Berat

BERAT, the City of a Thousand Windows, in South – Central Albania, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (2008).

Berat Albania


The Balkan-style houses  climb up the side of the hill upon which the 13th century BERAT CASTLE is situated.  These houses, belonging to the late 18th and the 19th centuries, typically have two floors with a ground floor mad of stone and a prominent upper floor painted white and roofs covered with red ceramic tiles.  They have large wooden windows which, because of the steepness of the hill and the construction of the houses, appear to be stacked one over the other  This view has earned BERAT, the moniker The City of a Thousand Windows.

The name of the city, in Albanian, is BERAT or BERATI, meaning “White City”.  According to local legend, the TOMORR Mountain, was originally a Giant who fought with another Giant, called SHPIRAG, over a young woman.  They killed each other and the girl drowned in her tears, which then became the OSUM River.  Mount Shpirag, named after the second giant, is on the left bank of the gorge.  Berat is also known to the Albanians as the City of One Above  Another Windows or The City of 2,000 Steps.

Landmarks :

(1) BERAT CASTLE

Berat Castle


The co-existence of religious and cultural communities, over several centuries, is apparent in Berat.  The main entrance, on the north side, is defended by a fortified courtyard and there three smaller entrances.  The fortress of Berat, in its present state, even though considerably damaged, remains a magnificent sight.  The surface that is encompassed made it possible to house a considerable portion of the town’s inhabitants.  The buildings inside the fortress were built during the 13th century and, because of their characteristic architecture, are preserved as cultural monuments.  The population of the fortress was Christian and it had about 20 Churches and only 1 Mosque for the use of the Muslim Garrison (of which there survives only a few ruins and the base of the Minaret).

(2) CHURCH of Saint Mary of BLACHERNAE :

Church of Mary of BLACHERNAE


Dating from the 13th century, it has 16th century mural painting.  In a small tree-planted square, on a hillside in side the walls of the fortress, stands the 14th century CHURCH of the HOLY TRINITY.  It is built in the form of a Cross and has Byzantine Murals.  Outside the ramparts, is the CURCH of SAINT MICHAEL (13th century) which is reached by a steep but perfectly safe path.  Near the entrance, after a guardhouse, is the CHURCH of SAINT THEODORE.  The most interesting is the CATHEDRAL of SAINT NICHOLAS, which has been well-restored and is now a Museum.


Gorica bridge Albania


(3) GORICA BRIDGE , which connects the two parts of Berat, was originally built from wood in 1780 and was rebuilt with stone in the 1920s.  The seven-arch bridge is 423ft long and 17ft wide and is built about 33ft above the average water level.  According to local legend, the original wooden bridge contained a dungeon in which a girl would be incarcerated and starved to appease the spirits responsible for the safety of the bridge.

Modica

Modica


MODICA (Sicilian : MUORICA ; Greek : MOTOUKA ; Latin : MUTYCA) is a city and commune in the Province of RAGUSA, Sicily, southern Italy.

According to THUCYDIDES, the city was founded in 1360 BC and was inhabited by SICELS in the 7th century BC.  It was probably a dependency of Syracuse.  MODICA was occupied by the Romans after the battle of the EGADI ISLANDS against the Carthaginians in the PUNIC WARS (241 BC), together with Syracuse and all of Sicily.  MODICA became one of the 35 DECUMAN (spontaneously submitted) cities of the island and was oppressed by the praetor VERRES.  It became an independent MUNICIPIUM, and apparently a place of some consequence.  The city is also mentioned among the island towns both by Pliny and Ptolemy, and though its name is not found in the itineraries, it is again mentioned by the Geographer of Ravenna.

Modica


In 845, MODICA was captured by the Arabs during the Muslim Conquest of Sicily.  They referred to the city as MUDIQAH.  The year after its capture, the Arabs fortified its citadels and it, subsequently, prospered under their rule.  In 1091, the conquest of MODICA and the entire VAL di NOTO, ended the long-lasting war of the Normans, led by Roger of Hauteville, against the Arabs.

