Friday, July 30, 2010

Trosky Castle (Panna Tower), Czech Republic

Photo: Trosky Castle (Czech: Hrad Trosky), a castle ruin located about 10 km south of Semily in Liberec Region of Czech Republic, was built in the late 14th century AD.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Francisco Goya on Spanish currency note

Image: Portrait of Francisco Goya, 1826, by Vicente López y Portaña (1772-1850), oil on canvas, 93 cm x 75 cm (36.61 in x 29.53 in), Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

Francisco Goya, born Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, (1746-1828) was a Spanish romantic painter regarded as the last of the Old Masters and also as the first of the Modern Masters. The imaginative element in his art and his bold handling of paint, colours and brush strokes became a model for the works of later generations of artists, notably Manet and Picasso. To honour him, a 500 Pesetas currency note was issued by Spain, as seen below:

Photo: The 500-Pesetas bank note issued by Banco de Espana in July 1874 featuring Francisco Goya on the face of the currency. The back side is of a different color, as in the other Spanish currency notes of the period.

Ladies of Caubul by James Rattray

Ladies of Caubul: A 1842 lithography work by James Rattray showing a Persian (Qizilbash) woman in Afghanistan with a burqa next to her, source: The British Library. This lithograph is taken from plate 24 of 'Afghaunistan' by James Rattray.

A political mission consisting of Doctor Lord and Captain James Rattray was established at Afghanistan’s Bamiyan, the first spot which could be invaded by the Russians. It also had the only road by which the exiled Dost Mohammed could revisit his kingdom.

The region was famed for its Buddhist statues. Some of the tallest rock-cut standing Buddha statues, known as Bamiyan Buddhas, were blasted off with heavy artillery fire by the Taliban during their reign of Afghanistan, disregarding international outcry against destruction of the ancient statues.

The subject of the lithograph, Shakar Lab ('Sugar Lips'), was the favourite wife of a former governor of Bamiyan and niece by marriage to Dost Mohammed. As a great favor, Rattray was introduced to her in Kabul. Describing her as ‘a Qizilbash belle of the first water’, Rattray wrote, "Afghaun ladies exercise more control over their husbands than is usual in Eastern countries."

According to Rattray, though Afghan women of higher classes were strictly under purdah as in some parts of Hindustan, they certainly enjoyed life more than the Hindustanis. He wrote, Afghanistan women were seen making constant pleasure trips into gardens and bazaars, and they threw off their veils and restraint in secluded spots, and he had often come upon them thus and found Afghan women strikingly beautiful.

A burqa (also transliterated as burkha, burka or burqua from Arabic ‘burqu’ or ‘burqa’) is an outer garment plus a head-covering and the face-veil (niqab) worn by women in some Islamic traditions for hiding a female body. The burqa is worn by Muslim women over the usual daily clothing such as a long dress or a salwar kameez, and removed when they return home, out of the view of men who are not their husbands, fathers, uncles, brothers, sons and grandsons.

The face-veil (niqab) is usually a rectangular piece of cloth top side of which is sewn to the head-scarf, and it can be turned up if the woman desires to reveal her face. The niqab is also called purdah, a Persian word meaning ‘curtain’.

The veil and similar type of dress was worn by some Arab and Persian women long before Islam, as historical references show. The Roman African Christian Tertullian (around 200 AD) praises the modesty of those ‘pagan women of Arabia’ who ‘not only cover their head, but their whole face... preferring to enjoy half the light with one eye rather than prostituting their whole face’, in Chapter 17 of ‘The Veiling of Virgins’. Strabo (1st century AD) also writes about covering the face as a practice of some Persian women (Geography 11.13. 9-10).

Before the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, the Afghan veil, chadri, was not frequently worn in cities, but it was made compulsory for all Afghan women to wear chadri in public under the Taliban rule. Officially it is not compulsory under the present Afghan regime.

Melusine by Ludwig Michael von Schwanthaler

Photo: 19th century sculpture entitled ‘Melusine’ (1845) by German sculptor Ludwig Michael von Schwanthaler (1802-1848) in the Russell Cotes Museum and Art Gallery, Bournemouth, Dorset, England.

Melusine, or Melusina, is a female spirit of springs and rivers, according to European legends and folklore. Usually she is usually depicted as a woman who is a serpent or fish from the waist down, as a mermaid is featured in paintings and sculptures.

According to one story, Elynas, the King of Albany (old name for Scotland), came across Pressyne, a beautiful lady, while hunting in the forest. He persuaded her to marry him but she agreed on the condition that he must not enter her chamber on when she birthed or bathed her children. She gave birth to the triplets Melusine, Melior and Palatyne. When the King violated the promise, Pressyne left the kingdom with her daughters to the lost Isle of Avalon.

