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Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne

Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne

Melbourne, Royal Exhibition Building

June 272013

Located in Melbourne’s stunning Carlton Gardens, Melbourne’s magnificent Royal Exhibition Building was finished just in time for the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition. It was a smashing success.

Lasting eight months, the exhibition attracted over a million people to the eight hectares of exhibition space. More than 30 countries displayed their industrial, cultural, and technological achievements to all comers, bringing knowledge from all over the world to Melbourne.

Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building

Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building

The Royal Exhibition Building was from then on logged into history as a major event venue, even hosting the opening of Australia’s first parliament in 1901. In 2004, it became Australia’s first building to win status as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It still hosts exhibitions and events in connection with the Melbourne Museum.

History of the Royal Exhibition Building

The Royal Exhibition Building shares some stylistic similarities with the State Library of Victoria and the Melbourne Town Hall, as all three buildings were designed by architect Joseph Reed.

In designing the Royal Exhibition Building, Reed modeled the dome on that of the Florence Cathedral, and the building’s main pavilions on buildings in Normandy, Paris, and Caen as well as the Rundbogenstil architectural style in Germany. As designed, its Great Hall covered more than 12,000 square metres and its temporary annexes many more. The building was finished within a year.

Royal Exhibition Building

Royal Exhibition Building

Right off the bat, the Great Exhibition Building was the site of not just one but three major historic events. Following 1880’s historic Melbourne International Exhibition was the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition of 1888.

When Australia won its status as the Commonwealth of Australia on the first of January 1901, the building was the site of the opening of the very first Parliament of Australia in May of that year. The parliament moved to Victorian State Parliament House soon afterwards, while the Victorian Parliament ended up using the Exhibition Building for 26 years.

When the Australian National Flag was designed and chosen, one of the first new flags was flown over the Royal Exhibition Building. It measured a full 5.5 by 11 metres in size.

The Royal Exhibition Building in the 20th Century

Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne

Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne

Unfortunately, the Exhibition Building was not well maintained in the early part of the century. By 1948, its existence came to a vote before the Melbourne City Council — should it be knocked down, and replaced by office blocks? The building survived… but only by a narrow margin.

A fire in 1953 burnt down the wing which had once been home to Melbourne’s aquarium. Regular weekly dances, car shows, boat shows, and other commercial expositions occupied the building during the 1940s and 1950s.

For the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, the Royal Exhibition Building was the venue for a number of events. Basketball, wrestling, weightlifting, and the fencing component to the modern pentathlon all took place there.

Students of all stripes also got to know the Exhibition Building. Among other uses, the Victorian Certificate of Education and State High School Matriculation exams took place there until the 1970s.

The Exhibition Building narrowly survived demolition again in 1979. After the grand ballroom was demolished, it was only a public outcry that saved the main building.

Just four years after the hundredth anniversary of the Melbourne International Exposition, Princess Alexandra bestowed upon the Exhibition Building the royal title, giving it the name Royal Exhibition Building. This was an important moment in the building’s history. Thanks to the new title and a conservation assessment done by Alan Willingham, the building saw a thorough restoration over the next twenty years.

A little while later, the Melbourne Museum was built next door. This was a controversial decision, and the controversy had far reaching effects. In order to protect the Royal Exhibition Building, the opponents of the museum’s construction nominated the Exhibition Building as a World Heritage Site in 1999.

By 2004, both the Royal Exhibition Building and the surrounding Carlton Gardens were granted the status of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, making the Exhibition Building the first building in Australia to get a spot on the list. As for the museum, it’s embarked on major projects to help restore and preserve the Exhibition Building and its grounds.

Nowadays, the Royal Exhibition Building still sees use for commercial exhibitions and trade shows, like the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. Students use it too, with at least six different high schools and universities holding their exams in it.

Seeing these buildings for yourself is now a realistic possibility. The internet allows one to plan a trip to the area with little to no difficulty in a short time. Planning your trip to Melbourne can take mere moments, whether you’re from a nearby country or another continent. This is great if you want to take a group on a historical tour of these historical buildings, or if you just want to take a vacation and take in an exciting new culture. There is no excuse not to at least investigate this endeavor, as there are countless options for a wide variety of price ranges.

Click here to learn more

 

photo by: Wilson Afonso
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Ancient Kyoto – Tenryu-ji Temple

Ancient Kyoto – Tenryu-ji Temple

Tenryu-ji Temple, Kyoto

June 142013

Kyoto is a city located centrally on Honshu Island in Japan. In the olden days, it has been the royal capital of Japan for over 1000 years. It now happens to be capital of the Kyoto Prefecture. It also forms a big part of the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area. Kyoto used to be the primary center for garden design and for secular and architecture. That was in the days from the 8th to the 17th century. It was during this period that it had a pivotal role in creating the cultural traditions of Japan.

Tenryu-ji
Tenryu-ji Templejohn weiss / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

This was particularly true in the case of gardens that appeared to have a huge influence on the whole world after the 19th century. China had already passed on its Chinese and Buddhist influences. The city of Kyoto was developed on the lines of Chinese cities like Changshan, which was then the capital of Tang China.

History:

After the war in the year 1185, a samurai military regime was set up at Kamakum but the imperial court continued to stay at Kyoto. Among the most significant examples of architecture of those times was the Sekisui-in at Kozan-ji. Even this one was over with the formation of the Muromachi Shogunate. It was during this time that very big temples of Rinzai Zen sect, like Temyu-ji, were built. This time also saw the makings of the beautiful Zen gardens. Saiho-ji is an example.

