Category: World Cultures
With a future as bright as its past, Reykjavik should be at the top of your cities-I-must-visit list. Follow Time Out’s tips for the perfect break in the Icelandic capital.
Reykjavik’s origins can be traced back to AD 870, when it is believed to have been Iceland’s first permanent Nordic settlement. There are monuments to its past as a seat of the Vikings all over the city, and also to its role as the birthplace of the Althing, the world’s first parliament.
Despite all its history, modern Reykjavik holds its past and future in even balance. Its modernism is striking – from the clean lines of its buildings to its experimental music scene to its status as one of the cleanest, most environmentally conscious cities in the world. So whatever it is that draws you to Reykjavik, there’s plenty to explore when you get here.
Reykjavik’s compact size (it has only 120,000 inhabitants, over a third of Iceland’s entire population) makes it the perfect place to get round on foot. If you want to get your bearings, start by taking a trip in the elevator to the top of Hallgrimskirkja; Iceland’s largest church resembles the vast helm of a Viking ship – or an iceberg – stretching from the ground. From the top, 73 metres up in the air, you’ll get a panoramic view of Reykjavik’s colourful rooftops.
A trip to the city must take in its incredible cultural centre, Harpa. An architectural stunner, its southern façade was designed by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. It’s free to enter and definitely worth a visit even if just to wonder at the modernist magnificence of the building’s interior – but as home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra it also puts on an impressive selection of shows in its concert hall.
Art and culture lovers are well catered for. Learn about Icelandic history at the National Museum of Iceland, or get a sense of cutting-edge Icelandic contemporary art at the Reykjavik Art Museum’s Hafnarhús location (the museum is split over three venues) a converted warehouse a herring bone’s throw from the harbour. Then there’s the excellent sculpture garden at Einar Jónsson Museum. If you prefer your art a little more transient, the city’s streets are full of vibrant street art, too.
Those looking to get to grips with nature also have a lot of options – from whale watching at the harbour to hiking along the rugged coastline (which is also perfect for navigating by bicycle). Then there are the city’s famous hot pools. A handy by-product of Iceland’s natural volcanic action, you’ll find them all over the city – though the historical Sundhöllin Public Baths (Iceland’s oldest public swimming pool) are a popular bet.
Take a tour through one of the Italian capital’s oldest and most thriving cultural districts.
The history of Jews in Rome follows all the drastic twists and horrifying turns that have shaped the experience of the Jewish diaspora across the world. There has been a Jewish quarter inside the city ever since the Roman Republic began to engage in trade with the Levant in the couple of centuries before Jesus Christ. The subsequent millennia have seen massacres, apostasies and truces; bouts of intense persecution have been succeeded by periods of tolerance by, and even alliance with, the state. So if the story of the Roman Jews is relatively little told, it’s not for want of incident.
One reason may be their relatively small population – 13,000 Jews live in Rome today, compared with London’s 170,000 or New York’s 1.75 million – and, consequently, Italy’s fairly minor involvement in the defining event of recent Jewish history: the Holocaust. And yet, if nothing on the scale of what happened in Germany or Poland, Rome witnessed some horrors. The Nazis invaded Italy in September 1943 after the capitulation of Mussolini’s regime, and within a month they had smashed inside Rome’s Jewish quarter and started rounding up its inhabitants. By the war’s end, the city’s Jewish community had been literally decimated, having lost one in ten of its members to the concentration camps.
Calm in the chaos
A smattering of memorial plaques for the dead interrupt the peace in the otherwise placid Jewish quarter of today. Situated just across from the Tiber Island on the east bank of the river, the area is a haven of tranquillity in the traffic maelstrom that is Rome. Residential courtyards branch off from the slender alleys that tie the neighbourhood’s bustling marketplaces to its dainty piazzas. Like other historically Jewish districts in Europe’s capitals, such as London’s East End and Paris’ Marais, it has shed its cramped ghetto layout and gone the way of gentrification – losing many of its Jewish inhabitants in the process.
Inside Kiryat Sefer (‘The City of Books’) [no website], a bookstore specialising in Jewish culture, a tome on display compares the plan of the ghetto circa 1850 with a map of the area as it is today. The difference is striking. After Italy was unified in 1870, the new monarchy annulled the requirement for Jews to live in the ghetto, and set about razing the area.
