Monday, December 30, 2013

Volgograd (the city formerly known as Stalingrad)

The immense 'Motherland' statue (279 feet/85 meter) at the top of the Mamayev hill. Over there some of the most intense fighting during WWII took place. The statue is the Russian version of the Statue of Liberty.

Volgograd (Волгогра́д), formerly known as Tsaritsyn (1589–1925) and Stalingrad (1925–1961), is an important industrial city in Russia and located on the western bank of the Volga River.

Population: 1,021,215 (2010).

Climate (daily mean): -7°C (20°F) Winter  ~  30°C (85°F) Summer.

Distance: Moscow 905 km (560 miles)  ~  Sochi: 690 km (430 miles).

The city reaches out for 100 km along the river bank which makes it one of the longest cities in Europe.

Modern Volgograd is a large scale industrial centre with industries like fuel, metallurgical, chemical, oil, engineering industry, tree and food industry.

Volgograd with the future 2018 World Cup Football stadium. 

The Battle of Stalingrad (August 1942 – February 1943) was among the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare. It is probably the most strategically decisive battle of the whole war; it was a turning point in WWII.

Volgograd city map

The city is close to the unique Volga-Akhtubin floodplains, the last pristine stretch of the Volga river valleys. The lakes make up to 30% of the park’s territory and count over 200 species of birds.

next episode: new year

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Christmas!

Gene Tierney, December 1953

next episode: recap

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Daguerréotype, 6th plate, ± 1850

I call her Martha. Look at her dress!

next episode: gene

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Maya Codices

Facsimile on display at the Universidad Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City (photo by Travis)

Maya codices are folding books from the Maya civilization, written in Maya hieroglyphic script. The folding books are the products of professional scribes. The Maya developed paper (which they called ‘huun’) around the 5th century, it was more durable and a better writing surface than European papyrus.

There were thousands of books in existence at the time of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, but only three have survived to modern times since they were destroyed in large bulk by the conquistadors and priests. In particular, all those in Yucatán were destroyed by Bishop Diego de Landa in July of 1562. He wrote:

"We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they (the Maya) regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction."

Mayan hieroglyphics in the Dresden Codex.

Alonso de Zorita wrote that in 1540 he saw numerous such books in the Guatemalan highlands that “...recorded their history for more than eight hundred years back, and that were interpreted for me by very ancient Indians.” When found, such books were destroyed.

There are only three remaining codices whose authenticity is beyond doubt. They have been named for the cities where they eventually settled. These are:

The Madrid Codex, (112 pages, 6.82 meter)
The Dresden Codex (74 pages, 3.56 meter)
The Paris Codex (22 pages, 1.45 meter)

The Madrid Codex on display at the Museo de América in Madrid.
Due to its fragility a faithful copy is displayed (photo by Michel Wal).

I've seen (a copy of) the Madrid Codex during my visit of Madrid. It's the longest of the surviving Maya codices. The content mainly consists of almanacs and horoscopes that were used to help Maya priests in the performance of their ceremonies and divinatory rituals. The codex also contains astronomical tables, although less than are found in the other two surviving Maya codices. A close analysis of glyphic elements suggests that a number of scribes were involved in its production, perhaps as many as eight or nine, who produced consecutive sections of the manuscript. It is likely that the codex was produced in western Yucatán between 1250 and 1450 AD.

next episode: Martha

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The World Upside-Down

The World upside down

The convention that North is at the top on most modern maps was established by the Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy (90-168 AD) and was adopted by other cartographers.

The World upside down and centered on Indonesia

In modern times, reversed maps are made as a learning device or to illustrate Northern Hemisphere bias.

next episode: Maya

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Steven van der Hagen

18th century drawing by Aert Schouman after a lost painting made by Paulus Moreelse in 1619
(Netherlands Institute for Art History). 

In 2010 I wrote about Steven van der Hagen, a Dutch admiral born in Amersfoort with a very interesting life story. Commenter Marnix de Paula Lopes, a direct descendent (!), pointed out to me that the accompanying picture was not the correct one. He is writing a book about his ancestors, and was kind enough to direct me to the better picture shown above.

Steven van der Hagen King John III of Portugal, 1535. To spare time book printers used the same print multiple times.

One of the revelations in his book will be that here might be a connection between the family of Steven's mother and one of the main founders of the Dutch Republic, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (they share the same coat of arms). Marnix's website is filled with interesting historical info in both Dutch and English.

