UNESCO World Heritage Site #141: Boyana Church

UNESCO World Heritage Site #141: Boyana Church
UNESCO World Heritage Site #141: Boyana Church

From the World Heritage inscription:

Located on the outskirts of Sofia, Boyana Church consists of three buildings. The eastern church was built in the 10th century, then enlarged at the beginning of the 13th century by Sebastocrator Kaloyan, who ordered a second two-story building to be erected next to it. The frescoes in this second church, painted in 1259, make it one of the most important collections of medieval paintings. The ensemble is completed by a third church, built at the beginning of the 19th century. This site is one of the most complete and perfectly preserved monuments of east European medieval art.

In terms of total area, the Boyana Church is one of the smallest World Heritage sites I have ever visited. Maybe the smallest. The building itself is very unimpressive from the outside. The real treasure, however, is the frescos on the inside of the building. Getting to the church isn’t difficult, but it does require a bit of work. It is on the outskirts of Sofia. There are some mini buses which go there, but I wasn’t able to find them. I eventually just got a taxi which wasn’t that expensive. It is a worthwhile stop if you are visiting Sofia and due to its size, doesn’t require a lot of time to visit.

Overview

Boyana Church

Boyana Church is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Bulgaria. It is a medieval Orthodox Church located in the city of Sofia, which is the Bulgarian capital. It was inscribed into the UNESCO list in 1979. Boyana Church had its groundbreaking on the late 10th century but the church was completed a century later. Meanwhile, a central wing was added to the whole structure in the 13th century and further expansions were constructed with the latest one in the 19th century. The church of Boyana is most famous for the monumental paintings that depict a total of 89 scenes and about 240 human images. These paintings can be seen on the interior walls of the church.

About Boyana Church

Boyana Church

Boyana Church is located within the suburb of Sofia, which in itself is at the foot of Mt. Vitosha in Bulgaria. This church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the best preserved medieval monuments in Europe dating back to the Middle Ages. Hence, it is considered a valuable cultural monument in Europe and not just in Bulgaria.

There are three buildings that consist of the Boyana Church. The first part is the Eastern Church, which was built in the 10th century. It was expanded by Sebastocractor Kaloyan in the 13th century. The expansion came in the form of a two-storey building to be built right next to the original church. At the start of the 19th century, a third building was erected to complete the architectural ensemble of Boyana Church. Since all three of these buildings are largely intact today, they are also considered as one of the best preserved examples of European medieval art.

When you look at Boyana Church from an architectural perspective, it is the best example of a church that has a Greek cross ground plan. It has a dome, ceramic elements and richly decorated façade. However, the fine wall paintings are the most distinctive feature that also makes it stand out. These frescoes were made in 1259. The frescoes form the second layer over the painting that were applied a few centuries earlier. Aside from the preserved frescoes, there are many parts of the church that have several layers of wall painting that date to as far back as the 11th century. These paintings therefore reflect outstanding quality knowing that they remained intact for many centuries.

Among the subject or images depicted by the frescoes inside the walls of Boyana Church include the following:

  • St. Nicholas
  • Dessislava (church patron)
  • Constantin Tikh of Bulgaria and Eirene of Nicaea
  • Christ
  • Pantocractor

Practical Travel Information

Boyana Church

Boyana Church is a small UNESCO World Heritage Site but it has plenty to offer especially for history, cultural and architectural buffs. Here are a few travel information you need to know to prepare for your trip:

  • To travel to Boyana Church, you can take bus 64 or 107. You can also take the taxi to Boyana Church, which is a more convenient travel option. If you choose to ride the minibus, choose route 21.
  • Majority of the frescoes have remained intact and preserved in their original state since they were painted in as early as the 11th century. However, there have been restorations and cleaning done to ensure that they are preserved.
  • The church was dedicated to St. Nicholas, who was the patron saint of Kaloyan. Hence, it comes as no surprise that his image was depicted among the frescoes.
  • When you visit Boyana Church, there is a limit to the number of people that can get inside at a time. Only 8 people are allowed to enter the church at once. Make sure you arrive early to avoid long queues.
  • Each visit inside the church is limited to 10 minutes only.
  • In order the preserve the artworks inside the church, particularly the frescoes, the inside of the church is maintained to be at 18 degree Celsius.
  • After your visit to the Boyana Church, it is also recommended that you visit the nearby National History Museum.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #140: Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania

UNESCO World Heritage Site #140: Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania
UNESCO World Heritage Site #140: Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Transylvanian villages with fortified churches provide a vivid picture of the cultural landscape of southern Transylvania. They are characterized by the specific land-use system, settlement pattern, and organization of the family farmstead units preserved since the late Middle Ages, dominated by their fortified churches, which illustrate building periods from the 13th to 16th centuries.