The wall surrounding the ghetto was torn down and the cramped labyrinth of cul-de-sacs and tenement houses was replaced by four simple blocks of thoroughfares and squares. Where once the city’s poorest lived in abominable conditions, today a one-bedroom apartment sells for half a million euros. Streets that formerly belonged to drapers and fishermen now attract the likes of Jamie Oliver and Mark Zuckerberg (who, after dining at the neighbourhood’s renowned Nonna Betta restaurant, famously left no tip).
Many Jews may have sold up and moved out, but enough locals remain for the area to retain a distinctive character. Strolling down its flagstoned lanes, you’re just as likely to overhear snatches of Giudeo-romanesco, an antiquated local dialect that borrows liberally from Hebrew, as you are a conversation in Italian. A visit to the famous Boccione [no website], self-styled ‘bakery of the ghetto’, yields myriad delights of Hebraic provenance: unleavened tarts, marzipan cakes studded with fruit, and the three wonderfully taciturn sisters who run the place. Even the local sushi joint, Daruma, eschews all fish without spines in accordance with kosher tradition. If you’re pining for prawn, move on.
And then there’s the Great Synagogue of Rome [no website], another product of the late 19th-century government’s regeneration project. The squat domed edifice sits astride the riverbank, its striking appearance boldly proclaiming the Jews’ freedom to build as they see fit. Sadly, its symbolic importance has turned it into a flashpoint for anti-Semitic violence: in 1982, a gang of Palestinian militants marched up to the entrance and sprayed the congregation with grenades and submachine fire, killing one and wounding dozens. One legacy of the attack is a network of security guards who keep watch over the area from their discreet booths. Their presence is a dismaying reminder of the tensions with which the Jews of Rome continue to live, even in their most peaceful time.
For an area that abounds in beautiful architecture and tourist hotspots, the Jewish quarter is often neglected by visitors who come to Rome for its classical landmarks. Which is inexcusable, given that you can cover the neighbourhood’s cultural gems in a matter of hours – from the famous (and frankly kitsch) Turtle Fountain to the surreal ruins of the Porticus Octaviae. It’s well worth getting to know this unjustly overlooked patch of Italy.
Byzantine art and architecture, works of art and structures works produced in the city of Byzantium after Constantine made it the capital of the Roman Empire (A.D. 330) and the work done under Byzantine influence, as in Venice, Ravenna, Norman Sicily, as well as in Syria, Greece, Russia, and other Eastern countries.
For more than a thousand years, until the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, Byzantine art retained a remarkably conservative orientation; the major phases of its development emerge from a background marked by adherence to classical principles.
Artistic activity was temporarily disrupted by the Iconoclastic controversy (726–843), which resulted in the wholesale destruction of figurative works of art and the restriction of permissible content to ornamental forms or to symbols like the cross. The pillaging of Constantinople by the Frankish Crusaders in 1204 was perhaps a more serious blow; but it was followed by an impressive late flowering of Byzantine art under the Paleologus dynasty.
Byzantine achievements in mosaic decoration brought this art to an unprecedented level of monumentality and expressive power. Mosaics were applied to the domes, half-domes, and other available surfaces of Byzantine churches in an established hierarchical order. The center of the dome was reserved for the representation of the Pantocrator, or Jesus as the ruler of the universe, whereas other sacred personages occupied lower spaces in descending order of importance.
The entire church thus served as a tangible evocation of the celestial order; this conception was further enhanced by the stylized poses and gestures of the figures, their hieratic gaze, and the luminous shimmer of the gold backgrounds. Because of the destruction of many major monuments in Constantinople proper, large ensembles of mosaic decoration have survived chiefly outside the capital, in such places as Salonica, Nicaea, and Daphni in Greece and Ravenna in Italy.
An important aspect of Byzantine artistic activity was the painting of devotional panels, since the cult of icons played a leading part in both religious and secular life. Icon painting usually employed the encaustic technique. Little scope was afforded individuality; the effectiveness of the religious image as a vehicle of divine presence was held to depend on its fidelity to an established prototype. A large group of devotional images has been preserved in the monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai.
