Tag: Churches

Paris’ Church of Saint Sulpice

Paris’ Church of Saint Sulpice

When I went to Paris earlier this year, I stayed in the most amazing Airbnb. It was super small and stuck up on the top floor of a large building with an open courtyard. Normally, it was not a place I would have chosen. But when I discovered that the tiny little apartment had a view of the Eiffel Tower, I booked it almost immediately. Because, my friends, if you are going to Paris, you might as well stay someplace that reminds you you’re in Paris every time you glance toward the window.

View of the Church of Saint Sulpice and the Eiffel Tower from my Airbnb in Paris

*sigh*

Okay, back to business. When I gazed out the window at the Eiffel Tower, I couldn’t help but notice the church off to the right with the two round towers. I consulted the map, determined that I had a great view of the Church of Saint Sulpice, and decided to check it out. I was glad I did, and I’ll tell you why you should visit the church when you’re in Paris.

The History

A church has existed on the site since the 13th century, and construction began on the present building in 1646. If you’re into architecture, the Church of Saint Sulpice has a lot to offer: concave walls, Corinthian columns, pilasters, balustrades, double colonnade, loggia, Ionic order, and a bunch of other features about which, sadly, I have no clue.

At one time, there was a solid-silver statue by Edmé Bouchardon. Cast from silverware donated by parishioners, it was known as “Our Lady of the Old Tableware”. Sadly, it disappeared during the French Revolution. However, a breathtaking white marble sculpture of Mary by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle replaced it:

By Selbymay – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

During the French Revolution (1789-1799), Robespierre established the Cult of the Supreme Being during the Revolution as the new state religion, replacing Catholicism. At that time, the Church of Saint Sulpice became a place of worship for The Supreme Being. A sign at the church entrance said “Le Peuple Français Reconnoit L’Etre Suprême Et L’Immortalité de L’Âme”’ (“The French people recognize the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul”).

The Art

Churches contain some of the most beautiful art in the world, and Saint Sulpice is no exception. It proudly displays not one, but three original murals by Eugene Delacroix.

A mural by French Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix at the Church of Saint Sulpice.

Eugene Delacroix, widely regarded as the leader of the French Romantic school of art, has three paintings in the Church of Saint Sulpice: The Expulsion of Heliodorus, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, and Saint Michael Vanquishing the Demon. The first two are murals that are over 23 feet high, and the third is a ceiling mural that stretches 16 feet across.

The thing that struck me most about Delacroix’s paintings was that they were full of movement. This was especially the case with The Expulsion of Heliodorus:

The Expulsion of Heliodorus by Eugene Delacroix, one of three murals by the artist at the Church of Saint Sulpice.
The Expulsion of Heliodorus by Eugene Delacroix

Figures tumble down toward the bottom of the frame. Others are caught with a weapon in their hand mid-swing. An urn is toppling over, and the horse is rearing back on his hind legs. Chaos erupts from every brushstroke. The story depicted here comes from the Catholic Bible, in the book of 2 Maccabees. In reading it, you can see how vividly Delacroix captured the action:

But Heliodorus carried on with what had been decided. When he and his spearmen approached the treasury, however, the ruler of all spirits and all authority made an awesome display, so that all those daring to come with Heliodorus fainted, terrified and awestruck by God’s power. A horse appeared to them with a fearsome rider and decked out with a beautiful saddle. While running furiously, the horse attacked Heliodorus with its front hooves. The rider appeared to be clothed in full body armor made of gold. Two young men also appeared before him—unmatched in bodily strength, of superb beauty, and with magnificent robes. They stood on either side of Heliodorus and beat him continuously with many blows.

2 Maccabees 3: 23-26, CEB

The other mural, directly across from the Heliodorus mural, depicts a semi-violent scene from Genesis, wherein Jacob wrestles with an angel.

Jacob Wrestling with an angel, a mural by Eugene Delacroix inside the Church of Saint Sulpice.
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Eugene Delacroix.
Note the French flag in the lower right corner.

This painting captures the pivotal moment in the Book of Genesis when Jacob’s receives a new name. No longer known as Jacob, from that moment forward he is Israel, which means “God contends”.

I loved the detail of the beautiful sculpture atop the tomb of Jean-Baptiste Languet de Gergy:

The tomb of Jean-Baptiste Languet de Gergy, a priest at the Church of Saint Sulpice in Paris.

It was under Languet de Gergy’s tenure as priest at the Church of Saint Sulpice that the gnomon (see below) was built. He is the central figure of the sculpture, with death behind him and an angel before him.

The Gnomon

By definition, a gnomon is the part of a sundial that casts a shadow. The gnomon of Saint Sulpice was constructed to establish the exact astronomical time. Why? In order to ring the bells at the most appropriate time of day. This astronomical device consists of three parts that work together. The first: a brass line set in the marble floor of the church, oriented along the north-south axis.

Second: a small round opening in the southern stained-glass window of the transept. The opening is about 75 feet up from the floor. Sunlight shines through that opening and creates a circle of light on the floor. At noon each day, that circle of light crosses the brass meridian line in the floor.

Third: an obelisk, illuminated near its top when the sun is at its lowest at midday.

The obelisk at the church of Saint Sulpice

If the obelisk did not exist, the sunlight would hit an area about 60 feet beyond the wall of the church.

As an aside, you may notice in the photo above that there is a large rectangular area on the right side of the obelisk’s inscription that appears damaged. It originally made reference to the King and his ministers. The revolutionaries removed that part of the inscription during the French Revoluton.

Claims to Fame

Some random bits of trivia about the Church of Saint Sulpice:

  • It is the second-largest church in all of Paris. Only Notre Dame Cathedral is bigger.
  • The two towers of the church do not match. The north tower was replaced in 1780 but due to the French Revolution, the south tower was never replaced.
  • The Marquis de Sade (from whom we get the word sadism) was baptized in the Church of Saint Sulpice.
  • Author Victor Hugo (Les Miserables) married his wife in the church.
  • The church’s Great Organ is legendary. It has 102 stops. I gather that this is a big deal; however, I know as much about organs as I do about architecture.
  • Then there’s that bestseller…

The Da Vinci Code Connection

The church of Saint Sulpice was featured in Dan Brown's bestselling novel, The DaVinci Code.

In Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, The DaVinci Code, the Church of Saint Sulpice was one of the key plot locations. In the novel, Brown refers to the gnomon of Saint Sulpice as “a vestige of the pagan temple that had once stood on this very spot,” although there is no evidence to support this. He also indicates that the meridian line running through Saint Sulpice is the Paris Meridian (which is actually about 2 kilometers away, at the Paris Observatory).

The novel misrepresented the Church of Saint Sulpice to such an extent that when Ron Howard wanted to use the church as a filming location for The DaVinci Code movie, the Archdiocese refused to allow it. Further, the church has had to serve as fact checker for fans of the book who have come to see the church in person. They display the following note:

Contrary to fanciful allegations in a recent best-selling novel, this [the line in the floor] is not a vestige of a pagan temple. No such temple ever existed in this place. It was never called a “Rose-Line”. It does not coincide with the meridian traced through the middle of the Paris Observatory, which serves as a reference for maps…. Please also note that the letters P and S in the small round windows at both ends of the transept refer to Peter and Sulpice, the patron saints of the church, and not an imaginary “Priory of Sion”.

— sign posted at the Church of Saint Sulpice

In the News

Oddly enough, while the Cathedral of Notre Dame caught fire a week after I left Paris, the Church of Saint Sulpice caught fire two weeks before I arrived. Some of the areas were not accessible to me, but at the time I did not know why. Other than some items oddly placed, like the chairs up against the gnomon in the photo above, I saw no evidence of a fire when I visited.

A stop at the Church of Saint Sulpice is a quick and easy addition to any itinerary, and it’s definitely worth a stop in between other destinations. When you’ve finished exploring the inside of the Church, be sure to take in the wonderful view and the gorgeous fountain in the plaza just outside.

Header image source: By Mbzt – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
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Can’t visit Notre Dame while it undergoes repairs? Check out the Church of Saint Sulpice, Paris’ second largest cathedral.
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My Notre Dame Cathedral Tour: 11 Days Before the Fire

My Notre Dame Cathedral Tour: 11 Days Before the Fire

On Monday, April 15, I returned to work after taking nearly two weeks off for my first solo trip – to Paris. I emailed my co-workers to let them know that I had brought a box of Parisian chocolates and some other souvenir trinkets for them.

Around mid-day, one co-worker emailed me back. He wasn’t in the office but had checked his work email from home. Did you hear about what is happening in Paris? he wanted to know.

