Tag Archives: World Heritage site


Stonehenge Restored

Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument located near Salisbury in Wiltshire (England), is a World Heritage Site. The site has been of cultural significance for 7,000 – 8,000 years. The earthworks and ditch (the oldest sections of the monument dated to 3100 BC) surrounds a circle of large standing stones and the site of several hundred burial mounds. It was constructed in three phases of Bluestone, Sarsen, Welsh Sandstone. The blue standing stones (erected 2200 – 3000 BC) are the oldest part of the monument.

The Stonehenge Riverside Project identified the area as a burial ground far in its shrouded past. The true significance of the monument remains unknown. Proposed possibilities include a temple for sun or moon worship, a healing center, a calendar or a burial site. Early British investigators attributed the monument to Druids, however, the construction of Stonehenge predates the Druids by a couple of thousand years. Recent investigations have identified a large timber circle (oriented to the rising sun on the midwinter solstice) at Durrington Walls overlooking the River Avon and a second avenue leading to the Avon River, two miles away. Evidence of bonfires lining the Avon River and the avenues indicates a connection between the two. It has been suggested that Durrington Walls with its wooden henge was of the living and the cold stones of Stonehenge were of the dead with the avenues and rivers connecting the two along which processions were held. Today, the Stonehenge monument is closed to visitors around the monument which is maintained by several groups.

Tomorrow, More Stonehenge.   Rita Bay

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New Wonder of the World Runner-Up: The Alhambra

The Alhambra which is located in Granada, Spain is one of the Runners-Up for the New Wonders of the World and a World Heritage Site.  The Alhambra (Arabic for “red fortress”) contains a castle, a palace and a residential annex for subordinates, resembling medieval Christian strongholds. In 711 AD Arabic Muslims (known as Moors) crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and entered Spain, conquering it almost entirely. In 718, the Moors crossed the Pyrenees Mountains, reaching central France but were eventually defeated by the Franks at Tours in 732.

The Moors who ruled Spain for almost 800 years were isolated from the rest of Islam which profoundly influenced their building styles.  The Alhambra was completed towards the end of Muslim rule of Spain during the reigns of Yusuf I and Muhammed V, Sultans of Granada in the 14th century.  Artists and intellectuals took refuge in and helped build Granada as the Reconquista (Reconquering of Spain) until it was conquered by Spanish Christians under King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile (as in Columbus discovering America) who took control of Granada in 1492.

After the conquest of the city, the Spanish began to modify theAlhambra. The open work was filled up with whitewash, the painting and gilding effaced, and the furniture soiled, torn, or removed. Later, Charles V (1516–1556) rebuilt portions in the Renaissance style of the period and destroyed the greater part of one palace to make room for a Renaissance-style structure which was never completed. Philip V (1700–1746) introduced the Italianized the rooms and completed his palace in the middle of what had been the Moorish building.

Over the centuries the Moorish art was further damaged, and the towers were destroyed by the French under Count Sebastiani. In 1821, an earthquake caused further damage. Restoration work was undertaken in 1828 by the architect José Contreras.  

Tomorrow, Angkor Wat   Rita Bay

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The New Wonders of the World: Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

 The Taj Mahal located south of Agra, India on the Jamuna River is one of the New Wonders of the World and a World Heritage Site.  It was built of white marble by Shah Jahan (1592-1666), the Emperor of the Mughal (Muslim) Empire in India (1628-1658) to honor his third wife, whom he married when she was 19 years old .  Jahan’s love for Mumtaz Mahal, to the exclusion of his other two wives, was legendary.   He was devastated when Mumtaz died in childbirth with their 14th child when she was only 31 years old.

Construction of the Taj Mahal which was Mumtaz’s tomb and a monument to his love for her began in 1632.  The Taj Mahal, built by architect Ustad ‘Iza, employed Persian and Mughal architectural elements using the extreme wealth of Jahan’s empire to create a wonder of the world. The mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later. 

The central dome is fifty-eight feet in diameter and rises to 213 feet. It is flanked by four subsidiary domed chambers. The four graceful, slender minarets are 162.5 feet each. The interior walls are about 82 feet high and the interior chamber of the Taj Mahal consists of a lapidary of precious and semiprecious gemstones.