The development of Byzantine painting may also be seen in manuscript illumination. Among notable examples of Byzantine illumination are a lavishly illustrated 9th-century copy of the Homilies of Gregory Nazianzus and two works believed to date from a 10th-century revival of classicism, the Joshua Rotulus (or Roll) and the Paris Psalter.
Enamel, ivory, and metalwork objects of Byzantine workmanship were highly prized throughout the Middle Ages; many such works are found in the treasuries of Western churches. Most of these objects were reliquaries or devotional panels, although an important series of ivory caskets with pagan subjects has also been preserved. Byzantine silks, the manufacture of which was a state monopoly, were also eagerly sought and treasured as goods of utmost luxury.
The architecture of the Byzantine Empire was based on the great legacy of Roman formal and technical achievements. Constantinople had been purposely founded as the Christian counterpart and successor to the leadership of the old pagan city of Rome. The new capital was in close contact with the Hellenized East, and the contribution of Eastern culture, though sometimes overstressed, was an important element in the development of its architectural style. The 5th-century basilica of St. John of the Studion, the oldest surviving church in Constantinople, is an early example of Byzantine reliance upon traditional Roman models.
The most imposing achievement of Byzantine architecture is the Church of Holy Wisdom or Hagia Sophia. It was constructed in a short span of five years (532–37) during the reign of Justinian. Hagia Sophia is without a clear antecedent in the architecture of late antiquity, yet it must be accounted as culminating several centuries of experimentation toward the realization of a unified space of monumental dimensions.
Throughout the history of Byzantine religious architecture, the centrally planned structure continued in favor. Such structures, which may show considerable variation in plan, have in common the predominance of a central domed space, flanked and partly sustained by smaller domes and half-domes spanning peripheral spaces.
Although many of the important buildings of Constantinople have been destroyed, impressive examples are still extant throughout the provinces and on the outer fringes of the empire, notably in Bulgaria, Russia, Armenia, and Sicily. A great Byzantine architectural achievement is the octagonal church of San Vitale (consecrated 547) in Ravenna. The church of St. Mark’s in Venice was based on a Byzantine prototype, and Byzantine workmen were employed by Arab rulers in the Holy Land and in Ottonian Germany during the 11th cent.
Secular architecture in the Byzantine Empire has left fewer traces. Foremost among these are the ruins of the 5th-century walls of the city of Constantinople, consisting of an outer and an inner wall, each originally studded with 96 towers. Some of these can still be seen.
The conflict in Syria has taken a critical turn. Alawites, who have long rallied behind their co-religionist president, now want to execute his cousin for killing an Alawite army officer August 7 in an apparent road rage incident. It is rare for them to speak against the ruling regime publicly, but activists are now voicing their protest.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, one-third of young Alawite men have died, mothers are hiding their sons and many men are fleeing the country. It seems that solidarity between Bashar Assad and the Alawites is weakening. Although Assad keeps the sectarian threat boiling, his fall would mean a hell for the Alawites by Sunni extremists, and many Alawites no longer doubt they are fighting a losing war.
With the Islamic State group advancing closer to the Alawite heartland, the next genocide will be of the Alawites, regardless of whether they stand with Assad. Their faith will bring them a worse nightmare than that of the Yazidis: Alawites are not only considered heretic, but also an enemy on the battlefield.
According to common understanding, Alawites became a Shia offshoot a thousand years ago. However, some scholars find this a problematic claim. A deeper understanding of the nature of this secretive faith will shed light on the complexity of the sectarian insecurity and manipulation that Assad has been using to sustain his power by the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians since 2011.
The sect was originally called Nusayri, named after Muhammad ibn Nusayr (A.D. 859) who, after the death of the 11th Imam Hasan al-Askari, claimed he was the imam’s intimate messenger. The core of Nusayrism is the concept of God in triad, with God himself being manifested through Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. Nusayris believe that God is Ali in the flesh, who created Muhammad from his spirit, who in turn created Salman al-Farisi, a Persian companion and evangelist. These three form a triad — Mana (Meaning), Ism (Name/Veil) and Bab (Gate).
Nusayrism is also cyclical. Nusayris believe that there have been seven times that God manifested in seven different trinities. The first was of Abel, Adam and Gabriel; the last in Ali, Muhammad and Salman. In all, the meanings, or manifestations, of God seem to be subordinate figures while the name/veil appear to be superior ones: Jesus is the name but God manifestation is actually Simon Peter; Muhammad is the name but God is manifested through Ali.
