My 10 Most Memorable Hotels of 2011

I stay in a lot of different hotels. A LOT of hotels. They range from 5-start luxury hotels to youth hostels. Some I pay for myself (aka the cheap ones) and others are provided by tourist boards (aka the nice ones).

The majority of the places I stay at all sort of blur into one another in my memory. There is nothing about them which makes them stick out and I often forget where I even stayed in a given city. However, there are a few places which I do remember.

I don’t do hotel reviews, so I’m not claiming that these properties are the “best” nor am I giving them any sort of rating. I’m also not saying that the hotels not on the list weren’t any good. These hotels just had something about them which made them stick out in my mind. Sometimes it was the view, sometimes it was the history of the building and other times it might have been the service.

You will notice that these properties are also all over the map. I’ve included 5-star resorts, youth hostels, business hotels and even a truck stop. The hotels are listed in chronologically, in the order in which I stayed in them in 2011.
Continue reading “My 10 Most Memorable Hotels of 2011”

UNESCO World Heritage Site #171: Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn

UNESCO World Heritage Site #171: Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn
UNESCO World Heritage Site #171: Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn

From the World Heritage inscription:

The monuments of the Bend of the Boyne display longevity of settlement whose origins are found in Neolithic settlements The various monuments, particularly the great passage tomb, represent important cultural, social, artistic and scientific developments over a considerable length of time. Nowhere else in the world is found the continuity of settlement and activity associated with a megalithic cemetery such as that which exists at Brugh na Bòinne. The passage tomb complex represents a spectacular survival of the embodiment of a set of ideas and beliefs of outstanding historical significance unequalled in its counterparts throughout the rest of Europe.

The World Heritage site of the Bend of the Boyne (Brugh na Boìnne in Irish) covers some 780 ha and takes its name from the fact that it is defined on the south, east and west sides by the River Boyne; part of the northern boundary is formed by the River Mattock. It is essentially a ridge running east-west with three low hills on it (Dowth, Knowth and Newgrange). These three great burial mounds dominate the whole area, and are surrounded by about 40 satellite passage-graves, to constitute a great prehistoric funerary landscape. Its intense ritual significance inevitably attracted later monuments, both in protohistory and in the Christian period. The importance of the site is enhanced by the fact that the River Boyne communicates both with the Celtic Sea and the heartland of Ireland, and so it has considerable economic and political significance.

The Bend of the Byone is a collection of ancient burial mounds that date back many thousands of years before the arrival of Christianity.

The most interesting thing about the burial chambers is that each one points in a different astronomical direction. The one I visited, Newgrange, is aligned with where the sun rises on the winter solstice. The alignment is such that it compensates for the hills in the region. Each year there is a lottery to allow people to enter the chamber for sunrise on the solstice. The chamber can only hold about a dozen people, but over 20,000 people enter the lottery each year. There is no guarantee that winning the lotter will let you see the sun ray which enters the mound as weather conditions could prevent it.

To visit the Bend of the Byone, take the train to Drogheda and from there take a taxi. Drivers should know where it is. If not tell them you are going to the Newgrange visitor center.

Near by is also the location of the Battle of the Byone, which was fought between Catholic King James and the Protestant King William in 1690.


Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn

The Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn is a cultural site added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ireland. It was inscribed in 1993 and is made up of 40 burial mounds or passage tombs. Archaeologists believe that these burial mounds and tombs date back to the 3300 to 2900 BCE. Due to its artistic and cultural significance, as well as the size of the collection, it was given World Heritage status by UNESCO. To this day, it is the largest remains from the Neolithic era that was uncovered in Europe.

About Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn

The Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn is a prehistoric site located along the northern bank of River Boyne. It is located 50 kilometers to the north of Dublin. Aside from being known as burial mounds, this site is also known as the largest prehistoric megalithic art from the Neolithic era. The monuments that are found within this complex had social, religious, economic, and funerary functions to them.

Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn

The sites that are included within the World Heritage Site are as follows:

  • Dowth Hall passage graves
  • Townleyhall passage grave
  • Newgrange cursus
  • Cloghalea Henge
  • Monknewton henge and ritual pond

The three large burial mounds that form the Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn are as follows: Knowth, Dowth, and Newgrange. These sites are surrounded or composed of 40 satellite passage graves that comprise a massive funerary landscape. In addition, this landscape is also believed to hold ritual ties on the region. This area, not just the location of the burial mounds, reflects the ancient past of Ireland to a great extent.

The protected area of the Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn spans 780 hectares in land area. As of now, there are 90 documented monuments and a few more unrecorded sites. Hence, archaeologists believe that the site is bigger than what is actually known. A buffer zone that spans up to 2,500 hectares was established in order to protect the integrity of the site. Since it was inscribed, the M1 bridge that crosses the River Boyne has had a huge impact on this property, and so did the housing developments nearby. This makes the ritual center vulnerable to various factors that could threaten its integrity.

Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn

Tourists who would like to visit and explore the Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn, you can do so by guided tour only. You can inquire about the tour at the Visitor Centre located in Donore, County Meath.

This was the twelfth and final stop on my Eurail trip of UNESCO sites in Europe.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

December 2011 Question and Answers

December 2011 Q&AI hope that everyone is enjoying their holidays. Since I’ve arrived back in Wisconsin I’ve been spending my time editing photos and trying to catch up on work which has piled up over the last few months. I had over 4,500 from the last 2 months and I’m now down to 2,000. You can see some of my results in my Galapagos Island photos. I’m also starting to get ready for my trip to Antarctica in January.

I thought I’d take a break from my photo editing to answer some reader questions. As always, you can submit questions via my Facebook page. Continue reading “December 2011 Question and Answers”

UNESCO World Heritage Site #170: Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

UNESCO World Heritage Site #170: Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd
UNESCO World Heritage Site #170: Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

From the World Heritage inscription:

The four castles of Beaumaris, Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech and the attendant fortified towns at Conwy and Caernarfon are the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe, as demonstrated through their completeness, pristine state, evidence for organized domestic space, and extraordinary repertory of their medieval architectural form.

The castles as a stylistically coherent groups are a supreme example of medieval military architecture designed and directed by James of St George, King Edward I of England’s chief architect, and the greatest military architect of the age.

The extensive and detailed contemporary technical, social, and economic documentation of the castles, and the survival of adjacent fortified towns at Caernarfon and Conwy, makes them one of the major references of medieval history.

The castles of Beaumaris and Harlech are unique artistic achievements for the way they combine characteristic 13th century double-wall structures with a central plan, and for the beauty of their proportions and masonry.

There are several significant things about the castles of Edward I in Wales:

1) The castle and walls of Conway might be the best preserved medieval city walls in Europe. The only other walls I’ve seen which were this quality were in Dubrovnik, Croatia. You can walk almost the entire

2) Caernarfon Castle is currently the location where the Prince of Wales is crowned. The round platform in the photo is the location of the crowning ceremony.

3) The entirety of the castles were part of the final conquest of Wales by the English. Having difficulty conquering the Welsh, Edward I created a ring of castles in the north of Wales to surround the mountains making it difficult for the Welsh to kick the English out.

I found the castles to be perhaps the most interesting attraction in Northern Wales.


Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

The Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Wales. This site consists of four castles and military fortifications dating back from the 13th and 14th century. This cultural site was recognized by UNESCO in 1986.

This group of structures is considered as the finest example of military architecture in Europe. They were built and re-built in the 1280s by English King Edward I. This was part of his plan to expand on the domain of his kingdom in northwestern part of Wales. As part of his conquest, he built the “Iron Ring” of castles that make up what is now the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

About the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

There are four castles and several walled towns in Gwynedd that are included in the UNESCO site Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd. You can find out more about them below, starting off with the four castles:

Harlech Castle

Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

This castle rests upon the Harlech Dome and features a concentric design. It comes with one line of defence that is enclosed by another defensive wall. This serves as the inner and outer ward for Harlech Castle. The entire castle is made out of grey-green sandstone along with large blocks of stone. The latter is used for making towers and used on walls, as well. A stone bridge must be crossed in order to enter this castle’s main entrance. However, this old stone bridge is now replaced with a timber entrance way.

