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Recent Community Reviews

1036 of 1073 WHS have been reviewed by our community.

Island of Gorée Michael Novins, 19-Jun-18

Island of Gorée

I spent several days in Dakar in June 2018.  On my first morning, I caught an early ferry to Île de Gorée, which, at least according to UNESCO, was the largest slave-trading center on the African coast from the 15th century to abolition in the 19th century. Although many historians disagree with that assessment, Île de Gorée has become an essential stop for the African diaspora, including President and Mrs. Obama, who visited the Maison des Esclaves and its windowless cells and “door of no return” in 2013. I also visited the slave house, even though academics have generally agreed since the 1990s that the house was more likely to have been a private home than to have been involved in the slave trade. Whether or not Île de Gorée played an important role in the transatlantic slave trade, the small island has become a moving place to contemplate the human toll of African slavery.

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Kunta Kinteh Island Michael Novins, 19-Jun-18

Kunta Kinteh Island

Having spent five days in The Gambia in early June 2018, it’s easy to appreciate why the smallest nation on the African continent has been nicknamed The Smiling Coast of Africa. I organized two full-day tours with Arch Tours. Since I traveled during shoulder season, I wasn't able to join group tours, so Arch Tours graciously charged me the same price for an individual tour as I would have paid for a group tour -- and traveling in June allowed me to have each site to myself. Each tour company runs a variation of a tour to visit several sites in one day. On Arch's Four Tours in One Day, I visited Serekunda Market, the country's largest (although I later visited Albert Market in Banjul, which seems just as large, better organized and more photogenic); Kachikally Crocodile Pool, a popular destination for women struggling with getting pregnant, who come from around The Gambia to douse themselves in its supposedly curative water; Abuko Livestock Market, the largest cattle, sheep and goat market in The Gambia; and a fishing beach, where the daily catch is smoked or salted under the hot sun.

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Parc Naturel de Fogo – Chã das Caldeiras (T) Wojciech Fedoruk, 20-Jun-18

Parc Naturel de Fogo – Chã das Caldeiras (T)

The island of Fogo is quite small, but it has the highest peak of Cape Verde, active volcano Pico de Fogo. The volcano and its surroundings (with natural boundaries of its caldera) are protected as a national park. Although the landscape is moonscape-like and, at least at the first glance, not friendly, due to mild climate and rich soil people always lived in the caldera, planting coffee and grapewine. They even developed original rounded houses, made from volcanic materials and called funco. Unfortunately, happy life in the caldera is frequently interrupted by eruptions of smaller peak of Fogo (Pico Pequeno). The last one took place in 2014 and lasted for four months. It was very slow so people had time to leave the village taking everything valuable. Although almost all buildings were covered with lava and destroyed, immediately after the eruption the inhabitants came back and started constructing new houses, literally “level up”, on top of the remnants of old ones.

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Archaeological site of Philippi Solivagant, 18-Jun-18

Archaeological site of Philippi

Oct 2017 - Another day in Greece….. another “Greek” ruin….! Well not really - ok Philippi is in Greece and was named by Philip II of Macedon in 356BC when he captured it for its nearby gold mines and strategic position, but this is no Delphi or Delos. There are some remains of “Greek” civilisation - but what you are going to see is primarily a late Roman colony planned as “Colonia Victrix Philippensium”. This occurred as “late” as 30BC following the Battle of Philippi 10 years earlier, and the city then developed into an early centre of Christianity - particularly from the 4th C, until it withered in the late 6th C.

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Convent of Christ in Tomar Hubert, 20-Jun-18

Convent of Christ in Tomar

Initially I was skeptical whether it would be a good idea to visit three monasteries on two consecutive days. Or whether it would be rather an overkill of sacral architecture. But it turned out to be an enjoyable and instructive experience to visit them one after another and directly compare the different styles: the rather plain and sober Alcobaça, the flamboyant Batalha, and the fortress-like Tomar. The three monasteries could not be more different, hardly possible to say which one was my favourite.

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Blog: WHS #662: Mtskheta

The Historical Monuments of Mtskheta are all about the Georgian Orthodox Church, celebrating the introduction of Christianity in Georgia in the year 317. Three medieval religious buildings in the ancient capital of Mtskheta were selected to represent different phases in Georgian ecclesiastical architecture: the Jvari Monastery, the Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral and the Samtavro Monastery.

Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral

Mtskheta is an easy half day trip from the capital Tbilisi by marshrutka. Once you have arrived within the town limits of Mtskheta, you have to pay attention where to exit the bus - the trick is to stay on until you are right in front of the big cathedral, ignoring all the loops it does first around town and across the river. I spent about 3 hours in Mtskheta, including a ride back and forth by taxi to the Jvari monastery on a hill outside the city.

The Svetitstkhoveli cathedral towers high above everything in the city. One enters through a large gate, with two bull heads on both sides: these are pagan fertility symbols. The courtyard is very spacious, with a neat lawn that is forbidden to walk on. The outer walls of the cathedral display some interesting reliefs, made out of red stone that stands out against the grey of the rest. In general though, I found the reliefs here in Georgia to be quite simple. It may be a result of local taste or a sign of lack of wealth that decoration is so limited.

In comparison to the other churches that I have seen so far in Georgia, the cathedral looks more like an 'ordinary' church. The high elongated nave, which you see in many European churches as well, makes the interior less dark. A very large painted image of Christ looks down on the congregation from above the altar. There is a beautiful iconostasis. Believers light candles in front of the many icons.

The Cross in Jvari Monastery

The Samtavro Monastery lies a 10-minute walk away from the cathedral (stop for lunch at the lovely ladies of Café Guga, which lies en route!). Samtavro is an active nunnery, and I encountered black-dressed nuns sweeping and selling candles. You can also obtain bottles of holy water here. Of the three inscribed monuments in Mtskheta, this is the most religious in character. Important figures from the history of the Georgian Orthodox church are buried here.

Jvari monastery balances very nicely on a cliff far above the city. As with all attractions where I have been during my first two days in Georgia, it is very busy here and the parking lot is full with vans and taxis. This monastery dates back to the 6th century, making it the oldest of the three monuments of Mtskheta. It has 4 apses (semicircular niches) which makes it a tetraconch. It is the prototype of many Georgian churches. Inside there is one open space, with a large wooden cross in the middle. 'Jvari' means Monastery of the Cross: already in the 4th century a large wooden cross was placed on top of the hill as a symbol of the victory of Christianity on the pagans. It is precisely on that spot that this church was built.

Mysterious relief on the exterior of Jvari

I found 2 of the 3 monuments certainly worth a visit: the cathedral because of its size and wall paintings and the Jvari monastery because of its somewhat mystique atmosphere. They give you a glimpse into the world of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which traditions and religious views for an outsider like me are hard to grasp.

Published 20 June 2018

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