Garden
Koyoto Tenryu-ji Temple Garden7_nana / Nature Photos / CC BY-NC-SA

By the turn of the 14th century, Muromachi Shogunate had reached the peak of its regime that was mirrored in structures like Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. This later went on to become Rokuon-ji, a Buddhist temple. There was also a villa of a later shogun, called Ashikaga Yoshimasa that had been constructed in a sophisticated style. This one too was transformed into Jisho-ji. They decided to convert the Garden design into a form of pure art.

Woods around Ginkaku-ji
Ginkaku-ji, KoyotoJames Nash (aka Cirrus) / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Unfortunately, a large part of Kyoto was demolished during the Onin War that lasted between 1467 and 1477. However, a new urban class resurrected it again. This class substituted the nobles who had escaped when the war took place. Later, it was in 1568 that Oda Nobunaga rose to power. Toyotomi Hideyoshi followed him. Hideyoshi finally united Japan and constructed a 23-kilometer wall to surround Kyoto. This caused the center of power to shift to Edo which today we know as Tokyo. At this point, a Shogunate came to be formed under the Tokugawa Ieyasu. Their authority was given custom material in Kyoto along with building of the robust castle, Ngo-jo. At that time, Hideyoshi’s defenses were pulled to bits.

Construction and development of Tenryu-ji Temple:

Tenryu-ji Temple stands in the center of Sagano district. This is a very attractive tourist area in Kyoto. This Zen Buddhist temple has a beautiful Chisen-kaiyu-shiki garden. This was created by a genius garden designer by the name of Muso Soseki.  Sogen-chi pond and the arranged rocks of Ishigumi are very pretty. The head temple of Rinzai Zen sect is the Tenryu-ji. It also happens to be one of the seventeen World Cultural Heritage places in Kyoto.

In 1339, priest Muso Soseki proposed to Ashikaga Takauji – the first Muromachi Shogun, and brother Tadayoshi the construction of a temple to commemorate the deceased Emperor Go-Daigo. He was the one to have coordinated initially with samurai brothers to defeat the Kamakura Shogunate. There was immediate agreement with the priest. However, the just-established and new Shogunate government lacked adequate funds. They were compelled to start trading with China to be able to complete the Temple’s construction. In 1345, finally, the Zen temple was unveiled officially with Muso Soseki appointed its head priest. Sadly, the temple buildings have caught fire many times since then but they have been reconstructed each time and to this day this temple portrays the glory and beauty of its epoch.

Author: Teresa Jens works as a travel agent for one of the leading European travel companies.  One of her main duties is to find good flight (in Swedish flygresor) deals for her customers.
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Mecca’s Masjid al-Haram

Mecca’s Masjid al-Haram

Masjid al-Haram, Mecca, Saudi Arabia - the "Grand Mosque"

June 122013

One of the most distinctive religious sites in the world, the Masjid al-Haram in the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is visited by literally millions of pilgrims every year. At its heart sits the Kaaba, a distinctive black cube and the point towards which all Muslims, around the world, pray.

Never still
Mecca’s Masjid al-HaramOmar Chatriwala / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Masjid al-Haram History

Legend has it that the Kaaba itself was built by Ibrahim (Abraham), the progenitor of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Prior to the advent of Islam in the 7th Century AD the site is believed to have been a temple of worship for local pagan tribes, but when the Prophet Muhammad came to the city he had the pagan idols removed and established a mosque in its place.

The Greatest Mosque Al-Masjid Al-Haram  , Mecca | أول بيت وضع للناس
Masjid al-Haram Mecca Hossam all line / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Until the beginning of the 8th Century the Masjid al-Haram was a small structure, little bigger than a house, built around the Kaaba. As Islam gained more followers and came to dominate the region, so a bigger mosque was built. By the 750s the building had lost its wooden columns and acquired granite ones, and this structure would remain for almost 800 years, when there were a number of renovations, each making the mosque larger still, throughout the 16th and 17th Centuries.

The Kaaba in Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām (The Sacred Mosque), built by the Prophet Abraham as a place to worship God
Mosque Al-Masjid Al-Haram , MeccaOmar A. / Travel Photos / CC BY-NC-SA

Though elements of the ancient mosque survive much of the current structure, which can accommodate up to an astonishing 4million pilgrims during the Hajj, dates from the 1950s when the Saudi royal family carried out the first major works for over 300 years.

Hajj

One of the ‘Five Pillars of Islam’, the Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca undertaken by millions of Muslims annually. For many centuries the journey itself was perilous, involving dangerous sea crossings or travelling – either on foot or horseback – across arid, unforgiving deserts. Nowadays, thankfully, with the advent of aircraft it’s a great deal safer, not to mention easier!

Though a number of large, luxury hotels have been built in recent years to accommodate the sudden influx of visitors many stay in the so-called “Tent City” of Mina; a vast campsite with over 100,000 air-conditioned tents!

Hajj takes place from the 8th until the 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic calendar, during which time a number of rituals are performed, including Tawaf. This is the act of walking seven times in a clockwise direction around the Kaaba and – if possible – kissing or touching the famous Black Stone.

