Walking the streets and parks of Madrid, April 2017.
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Musei Vaticani belongs to one of those museums where one is simply overwhelmed with all the artifacts, sculptures and paintings gathered in a relatively small space. It would be difficult to recall all of them, not to mention describing or even make photos of all of them. It would be simply too much.
In Musei Vaticani there a couple of routes you can take. Quite often the sightseeing begins with the antique section. Inside there are many sculptures, busts, reliefs, mosaics and other ancient artifacts. There are almost no paintings. That one will be however more than balanced in other parts of the museum. Walls and ceilings are of antique look. In this section of the Vaticani museum one should simply concentrate on the historical value of that, what one sees. The following sections are more about the art, paintings or frescoes as well as craftsmanship. There are a number of chambers that look like an art gallery, so the focus is indeed on the paintings on display. But there are chambers where one has to look around and look up. The most impressive frescoes are probably in the Raphael’s Rooms – a series of chambers painted by Raphael. But there are also at least two passages alongside long but long corridors with frescoes painted on ceilings. These are a couple of hundreds meters long each: one is a corridor with tapestry maps and the other one a series of consecutive corridors in the Bibliotheca Vaticana (>>>).
Visiting this museum one has to be prepared to find oneself in a crowd – there are daily hundreds of tourists, who want to visit this place. As far as the entrance is concerned: there is the official queue, in which one has to wait a longer time (around an hour or so). One can also use a quicker queue that in practice means use a service of a person (or a guide), who has a reservation. But one has to pay more for the ticket. The latter seems to be an under the desk procedure, but it works.
A SELECTION OF MY PHOTO IMPRESSIONS: M U S E I V A T I C A N I (2015)
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This year spring on the European mainland is not a cosy one. The true exception is only the South. Longing for the sun I found photos made last summer in Normandy. The heat was all around us, but we found ourselves in a right place at the right time traveling and enjoying summer.
We left Rouen, the cradle of the Norman culture (>>>) and took the way West to reach the Atlantic coast (the English Channel to be precise). The day was more about sightseeing than sunbathing. But we started it at one of the most picturesque beaches in the region – the Etretat beach famous for its chalk cliffs.
The last view is from half the height of the hill that leads to the cliff on the first photo.
We gave us only two hours to enjoy the views. It was still before noon. With the sun still low, making photos was a real fun. But as distances there are quite huge and enjoying views involves climbing hills, I did not manage to reach any of the higher spots. With our tight schedule we had to hit the road.
The place seems however to be a perfect spot for those, who besides a short stay on a beach would like to spend a day on walking, climbing up and down hills, sightseeing and making beautiful photos. There is the sea, the boats, the green hills and the white chalk cliffs.
Our next stop was Honfleur located at the estuary of Seine (the river that among other cities crosses Paris). Honfleur was through ages an important maritime port. Today it lost its position to le Havre located at the opposite bank of the river. On our approach to the city we had to pass a bridge over Seine high enough to give passage to inland waterway ships. The height allowed us to see parts of the le Havre port complex.
The old port of Honfleur was converted into a marina. It is of a square shape and surrounded by old buildings that in the past were both docks and a housing area. Naturally, today the ground floors and the quays were converted into restaurants and gift shops. So the place seemed to be ideal to sit down and enjoy lunch in the old port scenery. As the city was thriving though many ages, the buildings surrounding the marina are centuries old. I was feeling there a bit like on a pirate movie set.
The old port and the marina as we approached it.
The view from the opposite corner on the same buildings.
The opposite side of the port and the marina.
All Norman and Breton historical cities are full of original or carefully reconstructed old streets and houses. Many of the houses are built according to the traditional (for Western Europe) half timbered technique. Walking the streets in the old port area (behind the small church on the picture above) you can find truly old and well preserved buildings. We were in the city in the early afternoon hours. The sun was straight above us. But with all those views making shots against the sun was a real fun.
