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AMSTERDAM: The Rembrandt Museum



Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606 – 1669) - was in his time a well known Dutch painter and etcher. He is in fact generally considered to be one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art history and the most important in Dutch history!

Having achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, his later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardships. However, his etchings and paintings proved popular throughout his lifetime, and his reputation as an artist remained high.

Rembrandt's greatest creative triumphs are exemplified in his portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits and illustrations of scenes from the Bible. 

His self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity. Furthermore, his contributions to art came in a period that historians now call the Dutch Golden Age.

You can get to know a little of Rembrandt personally by visiting the home and studio on Jodenbreestraat in Amsterdam. In this once fashionable, jewel of a house many of his famous masterpieces were made.

 But, unlike other local museums such as the Ann Frank house, the interior of the house has been restored to its former 17th-century glory and the rooms have been refurnished with works of art, furniture and other objects from Rembrandt's time. How was this achieved? Well, in order to finance the property Rembrandt took out a rather large mortgage of 13,000 guilders. 

Unfortunately, Rembrandt had a tendancy to live beyond his means, buying art (including bidding up his own work), prints (often used in his paintings), and other historic rarities.

However it was reckless acts such as these which probably caused his financial downfall resulting in a court arrangement to avoid his bankruptcy in 1656. 

During this period of financial hardship he was no longer able to keep up the payments on his house on Jodenbreestraat and as an attempt to stave off bankruptcy had an inventory made of all of this possessions prior to auctioning them off. 

Realistically, if Rembrandt hadn't wasted much of his money he should have easily been able to pay the house off with his large income during the early years.

But it appears - like so many of us - that his outgoings always managed to keep pace with his income.

It was this inventory of his huge collection of paintings, sculptures and art treasures that enabled the Rembrandt museum to sympathetically refurbish his property to the standard that you see today.

The prices realized in the sales of Rembrandts possessions in 1657 and 1658 were disappointing so Rembrandt was forced to sell his house and his printing-press and move to a more modest accommodation on the Rozengracht in 1660. 

The authorities and his creditors were generally accommodating to him, except for the Amsterdam painters' guild, who introduced a new rule that no one in Rembrandt's circumstances could trade as a painter. 

To get round this, Rembrandts son Titus set up business with his wife as art-dealers in 1660, with Rembrandt as an employee.

Rembrandts work

Few artists of any period were as renowned for the use of light and shadow as Rembrandt. 

His seemingly limitless variations of bold and subtle shadings cast him as a ‘magician of light and shadow.’ 


In a letter to Huyghens, Rembrandt offered the only surviving explanation of what he sought to achieve through his art:

'....the greatest and most natural movement...'

translated from de meeste en de natuurlijkste beweegelijkheid. The word 'beweechgelickhijt' is also argued to mean emotion or motive. 


Whether this refers to objectives, material or otherwise is open to interpretation; either way, Rembrandt seamlessly melded the earthly and spiritual as has no other painter in Western art.

Etchings and prints


In addition to his extensive oeuvre of paintings and drawings, Rembrandt van Rijn also produced around 290 prints. His mastery in this field is undisputed, and he is generally acknowledged as one of the great etchers - if not the greatest - of all time. 

Rembrandt acquired a European reputation in his own lifetime precisely because of his graphic work, which, because it could be reproduced, was much more widely known than his paintings or drawings.

Rembrandt's free use of line, the unique deep black of many of his etchings and his masterly use of the drypoint were very popular and his work was much sought after by the many print collectors of the time.

Etching was not a sideline where Rembrandt was concerned, and his prints cannot be regarded as inferior by-products of his paintings, which nowadays are much more famous. 

Rembrandt took his graphic art very seriously for almost the whole of his working life - during the early years as a young artist in Leiden, the town where he was born, and while he was in his prime as a successful master in Amsterdam. It was not until he was approaching the end of his life that he gradually gave up etching.

Luckily, you can still purchase an 'original' Rembrandt print from the Rembrandt house using the traditional method on original plates.

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AMSTERDAM: The Rembrandt Museum

ENGLAND: Stonehenge



Before the arrival of the Romans in the First Century AD, Britain was home to an abundance of sophisticated and thriving cultures. And if proof were need, 3000 years before the Romans set foot on this soil, local tribes had the technology, language and organisational skills to create one of the worlds most iconic monuments - known today as Stonehenge

There's a lot that we believe we know about Stonehenge. We're almost certain, for example, that the great prehistoric monument was built in several phases spanning hundreds of years, from around 3000 BC to 1600 BC. 

We also know, that it was a construction project that tested ancient ingenuity and prehistoric technology to the limit.


Besides the question of how Stonehenge was built, understanding why Stonehenge was built is still one of the great mysteries of archaeology. 

However, modern technology has allowed us to discredit some early explanations of Stonehenge's purpose. We know that Stonehenge was not a Roman temple, and accurate dating has also shown that it was completed at least a thousand years before the Druids roamed the British Isles.


It required an army of workers to construct and perhaps even a garrison of soldiers to protect. These people were not farming or hunting, but relying on a surplus of food that only a settled and successful farming society could provide.

Two of Britain's leading archaeologists - Professor Timothy Darvill and Professor Geoff - are both world-renowned experts on Stonehenge. 