The Black Stone

The very oldest part of the Masjid al-Haram is without doubt the “Black Stone” (or al-Ḥajar al-Aswad), set into the corner of the Kaaba. It’s known to have been worshipped in pre-Islamic times, and Islamic tradition holds that the stone fell to Earth from Heaven, and was used by Adam and Eve as the first altar. This has led many to suggest it may have been a meteorite whose crash landing was observed by some of the region’s earliest inhabitants, and that this story was then handed down through the generations.

 

Umrah 2012
Masjid al-Haram “Black Stone” FFaruq / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

There have been many attempts to destroy it over the years, and fragments of it were chipped away. As a result, descriptions of the stone – which is housed within a large metal frame– have changed dramatically through history, but after many centuries of being kissed and touched by countless pilgrims it’s currently described as being polished smooth and almost metallic in appearance.

The Masjid al-Haram Today

Today, having been used as a place of worship by Muslims for over 1,400 years, the Masjid al-Haram covers an area of over 350,000 square feet – or the equivalent of around 90 football fields – and even when it’s not being visited by pilgrims from around the world can comfortably play host to almost 1million worshippers. Unusually – considering the rules on gender segregation in other parts of Saudi Arabia – the Masjid al-Haram is one of the few major mosques in the world where men and women congregate together.

However, recent years have seen some controversial developments near the site, and in particular the construction of the Abraj Al Bait skyscrapers (the world’s second tallest), which stand only a few hundred metres from the Kaaba itself and overlook the mosque, dominating Mecca’s skyline. Can it be very long before the Maasjid al-Haram itself has another makeover?

Author – David Llewellyn, who writes about travel and tourism for Anjum Hotels
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Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles

June 102013

The History of Versailles:

Versailles was originally created by Louis XIII on his hunting trips, as a cabin. Louis XIV expanded the palace into one of the largest palaces in the world, smaller in land area (for the entire complex) than the Forbidden City in China, but the largest in total land area (larger than Buckingham Palace at least). And according to Wikipedia, the world’s largest palace is the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, built for the Ottoman Empire and its sultan; then Istana Nurul Iman, in Brunei, and the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City.

Château de Versailles - L'Orangerie - 26-05-2007 - 17h31
Palace of VersaillesPanoramas / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

After the French Revolution, the Palace of Versailles was used as a museum. During the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon’s wife lived in the Palace.

During the Franco-Prussian War, when Prussia captured Napoleon III and his army, they also captured Versailles. There, in the Hall of Mirrors, they proclaimed the unity of Germany, and thus created the German Empire, and took Alsace Lorraine, causing French anger at Germany, and a willingness and urge to fight against Germany.

The opportunity had arisen, and the French took it. They declared war. After World War I, in the hall of Mirrors, of Versailles, in the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was blamed for causing World War I, and heavy war reparations were imposed on Germany.

In World War II, Germany invaded France once again, and took over France this time. When France was finally freed, the Fourth Republic was established. However, it was abolished, and replaced with the Fifth Republic, which is modern-day France, and it is believed that the Fifth Republic has committed more money to restoring Versailles than the amount of money Louis XIV spent on creating the palace.

Where is the Palace and Park of Versailles:

Versailles was the royal chateau in France, where the King of France resided, and where he kept all the nobles. Versailles has a long and rich history – being a museum, a palace, a house, and having varying purposes. Currently, at this moment in time, it is a wealthy suburb of Paris, and about 20 kilometers south of Paris itself.

Why should you choose the Palace and Park of Versailles:

Versailles is an area that is the symbol of the French monarchy. It is one of the largest palaces in the world, and 3 million people visit it each year. You can enter Versailles for free on the first Sunday of every month from November to March. They even have their own gift shop!

Versailles is actually one of the Google World Wonders! Versailles is extremely famous – why else would 3 million people visit it each year? 3 million each year translates into 30 million each 10 years, and 300 million in a century (except it would increase over time), which is more than 2 or 3 times the population of Russia (except that would increase over time as well)!

How to get to Versailles:

The official website of the Palace of Versailles is at Chateauversailles.fr(English Website). To see if you are eligible for free entry, you can go to their tickets and rates page. To order tickets, check their tickets page. It takes about 35 minutes to get to Versailles from Paris (excluding traffic).

In order to get the Versailles from Paris, you could use the roads as outlined below with Google Maps. On the way there, you could check out other Parisian areas of interest, such as the Louvre, and you could see the Eiffel Tower on some roads. Just remember – Versailles is huge palace, one of the largest in the world.

This guest post was written by John Lin from Unifiniti, a website devoted to travel tips and history articles.

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There is a special building set on the north coast of Cape Evans on the Ross Island in Antarctica. This is an ancient and historically rich site with a story and it is called Scott’s Hut. The British Antarctic Expedition (1910–1913) built it in the early 20th century. This was also referred as Terra Nova Expedition. Robert Falcon Scott was the leader. They needed to choose a base for the operations of the 1910–1913 Expedition. Scott was not in favor of reoccupying this hut. The initial place where this hut was situated was at Hut Point that was a good 20 km to the south of the Cape Evans. The one reason was that it was really cold for use as living quarters whereas the other was Discovery – the ship of Scott had once been shut in by sea at this location of Hut Point. This is why this time Scott wished to start a base more on the northern side.

outside the hut
Scott’s Hutsandwichgirl / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Description:

Scott’s Hut was assembled in Britain and then ferried across to the south with the help of a ship. It was in the shape of a rectangle.  It was padded by seaweed that was sewn into a quilt and stuffed between double-planked walls. The roof is a 3-layered sandwich made of two layers of rubber ply. Acetylene gas provided light inside and a kitchen with a stove that used coal fuel served to heat up the place. This hut had dedicated rooms to sleep in and to work in as well. It even accommodated a building that could hold up to 19 ponies! In addition to this, there was a utility room. A huge effort went into the designing of this hut and especially to protect it from the severe cold. Terra Nova expedition members are known to have mentioned that this hut was quite comfortably warm. A cross is established on the hill just behind this hut but this one has no relation to Captain Scott. This was built to remember 3 members of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party who had perished nearby. Another cross is visible in memory of the Captain Scott himself as well as his companions – this is on the top of Observation Hill.

laboratory
Captain Scott, Scott’s Hut sandwichgirl / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

How Scott’s Hut was utilized:

It was during the freezing winter of 1911 that 25 of the Terra Nova men actually lived here. It is from this point that Scott and his companions left for a trek to the South Pole. They never returned! This was the reason many of the men stayed on in this hut for another full year trying to find their friends’ bodies. Yet again after a few years, others found this hut useful when a whole lot of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Ross Sea party stayed here. Their vessel called Aurora broke loose and floated off in the spring and was ultimately lost. This hut thus happened to become a permanent shelter for a lot of such shipwreck victims. However, this hut was abandoned in 1917 but the structure and everything that there was in it have since remained extraordinarily well maintained until today thanks to the constant sub-zero temperature conditions which act as a preservative.

adelies
Antarctica, Scott’s Hut sandwichgirl / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Decay and Preservation at Scott’s Hut:

Scott’s Hut remained exactly as it was for as long as up until 1956. This was when some expeditioners from the US extracted it out from beneath the thick snow cover! It was like a miracle how well preserved the hut had remained. Countries such as New Zealand and the UK have been regularly attempting at restoring both Scott’s Hut as well as the Discovery Hut. It’s amazing how some of the food items have remained fine though some extent of bacterial decay is apparent. Visitors who see this say that the seal preserved at Discovery Hut now smells rancid, that there is fungal decay seen in the hut’s fabric. Both the Scott’s Hut and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Hut have thus been included in the List of the world’s 100 Most Endangered Sites. These were once again listed in 2006 and 2008 where Sir Ernest Shackleton’s hut was included in a combined proposal along with Scott’s Hut on Cape Evans together called Scott’s Hut and the Explorers’ Heritage of Antarctica.

Discovery Hut
Scott’s Hut – the Explorers’ Heritage of AntarcticaBlue~Canoe / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Author: Teresa Jens lives in Denmark. She works as a travel agent for one of the leading European travel companies. In her spare time she likes writing about her trips (or like they say in Danish rejser) on her travel blog.
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Taj Mahal, India
August 262011

Taj Mahal, IndiaBackground:

The Taj Mahal is the most famous monument to a man’s love for a woman. It was built as a mausoleum for Mumtuz Mahal, the wife of the Emperor, and stands as a symbol of her husband’s grief at her passing.

The Taj Mahal combines Persian, Indian and Turkish architecture. The exterior is elaborately decorated, but in keeping with Muslim law, none of the art represents people. Instead ornate patterns decorate the walls. Herringbone inlays and geometric designs predominate, and floor tiles are laid in tessellating patterns. At each corner of the Taj Mahal’s grounds, a minaret rises towards the heavens.

The interior of the Taj Mahal is even more elaborate; here jewels and semi-precious stones are often used to create designs. Light filters into the chamber through intricately-carved screens, making temporary patterns of brightness and shade.

The main chamber holds two cenotaphs—empty tombs—beautifully decorated. Mumtuz Mahal’s cenotaph is enthroned in the center of the chamber; it’s festooned with jewels and bears verses praising her beauty and virtue. The cenotaph of her husband, the Shah, sits to the side and is inscribed with the words, “He traveled from this world to the banquet-hall of Eternity on the night of the twenty-sixth of the month of Rajab, in the year 1076 Hijri.”

The real tombs of the Shah and his wife lie downstairs, immediately below their cenotaphs. Muslim law dictates that tombs should be plain and undecorated, and the bodies lie in simpler state and face Mecca.

Several buildings surround the Taj Mahal. Some of them contain the remains of Shah Jahan’s other wives, and one is the tomb of Mumtuz Mahal’s favorite servant. In addition, two identical buildings sit centered on the western and eastern sides of the grounds. The eastern building is a mosque, still used for religious services. Its western twin was probably used as a guest house.

The entire complex is set in the midst of a beautiful garden, graced by fountains and broad pathways of trees. The centerpiece is a long pool which reflects the image of the Taj Mahal.
Between 2 and 4 million people visit the Taj Mahal each year. The monument is open on weekdays, except for Fridays, the Muslim holy day.

History:

Shah Jahan was the powerful Mughal Emperor. He loved his third wife, and he was stricken with grief when she died delivering their 14th child in 1631. He immediately began plans to build a memorial in her honor, and construction on the Taj Mahal began the following year.

The main structure—the mausoleum—was completed in 1648, and it took another five years to finish the gardens and the buildings that surrounded the mausoleum.

Shah Jahan was eventually overthrown by his son, and was incarcerated until his death. His son had his body interred in the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal wasn’t well-maintained after his death, and was damaged during British colonial rule. British soldiers defaced it, scrawling graffiti on its gates and prying jewels from the walls. Eventually the British government began restoration work, which was completed in 1908.