This castle was reportedly built for by King Edward I in order to survey the surrounding hills. It also provides an unbeatable view of the nearby sea cliff.

Beaumaris Castle

Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

Unlike Harlech Castle that is built atop a sea cliff, this one is built on sea level. It was constructed using local Anglesey stone. Like the Harlech Castle, it does have an inner and outer ward that surrounds it as well. The castle features a “Gate next to the sea” entrance that is linked to the castle’s tidal dock. This made it possible for supplies to come into the castle directly from the sea.

This castle has often been described as the best example of symmetrical concentric planning out of the many castles that was built during Edward I’s reign. In fact, this was one of the best examples of the military engineering from this era.

Caernarfon Castle

The location of Caernarfon Castle makes it difficult to penetrate with some parts of the castle surrounded by the sea. The castle also is comprised of two parts: upper and lower ward. The lower ward contains the royal accommodation while the upper ward is dedicated for the service facilities. The entire castle is surrounded by polygonal towers and defensive firing galleries. There are two entrances to the castle, which are King’s Gate and the Queen’s Gate.

Conwy Castle

Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

Out of all the castles included in the UNESCO site, Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd, this one features the most royal touch. It comes with 8 large towers, private chambers, a great hall, rock fortifications and a massive kitchen fit for the royals. This castle is built on a rocky coastal ridge and is made of limestone and grey sandstone. In fact, most of the stones used for building this castle was taken from the ridge itself.

Walled Towns

Of the castles listed above, Conwy and Caernarfon are two that have incorporated walled towns to it. These walled towns are characterized by having towers and gate houses. At the same time, there is a garrison to which soldiers are called upon in order to quell any rebellious activities. Now that this era is over, these sites are collectively recognized by UNESCO as Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd. They reflect the Welsh royal history and has become a symbol of power.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #169: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal

UNESCO World Heritage Site #169: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal
UNESCO World Heritage Site #169: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Pontcysyllte Canal is a remarkable example of the construction of a human-engineered waterway in a difficult geographical environment, at the end of the 18th century and the start of the 19th century. It required extensive and boldly conceived civil engineering works. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is a pioneering masterpiece of engineering and monumental architecture by the famous civil engineer Thomas Telford. It was constructed using metal arches supported by tall, slender masonry piers. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal are early and outstanding examples of the innovations brought about by the Industrial Revolution in Britain, where they made decisive development in transport capacities possible. They bear witness to very substantial international interchanges and influences in the fields of inland waterways, civil engineering, land-use planning, and the application of iron in structural design.

Of the many world heritage sites I’ve visited, I’ve had the biggest surprises visiting the industrial themed sites. They don’t get the same amount of attention as the ancient sites do, but they are just as important to the development of the modern world.

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct doesn’t look like much at first, but at the time it was constructed in 1805, it was truly a wonder of the world. The aqueduct carries water traffic 126 ft (38.4m) above the valley which it crosses. It is considered perhaps the greatest engineering achievement of the great 19th Century engineer, Thomas Telford.

The aqueduct can be cross on foot or by canal barge. During the summer, there are many barges which carry passengers across the aqueduct.


Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal is a cultural site added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Wales in 2009. It is a navigable aqueduct that transports the Llangollen Canal through the Welsh River Dee. The stone and cast iron structure was officially opened in 1805 and took 10 years to build. It is comprised of 18 arches with a total length of 307 meters and a height of 38 meters. The structure was designed by Thomas Telford.

It is one of the Grade I listed building that was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A Grade I building is something that is considered of special architectural style, or historical and cultural significance.

About Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal is recognized by UNESCO for its natural beauty and industrial design. Aside from Thomas Telford, architect William Jessop also collaborated on building this cast-iron aqueduct on the Welsh-English border. After two centuries, it remains standing and is therefore a landmark that earned its spot in the World Heritage Site list.