They believe that they have finally solved the riddle of these great standing stones.
"The whole purpose of Stonehenge is that it was a prehistoric Lourdes," says Wainwright. "People came here to be made well."
This is revolutionary stuff, and it comes from a reinterpretation of the stones of the henge and the bones buried nearby. Darvill and Wainwright believe the smaller bluestones in the centre of the circle, rather than the huge sarsen stones on the perimeter, hold the key to the purpose of Stonehenge.

The bluestones were dragged 250km from the mountains of southwest Wales using Stone Age technology.

 That's some journey, and there must have been a very good reason for attempting it. Darvill and Wainwright believe the reason was the magical, healing powers imbued in the stones by their proximity to traditional healing springs.


The bones that have been excavated from around Stonehenge appear to back the theory up.

 "There's an amazing and unnatural concentration of skeletal trauma in the bones that were dug up around Stonehenge," says Darvill. "This was a place of pilgrimage for people...coming to get healed."


They believe that the ill and injured travelled to Stonehenge because the healing stones offered a final hope of a miracle cure or relief from insufferable pain.


While Darvill and Wainwright think the idea of Stonehenge as a prehistoric Lourdes is the most convincing theory for its construction yet, it's fair to say that the archaeological community is not completely convinced.

When the theory was first proposed at a talk in London in 2006, it was met with considerable support, but also one or two dropped jaws. And that's not surprising.

Prior to this 'bombshell', the most widely agreed theory to explain the great stone circle is that it was used as a gigantic calendar. 

Put simply, the site's alignment allows for the observation of astronomical events such as the summer and winter solstice. With that information, our ancient ancestors could establish exactly where they were in the cycle of the seasons and when the site would be at its most potent.


But would they really have put so much time and effort into the construction of something that today we take for granted? 

Many archaeologists believed they would as Stonehenge offered a way to establish calendar dates when no other method existed. 

Accurate dating allowed for more efficient and successful agriculture, as well as the marking of important religious and social events.

The most popular theory about the purpose of Stonehenge is one that has survived since serious archaeological work first began on the site. 

Along with modern day druids, they believe that Stonehenge was a place of worship.


However, an even more remarkable origin has been suggested Stonehenge theorists. 

To some open-minded enthusiasts in the excitable 1970s, Stonehenge was believed to have been a landing pad for extraterrestrial visitors!


It's fair to say that any archaeological evidence relating to this has yet to be unearthed.

Click onto the radio recording below for more information:

 

For related articles click onto:
ENGLAND: Hever Castle
ENGLAND: Sissinghurst
ENGLAND: What is Stonehenge?
ENGLAND: What is the Eden project?
ENGLAND: Where is Stonehenge?
LONDON: Big Ben
LONDON: Buckingham Palace
LONDON: Cleopatra's Needle
LONDON: The Houses of Parliament
LONDON: The London Eye
LONDON: The Tower of London
LONDON: Who was Guy Fawkes?
Based on an article from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/british_prehistory/healing_stones.shtml
Images care of http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/22/conservation.archaeology and http://www.comparestonehengetours.com/stonehenge-facts/ and http://www.lundyisleofavalon.co.uk/stonehenge/bluestones.htm and http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/5098706.stm and http://stonehenge-theories.wikispaces.com/Aliens

ITALY: Rome Pictures




This slideshow of Rome is my tribute to a fantastic break that I was lucky enough to take earlier this year-2012 . Not only is this truly historic city incredibly beautiful, it is steeped to the very brim with ancient, and historic monuments. In fact, turn around to quickly - and you will probably trip over one!

If you can get yourself even to the outskirts of Rome, so long as you are near a metro station you will have the entire city with in your grasp within a short hop. And believe me, there is so much to see and experience - probably too much. If you are planing to go for a romantic weekend, there won't be nearly enough time to see even half of what this stunning city has to offer!

If you are planning on visiting Rome, take this advise. First, you need to make sure you that you've got a decent map and a guide book. Next you will have a choice. Either prioritise a list of must-see places that you cannot bear to miss or simply walk out the door and discover everything as it happens.

My list of must-see Roman buildings, monuments and ruins

1. The Colosseum
2. The Roman Forum
3. The Trevi Fountain
4. The Sistine Chapel
5. The Pantheon
6. St. Peter’s Basilica
7. Piazza Navona
8. Trajan’s Column
9. The Spanish Steps
10. Via Appia Antica catacombs

Contrary to other European cities that I have been to, the local Roman population are the  most friendly and helpful people that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. In fact, on several occasions I was approached by random passers-by deliberately offering their assistance, just because I looked a little lost (unfortunately this is my normal, default look). This has never happened in my home city of London, unless it is an attempt to distract you while you are being street robbed!

One last thing, Gelato (Italian ice cream) is truly the most beautiful food ever created. I advise that you eat it as you see it. I for one am completely in love with it. Obviously, Roman gelato is the best.

For related articles click onto:
How to get to Villa d'Este from Rome
ITALIAN HISTORY: Who was Christopher Columbus?
ITALIAN HISTORY: Who was Julius Caesar?
ITALY: Rome Pictures
ITALY: What is Pompeii?
ITALY: Where is Pompei?
ROME: The Gladiator School
ROME: The Pyramid of Cestius
ROME: Villa d'Este
ROME: What was a Gladiator?
ROMAN HISTORY: What did the Romans Eat?

