Category Archive: Daily Photo

San Antonio Missions

Posted by on August 8, 2015

UNESCO World Heritage Site #299 - San Antonio Missions

San Antonio Missions: My 299th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the San Antonio Missions:

The site encompasses a group of five frontier mission complexes situated along a stretch of the San Antonio River basin in southern Texas, as well as a ranch located 37 kilometers to the south. It includes architectural and archaeological structures, farmlands, residences, churches, and granaries, as well as water distribution systems. The complexes were built by Franciscan missionaries in the 18th century and illustrate the Spanish Crown’s efforts to colonize, evangelize and defend the northern frontier of New Spain. The San Antonio Missions are also an example of the interweaving of Spanish and Coahuiltecan cultures, illustrated by a variety of features, including the decorative elements of churches, which combine Catholic symbols with indigenous designs inspired by nature.

The Missions of San Antonio are United States’s newest world heritage site. In fact, it was listed at the World Heritage Convention in Bonn, Germany just one week before I visited.

The site consists of 5 missions in the San Antonio area. They are:

  • The Alamo
  • Mission San José
  • Mission San Juan
  • Mission Concepción
  • Mission Espada

The Alamo is owned and maintained by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. The other four missions are run by the National Park Service.

Most people visiting San Antonio will probably visit The Alamo, which is the most popular tourist attraction in the State of Texas. Given the historic events which occurred at The Alamo and its role in Texas independence, not to mention the fact that it is right in the middle of San Antonio, it is no surprise. On the plus side, it is also very close to the San Antonio Riverwalk.

However, from a visitation perspective, I think The Alamo might be the least interesting of the five missions. It is by far the smallest, and it surrounded by touristy things like a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum. I’m not saying you shouldn’t visit The Alamo (you should), so much as you should visit the other missions as well.

All the missions are relatively close, lying only 2-3 miles apart from each other. If you have a car it is quite easy to drive between the missions with less than a 10 minute drive between them.

The other missions are much larger than The Alamo and give you a better feel for how they were laid out. The rest still have their walls and courtyard intact.

It should also be noted that the missions, which were built as Catholic churches by the Spanish Empire, are still functional churches today. They still have services on Sundays and events like weddings do occasionally take place. Unless you wish to attend a service, you might want to avoid visiting on Sunday mornings.

Along with Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the Statue of Liberty, the missions are the only urban world heritage sites in the US. As such they are very easy to visit if you are in the San Antonio area.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 16, 2017 @ 6:31 pm

Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan”

Posted by on July 3, 2015

UNESCO World Heritage Site #298: Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan”

Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan”: My 298th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan”:

Situated on the eastern bank of the River Jordan, nine kilometers north of the Dead Sea, the archaeological site consists of two distinct areas: Tell Al-Kharrar, also known as Jabal Mar-Elias (Elijah’s Hill) and the area of the churches of Saint John the Baptist near the river. Situated in a pristine natural environment the site is believed to be the location where Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist. It features Roman and Byzantine remains including churches and chapels, a monastery, caves that have been used by hermits and pools in which baptisms were celebrated, testifying to the religious character of the place. The site is a Christian place of pilgrimage.

During a trip to Jordan in 2013, I had the pleasure of visiting the Bethany Baptism site which is on the banks of the Jordan river. The overall site has several Christian churches from several denominations.

The actual historic location is pretty underwhelming, as you can see in the photo. There are the ruins of churches which have stood on the spot, but currently, there is no church marking the location. There is another site on the other side of the border in Israel, but historically it was the East Bank of the Jordan River where it was believed Jesus was baptized.

This site is one of several early Christian sites in the region including the nativity church in Bethlehem and the church in Nazareth.

So long as you have transportation, getting here isn’t that difficult as it is a popular tourist attraction with pilgrims.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Jordan.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 10, 2017 @ 10:55 am

Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point

Posted by on April 9, 2015

UNESCO World Heritage Site #294: Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point

Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point: My 294th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point:

Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point owes its name to a 19th-century plantation close to the site, which is in the Lower Mississippi Valley on a slightly elevated and narrow landform. The complex comprises five mounds, six concentric semi-elliptical ridges separated by shallow depressions and a central plaza. It was created and used for residential and ceremonial purposes by a society of hunter-fisher-gatherers between 3700 and 3100 BP. It is a remarkable achievement in earthen construction in North America that was unsurpassed for at least 2,000 years.