Public beheading of fellow Amersfortian Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (age 71), by then the most important politician in The Netherlands, on behalf of the Prince of Orange, at the Binnenhof in The Hague, May 1619. 
He is leaning on his walking stick, three museums claim to have this cane in their collection.

next episode: ?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Gabrielle Ray

Gabrielle Ray

Gabrielle Ray announced her retirement to marry the wealthy Eric Loder in early 1912. She did not appear at the well-attended scheduled ceremony at St Edwards Roman Catholic Church in Windsor because of Loder's failure to sign the prenuptial contract, but the marriage took place soon afterwards. Loder strayed, however, and the couple divorced in 1914.

The broken marriage was difficult for Gabrielle, but in 1915, she returned to the stage to play a few roles and for nearly a decade she appeared occasionally in provincial variety tours and pantomimes, finally leaving the stage about 1924.

After this, she struggled with depression and alcohol abuse, and her health declined. In 1936, she suffered a complete mental breakdown and was institutionalized for nearly forty years. Gabrielle Ray died in 1973 at Holloway Sanatorium in Egham, Surrey, England, at the age of 90.

more pictures of Gabrielle can be found here

next episode: ?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Torre Guinigi

The Guinigi Tower (photo by John Arne Eidsmo)

The Torre Guinigi is one of the most important towers of Lucca, Italy (streetview). The tower, built in stone and brick, is one of the few remaining within the city walls. The main characteristic is the garden with seven oaks on the roof .

At the beginning of the fourteenth century, Lucca was proud of the more than 250 towers that enriched the city. This tower was built by the Guinigi family, then the most powerful and influential in the city. The tower represented the prestige of the family and was the largest in Lucca. Among the medieval towers belonging to private families, it is the only one that has not been severed or destroyed in the sixteenth century. The tower has been donated to the local government by the last descendents of the Guinigi family.

Torre Guinigi (source)

The tower rises to 44.25 meters, standing out from all the buildings of the historic center. On top of the tower is the hanging garden, consisting of a walled box filled with earth, in which seven oak trees were planted. It is not known exactly when the garden was laid out, but in an image contained in the Chronicles of John Sercambi (XV century), one can see that among the many towers of Lucca there was one crowned with trees. The view from the top is outstanding.

next episode: ?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gene Tierney Day !

Gene Tierney by Eliot Elisofon, 1942. 

Birth name: Gene Eliza Tierney
Occupation: Actress
Birth date: November 19, 1920
Birth place: Brooklyn, New York

Gene Tierney by Horst P. Horst, 1940.

Height: 5 feet 7 inches
Weight: 117 lbs.
Hair color: Reddish-brown
Eye color: Green

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mary Thurman

Mary Thurman (Photoplay magazine, January 1921)

Mary Thurman (April 27, 1895 – December 22, 1925) was an American actress of the silent film era. She died at the age of 30 of malaria in New York. She had been ill for approximately one year after making a motion picture in Florida.

For more photos of Mary Thurman see Mary Gets a Bob

For more magazine covers see The Bees Knees Daily

next episode: ?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Lake Natron

Calcified Dove (photo by Nick Brandt) 

Lake Natron in northern Tanzania (map) takes its name from natron, a naturally occurring compound made mainly of sodium carbonate, with a bit of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) thrown in. Temperatures in the lake can reach 60 °C, and its alkalinity is between pH 9 and pH 10.5. The lake’s high levels of natron come from volcanic ash from the nearby Ol Doinyo volcano, and they've given the water a very unusual side effect: the sunlight reflecting off of the lake caused most of these birds to crash into the water, after which they are completely calcified and preserved. Photographer Nick Brandt arranged the unlucky birds in poses and photographed them.

Calcified Eagle (photo by Nick Brandt) 

Some more photos here.

next episode: ?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Germany versus Russia at the 1937 Paris Expo

Postcard of the 1937 International Exhibition in Paris

Lisa from There's Gladness In Remembrance showed an interesting postcard from the 1937 International Exhibition in Paris. This exhibition opened on 25 May 1937 and ran until November of that year. Interesting in this postcard is the German pavilion on the left directly facing the Russian pavilion on the right.

The German pavilion on the left and the Soviet pavilion on the right

The organization of the exhibition had placed the German and the Soviet pavilions, the two great ideological rivals, directly across each other. Hitler had desired to withdraw from participation, but his architect Albert Speer convinced him to participate after all, showing Hitler his plans for the German pavilion. Speer later revealed in his autobiography that he had had a clandestine look at the plans for the Soviet pavilion, and had designed the German pavilion to represent a bulwark against Communism.