GREECE: The Ancient Olympics




The Ancient Olympic Games were a series of competitions held between representatives of several city-states and kingdoms in Ancient Greece. These games featured mainly athletic but also combat and chariot racing events.

The Olympics were of fundamental religious importance, featuring sporting events alongside ritual sacrifices honoring both Zeus - whose famous statue by Phidias stood in his temple at Olympia and Pelops, divine hero and mythical king of Olympia.

At the first one-day Olympic Games, the only event was a short sprint from one end of the stadium to the other.

Gradually more events were added to make four days of competitions. They included wrestling, boxing, long jump, throwing the javelin and discus, and chariot racing. In the pentathlon, there were five events: running, wrestling, javelin, discus and long jump. One of the toughest events was the race for hoplites, men wearing armour and carrying shields.

Only male citizens were eligible to compete in the Olympic Games. The term "citizen" refers to a man who participated in local politics, voted and provided military service. Citizens were of Greek descent and had jobs or trades, slaves were not allowed to compete.

Some of the most skilled competitors had humble job titles: The first Olympi­c champion was Koroibos, a cook who won the stadion race in 776 B.C.
Winners were given a wreath of leaves, and a hero's welcome back home.

Winners might marry rich women, enjoy free meals, invitations to parties, and the best seats in the theatre.

The running track was much wider than a modern one. Twenty people could run at once.

Olympic gamesmanship?

Probably the pankration or all-in wrestling was the nastiest event. There were hardly any rules. Biting and poking people's eyes were officially banned, but some competitors did both!

While it does not seem very sporting to us, all-in wrestling was very popular. Boxing was tough too. The fighters wore leather gloves and a boxer was allowed to go on hitting his opponent even after he'd knocked him to the ground!

However, cheating was punished. Anyone caught cheating, trying to bribe an athlete for instance, had to pay for a bronze statue of Zeus, as a punishment.

The Olympic Games reached their peak in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, but then gradually declined in importance as the Romans gained power and influence in Greece.

Olympic facts

1. No-one actually knows when the Olympic Games began. The earliest recorded event was at Olympia, Greece in 776 BC, but it was probably held even earlier.

2. From 776 BC onwards, it was held every four years, and the ancient Greeks calculated their calender in four year periods called 'Olympiads'.


3. The word "gymnasium" comes from the Greek root "gymnos" meaning nude. In fact, the literal meaning of "gymnasium" is "school for naked exercise." This makes more sense when you find out that athletes in the ancient Olympic Games would have participated in the nude!

4. The ancient Olympics ended in AD 393 when the Roman Emperor Theodosius banned the games because they were becoming too pagan.

5. The earliest games were held to honour Zeus and included a ceasefire in all wars in the region.

6. When the modern Olympics began in Athens in 1896, only 13 countries took part.

7. The five Olympic rings represent the five major regions of the world – Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceana, and every national flag in the world includes one of the five colors, which are (from left to right) blue, yellow, black, green, and red.


8. The last Olympic gold medals that were made entirely out of gold were awarded in 1912. Nowadays, each medal must be at least three millimeters thick and 60 millimeters in diameter. Also, the gold and silver Olympic medals must be made out of 92.5 percent silver, with the gold medal covered in six grams of gold.

9.  During the 1900 Olympic archery competition, live pigeons were used as targets.

10. Britain has always won at least one gold in every modern Olympics - however, one was the grand total of gold medals for the UK in 1904, 1952 and 1996 - embarrassing!

11. Because of World War I and World War II, there were no Olympic Games in 1916, 1940, or 1944.

12. During the ancient Olympic games, married woman were barred from watching the games. In fact the only only married woman allowed in was the Priestess of Demeter - a goddess of the harvest.

13. Women were first allowed to participate in 1900 at the second modern Olympic Games.

14. Three continents – Africa, South America, and Antarctica – have never hosted an Olympics.

15. The 'Berlin Olympics' held in 1936 were the first Olympic games ever to be broadcast on television. 


16. Olympian Oscar Swahn of Sweden is the oldest olympian to have participated in any of the olympic events so far. He was a shooter who participated at the 1920 Antwerp Games at the age of 72 years.

17. Baron Pierre De Coubertin of France is known as the father of the modern olympics.

18. The very first modern olympics were held in Athens, Greece 1896.


19. The famous wrestler Milo was said to train by carrying a calf every day. As the calf grew heavier, his muscles got stronger.



For related articles click onto: 

ATHENS: How to get to Athens City from Athens International Airport
ATHENS: The Caryatids
ATHENS: The Parthenon
GREECE: The Ancient Olympics
GREEK HISTORY: Who was Archimedes?

ROME: Pyramid of Cestius



The Pyramid of Cestius is an ancient pyramid found in the city of in Rome, Italy, near the Porta San Paolo and the Protestant Cemetery. It stands at a fork between two ancient roads, the Via Ostiensis and another road that ran west to the Tiber along the approximate line of the modern Via della Marmorata. Due to its incorporation into the city's fortifications, it is one of the best-preserved ancient buildings in existence in Rome today.

The pyramid was built about 18 BC–12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a magistrate and member of one of the four great religious corporations in Rome, the Septemviri Epulonum. It is of brick-faced concrete covered with slabs of white marble standing on a travertine foundation, measuring 100 Roman feet (29.6 m) square at the base and standing 125 Roman feet (37 m) high.