Poverty Point is a Louisiana State Historic Site and (as of the time of writing) the United States’ most recent world heritage site.

Poverty Point is an important site in the development of early civilization in North America, however, like the Cahokia Mounds world heritage site in Illinois, it is not very photogenic. The site consists of several earthen semicircles, most of which have been plowed or eroded to a point where you can barely notice they are there. The primary remaining structure is a large mound which today simply looks like a grass covered hill.

There is evidence of human settlement at Poverty Point dating back 3,500 years, making it one of the oldest known settlements north of Mexico.

Poverty Point is located in northeast Louisiana and isn’t really next to any major cities. The closest major airport would probably be Shreveport which is about a three-hour drive.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 16, 2017 @ 6:36 pm

Archaeological Site of Delphi

Posted by on November 3, 2014

UNESCO World Heritage Site #287: Archaeological Site of Delphi

Archaeological Site of Delphi: My 287th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Archaeological Site of Delphi:

The layout of Delphi is a unique artistic achievement. Mount Parnassus is a masterpiece where a series of monuments were built whose modular elements – terraces, temples, treasuries, etc. – combine to form a strong expression of the physical and moral values of a site which may be described as magical. Situated in a magnificent natural setting which is still intact, it is an outstanding example of a great Pan-Hellenic sanctuary.

During the Mycenaean period, the female deity of Earth was worshipped in the small settlement of Delphi, Greece. The development of the sanctuary and oracle were to begin in the 8th century BC with the establishment of the cult of Apollo. Under the protection and administration of the Amphictyony, the sanctuary continued to be autonomous after the First Sacred War and, as a result, increased its Pan-Hellenic religious and political influence. The Pythian Games were reorganized, the sanctuary was enlarged, and it was enriched with fine buildings, statues, and other offerings. In the 3rd century BC it came under the domination of the Aetolians and later, in 191 BC, was conquered by the Romans. During the Roman period, the site was plundered on occasions, but it was also favoured by some of the Emperors. With the spread of Christianity, the sanctuary lost its religious meaning and was closed down by Theodosius the Great.

Along with the Acropolis in Athens, the Archaeological Site of Delphi is probably the best known ancient Greek site in the world. Stories of the Oracle of Delphi permeate stories from that era and when you visit the site, you can see why the ancient Greeks considered it special.

Situated on a hillside, Delphi has an incredible view of the surrounding mountains, valley and the nearby coast. You can easily see why the ancient thought it to be a special place when you visit.

The nearby town of Delphi is more of less built around tourism, so it is an easy place to visit and there is a decent tourism infrastructure. It is about a 2-hour drive from Athens, so it is possible to visit on a day trip. I’d estimate a proper visit of the site to take a least 2 hours, which will include a fair amount of walking up and downhills.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 10, 2017 @ 3:30 pm

Old Town of Corfu

Posted by on November 2, 2014

UNESCO World Heritage Site #286: Old Town of Corfu

Old Town of Corfu: My 286th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription the Old Town of Corfu:

Corfu, the first of the Ionian Islands encountered at the entrance to the Adriatic, was annexed to Greece by a group of Eretrians (775-750 BCE). In 734 BCE the Corinthians founded a colony known as Kerkyra to the south of where the Old Town now stands. The town became a trading post on the way to Sicily and founded further colonies in Illyria and Epirus. The coast of Epirus and Corfu itself came under the sway of the Roman Republic (229 BCE) and served as the jumping-off point for Rome’s expansion into the east. In the reign of Caligula two disciples of the Apostle Paul, St Jason, Bishop of Iconium, and Sosipater, Bishop of Tarsus, introduced Christianity to the island.

Corfu fell to the Eastern Empire at the time of the division in 336 and entered a long period of unsettled fortunes, beginning with the invasion of the Goths (551).

The population gradually abandoned the old town and moved to the peninsula surmounted by two peaks (the korifi) where the ancient citadel now stands. The Venetians, who were beginning to play a more decisive role in the southern Adriatic, came to the aid of a failing Byzantium, thereby conveniently defending their own trade with Constantinople against the Norman prince Robert Guiscard. Corfu was taken by the Normans in 1081 and returned to the Byzantine Empire in 1084.

