Feb 11

Olesko Castle

It is amazing how history is inscribed in the massive walls of structures and how monuments are thus given a voice. And this statement can easily be verified by taking a simple exemple and depicting the complex history behind it. And this is going to be our purpose in this piece of writing.

Olesko Castle is a monumental structure which dates back to the 13th century and which has accumulated in its ‘portfolio’ quite a number of noteworthy events.

First of all, it should be pointed out that in the 14th century the edifice was an important fortification of the ancient town Rus. But in almost two hundred years it had changed its scope dramatically, having evolved from a stronghold into a palace of the nobility.



It was in the last years of the 15th century that its refurbishing was initiated and due to excellent craftsmenship it became a reflection of Italian Renaissance architecture. Thus began the era when the castle came under the rule of the aristocratic class.  It was in this precise castle that Jan III Sobieski (the king of Poland) was born and where he oftentime lived.

The location of the castle is easily explained if we are to take into account the fact that it was initially a fortification.  The construction stands tall on the top of a hill, guarding Olesko, the small town situated on the slopes beneath, and it has a cellar through which those in the castle could have escaped in case they were under siege.



In the second half of the 20th century, a new restoration was initiated in order to enhance the condition of the structure and to properly refurbish it for its new purpose: that of housing a museum. And it has maintained this purpose until the present day. The exhibitions on display are impressive, consisting of hundreds of works of art such as paitings, old furniture, jewelry, statuettes, still-lives and different kinds of icons which date back as early as the 10th century. The historical accounts tourists can discover there remarkable.



But the castle is not the only attraction. The edifice is surrounded by beautiful gardens which comprise wonderful sculptural designs. It is no wonder that many tourists are drawn to Oleska. They can admire works which are centuries old and which reflect the evolution of the fine arts in time.

Tourists can also venture into the cemetery which is relatively close-by where they will discover fascinating antique shrines. This being said, Oleska Castle is worth your attention if ever in the neighborhood.

Feb 03

Mauthausen (Austria)

The memory of WWI and II is kept alive throughout the globe, whether we are talking about monuments erected in celebration of the fallen heroes or whether we put forth the exhibits presented in various museums from all over the European continent. But probably the places which best depict the gruesome reality of the world conflagrations are the former concentration camps which even today bring chills to visitors.



One such camp is situated in Austria, at a 20-kilometer distance from the city of Linz, in the small town Mauthausen. The camp came into being on the 8th of August 1938 and it was mainly established in order to provide the stone quarry which existed in the neighborhood with the necessary laborers. Initially, all the prisoners were forced to build the camp which would serve as their confinement quarters, only afterwards to be delivered as slaves to the stone quarry. The building of the camp was concluded in 1939 and it expanded greatly in the year to come, inasmuch as in summer of 1940 it had turned into one of the biggest labor camps which existed in Europe.

What some of you might be oblivious to is the fact the concentration camps were developed in accordance to their purpose. While many of these complexes were built to house prisoners of all types, Mauthausen was actually created for specific purpose: to annihilate the people of the superior social classes. In other words, the concentration camp aimed to exterminate through labor – which meant that the educated individuals from countries which were subdued by Nazi Germany were subjected to infernal toils that ultimately crushed their bodies.



Mauthausen housed many prisoners but their number increased considerably almost overnight, to the extent that the administration had to enlarge the establishment in order to ‘accommodate’ everyone. This meant surrounding the fields to the north and west with barbed wire and keeping the newcomers, which were mainly Jews brought in from Hungary and Russian soldiers captured in battle, in the open almost all year long.

This was a ‘category III’ concentration camp which was basically one of the most severe kinds there were. Those brought in were never supposed to leave the premises and their demise was inflicted by labor.

