Himeji castle

Got out of the Shinkansen train. Left the Himeji railway station. And we saw it. A white castle on a hill. The view was impressive, but at first we did not realise how big this castle was. We were standing at the station exit gate, in front of a wide alley, two or three kilometers away. On the approach way already at the gate to the castle premises we had to take turns and go complicated paths between fortification walls. We crossed a series of smaller gates and baileys. At first I did not give it much thought.


But already in one of the chambers inside, as I looked through a window I realised, the castle was a widespread complex of fortifications and premises around its main keep, which we saw as we left the railway station building.

Himeji castle, although never inhabited by a shogun (in Japan: a military commander, appointed by the Emperor, with the actual power in the country till late XIX century), was in possession of the militaries. So, it was constructed to serve defensive purposes. The maze of paths between fortifications, baileys, gates and walls one has to take to get to the main keep was indeed a part of the castle defense strategy. Altogether, the castle complex consists of 83 buildings. It was  originally built in XIV century, but later rebuilt and extended several times. It got its final shape in the early XVII century. Through history its construction turned also out to be earthquake resistant.


A bit of a surprise was that every visitor was asked to take off shoes. Not surprising in Japan, as in most places you are asked to do so. But it was the first time in my life as I spent two hours in a castle walking barefoot. The system was quite simple. At the entrance (that was quite distant from the exit) we were given plastic bags, which we were supposed to carry during the whole visit. At the exit we put back shoes on and returned the bags.


The other surprise was that there was absolutely no furniture or other stuff of historical value displayed in the premises. Thus, to our disappointment we had no insights into the way how daily life looked like in the castle. Still, the castle underwent restoration work for several years and reopened to the public only in 2015. Maybe in the future some of its chambers will be equipped with furniture and objects of daily use. We shall see.

The whole fun was however about walking long corridors, climbing steps that got steeper and steeper the higher it was. The most difficult was the paths and steep stairs in the main keep. And we were not alone – there were hundreds of Japanese taking the same path. (Making photos I tried to find a spot that was not crowded, so that what you see on pictures may be misguiding).


The carpentry in the main part of the castle was very impressive. There were few separate chambers inside, only open space (contrary to the lower parts of the castle premises where there were chambers neighbouring the long corridors)We could only have imagined that while inhabited the space was divided in the traditional Japanese way – by movable panels. In some parts you even could have seen wooden rails in the floor and in the ceiling marking the chambers.


The other surprise was that what we saw in the top chamber. It was a shrine, at which many of the Japanese visitors paid their respect to a deity (or deities). (OK., we knew already that the Japanese attitude to confession was totally different from that what we were accustomed in Europe, and bigger or smaller shrines may be found anywhere >>>).


Below some other photo impressions of the Himeji castle interiors and exteriors.

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The grave of Caesar

Today is the 15th of March, the so-called Ides of March. On this day  2060 years ago (44 BC) a number of conspirators led by Brutus assassinated Gaius Julius Caesar, one of the most prominent historical figures of the ancient time.


On the site of Caesar’s cremation in the Forum Romanum a temple was built as a tribute to a comet that appeared shortly after the Caesar’s death. The comet was believed by some to carry Ceasar’s soul. The temple was named the Temple of Divus Iulius, now called simply the Temple of Ceasar. On the picture above a part of its ruins traditionally believed to be the Julius Caesar’s grave.

On picture below a view onto Forum Romanum from the Palatine Hill. The location of the Caesar’s grave is marked with a black ring.


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The Benedictine rule

JMA_Mount_StMichel_mediumAn austere Benedictine abbey and red roses. A view onto the Mt. St. Michel Abbey in the French Normandy >>>. But the first thought: ‘The Name of the Rose’, a book by Umberto Eco (and the film based upon it) about a series of murders taking place in an isolated medieval Benedictine abbey somewhere in the Northern Italy.


The book plot took place in a library full of ancient manuscripts and the so-called scriptorium – a room adjacent to the library where the Benedictines made copies of the old as well as contemporary manuscripts. As printing was not invented yet, the monk scribes rewrote those books manually. To make one copy of a book they needed months or even years. Like those monks in the novel, also the Benedictines at the St. Michel monastery rewrote manuscripts. With patience and diligence.

The tradition of diligent and patient work in the Benedictine orders (and other offspring orders) began in the VI century AD when the Benedict of Nursia wrote book on rules to be obeyed by those living in religious communities. He formulated those rules in great detail dividing them into 72 book chapters.

Among others, the monks had to live according to a strict timetable, pray and perform manual labour. The hours of labour varied with the season but it was never less than five hours a day. By manual work he meant housekeeping, farming and crafts. However, with time the Benedictines started to focus more on the intellectual work like reading, copying manuscripts and teaching. As the ‘original’ Benedictines did not always strict obey the Benedictine rules, a group of French Benedictine monks in XI century AD set up an offspring community that wanted to more strictly follow those rules and concentrate on ‘real’ manual work. This community was the predecessor of the Cistercian (otherwise Bernardine) order. Cistercians were indeed ‘the workers’ (>>>). Besides field work, they specialised in hydraulic engineering and metallurgy. The Benedictines were intellectuals. The Cistercians – the agriculture and technology masters. Benedictines could had been recognised by black choir robes worn over a habit, and the Cistercians – by a white one.

The orders maintaining the Benedict rule tradition use today the motto ‘ora et labora’ that means ‘pray and work’.

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