With this trinity concept, it is tempting to conclude that Nusayrism derives from Christianity. Nusayriyya is similar to Nasara, which means “Christian” in Arabic. Some scholars and observers have even accused Alawism of being a secret Christian proclivity because Alawites celebrate some Christian holidays and honor many Christian saints. In 1903, Jesuit scholar Henri Lammens believed that Nusayris were actually lost Christians.
For Nusayris, salvation goes through a succession of divine emanations. This shows its root in Gnosticism’s cosmogonies, which pre-date Islam. The concepts of transmigration of the soul and reincarnation after death were most likely borrowed from Hinduism through Manichaeism. Greek influences can be seen in the way Nusayris believe each soul is a star, the sinful will be reincarnated as inferior beings through nine levels of human existence and nobility. This mysterious religious cocktail then added elements from Zoroastrianism, Phoenician paganism and Mazdakism, thrown in for good measure.
Nusayris’ religious duties are also interpreted on the basis of gnostic cosmogony. Because people sin, they are no longer splendid stars and must redeem themselves by knowing God through ma’rifa — inner knowledge from one’s own direct experience of reality, something not possible through books. Consequently, traditional ritual and literal reading of scripture are not essential and can even lead to perdition.
With “inner knowledge” as a goal, the pillars of Islam are radically reinterpreted with “inner meaning.” For example, the five daily prayers are understood to be five members of the holy family, including Fatima (Muhammad’s daughter), despite the paradox that Nusayris regard women to be inferior and therefore unable to be reincarnated. Ramadan is allegorized and applied to speech, such as taking a vow of silence rather than abstaining from food.
It is very likely that the Shia principle of taqiyya (religious dissimulation) was the base for this interpretation. For Nusayris, revealing religious secrets to outsiders can lead to severe punishment. Their holy books and rituals are restricted to a few people who pledge to keep the secrets of the faith (Kitman); they are called Khassah while the ignorant majority are Ammah. The syncretic and mythical belief is a secret, even to its own believers.
People are increasingly identifying themselves as global rather than national citizens, according to a BBC World Service poll.
The trend is particularly marked in emerging economies, where people see themselves as outward looking and internationally minded. However, in Germany fewer people say they feel like global citizens now, compared with 2001.
Pollsters GlobeScan questioned more than 20,000 people in 18 countries. More than half of those asked (56%) in emerging economies saw themselves first and foremost as global citizens rather than national citizens.
In Nigeria (73%), China (71%), Peru (70%) and India (67%) the data is particularly marked. By contrast, the trend in the industrialised nations seems to be heading in the opposite direction.
In these richer nations, the concept of global citizenship appears to have taken a serious hit after the financial crash of 2008. In Germany, for example, only 30% of respondents see themselves as global citizens.
According to Lionel Bellier from GlobeScan, this is the lowest proportion seen in Germany since the poll began 15 years ago. “It has to be seen in the context of a very charged environment, politically and emotionally, following Angela Merkel’s policy to open the doors to a million refugees last year.”
The poll suggests a degree of soul-searching in Germany about how open its doors should be in the future. It says 54% of German respondents approved of welcoming Syrians to their country. In the UK, where the government has resolutely capped the number of Syrian refugees, the figure was much higher at 72%.
A significant proportion of Germans also sat on the fence when they were asked about issues to do with immigration and society.
On the question of whether intermarriage was a welcome development, for example, 46% of German respondents were not sure how to respond or they tried to qualify their answers by saying it depended what the circumstances were.
This is in stark contrast to other European countries, such as France, where people were much more emphatically in favour of marriages between people from different racial or religious backgrounds.
These grey areas on the bar charts could suggest Germany is still grappling with whether it wants to welcome newcomers or not.
“There is a lot of uncertainty there,” says Mr Bellier.
“German respondents are showing a high level of indecisiveness when they are asked if they approve or disapprove of these developments and whether they accept the fact that their country is taking a lead on refugees.”
According to the data, there are some clear divides in attitudes within continents.
In Europe, it is Russia which has the strongest resistance to intermarriage, with 43% of Russians actively disapproving of marriages between different races and ethnic groups.
