Monday

Top Attractions of Rome Piazza Navona Navona Square

Piazza Navona is one of the most famous and arguably the most beautiful of Rome's many squares. The large and lively square features no less than three magnificent fountains. Another eyecatcher is the Baroque church of Sant'Agnese in Agone.
 
Palazzo-Pamphilj-Piazza-Navona
 
Piazza-Navona
 Piazza Navona

Domitian's Stadium

Moor-Fountain

 Moor Fountain

Moor-Fountain

Moor Fountain

 

 
Domitian's-Stadium

Domitian's Stadium
 
Fountain-of-the-four-rivers
 
Fountain of the four rivers
 
 
Neptune-Fountain-Navona-Square
 
Neptune Fountain
 
The square is built on the former Stadium of Domitian, built by Emperor Domitian in 86 AD. Hence the long, oval shape of the square. The stadium, which had a larger arena than the Colosseum was mainly used for festivals and sporting events.

The stadium was known as 'Circus Agonalis' (competition arena). It is believed that over time the name changed to 'in agone' to 'navone' and eventually to 'navona'.

In the fifteenth century the stadium was paved over to create the Navona square, but remnants of Domitian's stadium are still visible around the area. Guided tours to this underground monument are available, they start at Piazza Tor Sanguigna 13.

Fountain of the Four Rivers

The main attraction of Piazza Navona is the trio of fountains that adorn the square. The central and largest fountain is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers). It was constructed between 1647 and 1651 on request of pope Innocent X.

The design of the fountain was first commissioned to Borromini, but it was ultimately handed to his rival Bernini. The fountain features four figures, each representing a river from a different continent - the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio de la Plata. The statues are at the base of a rock supporting an obelisk, originally located at the Circus of Maxentius, near the Appian Way.

Neptune Fountain & Moor Fountain

The two other fountains on the piazza are the Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune fountain) at the northern end and the Fontana del Moro (Moor fountain) at the southern end of the square.

The Fontana del Nettuno, also known as the Calderari, was built in 1576 by Giacomo della Porta. The statues of Neptune surrounded by sea nymphs were added in the nineteenth century.

Giacomo della Porta also built the Fontana del Moro. The central statue of a Moor holding a dolphin, a design by Bernini, was added in the seventeenth century. The tritons are nineteenth-century additions.

Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone

Sant'Agnese-Agone-Piazza-Navona

 Sant'Agnese in Agone

Another highlight at Navona square is the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone. It was commissioned in 1652 by Pope Innocent X and built on the site where according to legend, St. Agnes was stripped naked, but miraculously saved from disgrace by extraordinary growth of hair.

The front facade of the Baroque church was designed by Borromini, Bernini's main rival. Construction started just two years after the completion of Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers, right in front of the building. The church was completed in 1670.

Location

The Piazza Navona is situated in the historic center of Rome, west of the Pantheon. It is one of Rome's liveliest squares, with many outdoor cafes, restaurants and night clubs in the neighborhood.

Tuesday

Top Attractions of London Tower of London

The Tower of London was built at the beginning of the eleventh century by William the conqueror. The tower was expanded during the thirteenth century into the fortified complex that we know today. The Tower's most popular attraction is its famous collection of Crown Jewels.
Tower-of-London
 
 
Tower of London
Construction of the Tower of London was initiated in 1070 by William the Conqueror, shortly after his victory at Hastings in 1066. The Tower was built to enforce the power of the Norman king over the newly conquered land.

The fortress, strategically located at the Thames, was originally not more than a temporary wooden building which was replaced later by the White Tower. Over time the complex was expanded into a stronghold with about twenty towers.
Enceinte-of-the-Tower-of-London

Enceinte of the Tower of London
Today the Tower of London is best known for its Crown Jewels, but it used to be notorious for the many political opponents of the kings that were locked, tortured and killed in the Tower. The Tower was also a royal residence: several kings lived here, especially during turbulent times when the donjon seemed a lot safer than the palace in Westminster.

