Posts Tagged With: history

Horse Guards Parade

This parade ground is most famous for the celebration of the Queen’s offical birthday in June; Trooping the Colour (oh and for having hosted the beach volleyball event in the London 2012 Olympic Games!).

Horse Guards Parade at St James’s Park

This year this spectacle will be celebrated this Saturday, 17 June.

Horse Guards Parade is the ceremonial parade ground in St James’s Park and dates from the 18th century. Horse Guards is the building with a clock tower over an archway and to this day remains the offical entrance to St James’s and Buckingham Palace; it was designed by William Kent, the then Chief Architect to King Georg II.

The central windows you can see are opened for members of the Royal Family during the event, so that they can watch the Queen as she reviews her troops.

One side of the parade ground

The entry to the parade ground is guarded by 2 mounted cavalry troopers from The Queen’s Life Guard. They are posted there every day from 10:00hrs to 16:00hrs and their change over takes place at 11:00hrs daily, except Sundays, when the change takes place at 10:00hrs.

The Queen’s Life Guard on guard at the entrance to Horse Guards Parade

The “Colour” is the battalion flag which is “Trooped” (carried) slowly down the ranks of the assembled soldiers (if it is very hot you may see one or two of the soldiers actually passing out, as has happened in the past). This is a tradition that was originally done so that each soldier was familiar with his battalion’s flag, which was used as a rallying point during battle. The Queen personally carries out the inspection of her troops. Once the main ceremony is over, the Queen leads her troops down the Mall to Buckingham Palace where she makes a salute at the Palace (when she was younger she would physically lead them down riding on one of her horses, these days she takes one of royal carriages). As with all such traditions, at the end of all this the Queen appears on the famous balcony of Buckingham Palace.

You cannot buy tickets to this event, you have to enter a ballot in January/February and hope that in March your name is drawn.

The trees on the right hand side is also where the back of No. 10 Downing Street lies (the official residence of the British Prime Minister)

 

 

Categories: London | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Follow the Red Thread – a tour through Hannover, Germany – Part III

The town hall as seen from the Maschpark

The town hall as seen from the Maschpark

Welcome to Part III of our walk through my hometown of Hannover in Germany’s north. It is amazing how much of my own hometown I didn’t know! Just goes to show that we all should play tourists in the places we call home.

Stop 13 – The City’s Coat of Arms

So, this is the one stop I walked straight past, as the red thread had disappeared from the pavement. I spotted it on the other side of a small side street, so assumed it must have continued straight on. It wasn’t until we sat down for a coffee that we realised that we had missed this stop. Unfortunately by that time we were already near the end of our tour. So, no photos of this one – sorry.

Anyway, the city’s coat of arms sits on a portico as part of the façade of the Public Works Department (I mean, that is easy to miss, right?). Originally built in 1736 as a gateway to mule stables on the Königsworther Platz, it was later converted to house the Garde du Corps regiment. The portico survived the air raids of WWII and was re-erected in 1955 in its current location.

Before you leave this location you should take a look at the Maschpark, which is located behind the town hall. It is one of our favourite parks as it contains lots of art installations and gives some fab views of the town hall.

Stop 14 – The Laveshouse

This is the former residence of architect Georg Ludwig Laves, who is responsible for a number of buildings in Hannover. Remarkably, the residence escaped WWII without any damage. Today it houses the State Architectural Society.

The Wangenheim Palace

The Wangenheim Palace

Stop 15 – The Wangenheim Palace

Only 50 meters down the road is one of Laves’ creations, the Wangenheim Palace.

The building is named after Count Georg von Wangenheim, who commissioned the building as a residence for himself and his family. On his death in October 1851 the house was sold for 100,000 Reichstaler to the Kingdom of Hannover, to be used by the crown prince, who became King George V the following month. After 10 years of use the house was sold to the town of Hannover and served as the town hall until the New Rathaus was built just over the road in 1913. Today it houses the Ministry of Economics, Technology and Transport for Lower Saxony.

Is it a boat? No! Is it a plane? No! It's a bus stop!

Is it a boat? No! Is it a plane? No! It’s a bus stop!

Just across the road is one of my favourite bus stops ever. It is in the shape of a boat’s hull and was designed by the Italian designer Massimo Iosa Ghini and is one of many new arty bus stops.

Stop 16 – Waterloo Column

I admit, I don’t understand why the red thread doesn’t actually go right past this column. Instead it swerves off to the other side of the road, where, when you turn, you can spot the column.

As the name suggests, this is in commemoration of the Battle of Waterloo, where the British, together with Prussian and Hannoverian Armies, defeated Napoleon on 18 June 1815. The fact that these three armies actually fought together on the same side was a miracle in itself, never mind that they defeated Napoleon!

Count Carl von Alten

Count Carl von Alten

Over the road, where the red thread actually leads you, is the sandstone building of French architect Remy de la Fosse. It was built between 1712 and 1720 and houses the State Archives. The statue in front of the building is 100 years younger and shows Count Carl von Alten, who served as a general under Wellington in Waterloo.

The Leine Palace

The Leine Palace

Stop 17 – Leineschloss

This is the Leineschloss (Leine Palace) and is so named as it stands on the river Leine, which flows through Hannover. Built in 1637 it spent its first 230 years not really knowing what it was for; it was a home, a cloister, a library, an opera house, as well as a garrison for 3,000 soldiers.

During the reign of King Georg I this became the place for the nobility to meet and be seen. Composer Georg Friedrich Händel played here a few times. Unfortunately, in 1803 French troops invaded the area and the palace was raided, plundered and became abandoned. It was then given by the French to the town of Hannover on the condition that it was turned into a garrison. Once Napoleon was defeated the garrison was no more.

It is now the seat of Lower Saxony’s State parliament and is once more undergoing renovations and changes.

The view from the Leine bridge

The view from the Leine bridge

Stop 18 – The Palace Bridge

Yes, a bridge is one of the scenic stops. It isn’t the famous bridge of sighs in Venice, but nonetheless, it makes for some great views towards the town hall and along the palace. It was built by an Italian and connected directly to an entrance into the palace, which strangely enough, anyone could walk right through.

So this brings us to the end of Part III of the walking tour. Join me next week where we meet the Nanas, visit the old town, and discover an area I had never known existed!

Categories: European History, Germany | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

St. Peter’s Basilica – The seat of the Holy See

St. Peter's Basilica as seen from the River Tiber

St. Peter’s Basilica as seen from the River Tiber

When I recently went through some of my older travel photos I came across my Rome pictures. I went to Rome with a colleague of mine back in November 2004, so the photos were taken with a small Canon PowerShot pocket camera. I thought I would use the next few weeks to share some of my favourite shots and places from that trip – starting this week with the most recognizable Basilica in the world, St. Peter’s in Vatican City.

St. Peter’s Basilica is the heart of the world’s smallest independent state and is the epicenter of a religion with an estimated 1.2 billion followers worldwide. It is where religion, history, culture and politics have a great significance and has been the seat of the Holy See since the 5th Century (although one could argue that it has been the seat of the popes since St. Peter arrived in Rome).

The Basilica stands partially where the Roman Emperor Nero and some of his predecessors had built a circus. According to the Vatican’s website (www.vaticanstate.va) this is where some Christian martyrs were buried; among them St. Peter, who had travelled from Palestine and was crucified in 64 A.D (or 67 A. D, depending on your research sources).