I had no idea what was going on in Paris, so I Googled it. And my mouth fell open when I saw the news that Notre Dame Cathedral was on fire. Nothing could have prepared me to see the iconic church set ablaze while millions watched, helpless. Especially since I had been there just eleven days earlier.

But that wasn’t my first time visiting Notre Dame cathedral…

1984: My First Notre Dame Cathedral Tour

Notre Dame Cathedral Tour 1984 - I thought I was heading to the toilet and ended up atop the cathedral.

This photo was taken in April 1984, when I took a trip to Paris with our high school’s French Club. Now, I wasn’t studying French… I was taking Spanish. But they needed extra people to go on the trip, and because my Spanish teacher considered me “gifted” with foreign languages, I got to go. Even though the only French I knew was basically “oui” and “non.”

Part of the pre-departure lecture my parents gave me was to make sure that I got lots of pictures of me in front of “French things”. At the time I rolled my eyes and thought that was just silly. However, I’m glad I followed their instructions. This picture alone is worth it. Here’s why:

It was our first day in Paris and we attended mass at Notre Dame cathedral. Jet lagged and confused by all the French (or maybe it was Latin – I couldn’t tell), I nearly fell asleep during the service. When it ended, the teacher ushered us outside and began speaking to us in French. I’d venture to guess that everyone knew what she was saying except for me. I assumed by the vigorous head nodding and enthusiastic responses of “oui!” that she had asked if anyone needed to go to the bathroom. I certainly did! So I too nodded my head and said “oui” like everyone else.

Off we marched, back inside the cathedral, up a stone staircase that twisted and turned. Up, up, up. Imagine my surprise when we emerged not near a public bathroom, but at the top of the cathedral!

So, dutiful to my parents’ instructions, I had a friend snap this picture. I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m sneering a little because (a) I still needed to go pee, (b) I’m afraid of heights, and (c) the gargoyles were really quite creepy. For the rest of my time in Paris, I made sure that I understood the question before I said, “oui.”

35 Years Later…

On this trip to Paris, I flew from Newark NJ to Zurich and then from Zurich to Paris. Unfortunately, my luggage stopped in Zurich and didn’t accompany me to the City of Lights.

I usually travel with only a carry on – a practice to which I will now return! – and I was at a loss as to how to proceed without all of my stuff. The way I saw it, I had two options. I could hole up in my Airbnb and stay there until the courier brought my luggage. Or I could get over the jet lag, then go ahead and see the sights as I had originally planned.

After a two hour nap and a bit of a meltdown with an emotional call to Hubs at home, I decided upon the second option. After all, I had a plan for every day of my trip and missing one day would throw all of my other plans off kilter.

The next morning, I awoke rested and determined to not let a thing like missing luggage derail my vacation. After getting a call that my luggage would arrive around 2:00 in the afternoon, I headed off to see Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame, and the Deportation Memorial. All were located on Île de la Cité, one of two islands in the Seine River in Paris.

I’ll cover Sainte Chapelle and the Deportation Memorial in separate blog posts. Today, in light of the devastating fire that recently took place, I want to focus on Notre Dame Cathedral.

2019: My Second Notre Dame Cathedral Tour

Almost as soon as I arrived, the bells of Notre Dame started ringing:

As you can see, it was a beautiful day – all blue skies and sunshine. I stood outside the cathedral and took in all of the amazing architectural details.

Thought to be on the former site of a Roman temple to Jupiter, Notre Dame Cathedral has stood in Paris for over 850 years. Until the completion of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, the massive towers of Notre Dame were the tallest structure in the city of Paris (226 feet high).

I wish I could find a statistic for how many figures are carved into the stone facade of this amazing piece of Gothic architecture. Let’s just say a lot. But there’s a good reason for that. The cathedral is an example of a liber pauperum, or a “poor people’s book”, covered with sculptures that vividly illustrate biblical stories. During the era in which the cathedral was built, the vast majority of parishioners were illiterate. The only way they could learn about biblical stories was by looking at the figures carved into the church building.

For instance, if you face the towers of the cathedral, you will find above the middle doorway a vivid portrayal of the Final Judgment:

Notre Dame Cathedral Tour - the iconography of the central portal shows a vivid depiction of the Final Judgment.

Jesus sits on his throne in Heaven. Beneath his feet there are two figures holding scales. On the left is the archangel Michael; on the right, Satan. Each side of the scale holds a person whose life is being judged. Those who have been condemned are being led away by a demon on the right hand side.

The stained glass windows at Notre Dame are just beautiful. There are three circular “rose” windows, and the one on the west facade over the Final Judgment scene is the smallest. That said, the window still measures over 31 feet in diameter. From the outside of the church, you can see three figures in front of the rose window: the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus, and an angel on either side of her.

My Notre Dame Cathedral Tour - The Virgin Mary and two angels stand in front of the cathedral's smallest rose window on the western facade.

Below the window you will find statues of the 28 kings of Judah in “The Gallery of Kings”. During the French Revolution, rebels thought that the statues represented the kings of France. As a result, the angry French citizens lobbed off the heads of the statues. Fortunately, the statues have been restored, and you can see some of the old heads at the Cluny Museum in Paris.

While I stood there admiring the cathedral’s exterior, I started to notice some odd details that I might have overlooked if I hadn’t paused to take it all in. For instance, this poor fellow:

When taking a Notre Dame Cathedral tour, be sure to study the figures carved on the outside of the building.
I’m not sure who this king is, but a much larger man is standing on him!

Inside the Cathedral

As stunning as the outside of Notre Dame is, though, its real beauty lies within.

As with most Gothic cathedrals, Notre Dame has chapels on each side of the building. These alcoves, dedicated to saints, can hold some of the most beautiful artwork found inside the church building. For instance, a memorial to the 14th century heroine, Joan of Arc:

Notre Dame Cathedral tour - statue of Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc)
Statue of Joan of Arc

I especially liked this memorial, dedicated to Denis Auguste Affre, the Archbishop of Paris from 1840 to 1848. The phrase inscribed above his head translates to “May my blood be the last shed”.

Memorial to Denis Auguste Affre

Affre was led to believe that his personal involvement in the June Days uprising of 1848 could lead to peace between the French military and the insurgents. Mounting the military’s barricade, he waved a branch as a symbol of peace and began to speak. Insurgents heard some shots and suspected a betrayal, so they opened fire upon the National Guard. A stray bullet hit Affre, and he died two days later.

In another spot, there was a model depicting the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Notre Dame cathedral tour - model of cathedral's construction

The 14th century wall separating the choir from the main walkway of Notre Dame was decorated with stunning detail.

This scene shows Jesus with the apostles. the inscription, in Latin, says “Christ appears to the Apostles near Lake Tiberias” (Lake Tiberias = the Sea of Galilee). This scene constituted only a small portion of the scenes depicting the life of Jesus.

One massive piece of statuary that caught my eye was the mausoleum of the Earl of Harcourt:

Cancre [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Note that there are four figure here. An angel carelessly holding a torch, a woman kneeling as if pleading to someone, a man who appears to be coming out of a coffin, and a hooded skeleton holding an hourglass in his bony hand.

I read that this memorial’s name/theme was Conjugal Meeting. The angel has lifted the lid on the Count’s sarcophagus, and he has risen. The skeleton, AKA Death, is holding an hourglass to symbolize that the Countess’ time has come. The Countess is reaching out toward her husband and Death as if she is ready to join them. (She outlived her husband by ten and a half years.) It was beautiful and tragic all at the same time.

On a Notre Dame Cathedral tour, be sure to look for the three rose windows of stained glass.
The South Rose Window, one of three in Notre Dame Cathedral.

The south rose window was constructed in 1260, and most of the original thirteenth century stained glass is still intact, even after last week’s tragic fire. Larger than the west rose window that I wrote about earlier, this one measures more than 42 feet across. Unlike the north rose window, which features Old Testament prophets and kings, this one is dedicated to the New Testament.

The center medallion features Jesus reigning as King in Heaven. The sixteen panels beneath the south rose window feature the prophets of the Bible. The four center panels depict the great Old Testament prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel) carrying the four New Testament evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) on their shoulders.

From outside the cathedral, the south rose window looks like this:

A Notre Dame Cathedral tour offers glimpses of the church's three rose windows - from inside and outside the building.
The south end of Notre Dame’s transept, featuring the south rose window.

You can see the church spire sticking up above the roof in this photo. Sadly, the spire was completely destroyed by the fire.

At the very back of the Cathedral, I found a small area with the most venerated holy relic in France: the Crown of Thorns.

