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Beijing, An Ancient City Full of Modern Wonders

Thursday, Sep 28 2023 by

China is the largest country in the world, and has experienced unprecedented economic and social growth in the last thirty years.

In 2008, the country hosted the Summer Olympic Games in the capital Beijing, putting the city in the global spotlight and showing the world what an incredible place it is to visit.

Forbidden City

One of the most iconic locations in China, the Forbidden City is a palace complex that was used by emperors for almost 500 years, until 1912.

It has nearly 1,000 buildings on 180 acres, and took over one million laborers 14 years to build.

Now part of the Palace Museum, it provides a rich display of the history of the Ming and Qing dynasties, as well as the Chinese people and their lives.

It is at the top of every tourist list because of its amazing gates, turrets and imperial gardens.

Forbidden City (Google Maps)
Forbidden City

Temple of Heaven

China has a long history of Taoist religious devotion, going back at least 2,500 years. The Temple of Heaven is a large complex of temples dedicated to the worship of the sun, moon and earth.

It was started in 1400, but never entirely completed. It is now open to visitors, who can take in the beauty of the green spaces and parks, as well as the intricate details of the many temples and buildings at the site.

Temple of Heaven (Google Maps)
Temple of Heaven

Tiananmen Square

 Tiananmen Square was originally a gate off the Forbidden City, and turned into a small square in the 1600s. It was enlarged under Mao Zedong in the 1950s and is now one of the largest squares in the world.

It is often used for military parades and shows of force. It was famously the site of student-led protests for democracy, freedom of speech and other issues in 1989.

A picture of a lone student standing in front of rows of tanks has become an iconic image of the event, highlighting the mostly peaceful protest and overbearing military response.

Today, visitors can walk around the large plaza and enjoy the views while learning about the many important historical events that have taken place in this square.

Tiananmen Square (Google Maps)
Tiananmen Square

Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong was a communist revolutionary and the founder of the current government, the People’s Republic of China.

When he died on September 9, 1976, the entire country mourned his death. His body was laid in state for a week to allow for over one million Chinese to pay their last respects, before he was interred in the mausoleum near the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

His body was embalmed and placed in a clear, crystal coffin so that visitors would always be able to see and pay respects to their leader.

Mausoleum of Mao Zedong (Google Maps)
Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

Old Summer Palace

While the Forbidden City provided an official home for the emperor and his government, the Old Summer Palace about five miles away was the primary residence of the leader and his family. It was built in the 1700s and was renowned for its beautiful architecture and designed gardens. It was looted and severely damaged in the 1860s during an international conflict and never fully restored.

After years of neglect and even use as farmland, it was turned into a national historical site, a beautiful respite in the center of one of the busiest cites in the world.

Old Summer Palace (Google Maps)
Old Summer Palace

Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple

The Lama Temple is a classic Buddhist temple and monastery in Beijing that was built in the 1700s, and boasts beautiful architecture and symbolism of peace and harmony throughout the structures.

It was closed during Mao’s reign, but was spared destruction due to high-level intervention. It was reopened in 1981, to both religious use and public visits. Among the most popular destinations within the temple is the 85 foot Buddha carved from a single piece of sandalwood, which was actually included in a Guinness Book of World Records.

Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple (Google Maps)
Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple

Olympic Park

In 2008, Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics, the first ever in the country. The government worked to give the world a great first impression, and constructed several structures for the Olympics to ensure that was the case.

Part of the construction included the Olympic Park stadium, nicknamed the Bird’s Nest. It was famous for the artistic design and large crowd capacity. It will again be used in 2022, when China hosts the Winter Olympics.

2008 Olympics - National Stadium (Google Maps)
2008 Olympics - National Stadium

Beijing is an ancient city, but many people are just learning about the many wonders it has to offer, both old and new. If you have the opportunity, you should certainly take a chance and visit one of the biggest, most dynamic and intriguing cities in the world.

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San Francisco

Wednesday, Sep 20 2023 by

San Francisco is a great American city, with unique history, architecture and culture, from the Golden Gate Bridge to Chinatown, from the Fisherman’s Wharf to the great redwood trees.

Here are just a few of the sites everyone needs to see.

Downtown San Francisco viewed from Twin Peaks (StreetView)
Downtown San Francisco viewed from Twin Peaks

Alcatraz

One of the most famous landmarks in the city, Alcatraz Island has a history that goes back long before the city was founded. The island has a long history with the native people who lived around the Bay area.

