Tag Archives: UNESCO

On This Day – The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

Without doubt the most important and most impressive building in Pula is the first century Roman Amphitheatre.  It is the sixth largest in the world and one of the best-preserved examples of its kind.

The Coliseum in Rome was built at about the same time and is the biggest Roman Amphitheatre and could seat a massive fifty-thousand spectators (Some estimates suggest eighty thousand but generally about fifty thousand is the agreed capacity of the stadium), the second largest was Capua, also in Italy but now sadly in ruin, which had only a slightly smaller capacity, and the third was in El Djem in Tunisia with a capacity of thirty-five thousand.

The Amphitheatre in Pula was designed for about twenty-five thousand and there were similar sized stadiums in Verona in Italy and at Nimes and Arles in Southern France so this was more of a Championship rather than a Premiership Ground.

I say this but it seems that no one can be absolutely sure about which was the largest in terms of capacity and it is generally agreed that this was the Coliseum but we can be more certain about physical size and there was a plaque nearby that claimed that this was the third largest in the Roman Empire. Interestingly that using this particular criteria the plaque only listed the Coliseum as second largest but it’s like I have always said – size isn’t the most important thing!

We walked around the external walls and I was immediately struck by the grandeur and magnificence of the building.

I have been to Rome and seen the Coliseum and in my opinion nothing can compare with that but this magnificent building made that assessment a close run thing. It towered mightily above us stretching up into the clear blue sky and looking proud and strong. The area around it is open and accessible and that makes viewing it in many ways easier than looking at the Coliseum surrounded as that is by a busy main road and a constant throng of tourists jostling for photographic opportunities.

There are over two hundred surviving Roman amphitheatres across what was the Roman Empire and this is one of the best to see. There is still a lot missing however as parts of it had been dismantled over the years to provide ready prepared paving for roads and a convenient supply of building materials for later construction projects such as the Venetian fortress built nearby.

Thankfully most of the vandalism was restricted to the internal seating and terracing and the external walls with their towering arches are still left in place to see today. Underneath the arena there is a small museum housed in the underground corridors where exotic animals and gladiators waited their turn to be raised to the stadium for their part in the bloody show and one can only try to imagine what a brutal and thoroughly unpleasant place this might once have been.

The amphitheatre was built on sloping ground so that the part facing the sea has three levels and the other side facing the land has two. The great plinths which form the base are visible, along with two orders of arches divided by pilasters and an attic of rectangular windows.

The amphitheatre was part of the primary gladiator circuit and remained in use until the fifth century and in that time it is impossible to imagine how many men and animals died in this place.

When it was in use large beams supported awnings which protected the spectators from the sun or the rain. Four towers around the perimeter had cisterns containing perfumed water that could be sprinkled on the crowd because the smell of animals, butchered bodies and fear must have been rather distressing even for a blood-thirsty mob. Under the fifteen entrances was a ditch served by elevators for beasts, people and stage sets to be moved easily about.

It was late afternoon now so having completed our tour of the amphitheatre and the underground museum it was time to leave and drive to our hotel which was in the nearby fishing village of Fažana.

Entrance Tickets – Wawel Royal Castle, Krakow

The Historic Centre of Kraków, located on the River Vistula in southern Poland, is formed by three urban ensembles: the medieval chartered City of Kraków, the Wawel Hill complex, and the town of Kazimierz. It is one of the most outstanding examples of European urban planning, characterised by the harmonious development and accumulation of features representing all architectural styles from the early Romanesque to the Modernist periods.” – UNESCO

The Wawel Royal Castle is located in central Kraków and among the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. It was admitted to the list at the very first session in 1978 (there were only twelve from seven countries). It was one of two Polish sites, the other being the Wieliczka salt mine also in Krakow. It was the first European City to be added to the list. It played a blinder there, getting in before Paris, Rome, Madrid and London. The following year Poland got two more – Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration Camp near Krakow and Białowieża Forest and in 1980 it added the city of Warsaw.