How To Get There:

The most direct route is to fly to New Delhi and then take another flight into Agra. The Taj Mahal lies about five miles outside town, and buses and trains go to the site regularly. You can rent a car if you want the freedom to sight-see on a wider scale. Cycle-rickshaws are a romantic option, but they’ll take a little longer.

Where to Stay:

The Oberoi Amavilas Hotel is an oasis of beauty and charm. The décor is elegant, and the view of the Taj Mahal will take your breath away. At $400-500 per night, you pay a premium price—but in return you receive quality service and amenities. Reviews of the hotel are almost unanimous: It’s well worth the price.

The Lauries Hotel was built at the height of British colonial rule, and an atmosphere of the past fills the place. The hotel offers huge rooms and plenty of colonial ambience, but you won’t find a television in your room. You won’t find many other guests, either; tourists haven’t yet discovered this gem, where a room costs under $50 a night!

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Machu Picchu, Peru
August 262011

Machu Picchu, PeruBackground:

Machu Picchu was constructed in the 1400’s, and may have been intended to be the palatial estate of the ruler–or Sapa Inca–Pachacuti. The site was quickly abandoned during the Spanish conquest, and was forgotten by the world for centuries.

Hiram Bingham, an American historian, brought the site to the world’s attention in 1911, and Macchu Picchu quickly became a major tourist site. Much of it has been restored, and the restoration work continues.

Some historians believe that Machu Picchu was a religious site. Evidence of sacrificial offerings has been found, and some of the stone buildings at the site have carved niches that Inca used for religious purposes.

The site is strategically located in a saddle between two high mountains, and it is bordered on three sides by the Urubamba River. The river and the altitude combine to form a thick cover of fog, especially in the morning. The Incans terraced some of the surrounding mountains, and had enough land to grow more crops than they actually needed. Natural springs provided a constantly-fresh source of water; and these factors, combined, rendered Machu Picchu very easy to defend.

Machu Picchu is separated into an Urban Section and an Agricultural Section. The Urban section boasts temples, private residences and parks, and an impressive rock-carved irrigation system provided drinking water and supplied the beautiful fountains scattered throughout the site. Most structures were built with in typical Incan style, with rocks cut to order and then assembled without any mortar. The Incas also developed strategies to keep their homes from collapsing in the event of an earthquake.

History:

Machu Picchu was built at the peak of Incan culture. The site was probably chosen because of its proximity to mountains that had astrological significance to the Incan people.

Machu Picchu was probably abandoned in response to the Spanish conquest, as its people either fled or were decimated by smallpox. Spain had a fortified settlement about 50 miles away, but never found the site. This is significant, because it means that Machu Picchu offers a pure glimpse of Incan culture without any European influence.

The site was rediscovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, who noted that native peoples were still living in some of the buildings. National Geographic featured Machu Picchu in their magazine a few years later, arousing further interest in the site.

How To Get There:

Are you up for a trek?

Cuzco has the nearest airport, and the city is the main arrival point for travelers to Machu Picchu. Getting to Machu Picchu is a bit trickier. Most people go by train. There are two main options: The VistaDome Railway meanders over mountains and through the heart of Inca country, offering spectacular vistas. If you’re returning to Cuzco for the night, though, you’ll have just four hours on-site before the train departs. The Hiram Bingham offers a leisurely trip complete with brunch, afternoon tea and entertainment, and returns after six hours spent on-site.

If you’re fit, and want adventure, you can walk the Inca Trail. It typically takes 4 days to make the 28- mile trek through lush jungle and past native villages. Government-enforced restrictions currently allow tour groups only in an effort to prevent destruction of the environment.

There is a road—of sorts! By all reports it’s more of a dirt path that twists and winds up steep mountainsides with no guardrail between the unwary tourist and a long plunge. Travelers are advised to avoid it.

Peru recently restricted entry to Machu Picchu to 2,500 people a day. Travel agencies advise people to buy their tickets in Cuzco, since they are no longer always available at the site.

Where To Stay:

Many tourists return to Cuzco for the night, but you’ll be able to fully explore the ruins if you stay near Machu Picchu. The Incaterra Machu Picchu is an upscale hotel located in a private park in the rain forest. Perks include birding and ecological hikes, plus the usual amenities, but the cost can run up to $500 a night.

The Plaza Andina Machupicchu is more affordable at up to $100. The décor isn’t stylish, but the staff is helpful and the rooms are clean and well-appointed.

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Great Wall of China, ChinaBackground:

The Great Wall is now a symbol of pride for the nation of China, but the world had all but forgotten it until fairly recently. Mao Zedong had been in power for years when he began to promote the Great Wall as a symbol of Chinese ingenuity. The ancient ruin, forgotten for centuries, began to stand for hope in the country that had torn apart by war and famine.

By that time, though, much of the wall had crumpled into the dirt, and other portions were in poor repair. The problem continues into the present, and though some of the Wall is in good shape, other portions are expected to disappear soon, victims of erosion from the sandstorms that sweep the region. The older sections of the Wall, made of clay and packed dirt, are more vulnerable to erosion than the later additions; the sections that are in good condition are those that were built at a later date with bricks.

The Great Wall was not just a wall; a road ran along the top of it, wide enough for ten soldiers to march side-by-side. Guardhouses were placed along the top, and when the Wall was manned with armed soldiers, it was a formidable barrier.