Emperor Constantine, after having converted to Christianity, started to have a church built in 324 on this spot in order to protect St. Peter’s tomb, placing it at the center of the apse. Nero’s circus during this time was falling into ruin, as much of the building stone for the new church came from the circus. The new church was consecrated in 329.

In 1305 the papal court moved to Avignon and did not return to Rome for over a century, during which time the Basilica, which was already 1,000 years old, started to fall into disrepair. As an aside, contrary to popular believe, Avignon did not belong to France at that time, the city belonged to the Kingdom of Naples and was therefore not French territory.

Eventually the old Basilica needed to be rebuilt, which started under Pope Julius II in 1506. In 1547 Pope Paul III commissioned Michelangelo to propose a new design. Michelangelo decided to keep the original plan, but improving it by thickening the pilasters and external walls, and creating niches and ledges by chiseling out the walls. He also designed the cupola, but never saw it finished; Michelangelo died at the age of 89 in 1564, at which point the build had reached the drum of the copula. The dome in time became a model for many other domes in the western world. St. Paul’s in London (1675), the Invalides in Paris (1680-91) and the Capital in Washington (1794-1817).

Invalides in Paris

Invalides in Paris

St. Paul's Cathedral in London

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London

The famous piazza, St. Peter’s Square, in front of the Basilica was designed by Bernini to connect the place of prayer with the rest of the city. The portico has 284 columns, each 15m high and along its balustrade are 140 statues of saints, each over 3m high, which were executed by followers of Bernini. At the center of the piazza stands an obelisk which functions as a sun-dial and used to stand in Nero’s circus. The fountain on the right was built by Maderno in 1614 and the one on left by Bernini in 1675.

One of the colonnaded arms surrounding the Piazza S. Pietro

One of the colonnaded arms surrounding the Piazza S. Pietro

The staircase in front of the Basilica was built rather late, between 1662 and 1666. It only measures 60m, but the progressive narrowing of the width and a reduced distance between the columns towards the top make it look much longer.

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter’s Square

The inside of the Basilica is breath-taking. I remember walking through the doors into the dark interior, my eyes taking a little time to adjust from the bright sun light I had just left behind, looking around to get my bearings and being speechless for once in my life. The vastness of the Basilica just floored me, not to mention the ornateness of it all. To give you a sense of its size, the Basilica can hold up to 60,000 people – yes, 60,000!!

The Basilica contains a large number of statues, but my favourite (as for most people who visit St. Peter’s) has to be Michelangelo’s Pieta, which is in the first chapel on the right and is shielded by thick glass. Michelangelo was only 24 years old when he created this masterpiece in 1499. Apart from the obvious beautiful work of the Madonna’s drapery and her delicate features, this piece stands out from all the other pieces Michelangelo created, as it is the only piece of work he ever signed. According to one book I read this work was signed by the young Michelangelo because he had overheard a couple of travelers one day discussing the statue and attributing the work to a third-rate artist from Lombardy. So incensed was Michelangelo that he went one night into the Basilica and carved the following into the diagonal band crossing the Madonna’s torso: MICHAEL. ANGELUS. BONAROTUS. FLORENT. FACIEBAT. Which translates as Michaelangelo Buonarotti. Florentine. Made This. He apparently later regretted having done this and vowed never again to sign his own work. This statue, more than any other works, launched his career. Almost instantly after this sculpture was finished it became famous.

Michelangelo's Pieta

Michelangelo’s Pieta

My other favourite statue in St. Peter’s is St. Peter Enthroned, which has been attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio. If you look at his feet you will notice that they are very shiny and worn down. Faithful pilgrims and those seeking good fortunes line up at this statue to kiss and/or touch St. Peter’s feet. Given that St. Peter’s Basilica has had pilgrims visiting since the 14th century, that’s a lot of kissing and touching of feet, it’s a miracle that there is anything left of his feet to be honest.

St. Peter Enthroned

St. Peter Enthroned

There are so many more important items I could mention, the Papal Altar, the Chair of St. Peter for instance, but the above are my favourites.

However, one more needs to be mentioned, that did not exist when I visited in 2004. The tomb of Pope John Paul II, which is in the Nave of the Epistle in the Chapel of St. Sebastian, the second chapel on the right from the entrance of St. Peter’s. This has been the resting place of the enigmatic pope since May 2011. It is now the most popular place visited in the Basilica and is unofficially known as the “John Paul II Chapel”. John Paul II shares this chapel with Queen Matilda of Tuscany, Christina Queen of Sweden, Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII.

Underneath the Basilica are the Vatican Grottos. These contain chapels dedicated to various saints and tombs of kings, queens and popes, dating as far back as the 10th century. This is also where you will find the holiest place in the Basilica, St. Peter’s tomb, which contains a 4th century shrine built by the Emperor Constantine on what was thought to be the apostles’ tomb.

St. Peter outside the Basilica

St. Peter outside the Basilica

There is a lot to see and take in in this Basilica, so much so that I ended up visiting it twice whilst I was there. Back then it was busy with tourists and pilgrims, but no doubt if I went back now (which I hope to do in the next 5 years) I would find it even more crowded than in 2004.

Unbelievably, admission to St. Peter’s is free (which might explain the crowds to some extent), however, the cupola and treasury do charge an entry fee. There is always a line of people to get into the Basilica, but it moves faster than the line at the Vatican Museum. The Basilica is open daily between 07:00-19:00 from April to September and 07:00-18:00 from October to March.  Please note that there is a dress code: no bare shoulders, shorts or short skirts/dresses. Longer shorts may be allowed during the heat of the summer, but that is really up the guard on duty at the time, so my advice, dress appropriately to avoid being turned away (which could happen even if you have passed security).

Approaching the Basilica from Castle S. Angelo

Approaching the Basilica from Castle S. Angelo

Getting to St. Peter’s is easy enough; the hop on hop off buses stop near Castle S. Angelo and if you arrive by Metro it only takes a 5 minute walk  until you come into St. Peter’s Square directly from the North. Join the queue which will take you through the airport style scanners and security. Once you have cleared security there is a visitor center (with a cloakroom and toilets) and it is also where you can hire an audio guide (which is only 5 Euros, and well worth the money). Please note that strollers are not allowed inside the Basilica and so must be handed in at the cloakroom.

Photography is allowed almost everywhere, exceptions are areas where Mass is being held, and the Vatican Grottos are also off-limits. Make sure you adhere to the “No Photography” signs when you encounter them as the guards are swift and fluent in at least a dozen languages to tell you “no camera”.

A few queue busting tips: if you absolutely have to visit in the morning, get there really early and try to avoid Wednesdays and Sundays. The Pope holds his general audience on Wednesdays and on Sundays gives the Angelus prayer where he will appear at the window of the Papal Apartments, at the end of which he bestows a general blessing on those in St. Peter’s Square. So, once you have picked your day of the week it is time to think about timing. The tourist busses get to the piazza around 09:00, so whatever you do, either arrive before that time or in the early afternoon, around 14:30.