The Crown of Thorns display, as seen on my Notre Dame Cathedral Tour

The crown of thorns, worn by Jesus at the time of his crucifixion, has been in the possession of the French since 1238, when the Emperor of Constantinople gave it to King Louis IX.

King Louis IX had the cathedral of Sainte Chapelle built to receive and hold the crown of thorns and other holy relics. The crown stayed at Sainte Chapelle until the French Revolution, at which point authorities hid it at a different location. From 1806 until the fire, it was located in Notre Dame cathedral.

The reliquary holding the crown of thorns is in the case that you see between the candles in the above picture. A semi-translucent sheet of bright red material (resembling a cascade of blood) hangs over it. Through it, you can just make out the circular outline of the reliquary.

Inside the reliquary, the crown of thorns is actually thorn-less. Some 70 thorns were removed and distributed to holy sites across the world over the centuries, leaving just a band of rushes for this reliquary. One of the thorns was inside the rooster that sat atop the Notre Dame spire. The day after the fire, someone found the rooster in the rubble … dented but intact.

On the first Friday of every month at 3:00 p.m., the time of Jesus’ death, the faithful attend a special “veneration of the crown” church service.

Conclusion

The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral was certainly tragic, but it could have been much worse. I am so thankfully that I was able to see the beautiful building and all of its treasures before the fire took place. I am looking forward to the day when I hear that the cathedral has been fully restored and rebuilt. Until then, I will cherish the memories of my Notre Dame Cathedral Tour!

Iceland’s Diamond Circle: A Northern Iceland Itinerary

Iceland’s Diamond Circle: A Northern Iceland Itinerary

Iceland’s Diamond Circle

A Lesser Known Tourist Route

A search for things to do in Iceland will inevitably return pages of posts about Reykjavik and the Golden Circle. Far more information than you need, and most of it incredibly redundant. (This is why I chose not to write about the Golden Circle, and wrote about what you need to know about Iceland that other bloggers aren’t telling you instead.) Today, seven months after my trip to Iceland, I discovered something else that most people don’t write about: Iceland’s Diamond Circle. How I wish I had found out about this earlier!

Map of Iceland's Diamond Circle

My loss is your gain. Here’s what you need to know about all of the stops on northern Iceland’s Diamond Circle:

Húsavík

The town of Húsavík has a population of about 2,100 people. It is situated on the eastern side of Iceland’s northern coast, and is known as the whale watching capital of Iceland.

Iceland's Diamond Circle: Whale watching is one of the main activities for tourists in Husavik.
Husavik is the whale watching capital of Iceland.

The town even has a whale museum, which offers visitors exhibits on North Atlantic whale species, the whaling industry, and whale habitat and ecology. It also serves as a center for whale research and data collection.

Húsavík has two other museums as well. The Exploration Museum highlights the history of human exploration. The museum grounds contain a monument honoring the Apollo astronauts who trained in that area of Iceland during the 1960s. The Húsavík Museum centers its exhibits on culture and biology, with exhibits that include a stuffed polar bear that floated over to Iceland on an iceberg in 1969.

Iceland's Diamond Circle: The wood timber church in Husavik was built in 1907
Með Andreas Tille – eigin skrá, CC BY-SA 4.0

Húsavikurkirkja, the church in Húsavík shown above, is a wooden beauty that you should see if you are visiting the town. It was built in 1907 and is in the center of the town, facing the harbor.

Godafoss

Although I hadn’t come across the Diamond Circle in my research, I still managed to find one of the sites on the route. Godafoss is massive, and impressive. Visitors will have no difficulty imagining how they came to call it Waterfall of the Gods.

Iceland's Diamond Circle - Godafoss is just a slight detour off of the circle, but still a must-see in any weather!
My panoramic shot of Godafoss in February.

 

Iceland's Diamond Circle: Godafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods
Godafoss, as seen from above in warmer weather. (Source)

There’s a story about how, around 999 or 1000 AD, lawspeaker Thorgeir Ljósvetningagodi made Christianity the official religion of Iceland. To symbolize his parting with the old Norse religion and adoption of Christianity, he threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall. Most historians believe this to be a more modern story and not a true origin of the name. But still, it’s a great story, isn’t it?

Ásbyrgi Canyon (aka Shelter of the Gods)

Iceland's Diamond Circle: Asbyrgi Canyon is peaceful and a magical setting known as Shelter of the Gods.
Image via Flickr by Bods.

About 25 miles east of Husavik, there is a large horseshoe shaped depression in the land. According to Norse mythology, the rock formation of Asbyrgi was formed by the hoofprint of Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse. Scientists, on the other hand, speculate that it was most likely formed by catastrophic glacial flooding of a river 8-10,000 years ago, and then again 3,000 years ago. Sleipnir must have been a very big horse (as would befit Odin, right?), because the cliffs are some 300 feet high. The canyon is over two miles long, and 2/3 mile wide. It’s a magical place, and local lore has it that Iceland’s elves live in the cracks there.

Lake Myvatn

Lake Myvatn is the fourth largest lake in Iceland. It’s name is Icelandic for “Lake of Midges.” Not Tootsie Roll Midgees (alas!), but midges. That is, flies. If you heard that Iceland is heavenly because there are no mosquitoes there, you heard correctly. But unfortunately, no mosquitoes does not equal no insects, and if you think you needn’t fear summertime bug bites in this island country, you’re wrong.

However, don’t let that deter you from visiting Lake Myvatn. The scenery at the lake and in the surrounding area is stunning. The lake is in a very active geothermal area of Iceland, so one of the most popular things to do (other than admiring the gorgeous scenery) is the Myvatn Nature Baths. There, you can take a dip in the naturally hot waters of the lagoon, enjoy a steam bath, or both. Afterwards, you can enjoy a meal at the on-site restaurant.

Myvatn is also a popular spot for birdwatching, as there are more species of duck there than any other spot in the world. And Game of Thrones fans can explore the area to find Mance Rayder’s wildling camp (Dimmuborgir – see below) and the cave where Jon and Ygritte shared an evening together (Grjótagjá cave).

Iceland's Diamond Circle: The Myvatn Lake area has a unique geological feature known as pseudo craters
Aerial view of a pseudo crater at Lake Myvatn. (source)

Skútustadagígar in the Myvatn area also has something called pseudo-craters or rootless cones. They’re volcanic landforms that look like craters, but never had an actual eruption of lava. The craters are formed by steam explosions.

Dettifoss Waterfall

Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, with an average water flow of 633 cubic feet per second.

Iceland's Diamond Circle: Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe.
Image via Flickr by Michael Voelker

The falls are 330 feet wide and 144 feet high. Unfortunately, the roads that are closest to this site are closed during the winter, so it’s likely you will only be able to see this waterfall if you are visiting in the summer months.

Expanding the Circle

Iceland's Diamond Circle - expanded route with additional sites.

If you have more time, and you want to pepper your travels around Iceland’s Diamond Circle with additional sites, here are a few that you can easily add:

Dark Castles (Dimmuborgir)

Dimmuborgir consist of huge lava rock formations which make you feel like you stepped into another world. It’s no surprise that this place was the Games of Thrones setting for Mance Rayder’s wildling camp.

Iceland's Diamond Circle: Dimmuborgir lava formations create an alien looking landscape that was featured in Game of Thrones.
Photo via Flickr by µµ

The formation of these extraordinary lava cliffs and pillars is caused by lava ponds. Hot lava streamed over ponds, trapping the water underneath. Steam issued through vents in the lava pools and formed these pillars, which then remained standing even after the crust around them had gone away.

NB:  The rocks are brittle and fragile, so for your safety and out of respect for the beauty of Icelandplease do not attempt to climb on them.

Eider Falls (Æðafossar)

Eider Falls is very close (about 6 miles) from Húsavík. It isn’t a very big waterfall, but it is very picturesque, and it’s worth a stop. Just make sure you have good driving directions on how to get there. I’ve heard it’s a bit difficult to find, and there are few road signs to guide you.

The Echo Rocks (Hljodaklettar)

The “echo rocks” or Hljódaklettar, are basalt columns lying in several different directions. Because of their haphazard arrangement, they create unique formations and arched caves that make eerie echoes and reverberations. You may also see basalt rosettes, which are developed when the lava stream forming the columns cools from all sides simultaneously. You can see one, possibly two, in the photo below.

Iceland's Diamond Circle: A basalt rosette is one of the unique formations you can see at Hljóðaklettar
Photo via Flickr by Sveinn Erlendsson

From the parking lot, there are two marked hiking paths. One (a path marked in blue) is a 1 km easy stroll that will take roughly 30 minutes, while the other (marked red) is a challenging circle around the area that takes about 2 hours to complete.