Taj Mahal Mosque

Abstract forms, in keeping with the Muslim prohibition for using human/animal forms, are incorporated throughout the structure. Passages from the Qur’an are used as decorative elements. The calligraphy was made of jasper or black marble, inlaid in white marble panels. Mortared areas of the marble buildings were stained or painted in a contrasting color, creating geometric patterns of considerable complexity. Floors and walkways use contrasting tiles or blocks in patterns.  Since Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves, the bodies of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan were placed in a plain crypt beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right towards Mecca.

Jahan was deposed and imprisoned by one of his sons (Aurangzeb) soon after the building project was finished. When the Mughal Empire declined, the tending of the garden also declined.  When the British took over the management of the Taj Mahal during the time of the British Empire, they changed the landscaping to resemble that of traditional British lawns. In the late 19th century, British Viceroy Lord Curzon restored the monument that had been damaged by age and defaced by the British during the Indian rebellion of 1857. Today, the Taj Mahal has 2-4 million visitors each year.

Tomorrow,  The Runners-Up   Rita Bay

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The New Wonders of the World: Petra

The Treasury at Petra

Petra (or Rekem as its residents called it) is one of the New Wonders of the World and a World Heritage site.  The city is located in Jordan atop Mount Ho and is famous for its rock cut architecture and water conduits system. The city which was established in the 6th century BC is a symbol of Jordan.

Our chronicler Pliny the Elder (who BTW died during the eruption of Pompeii because of his curiosity) identified Petra which was a natural fortress as the capital of the Nabataeans and the center of their caravan trade. After the 2nd century BC, Greek, Egyptian and Syrian cultures influenced the culture of Petra.  In 106 AD, Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire.  The city prospered under Roman rule for a century until abruptly coinage ceased and tomb building ended owing apparently to some sudden catastrophe.  An earthquake in 363 AD destroyed many buildings and crippled the water management system. 

A Tomb at Petra

Christianity came to Petrain in the 4th century AD.  At least one of the tombs was used as a church. After the Islamic conquest of 629–632, Petra became Islamic.  Later, Petra was occupied by Crusaders who held the town until 1189. The town fell into obscurity after it again became part of the Islamic Empire. In 1812 the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt introducedPetrato the Western world.

Tomorrow,  The Taj Mahal  RitaBay

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The New Wonders of the World: Chichen Itza

Il Castillo

The New Seven Wonders of the World project was designed in 2007 by a private company to develop a new, more modern list of wonders of the world that went beyond the borders of the ancient world.  Since it was a popularity poll, programs were initiated by individual nations to encourage their populaces to vote for a specific site.  More than 100 million votes were cast by Internet or phone with multiple votes allowed.  While the United Nations initially supported the project, it withdrew its support because of the operation of the program and the competition with its own World Heritage sites.

The Great Ball Court

Chichen Itza is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a World Heritage site.  It is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site located in the Yucatán peninsula, of present-day Mexico which was built by the Maya-Toltec civilization between the 10th-15th centuries.  The Chichen Itza monuments which includes the Great Ball Court, Temple of Kukulkan and Temple of the Warriors, are considered masterpieces of Mesoamerican architecture pre-Hispanic civilizations.  In the 10th century Toltec warriors migrated from the Mexican plateau .  The King of Tula, Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, took the city between 967 and 987, subjugated the local population, and imposed the ritual of human sacrifice on the inhabitants. 

Temple of the Warriors

In 1526 Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Montejo (a veteran of the Grijalva and Cortés expeditions) successfully petitioned the King of Spain for a charter to conquer the Yucatán. Montejo sent his son, Francisco Montejo The Younger, in late 1532 to conquer the interior of the Yucatán Peninsula. The objective from the beginning was to go to Chichén Itzá and establish a capital which he renamed Ciudad Real. At first he encountered no resistance, and set about awarding the lands around the city to his soldiers. After a rebellion, he was forced to abandon Chichén Itzá in 1534 under cover of darkness. By 1535, all Spanish had been driven from the Yucatán Peninsula.  By 1588, however, it was part of a working cattle ranch. The ruins were not excavated until 1841.

Tomorrow, Christ the Redeemer Rita Bay

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