For this week and the letter ‘N’, I will be giving a brief history on possibly one of the most infamous (if not the most infamous) modern-day political anomaly that is North Korea. North Korea is a byword for oppression, modern-day dictatorships, mass poverty, corruption, and any other negative connotation relating to politics and culture – to the extent that the term “this is like North Korea” is used to immediately express unfairness, personal depravity, and sometimes just commercial inconvenience. But how did North Korea come about? This blog will look at the years between the Second World War and the Korean War and how the political power and state of the land that still exists today originated and grew.Continue reading “The Birth of North Korea”
Hey Guys! It’s September already and we are on the letter L on our ABC of World History. And it is quite convenient because I had the perfect material for this update from a trip I did a couple of years back and that I never quite had the opportunity to post about as I was right in the middle of my PhD thesis write up and several other publications. But, Today is your day 😉
For my birthday in 2017, I was lucky enough to go to the beautiful and incredibly surprising city of Luxembourg and as I was there I had a look around other places outside of the city, mostly Vianden castle which is a great site to go to. I literally had all of 2 full days and 3/4 of another as the flight back to the UK on the last day was at 8 pm, and I must say it was all a very pleasant experience. So today, I will leave with you my quick and super packed of history and goodness travel log.Continue reading “Luxeumbourg: 2 days (and 3/4) Travel Log”
History of the meme along with its place in the historian’s professional landscape
Aliens have become somewhat infamous in the world of history writing. Every historian from the armchair variety through to the academic professor has more than likely come across that one particular meme. The one featuring Giorgio A. Tsoukalos standing there with his style of hair in its usual kind of crazy way an holding his hands out stating the words “aliens.” And honestly, it doesn’t matter what style or period of history one is exploring. The meme seems to have made its way into all of them. The infamous image itself comes from the 2010 Ancient Aliens TV series that Tsoukalos, himself an Alien expert, was the host for. Spinning out of the concepts raised in the Ancient Aliens series, one of the key ideas that made this program notable is the wide variety of historical phenomena that it attributes to aliens. That is to say, iconic historical products of civilizations and peoples such as the Nazca Lines or Baalbek become attributed to extraterrestrials instead of the cultures that produced them. This concept is termed conversely “ancient astronauts” and “paleocontact” and can be defined through the attributing of great and sophisticated works of the past to extraterrestrials.
Ancient Astronauts and Colonial Psychology
The concept of ancient astronauts is not dissimilar from the effects of colonial propaganda. Briefly, colonial empires would create and impose an image of inferiority onto the peoples it colonized, and likewise, an image of ascendancy for the colonizing peoples. From this standpoint, the colonial entity would project outward, through its arts and literature, the idea that its cultural developments were inherently superior to those they colonized. Concerning notions of cultural works, the concept of superiority shown through technology still exists and is tied to the lingering colonial psychology. Indeed, within the 19th, 20th and continuing into the 21st century, western society underwent a massive degree of technological revolution in a relatively short span of time. That, further, this time period has brought with it unprecedented forms of technology and social issues. While the same could be said to be true of any technological revolution, from the perspective of those within it the past must be, by definition, less capable. For instance, the 20th century has seen technology develop from the assembly line to splitting the Atom, being able to propel humans into space to having wireless communication networks spanning the globe. While the Middle Ages from the 5th to the 15th centuries certainly had its technological advances (the functional button of the 13th century, for example), there is the mentality that the current developments are more progressive largely because they are more pertinent to us. Outside the sense of temporal pertinence, the past must be lacking the sophistication of technology the contemporary enjoys.