Compare that with Spain, where only 5% would be opposed to such matches. Spain also noticeably has the most respondents who see themselves as global citizens.
Russia appears to have the strongest overall opposition to immigration. Only 11% of the Russians polled would approve of accepting refugees from Syria, for example.
On the other hand, Spain would be the most welcoming of all the countries polled when it comes to receiving refugees from the Syrian conflict. There, an eye-catching majority – 84% – believe they should take in more of those fleeing the five-year civil war.
What is ‘global citizenship’ anyway?
One problem with polling attitudes on identity is that “global citizenship” is a difficult concept to define and the poll left it open to those taking part to interpret.
For some, it might be about the projection of economic clout across the world. To others, it might mean an altruistic impulse to tackle the world’s problems in a spirit of togetherness – whether that is climate change or inequality in the developing world.
Global citizenship might also be about ease of communication in an interconnected age and being able to have a voice on social media.
And for many, it will be about migration and mobility. We are, after all, witnessing the biggest movements of people since the World War Two.
This is not just driven by war and conflict. It is also because the world as a whole is becoming more prosperous and air travel is becoming more affordable to the rising middle classes.
There are times when it is best to keep things simple, and that’s just what Les Monaghan has done for The Desire Project.
Based in Doncaster, he simply asked a bunch of strangers: “What do you want?”
With support from the Arts Council England, the results have been put on display in the Frenchgate Centre, Doncaster.
“The project became led by the answers that subjects gave,” says Monaghan.
“Political and societal changes have rendered us all as individual consumers, those portrayed have been photographed alone, but when exhibited they are grouped together and their desires for health, happiness and a better world coalesce.
“We want the same things, we want to get along, we want to be social, we want community.”
Monaghan also points out that, of the 150 on show, no-one wanted a commodity.
Here is a selection of pictures from the project.
Greece’s tourism product is being reborn, offering a new window of opportunity to travelers of every type.
After featuring prominently in the world news for all the wrong reasons, for a while it seemed that Greece was all washed up. Just when everyone thought it was down and out, the country rose from its own dusty ruins to turn a tarnished reputation to its advantage. In what is nothing short of a success story, post-crisis Greece has enhanced the traditional charm of sugar-cubed houses atop cliff-tops, sun-kissed Aegean beaches, voyages to antiquity and Mediterranean cuisine.
As if Greece couldn’t be more alluring anyway, there are 10 more reasons to visit the country right now.
1. Greece for All Seasons
There’s more to Greece than the sun and sea, which is why the government has unveiled a new tourism policy that pledges to “prolong the tourism season” and make Greece one of the five most popular destinations in the world.
For your average traveler, this means greater access to thematic tourism all year round. Now, families can take advantage of the special family discounts at winter resorts, enjoy off-season rates at the Athens Half Marathon or partake in kick-ass rock-climbing fiestas on the jagged slopes of Kalymnos island.
Greece is now the happening place, with lots to do and see in every season, from the fledgling Tweed Run on picturesque Spetses in the spring to the Red Bull freerunning competition on Santorini in the autumn and then some.
2. Fly Direct, No Hassle
In the wake of terror attacks and health epidemics, more travelers have chosen Greece. Increased demand means more direct flights to destinations around the country. Euromonitor travel analyst Wouter Gerts explains that as the whole Middle East is “associated with insecurity in the mind of the western tourist,” Greece has emerged as a comparable alternative thanks to its similar weather, cheap prices and security.
German tour operator TUI recently confirmed that tourists are turning to Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy in increasing numbers for their upcoming spring and summer holidays. At the same time, bookings to Turkey dropped by 40 percent.
Greek civil aviation data shows that there was an 11.5 percent-spike in Greek airport traffic in January alone. Some 1.8 million passengers travelled on 19,890 flights, enjoying the advantages of direct flights at budget rates.
3. Disover Virgin Territory
Yes, it looks set to happen in 2016. Obscure backwaters are being opened to the public for the first time thanks to a fast-track law that speeds up procedures for public-private investments. This means that the seaplanes projects at four Greek destinations – Skyros, Alonissos, Paxi and Agia Marina at Grammatiko – can move to the next stage of completion.
