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Archive for October, 2008

The Mayan Ruins – Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras

Posted in Modern & Historical Art, Sculptures & Monuments  by admin on October 27th, 2008

The Mayan knowledge of astronomies is unrivalled by any other culture and the traditional calendars till not many years back were brilliant pieces of astronomy. Their enduring ability show through all the ruins in Central America, cities that declined long before Columbus. The traditions and values, however, live through the art and architecture of the modern Maya.

The ancient Mayan world was situated round the Yucatan Peninsula stretching to the rainforests of Mexico in the east and to the west to Belize and all the way up the highlands of Guatemala. The Mayan world also touched the eastern edges of Honduras and El Salvador. With the changes over hundreds of years, today’s Mayan people are numbered at four to six million and speak around 30 different languages divided into different ethnic groups!

Not only the architecture and astronomy, the world today is also deriving a lot of knowledge and medicines from the Mayan herbal medicines. The social organization of the villages has also remained the same through centuries and so has the various cultivation methods like the slash and burn method. Thatched roof houses and people who still grow corn, squash, beans and tomatoes takes you back into history amalgamating the modern and the historical into a journey of discoveries.

Similar to the other factors Mayan root that show through their present day lives, perhaps the most obvious is the religious and spiritual connect. Like every other civilization, spiritual connotations in the buildings and temple complexes have endured. Most of the Mayan cities were sites of ceremonies rather than trade or commerce. For the decentralized network of farmers, these cities were the focal point of spiritual and magical healing and prowess! The weaves to date show the carvings of the sacred symbols on the walls and stones. Each symbol has meaning and the modern Mayan still makes offerings to the same deities.

Palenque, one of the most beautiful and breathtaking Mayan ruins is situated in the Palenque National park in Chiapas. Situated at the base of a hill, the city could be seen for days from the coast and Mayans walking back home could know their direction of travel. Many decorative motifs are one of a kind and even show Chinese influences. The temple of inscriptions is an interesting pyramid which houses the crypt of a powerful priest called Pa Kal discovered in 1952. Untouched for almost a millennium, many objects from the crypt have been taken to various museums for studying them and display. The subterranean passages and the fine structure and carvings are admired by visitors to this powerful ruin everyday.

Dating back to 642, the temple of suns has the best restored roof combs of all Mayan ruins. These were false fronts beautifully carved and decorated and prevalent in all Mayan buildings. Colorfully painted, these roof combs were a symbol of grandeur and still inspire the contemporary art and architectural forms. The Temple of the Jaguar shows a lot of similarities to Cambodian and even Hindu art with the Foliated cross motif and the bas-relief motifs.

The Mayan ruins are spread across such a large area that one cannot write or read them at one go. When visiting you are bound to feel the power, grandeur and mystique through the temples and cities.

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Baalbek’s Ancient Ruins

Posted in Modern & Historical Art, Sculptures & Monuments  by admin on October 24th, 2008

A part of the Roman Empire, the ruins at Baalbek constitute some of the largest temples. The Baalbek ruins are located in the Bekka valley at a distance of 85 kilometers from the city of Beirut. Though the actual date of the foundation of Baalbek is not known, Canaan is believed to be closely associated with Baalbek. It was translated into Greek as Phoenicia was translated from Phoenix.

The phoenix comes from the fabled bird believed to live for 5 to 6 hundred years and then burning itself into ashes. Ever more powerful and youthful, this mythical creature is then believed to rise from its ashes with more energy and vigor to last another 5 to 6 hundred years. Thus symbolizing resurrection and immortality, for the Canaanites, Bal was considered a sacred city.

The ruins of this city and its temples still reflect that sacredness, though the sacred sites and the shrines within the caves of the Canaanites have been since replaced by newer sanctuaries. The sights everywhere are even then a balm for soothing the senses. High columns, stunning cornice that are completely carved and the high drums can only be photographed so well into your memory. The temple of Bacchus and the temple of Jupiter have columns which area as high as 57 feet. The Parthenon’s columns in Athens are only about 24 feet in height while the stones used for the Egyptian Pyramids are a maximum of 18 feet long.

Some of the blocks used in the Baalbek’s ruins are about 64 feet in length and can weigh a whooping 800 tons! These together build the Cyclopean wall that makes the base for the structure of the temple of Jupiter. In the year of 1751, the temple had been drawn with nine columns and in the next 8 years high intensity earthquakes destroyed three of them. The Cyclopean wall is on three sides of the temple. Upon the six columns on the west side of the temple of Jupiter are placed the Trilithon. These are huge blocks, probably the only time such large rocks were handled by man; about 12 feet thick, 64 feet long and 14 feet 6 inches high. Due to the presence of these Trilithon, the temple at one time was called the temple of Trilithon and even Baalbek was referred to as the City of Trilithon.

The temple of Bacchus probably signifies the power and immortality of the state through its architecture the most. The lintel of the temple consists of 3 stones with the one in the center having dislodged in 1202. It was propped up and resurrected by British consul General Richard Burton in the year 1870, though the prop was later removed and the structure made much more secure in 1901 by the German Archaeological Mission. This lintel is not ordinary, showcasing a huge phoenix with caduceus in its claws. The phoenix is shown carrying a garland of pomegranates and pine cones is in its beak and there are two genii with wings holding onto the ends of the garland. Perhaps this showcases the immortality and power of the city through the phoenix!

