The Steam Hammers Of The Industrial Age

Standing proudly at the entrance to the French industrial town of Le Creusot, in the region of Bourgogne in the eastern part of the country, is a colossal Creusot steam hammer built more than a century ago. Being a former mining town whose economy is now dominated by multi-national metallurgical companies, the steam hammer is Le Creusot’s main attraction.

The steam hammer defined the industrial age. It is a massive machine that can deliver powerful blows to iron ingots and give them large shapes that was previously impossible using manual power and hand-held hammers. The possibility of using steam to drive a hammer was first suggested by James Watt, whose invention, the Watt steam engine, drove the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. James Watt filed a patent in 1784, but it wasn’t until 1840 that the first working steam hammer was built to meet the needs of forging increasingly large iron or steel components.

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Steam hammer used for forging steel at the Midvale Steel Company, c. 1905. Photo credit: explorepahistory.com

Heikegani: The Crab With A Human Face

In a small seaside park near the Kanmonkyo Bridge, in the Japanese city of Shimonoseki, stands two bronze statues depicting two Samurai warriors locked in mortal combat. The statues are flanked by replicas of cannons and ships. The monument commemorate a historic battle that took place in this area more than eight centuries ago.

The year was 1185. Two powerful fleets, one consisting of the Heike clan, the imperial rulers of Japan, and the other consisting of the Minamoto, who were fighting for control of the throne, faced each other one April morning on tiny bay called Dan-no-ura in Japan’s Inland Sea. In the fierce battle that followed, hundreds of Samurai warriors lost their lives and their bodies slipped between the waves to the bottom of the sea. At the end of the day, the Minamoto came out victorious; the Heike were routed and their 6-year old emperor was drowned by his grandmother to prevent his capture. Minamoto Yoritomo went on to become the first Shogun, or military ruler, of Japan.

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The Unfinished National Monument of Scotland

High up on the summit of Carlton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland, stands the country’s National Monument. But far from being the source of national pride, the fallacious project has been a national embarrassment, a disgrace, a folly.

The monument was supposed to be a national memorial to the Scottish soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. If completed, it would have resembled the iconic Parthenon of Athens. Instead, all the Scottish could muster was to erect twelve pillars. The city quickly lost interest and refused to contribute funds for the completion of the monument, and the structure remained incomplete for two hundred years.

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Photo credit: jgenard/Flickr

The “Lone Pine” Trees Growing Across Australia

Many war memorials across Australia have pine trees growing in their grounds. These trees are called “Lone Pines”, and their ancestry can be traced back to a single pine tree that stood where one of the bloodiest battles of the Gallipoli campaign took place.

The Battle of the Lone Pine was fought around an area called Anzac Cove, on a rise known as "Plateau 400", in Gallipoli, in Turkey. It was year 1915 and the First World War was in full force. The Allied offensive against the Ottoman Empire in Gallipoli wasn’t going on very well, and so they decided to create a diversion at Anzac to draw the Ottoman attention away from the main assaults at Sari Bair, Chunuk Bair and Hill 971.

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The Lone Pine Cemetery at Gallipoli. Photo credit: Jorge Láscar/Flickr

How Amsterdam’s Airport Is Fighting Noise Pollution With Land Art

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, located just 9 km southwest of the city, is the third busiest airport in Europe and one of the busiest in the world. In an average year, more than 63 million passengers pass through Schiphol in as many as 479,000 flights to and from various international destinations. That’s an average of about 1,300 flights every day, or nearly a flight every minute. In other words, Schiphol is very busy and very loud.

When the Dutch military first built a landing strip here in 1916, they chose the site because it was a polder —a broad and flat lowland that used to be the bed of a vast lake. Over the decades the flat expanse of the Haarlemmermeer polder became one of the most densely populated areas of the country, and the noise produced by the airport became an annoying problem for the residents.

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Inkerman Cave Monastery of St. Clement

The Inkerman Monastery of St. Clement, located near the city of Inkerman at the mouth of the Black River, is built into the natural caves and hollows in the cliff face carved by the river. The name “Inkerman” is Turkish meaning cave fortress, although the city itself is located in the Crimean peninsula, a territory currently under dispute between the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

The current monastery was founded in 1850 on the site of a medieval Byzantine monastery where the relics of St. Clement were supposedly kept before their removal to San Clemente by Saints Cyril and Methodius. The early Christians are supposed to have kept the relics in a grotto which could be visited only on the anniversary of his death.

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Photo credit: Alexxx Malev/Flickr

The Sand Covered Floors of Caribbean Synagogues

The Caribbean is not all about sandy beaches, its about sandy synagogues too.

As many as four synagogues in this part of the world have floors covered with sand, and a fifth one in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. These Jewish places of worship have a regular wood or brick base, but topped with a layer of sand about an inch or two in depth.

The tradition of spreading sand on the floor is thought to have originated at the time of the Spanish Inquisition, which raged across Spain and all Spanish colonies in the Americas. During this turbulent period in history, all non-Christians, including Jews, were forced to convert to Christianity. Many of these converts, however, continued to practice Judaism, but secretly. And sand provided a means to this secrecy.

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The Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Willemstad, Curaçao. Notice the sand on the floor. Photo credit: www.snoa.com

The Norias of Hama

The norias of the ancient Syrian city of Hama are seventeen historic waterwheels located along the Orontes River that date back to the Byzantine Era, although locals claim they are older still.

The water wheels, called noria, are part of the city’s now-defunct irrigation system, and were designed to lift water from the river and move it through aqueducts to agricultural fields and people’s home. The wheels were powered by the current of the flowing river. As the wheels moved, wooden buckets placed at the periphery of the wheels scooped water out from the river and emptied it into aqueducts. Gravity then lead the water along aqueducts to its destination in various parts of the city.

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Photo credit: Alessandra Kocman/Flickr

Operation Tracer: The Secret Plan To Bury Soldiers Alive Inside The Rock Of Gibraltar

The great limestone monolith called the Rock of Gibraltar, towering over the small British overseas territory near the southwestern tip of Europe on the Iberian Peninsula, has long been Gibraltar’s natural defense. During the American Revolutionary War of the 18th century, and later, during the Second World War, the British Army dug a dizzying maze of tunnels at the base of the rock to defend this strategically important military hold against enemy attacks. More than 50 km of tunnels permeate this massive monolith, and they were once housed with guns, hangars, ammunition stores, barracks and hospitals.

After the end of the Second World War, a myth began to circulate that within the Rock there is a secret cave which was meant to hold six men, sealed from the outside. The men were expected to survive and observe the activities of the Germans for a period of one year or more, should Gibraltar fall to Nazi forces.

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The Rock of Gibraltar. Photo credit: Rob/Flickr

Casa Vicens: Gaudi’s First Building Opens To Public

More than 130 years after it was built, the first building designed by Barcelona’s famed architect Antoni Gaudi opens to the public for the first time.

Casa Vicens was built as a summer home between 1883 and 1885 for Manuel Vicens i Montaner, a brick and tile factory manufacturer. Gaudi was 31 years old at that time and was just beginning his career. Throughout his graduation years at the Provincial School of Architecture in Barcelona, Gaudi’s work portrayed a rather Victorian style, similar to that of his predecessors. However, shortly after finishing school he began to develop his own style that was characterized by Neo-Mudéjar influence. Some characteristics of this style include the juxtaposition of geometric masses, the use of ceramic tiles, metalwork, and abstract brick ornamentation. Casa Vicens is one of the first buildings in the Art Nouveau style.

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