Wednesday, July 29, 2015


After an hour fast train ride from Osaka via the the Shin-Osaka line, and a 15 minute walk, we arrive at the magnificent Himeji-jo castle. The castle is the finest surviving example of early 17th-century Japanese castle architecture. It is located in Himeji City, in the Hyogo Prefecture, an area that has been an important transportation hub in West Japan since ancient times. The castle property, situated on a hill summit in the central part of the Harima Plain, covers 107 hectares and comprises eighty-two buildings. It is centred on the Tenshu-gun, a complex made up of the donjon, keeps and connecting structures that are part of a highly developed system of defence and ingenious protection devices dating from the beginning of the Shogun period. The castle functioned continuously as the centre of a feudal domain for almost three centuries, until 1868 when the Shogun fell and a new national government was created. 

The principal complex of these structures is a masterpiece of construction in wood, combining function with aesthetic appeal, both in its elegant appearance unified by the white plastered earthen walls – that has earned it the name Shirasagi-jo (White Heron Castle) – and in the subtlety of the relationships between the building masses and the multiple roof layers visible from almost any point in the city.

It is approximately an hours climb  on several stairs to reach the top of the castle especially during summer where everyone seems to be visiting the structure to pay homage to their king whose remains are located at the topmost part of the castle. I was about to give up midway through the climb when I noticed that several senior citizens were climbing.  At the top, one can see beautiful city. On the way down one can see several rooms including the suicide or harakiri rooms.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hoi An Ancient Town

Hoi An Ancient town is located in Viet Nam’s central Quang Nam Province, on the north bank near the mouth of the Thu Bon River. The inscribed property comprises 30 ha and it has a buffer zone of 280 ha. It  is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a small-scale trading port active the 15th to 19th centuries  which traded widely, both with the countries of Southeast and East Asia and with the rest of the world. Its decline in the later 19th century ensured that it has retained its traditional urban tissue to a remarkable degree.

The town reflects a fusion of indigenous and foreign cultures (principally Chinese and Japanese with later European influences) that combined to produce this unique survival. 

The town comprises a well-preserved complex of 1,107 timber frame buildings, with brick or wooden walls, which include architectural monuments, commercial and domestic vernacular structures, notably an open market and a ferry quay, and religious buildings such as pagodas and family cult houses. The houses are tiled and the wooden components are carved with traditional motifs.  They are arranged side-by-side in tight, unbroken rows along narrow pedestrian streets. There is also the fine wooden Japanese bridge, with a pagoda on it, dating from the 18th century. The original street plan, which developed as the town became a port, remains. It comprises a grid of streets with one axis parallel to the river and the other axis of streets and alleys set at right angles to it. Typically, the buildings front the streets for convenient customer access while the backs of the buildings open to the river allowing easy loading and off-loading of goods from boats.

The surviving wooden structures and street plan are original and intact and together present a traditional townscape of the 17th and 18th centuries, the survival of which is unique in the region. The town continues to this day to be occupied and function as a trading port and centre of commerce. The living heritage reflecting the diverse communities of the indigenous inhabitants of the town, as well as foreigners, has also been preserved and continues to be passed on. Hoi An Ancient Town remains an exceptionally well-preserved example of a Far Eastern port.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Ephesus contains successive settlements from the Neolithic, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Selçuk and Ottoman periods. The property is located at the Aegean Coast of Turkey within what was once the estuary of the River Kaystros, Ephesus comprises Hellenistic and Roman settlements founded on new locations, which followed the coastline as it retreated westward. Excavations have revealed grand monuments of the Roman Imperial period including the Library of Celsus and the Great Theater. Little remains of the famous Temple of Artemis, one of the “Seven Wonders of the World,” which drew pilgrims from all around the Mediterranean. Since the 5th century, the House of the Virgin Mary, a domed cruciform chapel seven kilometers from Ephesus, became a major place of Christian pilgrimage. The Ancient City of Ephesus is an outstanding example of a Roman port city, with sea channel and harbor basin.