History:

Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, conquered and consolidated nearby states and formed the Qin (pronounced ‘chin’) dynasty in 221 B.C.E. He knew that he had to fortify his kingdom against the roving bands of Manchurians that often attacked from the north, so he ordered the construction of a long barrier wall. This wall incorporated parts of earlier walls, but used cutting-edge construction techniques. The manpower needed for a project of this scope was staggering, and historians speculate that between 1 and 3 million people were involved in the construction.

History and time aren’t kind, and most of the Great Wall has disappeared. Portions remain, and they’re impressive enough. Unfortunately, there is no way to know exactly how long the Great Wall was, or the exact route it took. We do know that it performed its job admirably, keeping raiding parties from invading China.

It worked so well, in fact, that later dynasties went to considerable expense to repair and extend the Great Wall. The Ming dynasty outdid them all in the 1400’s, using stone and brick to construct a barrier that was more durable than the earlier rammed-earth versions.

How To Get There:

There are several portions of the Great Wall that are currently open to the public, but the four most popular are within an hour’s driving distance of Beijing. The Bandaling portion of the Wall is restored and offers great scenery—but it’s often very crowded. The MuTienYu pass has been restored, too, and is in better condition than any other portion of the Wall. It passes through heavy forests, so the scenery is particularly beautiful; but there are many hills, so walking this portion of the Wall is more difficult. The ShiGuan and JuYongGuan passes are also convenient to Beijing.

Fly into the sophisticated Beijing Capitol International Airport, and if you’re spending the night in Beijing and don’t mind spending an extra $20, the airport’s pick-up service will take you directly to your hotel.

Several sections of the Wall are less than an hour’s bus ride from the airport, although you may want to rent a car if you’re going directly to the Wall.

Where to Stay:

If you want a hotel near the Great Wall, consider trying Commune by the Great Wall. This private facility offers breath-taking views of the Wall—and modern amenities. Commune welcomes children effusively, offering perks and amenities geared specially for the younger crowd. You can leave your children at the Kid’s Club, a villa furnished with lots of kid-friendly activities, while you catch a movie at Commune’s private cinema. It’s expensive, though; prices start at $250 a night.

The China Guide, a tour company, offers the other end of the spectrum, giving tourists a chance to sleep on the Great Wall. Sleeping bags are provided for the night, and an English-speaking guide stays with you. A full two-day package costs between $200-300, depending on the number of adults on the tour.

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Colosseum, Italy
August 262011

Colosseum, ItalyBackground:

It has seen more bloodshed than any other location in the world. Its proper name is the Flavian Amphitheater, but most of the world knows it simply as the Colosseum, and its image is instantly recognizable around the world.

The Colosseum reflects the Latin meaning of its name—‘colossal’. It could seat over 50,000 people, and it took up 6 acres of land. Its construction was a marvel of engineering: the outer wall was built with no mortar, and designers used innovative techniques to evacuate the huge structure quickly, creating 80 numbered entrances to facilitate the flow of foot traffic.

The floor of the arena was made of wood, which was then covered by sand. Under the floor lay two maze-like levels of underground passageways and cages, which were used to contain gladiators and the wild animals that would take part in the games.

The Colosseum was the site of gladiatorial games in which slaves or criminals fought to the death as the crowd went wild. The defeated gladiator was expected to accept his death without flinching; but the winner went on to fight another day. These games often included animal shows, which were in reality hunts staged for the specific purpose of slaughtering many animals. Over the years millions of animals died so that Romans could be entertained, and historians believe that several exotic species were rendered extinct by the Roman desire for entertainment.

More than a few people met their fate in the Colosseum, too. It’s impossible to know exact numbers with any certainty, but historians estimate that at least 500,000 people and 1 million animals died there.

History:

The Colosseum was a project of the Emperor Vespasian. The Emperor chose a flat site, once crowded with slums full of poor inhabitants. The area had been conveniently decimated a few years earlier by a great fire, though, and construction began in 72 C.D. The Colosseum wasn’t completed until the reign of Titus, three years after Vespasian’s death. The games held to inaugurate the amphitheater lasted for days and resulted in the deaths of 9,000 animals.

The structure of Roman society was strictly observed in the amphitheater’s seating. The Emperor held the most spacious seat, and Vestal Virgins were honored by receiving seats next to him. Senators and other important men had excellent seats, too; but the poor were stuck in the higher seats—harder to reach, and much more distant from the action.

An earthquake caused part of the southern wall of the Colosseum to collapse in 1349. People considered the rubble to be fair game, and many pieces of the structure were carried away and used to complete other building projects. The Colosseum continued to be picked over as time went on, and large pieces of it were lost to history forever. At one point the Colosseum’s marble exterior was burned to make quicklime!

In the 1700’s, the Church began to express its concern over the destruction, and it looked for ways to protect the Colosseum. Pope Benedict decreed that the amphitheater was a holy site because it was saturated with the blood of Christians who had been martyred there. No hard historical evidence backs up this assertion, but the Pope’s statement may have prevented the complete destruction of the amphitheater.

How To Get There:

Rome, Italy has two airports. The Leonardo da Vinci International Airport is the largest and busiest, and many tourists chose to fly into this airport. Connections into the city are easy to make from this airport.

The Ciampino International Airport is geared toward low-cost travelers, but it closes overnight and provides cash machines only in the departure area.

Where To Stay:

Many of the hotels located near the Colosseum don’t offer rooms with accessibility features, so be sure and ask before you make reservations.