In many respects it seems a rather curious first list. To begin with it is rather like Noah’s Ark with sites going in two by two. Two for Canada – L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site and Nahanni National Park. Two for Ecuador – the city of Quito and the Galapagos Islands. Two also for Ethiopia – Simien National Park and Rock Hewn Churches, the USA with two National Parks, Messe Verde and Yellowstone and two for Poland. To complete the list only one for Senegal, the Island of Goree and one for Germany and the Cathedral at Aachan.

Italy had to wait until 1978 to get a listing, France until 1981 and United Kingdom until 1986. Australia had to wait even longer until 2003.

There are only two European countries without a UNESCO site – Monaco and Liechtenstein. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for Liechtenstein, I went there once and it went straight onto my list of most boring places I have ever visited, the capital Vaduz especially so.  I have never been to Monaco and don’t really expect to, it doesn’t look especially fascinating either.

Anyway, back to Krakow. At the ticket office we had a lot of difficulty working out the ticket options that were nearly as confusing as buying a lottery scratch card at the local Co-op.

The place has so many precious treasures that understandably visitors can’t just buy a ticket and go wandering about by themselves in case precious treasures go wandering about.

Our first choice of the Royal Palace was no longer available because the English speaking guides had all gone home already so instead we bought tickets for the State Rooms. The tickets were timed and there was clearly no leeway but fortunately we made our entry time by the skin of our teeth and made the tour of the impressive rooms and displays.

Of course Kim, who has a history of this sort of thing, had to let us down by touching an exhibit in the very first room and that bought a sharp rebuke from the attendant museum guard.

This was a very impressive place full of treasures that we can see today because at the outbreak of World War Two they were rapidly evacuated out of Poland to safe storage in Canada where they remained until 1961 to prevent the Soviet Union getting possession.  We especially liked the room with the heads in the ceiling and everywhere there were remarkable tapestries and medieval furniture and treasures exhibited with generous space in which to appreciate them.

I have no photographs of the interior because picture taking is predictably not permitted. These are the Polish Crown Jewels courtesy of Wikipedia.

The rooms were huge, each one as big as a modern four bedroom detached house and I bet they were a bugger to heat in the Winter.  The tour ended in the most impressive room of all, the Senators Hall, which was large and spacious with a balcony at one end, an interestingly slanting ceiling and an obsession with tapestries depicting Noah and his Ark.

After an hour or so the tour was over and we were back in the courtyard, it was beginning to get cold and dark so we walked the mile or so back to our hotel stopping off at the Crocodile Bar on the way.

Winter Walk in Riga

 

Today I am still in Riga, fourteen years ago…

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More From Budapest

On This Day – Trouble With Time in Portugal

On 12th January 2009 I was enjoying a second day in Portugal.

Before I go on, do you notice something curious about the Header picture?  I’ll tell you at the end.

In the morning there was another very sharp frost. The hotel room was warm but the public areas were chilly, inadequate electric heaters were working to full capacity and the staff in the breakfast room were wrapped in heavy coats and looked thoroughly miserable.

The man at reception lamented that it might be all right for us but for him it was painful to be so cold. I think he must have thought that we had come from the North Pole or something.

Today we visited the City of Porto. You can read about that here because I am skipping over the details in this post.

During the day as we walked around something had been puzzling me because all of the clocks in the city were wrong.  Every single one of them seemed to be an hour behind and even here at the station the displays said four when our watches said five. I thought that this was strange so asked an official who confirmed that it was indeed four and smiled when I showed him my watch and suggested that it was five.

It simply hadn’t occurred to me that it was perhaps my watch that was telling the wrong time.

It turns out that Portugal uses the same time as the United Kingdom and that we had been an hour ahead of ourselves for the last two days and this explained why it was still light at half past six last night, why they were surprised when we turned up for dinner an hour early, this was why the breakfast room was empty earlier today and why it was so cold when we left the hotel this morning.

Normally travelling to Europe involves adding an hour on but not so Portugal because along with Ireland and Iceland, Portugal is the only other European country that shares Western European Time with the United Kingdom.

Looking at a map of European time zones this looks odd but there is an explanation. France, The Low Countries and Spain should sensibly be in the western zone but during World-War-Two the Nazi occupiers changed France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg to Central European time for the convenience of Adolf Hitler in Berlin. For the sake of consistency Nazi sympathiser Franco changed Spain at the same time but anti-German Salazar of Portugal stayed as they were.

