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Posts in ‘Sightseeing & Culture’

Exploring Malta’s Megalithic Temples

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Malta is one of the smallest countries in the world.  It is just 316 square kilometers but it is also one of the most densely populated.  Even though it is so small the country has a disproportionate number of precious historical monuments.  It is the seat of one of the most ancient among Mediterranean cultures.

Malta’s strategically important location in the Mediterranean Sea has given it a vital place in history.  At various times it has been occupied by the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, French and the British – all of whom have left behind architectural reminders of their presence.

Despite its long, very packed and eventful history many of Malta’s monuments have somehow managed to survive.  This is especially true of the eleven pre-historic monuments of which seven are listed as UNESCO Heritage Sites.  These remarkably well preserved structures are scattered all over the island.

Malta Megalithic TempleThe megalithic temples on Malta are among the oldest free-standing structures in the world.  They were built in three separate time periods from about 4100-3600 BC.  Unlike other similar structures around Europe these temples were not simply built and left alone.  What happened was rather evolutionary.  Each temple was refined and improved through successive building periods.  Sometime after 2500 BC the temple building stopped.

Archaeologists have divided Malta’s megalithic temple building into five periods.  However it is the latter three that produced the structures that still stand today.

The Ġgantija phase (3600–3200 BC) is the oldest of the three.  This phase takes its name from Ġgantija in Gozo.   Here you will see the figure 8 shape, the trefoil and five-apsed plans that were the blue print for later temple constructions and phases.

The Saflieni phase (3300–3000 BC) improved, developed and introduced several refinements to the Ġgantija style.

The Tarxien phase: (3150–2500 BC) is the last megalithic building phase on Malta.  It produced the most notable and finest structures.  This phase is so named because of the three lovely temples found at modern day Tarxien.  You could easily miss them because they stand in a back street of a modern built-up area with no immediately discernable entrance to mark its presence.

The Maltese temples are scattered all around the island and their construction took place over a period of two thousand years.  They have individual characteristics but all have similar important architectural layouts.

You enter through an oval forecourt, which is bordered on one side by the temple itself.  The temples generally face south.  The doorway to the temple is made up of large upright stone slabs with a massive stone lintel laid on top.  Stone slabs create a passageway leading to a central court.  There are slight variations to the layouts of course.

The temples are all unroofed.  The outer walls are generally made of hard coral limestone while a softer version is used inside, which permits sculpting and carving.  The decorations usually show animals but there are also a rich variety of patterns.

The major UNESCO Sites are:
Ta’ Ħaġrat
Ta’ Skorba
Ħaġar Qim
L-Imnajdra
Tarxien

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Holidaying in Turkey – Antalya

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Duden waterfall in Antalya

Antalya, the city and the surrounding area, is one of those places that seem tailor-made for sightseers and holiday makers. It has to have everything. The area is backed by the Beydaglari? and Taurus Mountains that come right down to the sea creating numerous idyllic and picturesque coves and bays. Oh yes, there are plenty of lovely sandy beaches.  The best known are Konyaalt? and Lara Beaches.

The picture is further coloured by the fact that Antalya is located on the Eastern Mediterranean coast of Turkey. That means it has a lovely warm climate all year round. The city mirrors its mixed and rich history. There are plenty of reminders of that past including Lycian, Pamphylian, Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman architecture and cultures.

The modern too is well represented in Antalya. It has a modern and busy airport, reportedly handling more than 10 million visitors a year. The port and marinas are always filled with yachts, boats of all descriptions and cruise liners. There are plenty of luxury hotels – several belonging to international chains – hotels, bars, clubs, chic restaurants and shopping avenues. No wonder the area is referred to as the Turkish Riviera.

For those looking to get a glimpse of Antalya’s history there is plenty on offer. Antalya has been restored to retain much of its historical character. The work won it the Golden Apple Tourism Prize.

These following are some of the prominent sights and monuments of Antalya:

  • The Atatürk Monument at Cumhuriyet Meydan? (Republic Square).
  • Kaleiçi: The old centre of the city with its narrow cobbled streets of historic Ottoman era houses.
  • Hadrian’s Gate (also known as Triple Gate) was built by the Romans in the 2nd century.
  • The City Walls and Hidirlik Tower also date back to ancient times.
  • Iskele Mosque: A 19th-century Mosque near the Marina.
  • Karatay Medrese: A Medrese (Islamic theological seminary) built in 1250 by Emir Celaleddin Karatay.
  • Kesik Minare (Broken Minaret) Mosque: Once a Roman temple which was   converted into a Byzantine Panaglia church and then the present mosque.  
  • Tekeli Mehmet Pasa Mosque: An 18th-century mosque built in honour of Tekeli Mehmet Pasa.
  • Yat Limani: The harbour goes back to Roman times.
  • Yivli Minare (Fluted Minaret) Mosque: Built by the Seljuks and decorated with dark blue and turquoise tiles, this minaret eventually became the symbol of the city.

