.

Archaeologists found more than 40,000 bronze weapons during excavation, including battle axes, crossbows, arrowheads and spears, all of which were astonishingly well preserved given the more than 2,000 years they laid undiscovered. They credit the preservation to protective chrome plating, which reveals the sophistication of ancient Chinese metallurgy given that Germany first used this technique in 1937 and the U.S. not until 1950.

Qin’s Unexcavated Tomb
Since the tomb was discovered 40 years ago, less than one percent of it has been excavated. At first archaeologists were concerned about damaging Qin’s corpse and tomb artifacts, but that gave way to concerns about the excavation’s potential safety hazards. In 2005 a team led by Chinese archaeologist Duan Chingbo tested 4,000 samples of the burial mound earth for mercury, and all came back highly positive. Given this chemical evidence, the debate continues over whether to excavate, how to protect people working at the site, and what methods should be utilized to best protect the artifacts.

Proclaimed one of the greatest archeological discoveries in the world, the Terracotta Army Mausoleum is now unofficially hailed as the eighth Wonder of the World. Four of the unearthed terracotta structures, three warriors and a horse, are currently part of the traveling Chinese exhibit at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.

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Three Major Dynasties: History Told Thread by Thread

Fragile pottery pieces, old master paintings, elaborate jewelry, ethnic clothing and ancient manuscripts spanning thousands of years and dynasties are mainstays of museums. But how often does one see antique carpets that have survived the times?

Imperial Threads: Motifs and Artisans from Turkey, Iran and India, an unique temporary exhibit at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, offers a new perspective to three major dynasties. The cultural exchange between these Islamic world empires led to the creation of some of the world’s most beautiful works of art.

carpets-as-diplomatic-giftsThe artistic collection and interwoven connection of these dynasties – Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal – are highlighted through their handmade rugs, motif tiles, manuscripts and ceramics primarily from the 16th to the 18th centuries. It was commonplace for these empires to exchange artistic and material treasures – and cultures – whether as diplomatic gifts or objects of warfare.

There are 25 historic carpets on display in three sections, divided by bridges, some of which have glass floors with the carpets beneath them for up close viewing, with each section focusing on a specific dynasty. The carpets – some well preserved while others show significant wear – serve as the centerpiece of the entire exhibition.

“We wanted this exhibition to look very special and different,” Dr. Mounia Chekhab-Abudaya, exhibit curator, told Doha’s Peninsula newspaper in an interview. “Each of the three sections has glass floor features because we wanted people to see how the carpets looked like in the palaces, not on the walls as they are usually seen in museums, but on the floor. We wanted visitors to have an idea how grand the palaces would look decorated with various objects and beautiful designs.”

Focusing on the Timurid period in Iran and Central Asia (1370-1507), the Imperial Threads exhibit detailed artistic practices that were shared amongst the three succeeding and neighboring dynasties.map-of-dynasties

The Timurids conquered portions of Iran and Central Asia in the 14th century bringing with them their semi-nomadic traditions. According to exhibit storyboards, the Timurids played an important role in sharing the trade and diplomatic development of the three empires. They also are credited with introducing new artistic styles and practices.

Ottoman Dynasty in Turkey
The Ottoman world took hold at the turn of the 14th century, but the arts scene didn’t begin to flourish until Sulayman the Magnificent’s reign (1520-1566).

As the dynasty expanded geographically and economically, according to a storyboard, this expansion “set the ground for cultural and artistic development that continued until the 19th century.”

When the Ottomans occupied Northern Persia, one of those cities was Tabriz, an important weaving center that provided direct influence on artistic carpet production that included the transfer of motifs and craftsmanship from Iran to Turkey. Tabriz rugs are woven by highly skilled craftsmen using only the finest material and are widely renowned and sought after in collections of Persian rugs.carpet-exhibit

This first section of the exhibit showcases carpets and other mediums characteristic of local tribal designs that were merged with outside Iranian influences.

The different motifs prominent in carpets and other objects on display include cloudband, medallion, animal, cintamani, saz, lotus flower, lattice and flower motifs. Cintamani and saz tile motifs became characteristic of Ottoman materials trending away from geometric designs toward the use of central medallions and the introduction of the saz motif as a principal pattern. These motifs appear in the various pieces produced by artists in the three empires revealing the connection between the neighboring dynasties.

