Culture

A Golden Byzantine Treasure: Greece’s Hosios Loukas Monastery

Since the 10th century, monks have lived at the Hosios Loukas Monastery in Distomo in central Greece, where they make a living by farming the land and selling souvenirs to pilgrims, who eagerly visit the crypt of St. Luke the Younger, the monastery’s founder. A hermit, Luke of Steiris founded the monastery in the mid-10th century.

Faith and Beauty Meet in Florence’s Cathedral Square

Italy’s Florence Cathedral, commonly known as the “Duomo,” dominates Florence’s skyline. Located in Cathedral Square, the cathedral complex also includes the Baptistery of St. John and Giotto’s Bell Tower—all are astounding examples of Renaissance art and architecture. The buildings were decorated inside and out by the finest artists of the time, such as the sculptor Donatello

Germany’s Luxurious Ludwigsburg Residential Palace

As vast as it is sublime, Germany’s pastel-yellow Ludwigsburg Residential Palace was once considered the “Versailles of Swabia.” The region of Swabia, in the southwest of the country, no longer exists, but Versailles-like grandeur can still be seen throughout Ludwigsburg Palace. The palace was commissioned in the early 18th century by the Duke of Württemberg,

St. Petersburg’s Sumptuous Winter Palace

Russia’s monumental pastel-green Winter Palace in St. Petersburg was once home to some of the country’s most notable emperors and empresses. The palace encompasses many types of art and architecture, including Baroque, Neoclassical, and Gothic styles, through to Rococo. In 1754, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna commissioned Italian architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli to build a Baroque winter palace

The Heart of the Last Austro-Hungarian Empire: Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna

For nearly 350 years, Vienna’s elegant Schönbrunn Palace was home to the powerful Habsburg dynasty, Austria’s last monarchy. The Habsburgs ruled many kingdoms across Europe, such as Bohemia, Hungary, Portugal, and Spain. At the heart of the Habsburgs’ rule was a respect for the local heritage. They allowed local communities to continue speaking their own languages

A Unique Russian Icon: Moscow’s Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed

For centuries, people have marveled at the ornate brickwork and distinctive polychrome onion domes of the Church of Intercession of Most Holy Theotokos (Mary Mother of God) on the Moat, commonly known as the Cathedral of Basil the Blessed, in Moscow. Remarkably, the cathedral took just six years to complete, with the building work finished

Chinese Painting of the Week—Ma Yuan

In order to suggest the mist-filled, moonlit atmosphere of an early spring evening, Ma Yuan used brown and black ink in the trees and rocks, contrast with the light grayish ink on the cliff and mountain. The white-robed gentleman was framed by the dark angular forms of the landscape. It perfectly counterbalances the moon in

Chinese Painting of the Week—Fan Kuan

Fan Kuan (范寬 990-1030) is known to be one of the leading artists of the Northern Song landscape painting. He began by studying the work of another Song painter, Li Cheng. Later, he concluded that nature was the only true teacher. Fan Kuan spent the rest of his life as a recluse in the Shanxi

Chinese Painting of the Week

Gu Kaizhi (c. 345-405), was born in Wuxi, Jiangsu province and is believed to be the founder of traditional Chinese painting. By 366, he had become a government officer and was later promoted to royal official. Gu’s paintings significantly influenced later traditional Chinese paintings. Based on historical stories, Gu painted more than 70 paintings, including

Nearly 6 Centuries in the Making: The Duomo di Milano

The Cathedral of Milan—the Duomo di Milano—is easily the city’s most imposing sight. Its construction began in 1386, and though it was consecrated in 1418, at the time, only the nave had been completed. Initially, brick was used, but then the material of choice was switched to marble. The pink-streaked marble was brought from Piedmont

The Spectacular Stained Glass of Sainte-Chapelle

A rainbow of colors collide through the stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. The tinted sunlight brings a jewel-like ambience to the royal chapel of King Louis IX, where 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments are reflected on the 15 13th-century windows. The 15th window tells the story of the Crown of

Stupendously Spanish: Seville’s Plaza de España

From around 1910 to 1929, the Spanish city of Seville made preparations to host the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. The aim of the exposition was to demonstrate Spain’s cultural and socioeconomic wealth to the world.  All countries that exhibited at the exposition had historical links to Spain, such as the United States, Portugal, and Latin

Colombia’s Astonishing Las Lajas Shrine

It is 1754. A violent storm erupts over Ipiales in south Colombia, just seven miles shy of Ecuador. Amerindian Maria Meneses de Quiñones and her deaf-mute daughter Rosa frantically search for shelter, having been caught out in a canyon. Finding a suitable space, the two huddle together between two “laja,” two slabs of flat rock

The Enduring Architecture of Kyoto, Japan’s Ancient Capital

Between the 8th and 19th centuries, Kyoto, in western Japan, was the country’s capital. Built in 794, Kyoto was modeled on Chang’an, China’s Tang Dynasty capital, now known as Xi’an.  China also influenced Japan’s art and architecture. UNESCO has listed no less than 17 of Kyoto’s monuments that together express the general historical development of

A British Treasure: Westminster Abbey

The hallowed ground of Westminster Abbey holds a unique place in British history. It’s where coronations occur and the fallen and the famous rest and are remembered: namely, the Grave of the Unknown Warrior honoring all those who died in military conflict, with memorials to William Shakespeare, Sir Winston Churchill, William Blake, the Brontë sisters,

Diogenes of Sinope, the Dogged Cynic

The great ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (470–399 B.C.) believed that self-sufficiency is the key to a good life. And that the good life is dependent on our virtue, which is well within our control. Socrates’s friend Antisthenes (455-365 B.C.) founded the philosophy of cynicism based on freedom as well as Socrates’s ideal of self-sufficiency, and on

Reflecting the Divine: Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, France

The sun’s rays entering the nearly 27,000 square feet of stained glass windows of Notre-Dame de Chartres Cathedral create thousands of colored shards that bathe the interior in ethereal beauty. But beyond this earthly splendor, every one of the more than 175 glorious stained glass windows inspire and encourage worshipers to venerate the Virgin Mary and look

Beyond Music: The Tales of Maori Musical Instruments

“It was in the night, that the Gods sang the world into existence. From the world of light, into the world of music,” said Ngai Tahu tribal leader Matiaha Tiramorehu in 1849, as he relayed the Maori creation story.  Tiramorehu, of course, said the words in Maori: Kei a te Po te timatatanga o te

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