I often argue that western society has lost their colonial empires (to greater or lesser degrees), but has maintained the colonial psychology of perceived and projected inferiority. The current perception of technology as equating with superiority falls into that colonial mentality and for 21st century capitalism, is part of the colony’s legacy. Yet, there are products of other cultures that present a compliment to or empathize with that sense of pertinence. Items such as the Saqqara Bird, Machu Picchu, the Moai and others are routinely attributed to extra-terrestrials. As an examples of objects that can be situated into contemporary western perceptions about technology, the ancient astronaut notion offers an easy method of situating the sophistication of past and non-western societies. Thus, lacking the precise same means, the products of another time or culture become attributed to aliens as a source of equivalency of method and psychology. The ancient astronaut, the alien, becomes the appropriate stand in: A technologically advanced helper from somewhere far away, a benevolent invader, a colonist.Continue reading “I’m not saying it was Aliens…”
Episode 3 of the podcast!
In this episode Lilly and Alex are joined again by James for a conversation about the crossover of two of their favourite things, Videogames and History!
You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.
Introducing the Nu History podcast! A key feature of our newly re-branded blog!
Our aim with these podcasts is to simply get together and talk about any given topic relating to history! And usually we will plan to have a special guest or two to learn from about their area of expertise.
For our first episode, hosts Lilly and Alex are joined by James to talk about our different perspectives on how the Covid-19 pandemic has and will effect history, particularly in museums, academia and reenactment!
You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.
Just a few days back, Alex and I had the absolute pleasure to travel to Stockholm; the Scandinavian capital had been on my list for a while to complete the “Scandinavian Triumvirate” I had promised myself I would experienced before my PhD was over (mission success!). Stockholm was certainly a wonderful visit, and a lot of material that I will be sharing with you guys over the next few weeks/months/years/centuries 😉 will come from what I learnt there. But one of the things that certainly stuck with me and I value of this trip is the amazing museums I visited. You know, working in the heritage industry you get a thing for cool museums, but this has always been one of my obsessions: the public should simply have fun whilst exploring the past, art, or science, or whatever the hell you’re into. And the Swedes certainly know how to deliver. So today, I am going to just rant about how cool these places were, and what made them cool – and pictures of course.
One of the first things that already caught my attention when I was preparing the holiday was the abundance of museum in the city. Let’s face it, Stockholm is not a huge European capital, so I would never expect to find mini-London…but there were So Many Museums and Galleries!! There is an entire section of the city, east of the old town (Gamla Stockholm), that could be called museum miles if it wanted to. This is the area of the Djurganden – the Royal National Gardens. In our trip, time was tight, but I had decided that an entire day would probably go into exploring this area. So, in my selection of activities to do here, I included a visit to the Vasa, Vikingaliv, Skansen, and part 2 with the ABBA museum – would have love to do the Nordic museum (which is btw a gorgeous building far prettier than the Royal Palace?!) but as you all know Alex doesn’t get art and I was feeling generous. And what can I tell you just with those 4 examples? That Stockholm provides the best of old and new museology to the greatest standard.
Our first stop was the Vasa Museum, and I swear I have never seen anything quite like it. I am a seasoned traveller and an experienced historian, this was mind-blowing. The Vasa is this royal ship which was going to be the pride and joy of Gustav Vasa, and that due to many misfortunes (more about that a different day) sank on its first voyage 20 mins into its journey just outside of the port in Stockholm. A lot of people compare it to the Mary Rose – yeah, alright, you wished! The museum is built around the ship itself, with the actual boat inside the building as the central piece. It reminded me in that regards a bit to the Fram museum in Oslo, which we visited a couple of years back, and you can read about it here: https://nuhistory.wordpress.com/2016/04/09/bygdoy-museums-in-oslo-4-exhibitions-in-1-day/
Without going into the history of the ship, what is great about this museum is the following: there are two huge auditoriums I didn’t even have time to enjoy fully where they put documentaries and videos explaining you different aspects of the ship and the archaeological and conservation work put into it. There are guided tours so incredibly often, and if there is not a tour you can buy an audio guide in pretty much every other language for a very affordable price. the audio guides seemed very thorough and detailed. The thing is, though, I struggled to not spend more than 2 hours there without a tour or an audio guide because there is simply so much information and so well exposed in the information panels and displays, which by the way are very modern and well presented, both in English and Swedish.
