Nov 01

The Merry Cemetery

If we were to take a country and start exploring it carefully, we would be surprised of the many grand discoveries we were to find. And I would like to narrow this statement to a specific domain, namely to tourism. Nowadays, we have a multitude of websites from where we can gather the needed information in terms of tourist attractions in a specific country or area, so if we embark on a journey of discovery, we already have a picture in our minds of how the trip will unfold.

But even so, nothing compares to actually being there, and to the impression you are left with after seeing in person a monument, a historical building or a breathtaking natural setting.

sapanta-merry-cemetery

There is a particular area in the northern part of Romania which has capture my attention a long time ago and which I have failed to present to you so far. I am talking about Maramures and while it is definitely impossible to tackle the subject adequately in one article, I will only focus on a particular attraction – even though a simple overview will not do justice to this land which abounds in cultural objectives, traditions and impressive landscapes.

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An important attraction, which gathers thousands to these parts of Romania, is the Sapanta Cemetery, which is widely known as the Merry Cemetery. The name of the cemetery might seem puzzling at first sight, as it incorporates two words that have opposite meanings – for how can death have anything happy in it? But when you see the gravestones you immediately understand the meaning of the name. The gravestones are actually works of art which depict certain elements from the deceased life in a humoristic way. While death and the burring ceremony itself have always been treated as solemnly as humanly possible, the Sapanta Cemetery seems to give a new interpretation to human demise. It is indeed a sad moment when you lose someone, but instead of grieving, we should celebrate the individual’s life. And this is what the gravestones do: they portray the ones who had passed to the other side in a lively manner.

http://www.nydailynews.com

The first such gravestone was developed in 1935, by an unknown sculptor, Stan Ioan Patras, who made the inferior side of the cross wider in order to leave room for an epitaph. Soon afterwards merry gravestones sprung throughout the entire cemetery, being dyed in vivid colors and having funny and witty pictures on them.

But the idea for the cemetery did not spring out of nothing. There is a legend according to which the Dacic population had a joyous approach on death because for them it was a mere passage into another realm. Their belief was that life was infinite so death should have been cheered for it equated to transcendence to a better world where they were given the opportunity to meet the almighty god, Zalmoxe.

http://www.messynessychic.com

The work of Patras has brought to life a monumental artistic expression in which history, legend and tradition are intertwined. The scenes represented on the gravestones are connected to the cultural traits of the area meaning that women are represented baking bread, knitting or performing other household activities, while the men are portrayed as wood cutters, sheep herders or while working the land. None of the gravestones is completed without a small poem with simple rhymes. Access within the cemetery is possible after paying a small fee and even if the charge was high, I have to admit that it was worth it because you will see something that you have never seen before and which will change your view about the life- death dichotomy.

Aug 01

Exploring Austria

Austria has numerous attractions and some of them can be further explored in the previous articles published on this website. For this specific article however I will focus my attention on the Austrian highlands.

Whenever I get to thinking about the Austrian Alps, the first thing that springs to my mind is an all white landscape. It is of common knowledge that in the last couple of years Austria has become one of the designated holiday destinations, especially in the winter time due to the opportunity it offers to tourists in terms of winter sports.

http://www.infotravelaustria.com

The resorts sprinkled throughout the Austrian Alps are quite different in the sense that they are developed for specific target ‘audiences.’ Whether you are interested in testing yourself on the ski tracks or whether you are simply interested in escaping in a fairytale-like setting, surrounded by mountainous peaks that pierce the thick layer of snow, and allow yourself to witness the grandeur of nature, Austria offers you everything you seek.

http://www.ski-austria.com/

There are regions where you are guaranteed to be embraced by snow due to the specific climate and others where you will encounter everything you need in order to transform your holiday into an unforgettable one – which basically means that you can push yourself to the limit on the track either by skiing or snowboarding and you can spend your nights in clubs partying until sunrise.  The important thing is to establish beforehand what it is that you want to get out of your vacation and thus choose accordingly the resort. Even if your skiing skills fall in the beginner, intermediate or advance category, there are resorts especially created for you.

http://www.austria.info/ro

But moving away from the wintertime, we should also acknowledge the beauty of the green meadows and uplands when summer awakens the vegetation that fell asleep under the snow during the cold season. Tourists can explore the Austrian natural environment by embarking on a trip on foot through its numerous mountainous trails. There are organized excursions you can opt for and which will take you one step closer to nature. You will be taken aback by the impressive landscapes, some of which have preserve their naturalness to the fullest. Striding on the natural paths is definitely a way to get in touch with our inner self, to meditate and to contemplate life.

Mar 12

Azov Fortress (Cetatea Azov)

There are many touristic attractions throughout Eastern Europe worth mentioning, but all will be tackled in due time. For the time being we will focus our attention towards Russia, and more precisely, towards a town situated 16 kilometers off the coast of the Azov Sea. The name of the town is actually Azov, due to its close proximity to the mentioned sea.

