Category Archives: Literature

The Seven Wonders of The Ancient World

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were by no means a comprehensive agreed-upon list of the most impressive structures of the day. Today a list like this would be determined by a TV phone-in. The masterpieces included in the original list are the traditionally accepted Wonders as first set down by Philo of Byzantium although when he drew up the list he had no way of knowing about the Great Wall of China, the Treasury at Petra or Stonehenge.

The Pyramids of Egypt 

The Pyramids of Egypt

A group of three pyramids, Khufu, Khafra, and Menkaura located at Giza, Egypt, outside modern Cairo, is often called the first wonder of the world. The largest pyramid, built by Cheops, a king of the fourth dynasty, had an original estimated height of 482 feet and the base has sides 755 feet long. It contains 2,300,000 blocks and the average weight of each block is 2.5 tons.  The Pyramids are the only one of the Seven Wonders that still exist today.

Hanging Gardens of BabylonHanging Gardens of Babylon

Often considered to be the second wonder, these gardens, which were located south of Baghdad, Iraq, were supposedly built by Nebuchadnezzar around 600 B.C.  Archeologists think that the gardens were laid out atop a vaulted building, with provisions for raising water. The terraces were said to rise from 75 to 300 feet.  No one really knows because of all the Wonders there is no archaeological evidence at all.

Statue of Zeus (Jupiter) at Olympia

Statue of Zeus at Olympia

Phidias (fifth century B.C.) built this 40-foot high statue in gold and ivory. All trace of it is lost, except for reproductions on coins.

Temple of Artemis (Diana) at Ephesus

Temple of Diana at Ephesus

The temple was a beautiful marble structure, begun about 350 B.C., in honour of the goddess Artemis. The temple, with Ionic columns 60 feet high, was destroyed by invading Goths in A.D. 262.

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus Bodrum Turkey

This monument was erected in Bodium, Turkey, by Queen Artemisia in memory of her husband, King Mausolus of Caria in Asia Minor, who died in 353 B.C. Some remains of the structure are in the British Museum. This shrine is the source of the modern word “mausoleum,” which is a large above-ground tomb.

All that remains now are a few toppled columns and splintered stones and a hole in the ground where the burial chamber once was because all of the usable stones had been previously carted away by the Knights of St John who needed a convenient supply of stone to build their castle.  The Knights of St John have quite a lot of lost architectural heritage to answer for it would seem and if the World Heritage Organization had existed in the fifteenth century I think they may have had a great deal of explaining to do to the Director-General of UNESCO!

Colossus at Rhodes

The Colossus of Rhodes

This bronze statue of Helios (Apollo) was the work of the sculptor Chares, it represented the sun god Helios and stood at the harbour entrance but a strong earthquake about 226 BC, badly damaged the city and toppled the Colossus.  Legend has it that Helios himself was displeased by the statue and forbade the Rhodians from making any attempt to rebuild it so for the next eight centuries, give or take a few years,  it lay in ruins until it was sold to a Jewish merchant who was reputed to require nine hundred camels to haul it all away.

A fully laden camel can carry four hundred and fifty kilograms  so that would be roughly about four hundred tonnes of bronze, by comparison the Statue of Liberty weighs two hundred and twenty-five tonnes and is forty-six metres high so using this dubious logic the Colossus of Rhodes would have been ninety metres high and huge.

Pharos of Alexandria
Lighthouse at Alexandria

 

The seventh wonder was the Pharos (lighthouse) of Alexandria. Sostratus of Cnidus built in the Pharos during the third century B.C. on the island of Pharos off the coast of Egypt. It was destroyed by an earthquake in the thirteenth century.

The Huldufólk of Iceland

“This is a land where everyone is aware that the land is alive, and one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect” –  Terry Gunnell, a folklore professor at the University of Iceland

We have moved on from Wroclaw in Poland and its street dwarfs so I thought you might like some pictures of the Huldufólk. the “hidden folk” of Icelandic folklore who live in a mystical landscape of mountain passes with peaks lost in the clouds, of arctic chill, windswept valleys, gnarled volcanic rock, wild moss and winter scorched meadows.

“It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.” – Icelandic Singer Bjork.