Another thing to remember when visiting Rome is that August is the hottest month of the year and that most Romans who do not own a business relying on tourists, escape the hot city during that month and head for cooler climes. If you are able to visit outside of the main holiday season I would recommend March, April, May, September, October or even November. We were lucky with the weather in November, it was warm enough to walk around in a t-shirt and sit outside for coffee or lunch.

One of the mosaics inside the copula

One of the mosaics inside the copula

If you want to see Rome from atop the cupola you can do so by following the signs at the steps of St. Peter’s. The dome opens at 08:00 and you have two options, take the stairs, all 551 of them, for 5 Euros or take the lift for 7 Euros, which will take you up most of the way but still requires you to climb 320 stairs to get to the top. My advice, spent the extra 2 Euros for the lift, there is nothing to see on the stairs on the way up and you save your energy. Be warned though, the stairs to the very top get very narrow and steep and the sides of the building come in, so that the very tall will end up climbing these stairs in a rather odd-looking fashion! The view however, is worth all of this.

The view from the copula

The view from the copula

Next week I will be looking at the Vatican museum, its history, its treasures and some practical tips on surviving this tourist magnet.

Categories: Europe Trip 2014, European History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Arc de Triomphe – Honouring the Brave

Arc de Triomphe, as seen from the

Arc de Triomphe, as seen from the

This arch stands at the top of the famous Champs-Elysées and is the center of the very busy round-about (traffic circle) Place Charles de Gaulle . The easiest way to get there is via Metro, get off at Charles de Gaulle-Etoile and follow Sortie #1. Alternatively, if you travel from the Rue Cler or Montparnasse area, bus #92 is a great option, plus you get to see some more of Paris! If you arrive by any other means than the Metro, please use the pedestrian underpass, as the round-about does not have any pedestrian crossings and you would be playing with death if you tried to cross in the traffic. With 12 roads converging into one round-about, it’s no wonder that this is one busy place!

12 roads converge at the arch

12 roads converge at the arch

Did you know that Paris has two Arc de Triomphe’s? The one you see here is the famous one everyone knows, but there is a smaller one, called Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, located just west of the Louvre and almost looks like it’s smaller cousin.

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The outside and the base of the arch are free, but if you want to climb the 284 steps to the top you will have to pay. If you have the Museum Pass (let’s face it, why wouldn’t you) then you are good to go, otherwise it is Euro 9.50 per adult to get in. As with most places in Paris, those under the age of 18 have free access, and between October and March entry is free every first Sunday of the month. For information on the Museum Pass, please visit my earlier post, which will explain why this pass is a must in Paris. For up-to-date entry fees and opening times please visit the Arc de Triomphe website.

The Top

The Top

Without the Museum Pass be prepared for long ticket lines. A lot of guide books tell you that if you have kids you will still need to que to get their free ticket, even if the adults have the Museum Pass. We did not have to do so; we got to the line for Museum Pass holders, showed them the passes, asked about our daughter and they just waved us through. The line to get up to the top is something you cannot skip however. Note that the lift is only for those with disabilities and only goes as far as the museum level, from there it is another 40 steps to the top. Line ups seem to disappear in the evening, and as the Arc de Triomphe is open until 23:00hrs during the summer (and 22:30hrs during the off-season) try to go for sunset, thereby avoiding the lines. We went during the day and did not fancy waiting in line, so did not actually end up on top of the arch (again, another one for the next visit).

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The Arc de Triomphe is 165ft/50.2m high; its construction began in 1809 to celebrate Napoleon I’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz. Construction was briefly interrupted in 1814 by the abdication of Napoleon and once more in 1826. Napoleon never saw the arch finished, as he died in 1821 and it was not finished until 1836. However, that did not stop his dead body from being paraded underneath the arch. In 1840 his funeral procession passed under the arch, 19 years after his actual death, carrying his remains from exile in St. Helena to Paris.

Some of the battles fought in the 19th Century

Some of the battles fought in the 19th Century

The construction project cost the French people 9.3 million French Francs, which was an astronomical amount of money at that time.

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On the arch you will see the names of the major battles since the French Revolution, 19th Century battles are on the arch itself, whereas those from the 20th Century are engraved into the pavement. The pillars carry the names of the 558 generals that fought in those battles and those with a line under their names died in battle. Strangely enough though, the battles that took place during the time Napoleon departed Elba and his final defeat at Waterloo, are not included here.

And some more battles

And some more battles

One thing not to miss at the base is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, whose flame is rekindled every night at 1830hrs ever since World War I and new flowers are laid daily at this time. I always find it quite moving, standing at the tombs, remembering that these young soldiers gave their lives for the freedoms we now enjoy and take for granted.

The tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Arc de Triomphe has seen many a parade, in triumph for French forces, as well as for its enemies during World War II. During the Nazi occupation in 1940 to 1944 a large swastika flew from the top of the arch. In August 1944, under the lead of Charles de Gaulles, Paris and the whole of France celebrated its liberation from the German occupying forces. Today, all national parades start and end here, with one minute of silence in remembrance.

Today, the arch is dedicated to the glory of all French armies.

The beautifully decorated interior of the Arc de Triomphe

The beautifully decorated interior of the Arc de Triomphe

Categories: Europe Trip 2014, European History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Chateau de Versailles – the epitomy of opulence

Chateau de Versailles (and yes, the gold is real!)

Chateau de Versailles (and yes, the gold is real!)

The Palace of Versailles is the third most visited attraction in France.

Versailles is one of these places you want to see but dare not, as the horror stories of crowds and touts put you off. Well, fear not, it is nowhere near as bad as you may have heard!

This ceiling, which reminded me a little of something I saw at the Vatican many years ago, is in the Hall of Battles, which is filled with propaganda paintings.

This ceiling, which reminded me a little of something I saw at the Vatican many years ago, is in the Hall of Battles, which is filled with propaganda paintings.

The trick to beating the crowds is to pick the right day and time to visit. We only had half a day, so chose to go in the morning and arrived before 09:00 hrs. Avoid Sundays and Tuesdays if you can, as these are the busiest days of the week during the summer (the Louvre is closed Tuesdays, hence this being a very popular day of the week at Versailles).

One of the many chandeliers. This one hangs in the Apollo Drawing Room. This room was used for formal audiences of the king.

One of the many chandeliers. This one hangs in the Apollo Drawing Room. This room was used for formal audiences of the king.

Versailles is easily reached from Paris via RER Train, of which there are stops all over the city. It takes no more than 35 minutes by train to get to Versailles and a round-trip ticket is usually under 10Euro per adult. If you need to get the Metro to get to your closest RER station, you will be able to purchase a combined Metro/RER tickets at almost all Metro stations (although there are exceptions, so plan ahead). Once you get to your RER station, take any train listed as “Versailles Chateau R.G.” or “Versailles Chateau Rive Gauche”. Chateau Rive Gauche is the Versailles station closest to the Chateau, there are two others in Versailles. Once on the train, ride it to the last stop. To return to Paris take any train, as they all serve downtown Paris.