In the 13th century the kings of Hungary encouraged the colonization of the sub-Carpathian region of Transylvania (Erdely) by a German-speaking population of artisans, farmers and merchants, mainly from the Rhineland. Known as the Transylvanian Saxons, they enjoyed special privileges granted by the Hungarian Crown, especially in the period preceding the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Despite living in a country where the majority of the population was ethnic Hungarians or Romanians, the Transylvanian Saxons were able to preserve their language and their customs intact throughout the centuries. Their ethnic solidarity is vividly illustrated by their settlements, which remained resistant to external influences

Their geographical location in the foothills of the Carpathians exposed the Transylvanian Saxon communities to danger when the Ottoman Empire began to menace the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Their reaction was to build defensive works within which they could take shelter from the invaders. Lacking the resources of the European nobility and rich merchants, who were able to fortify entire towns, the Transylvanian Saxons chose to create fortresses round their churches, enclosing storehouses within the enceintes to enable them to withstand long sieges. The first documentary reference to Biertan dates from 1283. In 1397 it was raised to the status of Oppidum (fortified town) and twenty years later the Hungarian King granted it droit de l’épée (jus gladii ), i.e. the right to bear arms. From 1572 to 1867 Biertan was the See of the Evangelical (Lutheran) Bishop of Transylvania, and as such played a major role in the cultural and religious life of the considerable German population of the region.

While there are technically only seven churches which are included in the world heritage list, there are many churches of very similar architecture and age located in Transylvania. Many of the churches in the region have had little to no attempts to preserve them. I visited several churches which were looted after the fall of the communists and have had no attempts at conservation. The fortified churches were designed to protect the villagers from the many invading armies which passed through the region.

Overview

Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania

The villages with fortified churches in Transylvania is a collective property and cultural site inscribed by UNESCO in 1993. It is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Romania. According to UNESCO, this is the best example of a defensive vernacular architecture. The fortified churches and the villages around it were established by the Saxon settlers in Transylvania.

The fortified churches that were recognized by UNESCO as part of the world heritage site listing were built from the 13th to the 16th centuries. The villages in Transylvania were often built around the church. Their goal was to provide protection to the Turks and Mongols. There are six former Saxon villages and one Szekely village that are comprised within this world heritage site: Biertan, Calnic, Darjiu, Prejmer, Saschiz, Valea Viilor, and Viscri. In 1999, the site was revised and extended.

About the Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania

Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania

The origin of the villages with fortified churches in Transylvania started in the 12th century during the time of the Saxon invasion. German colonists settled in the area wherein they established their own community. This community was known to be made up of farmers, merchants and artisans. This region, however, was constantly under attack by the Tatar and Ottoman Empire. Hence, this prompted the Saxon settlers to build various fortifications. The most valuable towns were fully fortified while the smaller villages sought protection on the fortified churches. Defensive towers and storehouses were also constructed to these churches in order to withstand long sieges or to provide a safe haven for goods to be kept in.

As mentioned above, there are 7 fortified villages and churches that make up this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The first of them is Biertan, which belongs to Sibiu county. The Biertan Fortified Church is the main attraction in this village wherein it was briefly a Roman Catholic church until it became a Lutheran church. It features a Romanesque architectural style and was constructed in 1486 but was completed in 1524.

The next fortified village comprised within this UNESCO property is the village of Calnic. The Calnic Citadel is the most notable structure within this village, which was built by a nobleman who later sold it to the ethnic German Transylvanian Saxon community.

Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania

The third village is Darjiu, which was located in the Harghita county in Romania. The Darjiu fortified church is the most notable attraction within this fortified village. It is the only Szekely Hungarian community within this property of villages with fortified churches in Transylvania. Aside from being used for its defensive purpose, it is also notable for its interior frescoes.

The fourth village in this list is found within the county of Brasov: Prejmer. The Prejmer fortified church is the main structure that is recognized by UNESCO, which was once a Roman Catholic church that was converted into a Lutheran church during the Reformation.

Next on the list of villages with fortified churches in Transylvania is Saschiz. It belongs to the Mures county in Romania. The Saschiz Fortified Church, Saschiz Peasant Citadel and its surround villages form part of the UNESCO property in Transylvania.

