The Chimneypots of Paris Rooftops

A trivial but iconic architectural element of Europe are the chimneypots that adorn the rooftops of houses and buildings. In Paris, in particular, they are ubiquitous and occur in unusually large concentration on nearly every building. As these photos testify, it is impossible to look over the rooftops of the sprawling French capital without being accosted by chimneypots. You can actually tell how many individual fireplaces the building has or had by counting the chimneypots.

Chimneys first appeared in Europe possibly in the 13th century. Prior to that, homes were heated by an open fire set on a clay or brick surface in the center of the house, over which meals were cooked and people huddled around for warmth. The smoke from the fire would fill the house and only escape through a hole in the roof or in the wall made for the purpose. Early chimneys appeared only on large manor houses, and during the Tudor period it became fashionable to have ornate brick chimneys and stacks.

chimneypots-paris-2

Photo credit: Shreyans Bhansali/Flickr

Wenchuan Earthquake Memorial Museum

On 12 May, 2008, a devastating earthquake in Wenchuan County, in Sichuan, China, left nearly 70,000 people killed and over 18,000 missing. An additional 375,000 were injured and a staggering 4.8 million were left homeless as buildings and home collapsed everywhere.

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake, in 2013, the Wenchuan Earthquake Memorial Museum was opened in the town of Qushan, in Beichuan Qiang autonomous county. Designed by architect Cai Yongjie, of Tongji-University in Shanghai, the memorial takes the shape of a huge crack in the ground that functions as sunken pathways to large subterranean buildings topped with green roofs. The memorial landscape spans across the whole valley surrounded by hills and forests on one side, and bordered by a small road and by a four-lane highway on the other. This road leads to the old town of Beichuan, whose ruins are kept preserved as memory for the people.

wenchuan-earthquake-museum-5

Photo credit: Cai Yongjie

Mount Bromo: The Hungry Volcano

Mount Bromo in East Java, Indonesia, is the youngest of several volcanoes in the Tengger massif, and is one of Java’s most active volcanoes. When it’s erupting, which it currently is, it emits thick, white, sulphurous smoke. When active, visits to Mount Bromo is generally advised against. Otherwise, the 2,300-meter peak is a popular tourist destination, famous for its scenic location and magnificent sunrise views.

Mount Bromo is located in the middle of a wide expanse of sandy plain called the "Sea of Sand". This barren terrain is also home to around 90,000 Tengger people, a Hindu ethnic minority in the predominantly Muslim Indonesian archipelago. Every year, irrespective of whether the mountain is spewing smoke and fire, hundreds of Tenggerese from nearby villages travel up the mountain in order make food offerings which they throw into the live caldera of the volcano. Aside from fruit, rice, and vegetables, livestock such as goats, chicken and even cows are thrown into the volcano. The offerings are made as part of a festival called Yadnya Kasada, which lasts about a month.

mount-bromo-1

Photo credit: sara marlowe/Flickr

Ai Pioppi: An Amusement Park Built by One Man

In the Italian town of Nervesa della Battaglia, about 45 kilometers north of Venice, is a restaurant named Ai Pioppi. Aside from the food and beer, its biggest attraction are the rides, swings, and giant merry-go-rounds that the restaurant’s owner Bruno has built almost single-handedly.

Ai Poppi’s story began nearly fifty years ago, when Bruno, on a whim, bought a few jugs of wine and several pounds of sausage and set up a tiny food stall under the shade of a tree to see if anyone would show up. In just two or three hours he had sold everything.

After establishing a proper eatery, Bruno went to the local blacksmith to have a few hooks joined to some chairs. But the blacksmith was too busy, and so Bruno decided that he would learn to weld himself. Once he had learned the art, Bruno started envisioning all sorts of things that he could add to his restaurant to entice people. One thing led to another, and forty years later he had a full fledged amusement park in the woods with whimsical rides, swings, slides and even a human powered rollercoaster that shoots down a sloped track.

ai-pioppi-2

Photo credit: Oriol Ferrer Mesià/Flickr

Historic Panoramic Paintings And Cycloramas

The word ‘panorama’ is used very frequently in modern times. The rise of mobile phone photography and the ability to take panoramic photographs without specialized equipment contributed to its popularity. But the word itself is very old. It was originally coined by the Irish painter Robert Barker in 1792 to describe his paintings of Edinburgh, Scotland, which he made on a cylindrical surface. Barker displayed his 360-degree paintings inside a brick rotunda building which he erected in Leicester Square, London. He called it “The Panorama”.