In the interior is the burial chamber, a simple barrel-vaulted rectangular cavity measuring 5.95 metres long, 4.10 m wide and 4.80 m high. 

When it was discovered in 1660, the chamber was found to be decorated with frescoes, which were recorded by Pietro Santi Bartoli. 

Unfortunately, only the scantiest traces of these now remain. Sadly, neither is there any trace left of any other contents in the tomb, which were plundered in antiquity. 

The tomb had been sealed when it was built, with no exterior entrance; it is not possible for visitors to access the interior, except by special permission typically only granted to scholars.

A dedicatory inscription is carved into the east and west flanks of the pyramid, so as to be visible from both sides. It reads:

C · CESTIVS · L · F · POB · EPULO · PR · TR · PL
VII · VIR · EPOLONVM

Caius Cestius, son of Lucius, of the gens Pobilia, member of the College of Epulones, praetor, tribune of the plebs, septemvir of the Epulones.


Below the inscription on the east-facing side is a second inscription recording the circumstances of the tomb's construction. This reads:

OPVS · APSOLVTVM · EX · TESTAMENTO · DIEBVS · CCCXXX
ARBITRATV
PONTI · P · F · CLA · MELAE · HEREDIS · ET · POTHI · L

The work was completed, in accordance with the will, in 330 days, by the decision of the heir [Lucius] Pontus Mela, son of Publius of the Claudia, and Pothus, freedman

Another inscription on the east face is of modern origins, having been carved on the orders of Pope Alexander VII in 1663. Reading INSTAVRATVM · AN · DOMINI · MDCLXIII, it commemorates excavation and restoration work carried out in and around the tomb between 1660–62.

At the time of its construction, the Pyramid of Cestius would have stood in open countryside as tombs were forbidden within the city walls. 

However, Rome grew enormously during the imperial period, and by the third century AD the pyramid would have been surrounded by buildings. It originally stood in a low-walled enclosure, flanked by statues, columns and other tombs.

Two marble bases were found next to the pyramid during excavations in the 1660s, complete with fragments of the bronze statues that originally had stood on their tops. The bases carried an inscription recorded by Bartoli in an engraving of 1697:

M · VALERIVS · MESSALLA · CORVINVS ·
P · RVTILIVS · LVPVS · L · IVNIVS · SILANVS ·
L · PONTIVS · MELA · D · MARIVS ·
NIGER · HEREDES · C · CESTI · ET ·
L · CESTIVS · QVAE · EX · PARTE · AD ·
EVM · FRATRIS · HEREDITAS ·
M · AGRIPPAE · MVNERE · PER ·
VENIT · EX · EA · PECVNIA · QVAM ·
PRO · SVIS · PARTIEVS · RECEPER ·
EX · VENDITIONE · ATTALICOR ·
QVAE · EIS · PER · EDICTVM ·
AEDILIS · IN · SEPVLCRVM ·
C · CESTI · EX · TESTAMENTO ·
EIVS · INFERRE · NON · LICVIT ·

This identifies Cestius' heirs as Marcus Valerius Messala Corvinus, a famous general; Publius Rutilius Lupus, an orator whose father of the same name had been consul in 90 BC; and Lucius Junius Silanus, a member of the distinguished gens Junia. 

The heirs had set up the statues and bases using money raised from the sale of valuable cloths (attalici). Cestius had stated in his will that the cloths were to be deposited in the tomb, but this practice had been forbidden by a recent edict passed by the aediles.

The sharply pointed shape of the pyramid is strongly reminiscent of the pyramids of Nubia, in particular of the kingdom of MeroĆ«, which had been attacked by Rome in 23 BC. The similarity suggests that Cestius had possibly served in that campaign and perhaps intended the pyramid to serve as a commemoration. 

His pyramid was not the only one in Rome; a larger one—the so-called "pyramid of Romulus"—of similar form but unknown origins stood between the Vatican and the Mausoleum of Hadrian but this was demolished in the 16th century.

During the construction of the Aurelian Walls between 271 and 275, the pyramid was incorporated into the walls to form a triangular bastion. It was one of many structures in the city to be reused to form part of the new walls, probably to reduce the cost and enable the structure to be built more quickly. It still forms part of a well-preserved stretch of the walls, a short distance from the Porta San Paolo.

The origins of the pyramid were forgotten during the Middle Ages. The inhabitants of Rome came to believe that it was the tomb of Remus (Meta Remi) and that its counterpart near the Vatican was the tomb of Romulus, a belief recorded by Petrarch. Its true provenance was clarified by Pope Alexander VII's excavations in the 1660s, which cleared the vegetation that had overgrown the pyramid, uncovered the inscriptions on its faces, tunneled into the tomb's burial chamber and found the bases of two bronze statues that had stood alongside the pyramid.


Click here for related articles:
How to get to Villa d'Este from Rome
ITALIAN HISTORY: Who was Christopher Columbus?
ITALIAN HISTORY: Who was Julius Caesar?
ITALY: Rome Pictures
ITALY: What is Pompeii?
ITALY: Where is Pompei?
ROME: The Colosseum
ROME: The Gladiator School
ROME: The Pantheon
ROME: The Pyramid of Cestius
ROME: Villa d'Este
ROME: What was a Gladiator?
ROMAN HISTORY: What did the Romans Eat?
Based on an article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyramid_of_Cestius
Photos care of me and http://blog.artviva.com/2011/08/11/visiting-the-pyramids%E2%80%A6-of-rome/

ROME: The Gladiator School


The Ludus Magnus - otherwise known as the Gladiator School - was built by the Emperor Domitian (81-96AD)  and lies just to the east (left in the lead photo) of the Flavian amphitheatre, although it is far better known as the Colosseum. 