Laugar

Another hot spot of geothermal activity (pun fully intended), Laugar’s claim to fame is its swimming pool. Surrounded by rolling hills, the pool at Laugar is over 80 feet long with a temperature around 85°F.  In addition to the swimming pool, visitors to Laugar can enjoy two spacious hot tubs, a kids’ wading area, and a fitness center. It is a quiet and peaceful area with a beautiful view south the valley.

Get Out There and Explore

Like no other place I’ve visited, Iceland is the ideal country to just drive around and explore. Itineraries like these help, but don’t be afraid to wander elsewhere too (provided that weather and road conditions are favorable, that is). have you visited any of these sites? Let me know in the contents below!

Iceland's Diamond Circle - Northern Iceland Itinerary
Far less known than the Golden Circle, Iceland’s Diamond Circle provides just as many wonderful sights – with fewer tourists. #iceland #diamondcircle #northerniceland #icelanditineraries

Tour the Catacombs of Lima at the Monastery of San Francisco

Tour the Catacombs of Lima at the Monastery of San Francisco

Tour the Catacombs of Lima?

The Monastery of San Fransisco (AKA Convento/Monasterio de San Francisco or the Monastery of Saint Francis) has some delightfully creepy yet somehow artistic catacombs sitting beneath it. For those who like to do something a little offbeat and unusual, maybe even macabre, a tour of the catacombs of Lima is just the ticket! But before I tell you about what you’ll see there, I’d like you to experience it the way we did.

The Site

The Monastery of San Francisco is just a block or so away from Lima’s Plaza Mayor, the Cathedral of Lima, and the Archbishop’s Palace. As such, it is part of the “Historic Centre of Lima,” which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. The monastery and church are yellow buildings that stand out against the grays and browns of the others in the area. Construction began in the middle of the sixteenth century and was completed in 1674. It’s considered to be a fine example of Spanish Baroque architecture.

Tour the Catacombs of Lima at the Monastery of Saint Francis.

There is usually a small horde of pigeons in the building’s courtyard, and a few vendors selling (among other things) food to feed the pigeons.

We entered the monastery (the building to the side of the church), paid for a tour, and waited for an English-speaking guide.

The Library

After a brief introduction, our guide led us out and up a flight of stairs. I wish I could have taken a photo of the stairway, or rather the ceiling above it. It was a beautiful deep red color and looked more Middle Eastern than Spanish or South American. Before I had a chance to ponder it, however, we moved into the first room: the library. I was awestruck, and I think you can see why;

Tour the catacombs of Lima at the Monastery of Saint Francis, but don't be in such a rush to see them that you fail to appreciate what you see along the way... like this gorgeous library.

Our guide told us that the library contains over 25,000 books, and that some of them dated as far back as the 14th century. The world-renowned library contains the first Spanish dictionary published by the Royal Spanish Academy as well as a Bible dated 1572.

The Art

As with the Cathedral of Cusco, there was a massive Last Supper painting that depicted Jesus and his disciples partaking of Peruvian foods such as cuy (guinea pig) and potatoes. Unlike the one in Cusco, this one included the Devil himself… perched just above Judas’ shoulder. The guide told us how many faces there were in the painting… and while I can’t remember what that number was, it was a lot more than just the 13 men at the table. Looking at the painting more closely, I could see many additional faces – some no more than just a hint of a heavenly presence gazing upon the scene below.

As we walked along the cloister (the covered walkway between the building and the courtyard), we saw beautiful tiles lining the wall:

Tour the catacombs of Lima at the monastery of San Francisco , but make sure you take in all of the other fascinating art & architecture there as well, like these beautiful tiled walls.

One tile bore the date 1620! To think that those tiles have survived nearly 500 years is just mind-boggling. Even more so when you consider that the building experienced three major earthquakes – in 1687, 1746, and 1970. Interestingly, the first two did very little damage.  It was the earthquake of 1970 that inflicted severe damage on the site. And the tiles were not the only art to decorate the cloister – above the tiles you could see the life of Saint Francis of Assisi (“San Francisco” in Spanish) portrayed in a series of murals.

The Courtyard

The inner courtyard of the monastery was quite beautiful, particularly when viewed from the upper floor:

Tour the Catacombs of Lima at the Monastery of San Francisco... then step out into the beautiful courtyard for a breath of fresh air.

We enjoyed looking out at the courtyard so much that we lingered there for a few moments at the end of the guided tour, just so we could take it all in.

The building itself was pretty impressive from that vantage point as well.

The Spanish baroque style Monastery of San Francisco allows you to tour the catacombs of Lima.

The Catacombs

Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for: the creepy, crusty, dirty, dusty catacombs!  Actually they weren’t all that dirty but they were bit creepy.

In centuries past, it was customary to bury people under churches. This was commonplace until 1808, when the cemetery of Lima opened. At that time, practices changed and the catacombs were closed, after accepting somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 bodies. The catacombs stayed undisturbed until their rediscovery in 1943. When that happened, archaeologists and anthropologists decided to sort through the skeletons. (I’m not clear on why they thought that was necessary.) Apparently whoever was in charge of sorting had a really bad case of OCD.  Instead of keeping the bodies semi-intact, they put all the skulls together, all the femurs together, all the tibias together, and so on. So we passed bin after bin of bones that were not a person, but rather parts of more than one person. It was weird.

But it seemed to be slightly less weird when we got to the well. That was where the bones were not just sorted into bins but rather artistically arranged in to a geometric design.

Tour the catacombs of Lima at the Monastery of San Francisco and you will see this artistic display of bones.

I don’t think I would have the nerve to do all that, honestly. Rumor has it that the catacombs also included secret passageways connecting to the Cathedral and to the Tribunal of the Holy Inquisition.

If you’re in Lima and you want to see a really amazing, kinda creepy place, look no farther than the Monastery of San Francisco. It only costs about $3 for a tour, and it will be a fascinating one!

The Monastery of San Francisco in Lima has more to delight visitors than the creepy catacombs. It's on the top ten list of places to see in Lima, Peru!
21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 2

21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 2

For my post on the first ten new UNESCO World Heritage sites, click here.

11. Taputapuātea, center of the “Polynesian Triangle”, French Polynesia

The Marae, or burial site of Taputapuatea in French Polynesia - one of the new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The marae of Taputapuātea.

Taputapuātea on Ra’iatea Island is part of the Polynesian Triangle – the last part of the globe to be settled by humans. The property includes two forested valleys, a portion of lagoon and coral reef and a strip of open ocean. At the heart of the property is the Taputapuātea marae complex – a political, ceremonial and funerary center. The site has a paved courtyard with a large standing stone at its center. Widespread in Polynesia, the marae were places of learning where priests and navigators from all over the Pacific would gather to offer sacrifices to the gods and share their knowledge of the genealogical origins of the universe, and of deep-ocean navigation. Taputapuātea is an exceptional testimony to 1,000 years of mā’ohi civilization.

12. Tarnowskie Góry, lead-silver-zinc mine, Poland

The mines of Tarnowskie Góry and the underground water system there - are one of the new UNESCO World a Heritage sites.
Today, you can tour the mines of Tarnowskie Góry.

Southern Poland contains one of the main mining areas of central Europe.  The site at
Tarnowskie Góry includes the entire underground mine with adits, shafts, galleries and even a water management system. According to UNESCO, Tarnowskie Góry represents a significant contribution to the global production of lead and zinc.

According to legend, in 1490 a local peasant-farmer named Rybka found a strange, heavy, metallic stone while plowing the field near village of Tarnowice. He presented his find to a local priest; within three decades the town became the largest silver mining center in the area. Its population rivaled in size some of the major cities of the Renaissance world. Prospectors were coming from all corners of the continent, some as far as Spain. They were spurred on by the massive amount and quality of ore, so high that on many occasions it was said to be practically pure, metallic silver. Silver, lead and zinc were bountiful in these grounds and the evidence of an early metal production dates back to at least 3rd century AD. Sadly, in the beginning of the 20th century, the source of the silver ore dried out and the mining stopped completely.

13. Sambor Prei Kuk temple zone, Cambodia

The temples of Sambor Prei Kurt, Cambodia are one of the 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A temple in Sambor Prei Kuk

Sambor Prei Kuk is a Khmer name meaning “the temple in the richness of the forest.” The archaeological site has been identified as Ishanapura, capital of the Chenla Empire that flourished there in the late 6th/early 7th centuries. The vestiges of the city cover an area of over 15 square miles and include a walled city center as well as numerous temples. Ten of the temples are octagonal, unique specimens of their kind in southeast Asia. Decorated sandstone elements in the site include lintels, pediments and colonnades – they are true masterpieces. The art and architecture developed here became models for other parts of the region and lay the ground for the unique Khmer style of the Angkor period.

