Friday, 30 August 2013

Preview: The City of Arts and Sciences

My Wonders can take the form of ancient, ruined cities, or feature as part of thriving modern cities. So, how about a city of the future?

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

More Landmarks That Are Secretly Awesome Transformers

I've just returned from a week offshore Mozambique, on a boat without any internet. I return to find that I've had another article published on Cracked - 6 Landmarks That Are Secretly Awesome Transformers.

As ever, the editors made various alterations to the article I submitted, trimming it for length, making it funnier and snappier, and adapting it a little more to the Cracked voice. The editors also spun my original premise around a little, which had been "Hidden Functions of Famous Landmarks". I think their version was a little jazzier, although it did elicit one message, sent privately via the Cracked mail system, which stated simply "that's not what a transformer is". My apologies if I've outraged any other fans of the TV/film series.

I submitted seven entries to the article, and they used six of them. They didn't use the following:

Big Ben has a prison cell

Monday, 26 August 2013

Preview: Baalbek

The largest Roman temples ever built were not in Rome, but in a small town in Lebanon.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Preview: The Blue Mosque

Living between around 1490 and 1588 was an architect called Mimar Sinan. This was the genius that effectively defined the grand domed Ottoman style of religious architecture, using the Hagia Sophia as inspiration. Istanbul was completely transformed, with almost a hundred large mosques, over 50 smaller ones, and countless other buildings being credited to him. It could be said that Sinan effectively built Istanbul. But one thing he did not build was this:

Monday, 19 August 2013

Preview: Cologne Cathedral

What was the tallest structure in Cologne and one of the tallest structures in Europe for almost 400 years? It was a wooden crane. A fixture in just about every image of the city made between the 15th and 19th Centuries, the crane stood prominently on top of the unfinished Cologne Cathedral, a vivid reminder of economic decline. The cathedral had been conceived during the Gothic revolution that had produced masterpieces such as Chartres and Amiens, but these were inescapably finished, Cologne was inescapably not. Begun in the mid-13th Century and only finished in the late-19th Century, it puts other delayed projects to shame. Was 600 years of waiting worth it?

Friday, 16 August 2013

Preview: Neuschwanstein Castle

Hereditary rule: it's not for everyone. Take Ludwig II of Bavaria, for example. He lived between 1845 and 1886, and was king from the age of 18. He wasn't very good at it. In a different world, one without the expectations of a nation but the freedom to express himself, Ludwig would probably have been happy as a camp theatre set-designer, lip-synching to Cher songs in his spare time, but in the straitjacketed world of a 19th Century German monarch this wasn't possible. Instead, Ludwig II built wildly expensive, flamboyant, impractical castles. Neuschwanstein was his greatest.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Fort Metal Cross

I'm in Ghana for a couple of weeks, for work. Most of that time is on a boat (where, as I write, I currently am) moving around various spots in the ocean and gathering data. There isn't much to see out here - the ocean scenery is great but somewhat repetitive. You've seen one vast expanse of water, you've seen them all. I've been in Ghana a number of times now, but due either to work or lack of transport, I've seen little more than the dim bars and very dirty streets of the oil city, Takoradi. Takoradi is likeable, but it is not remotely noteworthy historically or architecturally.

However, drive along west for a couple of hours, and this changes.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Preview: Abu Simbel

Imagine I got into a fight down the pub with a hard guy. Fair enough, I didn't actually win the fight, but I didn't lose either - well, that's a win in my book. Ever since, I've been marching around telling everybody about how great I am and what a tremendous fight I put up. All my Facebook updates mention it, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. To celebrate my famous victory against my muscle-bound opponent, I go and build a shed in my garden. Outside it, I put four big statues of me looking godlike; inside I fill it with paintings of me winning the fight and lots of stories about how great I am. What would you think? At best, you'd take me aside for a quiet word, and tell me I was being a knob. But then, I suppose, I'm not one of the greatest kings of all time. Ramesses II of the 19th Dynasty of ancient Egypt was - and if he wanted to go on and on and on about a draw, then he damn well could. And if he wanted to build something to celebrate this famous draw, well, he was able to conjure something up that was a little better than a garden shed. It's called Abu Simbel.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Preview: The Valley of the Kings

Famously, the Egyptian pyramids were the tombs of kings. Stupendous feats of man-management and technical prowess, they were packed full of riches to glorify the god-kings entombed for eternity. But they came with one small hitch: come the revolution, the pyramids became the biggest adverts in the world. "Lots of gold and wealth here!" they screamed, and the raiders and thieves and pillagers duly came and did their shopping. Revolution, or at least the general breakdown of society, happened on more than one occasion. By the time the 18th Dynasty and the beginning of the New Kingdom came around, there had been a Middle Kingdom and two chaotic Intermediate Periods, and it's safe to say that the mummified pharaohs of the pyramids had not exactly been allowed to rest in peace. Pyramids were clearly out of vogue, but the pharaohs of the New Kingdom still wanted to be buried in a lavish and prestigious manner, fitting of their exalted position. The solution - secret burial underground in a valley beneath a pyramid-like hill: the Valley of the Kings.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Preview: Karnak

In the ancient world, Thebes was one of the great cities. It was the political capital of Egypt for most of the New Kingdom, the period between around 1570BC to 1070BC when Egypt was at its greatest. The pyramids belong to an even earlier era, the appropriately named Old Kingdom, but most of the other great and famous stuff belongs to the New Kingdom. Among the greatest of all the Egyptian "stuff", and certainly the biggest, was Karnak Temple.

Monday, 5 August 2013

30. Wonder: St Paul's Cathedral

(For the St Paul's Cathedral preview, please click here.)

Some Other Unintentionally Hilarious Buildings

I've had another article published by Cracked - The 6 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Buildings Ever Proposed. Not dissimilar to my last one about alternative visions of well-known cities, this one takes a look at buildings that never were. These are seriously proposed, seriously considered, and sometimes almost or partly built constructions that were, simply put, mental.

As with every Cracked article, there was plenty of revision along the way. The six entries used in the final article were arrived at after quite a bit of culling of other suggestions. The following was written out fully as my example entry early on (and was used, in amended form, for my Listverse article on pyramids).

Pyramids of Death

Friday, 2 August 2013

Preview: Cairo Citadel

Egypt does strange things to your perception of age. It makes everything else seem young. After looking round or just reading about a temple that's 3 or 4000 years old, a Roman temple of just 2000 years seems less of a big deal. A 500-year-old mosque seems like a spritely young pup. And so right in the middle of Cairo are a series of constructions originating way back to the early 13th Century - older than Ayutthaya, Machu Picchu, or St Paul's Cathedral. Constantly changing over the centuries, these fortifications have been a hugely significant part in the development of the Egypt we see today, the critical core of Egypt's political, religious, and military history. Together, these walls, buildings, palaces, and mosques make up Cairo Citadel. And while it may not exactly be the pyramids, it arguably has had a lot more to do with the city we see today than a massive pile of stones on the outskirts of town.