The many attractions of ancient Cusco, Peru

8 August, 2008

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The ancient city of Cusco and its ancient monuments plays host to whole lot of ancient and not-so-ancient monuments.

Some of these are:

Sacsayhuaman: This ruined complex of a military fortress dating back to the Incan civilization is a marvel of construction. It is composed of large boulders, some weighing more than 300 tons each, fitted together without the use of cement.

San Blas: This is an old living area of Cusco, that is home to narrow and steep streets, colonial-styled houses and various art workshops.

Santo Domingo Church (Iglesia de Santo Domingo): This is a 17 century church which is located on the site of the Incan’s Temple of the Sun.

Temple of the Sun (Coricancha): This ruin was once the most important temple of the Incas, which was later used as a base for the Church of Santo Domingo when the Spanish plundered the city.

Cusco Cathedral: This magnificent renaissance-style, 16 century building is built in the shape of a Latin cross and contains about 400 colonial paintings including the famous ‘Last Supper’ by Marcos Zapata. It dominates the skyline of the Plaza de Armas.

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Malmo Castle – Last of the Scadanavian castles of the renaissance

26 September, 2007

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One of the oldest renaissance castle left in this part of the world (Scandanavia), Malmo Castle was originally constructed as a citadel by King Eric of Pomerania in 1434.

Later in the 16 century, it was demolished and rebuilt in the newer style by then King Christian III of Denmark, as the area was part of the then Kingdom of Denmark. For many years after that the castle remained a stronghold of the kingdom, defending the land against foreign aggressors.

Malmo Castle also once served a prison, with one of its famous inmate was the Earl of Bothwell, third husband of the Mary Queen of Scots, who served a prison sentence of 5 years from 1568-73.

Surrounded by moat and lots of greenery, Malmo Castle is now ‘serving life’ more as a museum than a prison fortress. Currently it houses the Art Museum, City Museum, the Natural History Museum, Aquarium & Tropicarium, and the Konstmuseet.

The latter one contains one of the largest collections of old Scandinavian masters. It also houses a large Russian painting collection dating around to 1900 – the largest outside Russia.

Located in the western side of the city of Malmo in Sweden, Malmo Castle is easily accessible by anyone wishing to visit it. It lies west of the area of Stortorget, the castle can be easily reached on foot.


Sigmaringen Castle – Home of the Hohenzollern Princes

22 September, 2007

One of the main castles in Germany is Sigmaringen Castle. Situated high on the Swabian Alb hills in the province of Baden-Wurttemberg, Sigmaringen Castle dominates the skyline of the town of Sigmaringen.

The manor, which was reconstructed in 1893, was the palace of the princes of the House of Hohenzollern. Constructed on a limestone ridge had been in use since a millennium, though it has been through various alternations ever since.

Though, it isn’t clear as who commissioned it originally, but from 1535 onwards, counts and then princes of Hohenzollern has been occupying it. The structure, which was originally constructed as a fortress, was later transformed into a beautiful and comfortable stately manor.

The castle, which is now, a museum is home to one of the largest collection of medieval weapons and armours. It also houses the local 16 and 16 German painters’ works that are considered outstanding works of arts in Germany.

Part of the collection consists of ancient carriages, sleighs and sedan chairs that provides a hindsight on the ways of travelling by the royals and nobles. Then there is the private library documenting the life and times of the Hohenzollern family.


Lichtenstein Castle: A very fairy-tale styled castle

21 September, 2007

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One of the most impressive, not to mention beautiful structures and among the stately homes is Lichtenstein Castle in Germany.

Located atop a cliff in the hills of Swabian Alb, in the province of Baden-Wurttemberg, the castle is only about 165 years old. Though, the current castle is quite young in terms of the general age of mainland European Castles, it is built on the site of the original castle that was constructed during the 1200s.

Unfornately, the original castle was twice destroyed in wars but during the reign of city-state Reutlingen in 1381, it was allowed to fall into despair by its then owners.