The museum has different floor levels dedicated to different aspects of the boat and seafaring so you can appreciate not only the actual ship for what it is but learn in the process. This is something that, for example, the Cuty Sark is missing, and the Mary Rose attempts to do, but due to the current work they can’t quite do, and it really brings the ship alive. There were also good stuff for the children too – not only activities to learn about the boat but little video game like interactive displays where you learnt about navigation and sea faring. I particularly enjoyed as well the recreated port where they tell you the story behind the sinking of the boat. In general, it is very engaging. This is something that is evident as well in Vikingaliv: technology reigns over displays. As you come into this modest sized museum, you find plenty of touch screens and video stands covering different aspects of Viking society.
There are a lot of things there to keep you entertained too such as a big board of hnefatalf – or more commonly known as Viking chess, helmets and weapons to try on. And what I found most amazing, an entire board dedicated to Viking Age research and latest archaeological and history news. But, of course, who could forget the ride? They have something similar to this in Jorvik. It is like a little train ride that tell you this saga story through which you discover different tensions of the Viking Age and its people. The models, images and sounds were really great and the story is very fitting – without it being any of the well-known sagas, it takes bits and bobs from all of them to give you a general picture of the Viking age. The museum is very much up to date and provides with the most up to date research, interviews and historiographical theories – some of which are still trying to catch on in places like the UK.
When you come out of a place like that and submerge yourself in the huge thing that is Skansen Open Air Museum, you can feel like you have walked through time. Not just because of the time period has changed, but because the museum concept is different. This was the very first open air museum in Europe. The purpose of places such as Skansen is to provide a picturesque idea of how society has changed throughout time by recreating buildings and other aspects of society. In Skansen you can find reenactors spinning, carving, even riding horse carts.
Skansen also contains a little zoo of animals typical of Sweden and other fun things like the little farm for children, an old timey funicular and a stage for ALL SANG: a very famous Swedish tradition of something like karaoke that gets film and played on the TV. In essence this is trying to represent like a compact version of Sweden in just the one site that comprises the culture, history and ecosystem of the country. This type of spaces were popular during the late 19th and early 20th century, but the displays have been kept up to date and the general condition of the park is remarkably good, which is important for a place of this type in order not to look out of date. But, as I am sure you are getting now from my recollections of Sweden, being up to date is something the Swedes know best, and this is perfectly exemplified by the ABBA museum – in case the others hadn’t convince you yet.
Even if you do not like ABBA, if you are in Stockholm, just go, because this is an experience, not just a visit. You are gonna spend around 20 pounds to get in, but you are gonna be there for 2 hours easily, and it is going to be worth every penny. This is one of the most interactive museums I have ever been to. Not only you have several displays with ABBA memorabilia, costumes, records, etc, there is a lot of audio-visual information as well – from video to sound, this screams 21st century.
On top of that, it is fun! I found myself mixing ABBA music, singing and dancing, performing (quite badly) for an audition to become the 5th member of the group with holograms of the band right by me, whilst learning a ridiculous amount about music, ABBA and Sweden. I cannot explain with words how sincerely fun, new and great this museum is. The gift shop is also great: it is small but it has all the right type of souvenirs and very fairly priced. And, just to top it off, as we went in, they do have a small space dedicated to temporary exhibitions. My luck was that they had there the guitars that made the history of rock, and on top of hearing amazing stories about these instruments and the musical pieces that made the legends, I got to play guitar hero cause why not?!
So, what has become apparent from my experience in Stockholm is that, in Sweden, museums are believed to be fun: and they are! More importantly, this is what museums should be; cool, interesting places where you learn and enrich yourself as a person through an engaging experience that aids your learning. Move past the antiquarian cabinets and dry lines of text telling you “here be a sword from the 6th century” and actually take them closer to people. Another example that tops it off for me was the kids room in the History Museum (which is free btw).
This room was not just a play room, but a space for learning. There is a huge section which is like a sandbox where copies of artefacts are hidden so the kids can dig them up and then put them on the displays and tell the stories of said objects and learn in the process with the books – and audio books/stories – that you can find not just in this room but across the museum. Tell me when was the last time your children had that much fun and hands-on interaction in a museum? Cause I do not recall.