On Assumption Day (August 15, 1474), Christians wrecked brutal havoc on the Jewish dwellers of the CARTELLONE area of MODICA, the so-called STRAGE dell ASSUNTA (Massacre of the Assumption).
Later, an earthquake of 1693 destroyed the entire VAL di NOTO, and to a slighter lesser extent, in MODICA.  Annexed to Italy in 1860, MODICA remained the District Capital until 1926, when it was included in the Province of Ragusa.
MODICA consists of two urban centres : MODICA ALTA (Upper Modica) and MODICA BASSA (Lower Modica).  The older upper part is perched on the rocky top of the southern IBELI Hill, the lower part is built on the lower slopes and valley below.  The walk down from MODICA ALTA to MODICA BASSA reveals vistas of the lower town and involves many steps, and not many attempt the reverse journey on foot.

Modica San Gieogio


During the last century, the city has extended and developed new suburbs which include SACRO CUORE (or SORDA), MONSERRATO, IDRIA, these are often referred to as Modern MODICA, and both old and modern quarters of the city are today joined by one of Europe’s high bridge, the GUERRIERI Bridge that is 980ft long.

Despite being ravaged by earthquakes in 1613 & 1693, and floods in 1833, MODICA has retained some of the most beautiful architecture in Sicily.  Much of the city was rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake with imposing and conspicuous urban monuments in the Sicilian Baroque Style.
The large Baroque Cathedral of SAN GIORGIO, is dedicated to Saint George.  While the Cathedral was rebuilt following the earthquake of 1693, like many other parts of the city, its roots are in the Middle Ages.  From the front of the Cathedral, a staircase of 300 steps leads down towards MODICA BASSA.

Palazzo Mercedari


Another notable Church is SAN PIETRO, dedicated to Saint Peter, featuring a principal façade, crowned by a typical Sicilian Baroque bell-tower, 161ft high.
MERCEDARI PALACE or PALAZZO MERCEDARI is a Palace and civic ethnographical museum, built in the 18th century, as a place for the Fathers of MERCEDARI, attached to the S. Maria del Grazie Sanctuary.  Today, the Palace contains the Library and Museum.  It often hosts Classical Music Recitals.

San Pietro Modica


The economy  the area once principally agricultural produces olives, carobs, legumes, cereals.  An extraordinary product is the famous CHOCOLATE of MODICA, produced with an ancient and original Aztec recipe.  The city now has factories producing textiles, furniture and cars.  Tourism is also an important industry, since MODICA entered the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.


Modica chocolate


This incredible town melts the heart of any visitor, and is a dream destination for anyone who loves art, food and having fun.  It is a spot of the world in everyone’s heart.  MODICA is a place to go to in all seasons ——– charming in winter and amazing under summer’s light and whoever has the chance to pass through MODICA, will never forget the sunsets over the sea and the bars on the beach.  During the mild winters, the quaint village streets are full of young people and great music.  All year round, MODICA never disappoints its visitors., who will hardly resist a second bite.

Heddal Stavkirke

Heddal Stavkirke Norway

HEDDAL STAVKIRKE also known as HEDDAL STAVE CHURCH, a Norwegian Cultural Heritage Site, is a “triple-nave” stave church, located at Heddal in Notodden municipality, Norway, and is Norway’s largest stave church.
It was constructed at the beginning of the 13th century.  After the Reformation, the church was in a very poor condition and a restoration took place during 1849-1851.  However, because the restorers lacked the necessary knowledge and skills, yet another restoration was necessary in the 1950s.  The interior is marked by the period after the Lutheran Reformation in 1536-1537 and is, for a greater part, a result of the restoration that took place in the 1950s.

Heddal Stavkirke


There is a legend about the erection of the church and how it was built in 3 days.  Five farmers from Heddal had made plans for a church and they decided to build it.  One day one of the farmers met a stranger who was willing to build the church.  However, the stranger set down some conditions for doing the job, one of which was to be fulfilled before the church was finished.  There were three options : fetch the sun and the moon from the sky, forfeit his life-blood or guess the name of the stranger.  The farmer thought that the last option would not prove too difficult, so he agreed to the terms.