Barker charged visitors a flat 3 shillings to stand on a central platform under a skylight, surrounding which were enormous paintings that created an immersive illusion of standing in the middle of the landscape while the depicted scenes unfolded. To increase the realism of his scenes, Baker concealed all the borders of the canvas and strategically placed props in the foreground. Patrons were given orientation plans to help them navigate the scene and identify key buildings, sites, or events exhibited on the canvas. To heighten the immersive experience, Barker even made the audience walk down a dark corridor and up a long flight of stairs so that their minds could be refreshed before they viewed a scene.

panorama-sevastopol-detail-1

Details from a panorama depicting the Siege of Sevastopol, created in 1905. Photo credit: Rumlin/Wikimedia

Asphalt Lakes And The Secrets in Their Depths

Some of the world’s strangest lakes are filled not with water but with asphalt, also known bitumen, the same material that roads are paved with.

The great majority of asphalt that is used today is derived from petroleum, but asphalt is also found in concentrated form in nature. Sometimes they seep from the ground and create large puddles known as tar pits or asphalt lakes. At other times, they are found soaked in sands, as in Athabasca oil sands in northeastern Alberta, Canada, which is the world’s largest deposit of natural bitumen. Asphalt is also known to erupt in underwater volcanoes, but these are relatively rare and were discovered only in 2003.

tar-pits-fossils-4

La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angles. Photo credit: Betsy Weber/Flickr

Fictional Bridges on Euro Banknotes Become Real

In 2002, the European Central Bank introduced seven new bank notes to the union. Each note featured an artwork of a bridge on the back. According to ECB, the bridges were meant to illustrate the tight collaboration and communication between Europe and the rest of the world in general, but more importantly, amongst the European countries in particular. However, none of these seven bridges actually existed.

The decision to put fictional bridges on the bank notes was taken when it was realized that it was impossible to feature architectural landmarks from each of the 12 European Union member nations when there were only seven bank notes. Worried that excluding any member would leave them offended, the European Monetary Institute decided to feature imaginary bridges instead, that represents different styles and age of Europe.

bridges-of-spijkenisse-5

Photo credit: Klaas Boonstra

Paternoster: This Elevator Never Stops

The paternoster is kind of elevator that consist of a chain of open compartments that move up and down continuously through the vertical shaft of a building in a loop and without stopping. Passengers step into the moving compartments in the direction they wish to go and then hop off when the elevator reaches the desired floor. There is no stopping in between the floors, and passengers must remain alert and get their timing right or else get severed. For people who avoid escalators for fear of getting their toes crushed, paternoster are a death trap. A small misstep and you could lose your arm or even your life.

The first paternoster was installed in 1884 in Dartford, England. Seven years prior, its patent was obtained by a British engineer named Peter Hart. The name paternoster comes from the Latin words “Our Father”, which are the first two words of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. It doesn’t mean you should say a small prayer each time you get into one, the reference comes from the device’s resemblance to rosary beads that are used when reciting prayers.

paternoster-3

A paternoster in Hamburg, Germany. Photo credit: Andreas Dantz/Flickr

The Round City of Baghdad

The city of Baghdad was founded in the 8th century as the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, by its caliph al-Mansur. The Caliphate had just defeated the Umayyads, and al-Mansur wanted his own capital to rule from. He chose a site about 30 km to the north of the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon, along the banks of the Tigris, and began to draw up plans for its design and construction.

Mansur wanted Baghdad to be the perfect city, to be the capital of the Islamic empire under the Abbasids. To that end, he brought in thousands of architects, engineers, surveyors, carpenters, blacksmiths and over a hundred thousand laborers from across the Abbasid empire. He consulted astrologers, and according to their advice, laid the first ceremonial brick on 30 July 762.

round-city-baghdad-2

The round city of Baghdad in the 10th century, the peak of the Abbasid Caliphate. Illustration: Jean Soutif/Science Photo Library

The Giant Pink Bunny at Colletto Fava

On the hills of the 5,000 foot high Colletto Fava mountain in northern Italy's Piedmont region, there lies an enormous pink bunny. The toy lies on its back with arms open to the skies, from where it appears to have fallen. The fall must have been fatal, because the bunny’s side is split open and its entrails are spilled out. It’s not exactly a ghastly sight. Instead, it makes you smile.

The pink rabbit was knitted by Gelitin, a group of artists from Vienna, as an outdoor sculpture for people to climb on, relax on its belly, and generally play with. The bunny is 200 feet long and about 20 feet thick. It is made of soft, waterproof, materials and is stuffed with straw.

The bunny appeared on the hills in 2005 and was originally bright pink. Now it has turned murky grey, and is slowly rotting back into the earth. The bunny is expected to entirely disappear naturally by 2025. There are no plans to move it or save it.

bunny-colletto-fava-1

Photo credit: www.gelitin.net