 

14. English Lake District, United Kingdom

The Lake District in England is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Located in northwest England, the English Lake District is a mountainous area whose valleys have been modeled by glaciers in the Ice Age. From the 18th century onwards, the Picturesque and Romantic movements celebrated this area in paintings, drawings and words. It also inspired an awareness of the importance of beautiful landscapes and triggered early efforts to preserve them. Interestingly, only one of the lakes in the Lake District is called by that name, Bassenthwaite Lake. All the others – such as Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater and Buttermere – are meres, tarns and waters.

15. Valongo Wharf, archeological site, Brazil

The Valongo Wharf in Rio de Janeiro is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage sites.
The Valongo Wharf, now surrounded by the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site encompasses the entirety of Jornal do Comércio Square in the center of Rio. It was the landing site and center of trading of African slaves from 1811 until the banning of the transatlantic slave trade in 1831. An estimated 900,000 Africans arrived in South America via Valongo.

16. Venetian Works of Defense, Croatia, Italy, Montenegro

The Venetian defense work of the 15th-17th centuries are one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Aerial view of the Venetian defense system in Palmanova, Italy.

This property consists of 15 components of defense works in Italy, Croatia and Montenegro, spanning more than 600 miles between the Lombard region of Italy and the eastern Adriatic Coast. The fortifications throughout Venice and its mainland territories protected the Republic of Venice from other European powers to the northwest. Those of Venice’s overseas territories protected the sea routes and ports in the Adriatic Sea to the Levant. They were necessary to support the expansion and authority of Venice. The introduction of gunpowder led to significant shifts in military techniques and architecture. These changes are reflected in the design of alla moderna bastioned fortifications, which spread throughout Europe.

17. ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape, South Africa

The Khomari Cultural Landscape of Botswana and South Africa is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage site.
Bushmen in the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape

The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape is located at the border between Botswana and Namibia. The area contains evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present. They developed specific knowledge, cultural practices and worldview related to the geographical features of their environment. The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape bears testimony to the way of life that prevailed in the region over thousands of years. In fact, a set of tools almost identical to that used by the present-day inhabitants of the area was discovered at Border Cave in 2012. Those tools dated to 44,000 BC!

18. Landscapes of Dauria, Mongolia, Russia

Dauria Landscape, an area in Russia and Mongolia, is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A Daurian hedgehog.

Shared between Mongolia and the Russian Federation, Dauria is a sea of grass that forms the best and most intact example of an undisturbed steppe ecosystem. Because of the climate’s distinct wet and dry periods, Dauria contains a wide diversity of species. The steppes serve as habitats for rare species of animals, such as the White-Naped crane and the Great bustard, as well as millions of vulnerable, endangered or threatened migratory birds. It is also a critical site on the migration path for the Mongolian gazelle.

The region has given its name to various animal species including Daurian hedgehog, and the following birds: Asian brown flycatcher (Muscicapa daurica), Daurian jackdaw, Daurian partridge, Daurian redstart, Daurian starling, Daurian shrike and the red-rumped swallow (Hirundo daurica).

19. Los Alerces National Park, Argentina

Los Alerces National Park in Argentina is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage sites.

Los Alerces National Park is located in the Andes Mountains of northern Patagonia. The park is vital for the protection of some of the last portions of continuous Patagonian Forest. A number of endemic and threatened species of flora and fauna make the park their home. The park was created in 1937 in order to protect the alerce forest, and other plants of the Patagonian Andes. The National Park has the largest alerce forest of Argentina. The slow growing alerce is one of the longest-living trees in the world; some in the park are around 3,000 years old, with many of them over 1,000 years.

20. Qinghai Hoh Xil, China

Qinghai Hoh Xil in China is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Qinghai Hoh Xil is the largest and highest plateau in the world. This extensive area of alpine mountains and steppe systems is situated more than 4,500 m above sea level, where sub-zero average temperatures prevail all year round. Despite the harsh climate, Hoh Xil is home to more than 230 species of wild animals, 20 of which are under Chinese state protection.  Protected species include the wild yak, wild donkey, white-lip deer, brown bear and the endangered Tibetan antelope, or chiru. The abundant plateau pika, a small burrowing rodent, is the main food of the region’s brown bears; the bears also feed on the yak and antelope.

21. Historic city of Ahmedabad, India

The historic walled city of India is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage site.
Entrance to Bhadra Fort in Ahmedabad

The walled city of Ahmedabad, founded in 1411 by Sultan Ahmad Shah presents a rich architectural heritage from the sultanate period. This is nowhere more evident than in the Bhadra citadel, the walls and gates of the city, and numerous mosques and tombs. The city consists of densely-packed traditional houses in gated streets with features such as bird feeders, public wells and religious institutions. The city continued to flourish as the capital of the State of Gujarat for six centuries, up to the present.

new UNESCO World Heritage Sites
21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 1

21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 1

World Heritage Sites

At the beginning of July, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added 21 new locations to their list of World Heritage sites. A World Heritage site is a place of special cultural or physical significance. Some of the more famous UNESCO World Heritage sites are the Taj Mahal, Easter Island, Petra, Stonehenge, and the Sydney Opera House.

Here’s part one of my guide to the new sites, in which I’ll show you ten of them:

1. Aphrodisias, Turkey

The Temple of Aphrodite in Aphrodisias, Turkey. One of the 21 new UNESCO world heritage sites.
The Temple of Aphrodite at Aphrodisias, Turkey (source)

The name might make you think of aphrodisiacs, and you wouldn’t be too far off.  The town takes its name from the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. Aphrodisias became a World Heritage site due to its archaeological site and the marble quarries northeast of the city. The temple of Aphrodite there dates from the 3rd century BC and the city was built one century later. The city’s wealth came from the marble quarries and the art produced by its sculptors. The city has several large and ancient structures, including temples, a theatre, a stadium that held up to 30,000 people, and two bath complexes.

2. Asmara, Eritrea

Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Eritrea’s capital city of Asmara. (source)

Eritrea is a small nation north of Ethiopia, and bordering the Red Sea. Eritrea was occupied by Italy between roughly 1890 and 1941. The Italian influence had such a strong impact on this country that in the late 1930s, many people referred to the capital city of Asmara as Piccola Roma (Little Rome). Asmara became a World Heritage Site because of its well-preserved colonial Italian modernist architecture.

3. Assumption Cathedral and Monastery of Sviyazhsk, Russia

Assumption Cathedral and Monastery of Sviyazhsk Russia - one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites
The Assumption Cathedral and Monastery of Sviyazhsk. (source)

Sviyazhsk is both a town and an island situated where the Volga, the Sviyaga and the Shchuka rivers meet. Founded by Ivan the Terrible in 1551, Sviyazhsk’s position was one of economic and political power.  In fact, it was key to the expansion of the Russian empire. The cathedral’s frescoes are among the rarest examples of Eastern Orthodox mural paintings.

4. Caves and ice age art in the Swabian Jura, Germany

Venus of Hohle Fels part of Swabian Jura Cave Art - a new UNESCO World Heritage site
Carved from wolly mammoth tusk over 35,000 years ago, this female figure is called the Venus of Hohlen Fels. (source)

The Swabian Jura is a German mountain range with a series of caves that have been a treasure trove of prehistoric artifacts.  These caves held some of the oldest figurative art ever found. In addition to figures of animals, archaeologists also found flutes made from swan and griffon vulture bones, and in 2004 a flute carved from the tusk of a mammoth dating from the Ice Age. To date, the Venus of Hohlen Fels, shown above, is the oldest artistic representation of the human body. These artifacts provide us with a fascinating look at artistic development.

5. Hebron/Al-Khalil Old Town, Palestine

Hebron or Al-Khalil Old Town is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The Cave of the Patriarchs in Old Town Hebron. (source)

The history of Hebron, also called Al-Khalil, primarily falls into two distinct eras.  First is the Mamluk period (1250-1517), in which buildings were constructed using local limestone.  During this period there were distinct, separate quarters of the city based on ethnic, religious, or professional groupings. Second is the Ottoman period (1517 – 1917), during which the town expanded outward and upward. What makes Hebron remarkable is that despite the 400 years of the Ottoman period, and the century that has followed, the Mamluk era quarters of the city are still pretty much intact.

People from three major religions flock to Hebron to see the Cave of the Patriarchs, a series of subterranean chambers located in the heart of the old city. Dating back over 2,000 years, the compound may be the oldest continuously used intact prayer structure in the world, and is the oldest major building in the world that still fulfills its original purpose. It contains the double tombs of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, considered the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish people.

