Friday, February 25, 2011

Middle Ages Wonders

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, some writers claimed that lists of wonders of the world have existed during the Middle Ages, although it is unlikely that these lists originated at that time because the word medieval was not invented until the Enlightenment-era, and the concept of a Middle Age did not become popular until the 16th century. Brewer's refers to them as "later lists" suggesting the lists were created after the Middle Ages.

Many of the structures on these lists were built much earlier than the Medieval Ages, but were well known. These lists go by names such as Wonders of the Middle Ages (implying no specific limitation to seven), Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages, Medieval Mind and Architectural Wonders of the Middle Ages.

1. Colosseum - Italy

 Roman Colosseum

The Colosseum, or the Coliseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheatre (Latin: Amphitheatrum Flavium, Italian Anfiteatro Flavio or Colosseo), is an elliptical amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome, Italy, the largest ever built in the Roman Empire. It is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and Roman engineering.

Roman Colosseum

Occupying a site just east of the Roman Forum, its construction started in 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD under Titus, with further modifications being made during Domitian's reign (81–96). The name "Amphitheatrum Flavium" derives from both Vespasian's and Titus's family name (Flavius, from the gens Flavia).

The exterior of the Colosseum, showing the partially intact outer wall (left
and the mostly intact inner wall (right)

Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

Original façade of the Colosseum

Although in the 21st century it stays partially ruined because of damage caused by devastating earthquakesiconic symbol of Imperial Rome. It is one of Rome's most popular tourist attractions and still has close connections with the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday the Pope leads a torchlit "Way of the Cross" procession that starts in the area around the Colosseum. 

A panorama of the interior of the Colosseum as it stands now

The Colosseum is also depicted on the Italian version of the five-cent euro coin.

2. Stonehenge - England

The monument from a similar angle in 2008 showing the extent of reconstruction

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) west of Amesbury and 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large standing stones. It is at the centre of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds.

Stonehenge at sunset in 2004

Christopher Chippindale's Stonehenge Complete gives the derivation of the name Stonehenge as coming from the Old English words stān meaning "stone", and either hencg meaning "hinge" (because the stone lintels hinge on the upright stones) or hen(c)en meaning "hang" or "gallows" or "instrument of torture". Like Stonehenge's trilithons, medieval gallows consisted of two uprights with a lintel joining them, rather than the inverted L-shape more familiar today. The "henge" portion has given its name to a class of monuments known as henges. Archaeologists define henges as earthworks consisting of a circular banked enclosure with an internal ditch.

Part of Stonehenge

Archaeologists have believed that the iconic stone monument was erected around 2500 BC. One recent theory however, has suggested that the first stones were not erected until 2400-2200 BC, whilst another suggests that bluestones may have been erected at the site as early as 3000 BC. The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. The site and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1986 in a co-listing with Avebury Henge monument. It is a national legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument. Stonehenge is owned by the Crown and managed by English Heritage, while the surrounding land is owned by the National Trust.

Fisheye image of Stonehenge showing the circular layout

Archaeological evidence found by the Stonehenge Riverside Project in 2008 indicates that Stonehenge served as a burial ground from its earliest beginnings. The dating of cremated remains found on the site indicate burials from as early as 3000 BC, when the initial ditch and bank were first dug. Burials continued at Stonehenge for at least another 500 years.

Print of Stonehenge, 1895

No one knows exactly what purpose it served, but it is thought to have been a centre of pagan worship. Whatever religious, mystical or spiritual elements were central to Stonehenge, its design includes a celestial observatory function, which might have allowed prediction of eclipse, solstice, equinox and other celestial events important to a contemporary religion.

3. Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Egypt

Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, is the Arab translation of the ancient Greek name, Lofus Kiramaikos which means “mound of shards” or “potsherds”. Located to the southwest of the Pompey’s pillar is a multi level labyrinth featuring dozens of chambers adorned with sculpted pillars, statues and other Romano Egyptian religious symbols, burial niches and sarcophagi as well as a banquet room of Roman style, where memorial meals were conducted by relatives of the deceased. 

Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

Many of the features of the necropolis merge both Roman, Greek and Egyptian cultural points, due to the time period. So some statues are Egyptian in style, Roman clothes and hair style whilst other features share a similar style. During the age of the Antonine emperors a circular staircase used to transport deceased bodies down the middle of it, leads down into the tombs that were tunneled into the bedrock. So its easy access was then used as a burial chamber. According to tradition, this is a mass burial chamber for the humans and animals massacred by order of the Emperor Caracalla, so this is one of the more gruesome features of the catacombs, called Hall of Caracalla. 

Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

Representing an integration of the cultures and traditions of the Egyptians, the cemetery is unique both for their plan and decoration. People seemed to have a talent for combining rather than destroying, so in this place we find decorations related to ancient an Egyptian theme which makes them quite unlike anything in the world. 

Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa may not be as famous or visible as the Pyramids but they are equally astonishing and perhaps more intriguing than the Pyramids. 

Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

In olden days Christians of the Roman Empire this subterranean funeral halls were resorted to bury their dead and evade desecration by the oppressive regimes. Kom el Shoqafa structures were Pagan sects. The members of the Pharoah-Cult placed the intact dead bodies in this place because they believed in rebirths. 

Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

Considered by archaeologist and all who love their heritage and history, a real treasure by its scripts written, the motif, the engravings, statues and even the coffins. In a sense catacombs were an escape to the oppressed and the hunted to preserve their rituals and heritage. 

4. Great Wall - China
 Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is a series of stone and earthen fortifications in northern China, built originally to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire against intrusions by various nomadic groups. Several walls have been built since the 5th century BC that are referred to collectively as the Great Wall, which has been rebuilt and maintained from the 5th century BC through the 16th century. One of the most famous is the wall built between 220–206 BC by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Little of that wall remains; the majority of the existing wall was built during the Ming Dynasty.

Great Wall of China

The Great Wall stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Nur in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. The most comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the entire Great Wall, with all of its branches, stretches for 8,851.8 km (5,500.3 mi). This is made up of 6,259.6 km (3,889.5 mi) sections of actual wall, 359.7 km (223.5 mi) of trenches and 2,232.5 km (1,387.2 mi) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers.

The Great Wall at Mutianyu, near Beijing

Before the use of bricks, the Great Wall was mainly built from rammed earth, stones, and wood. During the Ming Dynasty, however, bricks were heavily used in many areas of the wall, as were materials such as tiles, lime, and stone. The size and weight of the bricks made them easier to work with than earth and stone, so construction quickened. Additionally, bricks could bear more weight and endure better than rammed earth. Stone can hold under its own weight better than brick, but is more difficult to use. Consequently, stones cut in rectangular shapes were used for the foundation, inner and outer brims, and gateways of the wall. Battlements line the uppermost portion of the vast majority of the wall, with defensive gaps a little over 30 cm (12 in) tall, and about 23 cm (9.1 in) wide.

The Great Wall

While some portions north of Beijing and near tourist centers have been preserved and even extensively renovated, in many locations the Wall is in disrepair. Those parts might serve as a village playground or a source of stones to rebuild houses and roads. Sections of the Wall are also prone to graffiti and vandalism. Parts have been destroyed because the Wall is in the way of construction.

 An area of the sections of the Great Wall at Jinshanling

More than 60 km (37 mi) of the wall in Gansu province may disappear in the next 20 years, due to erosion from sandstorms. In places, the height of the wall has been reduced from more than five meters (16.4 ft) to less than two meters. The square lookout towers that characterize the most famous images of the wall have disappeared completely. Many western sections of the wall are constructed from mud, rather than brick and stone, and thus are more susceptible to erosion.

The Great Wall

Communication between the army units along the length of the Great Wall, including the ability to call reinforcements and warn garrisons of enemy movements, was of high importance. Signal towers were built upon hill tops or other high points along the wall for their visibility.

Photograph of the Great Wall in 1907

The claim the Great Wall is visible has been debunked many times, but is still ingrained in popular culture. The wall is a maximum 9.1 m (30 ft) wide, and is about the same color as the soil surrounding it. Based on the optics of resolving power (distance versus the width of the iris: a few millimeters for the human eye, meters for large telescopes) only an object of reasonable contrast to its surroundings which is 70 mi (110 km) or more in diameter (1 arc-minute) would be visible to the unaided eye from the moon, whose average distance from Earth is 384,393 km (238,851 mi). The apparent width of the Great Wall from the moon is the same as that of a human hair viewed from 2 miles away. To see the wall from the moon would require spatial resolution 17,000 times better than normal (20/20) vision.