The aqueduct also played a critical role on the central section of the Ellesmere Canal. This industrial waterway served as a commercial link for the River Mersey and River Severn. This project was not completed, however as the contractors realized that it would cost beyond their capacity to complete the project. Any other work was ceased until the aqueduct was completed in 1805. Eventually, a cheaper construction course was explored.

Fun Facts

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal

Below are some interesting facts you might want to know about Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal:

  • The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the main feature of this UNESCO site. However, the entire site covered within the UNESCO protected area is 11 miles long. Of this 11 miles, 10.5 miles belong to Wales and the remaining half mile is in England.
  • The UNESCO site has a buffer zone that includes the Horseshoe Falls and the Dee Valley downstream. Prior to being included in the UNESCO site buffer zone, this area is already recognized as a Historic Landscape area in Wales.
  • The mortar for the aqueduct is made from water, lime, and oxen blood.
  • The aqueduct can hold a capacity of up to 1.5 million liters of water. This will require two hours to drain that entire amount of water.
  • The first stone to build this aqueduct was laid in 1795. But the entire structure was completed in 1805.
  • The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal is the largest of its kind in Britain.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City

UNESCO World Heritage Site #168: Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City
UNESCO World Heritage Site #168: Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City

From the World Heritage inscription:

The city and port of Liverpool are exceptional testimony to the development of maritime mercantile culture in the 18th and 19th centuries, and played an important role in the growth of the British Empire. Liverpool is an outstanding example of a world mercantile port city, which represents the early development of global trading and cultural connections throughout the British Empire. The city was also a major centre generating innovative technologies and methods in dock construction and port management in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Six areas in the historic centre and docklands of Liverpool bear witness to the development of one of the world’s major trading centres in the 18th and 19th centuries, based on its harbour. The first ocean steamship left from Liverpool in 1840; from that date onwards the town became a fundamental link connecting Europe to America. It also became the major port for the mass movement of people: it was a centre for the slave trade until its abolition in 1807, and for emigration from northern Europe to America. Thousands of people from all over Europe gathered here to migrate to the New World.

The first thing most people think of when they hear Liverpool is the Beatles and maybe the Liverpool Football Club. The city however, has a richer history beyond rock and roll and soccer. The city was the port for the importation of cotton from the Americas.

The waterfront area harkens back to its Victorian, mercantile origins when it was one of the most important economic centers in Britain.


Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City

Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the UK. It was inscribed into the list in 2004 as a cultural site. In 2012, it was added to the list of UNESCO sites in Danger. This is a collective ensemble of six sites that are culturally and historically linked with Liverpool’s global commercial port industry. This port played a significant role in the development of the wealth of the British Empire.

The sites that were recognized into the Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City listing were from the 18th and 19th centuries. These structures included commercial offices, docks, warehouses, and residential properties near the site.

About Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City

The UNESCO-designated Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City is comprised of six different locations within the city center of Liverpool. It comprises several key landmarks of the city. All of these six locations represent a different component of the maritime history in Liverpool. The total area combined for all of these six locations is 136 hectares.

Below is a breakdown of the six sites and their importance to the UNESCO site as a whole:

The Pier Head

Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City

This is the focal point for the UNESCO listing of Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City. It represents the waterfront area of Liverpool and includes three of the area’s most notable landmarks: The Port of Liverpool Building, The Liver Building, and Cunard Building. These buildings are collectively known as The Three Graces. They are living proof of the wealth that Liverpool experienced in the late 19th to early 20th century. During this time, Liverpool had one of the most powerful ports in the world and it contributed to the economic success of the city.

There are several other notable buildings that were included in the protected area for The Pier Head. These are as follows: Cunard War Memorial, Monument of Edward VII, Memorial to the Engine Room Heroes of the Titanic, Sir Alfred Jones Memorial, and George’s Dock Ventilation Tower.