Antalya is not all history, architecture, beaches and beauty spots. It has a vibrant cultural life. The main square, Cumhuriyet, is often used to host open air exhibitions and artistic and cultural performances.

To name a few of the events:

  • Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival: Turkey's largest national film festival, last week of September.
  • International Eurasia Film Festival: International film festival held annually
  • Mediterranean International Music Festival: October, 6 days
  • Antalya International Folk Music and Dance Festival Competition: Last week of August
  • Aspendos International Opera and Ballet Festival: June and July
  • Flower Festival May

The mixture of modern and ancient and the sheer variety create a tapestry and character that endures itself to all who come to this wonderful part of Turkey.

 

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Bodrum – From Greek Outpost to Opulent Hotspot

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Bodrum is a port city on the south-western Aegean Sea Coast of Turkey.  Its location is beautiful and so is the weather.  Unlike many, once picturesque, fishing villages that were ‘discovered’ by holiday makers and mutated into a hotel/motel and garishly lit tourist-targeted towns, Bodrum has retained its original character.

The local authorities have played a big part in Bodrum retaining its charm.  Building regulations and town planning control the height of buildings and preserve the traditional whitewashed houses with their distinctive blue-trim. The surrounding green-clad hills, numerous coves, bays, marinas and winding backstreets make this once unknown seaside town a very attractive place to spend a few days.

However, Bodrum has changed.  It is now the favoured retreat of the wealthy and powerful.  It has a number of high-end boutiques, salons, and elegant restaurants that cater to them.  There are also petite cafes, dressed with bright flowers, several excellent museums, shopping areas and other attractions that draw the package tourists too.

Despite the million or so tourists who pack its streets, beaches and hotels every summer, Bodrum has managed to keep its essential nature.  The Ottoman era mosques, ancient relics and the Crusader era castle have helped retain that lost-era flavour.

While the town has essentially become a ‘getaway’; a place to relax there are several historical attractions for the sightseer.

Before he died King Mausolus (376-353 BC) planned and started to build his own tomb.  It was designed by Pythius and Satyros.  When he died, his wife (who was also his sister) Artemisia completed it.  It was a massive and impressive temple-like structure.

It consisted of tonnes of white marble crowned by stepped pyramids and decorated with carvings and statues.  The tomb was among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It survived for 1700 years till earthquakes brought it down.  Today, only its foundations and few bits of statuary can be seen.  It is from this man and his tomb that we get the word “mausoleum.”

The Crusader Knights Hospitallers showed up in 1402 and began to build a castle in 1406.  They used the marble and stones from Mausoleum’s ruins for their construction.  They finished it in 1437 but kept adding fortifications, a cistern and a moat.  It is still a very impressive and well-preserved structure.  They named it The Castle of St Peter and the town around it Petronium.  Over time the name was turkicised to 'Bodrum.'

Within Bodrum Castle is the French Tower containing the tomb and remains of Queen Ada (died sometime between 360 and 325 BC).  Along with her body were buried a gold crown, necklace, bracelets, rings and an exquisite wreath of gold myrtle leaves – all incredibly valuable.

Bodrum Castle is also home to one of most important museums of the world.Bodrum castle  The Museum of Underwater Archaeology houses items collected from underwater missions.  The exhibits are creatively displayed and include maps, drawings and murals.

Another relic from ancient times is the Myndos Gate – now restored.  It the only remaining portion of what was once a 7km wall built by King Mausolus.  In 334 BC many of Alexander the Great’s soldiers perished at the wall and the moat around it.

Fate and forethought has been kind to Bodrum and saved it from becoming like other Turkish fishing villages that have become touristic nightmares.

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Sightseeing In Old Jerusalem

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One of the great things about sightseeing in Old Jerusalem is that nearly all the sights and shrines are close to each other.  Cheek by jowl you could say.  The other thing is that despite the millions of people who visit every year, you don’t get that squashed, crowded, hemmed in feeling.  Oh yes.  The streets are narrow too.

