Posts Tagged ‘UNESCO World Heritage

04
Apr
11

Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka: The cave of the Spirits of Knowledge

Polonnaruwa is located at a distance of 216 km from Colombo and it was the capital of Sri Lanka in medieval times. The second most ancient of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms was first declared the capital city by King Vijayabahu I, who defeated the Chola invaders in 1070 AD to reunite the country once more under a local leader.

Today the ancient city of Polonnaruwa remains one of the best planned archeological relic sites in the country, standing testimony to the discipline and greatness of the Kingdom’s first rulers. Its beauty was also used as a backdrop to filmed scenes for the Duran Duran music video Save a Prayer in 1982. The ancient city of Polonnaruwa has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

 The ruins are also known as the ‘Cave of the Spirits of Knowledge’, and these are one of the most important Buddhist shrines. It takes the form of three colossal Buddha images carved out of a granite cliff. Most prominent is the standing image, 7m (23ft) tall, which was at one time thought to represent Ananda, the Buddha’s first disciple, but is now regarded as being a Buddha image like the others. Next to it is an enormous 14m (46ft) reclining Buddha. Two smaller, less skillfully carved Buddha images occupy niches in the rock nearby.

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03
Apr
11

Persepolis and the Persian Empire : a historical place in Iran

Now an archaeological site in Iran, the ancient city of was founded by Darius I in 518 BC as the capital of the Achaemenid Persian Empire.  On an immense half-artificial, half-natural terrace, the great king created an impressive palace complex inspired by Mesopotamian models. The importance and quality of the ruins at Persepolis led to its recognition by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

 Though evidence of prehistoric settlement at Persepolis has been discovered, inscriptions indicate that construction of the city began under Darius I the Great (reigned 522–486 BC). As a member of a new branch of the royal house, Darius made Persepolis the new capital of Persia (replacing Pasargadae, the burial place of Cyrus the Great). Built in a remote and mountainous region, Persepolis was an inconvenient royal residence, visited mainly in the spring. The effective administration of the Achaemenian Empire was carried on from Susa, Babylon, or Ecbatana. This accounts for the Greeks being unacquainted with Persepolis until Alexander the Great’s invasion of Asia.  In 330 BC, Alexander the Great plundered the city and burned the palace of Xerxes, probably to symbolize the end of his Panhellenic war of revenge.

In 316 BC Persepolis was still the capital of Persis as a province of the Macedonian empire, but the city gradually declined in the Seleucid period and after. In the 3rd century AD the nearby city of Istakhr became the centre of the Sasanian empire. Today, relatively wellpreserved ruins attest to Persepolis’ ancient glory.  The site of Persepolis is characterized by a large terrace with its east side leaning on the Kuh-e Rahmat (Mount of Mercy). The other three sides are formed by a retaining wall, varying in height with the slope of the ground from 13 to 41 feet (4 to 12 m). On the west side, a magnificent double stair in two flights of 111 easy stone steps leads to the top.  On the terrace are the ruins of a number of colossal buildings, all constructed of a dark gray stone (often polished to the consistency of marble) from the adjacent mountain.

Many of the original giant stones, cut with the utmost precision and laid without mortar, are still in place. Especially striking are the huge columns, 13 of which still stand in Darius the Great’s audience hall, known as the apadana. There are two more columns still standing in the entrance hall of the Gate of Xerxes, and a third has been assembled there from its broken pieces.  

In 1933 two sets of gold and silver plates recording in the three forms of cuneiform, Ancient Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian, the boundaries of the Persian Empire were discovered in the foundations of Darius’ hall of audience.  A number of inscriptions, cut in stone, of Darius I, Xerxes I, and Artaxerxes III indicate to which monarch the various buildings are to be attributed. The oldest of these on the south retaining wall gives Darius’ famous prayer for his people: “God protect this country from foe, famine and falsehood.”  

There are numerous reliefs of Persian, Median, and Elamite officials, and 23 scenes separated by cypress trees depict representatives from the remote parts of the empire who, led by a Persian or a Mede, made appropriate offerings to the king at the national festival of the vernal equinox. Behind Persepolis are three sepulchres hewn out of the mountainside, whose facades are richly ornamented with reliefs. Persepolis is located about 32 miles (51 km) northeast of Shiraz in the region of Fars in southwestern Iran, near the confluence of the small river Pulvar with the Rud-e Kor.

23
Mar
11

The Temple of Heaven in Beijing – the largest heaven-worshipping architecture in the world

The Temple of Heaven is seen as the most holy of Beijing’s imperial temples. It has been described as “a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design” which simply and graphically illustrates a cosmogony of great importance for the evolution of one of the world’s great civilizations.

It is much bigger than the Forbidden City and smaller than the Summer Palace with an area of about 2,7 million square meters. The Temple was built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifice to Heaven. As Chinese emperors called themselves ‘The Son of Heaven’, they dared not to build their own dwelling ‘Forbidden City’ bigger than a dwelling for Heaven. The Temple of Heaven is enclosed with a long wall. The northern part within the wall is semicircular symbolizing the heavens and the southern part is square symbolizing the earth. The northern part is higher than the southern part. This design shows that the heaven is high and the earth is low and the design reflected an ancient Chinese thought of ‘the heaven is round and the earth is square’.

The Temple is divided by two enclosed walls into inner part and outer part. The main buildings of the Temple lie at the south and north ends of the middle axis line of the inner part. The most magnificent buildings are The Circular Mound Altar, Imperial Vault of Heaven and Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest from south to north. Also, there are some additional buildings like Three Echo Stones and Echo Wall. Almost all of the buildings are connected by a wide bridge called Vermilion Steps Bridge or called Sacred Way.

The Circular Altar has three layered terraces with white marble. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 A.D. – 1911 A.D.), the emperors would offer sacrifice to Heaven on the day of the Winter Solstice every year. This ceremony was to thank Heaven and hope everything would be good in the future. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is a big palace with round roof and three layers of eaves. Inside the Hall are 28 huge posts. The four posts along the inner circle represent the four seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter; the 12 posts along the middle circle represent the 12 months; and 12 posts along the outer circle represent 12 Shichen (Shichen is a means of counting time in ancient China. One Shichen in the past equaled two hours and a whole day was divided into 12 Shichens). The roof is covered with black, yellow and green colored glaze representing the heavens, the earth and everything on earth. The Hall has a base named Altar for Grain Prayers which is made of three layers of white marble and has a height of six meters.

In 1998, the Temple of Heaven was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. In early 2005, the Temple of Heaven underwent a 47 million yuan (5 million €) renovation that was completed on May 1st, 2006.