The Albert Dock

This complex consists of dock buildings and warehouses that played a significant role in the growth of wealth in Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City. It is located south of the Pier Head. The Albert Dock warehouses in Liverpool were designed by Philip Hardwick and Jesse Hartley. These warehouses were recognized as the first of its kind in the world in being fireproof as they are made with brick, stone and iron and there are no wooden components in it. On top of being fireproof, the Albert Dock warehouses are also built with advanced docking technology such as the first one to use hydraulic cranes.

After the Second World War, it experienced severe damage and it was quickly falling into a state of disrepair. By 1980s, a massive regeneration was undergone for these docking warehouses and was reopened in 1984. Today, it is a popular tourist attraction in the city.

The Stanley Dock Conservation Area

While the Albert Dock is located south of the Pier Head, this one is located on the north. It represents a huge portion of the Liverpool docking heartland. This site comprises several docking sites namely the Clarence Graving Dock, Stanley Dock, Salisbury Dock, and the Collingwood Dock. It also includes part of the Leeds Liverpool Canal, along with other smaller features like capstans, bridges, and bollards. There are two docks included in this area that are considered to be some of the oldest docks that remain in use until today. Aside from the docks themselves, the Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse and Victoria Clock Tower are two brick buildings that also belong within this UNESCO protected site.

Duke Street Conservation Area/Ropewalks

This part of the UNESCO site Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City is composed of two warehouses on College Lane and Bluecoat Chambers. By the time that Liverpool was emerging as a major port, this was one of those first areas in the city to experience rapid development. Meanwhile, the Bluecoat Chambers is one of the oldest buildings in Liverpool to have survived until today (it was built in 1715). The proximity of the conservation area to the Old Dock was also crucial to its wealth and success. Since it was close to the dock, it became the first choice of location for those looking to build residential properties and warehouses. In fact, this part of Liverpool became known as a metropolitan area at one point in history.

The ‘Commercial Quarter’

This area of the UNESCO site is considered to be the medieval part of Liverpool. The Castle Street is the most notable feature wherein you will find the Town Hall, Trials Hotel, and is linked with the Old Hall Street. This area of the city is currently known for its commercial activity. It was included in the UNESCO listing for Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City as it has shown a unique street development over a period of 3 centuries.

The ‘Cultural Quarter’

This is the final component of the UNESCO site in Liverpool. The focal point of this quarter is the William Brown Street. This is where many of Liverpool’s civic buildings are located in. Among those buildings that were recognized into the UNESCO listing are as follows: Great North Western Hotel, Queensway Tunnel, Walker Art Gallery, World Museum Liverpool, and the St. George’s Hall.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Berlin Modernism Housing Estates

UNESCO World Heritage Site #167: Berlin Modernism Housing Estates
UNESCO World Heritage Site #167: Berlin Modernism Housing Estates

From the World Heritage inscription:

The set of housing estates in the Berlin Modern Style provides outstanding testimony to the implementation of housing policies during the period 1910 – 1933 and especially during the Weimar Republic, when the city of Berlin was characterized by its political, social, cultural and technical progressiveness. The housing estates reflect, with the highest degree of quality, the combination of urbanism, architecture, garden design and aesthetic research typical of early 20th-century modernism, as well as the application of new hygienic and social standards. Some of the most prominent leading architects of German modernism were involved in the design and construction of the properties; they developed innovative urban, building and flat typologies, technical solutions and aesthetic achievements.

As I’ve stated before, architectural world heritage sites are often the least interesting to the casual traveler. The buildings usually aren’t famous and often the architects aren’t famous either. To top it off, the buildings often aren’t open to the public because they are still in private hands.

In the case of the Berlin, Modernism Housing Estates has all of the above problems. If you are a student of architecture or urban planning, the housing estates might be interesting, but I think most people would walk by without ever noticing they have world heritage status on a par with the pyramids or the Taj Mahal.

There are six different collections of these estates surrounding Berlin. Many of them are not easy to get to and would require a long bus ride or taxi to get there. The one I visited was the Großsiedlung Siemensstadt which is very easy to get to. Just take the U7 subway line and get off at the Siemensdam station. The moment you walk out of the station you will see some of the buildings. Walk a few blocks into the neighborhood and you can see some historical signs talking about the housing estate.