Alcatraz (Birds Eye)
Alcatraz

A little more than a mile offshore, the island was once used as a military prison but is most famous for being the federal prison that handled the worst of the worst criminals, including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and other gangsters, before it was shut down in 1963. Tourists can visit the National Park and learn about the history, even beyond the stories of prison fights, attempted escapes and the like.

Prison cells in Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary (StreetView)
Prison cells in Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary

Golden Gate Park

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic bridges in the world, and probably the most famous site in San Francisco. The one mile suspension bridge connects the city with Marin County, and has both pedestrian and vehicle access.

Golden Gate Bridge (Birds Eye)
Golden Gate Bridge

When construction of the bridge began, the city set aside 1,000 acres for a public space for the fast-growing community, and named it Golden Gate Park, even though the bridge is not visible from the park. Visitors can spend a peaceful afternoon in the park, enjoying lakes, botanical gardens, a conservatory of flowers, exhibits and museums, all in the midst of a great urban center.

Golden Gate Park (Google Maps)
Golden Gate Park

One of the most unique aspects of the park is the bison paddock, which has been a part of the park since the 1890s. It is currently home to about a dozen bison, or buffalo, and the public are able to view the animals.

Herd of Bison in Golden Gate Park (Birds Eye)
Herd of Bison in Golden Gate Park

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is a neighborhood on the north end of San Francisco that is a popular tourist destination, with Ghiradelli Square, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the Wax Museum, and plenty of seafood restaurants. It was established by Italian immigrants after the gold rush, some of whom became fish mongers and restaurant owners.

Fisherman's Wharf Sign (StreetView)
Fisherman's Wharf Sign

Exploratorium

The Exploratorium is an educational museum that focuses on human behavior, physics and science, living systems and focuses on weather, environment and landscape.

Exploratorium (StreetView)
Exploratorium

It is incredibly hands-on and dynamic, providing new and interactive exhibits and activities all the time.

Exploratorium (StreetView)
Exploratorium

Wave Organ

Exhibits from the Exploratorium are spread throughout the city, including the Wage Organ. The Wage Organ is a permanent exhibit built on the bay made of granite and marble, PVC and concrete. The musical instrument is played by the water, as the tide comes in it “plays” the organ, pushing air through the pipes and making unique sounds for the audience.

Wave Organ (Birds Eye)
Wave Organ

Muir Woods

Muir Woods is a national monument, part of the National Park Service about ten miles north of the city. The park is full of old growth redwood trees, some of the oldest and largest living organisms on earth. The trees can be up to 1,800 years old, and grow to nearly 400 feet high. The area was set aside by President Theodore Roosevelt and named after John Muir, who helped to create the National Park system.

Muir Woods National Monument (StreetView)
Muir Woods National Monument

Ferry Building

For decades in the early years, the only way to reach the city was by ferry, so the Ferry Building became the main transportation point for nearly all those entering the city. After increased bridge traffic reduced the need for ferries, the building has been adapted to other uses, including a large and popular marketplace on the first floor. The marketplace has produce, bread and pastries, restaurants and coffee shops, as well as arts and crafts stores. It’s a wonderful place for locals and tourists to spend a Saturday morning.

San Francisco Ferry Building (Birds Eye)
San Francisco Ferry Building

Presidio Park

Presidio Park was originally a Spanish fort, and then Army base, until 1994, when it was turned into a National Park. It is a great natural space in the city, with dirt trails, wooded areas, educational centers and places for performing arts and historical preservation.

Presidio Park (Google Maps)
Presidio Park

Coit Tower

Lilian Hitchcock Coit was a benefactor of the city, donating a portion of her estate to beautify the city. Lilian Coit was a big personality in the early days of the city, including fighting fires before the city had a fire department, smoking cigars and wearing pants long before it was socially acceptable for women. The tower was constructed on the top of Telegraph Hill in Pioneer Park in her honor, in the Art Deco style, and includes a famous mural by the artist Diego Rivera. It has since become a local favorite landmark, providing a great view of Lombard Street, Nob Hill and other city sites.

Coit Tower (Birds Eye)
Coit Tower

Lombard Street

Lombard Street is famous for its eight hairpin turns within one extremely steep block. The entire city is built on hills, and this hill was too steep for vehicle traffic, so it was designed with switchbacks to make it easier to traverse. Tourists love to see the hill, and drive down the one way street at the recommended 5 miles per hour.