Following the Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204, the Byzantine Empire was broken up and, in return for their military support, the Venetians obtained all the naval bases they needed to control the Aegean and the Ionian Seas, including Corfu, which they occupied briefly from 1204 to 1214. For the next half-century, the island fell under the sway of the Despots of Epirus (1214-67) and then that of the Angevins of Naples (1267-1368), who used it to further their policies against both the Byzantine Empire now re-established in Constantinople and the Republic of Venice. The tiny medieval town grew up between the two fortified peaks, the Byzantine Castel da Mare and the Angevin Castel di Terra, in the shelter of a defensive wall fortified with towers. Writings from the first half of the 13th century tell of a separation of administrative and religious powers between the inhabitants of the citadel and those of the outlying parts of the town occupying what is now the Spianada.

In order to assert its naval and commercial power in the Southern Adriatic, the Republic of Venice took advantage of the internal conflicts raging in the Kingdom of Naples to take control of Corfu (1386-1797). Alongside Negropont (Chalcis), Crete, and Modon (Methoni), it would form one of the bases from which to counter the Ottoman maritime offensive and serve as a revictualling station for ships en route to Romania and the Black Sea.

The ongoing work on defining, improving, and expanding the medieval fortified perimeter reflects the economic and strategic role of Corfu during the four centuries of Venetian occupation. In the early 15th century activity concentrated on the medieval town, with the development of harbor facilities (docks, quays, and arsenals) and continued with the renovation of the defense works. Early in the following century a canal was dug, cutting off the medieval town from its suburbs.

Following the siege of the town by the Turks in 1537 and the burning of the suburbs, a new program of works was launched to isolate the citadel further and strengthen its defenses. The strip of land (now the Spianada) cleared in 1516 was widened by demolishing houses facing the citadel walls, two new bastions were raised on the banks of the canal, the elevation of the perimeter walls was lowered, and the two castelli were replaced by new structures. The work, based on plans drawn by Veronese architect Michele Sanmicheli (1487-1559), were completed in 1558, bringing the town’s defenses up to date with the rapid progress made in artillery in recent decades.

Yet another siege by the Turks in 1571 decided the Venetians to embark on a vast project covering the medieval town, its suburbs, the harbor, and all the military buildings (1576-88). Ferrante Vitelli, an architect to the Duke of Savoy, sited a fort (the New Fort) on the low hill of St Mark to the west of the old town to command the surrounding land and at sea, and also the 24 suburbs enclosed by a ditched wall with bastions and four gates. More buildings, both military and civil, were erected and the 15th-century Mandraki harbor was restructured and enlarged. At the same time, the medieval town was converted to more specifically military uses (the cathedral was transferred to the new town in the 17th century) to become the Old Citadel.

I knew almost nothing about Corfu before I arrived, which made the surprise that was waiting for me even greater.

I really liked the Old Town of Corfu. It was a more relaxed version of Dubrovnik. The fact that I arrived at the end of October and everything was really cheap didn’t hurt either.

Unless you fly, getting to Corfu will require a 2-hour ferry ride from the mainland.

The history of the Old Town of Corfu is really tied more to Venice than it is to the rest of Greece. In addition to Dubrovnik (which was not Venetian), Kotor, Split and Venice itself are all world heritage sites in the region which are similar.

I can easily see myself returning to the Old Town of Corfu again. While it is a tourist town, I get the feeling it caters more to Greeks than to people from outside the country.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 10, 2017 @ 3:39 pm


Posted by on November 1, 2014

UNESCO World Heritage Site #285: Meteora

Meteora: My 285th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Meteora:

‘Suspended in the air’ (the meaning of Meteora in Greek), these monasteries represent a unique artistic achievement and are one of the most powerful examples of the architectural transformation of a site into a place of retreat, meditation, and prayer. The Meteora provide an outstanding example of the types of monastic construction which illustrate a significant stage in history, that of the 14th and 15th centuries when the eremitic ideals of early Christianity were restored to a place of honour by monastic communities, both in the Western world (in Tuscany, for example) and in the Orthodox Church.