Marble fireplace detail

Marble fireplace detail

We took a train to the Rive Gauche station and on our arrival followed the crowds. If there are no crowds, because you managed to arrive early, turn right out of the station, then turn left at the first boulevard and within 10 minutes you will be at the palace. Ignore any hawkers trying to sell you guided Versailles tours and tickets, as they are not worth it. You will   likely see that there is already a que of eager visitors. The trick is to get to Versailles before the tour buses arrive around 09:30hrs. Join the que and make friends with those in front and behind you. When we visited we had a great family from Australia behind us with adult kids. We ended up playing the game “Spot the que jumper”, which proved to be highly entertaining. Seriously though, there will always be people who try to jump the que with all sorts of excuses. Stand your ground and point them to the end of the line-up. In fact, on a couple of occasions we witnessed the security guards that work there intervene. Talking about these guards, they do like an orderly snake line. The line some way behind us was getting a little disorderly and wasn’t snaking the way it should, so the guards came along, shouting loudly and realigning people – quite a spectacle!

The long que snaking its way to the entrance

The long que snaking its way to the entrance

As always, assume that pick-pockets operate in crowds, so be vigilant and keep an eye on your possessions.

All in all it took us about 45 minutes to get into the palace, given the amount of people who were in front of us, we didn’t think that was too bad.

One of the many windows facing into the courtyard.

One of the many windows facing into the courtyard.

If you are visiting other attractions in Paris, please ensure you have bought a Museum Pass before getting to Versailles. I wrote some tips on this in an earlier post here. There is also a Versailles Le Passeport Pass, which is a one day pass. This one is available to buy online and will still save you money and time. Without a pass you will have to que to buy your tickets. Most people visiting Versailles have purchased a pass prior to arrival, but ticket lines can still be very long. Note that everyone has to go through the security check, except if you take a guided tour. You can book these ahead of your visit through palace’s website or when you get to the palace, there is a guided tours office in the courtyard. Your admission includes a free audio guide, which you pick up just inside the palace.

The royal gates were restored in 2008 and contain 100,000 gold leaves

The royal gates were restored in 2008 and contain 100,000 gold leaves

If like us you packed a picnic in a backpack you will be asked to check this in ahead of the security check point. Baby Strollers are also not allowed in the palace and need to be checked in. Just make sure you remember to pick your belongings up after you exit the palace.

Some detail of one of the many staircases

Some detail of one of the many staircases

The palace is huge and not all areas are open to the public, but there is plenty to see and I could have easily spent a whole day just in the palace itself. If, like us, you have only half a day, make sure you see the parts that are on your “must-see list” and if you have time left over explore some other areas. Unfortunately we did not have time to wander the famous gardens and the weather wasn’t that great, it was actually quite windy. So we ended up just sitting on the top, looking down whilst having our picnic. There are golf buggies for rent, but the waiting time was over an hour when we got there, so we gave that a miss and just enjoyed the view. So this post will be about the palace only and hopefully I will be able to visit the gardens on our next visit in a few years.

A look out over the famous gardens with its many water features.

A look out over the famous gardens with its many water features.

Versailles is known for being King Louis XIV’s play ground, but it actually started out as a small hunting lodge under his father, King Louis XIII. Under Louis XIV (1638-1715) Versailles was radically transformed into the palace we see today. The “Sun-King” believed in centralized government, with himself at the center. He moved his official seat from Paris to Versailles in 1682 thereby making Versailles the capital of the kingdom, which lasted until 1789. The king thereby ensured he had full control of everything and everybody away from the citizens in crowded Paris. It was no secret that Louis did not like Paris, he never felt well in his palaces there and the fact that he had to flee the city in 1649 to escape the Fronde rebellion did not endear it to him. Versailles at the time was a small village, which was razed to the ground in order to build the palace and a modern town with straight, wide and airy streets, which was in stark contrast to Paris’s cramped, dirty, smelly, and disease ridden streets. At the height of the building project, over 36,000 workmen were busy on site. The grounds cover a total of 830 hectares, 20km of roads, 20km of closing walls, 350,000 trees, as many flowers planted, 35km of water pipes, 13 hectares of roof, 2, 143 windows, 67 staircases and 700 rooms make up today’s Versailles palace.

Every ceiling in every room is different. This is one in a staircase.

Every ceiling in every room is different. This is one in a staircase.

Versailles in its heyday was a very busy place; as many as 5,000 nobles, plus their entourage, were here at any one time. Bizarrely, even back then the palace was open to the public and as long as you got through security and donned the right clothes you could gawk at the nobility.

Detail of the Royal Chapel, which has two storeys and is dedicated to Saint Louis, ancestor and patron saint of the royal family.

Detail of the Royal Chapel, which has two storeys and is dedicated to Saint Louis, ancestor and patron saint of the royal family.

Louis XIV considered himself to be a god and therefore everyone else around him was there to serve their god the Sun-King. His day was regulated like clockwork, as was the whole of the royal court. Every day, every hour, year in, year out. Every morning a hundred courtiers would be in his bedroom to wake him, wash him, and clothe him. This was a courtier’s lot if they wanted to gain the monarch’s favour. You had to be seen in, constantly, in order to be the recipient of royal pensions, financial gratifications, living quarters at Versailles and regular invitations to feasts, balls, and ceremonies. All this followed a strict hierarchy, which determined who was allowed to approach whom, and where and when. Even the use of different chairs (armchair, simple chair or stool) and the right to sit down was regulated by this.

A corner in the War Drawing Room.

A corner in the War Drawing Room.

Versailles opulence was its downfall when the French Revolution emptied the palace of its furnishings, but thankfully sparing the building itself. All the paintings left for the Louvre and the furniture, with a few exceptions, was sold. After years of neglect the building was restored by Napoleon I, then by King Louis XVIII and Charles X, who are both brothers of Louis XIV. However, Versailles was never again to be the seat of power; that privilege remained with Paris. Despite the restorations, nobody knew what to do with this vast building and for a while demolition was considered. In 1833 King Louis-Philippe, “King of the French”, made the decision to turn it into a museum; it opened in 1837.

The famous Hall of Mirrors showing the many chandeliers and the beautifully painted ceiling.

The famous Hall of Mirrors showing the many chandeliers and the beautifully painted ceiling.

The most famous room in the palace is the Hall of Mirrors. This hall actually functioned as the passageway to the King’s Apartment. Courtiers gathered here in the hope to see the monarch on his way to the Chapel. It also served as a reception room when the King received foreign monarchs. Lavish masked-balls and full-dress balls would be held here. The painted ceiling is all composed around one theme: the King. At the time mirrors were luxury objects, highly expensive and up until recently Venice had the monopoly on mirror production. France took that monopoly by producing 357 mirrors to be installed in this gallery on the wall opposite the windows. The effect, when the new gallery was first revealed, must have been breathtaking. The chandeliers we see today are not the originals, they are 1770 replacements, based on the originals. This is the most visited room in the palace, so be prepared for crowds and photos with lots of strangers in them! The mirrors, despite their age, still look so fabulous and the light that comes in from the windows, even on a cloudy day, bathes the whole gallery in this wonderful glow, with the chandeliers sparkling brightly.

As an aside, the Hall of Mirrors was where in 1871 the Proclamation of the German Empire was held, and in 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was signed here, ending World War I.

The Queen's Bedchamber, showing the embroidered headboard.

The Queen’s Bedchamber, showing the embroidered headboard.