Lombard Street - crookedest street in the US (Google Maps)
Lombard Street - crookedest street in the US

These are just a few of the many fun, interesting and unique things to do and see in San Francisco. Anyone visiting the city won’t have time to see everything from Alcatraz to Ghiradelli Square, from Muir Woods to the Presidio, but that’s just an excuse to come back for a second visit, or a third…

 

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Temples, Cathedrals and Mosques from History

Wednesday, Sep 6 2023 by

Civilizations around the world have always sought out ways to respect and worship their god or gods, and one universal method has been to create grand cathedrals or monuments as gathering places for worship, tribute and homage to their deity.

For thousands of years, communities have constructed at great effort houses of worship.

Let’s look at some of the most amazing creations from around the world.

Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre-Dame de Paris is one of the most famous cathedrals in the world, and deserves all the recognition it gets for its detailed craftsmanship, architectural marvels and beautiful details.

It was started in 1163 and finished two hundred years later, a relatively fast construction for cathedrals at the time.

During the French Revolution, the cathedral was vandalized, dedicated to the cult of reason and eventually used as a warehouse for food before being rededicated as a Catholic cathedral.

It is now one of the top tourist destinations in Paris, and beloved for its stained glass, ornate craftsmanship and legendary history.

Notre Dame de Paris (Google Maps)
Notre Dame de Paris

Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá is a large archeological site of the ancient Mayan civilization, and includes several massive temples constructed for the worship of Mayan gods.

The Mayan culture thrived for several hundred years until they were wiped out by the Spaniards and the diseases that came with them in the early 1500s.

The Temple of Kukulkan, or El Castillo, is the most recognizable temple. With its 91 steps on each side, plus one more at the top to make 365, the Mayan understanding of astronomy and science is clear, and the temple played an important part of their worship as well as scientific study.

On the spring and fall equinox, the sun casts a shadow on the pyramid in the shape of a serpent.

Photo Credit: Mexpro.com

Excavations and research are ongoing at the site, and visitors can tour the many temples and pyramids, as well as ball courts and other sites.

Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza (Google Maps)
Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is a vast temple complex in Cambodia, originally dedicated as a temple to the Hindu god Vishnu before being transformed into a Buddhist temple.

Construction started in the 1100s, and it was modified for Buddhism around the 1300s. Though it fell into disrepair in the 1600s, it has been somewhat preserved, and is still frequented by Buddhist pilgrims.

The rectangular outer wall of the temple grounds stretches over half a mile by just under a half mile, giving it an enormous footprint. The interior temple is no less grand, with massive pillars, carvings and bas relief throughout the temple, both on the interior and exterior walls.

In the last 20 years, tourism has skyrocketed at the temple, and visitors from around the world flock to this marvel of dedicated craftsmanship and talent.

Angkor Wat (Google Maps)
Angkor Wat

Hagia Sophia

Originally constructed as one of the first Christian cathedrals, the Hagia Sophia was the jewel of the eastern Roman Empire’s capitol Byzantium.

When it was sacked by the Islamic Ottomans in 1453, it was turned into the city’s first mosque. The design was modified by adding minarets, a mihrab pointing towards Mecca, tombs for sultans as well as other ornate mosaics and artistic crafts common among Islamic and Ottoman structures.

The Hagia Sofia was turned into a museum by the first president of the Turkish Republic in 1935, and has been a renown museum since.

Hagia Sophia (Google Maps)
Hagia Sophia

Horyu-Ji

The Horyu-Ji temple in central Japan is known as the oldest wooden structure in Japan and among the oldest wooden structures in the world. The temple pagoda was built around the 700s AD and many other structures on the site were built around the 800s AD.

While there have been restorations and repairs as needed, these beautiful and ornate structures are still comprised mostly of the original materials.

The pagoda stands over 120 feet high, and the base is buried in the ground for added structural security. One remarkable feature of the temple is that it has withstood over 40 significant earthquakes in its lifetime.

Horyuji (Horyu Temple) (Google Maps)
Horyuji (Horyu Temple)

Looking back over these impressive structures, the dedication and talent committed to the construction and maintenance of these holy sites is impressive and awe inspiring. The hands that built and maintained these temples will never be known, but they should be recognized for their talent and devotion.

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Friday, December 08, 2023

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