Monthly Archives: July 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #141: Boyana Church

Posted by on July 31, 2011

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 storey 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, are 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.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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

Posted by on July 30, 2011

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.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #139: Historic Centre of Sighisoara

Posted by on July 29, 2011

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.

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

Posted by on July 28, 2011

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.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #137: Old City of Berne

Posted by on July 27, 2011

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.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Monday’s Links for Curious People: New York City Edition (on Tuesday)

Posted by on July 26, 2011

The Gran Telescopio Canarias on the island of La Palma

The Gran Telescopio Canarias on the island of La Palma

After what was perhaps the most hectic periods of traveling I’ve had in the last 4.5 years, I’ve finally arrived back in in the USA. I’ll be in New York the next few days meeting with some of my readers, other bloggers and having business meetings.

My last few weeks in Spain was busy but very productive. I managed to see some amazing things including the world’s largest telescope, the 10.4m Gran Telescopio Canarias in La Palma, El Tiede on the island of Tenerife, Garajonay National Park on the island of La Gomera, Timanfaya National Park on Lanzarote and Las Canteras beach on the island of Gran Canaria.

Now that I’m back in the US I’ve begun chaining gears. I finished editing my photos from Switzerland and Budapest on the flight from Valencia and got a start on my 1,800 photos I took in the Yukon. Expect a flood of stuff to come down the pipe the next few months. (more…)