For a special experience, try the Hotel Palazo Manfredi, a small 5 star hotel that offers many amenities, including both views of the Colosseum and tickets of admission. Rooms range from $375 to $525, and you should book in advance.

La Camere della Principessa is a bed and breakfast located close to the Colosseum. The rooms are decorated in the Italian style, and rent from $100-250 a night.

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Petra, Jordan
August 262011

Petra, JordanBackground:

An ancient city of stone lies hidden in a Jordanian valley between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. Petra is carved out of solid rock, hidden by towering pillars of stone, and accessible only by narrow gorges carved through cliffs. Even the city’s name means ‘rock’. Petra, the Rock, was once a thriving center of trade. It was eventually abandoned, and rediscovered in modern times.

Modern visitors to Petra have to navigate the steep downward path through “the shaft”, a corridor about 10 feet wide that was formed by fissures in the rock and then widened—slightly—as the earth settled. At the bottom, the path turns and visitors catch their first glimpse of Petra in the form of Al Kazneh, or ‘The Treasury’. First-time visitors know what they’ll be seeing: but the first glimpse is still hard to take in. Al Kazneh, Petra’s best known building and most iconic image, is carved right into the cliff face.

Al Kazneh isn’t the only building, though; the rest of the city lies just beyond. The sights include a Roman amphitheater hewn out of the rock, and numerous lavishly-carved tombs. Most of the houses in Petra collapsed during earthquakes, but temples and sacrificial altars remain. The largest free-standing building in Petra is the Great Temple, which contains beautiful art work and demonstrates the willingness of Petra’s rulers to spend time and money to make their buildings more beautiful.

Petra is ancient, but it faces problems that threaten its future. Tourism has taken its toll—the site is visited by hundreds of thousands each year—and so have restorations of the site, which have been badly-executed. Water has been channeled and drained improperly, causing erosion; floods have extended the damage. The government, realizing that the problem was serious, recently began cooperative efforts with the Petra National Trust, an organization designed to protect the site.

History:

Experts believe that Petra was carved into the rock about the year 1500 B.C.E.; but it had been a place of refuge from much earlier times. In fact, it is mentioned in the Bible more than once. The original inhabitants were ancestors of the Nabataeans, although the culture was heavily influenced by Egypt and Greece. Eventually Rome came into possession of the site, and Nabataean rule came to an end.

Petra was located in a dry, desert region, and the Nabataeans became experts in the art of using and conserving water. They created a system of dams, canals and reservoirs, and were able to keep their land irrigated.

The Nabataeans were traders, and they traveled the Silk Road as far as China, trading spices and other goods. Petra, as their capital, became an important center of trade. But Rome changed many of its trade routes as more and more land came under its control. These changes led to a decrease in Petra’s trade, and eventually to the city’s decline. It sustained heavy damage from an earthquake in 363 C.E. Abandoned and weakened by time, Petra fell victim to thieves who raided tombs and carried precious artifacts away.

The city was all but forgotten for centuries, particularly in the Western world. Then, in 1812, it was ‘discovered’ by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a Swiss adventurer.

How To Get There:

You’ll fly into Queen Alia International Airport in Amman. Travel time between Amman and Petra is between 3 and 4 hours, and you can make the trip in several ways. Jett buses are inexpensive, air-conditioned, and comfortable; or you can rent a car in Amman for about $250 a week and make the drive yourself.

Where To Stay:

Believe it or not, there’s a 5-star hotel right across from the entrance to Petra. The Petra Movenpick offers wonderful views, Bedouin décor, a sauna and a gym. Costs range from $160-250 a night.
The Qasar al Bint Hotel isn’t fancy, but you can’t do better for rates of $40-60 a night. Guests who have stayed here report that the staff is helpful, and that the relaxed feel to the hotel gave them a sense of local life.

Jordan is a Muslim country, and they are conservative in their dress. Visitors who don’t want to offend should wear conservative clothing.

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Chichen Itza, Mexico
August 262011

Chichen Itza, MexicoBackground:

Chichen Itza, the Mayan city of stone, has been standing for almost 2000 years. The details of the city’s founding are unknown, and centuries later it was abandoned for reasons that remain shrouded in mystery. One thing is certain: Chichen Itza was built by the Mayans, who erected this Wonder of the World without draft animals, wheels, or metal tools. The same people created a system of writing, developed a calendar, and drew charts of the night sky while Europe plunged into the Dark Ages.

Chichen Itza is located in the Mexican state of Yucatan. The region is arid, but Chichen Itza was founded near two cenotes—deep wells of natural water—which made habitation possible. In fact, Chichen Itza means ‘at the mouth of the well of Itza’, so even its name hints at the importance of the two cenote.

History:

The cenotes were central to Mayan life, and not just because they provided fresh water. Chichen Itza was dedicated to the worship of Mayan gods, and one of the cenotes was used for ritual sacrifice. People were thrown into the cenote as an offering to the god of rain. Archeologists have explored the cenote thoroughly, dredging up artifacts like pottery and gold–and human skeletons.

El Castillo, the great temple, stands near the center of Chichen Itza. Dedicated to Kukulcan, the plumed serpent-god, the step pyramid rises 75 feet; and because there are 365 steps leading to the temple at the summit, archeologists believe it may have also been used as a calendar. Two huge serpent heads are carved into the bottom of the steps on the northern side, and each year on the equinoxes, the interplay of sun and shadow gives the impression of a snake descending the stairs. Like all the structures at this site, El Castillo has been bleached white by the years. Once, though, it was painted in vibrant colors and decorated lavishly.