“The aim of the ministry is to create a waterways network by next summer, which will bring substantial benefits to the economy, create jobs and contribute to the interconnection of small and isolated islands as well as the development of local communities,” said Energy Minister Panos Skourletis.
With bated breath, the Hellenic Seaplanes company can literally taste the start of operations in 2016 after three years in the planning, with some 50 waterways already mapped out. The goal is to connect the country through seaports to allow for the exploration of virgin territory before it is changed forevermore by the influx of crowds.
4. More Reasons to Sail the Seas
Greece – a country carved by the sea with a whopping 13,676-km coastline – is, was and will always be a seafarer’s paradise. Though local mariners know as much, National Geographic recently identified the large island of Evia as one of the top ten international sailing destinations. And it comes as little surprise that Athens and the Greek islands ranked among the top ten most-searched cruise destinations on Yahoo in 2015.
Top-ranking three-time Olympic sailor Armando Ortolano, one of the founders of the Greek Isles Yachting company, says that Athens is a unique yachting destination. Its docks are exceptionally close to the Saronic islands and city sights, an advantage that has kept interest stable despite adversity that has kept investments at bay.
“We’re doing our best to keep business afloat with 20 percent cheaper charter rates since before the economic crisis began,” he says. “This means that a yacht with a capacity to carry six people can now be leased for 1,500 euros per week, meaning 200 euros per person for seven days, and with a skipper to boot!” Best yet, 2016 is the year of innovation for his company, which is planning to offer a “lifetime memories in a day” package, offering tailor-made options for day trips such as fishing and scuba diving.
5. All Roads Lead to Athens
Athens moved up a notch to second place in the prestigious European Best Destinations 2016, the Brussels-based electronic pool seeking the best of European culture and tourism. Elpida Rekka, of the City of Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau, points to the iconic Acropolis as just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the beauty of the city. A myriad of other offerings include affordable museums and archaeological sites, a high rate of Michelin-starred restaurants, a brilliant city-sea combination with a 55km of scenic coastal road stretch dubbed the Athens Riviera.
Now just behind Zadar in Croatia in the European Best Destinations rankings, Athens is eyeing gold in 2017.
6. Hospitality is in the Blood
The ancient Greek Stoics regarded hospitality as a gods-given right for foreigners, sanctioned by Zeus himself. Refusing to abide by this was hubris. The notion is so deeply engrained in the Grecian psyche that – despite cash flow problems – there’s usually a local entry near the top of the awards in any hospitality industry ranking.
Accolades keep coming with Achtis Hotel, in Halkidiki in northern Greece, and Canaves Oia Hotel, on Santorini, ranked 5th and 12th, respectively, in TripAdvisor’s top 25 hotels worldwide listing for 2016. Meanwhile, Amathus Beach Hotel in Rhodes and Grace Santorini Hotel rated highly in the 6th European Hospitality Awards. Another four Greek hotels took titles at the coveted Historic Hotels of Europe (HHE) awards in 2016: Allegory Boutique Hotel on Rhodes, Marpessa Smart Luxury Hotel in Agrinio (three awards), Aigialos Hotel in Santorini and Villa Galini in Halkidiki.
7. Less Money, More Innovation
The financial crisis may have made life difficult for the locals, but it has also made them far more inventive when it comes to tourism. Sites like dopios.gr and initiatives such as This is My Athens have paved the way for a new brand of tailor-made tourism that is ripe for the picking. These sites connect travelers with a community of local storytellers offering the real spirit of post-crisis Greece to the world.
Always hospitable, tech-savvy Greeks have now gone digital to showcase their cities to foreign visitors with treks to graffiti-laden anarchist quarter of Exarchia in Athens or a dinner invitation to where else but yiayia’s kitchen, where granny’s home-cooked meal rivals that of any Michelin-starred chef.
Not authentic enough for you? George Arapoglou, head of the Athens Invisible Paths tours organized by Schedia, a magazine sold by homeless street vendors, says that he’s been amazed by the reception. “Our tour guides are homeless or have been homeless people at some point in their lives. Sharing their journey to soup kitchens, sleeping areas, detox centers and other pitstops helps them feel less socially excluded while also breaking down barriers,” he says of the tours, which are available in Greek, English, German, Spanish and Italian.