In its day, the Ludus Magnus was Rome's foremost academy for training gladiators. 

Fragments of the now famous Severian map of Rome - engraved on marble slabs - had revealed the existence of the Ludus Magnus as far back as 1562, but it was not until its chance discovery in 1937 that Rome's Gladiator School once again saw the light of day!

The original construction of the Gladiator School came about as part of large public building works undertaken by the Flavian emperors. It aim was to create a purpose built district specially equipped to function around the needs of the amphitheatre.

The main entrance of the Gladiator School was off the Via Labicana - as it still is today. It led into a colonnaded courtyard surrounded by the gladiators' quarters.

At the centre of the Ludus Magnus, built on two levels, there was an ellipsoidal arena in which the gladiators practised. It was circumscribed by the steps of a small cavea, probably reserved for a limited number of spectators. 

The cavea had a four-sided portico (of about 100m per side) with travertine columns. It led to a number of outside rooms, to be used by the gladiators and as services for the performances. 

Only a few ruins in Travertine remain of the colonnade which was raised in the place where the columns were probably located originally. Seating was provided, however this was only for a very limited number of select spectators.

There is also a tunnel that connects the Gladiator School with the underground network of the Colosseum that enabled the Gladiators the reach their impressive stage unimpeded by their fans.

The path, with an entrance 2.17 m wide, began underneath the amphitheatre and reached the Gladiator School at its southwestern corner.

Between the second and forth centuries the Gladiator School underwent numerous alterations, especially at the hands of Trajan (98-117AD). However, it was the abolition of gladiatorial contests in the 6th century that eventually led to its closure.

In the north-west corner of the portico, one of the four small, triangular fountains has been restored. 

It lies in the spaces between the curved wall of the cavea and the colonnade. 

A cement block remained between two brick walls, converging at an acute angle.

A large part of the brickwork structures were originally covered by marble slabs that were later removed.


What is left today of the ancient Gladiator School are the ruins of slightly less than one half of the oval mini-amphitheatre and the bottom of one half of the living quarters area for the gladiators.

The rest - unfortunately - remains buried under a number of buildings and a side road.

Click here for related articles:
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ITALIAN HISTORY: Who was Julius Caesar?
ITALY: Rome Pictures
ITALY: What is Pompeii?
ITALY: Where is Pompei?
ROME: The Colosseum
ROME: The Gladiator School
ROME: The Pantheon
ROME: The Pyramid of Cestius
ROME: Villa d'Este
ROME: What was a Gladiator?
ROMAN HISTORY: What did the Romans Eat?
Lead photo care of http the others are mine://www.roman-empire.net/diverse/rome-model-05.html

MOROCCO: Marrakech

 The Djemaa el-Fnaa market place


Whilst I will accept that Morocco isn't strictly in Europe, it is a popular excursion for many travellers making their way across Europe - particularly if they are looking for something a little more exotic.

Besides, as most of Morocco was a French protectorate in a previous life, you can indulge yourself in the heady north African culture and yet still hold on to some of that old European familiarity.

Marrakech Fez dancer
The first thing that you should be aware of is that everyone outside of your hotel appears to be either mental or corrupt - sometimes both. 

The second thing you should notice when travelling around Marrakesh is the distinct lack of women - any women. 

This is because Morocco is a Muslim country, and as such, their women are expected to stay at home. 

With the streets full of men of all ages, women travellers are going to stand out and as such will draw attention - sometimes unwanted. 

Also, and this will be mostly true for white European races, you will find that you are going to be considerably taller that the local population and in addition to your European dress, you will be an obvious target for street hustlers.

Uncommon and brave hand holding
If you are travelling as a 'male/female' couple be very aware of how you are perceived by the locals as shows of public affection will result in clear signs of disapproval. 

This is commonly shown by drivers beeping their horns as they drive past you in the street, but in extreme cases you may be assaulted. 

With that in mind, avoid holding hands, avoid embracing and definitely avoid kissing.

 I had to learn this lesson the hard way after an old lady jumped up from a public bench, hissing and flapping her hands in a highly agitate manner at me and the future Mrs Eade. 

Why? Because we had our arms around each other as we walked along the street!

Getting around Marrakech

The city walls of Marrakesh
All roads lead to the ancient walled city of Marrakech, and to be fair, if you are reasonably fit you can probably walk to most of the tourist areas - just make sure that you have a decent map.

Of course, once you get to the Djemaa el-Fnaa there is a step-change of activity and so be aware of pick pockets, pushy sales men, and beggars etc.

If you are walking everywhere, make sure that you are extremely careful when crossing the main roads - otherwise you will probably be be run over. 

If the task of crossing a 'more-mental- than-usual stretch of tarmac looks particularly dangerous then wait for a local to cross and shadow them like a bitch.

It makes sense to make sure that he is between you and the on-coming traffic - oh and be sure you keep up. There are no prizes for being second.


