Tag Archives: Historical Building

A Brief Encounter with Lithuania’s Capital City

A Brief Encounter with Lithuania's Capital City

With around 600,000 people, Vilnius demands more than a day of anybody’s time, but I’m afraid that’s all I had.

The train journey from Kaunas can take anything between an hour and an hour and three quarters, and with that in mind I took an early fast train to Lithuania’s capital city.

The journey passed through some pretty flat countryside and quite different to where I come from: There were lots of trees and wooden farmhouses, one of which had a stork’s nest on its rooftop, an unusual sight for anyone from the UK to see.

Apparently, Lithuania has the biggest population of White Storks in the world, which is why it’s the country’s ‘National Bird’: They seem to be revered so much that March 25th is Stork Day when all sorts of rituals take place. Anyway, I digress.

I arrived at Vilnius railway station around 09.30 and made my way towards Ausros Gate, or better known in English as the Gates of Dawn.

The Gate gives entry into the Old Town, which is where most visitors to Vilnius head for, and which was bound to keep me occupied all day. The good thing is, that just a few streets lead straight through the Old Town down to where the Vilnia River meets the Neris near Cathedral Square and the Castle, where according to legend, the city was founded in 1323 by Gediminas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania.

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Wandering Around Inside the Old City Walls

St. Nicholas Street

Wandering Around Inside the Old City Walls

If the title of this post gives anyone the impression that wandering around Old Bristol is similar to wandering around York or Chester then I apologise straight away. For a start, apart from one notable exception, there are no parts of the old city wall left, and don’t expect to come here and tick off a list of medieval buildings either.

That said, just because the city’s core isn’t set in aspic, it doesn’t mean to say that centuries of history hasn’t left anything of interest behind.

My previous post, From Brycgstowe to Bristol, explained how the Anglo-Saxon settlement became a Norman town and trading port. The diversion of the River Frome in the 13th century helped the port expand, and for the town to do the same it meant tearing down the city walls.

The other major event to change Bristol’s layout was the Second World War when air raids did enormous damage. As far as the Old City was concerned, virtually everything in the south-eastern quarter was destroyed. Apart from the remains of two churches – St. Mary-le-Port and St. Stephens – nothing else survived.

The western side though escaped the worst of the Blitz and it’s mainly this part of the Old City that I’m going to take you around in this virtual tour.

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Lindisfarne Castle

Lindisfarne Castle

Northumberland, being next to the Scottish border, is castle country. Apparently, it has more castles than any other English county – and I can quite believe it. One of these castles is perched on top of a mound of volcanic rock, known as Beblowe Crag (or Craig), here on Holy Island.

As the Vikings proved, Lindisfarne was vulnerable. The natural harbour provided protection for ships, but the island itself wasn’t safe from invaders: The Vikings may have gone, but there was still a threat from the Scots, and when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, including Lindisfarne Priory, an opportunity presented itself to put the priory’s remains to good use.

Initially, the Priory church was used as a naval storehouse, but as the need for reinforcing Beblowe Crag as a defensive fort became more important, then the stone from the Priory was used to build a new fortress.

However, the need for strong defences against the Scots became virtually unnecessary with the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England, and consequently uniting the two kingdoms together:

Apart from the Royalist castle surviving a six-week siege during the Civil War and a short-lived Jacobite takeover in 1715, in truth, the castle didn’t really see that much action.

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Wilhelmstrasse

The Former Air Ministry Building

Wilhelmstrasse - The Former Heart of Nazi Germany

If the outcome of WWII had been different, and London had been beaten into submission instead of Berlin, then imagine if you can, what Whitehall would look like now: Wilhelmstrasse is (or was) Berlin’s ‘Whitehall’.

The road runs for one and a half miles between the Marschallbrucke on the River Spree down to Hallesches Tor in Kreuzberg, but the most interesting part from a historical point of view, is the section between the bridge and Niederkirchnerstrasse where the Berlin Wall split the city into two.

Originating from the time of King Frederick William I, this once wealthy residential thoroughfare, developed into Prussia’s main government district with many of the buildings being taken over by the state, including the Palais Schulenburg for Otto von Bismarck’s Chancellery.

At the end of WWI, the area came under the control of the Weimar Republic, but on 30th January 1933 there was a new Chancellor – Adolf Hitler, who immediately set about building a new chancellery for the Third Reich at the junction of Wilhelmstrasse and Voss Strasse.

After Hitler’s suicide in the Chancellery bunker and the subsequent defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the street found itself within the Russian sector as far as Prinz Albrecht Strasse (now Niederkirchnerstrasse). Bomb damage and the Battle for Berlin had left the area in tatters, and as neither the Russians nor East Germans had any reason to save whatever was left, the land where Prussian palaces once stood, was now either part of No-Man’s Land separating East and West Berlin or built upon with Eastern Bloc architecture.

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The Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

At the opposite end of the Royal Mile to the castle is Holyrood Palace – the British monarch’s official Scottish residence.

Sitting under the extinct volcano of Arthur’s Seat, the Palace of Holyroodhouse has been a Royal residence since 1503 when King James IV decided to convert the Royal Lodgings of Holyrood Abbey into a home fit for his new bride, Margaret Tudor.