Short video of the two buildings

Speer's pavilion was completed by a tall tower crowned with the symbols of the Nazi state: an eagle and the swastika. Vera Mukhina designed the large figurative sculpture on the Soviet pavilion. The grand building was topped with a large statue, of a male worker and a female peasant, their hands thrusting a hammer and a sickle together, in a symbol of worker union.

Speer and Hitler

Note: the soccer stations for the 2022 World Championship in Qatar are designed by Albert Speer’s son Albert Speer Junior.

Future Doha Port Stadium in Doha, Qatar (photos of all the planned stadiums)

next episode: ?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

First photo of Mecca (1884)

First photo of Mecca
Mecca in 1884, photo by Christiaan Snouck (Universität Tübingen)

In 1884 the Dutch Arabist and Islam expert Christiaan Snouck (1857-1936) was the first westerner who managed to make photographs in Mecca. Mecca was (and is) forbidden for non-Muslims. Between 1503 and 1884, only fifteen (disguised) Westerners managed to gain access to the pilgrimage. Snouck converted to Islam, so that he could attend the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Present day Mecca: muslim pilgrims walking around the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque (

Immense buildings are erected in Mecca: the Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower  (Fayez Nureldine, 2012)

next episode: Lake Natron

Friday, October 18, 2013

Dress Like The Oppressor To Celebrate Your Liberation

Group in historical costume celebrating Waterloo Day in Amersfoort, 1913.

Due to lack of time I can't participate in Sepia Saturday as often as I would like, but I was thinking of preparing a post to commemorate their bicentennial. But this weeks theme is one I cannot ignore.

Before World War I, Waterloo Day (June 18th) was a yearly celebration of the liberation of Europe from the 'evil' French. In 1913 the centennial celebration was larger than usual; this photo shows a group of people dressed like the French (the guy in the middle looks familiar) in the garden of a local cafe.

I've mentioned Napoleon in my posts before (a female Napoleon, his birthplace, his horse,  St. Helena). He even visited Amersfoort once for a few minutes: … un evénement qui rendra la ville d'Amersfoort immortelle à la posterité. Unfortunately, before the mayor could finish his speech the little emperor was already gone at full gallop. In Vienna I secretly flash-photographed the cradle of his son, who led a tragic life. I still don't know if his father, Napoleon I, was a cruel dictator or a visionary reformer.

next episode: ?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Joost van Vaneveld family

Het gezin van schepen Joost van Vaneveld
The family of schepen (alderman) Joost van Vaneveld (1579-1655) and his wife Maria. There are 11 children present (and the dog) (museum Flehiteon loan from the St. Pieter and Blocklands Gasthuis).

Painted by Paulus Bor senior (the father of Paulus Bor) in Amersfoort in 1628. Centrally depicted is Joost van Vaneveld, the director of the St. Pieter and Blocklands Gasthuis (a place where the sick and elderly could be nursed and cared for) in Amersfoort, at the age of 49, with his wife Maria Fransdochter and their eleven children. Their clothes are characteristic for the (early) Dutch Golden Age. It's interesting to notice that 50 years after protestantism was declared the state religion this family (and the painter as well) are catholic. The oldest son Berend is shown as a student pastor with cross and chalice. In 1688 their eldest daughter Mary bequeathed the painting to the gasthuis.

next episode: ?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

John Sherman, causer of Government Shutdowns

The Honorable John Sherman, Ohio (photo by Mathew Brady, ca. 1860-1865, National Archives)

John Sherman (1823–1900) was an American Republican representative and senator from Mansfield, Ohio.  In 1864-1865 and 1867-1877 he served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, where he played a major role in decisions related to financing the Civil War and the post-Civil War years.

In 1869-1870 he sponsored the Currency Act and the Funding Act. The US government had a long history of spending their entire budget within a matter of months and then returning to the Congress for additional funding. Many agencies, particularly the military, would intentionally run out of money, obligating Congress to provide additional funds to avoid breaching contracts.

Such behavior was unacceptable to the Congress; which responded in 1870 by passing a statute that simply stated: "It shall not be lawful for any department of the government to expend in any one fiscal year any sum in excess of appropriations made by Congress for that fiscal year, or to involve the government for the future payment of money in excess of such appropriations". This statute has evolved into what we now refer to as the Antideficiency Act causing the current Government Shutdown. 

 John Sherman at a younger age (National Archives) 

Later he also served as both Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State. Sherman ran for the Republican presidential nomination three times, coming closest in 1888, but never winning. Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman was his older brother.

Senator John Sherman in his office (ca. 1894)

next episode: ?