1280px-Heddal_Stavkirke_-_Interior


But time began to run out.  All the building materials had arrived during the first night, and remarkably the spire was built during the second.  It became clear to the farmer that the church would be finished on the third day. Down at heart and fearing for his life, he took a walk around in the fields trying to figure out what the stranger’s name could be.  Still wandering about, he had consciously arrived at SVINTRUBERGET ( a rocky hill southeast of the church site), when he suddenly heard a strange, but most beautiful clearly audible female voice : Hush-hush little child /  Tomorrow your father, Finn, will bring you the sun and the moon from the sky / Or a Christian man’s heart / As fun and games for my baby.
Now the farmer knew what to do, as the stranger was a “mountain troll”.  As expected, the stranger came by the next day to present the church.  Together, they walked over to the church, and the farmer walked up to one of the pillars and hugged it as if to straighten it and said, “Hey, Finn, this pillar isn’t straight.”  When the “troll” heard his name, he got mad and he punched the same pillar so hard that it nearly broke.  He then ran out of the church and up a hill.  From there he threw 3 huge boulders aimed at the church.  One fell to the left and one to the right and the 3rd one fell just outside the gate to the graveyard.  They were ringing the church bells when this was going on, and that is why the 3rd boulder did not hit the church.  Finn moved, along with his family, to HIMING.
In Norway alone, it was thought about 1000 “stave churches” were built, recent research has upped the number to about 2,000.  Many of them survived until the 19th century, while a substantial number were destroyed.  Today, 28 historical stave churches remain standing in Norway.

Heddal_Stavkirke_-_Autel


A STAVE CHURCH is a medieval wooden Christian church building, once common in north-western Europe.  The name derives from the building’s structure of POST & LINTEL construction, a type of TIMBER FRAMING where the “load-bearing posts” are called STAFR (in old Norse) and STAV in modern Norwegian.  Two related church building type, also named for their structural elements, the POST CHURCH & PALISADE CHURCH, are often also called STAVE CHURCHES.
Originally much more widespread, most of the surviving “stave churches” are in Norway.  The only remaining medieval stave church, outside Norway, are those of circa1500 at HEDARED in Sweden and one Norwegian stave church, relocated in 1842 to the outskirts of Poland.  One other church, the ANGLO-SAXON GREENSTED CHURCH in England, exhibits many similarities with a stave church, but is generally considered a Palisade Church.

Heddal_stavkirke_Notodden

In Palisade constructions, logs were split in 2 halves, set or rammed into the earth (generally called “post in ground” construction) and given a roof.  This proved a simple but very strong form of construction.  If set in gravel, the wall could last many decades, even centuries.  In Post Churches, the walls were supported by “sills”, leaving only the posts earth-bound.  Such churches are easy to spot at archaeological sites, as they leave very distinct holes where the posts were once placed.  The earth-bound posts were susceptible to humidity causing them to rot away over time.  To prevent this, the posts were placed on top of large stones, significantly increasing their lifespans.  In still later churches, the posts were set on a “raised sill frame” resting on stone foundations.  This is a stave church in its most mature form.

Church of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception

This Church was one of the first to be built in Goa (1541).  The early Church was completely rebuilt from its foundation in 1619, and, this was even considered taking into account the still negligible population of the area, and the size of the new Church is a striking commentary of the religious climate of the time and the wealth available to the Church.

church-of-our-lady-of-immaculate-conception-goa


It was first built as a “chapel” by the Portuguese, and then replaced by a larger Church as seen now, in a “wedding cake shape”.  The façade of the Church is painted in pure white like “white toothpaste” and is built in “Baroque” architecture.  The Church is located in Panaji, with the municipal gardens (church’s gardens) in its foreground.  It was the location of an old port when ships sailing from Lisbon used to make the 1st call where sailors disembarked, before they proceeded further inland in to ELA (now Old Goa), which was the capital of Goa till the 19th century.  A “laterite walkway” and a straight line of palm trees were part of the scene around the Church.
Initially a chapel” was built to cater to the spiritual needs of the sailors.  At that time it was a small water-logged fishing village.  It became a parish in 1600 and in 1609 the “chapel” was replaced by the present-day church.  In the 18th century, more additions were made to the church in the form of the stairways in a symmetrical “zigzag” form.  A large Church bell, the 2nd largest in Goa (the largest is a GOLDEN BELL at the Se Cathedral), which was part of the Augustinian Monastery of Holy Hill, was retrieved after the Monastery was damaged and installed in this Church in 1871.