One other room that I really liked was the Queen’s Bedchamber. Unlike some of the other stately rooms this one felt light and bright. It did occur to me that the beds in those days were very short indeed, a testament that people were just shorter back then. Unbelievably, the Queen gave birth in this room to an audience. The moment the accoucheur announced “The Queen is about to give birth”, the crowds of spectators rushed forward to get a better view. The crowds were so disorderly that her attendants feared the Queen would perish.

Part of the ceiling in the Venus Drawing Room. The room was used for serving lights meals on apartment evenings.

Part of the ceiling in the Venus Drawing Room. The room was used for serving lights meals on apartment evenings.

I could go on and on about all the other lavish rooms, the grand staircases, the paintings displayed everywhere, the statues, the painted ceilings, but it would be overdoing it I fear. So hopefully you will enjoy the photos of some of the details.

One of the side wings of the palace.

One of the side wings of the palace.

The arched windows are the King's private bedroom and face the rising sun.

The arched windows are the King’s private bedroom and face the rising sun.

A bust of King Louis XIV in the Gallery of the Chateau's History on the ground floor.

A bust of King Louis XIV in the Gallery of the Chateau’s History on the ground floor.

Intricate decorations on a  door

Intricate decorations on a door

Categories: Europe Trip 2014, European History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Notre-Dame – The church of Our Lady

Notre-Dame

Notre-Dame

Aside from St. Paul’s Cathedral in Vatican City, Notre-Dame in Paris is probably one of the most famous churches in the world. Around 13 Million people visit this cathedral every year, that is an average of 30,000 people per day and in the peak summer season this can go as high as 50,000.

The famous rain spouts sticking out from the building all around

The famous rain spouts sticking out from the building all around

Notre-Dame cathedral sits on an island in the River Seine, the Ile-de-la Cite and can easily be reached by public transport. A number of different Metro Lines run to nearby stations, and various bus lines have stops around the cathedral.

Entry to Notre-Dame is free, and although the que to get in can be rather long, it does move fairly fast. This gives you a good opportunity to admire the front facade, which is just outstanding, but more about that a little later. The cathedral is open daily and masses are held several times a day; for details on opening times and mass times visit their website.

Portal of Saint Anne

Portal of Saint Anne

If you are looking for details on the famous gargoyles of this cathedral, please visit my previous post entitled “The not so old Gargoyles of Notre-Dame“.

Notre-Dame is dedicated to “Our Lady” (Notre-Dame), Mary the mother of Jesus. This impressive church started life in 1163 and its dedication mass took place two centuries later, in 1345. Much of the work was done by the ordinary citizens of the city, for free, with master masons supervising.

Some detail on the outside of the cathedral

Some detail on the outside of the cathedral

It should be noted that the Romans were the first to build on this spot. Back in 52 BC the Romans, who had conquered the Parisii tribe, built a temple to their god Jupiter on this same spot. When the Roman empire fell, the Germanic Franks replaced this temple with their Christian church of St. Etienne in the 6th Century. You can actually see the outlines of this church in the pavement in the form of the smaller gray stones. Whilst you are looking at the ground, see if you can spot some yellow bricks, which outlines the medieval street plan of this area. Today this square is large and open, but in medieval times it was a much smaller area with shambles facing a then run-down church, winding streets all around and higgledy-piggledy buildings everywhere.

In front of the cathedral, about 30 yards/27 meters from the central doorway, you will see a bronze plaque on the ground with the words “Point Zero” engraved around it. This is the spot from which all distances in France are measured and is considered the center of France; incidentally, it also used to be the center of Paris 2,300 years ago.

Point Zero

Point Zero

Now look to your right, as you face the church, and you will see a great statue. This is Charlemagne (Charles the Great 742-814), King of the Franks, whose reign marks the birth of the nation of France. He was crowned the first Holy Roman Emperor in 800. His death however marked the start of a split in his country, which eventually would become permanent and lead to the formation of France and Germany as separate nations.

Charlemagne, King of the Franks

Charlemagne, King of the Franks

Just at the side of the left doorway, as you face the church, is a statue with his head in his hands. This is St. Denis, the city’s first bishop and patron saint. St. Denis was beheaded by the Romans, as he was too successful in converting people to Christianity. According to legend, once beheaded, he picked up his head, tucked it under his arm, and headed north. On his way he stopped at a fountain to wash the head and he continued on until he found the right place at which to meet his maker. This was supposedly at Montmartre. Although the name Montmartre comes from the Roman “Mount of Mars”, later generations, when thinking about their beheaded patron, preferred to use the less pagan  version “Mount of Martyrs”.

Saint Dennis, patron saint of Paris

Saint Dennis, patron saint of Paris

Look just above the church front portal and you will see a row of statues; these are the 28 Kings of Judah. During the French Revolution (1789-1799) these biblical kings were mistaken by the citizens as the hated French Kings and so they stormed the church and chopped their heads off. In 1977 an accidental discovery unearthed these missing heads. Apparently a school teacher who lived nearby at the time of their decapitation, collected the heads and buried them in his garden for safekeeping. These original heads can be seen in the Cluny Museum, which is just a few streets away.

The row of the 28 Kings of Judah just visible at the bottom of this photo

The row of the 28 Kings of Judah just visible at the bottom of this photo

Once you enter the church be aware that pick pockets are religious; religiously trying to lighten your load!

You can get an audio guide for 5 Euros, or take a free English-language guided tour (again, visit the Notre-Dame website for details). Notre-Dame has the typical basilica floor plan we see in so many catholic churches; a long nave lined with columns and flanked by side aisles. There is seating space for up to 10,000 people, and it probably feels like there is just that number all around you when you visit. Don’t let that put you off enjoying the inside of this fantastic building.

Looking towards the altar

Looking towards the altar

At the altar you will see a 17th Century pieta, flanked by two kings; Louis XIII (1601-1643) and his son the famous sun king Louis XIV (1638-1715).

The pieta at the main altar

The pieta at the main altar

One statue that a lot of people just seemed to walk by is that of the French teenage soldier Joan of Arc (1412-1431). She is depicted here in her dress of armor, praying. She was burned at the stake by the English and their allies for claiming to hear heavenly voices. The teenager was beatified here in Notre-Dame in 1909.

Joan of Arc statue

Joan of Arc statue

Follow the statues gaze and you will be looking at one of the three rose windows. This one is special as it still has its original medieval glass.

The South Rose Window

The South Rose Window

The outside of this church is just as amazing as its interior. The flying buttresses are 50-foot stone beams and are the key to this complex Gothic architecture. They are responsible for supporting the roof, as the pointed arches in the interior cause the weight of the roof to be pushed outward and the buttresses push the weight back inward.

The flying buttresses that hold the roof up

The flying buttresses that hold the roof up

Categories: Europe Trip 2014, European History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Centuries of Art – The Louvre

The glass pyramid

The glass pyramid

No visit to Paris is complete, in my humble opinion, without stepping into the Louvre. Whether you just want to glimpse at its most famous painting, the Mona Lisa, or take a wander around the halls and take it all in, the Louvre is sure to delight.

Before I go into the history of this building and the wonderful works of art that you can encounter there, let me give you some practical tips.

The Louvre is free to enter every first Sunday of the month from October to March, but note that this is a very busy day to visit. To be honest, the Louvre is usually always busy, especially on Sundays, Mondays (apparently the worst day of all) and Wednesdays. If you can, try and visit when it is open late, which is on Wednesdays and Fridays, when it closes at 21:45 hrs (normal opening times are 09:00hrs to 18:00hrs). Note that the museum is closed on Tuesdays.