But there were exceptions to the rule, as it so often happens. The terrible and sometimes useless works they had to perform were beyond imagination. Because the guards were given exact orders concerning the extermination of the inmates, they started to be creative. One historical account talks about how a stone which weighted almost 45 kilograms was laid on a prisoner’s back and how he was afterwards ordered to run around with the heavy burden. The outcome is no surprise: the prisoner fell to his death due to exhaustion. Another method of annihilation was to take a group of inmates to a garage, command them to remove their clothes and spray water over them. Taking into account that in the wintertime the temperature went below minus ten degrees Celsius, the result of the practice was evidently hypothermia.

Gas Chamber-http://www.scrapbookpages.com/Mauthausen/Tour/PhotoTour03.html

Gas Chamber-http://www.scrapbookpages.com/Mauthausen/Tour/PhotoTour03.html

These historical facts conjure up terrible images of what humans are capable of doing towards other humans. A trip in this land where so many atrocities have occurred will definitely not be what you might have imagined. The road there takes you through a pastoral setting which inspires only peace and tranquility. But once you reach your destination, reality strikes you.

The barracks might no longer look as grim and terrifying as they did in their ‘peak,’ but walking around the location you will get to see the chambers of death: the crematory as well as the rooms in which the inmates were brought in order to find their death by heavy beating.

Visitors can also see the ‘stairway of death’- the infamous cliff from where the prisoners were pushed over the edge to find their death into the granite quarry which spread below them.



The camp is filled with an abundant number of commemorative items, such as monuments, statues and tiles with various inscriptions. To put it simple, the area has been transformed into a sort of memorial which keeps the sufferings of the prisoners alive and brings homage to them.

The complex is situated at a relatively small distance from Vienna. Tourists can reach Mauthausen in almost an hour and a half and even if for some the location might be out of their course, it should be pinpointed that this camp is one of high historical value and the discoveries you will run across will be change you forever.

Aug 03

The Romanian National Museum of History (Muzeul National de Istorie)

The Romanian National Museum of History is located on Victoria Avenue, in the Romanian capital city, Bucharest. The edifice which houses the museum is actually the Post-Office Palace which has been constructed back in the last years of the 19th century. History has it that the town council decided to erect the palace on the ruins of an inn which burnt down in 1847.

The architect behind the project, Alexandru Savulescu, designed a neoclassical building which consisted of an entranceway supported by ten Doric columns (the organizational system developed in Ancient Greece according to which the piers were placed directly on the flat pavement). The architect designed steps at the entrance which spread throughout the length of the façade.



The building presents on both sides (the left and right extremities) two domes, which give an imposing look to the construction. The central post office of the city had its office here for 70 years, since 1970, when the edifice underwent a refurbishing process. Part of this process consisted of rearranging the building so as to meet the needs of a museum.

The museum was inaugurated in 1972 and the collections encountered here have expended year after year so that at present visitors can admire close to 690.000 objects: 78.580 items belong to the archeological domain, 183.714retrace the historical past, the numismatic collection consists of a little over 333.500 items, there are 605 old volumes and more than 80.000 items connected to the study of stamps and postal history.



The museum comprises a special section where monuments from Greece, Rome and the Medieval Times are on display. The collections encountered here contain sculptures, items of décor, religious monuments and documents.

The documents retrace different historical periods – one of the most important documents  is Hotărnicia Histriei (the paper through which the future of Histria was determined). This was issued by Laberius Maximus in 100 A.D. and comprised the territorial demarcation of the province as well as some fiscal exceptions granted for fishing in the Danube Delta.



Visitors can also gaze upon various types of funeral monuments. According to specific timeframes, the funeral ritual was conducted in a different manner and the monuments used to adorn the resting place of the defunct were constantly changing. These were represented by statuettes, pedestals, inscriptions, altars, representations of mythological beings or stars. Usually the monuments used for funerals comprise two parts: the part with the engraving and the one with the decorations. The lettering inscribed on the funeral stone was usually done in Latin, with some exceptions in which they were written in Greek.

The Romanian National Museum of History also contains 7 sculptures which have been discovered in Moesia Inferior. There is only one sculpture which depicts a male personage, whereas the rest are representations of women in different postures.