So, wrapping it up – you want to see good museums, for a more than fair price and genuinely learn the most up to date information on the subject whilst having fun? Go To Stockholm.
After having worked for a long time in the heritage industry, I feel like this is something I need to share and talk about. I guess as a visitor of cultural attractions and a cultural historian with a keen eye for public history, it is something I have always been very aware of, but never really thought about until I actually had to deal with it on a daily basis. And the truth is, as sad as it sounds, that the heritage industry in this country (and others) suffers from an incredible mistreatment from the visitors – at least in some cases. Culture is at a great deal of being endangered. We live in the age of technology. Our cultural values may be replaced for new artefacts that reign in the digital area. The respect for the items of the past, of long gone civilizations, and even more those that still remain is very necessary to understand where we have come from and where we are heading as a species. Technology can help us preserve these things, but it needs to be done through a responsible use of such resources. War and hate crimes destroy our heritage. In the not so distant Middle East news reports advise of monument been obliterated by the likes of ISIS. Art pieces go missing or are stolen. And that is to name a few. Culture, heritage and patrimony are worth keeping alive. So here I will share some pretty common issues I encounter on my day-to-day job, which reflect pretty poor social practices and a terrible treatment of culture which we need to address and fix.
-“Why do I have to pay for entry? I am a local I pay taxes/It used to be free” – Yes, very good. Are you aware of the cuts done to local governments in term of culture and the arts? Do you know how many museums actually get funding from the Estate? Far less than you think. Just because some of the big museums in places like London (and not all by the way) are free, it does not mean everyone else has access to the same amount of resources. You may think that paying to go into churches is an abomination, but tell me how do you think that wonder of the English Gothic gets repaired and cleaned so it does not fall apart so people like you can come and visit it? And how do you think the person that has to be at the door get paid? Or that tour guide that was so nice to show you around? Hardly anything is free these days. I am not arguing whether it should be free or not – I wished! What I am saying is that, as much as this may seem outrageous, the heritage industry lacks a sincere amount of funding and resources and simply because you are unhappy with it, it does not mean you can make the staff working on that site feel awkward about it, or verbally abuse them and their job. We are people, we have feelings too, and simply because we are on a public facing role, it does not mean we can or will just take it.
Last summer I had the opportunity to travel around Europe stopping in a number of countries. Today I will be looking at two museums I visited, the first in Amsterdam and the second in Berlin. Both museums despite being 409 miles apart due to the horrors of the Holocaust bear a similar story. The first of these museums is the Anne Frank Huis, the site of the annexe that a teenage Anne Frank hid with her family and four others hoping to avoid being sent to concentration camps, which sadly as I’m sure everyone knows failed when they were discovered by the Gestapo. The second museum is far less known, Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind. The museum is based where the German Otto Weidt had his workshop which specialised in hiring blind workers. Weidt himself was blind, and during the years that the Nazis ruled Germany Weidt hired and hid disabled Jews in an attempt to rescue them from deportation. Sadly the story ended similarly to those who hid in the annexe, with few surviving the war.
Other than the above similarities I decided to write about the two of these together for one simple reason: the story of Anne Frank is known across the world, especially in the West even by those who know little about history while Otto Weidt is not. This was true for me too. My first exposure to Anne Frank was via Anne Frank: The Whole Story, a 2001 TV adaptation, sometime around this time as I can’t find the British premiere date. I would’ve been about seven years old and despite being quite traumatized due to the depiction of the reality of the camps, I quickly became fascinated by Anne and her story. I attempted to read the diary at this age but unsurprisingly struggled and reattempted when I was about ten. I decided that one day I would visit the Anne Frank Museum, but this would not be possible until 2016. My decision to visit the Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind however does not have the same lengthy history. Throughout both my education and own research I learnt of the millions of others like Anne Frank who suffered. During my GCSEs I was given the opportunity to visit Auchwitz concentration camp, Oskar Schnindler’s factory and the Krakow Ghetto with my school. I’ve spent many hours reading about the people who tried to escape the Holocaust and those who risked their lives to help them. Otto Weidt, however, I did not find out about in any of those ways; my sister found the museum as she trawled Trip Advisor reviews when she was looking for things to do in Berlin. Therefore prior to my visit my own knowledge was what I had been told by her, a far cry from what I knew about Anne Frank.