The Great Wall

A more controversial question is whether the Wall is visible from low earth orbit (an altitude of as little as 100 miles (160 km)). NASA claims that it is barely visible, and only under nearly perfect conditions; it is no more conspicuous than many other man-made objects. Other authors have argued that due to limitations of the optics of the eye and the spacing of photoreceptors on the retina, it is impossible to see the wall with the naked eye, even from low orbit, and would require visual acuity of 20/3 (7.7 times better than normal).

5. Porcelain Tower of Nanjing - China

The Porcelain Pagoda, as illustrated in 
Fischer von Erlach's Plan of Civil and Historical Architecture (1721)

The Porcelain Tower (or Porcelain Pagoda) of Nanjing, also known as Bao'ensi (meaning "Temple of Gratitude"), is a historical site located on the south bank of the Yangtze in Nanjing, China. It was a pagoda constructed in the 15th century during the Ming Dynasty, but was mostly destroyed in the 19th century during the course of the Taiping Rebellion. The tower is now under reconstruction.

Porcelain Tower of Nanjing

The tower was octagonal with a base of about 97 feet (30 m) in diameter. When it was built, the tower was one of the largest buildings in China, rising up to a height of 260 feet (79 m) with nine stories and a staircase in the middle of the pagoda, which spiraled upwards for 184 steps. The top of the roof was marked by a golden pineapple. There were originally plans to add more stories, according to an American missionary who in 1852 visited Nanjing. There are only a few Chinese pagodas that surpass its height, such as the still existent 275-foot-tall (84 m) 11th-century Liaodi Pagoda in Hebei or the no longer existent 330-foot-tall (100 m) 7th-century wooden pagoda of Chang'an.

The original blocks of the Nanjing Tower's arched door, 
now pieced back together and on display at the Nanjing Museum

The tower was built with white porcelain bricks that were said to reflect the sun's rays during the day, and at night as many as 140 lamps were hung from the building to illuminate the tower. Glazes and stoneware were worked into the porcelain and created a mixture of green, yellow, brown and white designs on the sides of the tower, including animals, flowers and landscapes. The tower was also decorated with numerous Buddhist images.

The original blocks of the Nanjing Tower's arched door, 
now pieced back together and on display at the Nanjing Museum

6. Hagia Sophia - Turkey

View of the Hagia Sophia from Sultanahmet square

Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the cathedral of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople of the Western Crusader established Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931, when it was secularized. It was opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.

Interior view of the Hagia Sophia, showing Islamic elements in the ceiling.

 Interior view of the Hagia Sophia

The Church was dedicated to the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity its dedication feast taking place on December 25, the anniversary of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ. Although it is sometimes referred to as Sancta Sophia (as though it were named after Saint Sophia), sophia is the phonetic spelling in Latin of the Greek word for wisdom - the full name in Greek being Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, "Church of the Holy Wisdom of God".

Fountain (Şadırvan) for ritual ablutions

Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have "changed the history of architecture." It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and was the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site, the previous two having both been destroyed by rioters. It was designed by the Greek scientists Isidore of Miletus, a physicist, and Anthemius of Tralles, a mathematician.

The mihrab located in the apse where the altar used to stand, pointing towards Mecca

The church contained a large collection of holy relics and featured, among other things, a 49 foot (15 m) silver iconostasis. It was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the religious focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly one thousand years. It is the church in which Cardinal Humbert in 1054 excommunicated Michael I Cerularius - which is commonly considered the start of the Great Schism.

Lustration urn from Pergamon

Marble Door

In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, who subsequently ordered the building converted into a mosque. The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels were removed and many of the mosaics were plastered over. Islamic features — such as the mihrab, minbar, and four minarets — were added while in the possession of the Ottomans. It remained a mosque until 1931 when it was closed to the public for four years. It was re-opened in 1935 as a museum by the Republic of Turkey.