6. Historic city of Yazd, Iran

The Dolat Abad Garden in Yazd Iran. Yazd is one 1 of the new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Dolat-abad Garden in Yazd Iran. (source)

The City of Yazd bears living testimony to the use of limited resources for survival in the desert by its underground channel system known as a qanat, which draws water and supplies it to the city. The earthen architecture of Yazd retains its traditional districts, the qanat system, traditional houses, bazaars, hammams, mosques, synagogues, Zoroastrian temples and the historic garden of Dolat-abad.

7. Kujataa, Greenland

The first known example of farming in the arctic is found at Kujataa, Greenland. It is one of the 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Norse ruins next to modern day structures – evidence that the two farming cultures overlapped. (source)

Kujataa is a sub-arctic farming landscape located in the southern region of Greenland. It bears witness to the cultural histories of the Norse hunters-gatherers who started arriving from Iceland in the 10th century and of the Norse farmers, Inuit hunters and Inuit farming communities that developed from the end of the 18thcentury. Despite their differences, the two cultures, European Norse and Inuit, created a cultural landscape based on farming, grazing and marine mammal hunting. The landscape represents the earliest introduction of farming to the Arctic, and the Norse expansion of settlement beyond Europe.

8. Kulangsu, China

Kulangsu China is known for its international architecture. It is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A view of Kulangsu and its varied architecture. (source)

Kulangsu is a tiny pedestrian-only island off the coast of Xiamen, China. Kulangsu was established in 1903 as an international settlement, making it an important area for foreign exchanges. Today, Kulangsu is a great example of the cultural fusion that emerged from these exchanges. It is most evident in the mixture of different architectural styles on the island.

9. Mbanza Kongo, Angola

cathedral ruins in Mbanza Kongo. The city is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Mbanza Kongo was the political and spiritual capital of the Kingdom of Kongo, which was one of the largest constituted states in Southern Africa from the 14th to 19th centuries. The historical area grew around the royal residence, the customary court and the holy tree, as well as the royal funeral places. When the Portuguese arrived in the 15th century they added stone buildings to the existing urban area built with local materials. Mbanza Kongo illustrates, more than anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa, the profound changes caused by the introduction of Christianity and the arrival of the Portuguese into Central Africa.

10. Sacred Island of Okinoshima, Japan

Okinoshima is a sacred island in Japan. It is also one of the 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A Shinto shrine on the island of Okinoshima, Japan (source)

The island of Okinoshima is an exceptional example of the tradition of worship of a sacred island. The archaeological sites that have been preserved on the island are virtually intact, and they provide a chronological record of how the rituals performed there have changed over time. In these rituals, items were left as offerings at different sites on the island. Integrated within the Grand Shrine of Munakata, the island of Okinoshima is considered sacred to this day. However, don’t be in a rush to put this place on your bucket list.  Women are not allowed to set foot on the island, and the priests who live there only permit men to visit one day a year.

Stay tuned… I’ll cover the other 11 sites in my next post!

new UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The Cathedral of Lima & Religious Art Museum

The Cathedral of Lima & Religious Art Museum

Cathedral of Lima

cathedral of lima from plaza de armas peru

The Cathedral of Lima’s proper name is the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. Located adjacent to the Plaza de Armas Lima. I’ve already written about the chapel that contained the remains of Francisco Pizarro, but that is just one small corner of a very large and beautiful church. Today I’ll share the rest of what we saw there.

But First, a Little History

In 1535, Francisco Pizarro laid the first stone for the church. He also carried the first log used in the construction of the Cathedral on his shoulders. Construction of the church was completed three years later, but it was mainly built of adobe, and was relatively primitive. Pizarro returned in 1540 to inaugurate the church.

Over the next eighty years, the church was rebuilt three times, and in 1622 the third cathedral celebrated its first mass. Then in 1687 an earthquake destroyed the vaults of the cathedral, and it took ten years to complete the reconstruction work. Another earthquake in 1746 destroyed many of the cathedral’s vaults and pillars. Twelve years of reconstruction work followed. In the late eighteenth century, the cathedral increased its height with the addition of two towers.

For the 100 years that followed, there were no earthquakes, no reconstruction projects. But in the beginning of 1893, the cathedral shut its doors to the public because so many repairs were needed. It took almost three full years before renovation work even began. The repairs took two years to complete.

Do Come In

The Cathedral of Lima’s main gateway is the Portada del Perdón or the “door of forgiveness.”

cathedral of lima gate of forgiveness peru

We entered via one of the smaller doors to the side, greeted by very friendly employees who sold us our tickets and made sure we knew where everything was. The church is quite large, with a lovely black and white floor and high vaulted ceilings.

cathedral of lima interior peru

We started off looking at the chapels that line the sides of the cathedral. These are small(er) rooms with elaborate displays and statues in which people pray and worship. Starting on the right and going around to the back of the cathedral, then proceeding to the front in an upside-down U shape, the chapels are:

  1. Tomb of Francisco Pizarro
  2. Saint John the Baptist
  3. Our Lady of the Candlemass
  4. Saint Toribio de Mogrovejo – more about him in my next post
  5. Saint Anne
  6. Chapel of the Visitation
  7. The Chapel of Souls
  8. Chapel of the Sacred Heart
  9. Saint Apolonia
  10. Our Lady of the Peace
  11. Our Lady of Evangelization
  12. Saint Rose of Lima
  13. Our Lady of La Antigua
  14. Saint Joseph

I found it especially interesting that the chapel of Saint Joseph, patron saint of carpenters, was the only chapel to have “naked” wood. Very little adornment, hardly any gold leaf – simply the wood in all its glory.

cathedral of lima patron saint of carpenters joseph peru

Saint Joseph’s Chapel served as an interesting contrast to that of Our Lady of Evangelization. I had to take some panorama shots to try and capture the size and scope.

cathedral of lima our lady of evangelization chapel peru

Or, if you would prefer to see it in a little more detail:

cathedral of lima our lady of evangelization chapel peru
This chapel was named Our Lady of the Conception until 1988.  When Pope John Paul II visited, he renamed it Our Lady of Evangelization.

I just couldn’t believe how much ornate decoration was in that space. As my daughter would say, “It’s so extra!”

We also got to see some of the catacombs beneath the church. One open grave demonstrated how multiple bodies shared the same space. In the one that was open, we could see the skeletal remains of at least three bodies:

cathedral of lima family grave peru

Museum of Religious Art

In addition to being an amazingly beautiful house of worship, the Cathedral also serves as a Museum of Religious Art. This 18th century chest nativity really impressed me. Closed, it looks like an ordinary wooden box, but when you open it, there is a world of wonderful detail, with a nativity scene as its centerpiece.

cathedral of lima nativity chest peru

The level of detail was just amazing!

My other favorite item in the museum was this 18th century statue of Joseph holding the baby Jesus. I thought the expressions on their faces were just so sweet.

cathedral of lima joseph and jesus peru

We also saw some historic church garments and items associated with the visit of Pope John Paul II, who went to Lima in 1985 and again in 1988. There were many paintings and also these pretty tiles:

cathedral of lima pretty tiles peru

And then as we were winding up our tour through the museum portion of the Cathedral of Lima, I saw a staircase and a sign with an arrow pointing up. The sign indicated that there were choir books upstairs.  Well, I’m a sucker for anything involving old books, so we went on up.

There, in a small room at the top of the stairs, was a collection of choir books that dated from several hundred years ago. Not only that, they were HUGE, measuring probably somewhere in the neighborhood of two feet high and 12-18 inches wide.

cathedral of lima choir books peru
She did NOT want to get her picture taken, but I needed her for scale to show just how big these books are.

Unfortunately, the books were all closed and kept behind glass. They did have a blown up photograph of some medieval music contained in one of the books and it was just beautiful.

The Cathedral of Lima is a great place to visit because it has something to appeal to everyone: classic architecture, beautiful art, historical significance, and creepy catacombs. It is definitely one of the must-see places in Lima, Peru.

The Cathedral of Lima is adjacent to the Plaza de Armas.  Admission is about $3 per person, and that covers your entrance to the Cathedral, the Musuem of Religious Art, and the Archbishop’s Palace next door.  Hours: Monday through Friday 9 AM to 5 PM, Saturdays 10 AM to 1 PM.

The Cathedral of Lima, Peru, dominates the city's Plaza Mayor and also serves as a museum of religious art.
Pizarro’s Tomb (and the treachery that put him there)

Pizarro’s Tomb (and the treachery that put him there)

The Heart of Lima

The Cathedral of Lima is a commanding presence in the capital city’s Plaza de Armas. It is grand and imposing, taking up most of a city block.