Built under impossible conditions, with no practicable roads, permanent though precarious human habitations subsist to this day in the Meteora, but have become vulnerable under the impact of time. The net in which intrepid pilgrims were hoisted up vertically alongside the 373 m cliff where the Varlaam monastery dominates the valley symbolizes the fragility of a traditional way of life that is threatened with extinction.

The monasteries are built on rock pinnacles of deltaic origin, known as Meteora, which rise starkly over 400 m above the Peneas valley and the small town of Kalambaka on the Thessalian plain. Chemical analysis suggests that the pinnacles were created some 60 million years ago in the Tertiary period, emerging from the cone of a river and further transformed by earthquakes. The Meteora are enormous residual masses of sandstone and conglomerate which appeared through fluvial erosion. Seismic activity increased the number of fault lines and fissures and hewed the shapeless masses into individual sheer rock columns. Hermits and ascetics probably began settling in this extraordinary area in the 11th century. In the late 12th century a small church called the Panaghia Doupiani or Skete was built at the foot of one of these ‘heavenly columns’, where monks had already taken up residence.

During the fearsome time of political instability in 14th century Thessaly, monasteries were systematically built on top of the inaccessible peaks so that by the end of the 15th century there were 24 of them. They continued to flourish until the 17th century. Today, only four monasteries – Aghios Stephanos, Aghia Trias, Varlaam, and Meteoron – still house religious communities.

What to say about Meteora….

This is one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever been. The monasteries and the rock formations are incredible and like something you will probably never see anywhere else in the world.

When people think of Greece they often think of the Acropolis or of white buildings on islands in the Aegean. I think the pillars of Meteora should be considered on of, if not the iconic image of Greece.

The town of Kalabaka lies below Meteora and is where most people stay. While cruise ships do visit by bus, it isn’t really a day trip from anywhere. Plan to spend at least one full day in the area visiting monasteries and taking photos. I actually spent 3 days taking photos, which was well worth it. The weather was different on each day, which made for great photography.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 10, 2017 @ 3:43 pm

Monasteries of Daphni, Hosios Loukas and Nea Moni of Chios

Posted by on October 31, 2014

UNESCO World Heritage Site #284: Monasteries of Daphni, Hosios Loukas and Nea Moni of Chios

Monasteries of Daphni, Hosios Loukas and Nea Moni of Chios: My 284th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Monasteries of Daphni, Hosios Loukas and Nea Moni of Chios:

Although geographically distant from each other (Daphni is located in Attica, Greece, 11 km from Athens; Hossios Luckas in Phocis, 67 km from the capital, and Nea Moni in the centre of the island of Chios), the three properties belong to the same typological series and share the same aesthetic characteristics. These three monasteries are outstanding examples of a type of construction characteristic of the middle period of Byzantine religious architecture. Nea Moni illustrates the simplest expression, an octagonal church with no added spaces. Hossios Luckas and Daphni are more complex: they have a central octagonal space surrounded by a series of bays that form a square. This more elaborate structure defines a hierarchy of volumes and functions and permits the implementation of an extensive iconographic and decorative plan.

The Monastery of Daphni, located on the ancient sacred road from Athens to Eleusis, replaced a temple dedicated to Apollo Daphneios which had been destroyed in 396 AD. In the 5th century, a basilica was built adjoining a wall that had been restored and completed under the reign of Justinian (527-65). It formed a square enceinte, 97 m on a side; a large part of the north wall, originally 8 m high, survives. This first monastery, discovered through a series of archaeological remains, was abandoned during the Slav invasions in the 7th and 8th centuries. It was not until 1100, when the Byzantine Empire was at its apogee under Alexis I Comnenus, that it rose out of its ruins. The church was built at that time. It had a narthex, to which a two-storey exonarthex was added a short time later. Other monastic buildings such as the refectory, cells and a well were built during the same building campaign and the church was sumptuously decorated with mosaics portraying the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. In 1205 the monastery was sacked by Frankish crusaders. In 1207 the Duke of Athens, Otho de la Roche, gave it to the Cistercians of the Abbey of Bellevaux. They built a cloister and remodeled the exonarthex and the enceinte wall but without altering the mosaics. Daphni was returned to Orthodox monks after Athens was taken by the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II in 1458. Deconsecrated in 1821, the monastery has been undergoing restoration work since 1888.