Church of our lady of the immaculate conception


The “décor” inside the Church is not extravagant but fairly colourful.  The main altar, which has an elegant décor, is dedicated to Mary.  The 2 flanking altars, that catch the eye are, that on the left dedicated to Jesus Crucified and that on the right dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary.  Each is a riot of heavily gilded, deeply carved ornamentation, yet compact and controlled and a fine example of the period.  These 2 altars are flanked by marble statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.  There is also a chapel of Saint Francis Xavier, located in the south “transept” to the right side of the main altar, and the remains of Saint Francis Xavier are enclosed in a glass case.
The exterior surface of this Church is painted in white.  There is a large “belfry” which houses the polished bell that was retrieved from the Augustinian Monastery.  Next to the ropes, suspended to ring the bell, there is a warning sign stating : Please do not ring the bell.

Francis Xavier

On festive occasions, the wooden structural elements, which form part of the vaulted ceiling above the altars, are festooned with “twines” of blue and white flowers, an indication of the external colour scheme of the Church.  The Church conducts Mass every day in English, Konkani and Portuguese.  During the festival of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, held every year, on the 8th of March, the Church is colourfully illuminated.  A fair is also part of this festival.

Spa for the soul

We live in an age of doubts, confusion and criticism, where questions are often raised about the existence of God and methods of prayers offered.
Akshardham12First of all comes the million-dollar question : Does God exist ?
Vivekananda once defined darkness as the absence of light and cold as the absence of heat.
Taking a cue from him, we can define God as a presence of energy and faith as an absence of doubt.  The next question follows : If the energy is within us and our Soul or Atman is part of the Parmatman, then why do we build places of worship to establish communication with Him, and that too when most of the popular abodes of the Almighty are situated in remote locations or in high mountains ?
The reason why we visit places of worship, because the stone walls of the temple have absorbed the positive vibrations of prayers and thanksgiving sent by millions of devotees who come here.  Perhaps, the walls have even absorbed all the energies that the worshippers radiated.
After all, rarely would a person enter the hallowed premises of any place of worship with emotions of anger, revenge or any other kind of negative feeling.  So, logically the place would be overflowing with positive thoughts, humility and tranquillity.  The same would be absorbed and radiated back to subsequent worshippers.
Church_of_the_Infant_JesusThe idol of the deity in the sanctum sanctorum becomes the focal point.  It absorbs, radiates, re-absorbs and re-radiates.  So, going to places of worship is the best possible way to recharge your dwindling batteries of energy, hope and faith.  They are “spas” that rejuvenate your soul.  The best part is that this “energy therapy”  comes “free”, and if anyone tells you that you need to pay a price for it by way of donations and offerings, then he is conning you.
 Have you ever realised that after a long walk, you feel light and healthy ?  That is because the activity helps you shed your troubles and travails.  Perhaps that was the reason why our forefathers built places of worship in faraway places, away from the humdrum of daily life.  The long walk to the shrine was intended to be therapeutic.  It lifted you out of your lethargy, gave you a purpose and focussed your thoughts on that which was closest to your heart at that point of time, thus giving you clarity of vision and determination of purpose. –
So, don’t hesitate to establish your connect with the Creator.  Reach out and feel the all-pervading energy that makes the world go around.
—————- D. D. Sharma.  

Goreme National Park

cappadocia-2

Goreme ( in Ancient Greek — Korama) , located among the “fairy chimney” rock formations, is a town in Cappadocia, Nevsehir Province in Central Anatolia and has a population of around 2,500 people. ———–Former names of the town have been Korama, Macean and Avcilar.  When the Goreme Valley, nearby, was designated an important tourist destination, a “centre” for all tourism in Cappadocia, the name of the town was changed to “Goreme” for practical reasons.  The Goreme National Park was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.