In a land like this. of fire and ice, a place that is wild and magical, where the fog-shrouded lava fields provide a spooky landscape in which it is possible that anything out of the ordinary might lurk, stories flourish about the “hidden folk”.

According to Icelanders these are the thousands of elves who make their homes in the wilderness,  supernatural forces that dwell within the hallowed volcanic rubble and coexist alongside the 320,000 or so Icelandic people.

People in Iceland do not throw stones into the wilderness just in case they carelessly injure an Elf!

“It has caused a lot of arguments, as it’s something that’s very difficult to prove. Iceland is full of álagablettir, or enchanted spots, places you don’t touch – just like the fairy forts and peat bogs in Ireland. They’re protected by stories about the bad things that will happen if you do” – Terry Gunnell

If you are wondering where the Huldufólk are in my pictures? Well, according to Icelandic lore they are hidden beings that inhabit a parallel world that is invisible to human eyes, and can only be spotted by psychics and little children, unless they willingly decide to reveal themselves to people.

Sometimes however you can see their houses…

Have you been to Iceland – Have you seen the the Huldufólk?

Entrance Tickets, Wroclaw – Three Church Towers

In a survey in 2010 75% of the population of Poland said that they were practising Catholics.  Nearby Italy (where the Pope lives) only registered 74%.  Malta had the largest positive response at 95%. The least religious countries were all in the north where 80% of respondents in Estonia, Norway, Denmark and Sweden all said that religion isn’t important.

Rather odd that bearing in mind that they believe in Elves and Fairies and Goblins.

Interestingly this survey didn’t seem to include the Vatican State where there is a population of only about five hundred official citizens and three-quarters of these are clergy so I imagine the response would surely have been no less than 100%.

I wasn’t surprised by this high response in Poland because there are twenty churches on the map of the old town area of Wroclaw and three of them have towers to climb and I do like climbing towers and we set about tackling them in a sort of church tower triathlon!

We started first with the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Ostrow Tumski, on the Cathedral Island which at ninety-seven metres Island is the tallest of the three.

The most common Christian Church dedication is to Saint Mary but dedications to St John the Baptist are also quite common.    There are almost six hundred in England alone and I used to go to this one every Sunday in the village of Hillmorton, near Rugby in Warwickshire where I grew up…

Yes, I did go there every week – honestly, that’s me third from the right, about 1970…

During the Siege of Breslau in the last days of World War Two the Wroclaw Cathedral was very badly damaged with about three-quarters of the building being destroyed by heavy bombing by the Red Army  in what amounted to the Russian contribution to the end of war demolition of Poland.

The initial reconstruction of the church lasted until 1951 and in the following years, additional aspects were rebuilt and renovated. The original, conical shape of the towers was restored only as recently as 1991.

Although it is the highest of the three church towers it is also the easiest to ascend (I say this with hindsight of course) because after only a few steps there is a small museum of African Art (a bit weird) and a lift to the top.

It is one of those curious lifts that you can still find in Europe with an open space next to a blank wall which flashes by as you ascend to the top and would cause serious injury if you were to lean against the moving brickwork.  Luckily there was an attendant who stood perilously near (in my opinion) to the wall and stopped visitors from getting too close!

After a couple of circuits of the top the chill wind sent us straight back down again and before we left we walked around the interior of the Cathedral and enjoyed the decoration and the stained glass windows.

Next stop was the Mary Magdalene (a follower of Jesus, but not a Disciple, because only men could be Disciples) church near the Market Square which is quite ordinary except for the tower and the  Penitent Bridge (Mostek Pokutnic) which is a footbridge between the two towers of at the height of forty-five metres.

According to the legend it is possible to see the ghosts of young women, who, instead of taking care of their homes and children, preferred to go out on the town and party with men.

As a penitence, they had to cross the bridge between the towers.

Legend also says that if an unmarried couple walk the length of the bridge while holding hands, their love for one another will never fade and they will marry, which for me is a lot better than a nasty love lock on a bridge!

This was the shortest of the three and an easy walk to the top up modern concrete zig-zag steps and we walked the bridge taking care not to hold hands and after looking out over the market Square we returned to ground level and made our way the short distance to nearby St Elizabeth’s Church.