For such a famous museum it is surprising to learn that the Anne Frank Huis only has around a million visitors a year; however once you’ve been inside it isn’t so surprising simply because how small the annexe is. Since its opening to the public in 1960 the museum has been expanded into the neighboring building and extensive works have taken place to allow footfall, but the annexe has been carefully preserved to give visitors a full appreciation of the cramped conditions the eight lived in. I’ve read the diary, I’ve seen numerous adaptations of the story and I’ve read extensively about the annexe but there is nothing quite like being in there to realise how small it was. Anne’s frustration becomes so understandable.
Otto Frank insisted that there be no furniture in the annexe and therefore each room contains a photo of each room reconstructed as how it was alongside the plaques and videos. I felt this was enough to gain an understanding of what it would have been like, although I understand some may disagree. Otto Frank’s reasoning for the lack of furniture was he wished it to symbolize ‘the void left behind by the millions of people who were deported and never returned’. Personally I felt this did exactly as he intended, especially so in the room that Anne shared with Fritz Pfeffer which retains the original wallpaper with Anne’s postcards and pictures. For me this was one of the most moving aspects of the visit; I think possibly more than any other moment the fact that Anne was a teenager strikes you. She has been elevated to almost a mythical figure that sometimes it is very easy to forget that she was a normal teenage girl, living in horrendous circumstances. There were millions of girls just like her, whose lives were taken and destroyed, but the reason we remember her is her diary and that it was saved. She was a young girl who never got to live.
The Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind is almost as hidden as its story. Hidden down an alley in central Berlin, the museum is easy to miss even if you’re trying to find it. Like the Anne Frank Huis, it is a minimalist museum tells the story of the relatively unknown Otto Weidt. His story has only become somewhat known because of the efforts of students to open the workshop as a museum in 1999, and the help of Inge Deutschkron, a Jewish woman who was helped by Weidt. He has sometimes been referred to as the ‘German Oskar Schindler’; however I would dispute this as unlike Schindler, Weidt never supported the Nazis or worked for them. Weidt had gradually gone blind and learned brush making and broom binding to provide for himself. He opened the workshop in 1936 and began to hire disabled Jews to protect them from deportation. By this time Jews who remained in Berlin found it easier to stave off deportation if they were in work. Weidt’s workers however were not invulnerable, and Weidt spent a great deal of money bribing the Gestapo to stop them from taking his workers. In one case, despite his protests, the Gestapo came and rounded up his disabled workers to be taken for deportation. Weidt followed and via bribes and arguing he could not produce the items required by the war effort, he managed to rescue his workers. However by the end of February 1943, with the exception of those in hiding and Jewish workers married to non-Jews, his workers were deported. Weidt did not just hire disabled Jews and financially protect them from deportation. Along with a circle of helpers he helped many Jews find hiding and provided false documents to help them avoid detection. Within the workshop itself Weidt hid a family whose daughter Alice he was in love with, and employed. When the family was discovered and deported, Alice managed to contact Weidt to let him know she had been sent to Auschwitz by throwing a postcard from the window of the train she was taken in. By sheer luck the postcard reached Weidt who immediately went in search of her, organising with a local Pole who had access to her to provide a hiding place for her when she could escape. Alice managed to escape and survived the war. Weidt survived the war but died of heart failure in 1947. In his final years he helped fund a home for orphans and elderly survivors of the Holocaust.