If you cannot visit on the free Sunday and you plan to visit other museums/sites in Paris, please invest in the Paris Museum Pass; see my previous post on this and visit their website for more information . This pass will save you lots of money, but more importantly, it will save you time, as you won’t have to queue for tickets. Note that children under 18 have free access to most museums/sites, as is the case here at the Louvre. If you need to buy a normal entry ticket use the self-service machines under the pyramid, as they are faster than the ticket window, or buy your ticket at the Tabac in the mall (cash only though).

Winged Victory of Samothrace

Winged Victory of Samothrace

Let’s talk about entering this vast building. Most tourists tend to enter at the main entrance at the pyramid, which is why the lines are so long. Again, if you have a museum pass, you will be in a different line, which will be much quicker. However, the Louvre has more than one entrance and I would encourage you to use one of these. The less grand underground mall entrance is accessed through the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall. This will, however, lead you past the inverted pyramid, made famous through the movie “The DaVinci Code”. There are two further entrance ways, the Passage Richelieu entrance and the Porte des Lions entrance. Please check the Louvre website for opening times for each of these entrances as they can vary, and the Porte des Lions seems to be closed at time of writing.

The Wedding Feast at Cana by Paolo Caliari

The Wedding Feast at Cana by Paolo Caliari

Once inside, you have to surrender you backpack/umbrella/jacket at the cloak room, as entry with anything bulky is not allowed. Note that you should not leave any valuables in your checked items. Be aware that pickpockets operate in the museum, so be vigilant at all times.

After this, make sure to pick up a free map at the information desk, situated in the middle of the ground floor. If you are pushed for time, make sure you make a list of “must see” art before your visit and plan ahead, using the Louvre website, to make the most of your visit. You can join a guided tour, for a fee, or you can get an audio or video guide, also for a small fee. Alternatively you can download a free audio guide from my favourite travel guide book author Rick Steves.

Before you head off into one of the galleries to start your Louvre experience, be sure to make use of the washrooms, as once inside the galleries, these are far and few between.

Photography without flash is allowed throughout the Louvre.

Old Centaur teased by Eros statue

Old Centaur teased by Eros statue

The Louvre has dominated central Paris since the 12th Century, when it was a fortress built to protect Paris, the largest city in Europe at the time, from the Anglo-Norman threat; only the Salle Basse (Lower Hall) remains today from this medieval building.

In 1364 Charles V had his architect, Raymond du Temple, change the fortress into a royal residence. After the death of Charles VI the Louvre palace was abandoned for a whole century until Francois I, in 1527 took up residence in Paris and converted the Louvre into a Renaissance palace.

Despite the transformation, the Louvre was, in the second half of the 16th Century, a mix of new buildings, work in progress and half-ruined structures over 200 years old. The lack of comfort, combined with the noise and smell of the encroaching city had Catherine de Medici order plans for the building of a new residence just a short distance away to the west. Plans for the Tuileries palace were drawn up in 1564, but work was discontinued only a few years later.

The Louvre we see today is largely a creation of Louis XIII, Louis XIV and Louis XV, although others after them have changed and added to the core buildings. However, as the palace of Versailles was completed and Louis XIV moved there permanently, royal interest quickly waned, plunging the Louvre palace, into a new period of dormancy.

In 1692, Louis XIV ordered the creation of a gallery of antique sculptures in the Salle de Caryatides in the Louvre, prompting the move of various different academies to move into the Louvre. The first exhibitions by one of the academies took place in 1699. Despite all this activity, the Louvre was not actually completed and work did not begin again until 1756 under Louis XV. In 1793 the Museum Central des Arts opened its doors on August 10. In those days admission was free with artists given priority entry over the general public, who were admitted only at weekends.

No doubt you have seen this statue on social media as the first selfie taken. You wouldn't believe the amount of people that were getting their photo taken with this statue.

No doubt you have seen this statue on social media as the first selfie taken. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people that were getting their photo taken with this statue.

After the revolution the museum acquired numerous paintings and antiquities through treaties, as well as spoils from Napoleon I’s conquests. Napoleon’s empire fell in 1815, and each nation reclaimed its treasures and the museum was disbanded.

This didn’t last too long, as in 1824 the Museé de Sculpture Moderne was created and installed in the ground floor of the west wing. Bit by bit other wings were taken up by different museums and collections.

The birth of the modern Louvre museum took place in 1882, when the palace of Tuileries was demolished and the Louvre ceased to be a place of power and was almost entirely devoted to culture (the Finance Ministry was only moved out of the Louvre in 1981) .

I love the intricate work of this crown

I love the intricate work of this crown

These days the Louvre is dominated outside by its big glass pyramid, which was inaugurated on 30 March 1989 and serves as the main entrance to the large reception hall underneath.

The Venus de Milo

The Venus de Milo

The u-shaped building is separated into its three wings, Richelieu, Sully and Denon wing, starring some of the world’s most famous pieces of art:

  • Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, located in the Denon Wing, First Floor, Room 6
  • Venus de Milo in the Sully Wing, Ground Floor, Room 16
  • Winged Victory of Samothrace, at the top of the Daru staircase on the First Floor
  • Colossal statue of Rameses II, Sully Wing, Ground Floor, Room 12
  • The Wedding Feast at Cana by Paolo Caliari located in the Mons Lisa room

The Louvre constantly shuffles its collections around, rooms may be closed, and works of art may be out on loan or in restoration; so, if you cannot find the piece you are looking for, ask one of the many guards, who will be happy to help.

If you only have time for a few items, make sure the ones listed above are on your list. Now, a slight word of warning, everyone wants to see the Mona Lisa, so be prepared for crowds in Room 6. Everyone is trying to get as close as possible, in this case, as close to the wooden barrier in front of the painting. Get your elbows out and shuffle your way to the front, take your photos and then take the time to actually look at this rather smaller than expected painting.

The famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

The famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

Some random facts I managed to unearth about the Louvre and its art works:

  • The Louvre is the largest museum in the world and is the most visited, with an average of 8.8 million visitors a year. It exhibits over 30,000 pieces of art spread across more than 650,000 square feet, with many many many more pieces in their cellars. A 2,000 strong staff look after this building every day.
  • According to staff the two most asked questions they get from visitors: “Where’s the Mona Lisa?” and “Where are the toilets?”
  • The 72-foot tall glass pyramid gets cleaned by a one-of-a-kind robot. Prior to this, only 10 years or so ago, the glass was cleaned by sure-footed climbers.
  • It takes this robot and its “handler” two full days to clean all sides of the pyramid.
  • When the glass pyramid was first unveiled, there was a public outcry – Parisians hated it (just like they hated the Eiffel Tower when it was first built).
  • The Louvre has 120,000 drawings, some of which have never been opened, as here are far too many to restore.
  • In 1911 the Mona Lisa was stolen by an Italian house painter. It was recovered two years later, when he tried to sell it.
  • In fact, the Mona Lisa has had a hard time of it; she had acid thrown at her, a rock was hurled at her beautiful smile (both incidents happened prior to her being behind bullet proof glass) and even a mug was thrown at her.
Colossal statue of Ramses II

Colossal statue of Rameses II

A lot of people shun the Louvre as they hear horror stories of the crowds, the line ups and that you cannot view the art for the people stood in front of it taking photos with their i-pads. Yes it’s crowded, yes the line ups can be long, and yes there are people taking photos, but none of this should put you off visiting this fantastic museum, which will take you through human history through its art. If you spend a little time planning your visit ahead of getting there, are prepared for crowds, be patient and venture into the lesser visited galleries, I guarantee that you will emerge from this building with the “wow” feeling inside of you.