The girls Melusine, Melior and Palatyne grew up in Avalon. On their fifteenth birthday, Melusine asked why they had been taken to Avalon. Upon hearing of their father's broken promise, Melusine wanted to take revenge. She and her sisters captured Elynas and locked him up in a mountain. Pressyne got enraged when she knew what the girls had done and punished them for their disrespect to their father. Melusine was condemned to take the form of a serpent from the waist down every Saturday. In other stories, she takes on the form of a mermaid.

Melusine’s legend is especially connected with the Celtic areas of France, Netherlands and other countries. Sir Walter Scott told a Melusine tale in ‘The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’ (1802-1803):

“The reader will find the fairy of Normandy, or Bretagne, adorned with all the splendour of Eastern description. The fairy Melusina, also, who married Guy de Lusignan, Count of Poitou, under condition that he should never attempt to intrude upon her privacy, was of this latter class. She bore the count many children, and erected for him a magnificent castle by her magical art. Their harmony was uninterrupted until the prying husband broke the conditions of their union by concealing himself to behold his wife make use of her enchanted bath. Hardly had Melusina discovered the indiscreet intruder, than, transforming herself into a dragon, she departed with a loud yell of lamentation, and was never again visible to mortal eyes; although, even in the days of Brantome, she was supposed to be the protectress of her descendants, and was heard wailing as she sailed upon the blast round the turrets of the castle of Lusignan the night before it was demolished.”

Hezekiah's Tunnel in Jerusalem

Photo: A tourist inside Hezekiah's Tunnel in Jerusalem, Israel

Hezekiah's Tunnel, also known as the Siloam Tunnel, was dug underneath the Ophel (the elevation in two cities: the City of David in the Old City of Jerusalem and at Samaria, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Israel) before 701 BC during the reign of King Hezekiah. He (alternatively: Ḥizkiyyahu, Yeẖizkiyyahu, Ḥizqiyyā́hû, Yəḥizqiyyā́hû, Ezekias, or Ezechias) was the son of Ahaz and the 14th King of Judah who is believed to have reigned between 715 BC and 686 BC. It is one of the oldest structures in the world that the public can visit and walk through.

Both the written Siloam inscription found in the tunnel and dating the organic matter in the original plaster in the tunnel shows it as an 8th century BC structure. Leading from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, the 533 meter long curved tunnel was designed as an aqueduct to provide water to Jerusalem during an impending siege by the Assyrians. According to the Siloam inscription, the tunnel was dug by two teams from each end and they met in the middle. However, scholars of recent times suggest that the tunnel might have been created by widening a pre-existing natural karst.

St. Theresa School in Coral Gables, Florida

Photo: St. Theresa School in Coral Gables, Florida. It is one of over 125,000 Catholic grade schools all over the world offering Catholic religious education to both private and public school students.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Auckland, New Zealand’s largest metropolitan area

Photo: Skyline of Auckland, New Zealand, from Westhaven Marina

With about 31 per cent of New Zealand's population the Auckland metropolitan area is the largest in the country. Auckland also is the home to the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world. In recent times, many people of Asian ethnicity have settled in the city.

New Zealand is situated about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) southeast of Australia across the Tasman Sea. Its closest neighbors are New Caledonia, Fiji and Tonga. The majority of New Zealand's population is of European descent, while the indigenous Maori are the largest minority.

The 2009 Mercer Quality of Living Survey ranked Auckland at # 4 spot in the world on its list, while World's Most Livable Cities index of 2010 published by The Economist ranked Auckland in 10th place. In 2008, Auckland was classified as an Alpha-City in the World Cities Study Group’s inventory by Loughborough University.

The City of Sails, as Auckland is popularly called, has its harbour dotted with hundreds of yachts. With around 135,000 yachts and launches, it has more yachts per capita than any other city in the world. About one in three Auckland households owns a boat.

Viaduct Basin hosted two America's Cup challenges (2000 and 2003), and its restaurants, cafes and clubs add to Auckland's vibrant nightlife. With the sheltered Waitemata Harbour at its doorstep, Auckland hosts many nautical events. There is a very large number of sailing clubs in Auckland, as well as Westhaven Marina, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

The up-market shopping areas Newmarket and Parnell, and Otara's and Avondale's flea markets offer a colorful kaleidoscope of shopping experience to international tourists and local visitors. The Auckland Art Gallery is the repository of many national treasures while many other historical and cultural artifacts are displayed in popular museums such as the Auckland War Memorial Museum or the Museum of Transport and Technology. Exotic animals and other creatures can be seen at the Auckland Zoo and Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World. The Waitemata Harbour has some of the best swimming beaches at Mission Bay, Devonport, Takapuna, and the west coast has famous surf spots such as Piha and Muriwai.

Milford Sound, New Zealand

Photo: Milford Sound, one of New Zealand's most famous tourist destinations

Milford Sound is a fjord in the south west of New Zealand's South Island, within Fiordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site. Geologically, a fjord is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides, created in a valley carved by glacial activity.