The two museums in their set up are similarities. Like the Anne Frank Huis, the Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind lacks furniture focusing instead on information plaques and interactive materials. However as I mentioned previously I was struck by how similar their stories were. They show how far the Nazis reach was and how many lives were destroyed, in these cases specifically those of Jews. How despite their best efforts these attempts failed to protect most of those in hiding, leaving few survivors. The sheer despair and destruction is horrendously apparent. The only comfort that both these museums provide is they show, despite when the very worst of humanity gains power, that there were many who stood up to such hatred by risking their lives to help those who were targeted.
In joining the designated theme of pre-modern non-European civilizations and the informal trend concerning pyramids which seems to have enveloped the blog, we must look no further than Sudan. A subject at first interesting for its similarities to its more infamous neighbor’s architectural style. On closer inspection and with the help of this post’s inspiration, QI, we can see that not only were the Kushite Kingdoms more plentiful in their pyramids but they also strove to distinguish their burial tombs from that of the Egyptian kingdom’s.
Apart from sounding like the setting for a Chinese knock off of a Nintendo game, The Kingdoms of Kush rose like a phoenix into independence from the ashes of the Bronze Age and the disintegration of the New Kingdom of Egypt in 1070BC. To be geographically precise the kingdoms was situated upon where the White Nile, Blue Nile and you’ve guessed it… the River Atbara meet in what is known today as the politically serene Republic of Sudan. Unfortunately the kingdom did not have such a Kush-y ending as after capture by the Beja Dynasty in the 1st Century AD, Kush was weakened and finally disintegrated due to internal rebellion in 350AD.
Were you paying attention?
Understandably a funny name and geography aren’t why this post was written. To understand the pyramids of which we are concerned, it is important to recognize for you less eagle-eyed readers why i have consistently pluralized ‘Kingdom’ when surely there is only one civilization under discussion? That is indeed the case however within this civilization of Kush we find three very congruent political entities following each-other of which are defined by their designated capitals. Without going into the specifics of each: The first kingdom of Kerma lasted from 2600-1520BC when it was dissolved into the New Kingdom of Egypt. This dissolution would explain the extensive hiatus between the dissolution of the Kerma Kingdom in 1520Bc and the manifestation of the Napata Dynasty which spanned from 1000-300BC. Directly following the Napata Dynasty after its economic downfall from raids of the occupying Persians in Egypt was the Meroe Dynasty which was described by Herodotus as”A great city, said to be the mother of the city of the other Ethiopians.” This trumped-up description of grandeur is not apt for the dynasty’s downfall in 300AD from military exhaustion and decline in traditional industries like fishing.
Why does this all matter?
Through all these dates and dynastic failings we see a clear distinction when it comes to burial as it was only the Napata and Meroe dynasties which employed the pyramid system unlike the Kerma dynasty and its local burial practices. As such focus shall pertain only to the burial practices of Napata and Meroe origin which can be further explained through the Nubian success over Egypt leading to the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty of Egypt in 760BC. This is important as it meant that the Nubian dynasties of Napata and Meroe were heavily influenced by Egyptian culture, politics, economy and military.
So unoriginal Nubia?
Well yes but not in the detail. Egypt can lay claim to kick starting the pyramid trend but with only 118-138 (2008 source) pyramids to its name, the 255 found in the former Nubian kingdoms puts its neighbor to shame. In saying that, the larger number makes sense when considering how Nubian queens were given separate pyramids to their husbands unlike the Egyptian Pharaohs who preferred to at least be within the same chamber or should I say tomb to their wives like at Giza. This may be because the Egyptians romanticized and were fascinated over death or just because the Nubians were frightened of their wives who tended to be warrior queens so they tried to have some distance with their spouses before the afterlife. We may never know but it would be nice to see further research into the warrior queens as little is known. The most remarkable difference between Egyptian and Nubian pyramids come from their design as the Nubians preferred stepped courses of horizontally place stone blocks while the Egyptians found the steep inclines and the small bases unfashionable. Add this to the Nubians only reaching to 30 meters with their tallest structure while Egypt quintupled that figure and you have a good excuse for Egyptian pyramid production.