The Cathedral of Lima at the Plaza Mayor.
Photo via Flickr by James Preston

There are seven chapels on each side of the Cathedral. As you enter, the first chapel on the right draws your attention almost immediately. It contains the Francisco Pizarro’s Tomb.  Pizarro, as you may remember from school, was the Spanish conquistador who claimed Peru for the Spanish crown.

The first thing you notice, even before you enter the chapel, is the artwork. Stunning mosaics cover nearly every surface – the walls, the floor, even the arched entryway. For instance, take this heraldic display:

pizarro's tomb

Or this depiction of Pizarro’s arrival in Peru:

pizarro's tomb mosaics

Other than the gorgeous mosaics, I didn’t notice anything remarkable about the chapel. Until I saw an ugly metal box in a display case. Why on earth would they put something like that in a chapel, surrounded by beautiful works of art?

pizarro's tomb lead box

That moment of curiosity led to some interesting discoveries that made the life of Francisco Pizarro seem an awful lot like a Game of Thrones episode.

What They Didn’t Teach You in History Class

Pizarro was born out of wedlock in Trujillo, Spain in the 1470s. He grew up poor and illiterate. In 1513, he joined explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa on his voyage to Panama. In the years that followed, Pizarro nurtured his political and military career in Panama.  Then, in 1519, the governor instructed him to arrest Balboa and bring him to trial. Pizarro arrested him; Balboa was executed for treason. The governor rewarded Pizarro by giving him the position of mayor and magistrate of Panama City.  He served in that position until 1523.

Following that assignment, Pizarro led two expeditions into South America. Both were considered unsuccessful and, as such, unnecessary drains on Panama’s already limited resources. When he sent a request to Panama for more settlers to join the expedition, the governor of Panama refused.  Actually, he not only refused to send them, but also sent two ships to bring Pizarro and his men back.

When those two ships arrived at Pizarro’s location, Pizarro refused to leave. He drew a line in the sand, saying: “There lies Peru with its riches; Here, Panama and its poverty. Choose, each man, what best becomes a brave Castilian. For my part, I go to the south.” Only 13 men chose to stay with him. This chapel mosaic honored “The Famous Thirteen” and listed their names:

pizarro's tomb mosaics

When Pizarro and his 13 companions reached the Peruvian territory of Tumbes, he was the first European who had set foot in that area. The natives called Pizarro and his men “Children of the Sun” because of their fair skin and shiny armor. They told Pizarro of a great ruler and vast riches of gold and silver.  Pizarro, excited by the possibility of finding an abundance of riches in Peru, returned to Panama to get funding and resources for a third expedition.

The governor of Panama, however, refused to fund a third expedition. Pizarro decided to go over the governor’s head, returning to Spain to make his case to the king in person. It was a wise move on his part. He received not only a license for the proposed expedition, but also authority over any lands conquered during the venture. Family and friends joined him, and the expedition left Panama in late December 1530.

Third Time’s the Charm

Nearly two years later, Pizarro and his men came face to face with the Inca King Atahualpa. A Dominican friar attempted to convince Atahualpa of the true faith. He also spoke of the need to pay tribute to King Charles I. Atahualpa replied, “I will be no man’s tributary.”

Atahualpa’s refusal led Pizarro and his forces to attack the Inca army in what became the Battle of Cajamarca. Pizarro’s 168 men easily defeated the 5000 mostly unarmed Inca warriors. Pizarro captured Atahualpa and held him hostage, demanding as ransom a 22 x 17 foot room filled nine feet high with gold. The ransom – worth more than $436 million in today’s money – was provided to Pizarro, but he had Atahualpa executed anyway.

Following the conquest of the Incas, the newly arrived Spanish conquistadores split into two factions. Francisco Pizarro led the group in the north and Diego de Almagro led the group in the south. There was rivalry between the two groups over who should rule Cusco. It all came to a head in 1538 at the Battle of Las Salinas.  The Pizarros proved victorious, and the conquistador‘s brother, Hernando, captured and executed Diego de Almagro.

Live By the Sword, Die By the Sword

Three years later, Almagro’s son avenged his father’s death in Lima. He stormed into Pizarro’s palace at dinnertime with about 20 followers. Pizarro killed two of the men, then ran through a third. While trying to pull his sword out of the third victim’s body, the attackers stabbed him in the throat. Once he fell to the floor, they continued to stab him repeatedly. Pizarro collapsed on the floor, painted a cross in his own blood and cried out for Jesus as he died.

Pizarro’s body was buried behind the cathedral the very same night of the assassination. Over the centuries, as the Cathedral of Lima was built and reconstructed, it was reburied and relocated – multiple times.

Dem Bones

In 1891, Pizarro’s mummified body was disinterred. It was then placed in an elaborate glass-sided coffin to celebrate the 350th anniversary of his death. It stayed there until 1977, when workmen who were cleaning a crypt discovered two wooden boxes.  Both boxes contained bones, and one also held a lead box.  It was the same one that caught my attention in the chapel. The inscription on the lid of the box read:

“Here is the skull of the Marquis Don Francisco Pizarro who discovered and won Peru and placed it under the crown of Castile.”

Was the skull really Pizarro’s?  And what about the bones?  Were they his too? The Cathedral called in a team of researchers to examine the remains. They compared accounts of Pizarro’s assassination with the visible injuries to the skull. In doing so, the experts determined that the skull in the lead box was indeed Pizarro’s. A forensic pathologist came to the same conclusion in 1984. The skull in the lead box and some of the bones were that of Francisco Pizarro. The mummy, which had been on display for nearly a hundred years, was not Pizarro at all.

In 1985 Pizarro’s bones were placed in the chapel at the Cathedral of Lima:

lima cathedral pizarro's tomb
Here lies the Marquez Governor Sir Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of Peru and founder of Lima. Born in Trujillo, Spain in 1478 and died in Lima January 18, 1541. His remains were transferred here January 18, 1985, the 450th anniversary of the founding of the city. God rest his soul. Amen.

Learning about Pizarro’s exploits – especially after having come from Cusco and Machu Picchu – was sobering and sad. The descendants of the natives Pizarro conquered are very proud of their heritage. Everywhere we went, we heard about what their life was like before the Conquest. Seeing Pizarro glorified and celebrated in the chapel of the Cathedral somehow seemed inappropriate.  However, don’t let that stop you from visiting the Cathedral if you go to Lima. It’s beautiful! I’ll be covering the rest of the Cathedral in my next blog post. Stay tuned!

The story of the conquistador Francisco Pizarro, his death, and the mystery surrounding his bones.
How Cusco Cathedral Honors Both Quechua and Catholic Heritage

How Cusco Cathedral Honors Both Quechua and Catholic Heritage

Cusco Cathedral was our first stop for sightseeing on our first full day in Cusco. We walked down to the city’s Plaza de Armas and saw this big cathedral dominating the center of town. And as if it weren’t big enough, it incorporates two smaller churches on either side of it. To the left is the Templo de la Sagrada Familia (Temple of the Holy Family) and to the right is La Iglesia del Triunfo (Church of the Triumph).

Cusco Cathedral
Photo via Flickr by Speculum Mundi

Sitting in the Plaza and looking up at the churches, one of the statues on the Church of the Triumph really struck me.

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I think all too often we see angels depicted as namby-pamby, floating around in the air and strumming harps. This angel, by contrast, is kicking the devil’s butt! I just love it!

We started our tour in the Templo de la Sagrada Familia, and hired a guide to tell us about it. The fee for a personal guide was about $10, and it was money well spent. Our guide was very familiar with the cathedral, the local history, and the religious symbolism.

There were plenty of Quechua symbols in the Catholic art that decorated the cathedral because in many cases, local people were the ones creating the works of art. Take, for instance, the painting of the Last Supper, Cusco native Marcos Zapata painted in the eighteenth century:

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The Last Supper Painting from Cusco Cathedral

This painting has a lot of interesting details to distinguish it from a European last supper. Probably the most notable difference is that the meal’s main dish is cuy – the Peruvian delicacy of guinea pig! Also, Jesus and his disciples are drinking chicha, which is a traditional Peruvian corn drink.

As for other interesting aspects of the painting, note that the only figure besides Jesus who is looking out at the viewer is Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. All of the men in the picture have their hands clasped in prayer or reaching toward Jesus. However, Judas’ hand is below the table, clutching a money pouch. What was really eerie, though, was that when we looked at Judas while walking past the painting, his eyes seemed to follow us.