The saz style combines a twisting serrated leaf with other motifs, which can be floral or saz-motif-tilefigural. Artist Shad Quli, head of Sulayman the Magnificent studio workshop, introduced this motif and became well known for his drawings that combined a stylized leaf with dragons.

The wavy ribbon-like cloudband motif forms the shape of a horseshoe. Originally derived from Chinese art, the cloudband is found on a variety of media from the Islamic world including the illuminated Quran and ceramic bowl, both on display. The Mongols introduced this motif in the 13th century.

wavy-horseshoe-motif

Safavid Dynasty in Iran
The Safavid Empire (1501-1736) showcases works from the royal manuscripts workshop, as well as artistic motifs. During this period, books and manuscripts witnessed profound development primarily due to royal court patron support. Textiles and carpets were also produced in great numbers. They played a major role in the sharing and transfer of artistic practices as traveling artists.

illuminated-Qurans

Manuscript illustrations often featured court scenes with palace interiors depicting great detail. “With the representation of colored pavilions, carpets and other fabrics, paintings demonstrated the use of objects manufactured at the royal court workshops in their original and historical contexts,” explains a storyboard. “The meticulous work and the rich patterns and colors used by the painter reveal the attention given to these textiles, and the patterns used to illustrate them may have been adapted from contemporary carpets or other objects with shared motifs.”

Black and turquoise-glazed hexagonal tiles with floral motifs from a Tabriz carpet from the 15th to 16th century were a popular style.

hezagon-floral-tiles

Between war, diplomatic relations and inevitable political changes, “previous objects were transferred across borders whether as diplomatic gifts or war booty, and artists pursued careers from one workshop to another,” reads another storyboard.

Diplomatic Gifts
Gifts were commonly offered to celebrate a new ruler’s ascent to the throne, the circumcision of a ruler’s son, or simply to promote strong diplomatic relations. Common gifts included textiles and manuscripts – always luxury objects – between the three dynasties. This cross-cultural gift interaction explains how styles spread between different courts and influenced neighboring dynasties’ artistic production.

Animal motifs, long time depiction in Islamic and pre-Islamic art, were common on ceramics, textiles, stone work and in manuscripts. In Islamic times, these motifs had a secular context, not religious, and were ornamental architectural elements of palaces or display objects for royal settings.

animal-motif-bottles

Combat scenes in particular, depicting strong animals such as lions attacking weaker prey, were commonly portrayed serving to remind the viewer of the valor and courage their ruler held over his enemy.

Due to the development of firearms during the period of these three great empires, they are commonly referred to as the “gunpowder empires”. Highly decorated weapons manufactured in the royal workshops demonstrate the pageantry function of such objects that would have been made for ceremonial use rather than for battle.

On display are a Turkish-made shield and axe from the late 16th to early 17th century. The cane shield is constructed of iron and copper alloy that is decorated with gold floral motifs, woven silk border, and geometric motifs on a yellow background.

shield-&-axe

Mughal Dynasty in India
The third section of the exhibit highlights the Mughal Dynasty (1526-1858). It was during this period that European prints were introduced to the Mughal libraries. Based on patterns from these books, Mughal artists began creating their own patterns. During this time, Islam was gaining popularity in India and Mughal artists created a new style based on European prints and Islamic subjects.

The Mughal Empire also features the culmination of artistic styles that integrate Safavid, Ottoman and local traditions.

Millefleurs-niche-carpetOne of the important artistic styles coming out of this time period was detailed floral designs that were prominent in carpets and jewelry. On display is a silk and pashmina pile carpet that features millefleurs, distinguished by their floral motifs and vivid colors. The carpet design clearly shows a flowering vase at the base and is an early 18th century product.

Nearby are stunning examples of a 19th century enamel and gold necklace incorporating a floral motif, a 17th century jar made of gold, silver, diamonds and mother of pearl, as well as an 18th century ruby and enamel perfume sprinkler.

19th-C-Indian-necklace

17th-c-jar18th-c-perfume-sprinkler

The lattice motif was made popular in the early to mid 16th century and was not only incorporated into carpets, but also on marble decorations for palaces. The interlaced criss-crossed pattern incorporates natural flowering plants and blossoms arranged in rows against a plain background.lattice-motif-pattern

Cuerdo seca tiles were also popularized in the 17th century. These types of tiles were used both to decorate palace or tomb walls, and show the use of realistic floral designs. Originally derived directly from its use in the Safavid Dynasty, the strong colors recall the miniature paintings of the same era.