Meanwhile, completing the list of villages and fortified churches in Transylvania that make up the UNESCO site are the villages of Valea Viilor and Viscri. The Valea Viilor fortified church and Viscri fortified church are the most notable attractions that are recognized by UNESCO within these said villages.


View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Romania.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #139: Historic Centre of Sighisoara

UNESCO World Heritage Site #139: Historic Centre of Sighisoara
UNESCO World Heritage Site #139: Historic Centre of Sighisoara

From the World Heritage inscription:

Sighisoara, an example of a small fortified city in the border region between the Latin-oriented culture of central Europe and the Byzantine-Orthodox culture of south-eastern Europe, is outstanding testimony to the fast-disappearing culture of the Transylvanian Saxons.

The city, which lies in the heart of Transylvania, developed on a plateau, and is dominated by a hill overlooking a bend in the river Tirnava. In the 13th century, German craftsmen and merchants, known as Saxons, were ordered by the Hungarian sovereigns to colonize Transylvania and protect the border of the Carpathians against the steppe peoples. They settled on a hill, called the City Hill, which has revealed traces of occupation going back to the Palaeolithic period. Following incursions by the Tatars in 1241, the fortified settlement was reinforced with walls, guarded by towers, later extended to surround the entire plateau. The town, known in 1280 as Castrum Sex, developed commercial activities thanks to the powerful guilds of craftsmen. Each guild was responsible for the construction of a tower and its defence. The importance of the town was recognized in 1367 when it obtained the title ‘Civitas’ and became the second national political entity of Transylvania. Under pressure from the Turks between 1421 and 1526, the city heightened its walls.

The historic centre of Sighisoara is composed of a fortified site spread over a steeply sloping plateau and dominated by City Hill, and the Lower Town with its woody slopes lying below. These two sectors form an indissociable group corresponding to the historic boundaries of the medieval town.

Sighisoara is best known, not for its history as a Saxon town, but rather as the birth place of Vlad Dracul and Vlad the Impaler (aka Dracula). Although the historical Vlad the Impaler has nothing to do with vampires, the popularity of vampires in popular culture has made Sighisoara a popular tourist spot in Romania. Given the medieval nature of the town and the cemetery on the top of the hill, you could totally see a vampire movie being shot here.

Overview

Historic Center of Sighisoara

The Historic Center of Sighisoara is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Romania. This site was inscribed in 1999 and is known for its urban, Medieval European landscape. This small medieval city is in an excellent preserved state and most of the buildings that were constructed by the Saxon settlers during the medieval period still exist today.

The city of Sighisoara is also constructed on a hill, which protected it from invaders such as the Tatars. This was also partly responsible for the well-preserved state of the city.

About the Historic Center of Sighisoara

Historic Center of Sighisoara

The Historic Center of Sighisoara represents the old historic center for the city of Sighisoara in Romania. This town was established by the Saxon colonists during the 12th century. For 850 years, the historic town center is the only living and existing testament to the culture and history of the Transylvanian Saxons. Sighisoara is best known in history as the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, also known as the Dracula. However, there is more to Sighisoara than just Dracula.

If you want to learn about the exceptional cultural heritage of Romania, this is the best place to go to. You will find everything here that will remind you about the historical and cultural heritage of the town center. The medieval flair of this town is still evident and it also features a wide range of structures including painted monasteries, fortified churches, ancient Dacian ruins and wooden masterpieces. In fact, there are 25 architectural gems that are found within this UNESCO property that are recognized for their monumental, natural and scenic appeal.

In an effort to retain and honor its rich cultural heritage, Sighisoara is the venue for a medieval festival that is held annually. This festival features arts, crafts, stage plays and rock music. Even though it is smaller than other neighboring cities or towns, like Sibiu or Brasov, it is rich in architectural gem that is reminiscent of medieval Germany. During the Communist history of the city, the German area of the town was richly preserved such that what it looks like now is the same as it did during the Communist era.

In addition to the medieval flair and architectural landscape, the historic center of Sighisoara is also strategically positioned in the trade routes of the Ottoman Empire and the rest of Central Europe. Hence, it was also commercially important. During its heyday in the 16th to 17th centuries, Sighisoara had 15 guilds and 20 handicraft branches.

How to Get Here

Historic Center of Sighisoara

Want to explore the Historic Center of Sighisoara? There are several travel options to get to Sighisoara. If you are traveling from outside Romania, the closest airport is the Targu Mures Airport in Recea, Romania (about 30 miles away) or the Sibiu Airport (about 54 miles).