What is it that makes this town enter our list of ‘places you ought to visit’? Probably it has something to do with its historical background. Many peoples have settled on this land and each had had its influence on the way in which the landscape changed throughout the years.

Azov Fortress

But the ones who we are going to mention in this particular article are the Ottomans, due to the fact that their control over the area in the latter years of the 15th century (1471) had led to the appearance of an imposing fortress, the Azov Fortress. This is actually the touristic attraction on which this article revolves.

The construction was erected with the purpose of hindering the Don Cossacks from invading the Ottoman Empire and from gaining control over the Black Sea, which represented an important trading instrument.

Of course, this particular aspect did not impede the former from attempting to attain their goal and that is to crush the Turks and gain control over the area. Thus, the fortress was the main target due to the fact that it was a well fortified construction in which the rivals could resist for time on end against their attackers. Azov Fortress witnessed a great number of battles and if you are interested in finding out more about the turnout of each of the mentioned clashes, you should definitely look into the subject. But for the time being, we will turn to the reasons for which you should definitely visit this less known part of Russia.

Azov

There is no doubt that Russia has many tourist attractions and that most of them are located in Moscow and Sankt Petersburg, but a tourist interested in comprehending the entire history of a given country and in visiting even the most secluded places in order to gain insight into the development of a specific place, will not think twice before embarking in a ‘quest of discovery’.

To put it in simpler words, the fortress had changed many hands throughout time, only to be ceded to the Russian government at the end of the 18th century when the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji was signed (the peace treaty signed at the end of the first Russo-Turkish Wars in 1774).

The Old Fortress of Azov

But enough about historical facts. Tourists will be pleased to hear that the climate of the region is characterized by mild precipitations and that the weather is relatively good. Even if the time of the year in which they decide to travel to Azov is relevant, the temperature is not the same as in other parts of Russia. The summers are very warm and while winters are cold, they are by no means comparable to the other areas where extremely low temperatures recorded.

Many legends revolve around the fortress and more particularly around the cellar, where it is said that the Ottoman Empire used to preserve its outstanding riches.

In the 20th century, the fortress was declared a cultural monument and the City Council took all the measures to preserve the remnants of the glorious past, especially since the construction was such an artful depiction of military engineering development. Thus, the fortress, with the cellar, gates, walls and ditches that had survived the passage of time, was declared a monument and restoration was initiated. The goal was to preserve the ancient structure for the posterity.

The Entrance Gate- Azov

The cellar was reconditioned and passed on into the patrimony of the historical museum. When Azov celebrated its 900th birthday, the City Council organized a special event in which all the important battles of Azov were reenacted with the help of an exhibition organized by the Russian artist Arseny Chernyshov.

The authenticity of the exhibition was remarkable and the fact that the fortress was preserved so well until this day it can only mean one thing: that tourists are given the possibility to indulge themselves with a piece of historical recollection. So do not hesitate to visit this unique monument.

Oct 03

Artus Court (Curtea lui Arthur)

Artus Court, also known as Dwór Artusa, is the construction located in the center part of Gdansk, in Poland. In the past, this was the place where merchants used to gather, but it was also the epicenter of the social life of that specific region.

While the scope of the edifice had changed, in the sense that it is no longer the center of Gdansk’s commerce, it is still heavily populated as visitors from around Poland and even from beyond the territorial delimitations of the country come and visit it.

The tourist attraction under discussion in this article draws its name from the medieval legend of King Arthur. This specific folklore is the symbol of nobility and chivalry and it is of no surprise that the buildings designated as the meeting place for the bourgeoisie incorporated this term in their name.  Such courts existed throughout Poland, but the one in Gdansk was by far the most important one due to the fame surrounding it.

http://media.photobucket.com

The court was already formed in the first decades of the 14th century and it was home to 6 societies. This type of organization was developed in accordance to the merchant’s trade relations and only the finest members of society could be affiliated – people pertaining to the aristocracy and to the bourgeoisie. The Court was intent in maintaining its elect membership and this meant that other categories of people were banned from the court – such as craftsmen or hired workers. This “community” had its own rules. For example, no talks about the deals one made were allowed inside Dwór Artusa, such matters were to be dealt with in the courtyard situated at the entrance. The evenings were usually moments of relaxation and entertainment as different types of performances were organized here.

http://www.medieval-baltic.us

But the strict rules which were initially imposed on the members began to shift in time. For instance, if at the beginning gambling and card games were forbidden inside the organization, this soon began to change. Also, the lavish feasts which were occasionally organized at the Court and which were a symbol of wealth began to take a different form – that of a tavern in which drunkenness was the main theme. As it is obvious from the changes which instilled themselves at the Court, things started to degenerate slowly but surely. Naturally, many complaints were brought before the Court due to the way in which things evolved.