King David laid the foundation stones of Jerusalem City in 1004 BCE (Before Common Era) making it one of the world’s oldest cities. It has been built and rebuilt since.  The Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Egyptians, Romans, Arabs, Europeans and a whole host of others came and went destroying and building in turn.  Jerusalem has been destroyed twice and captured and recaptured 44 times.

JerusalemThe Old City is demarcated by the walls that Suleiman the Magnificent built in 1538.  They make it convenient for the visitor when navigating through the maze of streets.  Since 1981 the Old City is a World Heritage Site and is also on the World Heritage in Danger list.

Old Jerusalem is literally divided into four quarters – Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim.  The Old City of Jerusalem is only 0.9 square kilometres in size!  What is amazing though is that so much of the world’s human history, culture, religion and conflicts have their roots in this tiny area.

The Jewish Quarter includes the Wailing Wall (or The Western Wall and the Kotel), which was a part of the Temple of Solomon.  Also here you will find the Burnt House.  This residential remnant from 2000 years ago was destroyed by the Romans.

Then there is a remarkable street – The Cardo – built by the Romans in the 6th century. Several columns, arches, shops and sections of floor still remain.  This area was the Roman Aelia Capitolina and the business district then.  You can almost expect to see people from that age going about their business with mule-drawn carts and legionnaires passing by.

The Christian Quarter has numerous churches, chapels and road side memorials dedicated to or recalling the deeds and life of Christ.  You can attend a service at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was buried after being crucified.  You can retrace his final journey along the Via Dolorosa and recall the Stations of the Cross.  The route starts at what was the courthouse but is now Lions’ Gate – or St. Stephen’s Gate – and winds through the Arab souk and Moslem Quarter before ending at the hill of Calvary or Golgotha.

A non-religious attraction of the Christian section is the thriving and very colourful Bazaar.  It is a great place to pick up souvenirs and religious and ornamental items.  Bargaining is an accepted and expected part of shopping here.  Another lovely feature is the numerous little food stalls – the appetising aromas will ensure you taste something before moving on.

The largest and most populous is the Moslem Quarter.  Take the Cardo through the Arab souk and into the Moslem Quarter.  There are several churches and mosques here.  More importantly it is the location of two of Islam’s holiest sites.  One is the Dome of the Rock.  Another is Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine.  Both sit on the Temple Mount.

The last and tiniest is the Armenian Quarter.  Most of the Armenians live around the St. James Cathedral.  Through two thousand years of Jerusalem’s turbulent history they have retained their ethnic, cultural and religious identity.

Taken in totality the Temple Mount has huge meaning and importance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam making it the most contentious and disputed piece of land.

A tour of the Old City of Jerusalem should take you a little over half a day.  Incredible, how so much history can be packed into a matter of hours!  You will go away very touched and thoughtful.

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The Fairy Tale Land of Mont Saint-Michel

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One kilometre off the northwest Normandy coast of France sits the unique little island of Mont Saint-Michel. It is cut off from the mainland at high tide while vast sandbanks are exposed at low tide, which can be just as deterring as the powerful water flows. Today there is a motorable causeway connecting it to the mainland and unaffected by high tides.

All of 247 acres in area and 300 feet at its highest, this strategically situated rocky island embodies the expression that ‘life is stranger than fiction.’ The ancient monastery, massive stone fortifications, winding climbing streets, houses with sloping roofs and tiny quaint shops give Mont Saint-Michel an ambience that could very easily be the setting for a fantasy tale with dragons, elves and wizards in it.

Mont Saint MichelFor most of its history, Mont Saint-Michel has been a redoubtable fortress. It was a Roman outpost till the 460 AD, followed by Gallic occupation till the Franks came along and pushed them out. Sometime in the 8th century the island’s role changed when the first religious buildings were constructed.  However, its strategic importance remained and is even featured in the famous Bayeux Tapestry. It was the Normans however who were the architects of the grand and imposing abbey that gives the town and the island so much of its character.

In the 11th century William de Volpiano, an Italian architect was charged with building the Abbey. He designed the Romanesque church seen today. In the early 12th century Philip Augustus paid for the construction of new Gothic-style sections, which included a refectory and cloister. Thereafter Charles VI added more fortifications, built the towers and added courtyards. Today many of them are filled with flowers that make the place very pretty.

For many centuries Mont Saint-Michel was an important pilgrimage centre but that function slowly declined and by the time of the French Revolution the abbey was almost abandoned. The Republicans converted into a prison.  In the nineteenth century such luminaries as Victor Hugo petitioned to restore the buildings, resulting in it being declared a historic monument in 1874.