The original Augustinian Abbey was founded in 1128 by King David I, supposedly after a hunting trip. Legend has it that he was thrown from his horse after being startled by a deer and was saved thanks to the appearance of a Holy Cross (or rood) that beamed down from the skies above. Whether you believe this miracle or not is up to you, but at least that’s one of the theories as to how Holyrood got its name.

Raids by the English during the mid-16th century destroyed many of the Abbey buildings and by the end of the Reformation all that was left of any consequence was the nave, which required some serious restoration for the Scottish coronation of King Charles I in 1633. The Chapel Royal, as it became known, was used for Catholic worship during the reign of James VII (and II of England), but by the 18th century, for various reasons, had suffered so much damage that it fell into terminal decline.

The remains of the nave can still be seen today as part of the tour of the palace.

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John Knox House

John Knox House

Anybody coming here for an insight into the life of John Knox may well come away disappointed. Having said that, I think it’s still worth a visit as long as you’re not expecting to see a building closely associated with one of Scotland’s great historical figures.

The John Knox House is also part of the Scottish Storytelling Centre which is quite apt really because it’s not entirely certain that the famous reformer actually ever did live here. If he did it was only for a very short time. I think it would be more appropriate to call it the James Mosman House.

James Mosman was the owner of the house in the mid-1500s when he was jeweller, goldsmith and keeper of the Royal Mint for the Stuart kings and queens. He was a staunch Catholic and supporter of Mary Queen of Scots at the time she was forced to abdicate in favour of her baby son James VI.

He joined a revolt that took Edinburgh Castle, but in 1573 was arrested and hanged at the Mercat Cross next to St. Giles Cathedral for treason.

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St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles' Cathedral

Hovering over the top half of the High Street is the crown shaped steeple of St. Giles’ Cathedral.

Technically speaking it’s not a Cathedral at all as there is no Bishop, so officially it’s known as the High Kirk.

Architecturally, it’s not one of Europe’s outstanding ecclesiastical gems even though it’s been here since 1124. The main reason for that is because what we mostly see today is just a couple of hundred years old after some major restoration in the 19th century.

That’s not to say that it’s not worth visiting because this is the church where John Knox was minister when he helped bring about the Scottish Reformation during the 16th century.

It’s also the church where King Charles I decided to introduce the Anglican Book of Common Prayer to the Scots in 1637. Fury erupted and the following year the National Covenant was signed which reminded the King that he may have been the King of Scotland but he was definitely not the head of the Scottish Church. The outcome of his interference led to the English Civil War and ultimately his life when he was executed in Whitehall in 1649.

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The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

To conclude my tour of Edinburgh Castle it seems appropriate somehow to finish with the magnificent Military Tattoo.

As its name suggests, the event is based around the Scottish armed forces, but don’t let that put you off because it’s more to do with kilts and bagpipes than warfare. That said, there is also a solemn side to the proceedings, especially towards the end when recognition of those who have lost their lives in combat are remembered.

For the most part though, it’s an extravaganza of music and dancing, and not just from Scotland either. In fact, it involves more international participants than you might have imagined.

The first Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle took place in 1950 and has grown from strength to strength ever since. The spectacle has become extremely popular and consequently in order to get a good seat, or even any seat, it’s best to book well in advance. This also applies to hotels as well at this time of the year, as it coincides with the Edinburgh Festival.

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Edinburgh Castle Pt 5 – The Military Prison and Prisons of War

Edinburgh Castle Pt 5 - The Military Prison and Prisons of War

I’ve been inside many prisons over the years – as a tourist I hasten to add – and there are another two here in Edinburgh Castle near Dury’s Battery.

Firstly, there’s the small Military Prison and then the larger Prisons of War, which I found to be the more interesting of the two.

The Military Prison was built in 1842 for the incarceration of soldiers from the local garrison who would be held in solitary confinement in one of the dozen cells. Later this was extended to sixteen with separate ablution facilities.

In reality this prison was like a cut-down version of civilian prisons elsewhere.

The Prisons of War are somewhat different in as much as that they housed foreign prisoners from a series of different conflicts during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

These large vaults are situated under the Great Hall and Queen Anne Building and had been used for various purposes from stores, military supplies, barracks and even kitchens and a bakery.

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Edinburgh Castle Pt 4 – The Great Hall

Edinburgh Castle Pt 4 - The Great Hall

After the Royal Palace and the Honours of Scotland, the next must-see part of the castle is the Great Hall which is located next to the Palace in Crown Square.

This grand ceremonial hall was completed in 1512 for James IV and used for entertaining dignitaries with great banquets, but all this fine dining and drinking came to an abrupt end when Oliver Cromwell took over at the helm in 1650 and converted it into barracks.

When the New Barracks were opened in 1799 the hall was converted into a military hospital, and then in 1886 it was restored to something like its former glory.

The one thing that isn’t Victorian though is the hammerbeam roof which has been here from the beginning and one of the most important in Britain. Another original feature is the Laird’s Lug (Lord’s Ear) which is a grilled opening above the right-hand side of the fireplace. It was used for eavesdropping and when Mikhail Gorbachev came to the castle in 1984 his security team insisted that it was bricked up.

Around the perimeter is an impressive collection of weapons and armour on loan from the Royal Armouries.

 

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