Tag: Churches

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.

cusco cathedral triunfo iglesia angel devil

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:

cusco cathedral last supper painting cuy guinea pig
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!

hummingbird nazca lines Peru destinations
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.

Arch at Taquile Lake Titicaca Peru destinations
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.

chan-chan adobe ruins Peru destinations
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.

huascaran national park Peru destinations
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.

catacombs San Francisco lima peru destinations
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!)

victoria lilies amazon rain forest peru destinations iquitos
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.

colca canyon peru destinations
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.

paracas national reserve peru destinations pelicans
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.

lord of sipan peru destinations tomb archaeology
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.

huacachina oasis sand dunes peru destinations
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!

 

Coventry Cathedral: A Monument to Reconciliation

Coventry Cathedral: A Monument to Reconciliation

I am a huge history geek.  (I’m sure you didn’t notice! hahaha)  Sometimes I will read about a place that has such a phenomenal history behind it, I want to go there.  Coventry Cathedral is one of those places.

Coventry Cathedral Then

On the night of November 14, 1940, a German Luftwaffe bombing devastated the city of Coventry in Warwickshire, England. In the aftermath of that attack, many of the city’s buildings burned, reduced to piles of smoldering rubble.  The 14th century cathedral in Coventry was one of the most badly damaged buildings.

coventry cathedral ruins after bombing

Shortly after the destruction, the cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, noticed that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. They were later placed on an altar of rubble with the moving words ‘Father Forgive’ inscribed on the Sanctuary wall.

Coventry_Cathedral_burnt_cross

A local priest fashioned another cross from three medieval nails. In the years that followed, Lutheran churches in Kiel, Dresden, Berlin and other cities destroyed by Allied bombings receieved a replica of the original Cross of Nails as a symbol of peace and forgiveness. It was through these churches that trust and partnerships between England and Germany grew and former enemies became friends. Thus, the Cross of Nails became a powerful, inspirational symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation throughout the world.

rsz_cross_of_nails

 

Coventry Cathedral Now

When it came time to rebuild, Basil Spence designed the new cathedral building. Spence insisted that the ruins of the old cathedral remain as a garden of remembrance with a new cathedral next to them.  His intention was for the two buildings – old and new, medieval ruins and modern architecture – to form one church. His work on the cathedral was so notable that he received a knighthood for it.

Coventry Cathedral

The new church building is very modern and as such, it’s quite a contrast to its medieval predecessor. The baptismal font is carved from a boulder that came to the church from Bethlehem.  The stained glass windows form a screen depicting saints and angels.

rsz_1rsz_coventry_cathedral_interior

Outside the new cathedral there is a striking statue of the archangel Michael fighting off the Devil. I love that the Devil is on his back, in chains, with Michael’s foot effectively on his head.  I also love that Michael is holding a spear.  Angels can be fierce.

Coventry Cathedral Angel

If you’ve seen the English Christmas movie “Nativity!,” you may recognize the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral as the site of the performance. (If you haven’t seen “Nativity!,” you should. It’s a great movie featuring Martin Freeman of Sherlock fame. If you haven’t seen Sherlock… well, I may just have to do a BBC intervention for you.)

Coventry Cathedral’s address is Priory St, Coventry CV1 5FB, United Kingdom.  Hours for the new building are Monday – Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and noon to 4:00 pm on Sundays.  The ruins are open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.  There is a small fee for admission for adults.  Minors and students from UK universities enter free. The free Coventry Cathedral app is recommended to enhance your visit.

Bucket List: Skellig Michael, Ireland

Bucket List: Skellig Michael, Ireland

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Every now and then, I will see a picture of a place and wonder how it’s possible that I haven’t seen it before.  I had one of those moments at the end of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, when Rey climbed up that mountain to give Luke his lightsaber.  It was such a cool looking place – why had I never seen it before?

rsz_skellig_michael_2.jpg

Thanks to the internet, it didn’t take long to discover that the location for that scene was Skellig Michael, an island off the coast of Ireland. A Christian monastery was founded there some time between the 6th and 8th century. People lived on the island until the late 12th/early 13th century. The remains of the monastery, and most of the island, are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A small, secluded community in the sea

The monastic site at Skellig Michael contains six beehive cells, two oratories and a number of stone crosses and slabs. It also contains a later medieval church and a hermitage. Historians have estimated that no more than twelve monks and an abbot lived there at any one time.  Those monks would have to descend nearly 700 steps to go fishing for their food each morning.  The remainder of their day would be spent in prayer, tending their gardens, and/or studying.

rsz_skellig_michael_3

The stone, beehive-shaped huts were constructed in such a way that rain would never enter them.  They are circular on the outside, but rectangular on the inside.