Another notable piece of art in the cathedral was what our guide called Black Jesus:

cusco cathedral black jesus

It is a statue of Jesus made of mixed materials and covered in alpaca skin. Most scholars agree that native artists created the statue around 1570. In 1650, when there was an earthquake, the religious leaders grabbed the statue and carried it around the town square, praying for an end to the earthquake. When the earthquake tremors ceased, the statue became known as Señor de los Temblores, or Lord of the Earthquakes, and the patron of Cusco. Each year, the people of Cusco take it out of the cathedral on Holy Monday and carry it in a procession.

It is a tradition for the faithful to throw red flowers at it, symbolizing the blood of Christ. Sticky residue from the flowers, along with a buildup of soot from candles and oil lamps placed at the statue’s feet for prayers, are the reason why the statue is now black. They say, however, that the legs underneath the skirt are still very white!

Throughout the tour, our guide pointed out how the artworks done in a way that would appeal to the locals. For instance, Mary was often depicted with her arms obscured from view and wearing a mountain-shaped skirt with a river running around its hem. This depiction identified her with Pachamama, Mother Earth to the locals.

Another item of interest in Cusco Cathedral is the main altar. Covered in embossed silver, it is visually striking and quite unusual.

cusco cathedral silver main altar
Source: Wikimedia Commons

But that’s not the only place you will see an abundance of silver. There is also a silver room, which is one of the side chapels in the cathedral. It contains many gleaming silver items, including an embossed silver bier dating back to 1712. Parishioners carry Black Jesus on the bier in the Easter Monday procession. Another impressive item is a large trellis in the form of a small temple. Covered with more than 370 pounds of silver, the trellis features a pelican piercing his own heart with his beak, symbolizing supreme love and self-denial.

We really enjoyed our tour of Cusco Cathedral, and learned a lot about the local people from our guide. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in Cusco and want to learn more about the area!

Cusco Cathedral is on the Plaza de Armas in Cusco. Open daily from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Admission for non-Peruvians is $9 for adults and $5 for children.   

 

Cusco Cathedral offers visitors a fascinating look at how Quechua culture and the Catholic faith were integrated in Colonial Peru.
Top Ten Things to See in the Rest of Peru

Top Ten Things to See in the Rest of Peru

Ten Fantastic Peru Destinations

The first time I planned to go to Peru, I noticed that most people asked the same question when they found out where I was heading: “You’re going to Machu Picchu?” Like that’s all there is of interest in Peru!  While Machu Picchu is magnificent – it is, after all, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – there is so much more to see and do in Peru! Here are the top ten Peru destinations that aren’t Machu Picchu – but are just as amazing:

1.  The Nazca Lines

These are a series of large ancient (500 BC – 500 AD) geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert of southern Peru. The figures vary in complexity, from simple lines and geometric shapes to designs of animals, such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguars, and monkeys, or human figures.  The largest figures are up to 1,200 feet long!

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The Hummingbird, one of the animals depicted in the Nazca Lines of Peru.

A few caveats:  the Nazca lines are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so there isn’t likely to be much else to do once you’ve seen them. Also, you can only see them from above, so you will need to book a short sightseeing flight for this Peru destination.

2. Lake Titicaca

The mountain lake with the funny name lies between Peru’s Puno Region and the country of Bolivia. At 12,000+ feet, it is the highest navigable lake in the world. The lake contains several “Floating Islands,” which are small man-made islands constructed by the Uru people from layers of a cut reed that grows in the lake. As of 2011, about 1,200 Uros lived on an archipelago of 60 artificial islands.

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View of Lake Titicaca from the island of Taquile.

Be sure to visit the island of Taquile, which features pre-Inca ruins and a tradition of beautiful hand-crafted items. It also makes an ideal location for stargazing as there is very little light pollution at night.

3. Trujillo & Chan Chan

Trujillo is located on the Pacific coast, in the northwestern part of the country. It is considered one of the primary cultural Peru destinations due to its association with prominent writers, dances, festivals, gastronomy, etc. Three miles to the west of Trujillo lies Chan Chan, the archaeological site and former capital of the Chimu civilization. It is the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas, and the largest adobe city in the world.

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The ruins of the Chimu capital – Chan Chan

The Chimu inhabited the area from roughly 900 AD until they fell to the Incas around 1450 AD. Because Chan Chan is basically built from mud, the site has suffered some erosion, and there is a serious concern that climate change could destroy what is left.  Therefore, if you’re interested in visiting, you might want to do so sooner rather than later.

4. Huascarán National Park

Situated in the Cordillera Blanca, the world’s highest tropical mountain range, the center of this park is Mount Huascarán, which rises to over 22,000 feet above sea-level.

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The rugged beauty of Huascarán National Park

Hundreds of glaciers and lakes in the park include the shrinking Pastoruri Glacier and the brilliant blue Llanganuco lagoons. Trails lead to the high-altitude Laguna 69, known for its turquoise waters. The park is a haven for pumas, Andean condors and spectacled bears.  If nature is your thing, you should definitely put Huascarán National Park on the top of your list of Peru destinations!

5. Lima’s Historic Center

In the capital of Peru, you will find a beautiful historic center with many places of interest. The Church & Convent of San Francisco, for example, is a stunning example of colonial architecture that also boasts a 25,000 volume library and some spooky catacombs.

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An artful display of skulls and bones in the catacombs of San Francisco

There is also the Presidential Palace, which you can tour.  Alternatively, you can stay outside and witness the changing of the guard. In addition, you might want to see the tomb of conquistador Francisco Pizarro at the Cathedral of Lima, take in the beautiful courtyards at the convent of Santo Domingo, and/or look for ornate wooden balconies on the older buildings in the city. There are many fascinating sites in the capital for anyone who enjoys history, art, or architecture.  Since Lima is the port of entry to Peru for most travelers, it can easily be paired with your other Peru destinations.

6. Iquitos

Iquitos is a Peruvian port city and the country’s largest jungle town. Surrounded by water on one side and thick Amazon rainforest on the rest, the only way to reach Iquitos is to either fly there or travel by boat. While there, you can take a trip into the jungle and can view wildlife such as monkeys, alligators, giant lily-pads, baby caimans, anacondas, boas, tarantulas, and more.  (Just make sure you are using a reputable tour guide and not a scam artist!)

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The giant lily pads of the rain forest near Iquitos

Alternatively, you can partake in an Ayahuasca ceremony.  Ayahuasca is a powerful psychedelic brew made from local plants and used by shamans for thousands of years.  It seems like something that could be a little risky, though, so please be careful if you do!

7. Colca Canyon

This massive canyon located about 100 miles northwest of the city of Arequipa is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and has more diverse scenery. The Andean condor calls the canyon home; you are likely to get an up close view of them soaring past the canyon walls if you visit here.

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Colca Canyon, Peru

The town of Chivay, located in the canyon, is the site of hot springs. Elsewhere, visitors can see the Infiernillo Geyser.  There are numerous archaeological sites as well, including 6000-year-old rock art that depicts the domestication of alpacas

8. Paracas National Reserve

The reserve is located about 165 miles south of Lima on the Pacific Coast, and is home to an abundance of wildlife like sea lions, dolphins, and many birds, especially near the water’s edge.

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Pelicans at Paracas National Reserve

The Paracas Reserve contains the largest concentration of birds on earth. The terrain is diverse as well,  spanning desert, ocean and islands. In addition to the wildlife, visitors will enjoy red sand beaches, a museum of ancient artifacts from the Paracas culture, a necropolis, and a geoglyph called the Paracas Candelabro.

9. Chiclayo

Located in northern Peru, Chiclayo was once the home to the Moche civilization, who were prolific pre-Columbian artists.  The Lord of Sipán is the most famous archaeological discovery to come out of the area – he was the first of several mummies discovered in 1987. Amazingly, the tomb was completely intact and did not appear to have been disturbed at all.

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A replica of the Lord of Sipan’s tomb.

Much like ancient Egyptians, the mummy was buried with treasures, animals, and other people. As a result, the Lord of Sipán is known as “The King Tutankhamun of the Americas.”

10. Huacachina  

If you’ve ever wondered what a real-life oasis in the desert looks like, go to Huacachina and see for yourself. The city is built around a small natural lake in the desert.

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Huacachina – an oasis in the Peruvian desert.

Called the “oasis of America,” it serves as a resort for local families and also as an attraction for tourists who want to try sandboarding on the massive dunes. Other popular activities include dune buggy rides, making this one of the favorite Peru destinations for people who don’t mind sand.

So as you can see, Peru has a lot more to offer tourists than just Machu Picchu. If you’re planning a trip there, why not take a side trip to visit some of the other destinations? There’s something for everyone in Peru!