Can I visit?
Sure, i mean as long as you can avoid the SLM and the war in Darfur than go right ahead. I wouldn’t be surprised however if there’s little to see as much of the pyramid sites have either been raided, excavated or blown up. That last one could do with some explaining as Sudanese government air raids haven’t reached that far north. Such destruction takes the form of an Italian combat medic who after his bout of military service in the 1830s tried his hand at treasure hunting. Unfortunately for us Giuseppe Ferlini took “treasure hunting” to mean- blow off the tops of 40 Nubian pyramids like that of Kandake Amanishakheto which he leveled to the ground until he had his hands on her gold and silver jewelry pieces. In a sort of sweet revenge- when he returned home, no one believed such high quality jewelry could be made in ‘Black Africa” and so his finds reluctantly ended up in German Egyptology museums where it remains today. These weren’t the only finds as archaeologists have since found in the tombs: the remains of bows, quivers of arrows, archers’ thumb rings, horse harnesses, wooden boxes, furniture, pottery, colored glass, rock art, ringing rocks, metal vessels and an entire cow buried with eye ointment included. Not only do these items show links to extensive Meroitic trade with Egypt and the Hellenistic world but also how much the Nubians valued their horses and horseback warfare much like the Eurasian nomads. If this isn’t evidence enough than if you were to journey 120 meters North-West of pyramids K.51-K.55 than you would find 24 graves suggestive of mass upright horse burials.
Hopefully this look into the pyramids of the Kushite kingdom of sparked somewhat of an interest as I guarantee that you would not find a larger concentration of pyramids anywhere else in the world but Sudan. Remember to keep your eye out next time you wander around an Egypt exhibit if you find yourself in Sudan or even Berlin or Munich as there may be a little bit of Nubia right under your nose!
This post will talk about the small city of Girona in the Autonomous Community of Catalonia in Spain within the medieval period, paying particular attention to my recent visit to the city, the Cathedral and the history of Girona’s Jewish population. Girona is roughly 62 miles (22Km) north of its more famous neighbouring city, Barcelona. Before I go into more detail about my visit and medieval Jewish Girona, I will provide some important information regarding Girona’s formation and background history. Girona itself has a complex history in that it was claimed a number of times.
In Ancient times the city was named Gerunda. When the Romans claimed Hispania they adopted this name and they built a citadel in the city. After the Romans left Hispania, the Visigoths ruled Girona that was until the Moors from North Africa arrived in 715 to conquer the city. The Moors is a name that is attached to people of Muslim origin, commonly used when describing the medieval period. However, the name does not denote a particular ethnicity it largely encompasses people who were from the Arab world (this includes the Berbers from North Africa). In 785 however, Charlemagne conquered Girona from the Moors. Some years later in 793 the Moors reclaimed Girona. The Moors maintained their control over Girona and much of the Iberian Peninsula at this time. However in the year, 1015, the Moors were eventually driven out of Girona permanently. This however did not prevent the Moors from sacking Girona in years to come. The Moors sacked Girona in; 827, 842, 845, 935 and in 982. Girona was amalgamated into the County of Barcelona in 878. The County of Barcelona was originally under the rule of the Carolingian dynasty. The County of Barcelona in a sense formed the basis of what was to become Catalonia. Through marriage alliances other Catalan territories were acquired. The County Of Barcelona itself became amalgamated to the Crown of Aragon when Ramon IV of Barcelona married Petronilla of Aragon in the twelfth century. When their son Alfonso I became ruler of Aragon, he was styled as Alfonso I of Aragon. From this point monarchs from Aragon dropped the title of Count and Countess as this was to be included in the title, Aragon. In the eleventh century Girona was designated as a city.