You can also travel by train via the Sighisoara Train Station. There are daily trips available to and from Budapest. The total travel time is around 10 hours. If you are traveling from Vienna, you can also take the train and it will take about 12 hours. If you are traveling from Bucharest, there are also domestic trains available at several times during the day.


View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Romania.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #138: Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue

UNESCO World Heritage Site #138: Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue
UNESCO World Heritage Site #138: Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue

From the World Heritage inscription:

This site has the remains of monuments such as the Roman city of Aquincum and the Gothic castle of Buda, which have had a considerable influence on the architecture of various periods. It is one of the world’s outstanding urban landscapes and illustrates the great periods in the history of the Hungarian capital.

I spent several days in Budpest but I’d go back in a heartbeat. I feel like I barely scratched the surface of the city. Central Europe was a part of the world that I never learned much about in history class. Hungary was in WWI and the Soviet Block and that’s about it. This is a very rich city in terms of culture, history and architecture. The goulash isn’t bad either.

Overview

Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue

Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrassy Avenue is a world heritage site in Hungary. This property covers more than 473 hectares in land area and was inscribed into the UNESCO list in 1987. The site is culturally significant because it contains the remains of important monuments in the city such as the Gothic castle of Buda and the Roman City of Aquincum. These structures are just two of the architectural features within the city that significantly impacted the architecture of Budapest in the succeeding decades and periods. In addition, Budapest features one of the world’s most outstanding urban landscapes that showcase the history of the Hungarian capital.

In 2002, the areas that were comprised within this UNESCO property were extended.

About the Banks of Danube and Budapest

Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue

The history of settlement along the banks of the Danube River date back to the Palaeolithic period. During this time, the city was known as the Roman City of Aquincum. This ancient city is located on the northern part of the currently inscribed UNESCO site, wherein it is made up of two originally separate cities: Buda and Pest. Pest was known as the first medieval urban center in the area at this time, however it felt into ruins from 1241 to 1242. Meanwhile, the construction of the Buda Castle was commissioned for by King Bela IV. This ancient city therefore showcases the history of the Hungarian monarchy.

By the 19th century, the Hungarian Academy was established and it further cemented the role of the city as the country’s capital. The neo-gothic Parliament building was constructed thereafter. In 1849, the WT Clark suspension bridge was constructed and it re-unified Buda and Pest. To complete the unification of the two cities and to establish it as a modern metropolis, the radial Andrassy Avenue was developed. This transformed the urban structure of the city and the development just took off from there.

Budapest is therefore one of the most culturally diverse urban landscapes in Europe. It became the center for disseminating cultural influences and became the symbol of urban development in this part of the region. The city has remained resilient despite several periods of devastation. Despite the development, Budapest has also retained the structural characteristics that were unique to the old cities of Buda and Pest.

What to See

Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue

Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrassy Avenue is a packed UNESCO site filled with many sights to see and explore. Tourists can visit each of these sites to get a glimpse into the history and evolution of the city of Budapest. Furthermore, you can get a first-hand experience of the beautiful Gothic and Medieval architecture of this urban center.

Below are a list of the must-visit structures and monuments in Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrassy Avenue:

  • Buda Castle Quarter
  • Banks of the Danube River
  • Citadel on Gellert Hill
  • Freedom Statue
  • Gellert Spa Baths
  • Parliament Building
  • István Széchenyi Square
  • Hungarian Academy of Science
  • Gresham Palace
  • Four Bridges over Danube River

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Hungary.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #137: Old City of Berne

UNESCO World Heritage Site #137: The Old City of Bern
UNESCO World Heritage Site #137: The Old City of Bern

From the World Heritage inscription:

Founded in the 12th century on a hill site surrounded by the Aare River, Berne developed over the centuries in line with a an exceptionally coherent planning concept. The buildings in the Old City, dating from a variety of periods, include 15th-century arcades and 16th-century fountains. Most of the medieval town was restored in the 18th century but it has retained its original character.

Bern is what you think of when you think of a Swiss city. It was actually my favorite city in Switzerland and I found it much more enjoyable than Zurich or Basel. The old city retains many of the traditional part of a Swiss town including the former apartment of Albert Einstein. It doesn’t get the attention of Geneva or Zurich, but I would highly recommend visiting if you are going to be in Switzerland.

Overview

Old City of Berne

The Old City of Berne is one of the cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Switzerland. This cultural landscape is recognized for how this medieval town adapted its landscape to become a modern capital. The city of Berne was originally founded in 1191 by the Duke of Zahringen. In 1405, it was hit with a disastrous fire that nearly destroyed the wooden-built town. After the fire, the entire town of Berne was rebuilt using sandstone. Since the sandstone structures were built, the city has remained unchanged until today.