But Honfleur is famous for yet another impressive old building, which is the church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The church main parts that is two parallel naves were built one after another in XV and XVI centuries respectively. The church is of wood and belongs to one of the biggest wooden constructions of that kind in France. The bell tower is a separate building planned so to decrease the risk of fire to the church in case as the tower would be stroke by lightening.
The church is located just behind the old port, with the bell tower at the opposite side.
In recent years the city authorities restored the main dock of the old port. It is difficult not to notice it, as it looks like … new. But still we can admire old kind of Norman architecture.
The view from behind a channel where still bigger ships than yachts are allowed to with a view onto the restored old dock building and behind the church of Saint Catherine (on the right).
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Two thousand years ago a tribe called Vandals originating somewhere in the Southern Scandinavia, took a long road South, and after years of being pushed by enemy forces here and there finally stopped in Northern Africa. In the V century they seized the eternal city and looted or destroyed some of the heritage of the ancient Rome. Today the historians are no longer convinced of the latter. But in the international vocabulary a vandal is someone, who destroys or damages things of value. Those may be things of money value as well as of historical value.
Travelling the world here and there we hear of cases of damage or destruction of things of religious or historical value (or both) because they were no longer politically correct. (A modern word, but describing the issue well.) A kind of a revolutionary vandalism.
On our last year trip to Japan we heard of cases, when the whole castle complexes were destroyed or severely damaged during the so called Meiji restoration only because they belonged or were erected by the shogunate. Meiji restoration describes the time period in the Japanese history, when the emperor after years of being only a symbolic figure preceded by militaries (shoguns) who effectively ruled the country, took back the main power. Today, the Japanese government puts much effort and funds to restore those historical buildings that were not fully destroyed. One of them is the very impressive Himeji castle >>>.
The Himeji castle, a white castle on a hill. Although a shogun never lived there, through years of the Japanese history it belonged to the Japanese militaries. In the Meiji period it did not share the fate of some other shogunate castles that had been fully destroyed. A prominent Japanese colonel put much personal effort to preserve it. Today the castle is one of three most important Japanese castles with national heritage status.
The first time I realised the scale of the revolutionary vandalism in Europe was as I spent some time in the German city of Muenster. For longer time I was convinced that the local cathedral was a Protestant one. My reasoning was simple. The Protestant churches are more austere than the Catholic ones. You will not see there some of the iconography specific for the Catholic religion. The interior was for me too austere to be of a Catholic cathedral. I was wrong. The shortage of objects I missed inside was quickly explained to me by my German colleagues.
In the XVI century as the wave of reformation went through the Western Europe, the city that was traditionally Catholic was seized by an Anabaptist sect. They burned most of the objects of the Catholic symbolism (and many other objects and books of historical value). The city inhabitants finally (quite brutally) got rid of the sect leaders, but the damage was irreparable.
The Muenster cathedral. Much of its interior decorations was devastated and burned by an Anabaptist sect that seized the city.
Another and a very prominent example is the famous Notre Dame of Paris >>> that was once devastated by Huguenots (Calvinists) acting on the wave of the European reformation. The second wave of destruction came with the French revolution.
The interior of the famous Notre Dame of Paris. Some damage was brought to it by the World War II operations, but not as much as the damage incurred in times of the European reformation and later the French revolution. The reconstruction of the damage by the French authorities took years and many funds. Talking the WWII damage it is worth to know, that besides some exceptions like bombing of the historical city of Dresden in Germany, the allied anti Nazi forces with time learned to avoid bombing of places of historical value.
Of other approaches towards buildings that were no longer politically correct but of practical value I have heard about while traveling Europe was the practice of turning them into prisons. That what was not done by reformatory and revolutionaries was done by the prisoners (like at the Mont St. Michel monastery in France >>> or the Durham cathedral in England >>>). Funds were ultimately raised to repair the damage. Today, both are on the international heritage lists and are attracting tourists from all over the world.
The interior of the Durham cathedral in England. Much damage was incurred to it in times as it served a prison for Scottish fighters, who were held there in truly cruel and humiliating conditions. Today, the place is on the absolutely must see list in England.