Saint Elizabeth was the mother of John the Baptist. The church dates back to the fourteenth century. The main tower was originally one hundred and thirty-six meters tall and from 1525 until 1946 was the chief Lutheran Church of Breslau and Silesia. In 1946 it was expropriated and given to the Military Chaplaincy of the Polish Roman Catholic Church which I suppose accounts for its rather plain and austere interior compared to the Cathedral of St John the Baptist.

The reconstructed main tower is now ninety two meters tall and with three hundred and four steps up and down a stone spiral staircase is the most difficult of the three to reach the top.  But the climb is well worth the effort because the reward is the best view of all from all three with a panorama of the surrounding countryside and a bird’s eye view of the Market Square.  Well worth the 5 zloty fee!

After three towers we agreed that we had earned a beer so we retired immediately to the Drink Bar and prepared ourselves for our final night in Wroclaw and an early morning flight home the next day.

We had enjoyed out time here. Wroclaw doesn’t have the historical swagger or confidence of Krakow or the raw edge and the buzz of Warsaw but it has a quirky charm of the more manageable city.  When it comes to Poland whilst I might consider returning to Krakow and Wroclaw, once in Warsaw I think is probably enough.

More Towers…

Trogir (Croatia) Tower of Terror

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Church Tower, Riga

Blarney Castle, Ireland

Torre Dos Clérigios, Porto

The Struggle Against Communist Oppression in Poland

Solidarity Gary Cooper

In my previous post I wrote about oppression in Poland after World-War-Two and the struggle for freedom and this reminded me of a visit to the capital city of Warsaw the year before.

Walking in the city centre we approached the heavily guarded Presidential Palace and on the pavement outside there was a display commemorating some previous uprising or other and as a backdrop there was a huge canvas poster of Gary Cooper as Marshall Will Kane in the film High Noon.

I had no idea why until I looked it up later:

In 1989 there were some partially free elections in Poland and this was the official poster of the Solidarity movement and it shows Cooper armed not with a pistol in his right hand but with a folded ballot saying ‘Wybory’ (elections)  while the Solidarity logo is pinned to his vest above the sheriff’s badge. The message at the bottom of the poster reads: “W samo południe: 4 czerwca 1989,” which translates to “High Noon: 4 June 1989.”

Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa  explained it later:

“It was a simple but effective gimmick that at the time was misunderstood by the Communists. They tried to ridicule the freedom movement in Poland as an invention of the ‘Wild’ West, especially the U.S. But the poster had the opposite impact: Cowboys had become a powerful symbol for Poles. Cowboys fight for justice, fight against evil, and fight for freedom. ”

In 1953 Gary Cooper won the Best Actor Oscar for High Noon and in 1990 Lech Wałęsa became President of Poland.  The Soviet Force of Occupation (The Northern Group of Forces) did not leave Poland until 1993.

After the popular uprising in 1989 which overthrew Communist rule and following independence Poland planned to demolish around five hundred Soviet-era monuments and a mass demolition of reminders that are relics of the country’s Communist past which are seen as reminders of Soviet Russia’s invasion and subsequent decades-long political dominance of the eastern European nation until.  Thirty-five statues of Lenin and two of Josef Stalin were removed from towns and cities across Poland.

Sadly, Russia being an authoritarian,  militaristic state seems unable to understand a desire for independence and to be free of strutting jack boots from the East!

The picture above is ‘Stalin’s Boots’ a symbolic statue that stands in Budapest in Hungary.  Before it was torn down in 1956 it stood eighty foot tall and was clearly too big for its boots!

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union hundreds of statues of Lenin have been removed and demolished but there are still some to be found in more remote locations.  See this web post for details of Lenin Statue Spotting – Lenining

Most are in old Soviet Russia and its previously oppressed territories of course but there is a statue of Lenin in Montpellier in France, Potsdam in Germany (how bizarre), Athens in Greece and most surprising of all, Seattle in the USA.

Read another post about statues of Lenin.

Wroclaw, Dwarf a Day (10)

The last one – I promise

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Wroclaw, Dwarf a Day (9)

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Wroclaw, Dwarf a Day (5)