The temples of the Roman Empire were quite unlike other dynasties. Continuously added onto, subsidized, construction of courtyards, other tributary temples and sculptures make them the most spectacular sights even when they are so ruined today. Though only a small part of the structures remain, when you stand among these ruins, you shudder at the power and capacity of the Romans, at how big they thought and how huge they dared to build!

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Monument Valley

Posted in Sculptures & Monuments, United States  by admin on October 21st, 2008

Monument Valley is a National Park that celebrates the Navajo way of life. It is one of the most breathtaking views in the United States and is famous for its landscape that has been featured in many motion pictures. Completely within the Navajo reservation, the journey to get to the area will take you on a paved road that intersects the border of Utah and Arizona. Though there are various services available to explore the more difficult areas to get to in the area such as horseback riding and guided tours; if you are visiting the monument valley, using your own vehicle to travel is the norm. RUVs and cars with low clearance may create trouble on these unpaved roads and the road becomes impassable owing to heavy rains except for a 4 wheel drive.

With opening times set at 6 am May through September, if you are looking for some stunning photographs, head on to this 17 mile long drive, 13 miles of which is a one-way loop. Most views of the buttes can be fascinating as they look different from different sides. Compared to places such as the Grand Canyon, this park certainly holds its own for stunning scenery. Featured among the landscape are the buttes that tower over the rest of the countryside as well as the signature reddish orange soil that marks the entire area. The park’s claim to fame is its sparse beauty that is interrupted only by the few trails leading to the Navajo settlement.

Traverse steep and rocky hillside with a Navajo guided tour to get to some of the most renowned formations at Monument valley: West Mitten, East Mitten and Merrick Buttes. The Mitchell Mesa rising 1000 feet above borders the flat land and brings you closer to nature than you ever believed possible. The Elephant Butte that has badlands deep red in color beneath it is a breath taking sight. One side has high, sheer – sided sandstone and the other side is a tapering ridge. Though not exactly of the shape of an elephant, lengthened shadows of the afternoon sun do add to the familiarity! The most photographed Totem Pole is a spire of 450 feet high rock, which is just a few meters in width.

If you have been an avid fan of old Western flicks, you cannot leave the monument valley without visiting the John Ford’s point. John Ford was a director who used this area, now named for him, in many of his movies from 1939 to 1960. Most of the miles at the start of the valley drive showcase the best of desert land – miles of uneven, undulating desert with a number of isolated peaks in the background. One such site that has a plateau overlooking the desert land has been used often in the movies.

However, if you are looking for more than just the buttes and the desert land, then there are ancient caves and cliff dwellings, petroglyphs and natural arches and eroded rock formations as well. All of these are isolated and away from the valley drive and can be experienced as a part of guided tours through back trails. Even as a drive for the family, it is awe-inspiring for the long straight empty road across flat barren desert leading towards a stark red cliff 1000 foot high curving ahead on the horizon!

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Salzburg: The Hills Are Alive

Posted in Worldwide Travel Destinations  by admin on October 5th, 2008

What child, or adult for that matter, wouldn’t like to spend a week in Salzburg? Well, if you are considering a family vacation this October, consider Salzberg, Austria as one of best destinations for your family.

A typical vacation package to Salzberg would include:

* Round-trip airfare from your home city
* Six night hotel accommodation in Salzberg
* Daily continental breakfast
* Hotel taxes and service charges

The highlight of this trip, of course, would be the Sound of Music Tour. Take a wonderful ride with breathtaking views of the landscape where the opening scenes were filmed. Relax and listen to the original Sound of Music soundtrack. An English-speaking guide not only shows you the highlights of the film, but also the historical and architectural landmarks in the city, as well as part of the picturesque Lake District.

The tour would include the following sites:

Mirabell Gardens
The Mirabell Gardens were laid out in the 18th century. Maria and the children were seen dancing around the statue of Pegasus, the winged horse, and throughout the gardens singing “Do-Re-Mi”.

Leopoldskron Castle
The front side of the castle was used as the von Trapp family home, where the children were boating on the Leopoldskron Lake and fell into the water. The Venetian room was copied from the castle and used as the ballroom.

Hellbrunn Castle
This hunting castle was built in the early 17th century by Prince-Archbishop Markus Sittikus. In the gardens, the glass pavilion was reconstructed for the pleasure of those fans still returning after 30 years.

Nonnberg Abbey
Nonnberg Abbey is the oldest convent in the German-speaking part of Europe. Maria was a novice there. The baron and Maria were married here in 1927. The scenes for the movie made here include the opening scene wherein the nuns were going to Mass. Remember Maria running to the Abbey after spending a morning singing on the hillside.

St. Gilgen and Lake Wolfgang
Scenery shown at the beginning of the movie was filmed at Lake Fuschl on the way to St. Gilgen. Like the Mozart family, visitors from all over the world appreciate the beautiful village in the Salzkammergut.

Wedding Church Mondsee
A visit to Mondsee Cathedral, where the film wedding between Julie Andrews as Maria and Christopher Plummer as the Baron, took place.

While in Salzberg, you can also make arrangements to visit the home of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He was born here on January 27, 1756. Today the rooms once occupied by the Mozart family house a museum. The most famous exhibits include Mozart’s childhood violin, his concert violin, his clavichord, the pianoforte, portraits and correspondence of the Mozart family.

As you return home from this amazing vacation, your family is sure to be singing many of the songs from “The Sound of Music”.

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