In 1979 Mont Saint-Michel and its Bay were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The isle attracts more than 3 million visitors every year. Compare that with the permanent residents who number only 44, at last count.

That is Mont Saint-Michel for you – tiny in size but large in history and heart.

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Touring the Sistine Chapel in Rome

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The Sistine Chapel is probably the single most impressive, influential and famous art-filled room in the whole world.  Intended to be the private chapel of a pope, the whole world now comes to worship at this altar of artistic creativity.  It also serves as the election room of new popes.

Sistine ChapelThe building and the painting of the Sistine Chapel was completed in three major phases.  The first was the building and wall painting phase.  Commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV (of the della Rovere family) it took about eight years (1475 to 1483) to complete.  It was consecrated and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary on 15th August 1483.  The architect was Baccio Pontelli and the construction was supervised by Giovannino de'Dolci.

In 1481, while the chapel was still being constructed, Pope Sixtus IV brought in several great Florentine artists to paint the walls.  They were Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Piero di Cosimo, Rosselli, Luca Signorelli, Pinturicchio and Bartolomeo della Gatta.  They took only eleven months to complete their commission.

The walls are divided into three horizontal sections.  The uppermost comprises of pilasters that support the vault.  The middle section (or order) tells two stories from the bible.  The left wall relates the life of Moses while the right wall tells the life of Christ.  At ceremonial occasions the lowest portions of the side walls are covered with a series of tapestries depicting events from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. These were designed by Raphael and woven in 1515-19 at Brussels.

There are six windows on the long walls.  Between each window is a niche with painted images of the first popes – Peter to Marcellus – who were all martyred.  A beautiful and delicately carved marble screen, with an inset wooden door, divides the presbytery from the nave.  The screen is the work of three sculptors – Mino da Fiesole, Andrea Bregno and Giovanni Dalmata.  The screen used to divide the chapel into two equal parts but was moved making the presbytery much larger.  The floor is a marble mosaic beautiful in workmanship and design.

The second phase saw the introduction of Michelangelo.  In 1508 Pope Julius II (a ‘nephew’ of Sixtus IV) wanted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel repainted.  The ceiling was originally frescoed by Piero Matteo d'Amelia with a star-spangled sky in 1481.

He had originally called upon Raphael (a passionate enemy of Michelangelo) to take up the project but he refused.  Instead he suggested Michelangelo’s name in an attempt to discredit him knowing Michelangelo was a sculptor and not a painter.  Raphael created one of art history’s greatest gaffes.

Michelangelo worked on the ceiling from 1508 to 1512.  What he created has become a beacon of art throughout the world.  He demonstrated control and understanding of detail, proportion, colour, texture, form and an unmatched originality that has illuminated the world – let alone art.  He brought perfection to reality.  The Sistine Chapel is a display of one man’s incredible creative genius.

The pope wanted paintings of the 12 Apostles.  Michelangelo dismissed the idea as a “poor thing”.  Thank heavens for his courage and ‘artistic licence and integrity’ or we would not have the most amazing works in the history of Western art.  Instead what Michelangelo painted were stories from the Book of Genesis – from the Creation to the story of Noah.

This phase of Michelangelo’s work included the incomparable and stunningly daring fresco, the Creation of Adam.  Michelangelo’s portrayal of God as a muscular figure with long white hair and big white beard is the one many of us, today, picture him to be.  In earlier works God was represented only as a hand reaching down through the clouds.

The near touching of God and Adam’s hands is one of the most replicated, parodied and iconic images of the world.  It also goes against the common perception of God breathing life into Adam.  Michelangelo also shows Adam with a ‘navel.’  Other departures are the serpent in Eden depicted with a woman’s head; the forbidden fruit is a fig and not the commonly accepted ‘apple.’

To paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo built his own platform, extending over half the chapel area.  It allowed him to stand upright (Sorry! He did not paint it on his back).  However, it denied him the possibility of viewing his work from the floor.  Despite that he painted huge scale figures from a distance of only a few inches.

Twenty-eight years later Michelangelo was back.  This time it was Pope Clement VII who commissioned him.  Shortly after Pope Clement died and was succeed by Pope Paul III who pushed the artist to quickly finish the fresco.  In this phase Michelangelo painted the Last Judgment on the altar wall – the largest fresco of the century.  He started work in 1535 and finished it in 1541.