Spain is in the same time zone as countries as far east as Hungary and Poland, Galicia in the north is as far west as the far west coast of Ireland and does not see daylight in the Winter until almost mid morning and regularly campaigns for Spain to return to the more sensible western time zone.  In Spain only the  Canary Islands are in the Western European time zone.

Our horological error gave us an unexpected extra hour and we were glad of that because it had been a busy two days and when we got back to the hotel this gave us time for a rest before going down to dinner in the hotel dining room at the correct time.

The following day, now that we were back in real time and had adjusted ourselves accordingly we went down for breakfast today at a more reasonable hour and having given the place time to warm up this morning it was a much more pleasurable experience.

Actually it was warmer anyway because there was no frost today and although the sky was blue again it felt as though the weather was going to change. When we checked out the man on the reception said that he was glad about that but he still complained that the weather was colder than normal.

What a whinger he was because it was quite warm enough for us to cast off our jumpers and our hats and scarves and we decided to make the most of the unexpectedly good weather by taking a trip down the coast in a southerly direction towards Porto before driving to the airport for the early afternoon flight home.

Just south of Santa Clara was the beach of Azuraia where we parked the car and walked over the golden sand that had been washed clean by the high tide and went down to the waters edge. There was a good clear view back to Vila do Conde and the fort that we hadn’t had time to visit. After we had scrambled over rock pools and walked as close as we dare to the breaking surf without getting wet we walked back along the beach and past a beach bar that was just about opening up and back in the car we continued our slow aimless journey down the coast.

Next we stopped at Mindelo, which was much the same as Azuraia so we did the same things but didn’t stay for very long and continued on to the fishing village of Vila Cha.

Like everywhere else Vila Cha was quiet this morning so we parked the car and walked along the beach to the fishing boats and the fishermen’s sheds where local people were working repairing fishing nets and carefully stacking crusty lobster pots into neat piles.

We drove south again to one last beach at Angeiras and then to the airport. On the way we filled the car with fuel and I got worked up for the first time in two days when a man in front was taking a ridiculous amount of time just to put a few litres of petrol in the tank of his Citroen Berlingo one drip at a time.

This visit to Portugal had been absolutely wonderful. When we left I had no idea what to expect and this is what had made it so special. There is something about the pleasure of the unexpected that increases the enjoyment.

When we arrived back in England I remembered not to alter my watch.

So, back to that header picture where all of the hands are set to the same time.

The reason for this is that clocks and watches advertised for sale are almost always set at ten minutes past ten for two reasons.  Firstly advertisers think that this is the most aesthetically pleasing position and easy on the eye and secondly this position cradles the maker or the brand and makes it stand out boldly.

Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

It wasn’t all that long ago, certainly within my lifetime, that people were sent to carry out hard labour in salt mines as a punishment. They probably still are. The Soviets especially liked compelling people to go deep underground (usually in Siberia) to mine the precious commodity but today things have changed and we were actually paying for the privilege of dropping down towards the centre of the earth.

Read The Full Story Here…

On This Day – Tallinn Christmas Market

Continuing with my early December theme of Christmas Markets on 7th December 2009 I was in the Estonian capital of Tallinn..

It is claimed (although this is disputed, especially in Northern Germany) that the picturesque Town Hall Square in Tallinn is the site of the world’s first Christmas tree. It was part of a ritual begun in 1441 when unmarried merchants sang and danced with the girls of the town around a tree, which, when they had had enough fun and drink they then burned down.

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Postcard From France – The Canal du Midi

The idea of creating a waterway as a shortcut between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea had captured the imagination of successive French Kings and governments since Roman times. The regional route overland was slow, uncomfortable and haunted by bandits; the two thousand mile passage by sea took at least a month and was also dangerous as ships negotiating the Spanish coast dodged storms and Barbary pirates to pass through the Strait of Gibraltar.

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On This Day – Pamukkale and Heirapolis

Continuing the tour of Ancient Turkey on 27th September 2014 I was at the site of Heirapolis/Pamukkale  an ancient Hellenistic and then a Roman city because it benefits from a rejuvenating spa of constantly warm water that the ancients were rather fond of.

