Category History and culture

In the shadows

Beside the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort stood as an impregnable bastion under the Mughal Empire.


In 1565, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, the third ruler of the Mughal Empire – which controlled large parts of India in the 16th and 17th centuries – built the main constructions of the Agra Fort. He erected walls around what became a fortified city. The provincial city of Agra became the empire’s capital.

In 1627, Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, became the empire’s fifth ruler. Years later he moved to Delhi. He constructed the Taj Mahal, the famous white marble monument, in memory of his deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal. He built it only a few kilometres from the Agra Fort.

Jahan fell ill in 1657 and resigned his throne to Dara Shikoh, the eldest of his four sons. His brothers were jealous...

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City of temples

In a Cambodian forest, the temple of Angkor Wat stands as a grandiose symbol of the mighty Khmer Empire.


In the early 12th century, Suryavarman II, the king of the Khmer Empire, decided to build a temple. Around 50,000 people were sent to work, slaving away for 37 years. They dug a 200-metre moat, bridged by a causeway. They built three square plateaus on top of each other, protected by towering walls. At the top they erected five large towers. Around the temple, they created fine artwork, courtyards and corridors. In 1150 they completed the job. Angkor Wat was ready for use.

The new home of Suryavarman II reflected the power of his kingdom...

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A golden age

The city of Jerash is an archaeological titan among the Roman relics of the east. But what sparked its monumental constructions?


In their magnificent forum, one can only wonder what the wealthy citizens of Jerash got up to. The city became a booming trade centre in Roman times, as evident by its grandiose facilities: paved and colonnaded streets, towering temples, fine theatres, public squares, city gates, fountains and baths. It became a prime example of Roman urbanism. How? Well, because it could afford it.

The city is among the best preserved ancient civilisations known to man. For reasons to be explained, it was gradually abandoned after the eight century. It was later covered in sand, and remained undiscovered until the early 1800s...

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Halfway to heaven

The Metéora monasteries were built atop of giant stone pinnacles in an era of no technology. Here there have been Monasticism, bombings and James Bond scenes.


At some point in the 14th century, on the plains of Thessaly in mainland Greece, a group of monks are likely to have debated the location of a new monastery. They had a habit of preferring remote, inaccessible places, but this time they took it to the extreme: they settled on a series of 400-metre high sandstone pinnacles close to the town of Kalambáka; a near-inaccessible location designed for prayer and spirituality. A few centuries later they had built 24 monasteries on the site, making Metéora the second largest Greek monastic area after Mount Athos, in Macedonia.

The building process was anything but easy...

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Empty fortress

Towering above the mountainous landscape of Tibet, the Potala Palace is the most prominent symbol of Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama.


It carries more meaning than one can imagine. Placed upon the Red Mountain overlooking Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet region, the Potala Palace is the altar Tibetan Buddhists now turn to in worship. Since the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso, constructed it in the 1600s, it has been the centre for political and religious leadership. The Dalai Lama always resided there. That was, until the Tibetan uprising in 1959, when the 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, fled Lhasa for shelter in Dharamsala, northern India. The palace has stood empty ever since.

For most tourists, the Potala Palace is a treasure chest, cultural centrepiece and photo...

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The institution

The Viennese coffee houses served as home to Austria’s chief literati for decades. Today they are still recognised as one of the country’s finest cultural treasures. 


There is one rule to remember when entering the spacious rooms of a classic Vienna coffee house: never order ‘coffee’. The days when Nobel Prize winners filled the Thonet wooden chairs and debated contemporary issues in smoke-filled chambers may be over, but, casting a look at the bow-tie-and-jacket-wearing waiters, the rich selection of continental newspapers and journals, and the thick menus containing only variations of coffee and cakes, the sense of sophistication is still very much present.

The attention to detail that stems from the coffee houses’ history of housing Vienna’s literati – writers, philosophers and ...

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Buried in time

On 24 August in 79 A.D. the eruption of Mount Vesuvius condemned the Roman city of Pompeii to 1,700 years under ash and debris. Today it is a unique gateway to life in ancient times.  


Nobody could have predicted what happened. On a summer morning, a pillar of ash rocketed into the sky, branching out over Pompeii, plunging it into darkness. Volcanic rocks soon hit the rooftops like meteors. Houses started to shake. The ground trembled. People ran for their lives.

“You could hear women moaning, children howling, and men shouting,” Pliny the Younger, an author and witness, later wrote in his letters. “Some were lamenting their own misfortune, others that of their families. A few in their fear of death were praying for death...

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