During the 1800s the land came into possession of King Frederick I of Wurttemberg who constructed a logde on the site. Then it passed down to his nephew who later on in 1842 reconstructed the current castle in a very fairy-tale style.

Currently its owners are the family of Duke of Urach.


Gotland Island (Sweden) – ‘Pearl of the Baltic Sea’

21 September, 2007

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If anyone ever wishes to cycle along the coast during night-time at 10 pm in the shade of the setting sun, all the while enjoying the solitude of the serene environs, then Gotland Island is just the place to be at.

Often called the ‘Pearl of the Baltic Sea’, Gotland is truly a magical place. It is a natural wonder, with miles long bicycle tracks, limes gravelled road, dramatic coastlines, sandy beaches and flowery meadows.

Part of Sweden the island is about 75 miles long and 35 miles wide at its widest point and it boasts more sunny days in the year than the whole of Scandinavian region.

For those interested in history, would be happy to note that it is rich in historical monuments including magnificent stone churches from the 12 & 13 centuries that bear testament to the islands’ once glory.

According to a local legend, a man named ‘Tjelvar’ discovered the island. At the time of discovery the island was jinxed, such that that it used to sink into the sea at day and rise out the water at night. The man, Tjelvar on discovering it, brought back ‘life’ into the island and it never sank again.

Gotland gained a lot of prominence during the Viking age, when it became a major trading port of the region. There are boulders marking graves in the shape of old Viking Ships visible even today along the roadsides.


Kew Palace (London) – A Royal Residence once upon a time

20 September, 2007

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Part of the famed Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew, in London, the Kew Palace is actually one of the Royal Palaces in use by the British Royal Family, though it now opened to the public as a museum.

Originally constructed a private manor by a Dutch trader, Samuel Fortrey in 1631, it was called the Dutch House. Later on King George II and his wife, Caroline lived here while King George was extending the Richmond Gardens. In 1781, their son, George III, who moved his extended family here, purchased it.

The building, which is noted for its distinctive, decorative carved brickwork and rounded gables, is constructed in what is known as the Flemish Bond style with bricks arranged with sides and ends alternating. The front entrance, which is gabled, gives a house a very ‘Dutch’ appearance, but later alternations have changed certain original installations especially the original sash windows.

In 1818, when the lady in residence, Queen Charlotte died, Kew palace was closed down. In December 1896, the palace was included into the Kew Gardens properties, with the consent of the then monarch, Queen Victoria.

In the 1960s the Queen Gardens were constructed by then Director Kew Gardens, Sir George Taylor, in 17-century style that includes only those plants that existed in that era.

Administered separately by the Historic Royal Palaces department, the palace recently underwent a major restoration and was re-opened to the public in 2006 like many other royal palaces.


Swinton Park – A stately house surrounded by nature

20 September, 2007

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Swinton Park is a 30-bedroom luxury castle hotel in Masham, Ripon, on the outskirts of Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Set amid lush surrounds of 200 acres of lush green parkland, moorland, dales, gardens, lakes, and rivers, this former stately home belongs to the current-day Baron and Baroness Masham. The current owner, Baron Mark Cunliffe-Lister and his wife, Baroness Felicity, bought the castle back from the Lindley Educational Trust, who were running a management training centre here, some seven years ago and refurbished it into a grand, luxury hotel.

Sir Abstrupus Danby initially constructed the house as a manor in 1695. His successors, later, added on the stable block and the gatehouse, as well as planting the huge parkland and creating the chain of five lakes in the 1760s.

In the following year, the manor was further altered to include the two-storey west wing, which now is the drawing room and the master suite of the hotel, as well as the north wing. A museum was also added a few years later, which now serves as the bar in the hotel. Ironically, it once served as the chapel for the family in residence.

It was during this period that manor was formally converted into a castle with the inclusion of a tower, turrets and battlements.

The extensive parklands surrounding the castle was landscaped by William Danby, a descendent of Sir Danby, who also created the five lakes that dotes the horizon. A stone bridge was constructed later on, connecting the five lakes as well as a walking track surrounding them.