In terms of architectural items, the museum has on display ruins from the ancient cities Tomis and Callatis. The Middle Ages are represented through various items with religious symbolism, engravings, gravestones as well as objects alluding to the architectural styles used in that period.

Taking into account that this is the national museum of Romania it is obvious that it contains bits and pieces from each of the ancient civilizations that have dwelt in the region such as the Hellenic civilization or the Dacians.



Everything from original documents, items of furniture, weaponry, manuscripts, paintings and numismatic collections can be found within the walls of the National Museum of History.

Valuable items, such as precious stones and items made of silver and gold are located in the subterranean vault. These items come in different shapes and sizes, such as golden idols, crucifixes, together with the treasure of the Visigoths (Germanic people) and that of the royal family.

There are numerous objects of immense value located in the National Museum of History, each of them contributing to the rewriting of Romania’s history.

Jul 05

The State Hermitage (Muzeul de Arta)

The State Hermitage, also known as the Federal Cultural Institution “State Hermitage,” is one of the greatest museam complex in Russia. The institution took form back in the 18th century (1764) when the Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great, purchased from Berlin an impressive number of paintings from Eastern Europe (225 paintings of Flemish and Dutch origin).

In time, the musem expanded and increased the number of works of arts it possessed. At present, the complex consists of various buildings spread throughout Sankt Petersburg. From the 10 edifices which form the State Hermitage, 7 date from the 18th and 19th century and are cultural monuments. The Winter Palace, the Menshikov Palace, the Small Hermitage, the Old Hermitage, the New Hermitage, the Restoration and Storage Center, The Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory are but a few of the edifices under the patronage of the State Hermitage.



The Main Museum Complex, as it is obvious from the name it bears, consists of the most important and largest collections of art works. The exhibitions are held in 6 different buildings, all located in the historical center of Sankt Petersburg. The pieces on display belong to the following categories: archeology, numismatics, and various works of art (scluptures, paintings, monuments) from Western Europe, countries in the Orient, Russia, as well as pieces dating from Antiquity.

In order to comprehed the magnitute of the collections, you should know that the museum complex holds within its walls approximately 3 million items. With such a collection it is no wonder that more than 2.5 million visitors, both from Russia and from abroad had come to the State Hermitage.




If you are not yet convinced whether or not you should visit the museum, maybe a short presentation of some of the works of art that exist here might help you make the right decision. The State Hermitage has a Military Gallery, which dates from 1826, and which Carlo Rossi (the man behind the project) had dedicated to the acts of bravery of the Russian soldiers that had fought in the Napoleonic Wars (1812). The Gallery contains 332 portraits of the generals who took part in the aforementioned wars, painted by George Dawe, of British origin, in collaboration with the Russian painters Alexander Polyakov and Wilhelm Golike.



The gallery was inaugurated on the 25th of October 1826, the exact same date (but different year, naturally) when the Napoleon’s army was expulsed from Russia.

A valuable painting found here is Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna and Child, which was purchased in 1865 from Count Litta, owner of a gallery in Milan. The Count wanted to sell a considerable collection of paintings, 44 in number, but the director of the State Hermitage selected just four from the list presented to him. The total price for the works of art reached 100,000 francs and while all of the paintings are valuable, the Litta Madonna, as it became known, was the most important of them all.



The Madonna and Child (Conestabile Madonna), painted by Raphael, was added to the museum collection in 1870. The Madonna with a Flower, by Leonardo da Vinci, is on display since 1914, when the Russian population engaged in a fund-raising to gather enough money to buy the masterpiece from Maria Benois. The painting was finally acquired for the sum of 150,000 roubles – the owner, having been moved by the Russians’ detemination to add the painting to the Collection of the State Hermitage, decided to sell it at a smaller price.

But the works of art on display are numerous and all of them carry an immense value. Not only connoisseurs, but also novices in the field of fine arts will recognize their worth.