In May 2008, Milford Sound was named the top destination in the world, determined based on the opinions of TripAdvisor's six million members, the world's largest online travel community, ahead of Cayo Largo in Cuba, Rhodes in Greece, and California's Lake Tahoe. Milford Sound topped the list of 100 global destinations.

Romney sheep and its lambs

Photo: A Romney sheep and its lambs in New Zealand

Romney sheep, also known as Romney Marsh and called by the local farmers as the Kent, is a breed of sheep with its origins attributed to England. The Romney a long-wool breed since 1800, is an economically important sheep breed in New Zealand, especially in the exports of meat and wool.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Crouching Aphrodite (Venus)

The so-called Lely's Venus ‘Aphrodite surprised as she bathes’, marble sculpture, Roman copy by an unknown artist from the 2nd century BC after an Hellenistic original, height 1.12 m (3 feet 8 inches), from the former collection of Sir Peter Lely; lent by H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, location at Main floor, room 23, Greek & Rome, British Museum, London, United Kingdom.

The Crouching Aphrodite (Venus), marble sculpture, Roman variant of the Imperial Era after a Hellenistic type (but the goddess is raising her left hand towards her neck whereas in the prototype used she to crosses her arms on her breast), height 71 cm (27 ¾ inches), seized during the French Revolution from the collections of Louis XIV of France, currently housed at Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Sully, ground floor, room 17, Louvre Museum, Paris, France.

Crouching Aphrodite (Venus) at Louvre Museum, view 2

The Crouching Aphrodite (Venus), marble sculpture, Roman copy by an unknown artist of the 1st or 2nd century CE after a Hellenistic original of the 3rd century BC, derived from the Cnidian Aphrodite by Praxiteles from Sainte-Colombe, Isère, France, height 96 cm (37 ¾ in.), Gerantet Collection (purchase 1878), current location at Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Sully, ground floor, room 17, Louvre Museum, Paris, France.

Paintings by Antonio María Esquivel

‘Venus anadiomene’ (1838), also known as ‘Venus anadiomede’, ‘Venus Anadyomene’ or ‘Venus rising from the sea’, by Spanish painter Antonio María Esquivel (1806-1857) currently located at Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

José y la mujer de Putifar (Joseph and Potiphar's Wife), 1854 painting by Antonio María Esquivel, located at Museum of Fine Arts, Seville, Spain.

Mosaic of Minerva by Elihu Vedder

Photo: Mosaic of Minerva by Elihu Vedder situated in the central arched panel leading to the Visitor's Gallery in the Second Floor, East Corridor, Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington D.C.

The caption on the exhibit reads, "Pictured on this mosaic in the arched panel is the Roman Goddess Minerva -- guardian of civilization”. The Roman Goddess Minerva is portrayed as ‘Minerva of Peace’, but according to the artist who created the mosaic, American painter Elihu Vedder (1836-1923), the peace and prosperity that she enjoys was attained only through war. Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

Quimper, the French town of ancient Roman vintage

Photo: The Odet River in the centre of Quimper, France

Quimper (Kemper) is a commune and the prefecture (capital) of the Finistère department in Brittany in northwest France. The name Quimper is derived from the Breton word 'kemper' meaning ‘confluence’ because the city was built on the confluence of the Steir, Odet and Jet rivers. It is 486 km (302 miles) west-southwest of Paris.

Quimper is the ancient capital of La Cornouaille, Brittany’s most traditional region and the town was originally settled during Roman times. The town has a rustic look with footbridges spanning the rivers that flow through it.

Near the Episcopal palace, which now holds the Musée départemental Breton, there are the ruins of the town's 15th century walls. Also nearby is the Musée des Beaux-Arts that houses a sizeable collection of 14th to 21st century paintings.

Quimper is well-known for Quimper faïence pottery, made here since 1690. The town’s eating establishments have some of the best crêpes and cider in Brittany. The town has also been famous for copper and bronze work, food items, galvanized ironware, hosiery, leather, paper and woolen goods.

Generally French festivals are held in summer, but Quimper has a Winter Festival, ‘Les Hivernautes’. In summer, you can also find concerts on street corners, with pipers and accordion players.

The main tourist attractions include the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint-Corentin, the Church of Locmaria, several other historical churches, the old town centre with mediaeval fortifications and houses, the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Cornouaille Festival featuring traditional dance in the last week of July, Faience museum, and the Statue of Gradlon.

Public transport in Quimper is provided by QUB. Quimper is the terminus of the TGV high-speed train line from Paris, which passes through Le Mans, Rennes and Vannes, and the regional train network is served by the TER Bretagne. Quimper-Cornouaille Airport has flights to Paris.

The Rape of a Sabine Woman, bronze sculpture after Giovanni Bologna

Photo: The Rape of a Sabine Woman, bronze sculpture after Giovanni Bologna (Giambologna), 1600-1650, located in Honolulu Academy of Arts.