This medieval European landscape that is represented by the Old City of Berne was inscribed to the UNESCO list in 1983. The city was named the capital of Switzerland in 1848.

About the Old City of Berne

Old City of Berne

The high preservation level of the medieval townscape of Berne helped it earn the recognition from UNESCO as a cultural property. Aside from its medieval history, the city of Berne exudes a lot of small town charm. This quaint old town is bordered by the Aare Riverand and provides you with glorious views of the Swiss Alps. The city is built on a narrow hill wherein the layout has remained intact since the medieval times. The Old City is where you will also find the tallest cathedral in Switzerland (Munster) along with several other Renaissance fountains, churches and old buildings. The city also serves as the seat of the municipal and federal government of Switzerland.

Prior to the Great Fire of 1405, the city of Berne consisted mostly of wooden structures and buildings. However, the fire nearly wiped out the entire town. When it was rebuilt, they used sandstone for re-constructing the buildings and structures. Many believe that the Old City of Berne owes it to this disastrous fire to have established that coherent town planning concept. All stone houses were built using a similar medieval style. In the 15th century, the famous arcade was added along with many expansions done on houses. The next three centuries saw slight modifications on these houses and buildings but the key elements in the design and materials remained intact.

Outside the walls of the Old City, there were other neighboring communities. This is what has made an impression with UNESCO knowing that despite the growth of modern cities around it, the medieval core of the Old City was untouched. The modernization on the neighboring communities around the Old City of Berne did open up new opportunities to develop the old city without changing its authentic medieval character. In addition, a bridge was built from 1842 to 1844 that will cross the Aare River. This bridge was larger than the old bridge of Untertorbrucke, which was built in the 15th century, and still exists today.

What to See

Old City of Berne

There are several notable historic buildings and fountains found within the Old City of Berne. These buildings and structures reflect the medieval character that is deeply embedded within the city. Aside from being part of the world heritage property, some of these structures are also included in the Swiss’ Cultural Property of National and Regional Significance.

Munster (Cathedral)

The Munster of Bern is the tallest church in Switzerland. It is a Protestant Gothic cathedral that was constructed in 1421 while the bell tower was completed in 1893. Aside from the church, the bell tower is also recognized as the tallest bell tower in the country. The main portal of this church is filled with a rare collection of Gothic sculpture depicting the Last Judgment in the Christian belief. The stained glass windows in this church are considered most valuable of its kind in Switzerland. They date back to the mid-1400s.

Zytglogge

Old City of Berne

This is one of the most notable structures within the Old City of Berne. This is a medieval clock tower that has been around since 1220. It is also one of the city’s most recognizable symbols. It is one of the three oldest clocks in the country.

Fountains

There are up to 100 public fountains in Berne. These fountains and statues were built during a period of civic movement during the 16th century. When they were first built though, these fountains were designed to provide public water supply. When Berne developed, the fountains were expanded and decorated although their original purpose and style were retained.


View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Switzerland.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

July 2011 Question & Answers

Time once again to dip into the mailbag here from the Canary Islands….

Dru Stefan Stone asks: Are you all self-financed or how are you able to sustain your extensive travels? While I believe I’ve read it is a combination, is it because of your blog that you have been contacted by different entities?

For basically the first 3 1/2 years I traveled I covered the costs of everything. I sold a business over 10 years ago and also sold my home to help fund my travels.

It has only been in the last year or so that I’ve had some trips covered by tourism boards and other companies.

Also, as my website has grown, more opportunities have come in for me to earn revenue which is also helping me travel. Continue reading “July 2011 Question & Answers”

8 Facts You Might Not Have Known About the Canary Islands

After driving around the Pyrenees Mountains for a week I’ve changed scenery and have gone to the Canary Islands. I’ve been on the island of Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Graciosa and Tenerife and will be on La Gomera and La Palma next week. So far it has been great with amazing weather.

I realize that many people have no clue where they Canary Islands are or much about them, so I figured it was time for another installment of “8 Facts You Might Not Have Known…”

1) They were not named after canary birds.

Despite the name, the islands were not named after canaries, the cute, chirping birds. It comes from the latin word for dog, “canaria”. One story is that when some of the first Europeans arrived, they found large dogs on the island of Grand Canary. In fact, they might not even even named after dogs at all, but rather after seals which used to inhabit the island, which the Romans called “sea dogs”.
Continue reading “8 Facts You Might Not Have Known About the Canary Islands”