Just beyond El Castillo lies the largest ball court in ancient Mesoamerica. Two high walls embrace the playing field where skilled athletes played pok ta pok, a game of life and death. Pok ta pok was played by two teams of six players, and the goal was to get the ball through a ring that jutted, 21 feet high, from one of the walls. Players could use any body part except their hands. The feat seems insurmountable, and in fact, the ball seldom made it through the ring. When it did, though, the captain of the scoring team was honored by being decapitated as a sacrifice to the gods. And it was an honor, because a player who died this way went straight to heaven.

The Caracol is the most atypical building on the site. It doesn’t follow the usual Mayan taste in architecture; the building is round, and contains a spiral staircase, which led to its nickname, ‘the snail’. In the ceiling and walls are windows that open up to particular stars; archeologists believe that this building served as an observatory.

The area around Chichen Itza depends heavily upon tourism—and the tourists come! At least a million people visit this out-of-the-way site each year. Some tourists make it a point to visit on one of the equinoxes so they can watch as the plumed serpent descends the steps of El Castillo.

How To Get There:

You can fly into either Cancun or Cozumel. Cancun’s airport is larger and more up-to-date, so it’s the best choice in most cases. The drive from Cancun to Chichen Itza is about 2 hours, and rental cars are available. You can also take a public bus or join a tour group and let them transport you.

Where to Stay:

Hacienda Chichen is located next to Chichen Itza, and offers cottage rooms for $143 – $373 a night. The hotel is quiet, the staff is helpful—and the location is perfect!

If you’d rather avoid the crowds, try the Hotel Delores Alba Chichen. It’s a little further from the ruins, but at $44 – $71 a night, the price is definitely right. The rooms aren’t fancy, but they’re immaculately clean, and the staff is eager to please. Best of all, guests experience the ‘real’ Yucatan.

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Christ the Redeemer, Brazil

Background:

It towers over the city. The largest Art Deco statue in the world, Christ the Redeemer looks down on Rio de Janiero, Brazil, arms open wide as if to gather the city in his embrace. The iconic statue is instantly recognizable; for most of the world, it has come to symbolize Christianity. But for the residents of Rio de Janiero, Christ the Redeemer embodies the very essence of their city.

Christ the Redeemer is 130 feet tall, and towers far above the city from its perch on Corcovado Mountain, 2,400 feet above sea level. At one time people had to climb 220 steps to get to the statue’s platform. People felt that the arduous undertaking was well worth the effort: the view from the top encompassed the city, the mountains, and white beaches. Now, though, escalators and panoramic elevators make it easier to get around, and visitors can experience the view without enduring the climb.

Tijuca Forest National Park, the largest urban forest in the world, is located below Corcovado Mountain. The platform of Christ the Redeemer offers an incredible view of the forest, which was planted by hand in a successful effort to conserve the country’s supply of water.

History:

The idea for a religious monument on Corcovado Mountain was proposed in 1921 and the idea was accepted enthusiastically by the people, who were predominantly Catholic. People from every corner of Brazil donated money through the Church and debated what form the statue should take. A simple cross was considered, and many liked the idea of a statue of Jesus holding the world in his hands. Finally the people chose a representation of Jesus standing over the city, holding his arms out as if in embrace.

Heitor da Silva Costa, a local engineer, designed the statue, and it was sculpted in France out of reinforced concrete by Paul Landowski. Then it was shipped to Brazil, where it was covered with soapstone for durability and placed in its current location. Construction of Christ the Redeemer took almost ten years. The statue was unveiled on October 31, 1921, and illuminated by lights designed by Marconi.

In anticipation of a visit from Pope John Paul II in 1980, the city of Rio de Janiero decided the statue was dirty. They decided to wash it. The job took 500,000 gallons of water and several tons of soap—but the Pope saw a clean statue! In addition, Christ the Redeemer has gone through several restorations. In 2003, escalators and elevators were added, and a restoration in 2010 repaired lightning damage to the structure using stone from the same quarry that supplied the original building materials. Christ the Redeemer was unveiled after this restoration, and the country celebrated by lighting it with the colors of Brazil’s national football team.

In 2007 the statue was named one of the new wonders of the world.

How To Get There:

You’ll fly into Galeão-Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport. From there you can rent a car, catch a taxi, or use the bus service, which departs every half hour.

Once you’re in Rio, the most interesting way to get to the statue is via the Corcovado Railway. The train has been running since 1884, making it older that the statue. In fact, the train transported pieces of the statue during its construction. The Corcovado Railway offers a scenic tour of Rio de Janiero as it makes its way to the statue.

Where To Stay:

If you’re a luxury addict—and don’t mind spending some extra money–you should consider staying at the Copacabana Palace. A favorite of the rich and famous, the Copacabana Palace is on the beach and boasts a 7-room luxury spa. Rates start at $660 a night, but you can pay up to $1000 if you want to experience all the amenities.

You might not run into as many celebrities at the Arena Copacabana Hotel, but it’s less expensive, and still has great view and good service. Expect to spend $198 to $512 a night.

The Martinique Copa Hotel is a few blocks from the beach. The staff is friendly, though, and the accommodations are charming. Room rates range from $174 to $221 a night.

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