Grand taxis - Mercedes. Petit taxi - small French things
If you choose to get around by taxi, the you need to be aware that there are two types of taxi. 

The petit taxi - normally some type of small hatchback, the maximum number of passengers is three, and sometimes you need to share with other passengers.

For Grand Taxis - regular Mercedes Taxis, there are no meters so negotiate you fee before you enter the Grand Taxi. If you can't negotiate, always ask to use the meter otherwise you are just contributing to a culture of ripping off people. Of course, in most cases taxi drivers will refuse to take you if you insist on using the meter.

Bear in mind that taxi drivers will also try to rip you off. For example, they won't have change, they will almost always go the long way round, and they will hustle you to charge for everything such as bags. You don't need to pay for extras, so be strong and don't do it.

Where to go in Marrakech

Majorelle gardens - this photo is part of my personal collection
1. The Djemaa el Fna. This is one of the most famous squares in all of Africa and is the centre of city activity and trade.

It has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985.

2. Koutoubia Mosque, also known as Kutubiyya Mosque, Jami' al-Kutubiyah, Kutubiyyin Mosque, and Mosque of the Booksellers.

It is the largest mosque in the city, located in the southwest medina quarter of Marrakesh aside the square.

3. Majorelle Gardens. Located on Av Yacoub el Mansour, it was at one time the home of the landscape painter, Jacques Majorelle.

The designer, Yves Saint Laurent, bought and restored the property. It is the jewel of Marrakesh and one of the most stunning gardens I have every been to - and I have been to soooooo many!

The Souks. Buyer beware!
4. The Souks. Marrakesh has the largest traditional Berber market in Morocco and the image of the city is closely associated with its souks.

They are disorientating honeycomb of intricately connected alleyways, comprising of stalls and shops that range from tiny kiosks to scruffy store-fronts that open into glittering Aladdin's Caves once you're inside. You will find an awful lot of cr*p for sale, a far cry from the traditional crafts of old. Haggling is still a very important part of trade in the souks.

Be aware that whatever you are looking at will be either an antique or part of the vendors 'personal collection' - this is just a way to justify a higher price. They even tried this 'trick' with the blessed David Attenborough - how dare they, I can't believe the gall of these people!

5. The Saadian Tombs. These were built in the 16th century as a mausoleum to bury many Saadian rulers and entertainers. It was lost for many years until the French rediscovered it in 1917 using aerial photographs.

Do's and Don't's

Have you washed your hands?
Don't be fooled by someone who says that they recognise you from the hotel you are staying at and make out that they are happy to act as an unpaid guide. They are not. Fob them off, first by asking which hotel would that be, and then walk away briskly once they start babbling. 

Secondly, if you do use their services they too will  deliberately use taxis to go the long way round to anywhere you want, and then take a cut of the pre-arranged exorbitant fare. They will also take you to shop, restaurants etc and take another cut from the owners from whatever you spend. if you do not spend enough the owners may not be as welcoming as you first thought.

Don't give you camera to anyone who say '...you give me your camera and I will take a photo for you..', you will not get you camera back unless you give some money over.

Don't walk around drinking booze - this really does not go down well in a Muslim country.

How much to get back my camera - 10 dirams?
Don't get food poisoning. Only eat chips or any other food that has been properly stewed - like the national dish. That would be tagines. Disinfect all switches, handles etc in your hotel room before you start touching things. Take disinfectant wipes with you everywhere. I lasted 6 days without getting the dreaded belly - beat that.

Don't drink tap water - even when cleaning your teeth. Always use bottled water and make sure the cap is sealed before opening.

Don't behave in an affectionate manner to your partner in restaurants - you may never get served.

Don't be afraid to say 'NOOOOOOO', and walk off like a diva.

Do look where you are walking - especially at night as you will regularly find lifted paving slabs and gaping great holes in the ground.

Do wash your hands, take anti-bacterial had wash and toilet paper - especially the toilet paper, you will find out why if you ignore that one. Remember that the dreaded belly can strike without warning.

Do be confident and forceful when dealing with locals.

Do check your change when buying anything with cash.

For related articles click onto:
MARRAKECH: Marjorelle Gardens
MARRAKECH: The Saadian Tombs
MOROCCO: Marrakech
MOROCCO: The Jemaa el-Fnaa
SPAIN: Valencia
Images care of http://www.magicmorocco.com/marrakech_morocco.html and http://sharrett.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/morocco.html andhttp://middle-aged-diva.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/people-of-morocco.html and http://www.stampboards.com/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=21494 and http://www.venere.com/blog/eating-in-marrakech/

ENGLAND: What is the Eden Project?




Many of us have heard of the Eden project and are perhaps familiar with its iconic bio-spheres. Used as a backdrop for various programmes such as 'The Gadget Show',  David Attenborough's 'Flying Monsters 3D' and films such as the James Bond feature 'Die another Day', you will be at the very least aware of what the Eden project looks like even if you couldn't put a name to it.

As a site, the Eden project is large and impressive with bold styling across the board from its architecture and landscaping, to its unique one-off pieces of art.

However, on the long walk down to the car park through a selection of unkempt and uninspiring boarders, you can't help but worry that  something may be missing in the Eden experience.

The site is designed so that your first glimpse of those magnificent biospheres happens only once you have entered into the main complex. 