But yet another practice was widespread among, let us say more subtle revolutionaries, that if we put proper attention we can see while sightseeing in Europe. I new of the practice, but the details I usually discovered when processing the shots back home. The practice is beheading figures that were no longer politically correct. A beheaded figure of a saint is no longer a saint. The similar practice was castration of male statues like the one ordered by one of the popes in Vatican (in Angels and Daemons, Robert Langdon calls it ‘the great castration’). This kind of damage is often not repaired by the authorities. But at least we can realise that the practice of destruction of that what belonged to the past took place. Watching this from today’s perspective we know, although some reasoning was behind it, the revolutionary vandalism was by definition false.
A wooden door of the Gothic cathedral in French Beauvais >>>. The reliefs are still in tact, but the heads of some figures were cut off.
A relief on a tomb carved in the Manueline style (late Gothic) that can be admired in the Alcobaca monastery in Portugal >>>. The tombs are true pieces of art. But if we look closely we can see hat the most of the figures had been beheaded.
A stained glass I photographed in one of the chapels of the York Minster in England >>>. The face of the figure left was removed. The only one in tact is the one on the right hand side. The beheading took place as England changed from Catholicism to Anglicanism.
And yet another example. Sightseeing in Rome we are often told by the guides that through ages using old artifacts as a source of building materials was a common practice in Rome. But sometimes, these were not just building materials. Visiting the Pantheon, we focus simply on its great decorations. But something is missing. These are the bronze reliefs that once decorated the ceiling of the dome. Some time ago these were cut out and treated as source of bronze that was given to Bernini so he could have made the famous papal altar in the St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Pantheon of Rome. Looking up we barely expect that some time ago the dome was stripped of bronze reliefs.
Watching international news we hear of people, who in the name of an ideology destroy artifacts of past times because they are not in line of their value system. Sill in the XXI century the history is repeating itself, although many nations worldwide went through the practice but ultimately put much effort to that what was possible to repair.
A couple of days ago I joined yet another network feed that relies fully on photographs, and quickly discovered a functionality that with one click tests any photograph on repeatability with those made by others. The test, which I quickly named ‘my Pinterest test’ is as revealing and blunt as it only can be. Any even original shot depicting a popular tourist attraction has its numerous duplicates in the Web. As there are some thumb rules on a photograph geometry, the layouts are repeatable, too.
In the copy and paste world the repeatibility is also true for web entries. For years I was tutoring students in writing their final papers before graduation. Copy and paste practice became a serious problem with emerging of the World Wide Web. There was a moment we were even equipped with software helping us to pick any kind of piracy in our students’ texts. When prepping this entry, which is a note on a visit in a place that is on the absolutely must-see list in Japan I found numerous blog and web entries repeating the same information. With long-term practice in picking too long passages of exactly the same wording, I am sure I saw much copy and paste work here and there. I must say however, I found one or two blog entries, where the authors did a really good job (chapeau bas).
Now I stand before a travel blogger’s dilemma. I was to a place well described by all possible Internet resources, my photos do not stand the Pinterest test (are fully repeatable with those by many other photographers and bloggers), yet the place is that kind of impressive that I want to write about that I saw. And I do not necessarily want to repeat all that what I red the last couple of hours in the Internet.
The place is Nara, a small town but also a province quite close to Kyoto that was a location of seven temples important for the Japanese Buddhist teachings. That time the province was the official seat of the Japanese emperors. Those were times as the Japanese emperor had a real power. In later periods the true power was with the shogun, who was the chief military, whereas the emperor had rather a symbolic role. And all of these happened already one thousand and two hundred years ago in the VIII century.