The source of the spring is carefully locked behind bars because as it emerges from the earth’s core it brings with it a lethal cocktail of poisonous toxic gasses that will overcome and kill in seconds.

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On This Day – Kotor in Montenegro

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 13th June 2010 I was visiting the city of Kotor in the Balkan country of Montenegro…

Kotor Postcard

The border crossing between Croatia and Montenegro is not without considerable difficulty and lengthy delays because these two are uneasy neighbours (Montenegran Troops were responsible for the siege of Dubrovnic) and it all a bit officious but once through in front of us we could see the black mountains and after we passed through the busy and rather untidy outskirts of the city of Herceg Novi the road reached the sea and started to follow the winding coast line of the picturesque Bay of Kotor.

Once in this new country the first stop came quite quickly at a lay-by with a good view both east and west and looking across to the Italianate town of Perast, once an important independent Venetian ship building town but now rapidly becoming a modern tourist trap.

There was a small market and a jewellery stall in one corner of the lay-by and while Kim looked at sparkly things on chains I examined an information board about the Bay.  In the middle were about twenty clear holes about the thickness of a pencil and on closer examination I realised that they were bullet holes.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end because whoever had been using the sign for target practice was clearly a very good shot and it occurred to me that I could be in the cross-hairs of someone’s rifle sights even as I stood there.

I was beginning to become aware that Montenegro might be rather different to anywhere else that I had been before and I wasn’t inclined to hang around any longer than necessary so I encouraged Kim to hurry up and leave without a purchase and we carried on  without further delay around the bay.

There are strict driving rules in Montenegro but these don’t seem to apply to local people and my use of the road was continuing to irritate people and several times I was tooted and invited to pull over by motorists using hand signals that you won’t find in the Highway Code but I didn’t let this intimidate me and I continued sedately on, pulling over whenever I could to let agitated motorists pass me by.

Kotor 02

Eventually we arrived in Kotor without further incident and I found it much bigger than I imagined it would be from the descriptions in the travel guides and there was a six deck, two thousand passenger cruise liner tied up at the dock which was so huge it dwarfed the town and looked sadly out of place.  I may have mentioned this before but I really do not like these cruise ships.

At 35º centigrade it was extremely hot so we were pleased to go through the main gate of the old town and into the shaded cooler streets inside, Kim because she was out of the sun and me because she had stopped complaining about it.

It was busy inside because Kotor old town is quite small with a population of about five and a half thousand and it was playing host to the holidaymakers from the cruise liner and hundreds of others as well which temporarily more than doubled the population.

Once again there was a distinct Italianate feel because the old Mediterranean port of Kotor is surrounded by an impressive city wall that was built by Republic of Venice and the Venetian influence remains dominant among the architectural styles around the main squares and up and down the tight twisting streets.

Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage site and inside the walls the narrow sinuous streets took us past little picturesque shops, cafés, bars, antique monuments and cream stone buildings, balconies overflowing with billowing flowers, washing lines full of immaculate laundry and the overwhelming smell of laundry powder and fabric conditioner.

Kotor Washing Line

The old town of Kotor is wedged in between the rugged Bay and at the foot of the imposing Lovćen massif mountain range directly under overhanging limestone cliffs of the mountains Orjen and Lovćen.  At the back of the town there was an entrance to a demanding walk up the vertical mountain to visit the city walls but today it was too hot for us to even consider tackling it especially in flimsy sandals on slippery stones and paths with warnings of danger clearly signposted.  So we made do with admiring it all from sea level and then slipped back into the maze of streets and looked for a bar away from the blistering heat of the unrelenting sun which was reflecting off the buildings and radiating around the paved squares and open spaces.

Kotor wasn’t quite what we were expecting it has to be said and we found it untidy and scruffy, the cruise ship spoilt it in a way because the old town was overcrowded and the hulking mass of the ship destroyed the charm of the seafront and the harbour.  The cafés and bars were more expensive than I imagined they would be, certainly pricier than in Croatia, but I thought the old town was nice enough and we sat in the shade in a corner of one of the small squares and drank  a Montenegrin beer called Niksicko, which despite its rather unpromising name was really quite nice.

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