Cuerdo-seco-tile

Geometric designs were popular in the 16th and early 17th century in India. Carved sandstone of white marble and red sandstone were used for carved, pieced stone screens known as jalis. These screens were used in Indian architecture prior to the Mughal period.

jali-screen-sandstone

Coming full turn and standing the test of time, these ancient motifs continue to be evident in carpets and other objects produced today. Liken it to the cultural exchange during these three major empires, if you will, and transferring that interaction today with the exhibition’s sharing knowledge of the arts.

green-sphere

As visitors enter and leave, an eye-catching spherical LED display projects colorful patterns in succession duplicating the motifs on exhibit.

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Enger Tower Stands Tall in Duluth, Minnesota

The power of observation takes many forms. It can never be overrated or understated. The simplistic beauty of a sea view, towering pines of a forest and a city skyline all offer up splendid scenic beauty with the naked eye.

Duluth, Minnesota, situated on the shores of Lake Superior in the U.S., provides its own scenic sights from the Enger Observation Tower. The tower’s purpose was – and is – to delight visitors with its magnificent panoramic views of central Duluth, the Duluth-Superior Harbor, the North Shore, and the western tip of Lake Superior.

The well-worn 80-foot, iconic stone façade tower is perched high on the Enger Hill bluffs overlooking Lake Superior, rising 531 feet above the lake’s surface.Unger-Tower

As I hiked up the steep incline one sunny March afternoon, sidestepping piles of frozen ice and snow slowly melting into spring, I marveled at the stunning views in all directions. This area of Minnesota is already beautiful – the gateway to the famed North Shore – but at the tower summit, it truly was a majestic sight.

The stone tower itself was rugged in its own right as if knowing it needed to withstand the test of time through brutal Minnesota winters and the unforgiving weather systems that swirl over the shores of Lake Superior.

Dotted with cut window openings throughout the six-story tower, every angle offered a unique view. On the ground tower inserted into the wall next to the stairway is the Enger Observation Tower Marker dedicated to the memory of Bert J. Enger – Native of Norway, Citizen of Duluth.

The Back Story
The Enger observation tower story is that of a common immigrant laborer, Bert J. Enger, who left a legacy fit for royalty to the City of Duluth over an eight-year period.

Born in Hamar, Norway in 1864, Enger immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 13, although records do not indicate if he journeyed alone. He traveled the Midwest working on farms and sawmills in Wisconsin, iron mines in Michigan and northern Minnesota, and the wheat fields of the Dakotas. At some point, he lived on a farm in small town Pine City, Minnesota, approximately 88 miles south of Duluth. It was here that Enger met a business partner, and the two opened a successful furniture store in Duluth.

The former immigrant turned U.S. citizen demonstrated through his own life what so many immigrants fought for and believed in: America was a land of opportunity for an immigrant.Bert Enger

In 1920, Enger anonymously donated $50,000 to the City of Duluth that it might purchase 350 acres of land for a proposed golf course and park for public use. Discovering Enger was the benefactor, Duluth’s city council named the park after him. He continued to share his fortune with the city over the next decade.

Enger, a lifetime bachelor, suffered a stroke and died in 1931. His estate, which he had divided into thirds, bequeathed two-thirds toward a memorial project (Enger Tower), which Enger stipulated was to be “a suitable building on top of the bluff near the Twin Ponds in Enger Park, in the nature of a lookout station, built to accommodate tourists visiting Enger Park.” Around the structure, he directed “that the grounds be beautified and foot paths from all directions leading up to the building on the hilltop be constructed, and a parking space for automobiles be constructed below the paths. The paths are to be accessible to pedestrians only.”Enger-tower-sign

Enger further stipulated that his body be cremated and the ashes placed somewhere in the memorial building. His wishes were granted. Enger Tower was completed in 1939 and dedicated in June that year by Olav, Crown Prince of Norway and his wife Crown Princess Martha, honoring the native Norwegian whose vision and life in America proved that life indeed held enormous opportunities for immigrants. As a fitting testimony, more than 5,000 people attended the dedication.