Girona is a pleasant city to visit and it is relatively easy to get to from Barcelona as a day trip. I recommend using the AVE (High speed train) Barcelona Sants to Figueres route and get off at Girona. It is the most expensive option but it saves time, which means you have more time to explore Girona! This journey is approximately 45 minutes. Another alternative for budget wary travellers is to use the Rodalies (Catalonia train service) that provides access to Girona. The journey time takes longer, however it is less expensive than the AVE route. Travelling by bus is doable and can sometimes be cheaper than both AVE and the Rodalies. However, the distance between Barcelona and Girona by road is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. After arriving at Girona, whether it be via train or by bus the destination is the same because the trains and the buses terminate at the same place. The City centre is a 20 to 25 minute walk. I recommend walking along the river when you reach Carrer Nou. That way you can get beautiful views of the river and it leads you directly to the tourist office for further information about Girona and the surrounding area.
I only spent a day in Girona, however a day is doable providing you have idea of what you would like to see and have access to a map to avoid getting lost and time wasting! I wanted to visit Girona because I like to tick off as many Cathedrals as I can on my travels, seeing as Girona had a Cathedral this made me really happy! It may sound bizarre but I heard about Girona Cathedral because of Game of Thrones. Whether or not you are a fan of the show it has certainly made me aware of the beautiful filming locations and the real history behind it, Girona Cathedral was indeed one of them. Girona Cathedral was used to film the exterior of the Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing.
The Cathedral, full name, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona is a beautiful structure that dates back to the eleventh century and was completed in the eighteenth century. The style of the Cathedral contains many different architectural types. Firstly, when the Cathedral was consecrated in the eleventh century of how we see it today the style was built in the Romanesque fashion. Now only the bell tower and the cloisters remain as part of the Romanesque style. However in the thirteenth century the style was built in the Gothic fashion. Girona Cathedral has the longest Gothic nave in the world measuring at 22.98 metres. The last style the Cathedral has is a Baroque façade at the entrance which was completed in 1607. The interior is certainly worth a look inside, my favourite part was seeing the altarpiece. This altarpiece is from the fourteenth century and is silver gilded with gold. Included in the price of one ticket is an audio guide (English is available) and a visit to the Basilica of Sant Feliu. If you have the time it is worth seeing the Basilica. The Basilica is behind the Cathedral and similarly it contains three different styles; Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque.
The prices for the Cathedral are as follows-
Concessions (students and pensioners)- 5€
Children under the age of 7- Free.
*Please note- all pricing is correct at the date and time of submission. Please refer to the relevant websites in the future if this changes.
My personal favourite place in Girona was the old Jewish quarter. The Jewish quarter, otherwise known as “The Call” in Girona had its heyday in the thirteenth century as the Christians and Jews appeared to get along nicely. For instance, the Girona Synagogue was even situated next to the Cathedral. In addition, Girona had one of the largest Jewish settlements in Catalonia. Naturally the streets were narrow and winding, complete with cobbled streets. It almost felt like being in a giant maze. You could certainly use your imagination when walking down the tiny alleyways that this once bustling quarter was full of people selling and buying goods. However, this peaceful coexistence soon ceased. Later in the thirteenth century the Jewish population became scapegoats and were frequently targeted by racist abuse. Eventually the Jewish population were consigned to just the call and had no freedom to travel elsewhere in the city. In this sense, the quarter turned into a ghetto. Violence soon sprang upon the Jewish residents and in 1391 a local mob vandalised and attacked the Jewish quarter and people. Many Jewish people were injured and there was approximately 40 casualties. In spite of all these atrocities happening to the Jews, they were still under royal protection and as such were meant to be protected. The survivors of this massacre were sent to Galligants Tower, north of the Cathedral. This was regarded to be for the protection, nevertheless it did not stop non Jewish residents from ransacking their homes and looting their possessions. Many of the Jews converted to Christianity or left. In 1492 when the Kingdom of Spain was unified under King Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the remaining Jews (all Sephardic Jews) were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula.
Points of interest-
Museu d’Historia dels Jueus de Girona
Museu d’Historia de Girona
Sant Pere de Galligants, now houses the Archaeology Museum of Catalonia
Arya film scene in Game of Thrones where she passes through the old Jewish quarter and leaves her blood from her fingers on a wall in this quarter