Until that point, you are faced with 'local council-style' gardening and promotional displays that wouldn't look out of place in any half-decent garden centre. Remember that this is one of the countries top visitor attractions - not your local Wyevales! That being said, the driftwood pony by the main entrance is superb!

Once through the ticket isles and out onto what can only be described as an incidental but pleasant enough viewing platform. This is your first view of the record-breaking biospheres, and in the sunshine the sheer size and purity of design makes for an outstanding effect.

So too is the look of the surrounding landscaping, with clear sweeping arcs, accentuating the slope of the quarry. Combined with a striking use of colour and form they have created a visual effect that is hard to beat.

However, in the out-lying displays things begin to look a little worse-for-wear under closer inspection as little thought has been put into the long term maintenance of the landscaping. This is compounded as it appears that a number of the group planting species have been chosen on how they look, rather than their suitability for the ground that they have been planted.

This a mistake constantly, and rather boringly repeated by garden designers around the world, most of which are all about the design, and leave very little thought about the horticulture. 

Of course it may be that the Eden project 'powers that be' have a policy of regularly scrubbing out old displays in order to keep everything fresh, but surely that goes against their ethos of sustainability?

This begins to put a question in my mind and it is this. Is the Eden project purely an exercise in design or is there going to be any substance to this place?

The Rainforest Biome

Incredibly, this impressive structure - the larger of the two bio-spheres - is not only home to crashing waterfalls and a mangrove swamp, it is also home to the world's largest captivated rainforest!

Without doubt it is the most impressive artificial rainforest that I have seen. In fact, I would go as far as saying that it is better than that of the historic palm house at the Royal Botanic gardens at Kew - and I properly love Kew gardens!


The unique point of the tropical bio-sphere is the sheer height of the central dome. So large is it that it is listed in the Guinness book of Records as the world’s largest conservatory – whatever that’s supposed to mean? 

Any who, it is so tall that none of the truly tall bamboos were able to reach its ceiling which means that your eye isn't being drawn to focus on its structure. Therefore it enhances the feeling that you really are outside walking through a true tropical environment, and not a just ambling within the confines of a greenhouse – however fancy it may be.

The various bamboo and wooden hut structures gave the place a nice 'adventury' feel, and together with the makeshift smoothy bar helped to add to the magic.

The hot temperatures that can be experienced with the bio-sphere are something that visitors will need to be aware of, because along with the humidity it can become stifling.

Luckily, the brains behind the Eden project have thought about this, and not only have they supplied drinking fountains and a smoothy bar, there is even a cold room for the more delicate of souls! 

As good as it is there were a few things that let it down. The first issue I had was the generous use of wood for supporting structures within the biome. 

Presumably the wood was from sustainable sources so that the Eden projects ethos can remain intact. However  in the warm humid atmosphere of the Rainforest biome most of the wood that I saw was either rotting away or covered in mould and fungi - not very appealing. Secondly, the tropical biome was rife with scale insects, aphids, ants and most noticeable - thick layers of black, sooty mildew.

It appeared to be almost everywhere and especially at eye level and this really detracted from the plants.

Whatever the Eden's projects policy on pest control is  - presumably organic - it isn't working and needs re-assessing. If left to continue this will severely weaken susceptible plants and eventually damage the rainforest eco-system.

My third issue is this. Where replanting had taken place along the visitor walkways - presumably to replace plants that had been wrecked by the sooty mildew - the team at the Eden project has chosen plants that any one of us could have picked up from a local Homebase house-plant department.

When you have a world of plants to chose from I found this very disappointing. I really didn't drive all the way down here to view a mature selection of cheap 'bottle garden' plants. 

However, these problems are something that would have built up over time so it is a shame that I didn't get an opportunity to visit this place in the early days as it would have been truly amazing. Today it just looks a bit too tired.

The Mediterranean Biome

In this the smaller the two biomes, order had appeared to have been restored. This environment was clean, fresh and the displays were tidy and thought about.

You could argue that it was a bit of an easy ask and therefore a bit boring. As far as I was concerned it was what it was, and they make a decent effort at portraying a comprehensive range of Mediterranean plants.

The downside is that unlike the rainforest biome, you couldn't immerse yourself with the environment and you were always aware of the structure around you. It wan't original but it was a safe effort.

As far as I was concerned this was by far their most professional display. So long as you do your very best to ignore the bizarre and rather creepy display of mythical forest creatures. 

In Conclusion

The Eden project reminds me a lot about of the old Millennium Dome. Why? because it comes across as being a bit too try-hard. Too many meaningless and thrown together displays, perfectly matched by a number of rather pointless 'New Age Hippy' works of art.

Dave the annoying and shouty storyteller kept disturbing my concentration - and therefore my enjoyment  -and really there was just far too many 'entertainment' staff trying to keep me occupied.

If I want street entertainers I will go to Covent Garden and throw some coins at them.

In a nutshell, too New Age, too much try-hard, too much pretty, pretty plant design, and not nearly enough  serious horticulture.

The Eden project prides itself on being an educational charity, so when I left later that day I was surprised to find myself asking just what was the Eden project all about?

Once you take all the pretty away I didn't feel educated, there was no unique message, and I have no idea what good causes they spend their/my money on.

Take away the biomes and I could have been anywhere.