Imperial Gate

Mosaics with geometric pattern decorate the upper imperial gallery

For almost 500 years the principal mosque of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia served as a model for many other Ottoman mosques, such as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque of Istanbul), the Şehzade Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, the Rüstem Pasha Mosque and the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque.

7. Learning Tower of Pisa - Italy

Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Leaning Tower of Pisa (Italian: Torre pendente di Pisa) or simply the Tower of Pisa (Torre di Pisa) is the campanile, or freestanding bell tower, of the cathedral of the Italian city of Pisa. It is situated behind the Cathedral and is the third oldest structure in Pisa's Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo) after the Cathedral and the Baptistry.

View looking up

The height of the tower is 55.86 m (183.27 ft) from the ground on the low side and 56.70 m (186.02 ft) on the high side. The width of the walls at the base is 4.09 m (13.42 ft) and at the top 2.48 m (8.14 ft). Its weight is estimated at 14,500 metric tons (16,000 short tons). The tower has 296 or 294 steps; the seventh floor has two fewer steps on the north-facing staircase. Prior to restoration work performed between 1990 and 2001, the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees, but the tower now leans at about 3.99 degrees. This means that the top of the tower is displaced horizontally 3.9 metres (12 ft 10 in) from where it would be if the structure were perfectly vertical.

Lead counterweights

Two different masses of cannon balls dropped of the tower to demonstrate that their descending speed was independent of their mass. So it’s considered an apocryphal tale because the only source for it comes from Galileo’s secretary. 

An elevation image of the Leaning Tower of Pisa cut from a 2007 laser scan, 
with source image accurate down to 5mm

A work of art that performed in three stages during 177 years, the construction of the first floor of the white marble campanile began on 1173, and is surrounded by pillars, classical capitals, leaning against blind arches. In 1178 the tower began to sink after construction of the third floor, the cause was a mere three-meter foundation, set in weak, unstable subsoil. Later the construction was subsequently halted for almost a century, the Pisans still engaged in battles with Genoa, Lucca and Florence, which allowed to the underlying soil to settle. In 1198 temporarily clocks was installed on the third floor of the unfinished construction. 

Entrance door to the belltower

In an effort to compensate the tilt, the engineers built higher floors with one side taller than the other, but the tower start to lean in other direction and actually it’s curved. In 1284 the construction was halted again and in 1319 the seventh floor was completed and the bell-chamber was not added until 1372. Tommaso di Andrea Pisano built the bell-chamber with the Romanesque style of the tower. 

Assunta bell

Pasquareccia bell

There are seven bells, one for each note of the musical scale, and the largest one was installed in 1655.
1st bell: L’assuna, weight 3620 kg.
2nd bell: Crocifisso, weight 2462 kg.
3rd bell: San Ranieri, weight 1448 kg.
4th bell: La Terza, weight 300 kg.
5th bell: La Pasquereccia or La Giustizia comes from Easter, because it used to ring on Easter day, weight 1014 kg.
6th bell: It Vespruccio, weight 1000 kg.
7th bell: Dal Pozzo, weight 652 kg. The bell announced capital executions of criminals and traitors, but a new bell was transferred on the bell tower to replace the broken Pasquareccia bell at the end of the 18th century. 

External loggia

Inner staircase from sixth to seventh floor

Benito Mussolini ordered that the tower be returned to a vertical position in 1934, so the concrete was poured into its foundation and the catastrophic result was that the tower actually sank further into the soil.  

View from the top

Inner staircase from seventh to eighth (the top) floor

In 1964, the government of Italy prevents the tower from toppling but was necessary considered to retain the current tilt due to the vital role in the tourism industry of Pisa. On the Azores islands a multinational task force of engineers, mathematicians and historians was assigned to discuss stabilization methods. The reason was the stonework expanding and contracting each day due to the heat of sunlight. Many methods were proposed but only after over two decades of work on the subject, the tower was closed to the public. The solution was to slightly straighten the tower to a safer angle, by removing 38 m3 of soil from underneath the raised end. It was straightened by 45 cm to the position that occupied in 1838, and after a decade of corrective reconstruction and stabilization efforts, the tower was reopened to the public in 2001, and it was declared stable for at least another 300 years.