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Archive for August, 2008

Piazza Navona

Posted in Europe, Modern & Historical Art, Sculptures & Monuments  by admin on August 30th, 2008

Rome is an outdoor city. Though, of course, there are several churches, museums, restaurants, theaters and other indoor attractions, the city shines best when seen from one its piazzas.

The word means public square. But unlike some other internationally famous cities, the piazzas of Rome is truly gathering places for people who love the beauty of outdoor art in all its forms.

Navona accommodates one of the finest examples of Bernini’s fountain work: the Fontana dei Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) built in 1651. Arrayed around the central rocky mass supporting the almost-obligatory obelisk are four large sculptures executed by his students. One of them, the Ganges, was sculpted by Claude Poussin who would later become a master under his own name.

The fountain is a tour de force with a sea monster, a lion, cacti, palm tree and a dozen other pieces woven together around the central column.

The funding was so large for the piece that taxes were levied on bread, prompting outcries from Roman citizens both poor and rich. But with the controversy now a part of history, the visitor can simply relax and have a cup of coffee while watching the busy city.

The Fountain of the Moor is at the other end of the piazza and features a Triton – one of the many gods of the sea – riding a dolphin. From this vantage point, there is ample opportunity for people watching, enjoying the warm Roman sunshine or planning the next stop around the Piazza Navona and its environs. Because there is a good deal to do besides admire one of Rome’s many instances of outdoor waterworks.

There are dozens of merchant stalls, interspersed among the many cafes and restaurants. You could stop near one and have your portrait sketched by one of the many artists dotting the piazza.

There’s nightlife until early in the morning, with mimes, beggars, artists and a hundreds of natives and tourists threading through the oval plaza. The piazza was built around one of the ancient circuses – a circular area where streets converge, not a show with animals.

Make sure to stop in at the Tre Scalini and indulge yourself in a Tartufo. Or visit the oldest extant bar in Rome nearby, the Caffe della Pace. Here you’ll be able to enjoy a Campari and take in the ambiance. Confess your sins at the Church of Sant’Agnese, set not far from three of Bernini’s famous fountains.

The Fontana dei Calderai (Fountain of the Coppersmiths), later on renamed the Fountain of Neptune is also here. Festooned with sea figures, Neptune slaying an octopus, sea horses, dolphins and Nerieds (sea nymphs) it carries Rome’s fountain-sea creature theme to the ultimate peak. The fountain is made of the same Portasanta rose marble used for St. Peter’s doorjambs.

Or, you can take a short walk to the Piazza Sant’Eustachio, between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona and listen to some classical music. Or catch the bus to the Pantheon.

Don’t miss an opportunity to visit one of Rome’s most well-known public squares, even if it is round.

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Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial

Posted in Sculptures & Monuments  by admin on August 19th, 2008

The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial is dedicated to the United States soldiers who died or who are still missing in action over the conflict in Vietnam. Soldiers who fought in the war experienced harsh conditions and nobody who fought in the war came home unaffected. Many were underappreciated because of the political climate back home. However, nobody can deny the bravery and dedication of the soldiers who fought there. The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial is an attempt to honor the memories of those men and women who gave their lives for their country and commemorate the significance of their achievements.

The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial is located in Constitution Gardens in Washington, D.C. There are actually three separate parts to the memorial including the Three Soldiers statue and the Women’s Memorial. However, the Veteran’s Memorial Wall is the most famous part of this memorial. Nearly four million people visit the memorial every year. In addition to visiting to look up names and honor those killed or missing, many friends and family members bring flowers and mementos to commemorate the memories of their loved ones. These mementos are collected every day and stored.

The wall itself was designed by Maya Ying Lin and is comprised of two walls approximately 246 feet and made of black granite. The wall is engraved with the names of men and women who are either dead or missing in action. The confirmed deaths are denoted with a diamond at the side of their name while those missing in action are denoted with a cross. Every name is in chronological order and consists of nearly sixty thousand names including twelve hundred missing in action. Visitors may look up individual names and find their precise location on the wall with the use of directories. Often people will pray, leave mementos or make pencil rubbings of the name.

The Vietnam War was a controversial time in American history and caused a lot of upheaval in the country. Thousands of military personnel were killed or missing in the war but went underappreciated for many years. The Veteran’s Memorial is an outstanding piece of architecture as well as a commemorative monument to order honor the soldiers who died or are still missing during the war. Visitors from around the world to Washington D.C visit many of the various monuments in the capital city. However, most make sure not to miss this historical monument that is such an important part of United States history.

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Buckingham Palace

Posted in United Kingdom  by admin on August 17th, 2008

Whilst among the most popular tourist attractions in London, Buckingham Palace is still the official residence of Britain’s monarchy, as it has been since Queen Victoria’s designation in 1837.