The Monastery of Hossios Luckas is 37 km from Delphi on the western slope of the Helicon: here a hermit named Lukas the Stiriote made his home in 946 among the ruins of a temple dedicated to Demeter. The holy man died in 953. A work on his life mentions a primitive church dedicated to St Barbara. In the latter half of the 10th century, construction on another church for pilgrims was begun. The topography of the vast polygonal enclosure of the monastery, which extends haphazardly on an east-west axis, still bears traces of successive additions and testifies to the enduring success of the cult to St Luke of Phocis. The immense central volume of the dome, 9 m in diameter, which rests on a drum pierced with sixteen windows, is supported on three sides by groin-vaulted bays. The bema and the apse define the cross-in-square plan of the church, which is one of the most perfect creations of Byzantine architecture. The church is filled with iconographic treasures of a magnitude and coherence rarely equaled. Its complex, compartmentalized plan is unified into a harmonious and luxurious whole by the rich decor of mosaics, frescoes, and marble slabs.

The construction of the monastery of Nea Moni of Chios is fully documented as it was linked to a major event in Byzantine history. Constantine the Gladiator, a nobleman living in exile, was told by two monks of Chios, Nicetas and John, that he would become Emperor. When Constantine Monomachos married the twice-widowed 64-year-old Empress Zoe in 1042, thus becoming Basileus, he remembered the prediction. In 1045 he founded the monastery, choosing as its site a valley on Chios on the slopes of Mount Aetos and bestowing it with possessions and privileges. The dome, approximately 7 m in diameter, has no lateral bays but is placed between a triconch sanctuary and a narthex preceded by an exonarthex with lateral sides. The fairly rustic architectural design is carried over into in the more primitive style of the mosaics, which have a slightly Oriental flavor. Far from the somewhat abstract humanism of the decor at Daphni and Hossios Luckas, the typical characters portrayed at Nea Moni offer the stimulating counterpoint of more naïve art, a folk transcription of the great models of Constantinople.

As you can see in the world heritage inscription, the Monasteries of Daphni, Hosios Loukas and Nea Moni of Chios consists of three different monasteries in three disparate locations. I visited 2 of the 3 monasteries: Delphi and Hossios Luckas (St. Luke’s).

The Daphni monastery is located on the outskirts of Athens. It is across the street from an insane asylum and ‘Daphni’ is the local term for going to the asylum. It is currently under a massive renovation, repairing damage from an earlier earthquake. They are also cleaning the many frescos and mosaics in the church. The interior and exterior of the building are currently covered with scaffolding. This means there isn’t much to see until it is finished in 2016. However, until it is finished, it is open on Tuesdays and Fridays to the public. The upside of the scaffolding is that you can climb up to get a view of the mosaics that would otherwise be impossible.

Hossios Luckas is located about 40km from Delphi. I visited on a late Friday afternoon and the doors were open. There is no admission price, nor were there any monks watching over the site when I was there. It appears to be bigger than Daphni, but it is hard to make a comparison with all the scaffolding. The artwork inside was exquisite. A trip to Hossios Luckas should be part of any trip to Delphi as you will have to pass near by anyhow.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 10, 2017 @ 4:03 pm

North American National Park #34: Kootenay, British Columbia

Posted by on August 31, 2014

North American National Park #34: Kootenay, British Columbia

North American National Park #34: Kootenay, British Columbia

Kootenay is adjacent to two other national parks: Banff (which borders to the east) and Yoho (which borders to the north). It is also a component of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As with Yoho, there is one primary highway which runs through the park, and everything you’d want to see is accessible from that road. It is larger than Yoho and as such there is more to see. The most notable attraction in the park are the Radium Hot Springs, from which the nearby town of Radium gets its name. Other stops worth taking some time to visit include Marble Canyon (shown above), Kootenay Valley Viewpoint, Numa Falls, and the Paint Pots.

Like Yoho, Kootenay can be visited on a day trip if you are in Banff as most of the attractions are located along Highway 93. If you wish to stay near the park, the closest town would be Radium, BC which is located right at the southern border of the park.