Should you find yourself in the Twin Port city, regardless of the time of year, plan a short hike up to Enger Tower – open year round – and capture for yourself the breathtaking views.

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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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Al Zubarah’s History: Feuds, Friends and Foes

“People returned to the town after the attack of 1811, but only very slowly. For many years there were only temporary camps of huts and tents. Eventually a new fortified village grew in the heart of the ruins, but this too came to a dramatic end.” (Al Zubarah Archaeological Site sign)

Situated 105 km (65 miles) from Doha, Qatar’s capital city, within a sun-scorched landscape lies the remains of the ancient, deserted town of Zubarah. At its peak (1760-1811), the pearling town was home to several thousand people and stretched almost a mile along the northern coast. It is Qatar’s largest archaeological site.

Pearl merchants Mohammed bin Khalifa and Ahmed bin Rizq left their native Kuwait in 1179, sailed down the Arabian Gulf along the Saudi border, skirting the small island of Bahrain, and anchored in Qatar where the two established the community. Other families and merchants soon followed. In fact, according to historical documentation, Al Zubarah’s population grew to approximately 6,000 consisting of a mix of local tribes as well as Gulf immigrants.

“With access to the rich pearl beds off the coast of Bahrain and strong tribal links to other merchant families, the town became one of six major trading ports in the region, bringing in great wealth and luxuries from as far away as China and Japan in the east, and Britain in the west,” explains a storyboard at the site.

Located in a climatically unsuitable locale, these were dangerous times. Tribal feuds and disputes between centers of power were common as well as the dangerous seas. Because of the discovery of rich pearl beds and the seas as a major seafaring route for trading ships, piracy and raids on pearling ships, trading vessels and settlements were all too common. It’s no wonder walls were quickly constructed to protect the town.

Standing at the entrance of UNESCO’s newly designated archaeological site, I wonder what it must have been like 200 years ago as I gaze about the sun-scorched landscape. Al Zubarah, like many other small communities, sprang up along the bay and flourished due to lucrative pearl fishing and international trade. Surprisingly, the town’s remains are largely intact with the entire street plan having been preserved for hundreds of years beneath the secluded desert sand.

Today, the desert sands conceal 500 ruined buildings, long walls and towers, two screening walls and the sister settlement of Qal’at Murair, where the town’s fresh water wells were located.

As I begin my short walking tour, strategically placed information boards explain that not only has the way of life of this town’s former inhabitants changed, so too has the architecture of the structures. The tour takes visitors behind the walls of the 18th century town, through a wealthy neighborhood and inside a large fortified building. Popular during Al Zubarah’s era, courtyard houses were low, mosques built of stone, and long but low defensive walls with watch towers encompassing the town.

The 1811 and 1878 Attacks
In 1811, the Sultan of Muscat’s army attacked the town and left it burning; virtually destroying the entire area. Shortly after the attack, the town was rebuilt, although at only one third of its original size; thus, beginning its second life so to speak, defined by a new, inner town wall.

Bedouin-hutArchaeology records indicate that people slowly returned and initially lived in palm frond huts, known as barasti, and tents over the ruins of the marketplace (souq). Eventually, the residents rebuilt the town constructing simple, stone-built houses on top of the ruins of the original. It is believed that a new wall and watchtower were built during this time.

Life remained challenging, particularly as area tribes clamored for more power and authority. Ultimately, in November 1878 members of the Bani Hajir tribe and Sheikh Al Bida’s tribe attacked Al Zubarah, which led to its destruction once and for all.traditional-majlas-tent

The local tribes, however, struggled to rebuild and resettle. A number of prevailing factors and events prevented this. The Ottoman Empire claimed the area – although they never physically set up a fort – along with a Bahraini tribe in 1895 that moved to the town. At the time, Bahrain was a British protectorate.

Reportedly, “the move made the British uneasy, and when a large fleet of armed dhows were spotted in the bay, the British took action firing on the assembled ships.” It was further reported that 44 of 200 boats were destroyed with many other vessels seized. The Bahraini Ali bin Ali tribe was ordered to evacuate the settlement within two weeks, which they did.

Al Zubarah was finally abandoned and forgotten, left to crumble under the scorching desert sun and sand.

palace-courtyard-reducedAl Zubarah Townsite Today
Fused into the stark desert panorama, partially uncovered are a palace, a raised walkway that allowed soldiers to patrol the wall, some homesteads and a mosque, all of which were discovered during excavations in the 1980s.

