In 2003, I visited Sigiriya while on a field study abroad in grad school. At the time, I was struck by the formal similarities between it and the Renaissance gardens I was learning about in landscape history classes, despite Sigiriya having been built more than a millennium earlier. I was also struck by the apparent ingenuity and technical ability of these ancient builders in shaping the land and hydrologic systems. The gardens not only feature fountains that function to this day, but the surrounding area, which is located on the highlands in the central part of the island, features ancient aqueducts used to capture water for agricultural irrigation.
Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is an island nation about the size of Ireland located in the Indian Ocean just offshore from India. It’s most familiar to modern-day Americans for its long-running civil war that ended in May of 2009 and for being the cultural homeland of London-born rapper M.I.A. Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in the central portion of the island.
Think you know Malta? This Mediterranean island is often viewed as a place for cheap beach breaks – but there is much more to this sunspot than sun and sand, says Gareth Huw Davies.
For a country half the size of London, Malta packs a mighty punch.
It has archeological sites older than the Pyramids, the Parthenon and even Stonehenge. The capital Valletta was once known to the ruling houses of Europe as Superbissima – meaning ‘most proud’.
Benjamin Disraeli named it ‘a city of palaces built by gentlemen for gentlemen’. Unesco has put this marvellously well-preserved 16th century walled city on its elite list of World Heritage Sites, judging its crush of 320 churches, palazzos and fortifications one of the world’s most impressive historic areas.
Then there are the Maltese themselves, drawn from stock so brave the whole country was given the George Cross.
If you are drawing up a bucket list, here’s what should feature pretty high up — visiting Venice. There is no place like it on earth and it’s pretty easy to see why. Walk out of the Venezia Santa Lucia train station if you are arriving by land and it is like being embedded in a fairy tale. Opening out in front of you is this historic, unique city built entirely on water. In fact, you emerge facing the Grand Canal, the city’s main aquatic thoroughfare which snakes its way through Venice, under ancient bridges enshrined in history and literature (including the Rialto of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice) and is connected to smaller canals which lead to different sections of Venezia, as the locals call it. It is a grand entrance to a place where the waterways are the only way to get around; this is the only city in the world that is for pedestrians only, no vehicular traffic except for the famous gondolas and the vaporetto, the water buses, or private water taxis that ferry tourists and locals around.
This archipelago home to Ulysses also boasts delightful local cuisine and a man-made and natural wonders on land and in the emerald waters surrounding it.
Standing on a cliff overlooking the near-deserted beach in Ramla Bay on the northern shore of Gozo — the second largest of the islands that make up the Maltese archipelago — the mind easily wanders to the vast swathes of time that have passed while this tranquil scene in a little-known corner of Europe has remained unchanged, a sleepy witness to little of significance while the world developed at a frantic pace elsewhere.
Yet Malta — a cluster of three inhabited islands in the central Mediterranean that together cover just over 300 square kilometres — has actually seen more human history than almost anywhere else in the world, around 6,000 years in total. Even the small slice at Ramla Bay is home to a story.
Tallinn is a medieval wonderland. The capital of Estonia isn’t on a lot of people’s bucket list but anyone at all interested in history, architecture or art will love this place.
The central attraction is Old Town, a medieval walled city filled with old buildings and fortifications. The sheltered bay and the easily defended Toompea Hill made it a natural place to settle. Sometime about 1050 A.D. a fortress was built atop the hill, the first of many. In 1219 the Danes showed up as part of the Northern Crusade to subjugate the Baltics and convert the local pagans to Christianity whether they wanted to or not.
The Danes improved the fortifications and expanded the town, which became part of the Hanseatic League, a trading organization of a hundred northern cities. The Danes sold Tallinn to the Livonan Order, a branch of the Teutonic Knights, in 1346. The Swedes came next in 1561. Tallinn weathered plague and the Great Northern War and became part of Russia in 1710. In 1918, Estonia declared independence from Russia and fought a bitter war against Bolshevik Russia.
Dubrovnik’s imposing and impressive walls are its marquee monument. It costs a pricey 70 HRK (about $12.60) to walk along them, but the views looking down over locals going about their day beneath vermilion roofs and limestone towers is worth the price. Getting up to the battlements early or late in the day avoids both the crowds, and, in summer, the unremitting heat.
I didn’t travel to Porto for the wine or the sea food or even the churches and towers covered in Azule tiles. I traveled to Porto mostly because I had an image in my mind of colorful low-rise buildings streaming down the hills all the way to the river; an image I had to see in my own eyes and shoot with my camera.
But don’t get me wrong. I loved the wine! – I drank three kinds of Port wine in one lunch and one dinner. I loved the food! – I ate in Rui Paula’s DOP gourmet restaurant a five-fish dish, which I had to eat only clockwise and I loved the Azulejo tiles! – I didn’t stop shooting them.