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Featuring worldwide places known for their art, sculptures, monuments, landmarks, travel articles

History and Attractions of Boston Common

Posted in Modern & Historical Art, Sculptures & Monuments, United States  by admin on November 10th, 2009

Boston Common is the oldest city park in the United States. The eccentric William Blaxton settled the land, all alone with his books, in the 1620s. In 1634 he sold the land to English Puritan colonists for use as a shared cow and sheep pasture. Each household contributed six shillings to the purchase. Eventually, the land was also used for military training, sometimes by colonists and sometimes by their British occupiers. Until 1817, the land was Boston’s site for public hangings. Livestock grazing was banned in 1830.

In modern times, Boston Common serves mainly as a recreation center. It anchors Boston’s “Emerald Necklace”, a chain of parks that runs about seven miles through the city. The park itself measures about forty-four acres.As one of the nation’s oldest landmarks, Boston Common has become rich with items of historical interest. The park is home to the Central Burying Ground, one of Boston’s first
graveyards. Among those buried there are choral composer William Billings, portrait artist Gilbert Stuart, and many casualties of the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill. Unfortunately, the subway tunneling of 1894 disturbed more than 900 (perhaps 2,000) of the cemetery’s deceased residents! They were later reburied, and a tablet marks the location of the event.

Several monuments can be spotted throughout the Common. The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, for example, is a Civil War monument honoring the first free black regiment in the Union Army. (Shaw commanded the all-volunteer regiment and is depicted in the Hollywood film “Glory”.) Another impressive Civil War sculpture is The Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Located atop the Common’s Flagstaff Hill, this neoclassical work of art rises an impressive 126 feet. Elsewhere, in the park’s Parkman Plaza, statues pay homage to the ideals of Industry, Learning, and Religion.With so many acres of green space, the park has hosted many large public events. In 1713 a public riot broke out in response to a food shortage. Two hundred people were present, and the lieutenant governor was shot during the chaos. A century and half later, in 1969, a Vietnam protest drew 100,000 people. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pope John Paul II also drew large crowds for their speeches. The park’s Parkman Bandstand holds smaller crowds for plays and concerts.

Boston Common is full of longstanding attractions for people of all ages. The Public Garden was established in 1837 as the nation’s oldest botanical garden. Prior to that time, the land had been a salty swamp. The 24-acre garden is especially famous for its fleet of swan-shaped boats. Weather permitting, visitors ride the boats from spring through autumn.

The Frog Pond is another popular destination within the park. The Frog Pond is a popular children’s wading pool in the summer. During the brisk Boston winters, it freezes into an ice skating rink. When the Frog Pond first opened in 1848, school was closed for a day just so children could play in the fountain! Today the Tadpole Playground is adjacent.

Boston Common is flanked by other points of interest, such as: the Massachusetts State House, which stands to the north; Park Street Station – America’s first subway station – in the eastern corner; and Boylston Street Station – America’s second subway station – to the south. For those who prefer to walk, the Freedom Trail (a popular walking tour) also starts to the south of Boston Common at the Visitor Center.

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Paris – The Louvre

Posted in Europe, Modern & Historical Art  by admin on November 1st, 2009

Unquestionably the most famous name in the world of art museums, The Louvre largely deserves its renown. Enormous and filled with irreplaceable treasures from around the world, this premier series of exhibits offers something for everyone.

The building itself is something of an historical and art adventure. The construction of the original structures began as long ago as the 13th century, though the present museum has its origins in efforts of three hundred years later. The existing Château du Louvre, which forms a large portion of the floorspace, was begun in 1546.

The subject of sporadic expansion efforts for the next three hundred years, the only major alteration in recent times was the addition of a grotesquely inappropriate glass pyramid completed in 1989. The Crystal Pyramid forms the current entrance.

The change had one advantage in opening up the museum to large numbers of visitors more comfortably. Through the entrance and down an escalator the visitor enters a world of 6,000 years of every style and type of art known to man.

Within the museum walls are Egyptian sarcophagi, Persian and Greek artifacts, medieval and Renaissance paintings, 19th century classical and Romantic sculptures and a smattering of the latest forms. Some estimates run as high as 100,000 pieces, but in truth no one could know with certainty.

The museum itself is an eclectic collection of styles, the consequence of its many additions and changes over the centuries. Much too large to see in one day, the visitor is well-advised to pick a few favorite periods or countries and focus on them. Naturally, the best strategy is to opt for several visits but that may not be practical for most.

There are the pieces known even to those with little interest in art – the da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the marble Winged Victory (Nike) of Samothrace, the armless Venus de Milo. But there are works well-known to those with at least a passing acquaintance with painting – Delacroix’s Liberty Guiding the People, Vermeer’s Geographer or Lacemaker, Ingres’ The Bather, David’s Marat Mort.

Along with the more recognizable pieces there are literally thousands on display known only to experts or the most regular visitors. Most of the collection is in storage at any given time. Many of the walls are covered from floor to very high ceiling with paintings ranging from miniatures to 10m by 3m (33 feet by 10 ft) canvases.

And there are a lot of those walls. The floor space covers several thousand square meters and there are a dozen different major buildings including the Château and the Tulieres that have been joined by passageways over the centuries. The various parts are also on several different levels, many connected only by steps. Be prepared for an extensive walk.

Fortunately, there are benches scattered about and the steps in many places are lightly used, providing several places to rest. To take a breather and enjoy a sandwich before continuing, the exterior too provides several places to sit. Here you can enjoy the passing parade of people or the stationary Les Jardins Tulieres. (Jardins is French for garden)

Lines can be long for tickets. Best to buy a ticket in advance or purchase one of the many available multiple-tourist-site passes. The museum is easy to reach via the metro (subway). Exit at the Palais Royal or Louvre Rivoli stations.