Winding staircase in the Sistine ChapelEven if Michelangelo had not created what he did in the Sistine Chapel, it would still be a room filled with an extraordinary collection of masterpieces.  From this single room emanates more creativity, beauty and inspiration (artistic and religious) than any other collection of art anywhere.

Despite its amazing fame there is nothing outstanding about the Sistine Chapel’s architectural features.  Its dimensions are based on that of the Temple of Solomon as detailed in the Old Testament.  It is 40.93 metres long, 13.41 metres wide and 20.70 metres high.  The roof is barrel-vaulted.  The exterior is a remarkably bare brick-walled edifice with no ostentatious embellishments, sculptures or carvings.  There is no grand entrance door.  Entrance to the Sistine Chapel can only be made from within the Papal Palace.

Visitors today are blessed because what they view is the restored and cleaned frescos, which took about 30 (1965 to 1994) years to accomplish.

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Pflasterspektakel Festival 2013, Austria

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Pflasterspektakel Festival

The Pflasterspektakel (pavement spectacle in German) is a very popular street art festival celebrated annually in Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. It is truly a world-leading art festival with participants coming from more than 30 countries.

The festival is a 3-days event that takes place every second half of July – with artists performing at around 40 locations throughout the city of Linz – around the mains square and the Landstraße. Only in case of rain does the event move to the old city hall and other indoor locations.

In its very first year in 1987, about 150 musicians took part. Today, there are more than 400 different acts, coming from all over the world.

Features of the street festival

The event starts with an opening ceremony on a Thursday at 4 p.m.; and at 2 p.m. on the following Friday and Saturday until midnight. Partying and other informal activities carry on into the morning hours.

The main features of this festival include musical acts, juggling, acrobatics, pantomime, magic shows, improvisational theatre, clownery, fire dancing, painting, puppet shows, samba parades, theatre in caravans, wooden marionettes etc.

It also has various small parades and a variety of events and programmes for children.

Sponsorship and Donations

The event is funded by the municipality along with Radio Oberösterreich, local newspapers, and a bank.

The artists derive their main income from the visitors’ donations; except for their travel costs, accommodation, breakfast, and 25 Euros of cash for their expenses per day. So make sure you donate generously so that we can keep this unique event alive for the future generations to enjoy.

This year’s event will make its 27th festival edition; and will take place from the 18th to 20th July 2013.

 

Image credit: Gnal

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Saint Simeon Monastery Tour

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St Simeon Monastery

The Saint Simeon Monastery is now an abandoned site that is located on the west bank of the Aswan. It is a remarkable collection of ancient buildings that sit in the middle of nowhere. The stone and mud-brick of the surviving walls and buildings blend in with the surrounding dramatic landscape.

The Saint Simeon Monastery is known locally as Anba Hatre and the Arabic name for the saint is Deir Anba Sim’an. The best way (and the generally accepted mode) to get there is on the back of a camel, which takes about 25 minutes. Slogging it out on foot is unadvisable because of the heat and the effort of trudging through the sand.

The monastery is named after a fourth century ascetic who, the legend goes, on the day of his wedding witnessed a passing funeral procession. Inspired by this chance encounter, he decided not to lose his virginity. He thereupon undertook a frugal and abstinent lifestyle and removed himself to Anba Hatre. He was just eighteen and I wonder what his ditched bride thought of those decisions.  

Whether the monastery dates from his time is still unclear but by the sixth and seventh centuries there was an established settlement as evidenced by some remarkably well-preserved wall paintings on the rock caves from that time. More additions and building took place in the first part of the eleventh century.

It became one of the largest Coptic Monasteries in Egypt housing over a thousand inhabitants. However, by the end of the thirteenth century it was abandoned and the reasons have never been properly determined. Despite some depredations and raids by various marauders much of the structures still remain remarkably intact.

The archetypal domed Christian church and tower is the best architectural example of its type. There are a large number of tombstones and rock cells with stone beds for the monks.  There are numerous living and working quarters and walled lookout towers. The lower levels are marked by covered arched walkways acting as ventilation systems making for a cool environment.

In addition there are pottery and brick making kilns providing insights into Aswan techniques. A small number of wall paintings survive from the eleventh and twelfth centuries with evidence of even older paintings that behind them.

Your tour of the Saint Simeon Monastery (Anba Hatre) usually lasts for about two hours. It is time well spent yet too short to fully appreciate the long, colourful and still barely understood history of the place. The peace, quiet and lovely views of the river do give you some inkling why the monastery was a great place to meditate, study the scriptures and look for the meaning to life…
 

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10 Facts about Bastille Day and its Celebration

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Bastille Day

Bastille Day —celebrated on 14 July—is a special day for France as it symbolises the beginning of democracy and freedom of the people. It is the French National day and is called La Fete Nationale in French.