I also had a particular hatred for the enormous effort and cost that went into the superfluous 'contemplation' seed that you will find displayed in the not-very-educational Core building.

Ask yourself this. Just how many clean water wells could you have had built in Africa for what it cost to
manufacture and display this self-indulgent white elephant?

C+ need to try harder!

Comments are invited.

For related articles click onto:
LONDON: Big Ben
LONDON: Buckingham Palace
LONDON: Cleopatra's Needle
LONDON: The Houses of Parliament
LONDON: The London Eye
LONDON: The Tower of London
LONDON: Who was Guy Fawkes?
ENGLAND: Hever Castle
ENGLAND: Knole House - the Ghosts!
ENGLAND: Sissinghurst
ENGLAND: What is the Eden project?
ENGLAND: What is Stonehenge?
ENGLAND: Where is Stonehenge?
Images care of http://www.robaid.com/bionics/green-architecture-eden-project-in-uk.htm and  http://www.mi6-hq.com/sections/movies/dad_locations.php3?t=mi6&s=locations and http://www.stoneproject.org/drawing-touch.html

ROME: The Pantheon





When you think of Rome, images of the Colosseum, and the Vatican come to mind. As old as these buildings may be, the oldest surviving Roman building that is still in use today is the Pantheon. Named from the Greek meaning 'to every god', it was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome, and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in about 126 AD.

At the top of the dome is a large opening, known as the oculus, which was the only source of light.

The front portico has three rows of 8 columns, each one with a diameter of 1.5m. Amazingly, each of these monolithic columns is cut from a single piece of marble.

The history of the Pantheon

The construction of the Pantheon was part of a program of construction that was undertaken by Augustus Caesar and his supporters. Together, they built more than twenty structures on the Campus Martius, including the Baths of Agrippa and the Saepta Julia.

It had long been thought that the current building was built by Agrippa, with later alterations undertaken, and this was in part because of the inscription on the front of the temple.

The inscription across the front of the Pantheon says: 

M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIVM·FECIT 

or in full,
"M[arcus] Agrippa L[ucii] f[ilius] co[n] s[ul] tertium fecit," 
meaning "Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, made this building when consul for the third time."

However, archaeological excavations have shown that the Pantheon of Agrippa had been completely destroyed except for the facade, and Emperor Hadrian was responsible for rebuilding the Pantheon on the site of Agrippa's original temple.

The Interior

Originally a temple for all pagan gods, the temple was converted into a church in 609.

The Pantheon now contains the tombs of the famous artist Raphael and of several Italian Kings.

Its ecclasiastic interior design contrast with the temple's structural design.

However, the marble floor - which features a design consisting of a series of geometric patterns - is still the ancient Roman original. 

Probably one of the most fascinating features of the Pantheon is the Architecture. The structure of the Pantheon is comprised of a series of intersecting arches. The arches rest on eight piers which support eight round-headed arches which run through the drum from its inner to its outer face. 

The arches correspond to the eight bays on the floor level that house statues. The dome itself is supported by a series of arches that run horizontally round. Romans had perfected the use of arches which helped sustain the weight of their magnanimous buildings.

The Rotunda

The rotunda is perhaps the most striking element of the pantheons architecture. In fact it was the largest dome in the world until 1436 when the Florence Cathedral was constructed.


The thickness of the dome varies from 6.4 metres (21 ft) at the base of the dome to 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) around the oculus.

The stresses in the dome were found to be substantially reduced by the use of successively less dense aggregate stones, such as small pots or pieces of pumice, in higher layers of the dome.

Hidden chambers engineered within the rotunda form a sophisticated honeycomb structure. 

This reduced the weight of the roof, as did the elimination of the apex by means of the oculus. The top of the rotunda wall features a series of brick relieving arches, visible on the outside and built into the mass of the brickwork. 

The Pantheon is full of such devices – for example, there are relieving arches over the recesses inside – but all these arches were hidden by marble facing on the interior and possibly by stone revetment or stucco on the exterior.


The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 43.3 metres (142 ft), so the whole interior would fit exactly within a cube.

These dimensions make more sense when expressed in ancient Roman units of measurement: 

The dome spans 150 Roman feet; the oculus is 30 Roman feet in diameter; the doorway is 40 Roman feet high.

The Pantheon still holds the record for the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. It is also substantially larger than earlier domes. Though often drawn as a free-standing building, there was a building at its rear into which it abutted. While this building helped buttress the rotunda, there was no interior passage from one to the other.


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How to get to Pompeii from Sorrento
How to get to Sorrento from Naples International Airport?
How to get to Villa d'Este from Rome
ITALIAN HISTORY: Who was Christopher Columbus?
ITALIAN HISTORY: Who was Julius Caesar?
ITALY: Rome Pictures
ITALY: What is Pompeii?
ITALY: Where is Pompei?
ROMAN BRITAIN: Who was Gnaeus Julius Agricola?
ROME: The Colosseum
ROME: The Gladiator School
ROME: The Pyramid of Cestius
ROME: Villa d'Este
ROME: What was a Gladiator?
ROMAN HISTORY: What did the Romans Eat?
Where is Sorrento?
Based on an article from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheon,_Rome and http://www.aviewoncities.com/rome/pantheon.htm
Photos are from my Roman holiday 2011 and http://scienceman2008.blogspot.co.uk/