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Paris – Sacré Coeur

Posted in Europe  by admin on October 19th, 2009

The site of Sacré Coeur has long been an attraction for religious figures and groups. Though dedicated to peace and brotherhood, the building owes its birth on the site to the misfortunes of war and violence.

In the 3rd century, the first bishop of Paris, St Denys, was beheaded here. A Benedictine Abbey occupied the entire hill until rioters of the French Revolution burned it down.

During the Prussian War of 1870, the two Catholic businessmen who initiated the Sacré Coeur project wanted to build an offering should France survive the conflict.

The construction was approved and the site selected in 1872 by the then-archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Guibert. Financed predominantly by modest donations, work began in 1875 and was finished in 1914. Due to the outbreak of WWI, the consecration was delayed to 1919.

Despite its late-19th century origins, the architecture is a much older style. A mixture of Romanesque and Byzantine, the white, Oriental-style domes house a 19-ton bell (Savoyarde) and elaborate reliefs. Note: ‘Oriental’ does not mean ‘Asian’. The architecture of the Middle East is commonly known as ‘Oriental’.

Apart from its unusual (for the time and place) architectural style, the building has another unusual feature. The walls themselves actually get whiter with age. Made of travertine, a type of stone which leeches calcite, any accumulated soot and weathering gradually erode leaving the exterior a dazzling white.

The art work accompanying the building is alone worth the trip. The sculptures atop the entrance are bronze equestrian statues of Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) and King Louis. There are numerous mosaics and paintings covering the interior, including a large figure of the Virgin and Child. And, the ‘Christ in Majesty’ mosaic in the apse is one of the largest in the world.

The church is located in the north of Paris and rises 129 meters above-sea level. It is the second highest location after the Eiffel Tower. Sited next to the basilica is the still-standing 6th century St. Pierre de Montmartre church.

The building is a series of stepped-back rectangular walls pierced by several arches and capped by domes of varying sizes. Around the structure are complementary gardens and fountains, providing a peaceful site. That is, during those times when the grounds and building aren’t overcrowded, such as during the off-seasons or early in the morning.

From every angle without and many within the basilica is much more impressive than it generally receives credit for. Though a traditional style, the carvings and additions all form a harmonious whole. The golden mosaics give a glow to the interior that supports the site’s purpose as an area for contemplation.

From the grounds, high atop Paris, one can look out over the entire city and from within the dome there are equally impressive views. In the distance is the Eiffel Tower, and at dusk the combination of the onset of lights and the setting sun is spectacular.

Access to the site is challenging. There’s a metro (subway) station nearby at Abbesses. But, there are a great many steps leading up the hill to the basilica. The walk is eased somewhat by the funiculaire.

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Paris – Montmartre

Posted in Europe  by admin on October 5th, 2009

Montmartre is a fascinating mixture of old and new, seedy and sacred, bizarre and blasé. Within this section of Paris, technically the 18th arrondissement, there is everything from Moulin Rouge and Musée d’Erotisme to the Sacré Coeur Basilica. There are several art shops, a Dali museum and even a winery.

(Note: An ‘arrondissement’ is a district, laid out around Paris clockwise, with the 1st at the center of the clock face.)

There are steep hills in parts, so be prepared for a hike, particularly up to the Basilica. But there are cobblestoned streets, too, with antique shops and ‘bistros’.

The word ‘bistro’ comes from the Russian meaning ‘quick’. It was first imported in the early 19th century by Cossack occupiers who wanted to be fed immediately. Everything from frogs legs to Tarte Tatin is served at spots as old as 1793 in the Place du Tertre.

At the Espace Montmartre one can view an original Dali etching and browse to the glares of the staff. The museum houses Dali sculpture, lithographs, drawings and even some furniture pieces.

For a different art experience visit the Musée de Montmartre. This 17th century house holds apartments once occupied by Renoir, Utrillo and other famous names. Renoir’s Galette, sold at auction in 1990 for $78 million, was finished here. Among other works, there are several original Toulouse-Lautrec posters on display.

And while you’re thinking of Lautrec, don’t forget to visit (at least the outside of) Moulin Rouge. Very pricey ($100 or more), with a floor show garnering mixed reviews, the windmill on the exterior is a photo-op not to be bypassed.

About 20 minutes walk from the Sacré Coeur Basilica, there are several other nightclubs in the area, as well. Beware the Pigalle neighborhood, though. It constitutes one of the seedier areas around.

By contrast, the Montmartre cemetery located in the eastern part of the district, is a pleasant park nearby. Tree-lined and festooned with flowers and dotted with benches, there are tombs and mausoleums galore.

And if you visit in mid-October you might even be able to catch the Grape Festival not far away. Hosting the only vineyard in Paris, Clos Montmartre (at 12 Rue Cortot) was planted in 1933 and has 2,000 vines under cultivation. Most varieties grown in France are represented and the wine lover won’t be disappointed.

For those who like a hike, start at the Abbesses Metro. Take a few minutes to enjoy the Art Nouveau awning and the mosaics around the door of the Eglise St Jean l’Evangéliste.

While you’re nearby, visit the crypt in the Chappelle du Martyre (at 9 Rue Yvonne-Le-Tac). The first Bishop of Paris, St Denys, is laid to rest here at the site where Loyala, the founder of the Jesuits, took his vows. (Open only on Friday.)

Most will want to finish their visit with a trip to the Sacré Coeur Basilica at the top of the hill. Whether standing on the white steps or up in the dome, the views are spectacular. Go early to avoid the crowds and the heat.

Montmartre is accessible via several metro (subway) lines. M12 (Lamarck-Caulaincourt) or M4 (Chateau-Rouge), Blanche station, etc. Anything which leads to the 18th arrondissement.

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