Berlin Modernism Housing Estates

The Berlin Modernism Housing Estates is a collection of six housing estates that are located in Berlin, Germany. This ensemble of housing estates was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list under the Cultural category in 2008. This property was constructed during the 20th century specifically during the time of the Weimar Republic. This time signaled a time of social, political and cultural growth in the city of Berlin. Hence, these housing estates are more than just a work of architecture but also a significant economic and social emblem for the city.

About the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates

The Berlin Modernism Housing Estates were built from 1919 to 1934. They showcase exemplary residential architecture during the 1920s era. Hence, these housing estates were collectively recognized by UNESCO as one unit of property when it was added to Germany’s list of UNESCO sites.

During the German Empire, the standard architecture for residential properties consisted of cramped flats and a dark backyard. Hence, these homes lacked daylight and many of them did not meet basic hygienic standards. This prompted the building of bright and well-lit apartments. This building reform movement was initiated at the start of the 1920s in an aim to respond to the need to build better homes and apartments. The buildings that were included in this UNESCO site serve as evidence of the social housing that developed not only during this particular time period but throughout the 20th century.

Aside from responding to the desire for safer and better homes, the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates also introduced a new urban and architectural design solution. This new design concept featured aesthetic and technical innovations that were unique to the times. The architects that worked on these projects were Walter Gropius, Bruno Taut, and Martin Wagner. Their works later on created a huge influence on the housing developments around the world.

Berlin Modernism Housing Estates

Below is a list of the six ensembles included in the Berlin Modernism housing estates recognized by UNESCO:

Gartenstadt Falkenberg: This house located in Bohnsdorf was designed by Bruno Taut and was built from 1913 to 1916.

Siedlung Schillerpark: This housing estate is located in Wedding, Germany. It was also designed by Bruno Taut and was completed in 1930.

Großsiedlung Britz: This housing estate is located in Britz, which was planned by Bruno Taut in collaboration with Martin Wagner. It was completed in 1930.

Wohnstadt Carl Legien: Completed in 1930, this was a product of the collaborative work between Bruno Taut and Franz Hillinger.

Weiße Stadt (White City): This was planned by Otto Rudolf Salvisberg with the help of Martin Wagner. It was completed in 1931.

Großsiedlung Siemensstadt: This was one of the last properties to be built among the list of properties in the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates. It was co-planned by Martin Wagner and Hans Scharoun.

This was the eleventh stop on my November 2011 Eurail trip to European UNESCO sites.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Museumsinsel (Museum Island), Berlin

UNESCO World Heritage Site #166: Museum Island, Berlin
UNESCO World Heritage Site #166: Museum Island, Berlin

From the World Heritage inscription:

The art museum is a social phenomenon that owes its origins to the Age of Enlightenment and its extension to all people to the French Revolution. The Museumsinsel is the most outstanding example of this concept given material form and a symbolic central urban setting, and one that illustrates the evolution of modern museum design over more than a century.

The present importance of the Museumsinsel began when the Altes Museum was built to the designs of Karl Friedrich Schinkel in 1824-28. A plan to develop the part of the island behind this museum was drawn up in 1841 by the court architect, Friedrich August Stüler, on the orders of Friedrich Wilhelm IV. The first element of this plan to be built was the Neues Museum (1843-47). The next step did not take place until 1866, when the Nationalgalerie, the work of Johann Heinrich Strack, was built. Another two decades passed before the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum (now the Bodemuseum) was built in 1897-1904 to the designs of Ernst von Ihne, and Stüler’s plan was completed in 1909-30 with the construction of Alfred Messel’s Pergamonmuseum.

Museum Island is one of the cultural and tourist highlights of Berlin. The island is in the middle Spree river and is home to five significant museums: the Altes Museum, the Neues Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum and the Pergamon Museum.

It is the only museum(s) that I know of that have UNESCO World Heritage status. The Louvre and other important museums in the world are have not been accorded special World Heritage status.

