Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The world's oldest skyscrapers: Shibam, Yemen


Originally uploaded by krhocevar_postcrossing
It was a happy day at my house when an official Postcrossing postcard arrived from Yemen. For ages now, I've been contemplating the best subject to discuss in my post about this mysterious country. Finally, I've decided something: some places in this world are so unique, and so different from what we know, that posting some words on a blog will never truly do it justice. Yemen is such a place, so I'm posting a video I think will be much more instructive than anything I can write. It's a little over 9 minutes, so it's an investment of time, but you'll see what the streets of Shibam look like, you'll see a traditional ceremony, see the food the locals eat, and learn a little history. I've never seen a place anything like it.

A few words first: Shibam is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, because it is said to be home to the world's oldest skyscrapers. It is a walled city and the first known example of urban planning based on vertical construction, and has been called the Manhattan of the desert. Some of these buildings, made of mud brick and up to eleven stories tall, are over half a millennium old. Shibam itself is over 1700 years old.

The economy of the region of Hadramaut is largely agrarian. Cities exist mainly as a place to sell and distribute goods produced on farms. The region is home to the Arab ethnic group the Hadhrami, which has its own Arab dialect. The Hadhrami have diaspora communities around the globe, particularly in Singapore, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Please enjoy the video, I really did!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Krka National Park, a Croatian gem.


I'm pretty fascinated with Croatia, I have to admit it. And among the many beautiful scenes I've viewed on postcards from that country, I think their national parks might be among the loveliest of all.

This gorgeous postcard, which came from rlicul a few months ago, shows Krka National Park, an area surrounding the beautiful Krka River. (Which has its own impressive and informative website.) In particular, the postcard displays the beautiful Skradinski Buk waterfalls, the most popular area of the park. These cascades travel for 400 meters (1312 feet) and descend a total of 47 meters (154 feet), and they end in a broad, clear, and beautiful pool that is a popular spot for visiting swimmers. Nearby the cascades is the village of Skradin (click for stunning panoramic photo), an award-winning cultural experience with old mills, crafts, and other experiences for visitors. It was founded as an Illyrian settlement, Scardona, prior to its takeover by the Romans, and has been a settled area for thousands of years. Roman ruins are another important area to visit in Krka National Park.

Recently I received a postcard
showing another breathtaking spot inside Krka National Park: Visovac Island. This place, which perhaps looks like a tropical oasis or possibly heaven on earth, is actually very sacred ground: it is home to Our Lady of Mercy Franciscan monastery. This beautiful monastery was founded in the 14th century by Augustinian monks, and then expanded and adapted by Franciscans who escaped from Bosnia during the Turkish invasion of the 15th century. The present incarnation of the monastery was built in the 18th century. Housed in the monastery's historic library is a particularly rare incunabula of Aesop's fables (1487), a collection of sultan's edicts, and a sabre belonging to Vuk Mandusik, one of the best-loved heroes of folk epics. This monastery is still a very holy place; although ferries do take visitors to the island, they are only allowed to stay for 30 minutes in order to maintain the piety of the monks who live there.

This is a really nice video showing some beautiful spots in Krka National Park. You can view it here, or if you click on it and go to Vimeo, you can view it in HD. Enjoy!

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