Complex of the Hue Monuments

After an hour plane ride from Ho Chi Minh City, we arrived at the beautiful resort city of Da Nang.  It took us another 45 minutes to arrive at our hotel in Hoi An city- the Hoi An Historic hotel.  It is the first hotel in this town which 5 minute walk to the ancient town center.  The trip to Hue city, which was the former capital of unified Vietnam in 1802 was a three and a half hour ride with several stops- the French and American bunkers in the previous wars, a marble museum and restaurant, before arriving at the citadel.  Hue was not only a political  but also
a cultural and religious center under the Nguyen dynasty until 1945.   The Perfume river- which we traversed winding through the capital, the Imperial city and the Inner city gives this unique feudal capital a setting of great natural beauty.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara

The Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara bear exceptional witness to the evolution of Japanese architecture and art and vividly illustrate a critical period in the cultural and political development of Japan, when Nara functioned as its capital from 710 to 784. During this period, the framework of national government was consolidated and Nara enjoyed great prosperity, emerging as the fountainhead of Japanese culture.   

Located in the modern city of Nara, the property includes eight component parts composed of seventy-eight different buildings covering 617.0 hectares.  The site of Heijô-kyô was carefully selected in accordance with Chinese geomantic principles. A grand city plan, based on Chinese examples such as Chang'an, was laid out, with palaces, Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, public buildings, houses, and roads on an orthogonal grid. The palace itself, located at the northern end of the central avenue, occupied 120 ha. It comprised the official buildings where political and religious ceremonies took place, notably the Daigokuden (imperial audience hall) and Chôdô-in (state halls), and the imperial residence (Dairi), together with various compounds for administrative and other purposes.

The component parts include an archaeological site (the Nara Palace Site), five Buddhist temples (the Tôdai-ji, the Kôfuku-ji, the Yakushi-ji, the Gangô-ji and the Tôshôdai-ji), a Shinto shrine (the Kasuga-Taisha) and an associative cultural landscape (the Kasugayama Primeval Forest), the natural environment which is an integral part of all Shinto shrines. Together, these places provide a vivid and comprehensive picture of religion and life in the Japanese capital in the 8th century, a period of profound political and cultural change.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Church of the Ascension, Kolomenskoye, Russia

The Church of the Ascension dominates the surrounding architectural and natural structures and unites all the elements of the estate. It is also a unique architectural and artistic monument as one of the earliest tent-roofed churches in Russia and as such the progenitor of subsequent architecture. The church was built in 1532 by Prince Vasili III to commemorate the birth of the prince who was to become Tsar Ivan IV 'the Terrible'. 

It was consecrated with great pomp on 3 September 1532 by the Metropolitan Dionissi, the Bishops of Kolomenskoye and Zaraisk, and the whole of the synod in the presence of Grand Prince Vasili, Grand Princess Yelena, Tsarevich Ioann and the brothers of the tsar. The church is situated in the Kolomenskoye estate, first recorded in 1339, when it belonged to Ivan KaIita, Grand Prince of Moscow. By the 16th century it had become a fortified stronghold. The palace complex was added later, in the 17th century, and it continued in use as an imperial residence and estate until the 1917 Revolution.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Archeological City of Troy

The archaeological site of Troy is of immense significance in the understanding of the development of European civilization at a critical stage in its early development. It is of exceptional cultural importance because of the profound influence of Homer's Iliad on the creative arts over more than two millennia. Troy is a unique example in an Aegean context of the oriental city at the junction between Anatolia, the Aegean and the Balkans. It is also probably the most famous archaeological site in the world. It may be considered to represent the starting point for modern archaeology and its public recognition. The Greek and Roman cities at Troy are represented above all by the sanctuary complex. 