Categories: Europe Trip 2014, European History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Marienburg Castle – a hidden gem

The view as you approach from the car park

The view as you approach from the car park

Marienburg Castle is only 30 km south of my hometown of Hannover, in Lower Saxony in Germany, but I am ashamed to admit that I have never visited it before. My mum visited the castle as part of a school trip many years ago and remembers having to wear felt slippers in the castle (they are no longer used as they apparently caused more damage to the floors than your street shoes). I, together with the family, finally made a visit this summer. The drive up to the hill on which the castle stands is via a bendy and beautiful road and deposits you into a small car park from which you walk up to the castle.  The small ticket office, which also acts as a small gift shop offers regular tours of the castle, as well as a tour up the tower. To safe money, buy a combo ticket and do both. For non-German speakers there is a free audio guide (which our daughter was very glad to have).  The tours are given by very knowledgeable local guides, taking you through some of the most beautiful rooms with amazingly crafted oak paneled ceilings.

Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the castle, so to get an idea what the rooms look like, please visit the castle website. Plan to spend at least half a day here and take the opportunity to try out their cafe/restaurant; I recommend having coffee and cake there or a light lunch.

Looking down to the restaurant

Looking down to the restaurant

Original paintwork in the archway to the ticket office

Original paintwork in the archway to the ticket office

The castle is one of the most important Gothic revival buildings in Germany. King George V of Hannover, the last King of Hannover and grandson of King George III of England, gave it to his wife Queen Marie on her birthday in 1858 – the castle had not been built at that time. This gave Queen Marie the chance to be involved in the designing and planning of the castle, which was intended to become a summer residence.

Some of the architecture you can see from the courtyard

Some of the architecture you can see from the courtyard

The hill on which the castle stands was called Schulenberg Berg (Schulenberg Hill), but was renamed, in honor of the Queen, to Marienberg. This land is close to the families ancestral ancient fortress, the House of Guelph’s Fortress of Calenberg.

The castle was a scheme to promote King George’s dynastic interests through its iconography of royal power, which can be seen all over the castle, inside and out.

The family crests

The family crests

The King engaged master builder Conrad Wilhelm Hase, who built four wings positioned around a rectangular courtyard, building 140 rooms, with a floor plan that followed the tradition of baroque palaces. The castle does feature architectural defense elements like towers and battlement. These are purely for decoration as they served no purpose as fortifications in the late 19th century.

A very Gothic affair

A very Gothic affair

Hase was eventually dismissed in the summer of 1864 due to differences with his royal clients. On the request of the Queen, his pupil Edwin Oppler took over just a few months later. At this point the interior decor was almost complete, but Oppler favoured a new forward-looking style, which combined Gothic style with comfort. The Queen was persuaded by his ideas and the interior was torn out to start over. This new design gave a clear distinction between the state rooms and the families private apartments.

Marienburg-1-3

War broke out between the Kingdoms of Hannover and Prussian in 1866, which prevented the Great Hall and the Dining Hall interior to be completed. Despite this, the rooms of the castle are unique among German castles and palaces in being uniformly executed in neo-Gothic style.

Neo-Gothic style

Neo-Gothic style

Prussia won the war, leading to the German Unification, and at that time the castle was not expropriated by Prussia. The King went into exile in Austria, leaving his wife and daughters at the castle until 1867, at which point they followed him to Austria. Since then, this castle has remained uninhabited, although that is not the feeling you get whilst walking through the rooms. The current descendants of King George and Queen Marie are taking care to keep this castle in great condition.

Marienburg-1-5

The tour starts in the entrance hall, which contains the original floor tiles. These tiles are one of the earliest examples of tiles produced by Messrs Villeroy and Boch, and were enormously expensive at the time. The hall also exhibits a cork model of the castle, which the Queen had made as soon as the plans were completed so that her blind husband (he was blind since his youth) could get a mental picture of the castle through feeling his way around the model.

Marienburg-1-6

You move through some more rooms before arriving in the Great Hall (the one with the unfinished interior) which is host to a unique set of silver furniture dating from the 1720s and is considered to be the most important set of its kind in Germany. It is the work of the celebrated Augsburg goldsmiths and includes two tables, four light stands, 4 chairs (one of which was on loan to the Landesmuseum in Hannover) and some mirrors. This set of furniture was not part of the original furnishings, but was previously owned by King George II of England, who inherited the set, and used it at Windsor Castle until the 19th century, when it came back to Hannover.

The tour also goes down into the basement to visit the Queen’s modern kitchen (well, modern for its time). It has all the usual copper pots and pans one would expect, but also showcases some of the 365 small cake forms. The kitchen would produce a different small cake every day of the year using these forms. The tour guide informed us that 3 forms have disappeared since the Queen and her household left, and despite trying to locate them all over the world, they remain missing.

The library is the most beautiful room in the castle. It is circular with a blue ceiling which is like a massive Gothic umbrella, with its spines spreading out from the central pillar. It was actually used as a reception room rather than a library, only a little space was given to books. High up on the ceiling you see 16 circular medallions with portraits of German poets and thinkers.

One of the extraordinary things about the rooms is the fact that each oak ceiling is uniquely carved, with no repetition of pattern or design. Walking through the rooms and up and down staircases you can just imagine the fun their daughters must have had running around and exploring every little nook and cranny, of which there are many.

The tour finishes in the chapel, which, if you are there at the right time of day, has some beautiful light coming through the windows.

The doors to the chapel

The doors to the chapel

If you bought a combo ticket then the way into the tower is the door just to the left as you exit the chapel (which is also currently the entrance to a special exhibition – more of this later). The tour up to the tower leads up one of the spiral staircases and brings you to a floor you don’t see as part of the castle tour. It contains an apartment that is used by today’s descendants and our guide also told us that behind every door on the many small landings throughout the castle was a small washroom, which was part of the original design and was quite modern for its time.

The view from the tower is fantastic, giving you great vistas over the Leine Valley.

The Leine Valley

The Leine Valley

Until 9 November 2014 the castle has a special exhibition to celebrate 300 years since the House of Hannover came to the English throne, aptly titled “The way to the crown”. Again, photography is not allowed here, so I am unable to bring you any photos of this special exhibit.

The first part takes you through history to explain how it was that the House of Hannover found itself to be the heirs of the English throne. This was all due to the fact that in 1701 the Act of Settlement decreed that no Roman Catholic could ever accede to the throne (this is still valid today) and therefore, during Queen Anne’s reign, Sophia of Hannover was made heir presumptive. Although Queen Anne had over 50 closer blood relatives, Sophia was the first Protestant in the family line, being the granddaughter of James VI and I of Scotland and England. Sophia died two months before the childless Queen Anne passed away, and the throne passed to Sophia’s son George Luis of Brunswick-Luneburg, who took the title of King George I. So started the reign of the House of Hannover, which ended with Queen Victoria.