An L-shaped passageway led to the palace entrance – a main courtyard – which provided privacy. Archaeologists discovered a windowless room believed to be the kitchen that was filled wall to wall with deep, clay-lined cooking pits.

The home of a wealthy family that included nine large courtyards was also discovered. Ornate plaster floors and geometrically decorated wall patterns lend credence to the family’s wealth. Also unearthed in the home were date storerooms, various kitchens with ovens, and plaster lined basins believed to have been primitive bathrooms.palace-ruins-reduced

Surrounding the town site in each corner is a round tower that helped support the long walls. According to the storyboard at one of the tower sites, “excavation has revealed internal cross walls for added strength and may have been included to support cannons; a reminder of the dangerous times people lived in.” town-wall-reduced

Al Zubarah Fort
Nearby, but outside the town proper, stands the weather-beaten Al Zubarah Fort. Constructed in 1938, the small stone fort with its simple lines and four symmetric corner turrets overlooks a desolate, windswept landscape. Sprinkled nearby are abandoned villages cordoned off for current and future archaeological exploration.

FORT-WITH-CANNONZubarah Fort was commissioned by Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani as a Coast Guard station to guard against sea intruders. Transformed into a museum in the 1990s, it recently reopened after a major renovation. A hallmark of the fort is the old cannon located outside the front gate.

Research indicates that the fort walls were constructed by blending overlapping chunks of limestone with a mortar and pestle mixture specifically designed for grinding mud. The protective compressed mud roof provided shade and coolness for its military occupants.

The fort has three corners each with massive circular towers used for defense, while the fourth rectangular tower was more for aesthetics. The original eight ground floor rooms, typical of early Gulf fortifications, accommodated the solders with a connecting external wood staircase to reach the upper floors and roof. Today the rooms feature artifacts and storyboards as well as a small gift shop.inside-Zubarah-fort-reduced

The Well at Al Zubarah Fort
Fresh water in Qatar was – and continues to be – scarce. For desert dwellers, water is essential for survival. Therefore, men created wells by cutting through the hard limestone until they reached the water table. The water was subsequently stored in underground cisterns. Large water jars were fashioned of clay that held water to be used for everything from drinking and making coffee to watering crops and ensuring that the animals had water to drink.

At the water table level was fresh water, but if dug too deeply, it was salty and would require boiling prior to use. The well that has been discovered in the fort is at least one-half mile deep and could go deeper. Water was drawn up from the well via a bucket that would have been lowered by a long rope. There are other nearby wells outside of the fort, however they are salt water wells and its water unsafe to drink.Zubarah-Fort-well

The daylong excursion to Qatar’s northwestern portion of the country was interesting and time well spent. Although self-guided, it was interesting to explore and imagine what life was like for these villagers during its years of turbulence. I suspect learning more about the local tribes and their disagreements would make for a fascinating study, thus, providing a more meaningful framework for the archaeological ruins lying before me.

In the meantime, as close as I can come to relating to what life was like in this archaeological site at the moment is atop a camel. Gazing about as my old camel saunters around the fort, I am trying hard to imagine the hardship of life back in the days when desert-camels-from-fort-doornothing could or would be taken for granted.

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The Many Colors of Turkish Art & Culture

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Centuries old art forms and textiles. Traditional shadow puppetry and children’s games. Music, dance, Turkish coffee and ethnic food. It was a showcase of everything made in Turkey. And it was all displayed in grandeur at the inaugural Turkish Festival held at Katara the Cultural Village in Doha, Qatar this past April.

Turkey has an undisputable rich cultural heritage, particularly in music, dance, and various performing arts. Historical evidence points to the influences of several empires as the reason, in particular, the flamboyant Ottoman Empire’s legacy, but has European influences as well.

Turkish Art
Turkish art is a combination of various forms of Turkish culture. It broadly refers to paintings, architecture, literature and other fine art forms.

Silk painting represents the synthesis of Turkey’s eastern and western cultures. Inspired by Turkish motifs, silk painting embellishes wood, marble and traditional Turkish and Ottoman motifs on silk scarves by brush with trademark Turkish colors.