Saturday, October 5, 2013


This week the island of Lampedusa was in the news again after a boat with African migrants sank resulting in the death of over a hundred people. So here is a repost of mine from 2011.

Lampedusa is in the news because it is used by African refugees as a stepping stone to Europe. Lampeduwhat, I never heard of the place. Luckily the 21st century features google maps:

Official Language: Italian

Area: 20 km2  (8 sq mi)
Population: 4.500

Lampedusa was a landing place and a maritime base for the ancient Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs. The Romans established a plant for the production of a popular fish sauce known as garum. As a result of pirate attacks by the Arabs, the island became uninhabited. In the 18th century a program of resettlement was started. In the 1840s the island was sold to the Kingdom of Naples, to become part of the new Kingdom of Italy in 1860.

Apparently it is a small holiday island nowadays

During World War II, the island was captured by British forces in Operation Corkscrew. In 1940 an earlier plan (Operation Workshop) was aborted when the Luftwaffe strengthened the air threat in the region. The radar installations and airfield on the nearby island of Pantelleria were seen as a real threat to the planned invasion of Sicily. An intense ten-day air bombardment of Pantelleria substantially reduced the defences, and the Italian garrison surrendered when the British forces landed on the island. The Italian garrison on Lampedusa also quickly fell. This cleared the way for the invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky) a month later.

British soldiers during Operation Corkscrew
next episode: maya Government Shutdown

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Jennie Wendle

Jennie Wendle

Carte De Visite (CDV). At the backside is written: Jennie Wendle from Williamsport, PA, July 1865.

Googeling this I found a Jeanette Jane "Nettie" Wendle Brower. Born May 5th 1849 at Muncy, Pennsylvania. She married Reese Brower at November 19th 1868 at Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He was a locomotive engineer. She had zeven kids: Bessie, Blanche, Frank, Thomas, Martha, Florence and Emily. She died in 1911 at Williamsport.

next episode: ?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pola Negri

Pola Negri

next episode: Jennie

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Worms City Walls

Worms Town Wall (photo Mike Chapman)

Worms is one of the oldest towns in Germany. It is a so-called Nibelung City with many medieval buildings. Large parts of its medieval city walls still remain.

next episode: Pola

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Maude Fealy as Mercia

Maude Fealy as Mercia in the play 'The Sign of the Cross' (1904)

Plot (according to Wikipedia):

Much as in Quo Vadis, Marcus Superbus, a Roman patrician under Nero, falls in love with a young woman (Mercia) and converts to Christianity for her. As in Quo Vadis, Poppea, Nero's wife, is in unrequited lust for Marcus. At the end, Mercia and Marcus sacrifice their lives in the arena to the lions. This ending is in complete contrast to Quo Vadis, in which Marcus Vinicius (not Marcus Superbus) and Lygia (not Mercia) survive and presumably live happily ever after, and Nero and Poppea are the ones who die.

next episode: Worms

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Crimean War: William Affleck King

Lieutenant William Affleck King (1830-1886), 4th Light Dragoons (Roger Fenton, 1855).

next episode: Mercia

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Benjamin Constant in his Studio with Salammbô

Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant in his studio, ca. 1890 (found on:


next episode: a horse

Friday, September 6, 2013

Alfons Mucha - Salammbô

Alfons Mucha - Salammbô (1896)

Salammbô (1862) is a historical novel by Gustave Flaubert. It is set in Carthage during the 3rd century BC. The book is largely an exercise in sensuous and violent exoticism. Following the success of Madame Bovary, it was another best-seller and sealed his reputation.

next episode: more Salammbô

Monday, September 2, 2013

Damascus City Gates

As an homage to the city of Damascus (Syria) I created a list of the city gates in this ancient town. Most of these gates date back to the Roman period. This info was hard to find.

(hoover with the mouse for more info):

Bab al-Faradis ('Gate of the Paradise') (photo source).

Bab al-Faraj ('Gate of Joy') (photo: Mark T. Lammers).

Bab al-Jabiyah (named after residents of the Jabieh village).

Bab al-Saghir ('Small Gate') (photo: Mark T. Lammers).

Bab al-Salam ('Gate of Peace') (photo: Mark T. Lammers).

Bab Kisan ('Kisan Gate'). The gate is named after a slave who became famous during a conquest by the Muslims. Bab Kisan was the escape route of St Paul (photo: Mark T. Lammers).

Bab Sharqi ('The Eastern Gate') (photo source).

Bab Tuma ('Thomas’s Gate') (photo: Aga Khan Visual Archive, MIT Libraries).

next episode: Salammbô


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