The construction was also used for social and cultural events. In the 17th century, many writers and painters presented their works here.

http://www.tripadvisor.com

The first building of Arthur’s Court dates from the 14th century. There is still some unknown information in relation to this edifice. Another edifice was erected probably in the later decades of the 14th century, but this was burnt down at the end of the 15th century. Several archeological diggings were conducted to the location in the later decade of the 20th century and these revealed traces of this second edifice.

The devastated edifice was refurbished a couple of years after the fire occured and at the middle of the 16th century this building was given a new appearance. The façade was once more renovated in 1617 in the Dutch Mannerism stylistic design. Among the decorative elements which adorned the edifice, one could notice sculptures representing heroic figures from Antiquity, and different metaphorical representations of power and righteousness.

http://members.virtualtourist.com

At the interior, Artus Court resembles an immense hall constructed in the Gothic style. The walls are covered with frescoes in which both mythical and historical characters can be noticed. The hall abounds in lavishness due to the extensive range of paintings and the highly decorated pieces of furniture. Some of the pieces of art which have gain recognition are actually those created by unidentified artists and which date from the 15th century. Other items used in the decorative process of the hall were tapestries, armors, emblems of royal families and even a cage which contained species of exotic birds.

http://en.wikipedia.org

Tourists who visit the Court are also impressed by the heavily decorated furnace which had been created between 1545 and 1546 by Georg Stezner. This furnace measures 11 meters, but the most striking thing about it is that its 520 tiles (in which it is coated) illustrate the great European leaders.

At present, visitors can admire the memorial board which had been placed on the front wall of the Court in 1965 in order to commemorate the moment when the Polish soldiers have placed their flag on the Artus Court – an event that occurred 20 years earlier.

Tourists are permitted to enter inside the Court and admire first-handedly the edifice. In fact, the court is actually one of the sections of the History Museum of Gdansk.

Jul 31

The Great Synagogue (Marea Sinagoga)

The Great Synagogue, or more accurately the Dohany Street Synagogue (named after the street it is located on), can be found in Budapest. This is the largest synagogue located on the European continent and it occupies the fifth position among the largest synagogues of the world. The edifice can hold within its walls an impressive number of people – there are approximately 3.000 seats available, divided more or less equally among women and men (the seats available for men outnumber those available for women by 20).

The synagogue, which is affiliated with the Neolog Judaism movement, has been constructed in the 19th century (between the 1854 and 1859) in the Moorish Revival architectural style. The embellishments used were of Islamic inspiration, in combination with elements of décor based on the architectural design used in medieval Spain.

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The architect that undertook the construction of the synagogue was Ludwig Forster, but the interior decorations were signed by Frigyes Feszl.

The Dohany Street Synagogue comprises various edifices: the Great Synagogue (whose name has been extended to encompass the whole complex), the Hero’s Temple, the Jewish Museum and the Holocaust Memorial, and a graveyard.

The history of the synagogue was quite tumultuous. In 1939, the edifice was bombed by the Hungarian supporters of the Nazis, and it had changed its destination. It was no longer used as a place of worship but underwent various transformations, so as to fit the purpose for which it was intended at that particular time: a center for a German radio and even a stable during the second world conflagration. But the most devastating alterations it underwent took place when the Nazis occupied the city, but more so near the end of the Second World War, during the Siege of Budapest.

http://www.planetware.com

 

Under the communist regime, the edifice had been re-established as a religious site, only that this time the Jewish community it addressed to was far too diminished. The restoration work was initiated in 1991, but it took seven years to be completed, until 1998.

The synagogue measures  75 m in length and 27 in width. While the prevalent style is Neo-Moorish (or Moorish Revival) as it has been mentioned previously, there are other architectural elements as well which can be depicted. Thus the visitor will be presented with an assortment of architectural details pertaining to the Romantic, Gothic and Byzantine styles.  The structure of the synagogue comprises two identical towers which are completed by means of two onion-shaped domes. The towers are meant to represent the columns of Solomon’s Temple.

http://www.tvl.ro

 

The interior is similar to that of basilicas, having 3 aisles elaborately adorned, 2 balconies and 1 organ. The women and men who attend the religious service are not seated together: the seats for men occupy the ground floor, while women are seated in the upper gallery.

As it was aforementioned, the synagogue also comprises the Jewish Museum, an edifice erected in 1930 in the same architectural style as the house of prayer. The collections encountered here are representative for the Jewish religion (objects used in various rituals, documents, relics, etc.). Within the museum, tourists will also find a Holocaust room which recaptures the tragic destiny the Jewish community had under the Nazis’ reign of terror.

http://www.flickr.com

 

If ever in Budapest, it is advisable to make time and visit this specific house of prayer. Not only that it is an important tourist attraction, known throughout the world, but the architectural design and the interior decoration of the synagogue are definitely worth your time – you will be looking at an impressive work of art.