One unique thing about the museums, and unlike much of the rest of Germany, is that the damage caused during WWII has been kept. You can still see bullet holes on the facade of many of the buildings.

Getting to Museum Island is very easy if you are in Berlin. It is accessible by U-Bahn and bus.


Museumsinsel (Museum Island), Berlin

Berlin Museum Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its cultural value and was inscribed in the list in 1999. The name Museum Island refers to the northern part of an island located along the Spree River within Berlin’s Mitte district. The island is also where the old city of Colln is located. It is known as such for having a unique and internationally significant collection of museums and galleries. There are also museums and temple-like buildings that contain treasures from over 6,000 years of human history.

The Museum Island is located within the historical center of Berlin. Hence, it is the main feature of the city’s museum network and is the largest cultural investment project it has seen to date.

About Museum Island

Museumsinsel (Museum Island), Berlin

One island, five museums. That is what Berlin’s Museum Island has to offer its guests. Locally known as Museumsinsel, it is a treasure trove for history and cultural buffs out there. The five museums feature works from notable artists and treasures that date back to the time of Byzantium and Ancient Egypt.

According to John Strang, a Scottish historian, it would take several days in order to see all of the artistic treasures on display at the five museums on this island. But when Strang made this pronouncement, there was only one museum on the island – Museum of the Ancient World. Over the years four new museums were built and they each had their own treasures to offer, giving more cultural significant to this island, which eventually earned the attention from UNESCO.

Below are the museums that make up the museum complex in Berlin:

The Altes Museum (Old Museum): This museum was built and completed in 1830. It was built for after the orders of Karl Friedrich Schinkel.

The Neues Museum (New Museum): This museum was completed in 1859 and was designed by a student of Schinkel – Friedrich August Stuler. This museum was destroyed during the Second World War but was rebuilt and re-opened in 2009.

The Alte Nationalgerlie (Old National Gallery): This museum was completed in 1876 following the designs created by Stuler. This museum is where you will find exhibits of 19th century art from Joachim Wagener after he donated them to the museum.

The Bode Museum: This museum is located on the northern tip of the island. It was officially opened at the onset of the 20th century. It is best known for its sculpture collection, as well as treasures from the Byzantine and late Antique art.

The Pergamon Museum: This museum was constructed in 1930 and includes various showcases such as the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and Pergamon Altar.

Humboldt Forum: This is located in front of the Lustgarten Park and will be located within Berlin Palace. This museum is expected to officially open in 2019. It will incorporate the Museum of Asian Art and Ethnological Museum of Berlin.

Know Before You Go

Museumsinsel (Museum Island), Berlin

Are you planning to visit the Museum Island in Berlin? Here are a few things you should know:

    • All visitors below 18 years of age are admitted for free into any of the five museums. The regular rate is 18 Euros.
    • On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the museum is open from 10 AM to 6 PM. On Thursdays, the opening hours are extended until 8PM. The museums are closed on Mondays.
    • It is accessible using all forms of public transportation.
    • If you want to explore all of the museums, you can get the Berlin Welcome Card Museum Island. You can use it to explore all the museums for 3 consecutive days.
  • Truly a museum buff? You can get the Museum Pass Berlin that gives you access to 30 other Berlin museums.

This was the tenth stop on my Eurail trip of UNESCO sites in Europe.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin

UNESCO World Heritage Site #165: Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin
UNESCO World Heritage Site #165: Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin

From the World Heritage inscription:

The ensemble of the chateaux and parks of Potsdam is an exceptional artistic achievement whose eclectic and evolutionary features reinforce its uniqueness: from Knobelsdorff to Schinkel and from Eyserbeck to Lenné, a series of architectural and landscaping masterpieces were built within a single space, illustrating opposing and reputedly irreconcilable styles without detracting from the harmony of a general composition, designed progressively over time.

Potsdam, mentioned first in the 10th century, acquired some importance when the Great Elector of Brandenburg, Frederick William (1620-88) established his residence there. Potsdam housed a small garrison from 1640 onwards; the site’s military function was strengthened by the young Prussian monarchy.