Finally, I will leave you with these words from author George Bernard Shaw, who visited Skellig Michael in 1910:

The most fantastic and impossible rock in the world: Skellig Michael…where in south west gales the spray knocks stones out of the lighthouse keeper’s house…the Skelligs are pinnacled, crocketed, spired, arched, caverned, minaretted; and these gothic extravagances are not curiosities of the islands: they are the islands: there is nothing else. The rest of the cathedral may be under the sea for all I know…An incredible, impossible, mad place…I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in: it is part of our dream world.

The site will no doubt be featured as a Star Wars: The Last Jedi filming location when the movie premieres in December 2017. I, for one, can’t wait to see more of it!

Before you go:

A limited number of tour operators run trips to Skellig Michael during the summer season (May to October, inclusive), weather permitting. For safety reasons, because the steps up to the monastery are rocky, steep, and old, climbs are not permitted during very wet or windy weather.  Reservations are recommended and should be made far in advance of any planned trip to the island.

 

Top Ten Places to See in Wales

Top Ten Places to See in Wales

Why Wales?

I have wanted to go to Wales ever since I saw Hugh Grant’s movie The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain. In fact, the trip that I’ll be taking next month originally started out as an England & Wales combined trip. Unfortunately, time constraints prevented us from doing both, and Hubs was pretty adamant that he wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall.  So Wales is pretty high on the list of future vacations.

I did a lot of research about Wales back when I thought we would be able to do both. Here are the top ten things I can’t wait to see when I go to Wales.

1. Hay-on-Wye.  This tiny village (population 1600) is known as a book town. In fact, it’s the world’s largest second hand & antiquarian book center. You’ll find book stores on every corner and you’ll even see unmanned shelves of books with an honor system for customers. The largest of the “honesty shops” is a row of shelves lining the castle wall.  Castle + books = I could spend days there!

wales top ten hay on why castle bookshop

2. The Straining Tower at Lake Vyrnwy.  It looks much more romantic than it actually is. Its purpose is to filter or strain out material in the water with a fine metal mesh, before the water flows along the aqueduct to Liverpool. The tower rises 104 feet above water, and is topped with a pointed copper-clad roof with a light green patina.

wales top ten straining tower lake vyrnwy

3.  Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch.  The town with the longest name in Britain – 58 letters! (Oddly enough, it is not the longest name in the world, though; that honor belongs to a place in New Zealand.) The name, translated from Welsh, means “Saint Mary’s Church in a hollow of white hazel near the swirling whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave.” I just want to go get our picture taken under the name sign and buy a souvenir tee shirt.

wales top ten longest town name

4. Castell Coch.  This Gothic Revival Castle was built in the late 19th century as a country residence.  It is often referred to as a fairy tale castle because of its round towers.  And while the exterior of the castle appears medieval, the interior is high Victorian.

wales top ten castell coch

5. The Doctor Who Experience.  You get to see what it’s like to be inside the TARDIS, for goodness’ sake.  What else could you want?

UPDATE:  The Doctor Who Experience is no longer open. 🙁

wales top ten Doctor Who Experience

6. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  You can ride a boat or walk across the aqueduct, which is the highest and longest in Great Britain.  It is 126 feet high and 336 yards long.  From what I’ve read, the views from there are outstanding.

wales top ten Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

7.  Tintern Abbey.  Thanks to Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, Abbey ruins are all over the British Isles.  I’ve seen photos of many different abbey ruins, and I think Tintern has one of the loveliest sites.

wales top ten Tintern Abbey

8. Pembrokeshire.  This area of Wales reminds me so much of Cornwall (my happy place). There are many beautiful beaches and small harbor towns.

wales top ten Pembrokeshire

9. Skomer Island.  It is the world’s largest puffin colony.  And, as if that weren’t enough, there are also stone circles and the remains of prehistoric houses.

wales top ten skomer puffin

10. Gladstone’s Library.  It’s a residential library, possibly the only one in the world. Bibliophiles like me can look at books all day, go to sleep when we can’t hold our eyes open any longer, then wake up and look at books again.  Yay!  As an added plus, the room rates are some of the cheapest I’ve seen in the UK.

wales top ten Gladstone's Libary

So, there you have it: my next European adventure, already planned.  I can’t wait to see these Wales top ten places in person!