The Bastille is a medieval fortress and prison in Paris. On July 14, 1789, an outraged group of Parisians stormed the Bastille. This was a pivotal event of the French Revolution—marking the beginning of the end of the French Royalty and the beginning of the modern republic.

Events and Tradition
The day is celebrated with military parades, fireworks, festivals, communal meals, parties and dances.  It also includes large picnics and musical performances.

Although every city, town and village throughout the country celebrates the day, the largest celebration is in Paris, where a parade marches past the famous Champs Elysées, in front of the President of the Republic, French officials and foreign guests. At the end of the parade the French President and many foreign ambassadors wait and greet the military.

The day then ends in style with an awe-inspiring fireworks display at the country’s most iconic landmark – the Eiffel Tower.

10 Facts about Bastille Day
1. Bastille comes from the French word bastide, which means stronghold. It was formally known as the Bastille Saint-Antoine.

2. As the opening victory in the revolution, the storming of the Bastille is today celebrated as a national holiday.

3. The French National Anthem called la Marseillaise is a revolutionary song.

4. France's tricolour flag (blue, red and white) was introduced during the Revolution. The three colours represent the ideals of the French people – Liberte Egalite Fraternite (liberty, equality and fraternity) for all citizens.

5. There were only 7 prisoners at the Bastille when the people of Paris stormed on July 14th, 1789.

6. The Man in the Iron Mask was a Bastille prisoner from 1698 to 1703.

7. The famous philosopher and writer, Voltaire, and The Marquis de Sade were also prisoners of the Bastille.

8.  Milwaukee, Wisconsin has a large Bastille Day celebration downtown that lasts four days. They even have a 43 foot tall replica of the Eiffel Tower! Other US cities famous for their celebrations of this day include New Orleans, New York, and Chicago.

9. The famous bicycle race —the Tour de France—takes place during Bastille Day.

10. The Key to the Bastille was presented to George Washington in 1790. It was built by Charles V between 1370 and 1383.


Happy Bastille Day!
 

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San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain

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San Fermin

The fiesta of San Fermin is a deeply-rooted celebration —held from 6 to 14 July every year—in the city of Pamplona, Spain. It is celebrated in honour of Saint Fermine, patron of Navarra, and is locally known as Sanfermines.

The festival is a celebration of many traditional and folkloric events including the most popular encierro, or 'the running of the bulls'. Its events and worldwide fame, along with its attraction of a vast number of visitors from around the world are closely related to the description in Ernest Hemingway’s book, The Sun Also Rises.

The rave-up basically is about the consumption of large quantities of alcoholic beverages (sangria), music, bullfighting and partying.

The ceremonial process

The San fermin Festival starts at noon on 6 July each year and is marked by setting off the pyrotechnic chupinazo – a ceremonial rocket or the explosion of rocket from the balcony of the city hall at midday.

From the 7th to the 14th, the encierro – letting loose the bulls through some of the streets of the old part of the city take place when the clock on the church of San Cernin strikes 8 o'clock in the morning. From then on risk and excitement go hand in hand with high spirits and non-stop fun.

Running with the bulls is free but extreme caution must be exercised as it is an extremely risky sport, even considered male-only tradition. It has had 15 deaths since 1925 and most insurance don’t cover it – so you may only participate at your own risk.

The fiesta carries on with clear broth chocolate (caldico), long doughnuts (churros), the ceremonial giants (Gigantes), the aperitif and the fireworks at night; which then give way to all-night partying.

The dress code for the festival is red and white. And so for the next nine days, the streets turn into a celebration — of friendship, music, non-stop partying and open-air dances to the rhythm of the charangas and the peñas.

Tickets for the bullfight can cost anything from 25 to 70 Euros.

Closing

On the final day, i.e 14 July, thousands of people once again gather in the Town Hall Square with lighted candles and singing "Pobre de mí" (Poor me), to send off the Sanfermines until the next year.

Although most tourists know the festival as ‘The Running of the Bulls’, it is actually the party atmosphere, the celebration of life and the overall experience of the full-on Spanish fiesta that makes visiting Pamplona during San Fermin such an exciting and memorable one.

Have you booked your tickets yet?

Image credit: Rufino Lasaosa

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