The exhibition has over 100 exhibits displayed in 9 rooms, culminating in my favourite pieces – the crown jewels of the House of Hannover. These items have not been seen in public since the Kingdom of Hannover ceased to be in 1866. The royal crown, the scepter and the bridal crown have been held probably in a private collection, although our tour guide was not at liberty to tell us, or even advise where the jewels would be going to after this exhibit. I like to think that the descendants of the Kings of Hannover had them in their possession these past 148 years. It was amazing to be able to get really close to the glass display and spent a considerable amount of time admiring the incredible jewels. I am so glad we went to visit the castle during this special time in its history and that we were able to see something so special, knowing that these royal insignia may not be on public exhibit ever again.

Marienburg Castle

Marienburg Castle

 

Categories: British History, Europe Trip 2014, European History, Germany | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The  old “New” Town Hall (Rathaus) in Hannover, Germany

Hannover Rathaus

Hannover Rathaus

One of my all time favourite buildings in my hometown of Hannover in Germany’s Lower Saxony state is the “new” town hall – das Neue Rathaus.

This building celebrated its 100th birthday last year, hence the new!

I wrote a previous post about my hometown, but felt the need to delve a little further into this building.

A lot of tourists mistake this town hall for a castle, and you can see why, given its new-gothic style, its manner towers and turrets. The town had gone out to compete the design of this new build and Professor Hubert Stier was the winner of this architectural competition. His design included a larger tower, which some critics just did not warm to; they wanted a copula instead. After some pleading, the town went out with a second competition, this time stipulating the inclusion of a copula. Only the first six placed from the first competition were invited to take part. In 1897 the winner was declared: Hermann Eggert, designer of the main train station in Frankfurt.

The undertaking was massive, to say the least. The building was designed to be 129 meters wide, 76 meters deep and over 97 meters high, making it to this day one of the tallest buildings in Hannover. It would have two inner courtyards, one enormous entry hall (it’s big, honestly) and a number of ball rooms, meeting rooms and offices for the civil servants.

The building contains a very unique elevator (apparently the only one like this in Europe) within its dome. It follows the shape of the dome up to an observation platform (almost 100 meters high) at an angle of 17 degree in the 50 meter shaft.

In 1906 work began on the copula over the central entry hall, and it took two years to complete it. Even though the building was not complete, the first civil servants moved into their offices in 1907.

However, the interior build did not go as smoothly as the town fathers had wished. The overseeing construction commissioner from the town was not happy with the design for the interior, claiming it was outdated and not modern enough.  The designer disagreed and the two ended up in stalemate. Eventually the town cancelled the contract with Hermann Eggert over this issue and at the end of 1909 the painter and architect Gustav Halmhuber was given the reigns to design the interior for the entry hall, the ball and meeting rooms and the offices. At the opening ceremony Hermann Eggert, original designer of this beautiful building, was nowhere to be seen, having chosen not to attend the ceremony.

This building cost just over ten million marks over the 12 years of building, which was completed in 1913 and opened on 13 June 1913 by none other than the German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Despite the enormous costs, which started out at only 4.5 million marks, the city paid for it all without going into debt over this new building.  At the opening ceremony the town’s director, Heinrich Tramm, proudly declared to the Kaiser: “All paid for in cash, your Majesty!”

The reason for building a new town hall was due to the expansion of Hannover. Its citizens swelled from around 100,000 to 300,000 between 1871 and 1912. The old town hall just wasn’t big enough to cope with the increases of citizens and their associated business and paperwork. It took the town fathers a few years to settle upon a new location near the local parliament building.

The old town hall from 1410 still stands in the historical old part of the city and together with the Marktkirche (Market Church) it is a great example in northern Germany for the Backstein-Gothic.

In July 1943 the town hall escaped the bombs of American bombers, just barely though.  In October 1943 the worst bombing, with over 250,000 bombs dropped by allied forces, left the town in ruins. The copula got hit and set the inside on fire. The flames were extinguished by volunteers and the building survived, damaged, but it survived.

In the main entry hall there are four model of Hannover, all showing the town/city at different stages during its life. One of the models shows the devastation caused by allied bombing.

Hannover after WWII finished

Hannover after WWII finished

Today the building is still very much in use; it is the official seat of the major and the city council. It is always open to the public, who can walk in for free and take a look around and take a trip (for a fee) up to the top of the copula where they are rewarded with some fabulous views.

The front of the town hall

The front of the town hall

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Categories: Germany | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

My favourite things – Orchids (in my view the most elegant of all flowers)

Phalaenopsis Chain Xen Pearl

Phalaenopsis Chain Xen Pearl

I love orchids; I only wish I could keep them alive! They usually last about a couple of months or so and then, slowly, agonizingly, they die off, bit by little bit. This is not because I am rubbish with plants; I am usually fairly good (I should be – I am after all, a trained florist, but haven’t done this job in over 20 years). However, this plant just will not grow for me, no matter what I try.

My Dad, on the other hand, has no such problems with his orchids. Oh no, he apparently doesn’t have to do a lot, and they just flower, and flower, oh and then flower some more. Can you tell I’m jealous?

My last attempt was with a little dwarf variety about a year or so ago, and true to form, after a few months of flowering, it slowly died, and I mean real slow, it hung on for quite some time, giving me a faint glimmer of hope that my luck may have changed – I should have known better, as the end was inevitable.

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I admire anybody who can keep these plants alive and flowering – these people are semi gods to me.

Nowadays I get my orchid fix in the conservatory of our local zoo. They always have a fantastic amount of different varieties and change them around on a regular basis, so I never know which beautiful specimens I will encounter on my visits.

A little research reveals some surprising facts about orchids (after all, no post of mine would be complete without some background information and history!).

There are around 25,000 different documented species of orchid, and more are being discovered every day. Scientists believe that many more species are yet to be discovered in the tropical areas of our planet. The orchid genus is an old one, is very diverse and widespread. These magnificent flowers grow naturally all over the world.

According to one expert, the reason why people love orchids is because of their bilateral symmetry, like our own human faces. This basically means that, if you draw a line down the middle of the flower, the two halves are mirror images of each other, just like our faces. And I must say, to me orchids have always looked like little faces, and now I know why.

 

Phalaenopsis Tai Lin Queen

Phalaenopsis Tai Lin Queen

According to a study from 2007, which was published in the journal “Nature”, pollen from an ancient orchid was found on the back of a bee encased in amber. The fossil was dated to around 10 million or 15 million years ago, but some scientists suspect that the orchid family is much older than this. Some research even dates some species of orchid to around 120 million years ago, before the continents split into their current form. Their reasoning for this is that two species of orchid, whose natural habitats are thousands of miles apart, are actually closely related. It is believed that these plants probably had a common ancestor before the continental drift separated them.

The most popular species of orchid is the flat leafed vanilla plant, which is also one of the most widespread around the globe. This plant is cultivated all over Latin America for its flavorful charms, the vanilla pods.

If you happen to be one of the semi gods who keep orchids successfully I would love to hear from you and find out what your secret is!

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Categories: My favourite things | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

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