Under Frederick II the Great (1712-86) Potsdam was radically changed. The new king wished to establish next to the garrison town and settlement colony of the ‘Sergeant King’ a ‘Prussian Versailles’, which was to be his main residence. In 1744 Frederick II ordered a vineyard to be planted on six terraces on the southern side of a hill, Bald Mountain. Sanssouci, a name which reflects the king’s desire for intimacy and simplicity, translates the theme of a rustic villa into the marble, mirrors and gold of a Rococo-style palace.

One of the things which surprised me about Berlin was the number and quality of the palaces in the area, especially in Potsdam. Many of the palaces in the area surrounding Berlin did not receive heavy damage during the war.

The highlight of the world heritage site, in my opinion, was Sanssouci, the palace of Frederick The Great. One of his final request was that he be laid to rest on the grounds of Sanssouci with his favorite greyhounds. In 1991, 205 years after his death and after the reunification of Germany, his request was finally granted.

Sanssouci is about a 15-20 minute walk from the Potsdam train station. I’d recommend visiting in the summer as in the winter, all of the statues in the garden were covered and the fountains were drained when I visited in the winter.


Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin

The Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin is a cultural site recognized by UNESCO among the World Heritage Sites in Germany. It was inscribed in 1990 and extended in 1992, and then again in 1999. This world heritage site consists of a group of palaces and parks, along with extended landscaped gardens within the Havelland region of Germany (to which Potsdam and Berlin are a part of).

The site was recognized by UNESCO for its historic unity of landscape. Furthermore, it is believed to be the perfect example of a unique landscape design featuring monarchic ideas of the Prussian state.

About Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin

Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin

As mentioned above, there are three changes or updates to the world heritage site since it was inscribed in 1990. During the time of its inscription, the following properties were included in the protected area:

  • Palace and Park of Sansoucci
  • Neuer Garden in Potsdam
  • Schloss Glienicke and Park Klein-Glienicke in Berlin
  • Park Babelsberg and Schloss Babelsberg
  • Bottcherberg in Berlin
  • Nikolskoe log house in Berlin
  • Glienicke hunting lodge in Berlin

In 1992, the World Heritage Site listing for Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin was updated. Two other sites were added to the list:

  • Church of the Redeemer in Potsdam
  • Palace and Park of Sacrow in Potsdam

Meanwhile, the most recent modification on this world heritage site listing was in the year 1999. A few sites were added to the protected area. They are as follows:

  • Lindenallee in Potsdam
  • Königliche Gärtnerlehranstalt and Kaiserbahnhof
  • Village of Bornstedt (along with the church, cemetery and park landscape
  • Seekoppel in Potsdam
  • Voltaireweg
  • Entrance to Sansoucci Park
  • Alexandrowka log houses
  • Pfingstberg and Belvedere auf dem Pfingstberg
  • Approaches and observatory in Babelsberg Park
  • Area between Pfingstberg and Neuer Garten
  • Jungfernsee (Southern shore portion)
  • King’s forest in Potsdam (along with surrounding palace and park)

Cultural Heritage

Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin

The Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin is of outstanding cultural treasure in Germany. The expansive parks, elaborately designed buildings (over 150 of them), and the majestic tree-lined avenues, combine to make this one of Potsdam’s and Berlin’s most important architectural monuments.

It all started when Frederick the Great commissioned for the Sansoucci Palace to be built in 1745. He wanted the palace to become his summer residence. Hence, it also makes the Sansoucci Palace as the oldest structure within the group of parks and palaces recognized by UNESCO in this property. The entire property that was added to the UNESCO list covers more than 2,000 hectares in land area. These palaces and parks exhibit not just a harmonious and unified architectural movement, but also an architectural heritage that makes them unique in Germany. For this reason, some of the sites included within the UNESCO site have been drawing tourists from all over the world. It has also captured the attention of filmmakers as some of these sites have been picked as film locations.

This was the tenth stop on my November 2011 Eurail trip to European UNESCO sites.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.