Here are some more places that I have seen, or been inside, and admired for different reasons. This time, I am including a whole village, a complete ancient city centre, as well as somewhere that doesn’t actually have any ‘real’ architecture at all.
The Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey.
This is one of the most impressive buildings that I have ever seen, both inside, and out. Built in the early 17th Century, it dominates the skyline of that great city, with its six slender minarets, and unusual domes, built in the style of a cascade. Its actual name is The Sultan Ahmet Mosque, but it has become known as the Blue Mosque, because of the blue tiles that decorate the ceiling. More than 200 windows are also a feature, helping to illuminate the interior. Visitors are welcome, and non-Muslims too. It was once part of a larger complex, and still takes up a considerable area. If you have ever seen a photo of Istanbul, the chances are that this imposing building will feature in it.
Oliver Cromwell’s House, Ely, England.
Cromwell is perhaps best known for his involvement as a soldier in the English Civil War, and the execution of King Charles the first. He later became Lord Protector, effectively the first dictator of this country. Before this, he was a country squire, and member of parliament for Huntingdon. He lived in the tiny city of Ely, in Cambridgeshire, famous for its cathedral. The house where he lived for ten years is now a fully-restored museum, furnished in the style of his day, and housing exhibits and artifacts all showing life as it was in the 17th century. Parts of this building date from the 12th century, and like many similar houses, it was modified over the years. Today, it remains as one of the best examples of its type, anywhere in England. This link has a photo that enlarges well when clicked on. (I confess to added bias, as I am a member of the Cromwell Association.)
In the southern desert of Tunisia lies a small town where architecture is hardly visible, but it is there if you look in the right places. The community of Matmata has existed since the time of ancient Egypt. Berber tribes-people, unable to tolerate the desert heat outside, dug their houses into the stone and earth, and lived below ground, or deep inside man-made caves and tunnels. To the outside world, this location is mainly known for being featured as the town of Tatooine, in the Star Wars films. Yet it has a community still living as they have done for centuries, albeit with the benefit of a few modern facilities. You can visit the homes there, and even stay in a hotel in the town. Granted it is something of a tourist experience, but it is still a fascinating one.
The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford, England.
This circular building served as the Science Library to Oxford University, and a reading room for the nearby Bodleian Library. Opened in 1749, it was built with funds donated by John Radcliffe, who did not live to see its completion. In a city famous for architecture and historical buildings, this one remains unique, and though not large, is always interesting to admire. It is well-known to TV viewers also, for its many appearances in TV dramas; not least the long-running police series, ‘Inspector Morse.’ It has nothing to do with cameras incidentally, camera meaning simply ‘a room’, in Latin.
Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, England.
The Cotswolds is a picturesque area in southern England, encompassing many counties of that region. The buildings are distinctive in the use of the building materials, known as Cotswold Stone. Many of the smaller towns and villages are popular with tourists and day trippers, as they have remained unchanged for hundreds of years, and represent the true face of ‘Village England.’ One of these is Bourton-on-the-Water, situated on the River Windrush, and the various streams that feed it. Although there is evidence of occupation here since the Bronze Age, the current buildings are all from the seventeenth century, predominantly constructed of yellow limestone. I confess that it is little more than a tourist trap, and on certain days, the streets are literally filled with day-trippers. However, that does not detract from the beauty of this village, with its stone bridges, and meandering river. I could not choose any particular building, so I have to include this whole place, as one delightful architectural marvel. A trip into the past, if you don’t look too hard at the gift shops.
The Belvedere, Holland Park, London.
Holland Park is one of those small gems of London. Used almost solely by residents, and more or less unknown to the hordes of tourists that descend on the city. It is not too easy to find either; accessed by paths from Kensington High Street, Abbotsbury Road, or Holland Park Avenue, it has no roads running through it, like many of the larger parks in the capital. Near the southern end of the park, you will find this building. These days, it is a smart restaurant, with prices to match. The interior is a mixture of styles, and boasts modern art too. The 17th century exterior is well-preserved, and is one of the buildings that once made up the estate of Holland House, home of a rich diplomat. It served as the summer ballroom, and the long windows, together with views over the grounds, must have made it a magical place during a grand ball. Although the views are now somewhat spoiled by the proximity of a car-park, the building can still be enjoyed, as a lovely example of Jacobean architecture.
This ancient city is so full of wonders, that I cannot possibly take one example. The old city centre is a world heritage site, and one of the most interesting places I have visited. From the unusual bulbous fortified walls, to the imposing minaret, blue-domed mosque, and peaceful lakes, this is a place that takes time to explore, and to appreciate. One of the most important cities of ancient Islam, it was built from the 10th to the 17th century, and examples of each style of architecture and building still exist today. Like Samarkand, it has famous mosaic decorations, and shimmers in the evening light.
Once a Persian city, then ruled from Baghdad, it was eventually to become part of Russia in the 19th century, and then part of the Soviet Union until Uzbekistan’s independence. It has endured all these transitions, and remains as one of the most significant historical sites in the world.
I hope that you enjoy these new selections, and I will continue to search my memory for more places of interest.