Roman urban organization is reflected by two major public buildings on the edge of the agora. The odeion (concert hall) has the traditional horseshoe-shaped plan and tiers of seats made from limestone blocks. The nearby bouleuterion (council house) is smaller but similar in plan. The surrounding landscape contains many important prehistoric and historical sites: cemeteries, Hellenistic burial mounds, Greek and Roman settlements, Roman and Ottoman bridges, etc.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Many early historians were influenced by supernatural folktales in their explanations. Some legends held that Merlin had a giant build the structure for him or that he had magically transported it from Mount Killaraus in Ireland, while others held the Devil responsible. Henry of Huntingdon was the first to write of the monument around 1130 soon followed by Geoffrey of Monmouth who was the first to record fanciful associations with Merlin which led the monument to be incorporated into the wider cycle of European medieval romance. According to Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae, using his magic Merlin took the circle from its original place in Ireland at the behest of Aurelius Ambrosius to serve as an appropriate burial place for Britain's dead princes. In 1655, the architect John Webb, writing in the name of his former superior Inigo Jones, argued that Stonehenge was a Roman temple, dedicated to Caelus, (a Latin name for the Greek sky-god Uranus), and built following the Tuscan order. Later commentators maintained that the Danes erected it. Indeed, up until the late nineteenth century, the site was commonly attributed to the Saxons or other relatively recent societies. Druids and scientific evidence

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Beautiful Sharjah

I first read/heard of Sharjah in my early stamp collecting days when it featured the hard-to-obtain  Beethoven stamp which I collect until this day (There are more than 200 stamps of Beethoven and I have at least 150 of them). In the 70's when the UAE was not yet rich as it is today, novelty stamps would be featured by that country to raise some extra revenues.  I got their novelty Beethoven stamp on gold and silver foil which was issued in 1970. This stamp cost around P500 today.  During those days, I memorized all the 7 emirates by heart never had I imagined that I would be visiting 4 of them someday.  

Sharjah is a beautiful city less than an hours drive from Dubai.  I stayed at Hilton hotel at very cheap rates at which I booked a month in advance. I have booked through this site in my previous travels to Paris, Yogyakarta and Siem Reap and they give "secret deals" to frequent "bookers".  I was lucky to have gotten this deal.  The nice thing with is that you can cancel any reservation at least a day prior and they don't charge you a cent. At the Hilton, the mostly Filipino staff  were very friendly and helpful and made me feel at home. The Hilton view was magnificent overlooking a lake and the wonderful city skyline.  The city center is just a few meters away and bustles with more activity at night.  I had a blast taking pictures and the scenery really brings night photography to a whole new level.  I was glad I brought my reliable and super-lightweight Sirui tripod. I took several pictures of the mosque, cityscape and lake-views and enjoyed every minute of it!  I didn't realize it was almost midnight (4am RP time) and after a few minutes walk, I was back in my cozy hotel.  The next day I ventured to Al Ain, an ancient city of Abu Dhabi emirate.

I had a memorable time in Sharjah, far away lands on my stamps, now I am treading on.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Cultural Sites of Al Ain

After an hour and a half drive from Dubai, one arrives in Al Ain, a small but vibrant city which is a part of Abu Dhabi, one of the the seven emirates. It borders Oman so a few more steps and you are in another country.  Tourist beware though of taking pictures near the border because the Omanis are strict and you can be reprimanded.  Always bring your passport wherever you go around UAE because you might be crossing borders without being aware of it.  The serial property of The Cultural Sites of Al Ain, with its various component parts and the regional context in which it is situated, provides testimony to ancient sedentary human occupation in a desert region. Occupied continuously since the Neolithic, the region presents vestiges of numerous prehistoric cultures, notably from the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.

Al Ain is situated at the crossroads of the ancient land routes between Oman, the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia. Very diverse in nature, the tangible elements of the property include remains of circular stone tombs and settlements from the Hafit and Hili periods, wells and partially underground aflaj irrigation systems, oases and mud brick constructions assigned to a wide range of defensive, domestic and economic purposes. This expertise in construction and water management enabled the early development of agriculture for five millennia, up until the present day.

Thursday, October 17, 2013