For different reasons that may be altogether summed up as a desire for divine protection a big statue of Buddha was cast. The process took years, was labour intensive and costly, and depleted the country bronze resources. The statue was partially recast a couple of times, but still much of its structure is older than the oldest Gothic cathedrals in Europe! And it is told to be the biggest bronze statue of Buddha in the world. The statue was placed in a big wooden hall in the Tōdai-ji temple, the so called Great Buddha Hall. As in Japan many of old wooden buildings were destroyed by fire, earthquakes or other disasters, the current building like many others is not the original one. But still, it is more than three hundred years old. It is smaller than its predecessor. Still, till not long time ago it was classified as the biggest wooden building in the world. (It was dethroned in the late XX century by an American football stadium in Northern Japan). The (existing) main gate you have to cross to get to the temple area, the so called Great South Gate, is even older than the existing Buddha hall. It was constructed in the XII century. If I had to look for a comparable site in Europe I saw recently in terms of age and symbolism (although the religious context is different) I would point out the Mount Saint Michel monastery (>>>), that also origins in the VIII century. Besides the Great Buddha there are at least six (to my recollection) other impressive statues of figures traditional for the Buddhist temples in the Tōdai-ji temple complex. Two are at the Great South Gate and four inside the Great Hall.
But Nara is famous for yet another thing that brings much fun for visitors. It is 1,200 deers walking freely around the park complex (that covers quite huge area), but also the surrounding streets. Deers are accustomed to people that is a truly great and nice experience. The Nara deers have a divine status. There were even times as harming them was punishable by death.
There are many stands in the park where you can buy special kind of wafers, with which it is allowed to feed the deers. The stands belong to the authorities managing the complex. The feeding is hence fully legal. But once you have the wafers in your hand, you will have a few deers around you keen to catch a piece. Much fun is guaranteed, but watch your hands against bites.
To get to the Tōdai-ji temple from the Nara railway station we can either walk a street or cross the park area. I would recommend the park because of the deer experience. To get to the temple area we have to cross the Great South Gate. Crossing the gate do not forget the two figures that stand inside the corners, even if they are ring fenced by a dens net. They are crucial to the Buddhist traditions. The figures called Nio are ugly and muscled. According to one of the legends Nio used to follow Buddha and protected him. Those in the gate were carved in the XII century.
The southern gate is the first stop on the way to the temple complex. Behind it, there is a lake (Japanese: ponds) full of carps. Most of them are grey, but some are orange /gold. Carps are a vital part of the Japanese symbolism. They are able to get upstream, a feature that is treated as a sign of strength and vitality, and some other virtues. As far as I can recall in each of the temple complexes we visited in Japan, there where was a ponds it was full of carps.
The next stop is yet another gate. It is not open in front. To buy the entry ticket and enter the complex you go to a door on its left hand side. The exit is at its right side. Close to the exits there are souvenir stands. I quite rarely look for souvenirs, but to my recollection the stands there had quite an interesting offer.
Below the upfront view onto the Great Buddha Hall. I did this photo standing with my back to the middle of the gate on the upper picture.
All Japanese temples, no matter Buddhist (came to Japan from continental Asia) or Shinto (indigenous Japanese religion or rather belief system) are equipped with a symbolic cleansing facility. The cleansing may happen by usage of water, fumes, sand, etc. In Tōdai-ji this is a fuming ritual.
And finally the Great Buddha. The statue is of bronze, the seat is of gold. The temple web page states that some parts of the Buddha were x-rayed. A number of artifacts, things that probably belonged to the emperor that commissioned the cast were seemingly melt into one of the knees.
To his left, a smaller Buddha statue. Yet another one is located to the right.
After paying respect to Buddha, lighting a candle, the visitors are guided to take a route around inside of the Great Hall. Of things interesting to me were two statues of the Great Hall guardians. The one on the picture below is called Komokuten. Secondly, there were a number of small wooden models on display showing the previous layouts of the temple complex, including pagodas (tiered towers), that were not rebuilt after the original buildings were destroyed. Kids may go through a hole in the bottom of one of the pillars that support the Great Hall. This should provide them with prosperous life. Finally, as in many temples around Japan, you can buy there various kinds of charms and religious accessories. These will be luck charms in form of protective amulets, wooden votive plaques that you hang on special stands, or fortune telling pieces/rolls of paper that you take home when the telling is positive, and leave in the temple, when it is negative (>>>).
We visited Japan without a guide, and I think in most places we saw a guided tour was not necessary. But if I had to revisit Nara I would book a guide to listen to historical and religious explanations.
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