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Turkey is famous for its Iznik tiles, dating back some five centuries, the beautiful raw quartz found locally in Iznik. It takes about 40 days to make one tile, since they are all handmade. The process involves pounding the quartz into powder, then forming them into squares. The tiles are then heated, designed, contoured and, finally, colored. At first, blue and white were the prevailing colors in the pots and wall tiles in this category. During the 16th century, turquoise was introduced. The embossed red of the wall tiles in Istanbul’s Süleymaniye Mosque (1555) marks the peak of Ottoman tiles and ceramics, as red is very rare and difficult to colorize. Almost every Turkish mosque and palace prominently features tile works while many homes also showcase tile.

Paper marbling, an art of ornamentation, was an important branch of both art and business during the Ottoman reign, and remains popular today in Turkey. The ornamentation patterns result from specially prepared colored dyes floated on water and then carefully transferred onto paper or fabric. Methods include ink brushes and straws to fan the colors into patterns resembling smooth marble. Marbling was widely used in book covers and stationery.Image

Calligraphy, another visual art, utilizes a highly decorative and beautiful writing style. It was significant throughout the world and preceded typography and the printing press. Many exquisite examples were on display.

Eye dazzling jewelry and engraved handmade silver platters, taking two months from start to finish, were also showcased in the Turkish Grand Bazaar.

Similar to the Turkish culture that has become rich and influenced by several empires and their own set of practices, Turkish clothing also has a rich tradition of its own. Many interesting styles adorned a full wall.

Shadow puppetry was extensively highlighted along with an area designated for children to color puppets. Turkish children have grown up watching this unique type of puppetry, which according to display information indicates stories of Aladdin and other fairy tales. The puppets dance on sticks behind a wall of thin veil fabric. A screen and table is set up in the dark with enough light to cast shadows on the puppets. The audience can actually see the shadows, but cannot see the hand behind them.

Historically, the two lead characters of Turkey’s traditional adult shadow play puppetry are Karagoz, who symbolizes the illiterate but practical public, and Hacivat, a level-headed member of the educated class. The central theme of the plays is the contrasting interaction between the two directed toward an adult audience. Today, these humorous plays are more closely associated with Eid and are in a “toned down” form intended for children. It is unclear when the plays were first performed, but have been documented at least during the 14th to 15th centuries. What is known, however, is that the puppetry art form was being performed well before the advent of electricity.

Mehteran Band Music
We anxiously waited for the start of the musical portion of the festival that did not get underway until after 7 p.m. First up was the popular Mehteran. Just as they were getting settled onto the stage, the power tripped and all went dark. They began playing to a delighted crowd anyway.

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In Ottoman, mehteran means band. Ottoman military bands are thought to be the oldest variety of military marching band in the world. Modern day military marching bands got their start after being modeled by the mehteran bands sometime in the 16th century. Today, Mehteran band music is largely ceremonial and considered by most Turks as an example of heroism and a reminder of Turkey’s historical past.

The performance was very good, and the male band wore colorful traditional robes wrapped in colorful silks and high ribbed hats that were flared at the top. The group played interesting and unfamiliar instruments. The standard instruments used are the giant timpani, which is a large hemispherical brass or copper percussion instrument with a drumhead (the flat surface of a drum that has leather stretched over it); a small kettle drum, bass drum, cymbals, zurna, a reed-type wind instrument; a kind of trumpet and the cevgen, a type of stick bearing small concealed bells.

Turkish Dance and Music
Another important and inseparable part of the rich Turkish heritage is dance, which consists of several forms.

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The Folklore Dance Ensemble performed later in the evening, and unfortunately, we were unable to stay for it. (Photo is courtesy of the local newspaper.) Reportedly, this group performs in colorful authentic national dress based on their region in Turkey playing folk instruments with a goal to preserve folk culture in a pure form so generations may appreciate and become familiar with this tradition. A hallmark of Turkish dance performances is their variety and “immaculate choreography”. These dances feature a variety of tempos, such as very slow and then very fast.

Turkish music is divided into two major groups: classical and folk. Classical is actually the Ottoman music that is associated with the higher society that has developed through centuries. Military music is a form of classical music.

The Turkish World’s Music Ensemble concert was a third musical offering of the evening, which we also missed. These musicians played music from all seven districts of Turkey, and newspaper reviews reported that there were costume changes with every region and their moves and choreography showed almost no repetition.