Goreme national park

The location of Goreme was first settled back in the Roman Period.  Christianity was then the prevailing religion in the region, which is evident from many “Rock Churches” that can still be seen today. —– Among Goreme’s historically important sites are Ortahane, Durmus Kadir, Bezirhane Church, in addition to the richly-decorated Tokali Kilise, the Apple Church and a number of homes and pigeon house carved straight into the rock formations in the town.

goreme church

In a spectacular landscape, entirely sculpted by erosion, the Goreme Valley and its surroundings contain rock-hewn sanctuaries that provide unique evidence of Byzantine Art in the post-Iconoclastic period.  Dwellings, troglodyte villages and underground towns —— the remains of a traditional human habitat dating back to the 4th century —— can also be seen there.
Located on the central Anatolia Plateau within a volcanic landscape, sculpted by erosion to form a succession of mountain ridges, valleys and pinnacles known as “fairy chimneys” or “hoodoos”.
The area is bounded on the south and east by ranges of extinct volcanoes with Erciyes Dag (3,916m) at one end and Hasan Dag (3,253m) at the other.  The density of its rock-hewn cells, churches, troglodyte villages and underground  cities within the
e280a2-tokali-kilise-church-of-the-buckle-dscn1292rock formations, make it one of the world’s most striking and largest cave-dwelling complexes.  The Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia, have been extensively used and modified by man for many centuries, and is a landscape of harmony combining human interaction and settlement with dramatic natural landforms.  There has been some earthquake damage to some of the cones and pillars, but this is seen as a naturally occurring phenomenon.  Overuse by tourists and some vandalism have been reported and some incompatible structures have been introduced.

tokali3

The erosional processes, that formed the conical rock structures, will continue to create new “fairy chimneys” and rock pillars .  However, due to the rate of this process, the natural value of the property may still be threatened by unsustainable use.

Tokali Kilise (Church of the Buckle), Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

The World Heritage Property ——— Goreme National Park and the rock sites of Cappadocia is subject to legal protection in accordance with both the Protection of Cultural and Natural Resources Acts.  The entire territory between the cities of Nevsehir, Urgup and Avanos is designated as a National Park.  In addition, archaeological and natural conservation areas, 2 underground towns, 5 troglodyte villages and more than 200 individual rock-hewn churches, some of which contain numerous frescoes, have been entered into the register of immovable monuments and sites.

550_fairychimneys


Blessed is he

Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me ——(Luke 7:23) . 
It is sometimes very difficult not to be offended in God.  The offences may be CIRCUMSTANTIAL.  I find myself in a narrow sphere, an un popular position, when I had hoped for wide opportunities.  But He knows what is best for me.  My environment is of His determining.  He allows it to intensify my faith, to draw me into nearer communion with Himself.
The offence may be MENTAL.  I am haunted by perplexities and questions which I cannot solve.  I had hoped that my sky would always be clear, but, often, it is overspread by mist and cloud.  Yet, by my intellectual conflicts, I am trained to be a tutor to other storm-driven men.
The offence may be SPIRITUAL.  I had fancied that I should never feel the biting winds of temptation, but it is best as it is.  His grace is magnified.  My own character is matured.  His will is welcome.
22_jesus-is-coming
Blessed is he whose faith is not offended
When all around his way
The power of God is working out deliverance
For others day by day.
Though in some prison drear his own soul languish
Till life itself be spent
Yet still can trust His Father’s love and purpose
And rest therein content.
Blessed is he who through long years of suffering
Cut off from active toil
Still shares by prayer and praise the work of others
And thus “divides the spoils”.
Blessed art thou, o child of God who suffers
And canst not understand
The reason for thy pain, yet gladly leaves
Thy life in His blest Hand.
Yea, blessed art thou whose faith is “not offended”
By trials unexplained
By mysteries unsolved, past understanding
Until the goal is gained.
———– Freda Hanbury Allen.