Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Longmen Grottoes, China

Longmen Grottoes are a series of Buddhist cave temples carved into the rock on the banks of the Yi River, south of the city of Luoyang, in Henan province, in China. The site includes some 1,350 caves and 40 pagodas, which are choke-full of statues of all shapes and sizes, ranging from 1 inch to the largest Buddha statue of 17 meters tall. There are as many as 100,000 statues carved out of the hard limestone cliffs. Stretching for 1 km along both banks of the river, the caves represent one of the finest examples of Chinese Buddhist art.

The Longmen Grottoes lie 12 km south of the historic Chinese city of Luoyang. Here are the two hills flanking the Yi River become very steep and cliff-like as they approach the river valley. It is here that the easily worked limestone was carved to produce the Longmen Grottoes.

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The 1,800-Km-Long Hand-Dug Grand Canal of China

The Grand Canal is a series of waterways in eastern and northern China starting at Beijing and ending at the city of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, linking the Yellow River with the Yangtze River. Stretching some 1,800 km, it is the world’s longest man-made waterway, and constitutes one of the world’s largest and most extensive civil engineering project prior to the Industrial Revolution. At its peak, it consisted of more than 2,000 km of artificial waterways, linking five of China’s main river basins. The canal was built to enable the transport of surplus grain from the agriculturally rich Yangtze and Huai river valleys to feed the capital cities and large standing armies in northern China. Since then, it has played an important role in ensuring commerce and cultural exchange between the northern and southern regions of eastern China and is still in use today as a major means of communication.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tollund Man, The 2,400 Year Old Bog Body

Over the past few centuries, men harvesting peat in European bogs have discovered the preserved remains of hundreds of human corpses called “bog bodies”. Some of them are as old as 10,000 years. They have been recovered mostly in north-western Europe, especially in Ireland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, northern Germany, and Denmark. What makes bog bodies so unique is they are fantastically well preserved, often with skins and internal organs intact, thanks to the unusual chemistry of peat bogs. Peat bogs are made up of accumulated layers of dead moss that contain highly acidic water, low temperature and poor oxygen, all of which contribute towards preservation of the bodies. Soft tissues, stomach contents, hair, nails, and clothing are frequently preserved well enough for forensic analysis. Stomach contents can provide information about diet, while teeth and nails provide useful clues about the person’s health and age. Clothes are an indicator of culture.

No one knows how these people ended up in the bogs, but the presence of horrific wounds, such as slashed throats, suggest the bodies had been sacrificed or executed as punishment for crimes. One of the most notable example of bog bodies, and one of the most well preserved, is Tollund Man, unearthed in Denmark in 1950.

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The remarkably well preserved head of the Tollund Man. Photo credit: Robert Clark, National Geographic

Y-40 Deep Joy: World's Deepest Swimming Pool

Y-40 “Deep Joy” is the world's deepest pool, at 42 meters deep, a height equivalent to that of a 14-storey building. The pool measures 21 meters by 18 meters at the surface and changes into a well like structure as you go deeper. Holding 4,300 cubic meters of water maintained at a constant temperature of 32-34 degree centigrade, “Deep Joy” offers diving enthusiasts the freedom to dive and swim without a wetsuit. The pool is located in the Hotel Millepini Terme in Montegrotto Terme, a small town in Italy, and was designed by renowned architect Emanuele Boaretto. Y-40 offers activities such as leisure dives, dive training and photo shoots for photographer and film producers. The cylindrical pool has various intermediate depths of caves for technical underwater diving, ledges and underwater glass viewing panels for spectators who don’t want to get wet.

Opened in June 20144, Y-40 beat the previous record holder for the world's deepest swimming pool - Nemo 33, located in Brussels, Belgium that had a maximum depth of 34.5 meters.

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Italian former legend of free diving, Umberto Pelizzari (L) gives a free diving course at the “Y-40 The Deep Joy” swimming pool on December 8, 2014. Photo credit: Olivier Morin

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bubble Gum Walls: America’s Stickiest Attractions

Chewing gum litter is a major problem in western countries. According to a study conducted in 2005, Americans chew, on average, 160-180 pieces or about 800 grams of gum per person, per year. The resulting waste probably adds up to more than 250,000 tons annually. A large share of the waste ends up on the streets, on walls and on sidewalks pounded smooth by the feet of pedestrians, costing millions of dollars a year on clean up. Any loose piece probably ends up on somebody’s shoes. But for all the annoyances it causes, gum can also inspire art, thanks to its malleability, stickiness and its wide color palette. Checkout theses gum covered walls that constitute some of the grossest attraction in the U.S.

Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo, California

Located in downtown San Luis Obispo, California, this 15-foot high and 70-foot long alley is lined with chewed gum left by passers-by. With gum on either side of the alley, the total length of the gum covered wall is 20 meters.

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The Fishing Village of Al Max, Alexandria

Al Max (also spelled El Max) is one of the neighbourhoods of the city of Alexandria in Egypt, located in the Department of Amriya district in the west of Alexandria. Al Max is rarely visited, yet it is one of the most beautiful places in Egypt.

Al Max is a community of fishermen centered around the freshwater canal Mahmoudiyah, dug in 1820 under the order of Viceroy Mohamed Ali in order to bring water from the Nile to Alexandria and also be a path for cargo ships. The canal was named after Sultan Mahmud II, the Sultan of Istanbul as Egypt then was an Ottoman state. The Mahmudiya Canal runs to the south of the city and, by a series of locks, enters the Alexandria harbor, the principal port of Egypt. The canal used to play an important role in navigation during the 19th century, allowing cargoes from Upper, Middle and Lower Egypt to be brought to Alexandria without passing Rosetta and the mouth of the river, where many ships sank in the turbulent waters. Also trading ships from Alexandria carrying imported merchandises reached Cairo by passing through the Mahmoudiyah Canal.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

The Saar Loop at Mettlach

The Saar River rises in the Vosges mountains on the border of Alsace and Lorraine, in France, then flows northward through western Germany to its confluence with Mosel river, near Trier. Within Germany the Saar River pursues a winding course until it reaches a barrier in the form of Hunsrück, a low mountain range made of hard quartzite rock. Quartzite is a hard, metamorphic rock which was originally sandstone. Sandstone is converted into quartzite through heating and pressure usually related to tectonic compression. The river, unable to carve a way through the rocks, makes a full 180-degree turn and cuts a deep U-shaped gorge through the thickly wooded mountains. This remarkable hairpin bend located above Mettlach is called the Saar Loop or Saarschleife in German, and is one of the most famous sights of Saarland. The river flows parallel for a long stretch in the opposite direction before turning left and continuing its northward journey towards Mosel river.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Herodium: The Palace and Tomb of King Herod

Located 12 km south of Jerusalem, in the Judean desert, Herodium looks like an extinct volcano, but it really is a fort built by King Herod the Great between 23 and 15 BC. King Herod’s palace and fortress was built atop a natural hill, raised to a greater height by heaping earth around the walls, creating a cone-shaped mountain. The complex was surrounded by double walls seven stories high, within which Herod built a palace that included halls, courtyards and opulent bathhouses. At the base of the fortress was an impressive royal compound with magnificent gardens. A special aqueduct brought water to the desert from the area of Solomon’s Pools near Bethlehem. Being the highest peak in the Judean desert, Herodium commanded a breath taking view, overlooking the desert with the mountains of Moab to the east, and the Judean Hills to the west.

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Padrão dos Descobrimentos: The Discoveries Monument in Lisbon

The Portuguese were prolific explorers. Starting from the early 15th century, under the sponsorship of prince Henry the Navigator, several Portuguese explorers became firsts to undertake journeys that were previously deemed impossible, discover new routes and reach places that were not known to exist. In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias reached the Cape of Good Hope and entered the Indian Ocean, the first European to do so. Ten years later, Vasco da Gama led the first fleet around Africa to India and started a maritime route between the countries. In less than twenty years, Ferdinand Magellan would embark on his epic voyage across the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean becoming the first to nearly circumnavigate the globe. Soon after, explorations proceeded to southeast Asia and reached Japan in 1542. In between, scores of brave men joined the expeditions and discovered many remote islands including New Guinea, Saint Helena, Ascension Island and the most remote inhabited island in the world, Tristan da Cunha, to name a few.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Peeing Statues of Brussels

One of the most iconic symbols of Brussels is not a majestic bridge or a tower or a cathedral, but a tiny statue of a little boy happily pissing in public. If you have ever been to the Belgian capital, chances are you’ve seen Manneken Pis - the bronze statue of a boy peeing into the fountain’s basin. Manneken Pis is the city’s most famous attraction and visited by hundreds of tourists every single day. But not many of them are aware that the little boy is not alone - he has a family, consisting of a sister and a dog, and they all seem to suffer from the same problem of relieving themselves in public.

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