Although it was disappointing that the two music ensembles didn’t start until very late in the evening, overall, the entire Turkish Festival was a wonderful time and the enthusiastic crowds in obvious agreement.

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Falcons: Cultural Icons of the Arab Bedouin Culture

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Excitement gripped the desert air as competitors and spectators gathered daily in Doha’s desert for more than three weeks during the Fourth Annual Qatar International Falcons and Hunting Festival, which concludes in early February.

The mighty birds of prey perched unassumingly with their tiny heads ensconced in tight leather helmets, Mary Coons discovered, mostly oblivious to what was transpiring around them.

The annual event is widely recognized as one of the Gulf’s largest festivals in the specialized field of falcons and hunting. Competitions break down between falcon age categories, local and international tournaments, type of competition, and the coveted beauty contest.

Malika Mohamed Al Shraim, the event’s public relations specialist, explained that a saker falcon generally has a 20-plus year life span. Training begins after the bird is a year old and it is imperative that the falcon bonds strongly with its owner. An exceptional falcon can cost up to $150,000.

According to Ms. Al Shraim, major festival objectives included balancing between meeting the immediate needs and requirements of preserving the environment and falconry heritage; preserving the sport of falconry; urging young people to respect wildlife in general and protect falcons as an endangered species; and finally, educating young people as to the importance and identity of falconry traditions.

Falconry has been a prominent tradition of all GCC countries’ heritage for thousands of years. The hobby, strongly rooted in the Bedouin culture, has been passed down and preserved through the generations and is a well-known practice in the Gulf. The falcon represents values of loyalty, courage and perseverance; all important Bedouin lifestyle attributes.

“A challenge,” explains Ms. Al Shraim, “is to have three generations of falconers. Most young people today have no interest in falconry. Although my father had a falcon when I was growing up, I didn’t pay any attention to the bird or the sport. We are actively trying to change that mindset.”Image

The Qatar festival organizers believe falconry remains an essential part of its cultural heritage, “which makes breeding and training of these birds important to strengthen the Qatari society link with its history,” Ms. Al Shraim told me.

The most common type of falcon in the Middle East is the saker (saqr). Kings and emirs own pure white Gyrfalcons, the largest and most powerful falcons, and the most revered.

As the Arabs settled in for an afternoon of falconry in the pleasant late January winter, a steady stream of Westerners found their way to the event as well. It was a welcome sight to see others interested in this Bedouin sport.

Competitions
The Al Da’o competition was scheduled the day I attended. This timed event measures the launching speed of the falcon over 400 meters (1,312 feet – almost the length of four football fields). Most of the birds instinctively flew low to the ground once released focused on the feather at the finish line. The winning bird crossed over in just under 18.6 seconds. Most came in between 19.5 and 20.5 seconds.

It was not all perfect, however, as when one falcon was released it flew up and then circled around the back of the start line searching for its owner resulting in disqualification. Many of the birds flew too high in the air losing valuable time. Big screen monitors were positioned to show the bird in flight as well as the time clock.

Earlier in the week was the juvenile peregrine falcon championships, where releasing a dove starts the competition. The falcon tries to catch it or surround it in one place. Ms. Al Shraim noted that of the 199 falcons during the past week that participated in this competition, only two caught the dove.

The Most Beautiful Falcon
Curious as to how a falcon is judged for its beauty, I put the question to Ms. Al Shraim. After first explaining that the male and female look similar, she got specific with the judging criteria. The most beautiful bird – which by the way, wins $150,000 and a gold feather encrusted with diamonds for its owner – should possess thick eyebrows, large eyes and beak, its head size must correlate with its body size, and it should have long talons. The color and length of feathers are also factors. The fewer brown spots and lighter color of the feathers, the better, as well as the requirement of a long tail feather.

Most falconers wear thick leather gloves to protect their arms from the bird’s talons, but many Arabs choose a type of stiff cuff that wraps around the hand instead of gloves. It is not unusual to see these cuffs, known as mangalas, sporting intricately woven designs to signify the artistic and regal allure of the sport.

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Hoods are placed over the bird’s head when perched or on an arm/glove to keep them calm. The simple helmet design is made from stiff leather and occasionally may feature beads or some other type of ornamentation.

If you have never seen a falcon competition and have the opportunity, it is quite interesting. As with any sport, the pressure is on, and the results are not always as expected. And that’s all part of the excitement.

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