Much of the building was constructed as early as 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham House (as it was then known) was purchased in 1762 by George III, who used it as a private residence. Over the following 75 years the house was expanded to form three wings around a central courtyard.

Once Queen Victoria discovered the lack of several ‘necessary’ rooms – such as a formal ballroom, a nursery, visitor’s bedrooms and others – major additions were undertaken, including adding an entire wing to form a quadrangle. The Marble Arch was moved to Hyde Park, where it still resides near Speaker’s Corner. With the refacing using Portland stone in 1913, the palace underwent its last major alteration.

Nevertheless actively used as both residence and offices, over 50,000 guests and invited diplomats visit per year who interact with over 400 individuals for whom this is ‘the office’. Nevertheless, several parts of the palace are open to the public.

During August and September, the West Wing lets in visitors who can view the State Rooms. At some other times of the year, different parts are open, where holidaymakers can view spectacular jewels, dressing gowns, furniture and the building itself.

The Queen’s Gallery near the Royal Mews (stables and, later, a garage) is open year-around and has an ever ever-changing display of objects owned by ‘the British nation’. Here you will be able to see original paintings by Rubens, Vermeer, Canaletto and other great artists.

The Royal Mews are also open to the public, where you can see 30 horses and the golden State Coach. The four-ton coach, pulled by eight horses, is used for coronations and other state functions.

Outside, the 40-acre garden presents a peaceful walk full of well-tended flowers and shrubs and a superb view of the lake.

Of course, the major attraction outside is the ‘Changing of the Guard’, or as it’s more formally known: the Guard Mounting. Household Troops have guarded the Sovereign since 1660, but today the task is carried out at Buckingham by soldiers drawn mostly from the regiments of the Foot Guards.

A Guards’ band plays a traditional military march as one set of guards replaces the other. Whilst the Queen is in residence, four sentries stand at the front of the building. Whilst she’s away, the contingent is reduced to two.

In their traditional red tunic and bearskins, with the distinctive helmet, the guards are highly trained to avoid interacting with the many visitors who try to distract them. Sometimes, additional Commonwealth units take part in guard duty, as do the Scots Guards and the Brigade of Gurkhas.

The Guard Mounting ceremony is performed at 11:30 am and lasts for about 45 minutes, though it’s skipped sometimes owing to inclement weather. The Palace location is easily accessible by the tube (the London Underground subway system). Green Park is to the north of Buckingham Palace, Victoria Station and St. James Park stations are to the south.

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The Alamo

Posted in United States  by admin on August 13th, 2008

One of the first things people think about when the state of Texas is mentioned is the Alamo. The Alamo is an historical site located in San Antonio, Texas. Even those unfamiliar with a lot of United States history will likely have been exposed to stories of the Alamo because there have been numerous books and movies regarding the famous battle. The battle of the Alamo is famous because of the historical significance as well as the much reported cases of bravery and valor from the soldiers defending it. It is a classic heroic tale that is all the more interesting because it is entirely fact driven. Exploring the actual battle site of this historic event is an opportunity not to be missed if in the San Antonio area.

In 1836, San Antonio became the site of an historic battle between Texian soldiers and Mexican soldiers when Santa Ana’s army attacked the mission in an effort to retake Texas as Mexican territory. During the battle, the soldiers at the Alamo were highly outmanned but there was no shortage of bravery. Legend states that nobody at the Alamo survived the onslaught. While this is close it is not entirely historically accurate. In addition to the soldiers there were slaves, women and children who were at the Alamo. These people were questioned and released. However, all of the soldiers involved in the battle were either killed in battle or captured and promptly executed. The battle was the beginning of a war that continued on to the Battle of San Jacinto where Texian forces finally drove the Mexicans out of the territory permanently.

Today, the church site is a museum and shrine affording visitors a glimpse into the past and a rare look into the history of Texas and the United States. There are several landmarks within the Alamo and visitors can go on guided tours to learn the rich history and culture of the day. Visitors can tour the battlefield grounds, look at the unique architecture and learn about the purpose of the initial missions. They can also peruse the museum to discover artifacts from the battle itself and learn about the many heroes who fought in the epic battle. Admission to the Alamo is free of charge so tourists are encouraged to come out and learn and experience all the Alamo has to offer.

The Alamo is a significant landmark within United States history and marks a momentous occasion in the founding of the country as a whole. For Texans, the Alamo is a proud reminder of the courage and fortitude Texans still hold dear as characteristic of its citizens today. Tourists are welcomed to visit San Antonio and experience some of that Southern hospitality first hand while exploring one of the nation’s most historic landmarks.

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