Monday, 29 July 2013

Preview: The Pyramids of Giza

Come the end of days, when the last remnants of mankind have to stand before a panel of gods or galactic aliens or futuristic dolphin overlords, and we are asked, "Justify your existence", these are what we will point to: three large pyramids at the edge of Cairo. They've stood for 4500 years and no doubt come the day of judgement, be it 100 or 100,000 years away, they'll still be standing. Three huge enigmatic statements to the mad glory of mankind, built with supreme effort in a world without the wheel, the concept of zero, or even perspective in art, a world just seeing the first blooms of civilisation. Without precedence, something deep inside the human psyche decided to just go for it, to build something preposterously massive, and ended up overachieving on a colossal scale. Sure, as the panel of judges bears down upon us, we might remind them of all the great cures we discovered or the global level of communication and cooperation we aspired to, but are these the true reflection of the human state? I don't think so. We have to be honest with ourselves, we've got a pretty chequered history. Mankind is mixed and muddled, with its priorities all wrong and harnessing the energies of a society to construct an unimaginably huge tomb for a single king is a truly ridiculous thing to do. But by god, your honours, it looks good. The case for the defence rests.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Preview: The Dome Of The Rock

Like many old towns and cities, the Old City of Jerusalem is not an optimal design, by modern standards, of space and order. There are no wide tree-lined boulevards and no rigid grid plan; likewise, no vast underground air-conditioned shopping malls or multi-level parking. In fact, the Old City of Jerusalem entirely does away with modern notions of urban design by having a full sixth of the city taken up by a huge vaguely-rectangular raised platform (six times the size of Red Square) without very much on it - no houses, shops, cafes, or even a trendy skatepark. Nope, there are just some shrubs, and then somewhat off-centre is another irregular raised platform. And on this second platform, again somewhat off-centre, is a perfectly symmetrical and attractive building in two sections. The lower section is an octagonal ring decorated in coloured tiles and on top of that, reaching a total height of over 35 metres, is a golden dome. And to be totally honest, nobody really knows what it's for. But inside this building is a big rock, poking through the ground, that over the years has acquired a variety of mystical tales around it. The domed building above a rock is therefore called, sensibly enough, the Dome of the Rock.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Preview: Petra

Around 20 million years ago, the tectonic plate beneath Arabia did a little shimmy and moved away from Africa. A gigantic rift formed, a rift we now call the Jordan Rift Valley. Within the Jordan Rift Valley appeared a "desolate and dry area", or in Arabic the Wadi Araba, and in here something special has formed.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Preview: The Hagia Sophia

There are some places that simply shouldn't be around, buildings that should have collapsed or been torn down many times over. They are like old grizzled war veterans that have survived disease and gunfire and untold hardship to become ageless. Sitting at the heart of Istanbul, surviving centuries of war, earthquakes, pillage, and religious upheaval is one such building - the Hagia Sophia.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Preview: Meteora

When you think of Greek history, you think of men in sandals debating philosophy and creating democracy. A minotaur or two might be hanging around. Rarely however do you think of the 15th Century, and a bunch of monks sitting on rocks.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Cracked: 6 Insanely Reckless Media Accusations That Ruined Lives

Pretty much entirely unrelated to the rest of this site in that it doesn't involve great buildings or World Wonders, I've had another article published by Cracked - 6 Insanely Reckless Media Accusations That Ruined Lives. This one was a co-write - my entry was the first one, about Chris Jefferies' treatment by the media.

In fact, there is just a little relevance to World Wonders - the final photo, of the real murderer, has Stonehenge in the background (a serendipitous inclusion by the Cracked editors, as it happens).

The rest of the article is worth reading, and I can't take any credit for the article's concept, which was by Eric Yosomono.

Preview: The Parthenon

Where is the Parthenon?

Friday, 5 July 2013

Preview: Verona Arena

Opera season in Verona: where shall we go? Why, there's the 2000-year-old arena of death and slaughter!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Preview: St Mark's Basilica

Venice exists because of pork and grave robbing. One of multiple lagoon islands, it first saw settlement in the 5th and 6th Centuries by Romans fleeing from barbarian invasions. It was all pretty low level, just farmers existing on pretty desolate stretches of land, knowing that they were at least safe from the Germanic tribes who were sacking Rome or wherever they encountered. But in 810 AD, following a defeat of invading Frankish (kind of a very early version of France and Germany) troops, the population of the scattered islands decided to gather together on the more protected islands called collectively the Rivo Alto, or Rialto. A Venetian state was united. To give this new state some kind of legitimacy, a saint was needed, and one that was nice and uncontroversial, without links to the existing lagoon communities. St Mark was chosen. One of the early figures in the spreading of Christianity, and the author of the Gospel of Mark (i.e. from the "Matthew, Mark, Luke, John" of the Bible), his symbol was the winged lion, and I guess that the 9th Century Venetians thought this was pretty cool.