White Tower

Tower-of-London

The White Tower
The oldest part of the fortress is the so-called White Tower, which was completed in 1097. This keep was long the tallest building in London at 27.4 meters (90ft). Its walls are 4.6 meter wide.

The tower was whitewashed during the reign of Henry III, which gave the tower's facade its white appearance. Ever since the tower has been known as White Tower. The building has four domed turrets at each corner. Three of them have a square shape, the other is round, due to its spiral staircase. The round turret was long used as an observatory.

Other Towers

The Tower of London was significantly expanded in the thirteenth century, during the reign of Henry III, when two defensive walls were built around the White Tower. The inner wall had thirteen towers and the outer wall another six. The towers were mostly used to imprison political opponents. 
Traitors'-Gate-Tower-of-London
 
Traitors' Gate


Some of the most famous prisoners locked in the Tower were two princes, the sons of king Edward IV. After Edward's dead in 1483 the children were locked in the Bloody Tower by their uncle, who would later ascend the throne as king Richard III. The princes were never seen again and were probably killed by guards.
The St. Thomas Tower is located close to the Bloody Tower. Here, prisoners were brought into the fortress by boat through the Traitor's gate.

Important prisoners were often locked in the Beauchamp Tower, sometimes with their servants. An inscription on the wall of the tower is believed to refer to Lady Jane Grey, who, nine days after she was crowned Queen, was executed on Tower Green, an open terrain in the Tower of London.
Byward-Tower-Tower-of-London

Byward Tower
Thomas More was imprisoned in the Bell Tower until his execution after he refused to accept king Henry VIII as head of the Anglican church. Even Queen Elisabeth I was confined here for some time. 
 
Cradle-Tower
 Cradle Tower

Yeoman Warders

The main entrance of the Tower of London is at the Byward Tower, where you'll find the so-called Beefeaters or Yeoman Warders.
Dressed in historic clothes, they not only guard the tower, but also give guided tours of the fortress. One of the about forty Yeoman Warders is known as the Ravenmaster, responsible for the ravens that have been living here for centuries. 
 Yeoman-Warder
  Yeoman Warder
 Yeoman Warder Legend has it that the Tower and the kingdom will fall if the ravens leave. Hence King Charles II placed the birds under royal protection and the wings of the ravens are clipped to prevent them from flying away.

Crown Jewels

The most famous tourist attraction in the Tower of London is the collection of Crown Jewels that has been on display here since the seventeenth century, during the reign of Charles II. Most of the jewels were created around the year 1660, when the monarchy was reinstalled. The majority of the older crown jewels were destroyed by Oliver Cromwell.

The jewels can be found in the Jewel House, which is part of the Waterloo Barracks just north of the White Tower. Some of the highlights of the collection are the 530 carat First Star of Africa, which is set in the

Scepter of the Cross; the Imperial State Crown with more than 2800 diamonds and the famous Koh-I-Noor, a 105 carat diamond. 
Imperial-State-Crown
 Imperial State Crown

More Sights

There's plenty more to see in the Tower of London, such as the Royal Armories, which includes the personal armory of King Henry VIII, one of the world's largest.

The medieval palace in the Tower of London is also open to visitors and there are often reenactments of historic events in the fortress. For more information on the highlights of the Tower of London, check out their excellent and exhaustive website.

Monday

Top Attractions of Chicago Sears Tower

At the time the Sears tower was constructed in 1974, it was the world's tallest building, eclipsing New York's twin-towered World Trade Center by 25 meters (83 ft). It would keep the title of tallest building in the world until the Petronas twin towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia were constructed in 1997.
 
Sears Tower
 
 
Ledges-Sears-Tower-Willis-Tower
 Ledges on the Sears Tower (Willis Tower)
 
Sears-Tower-seen-from-the-Shedd-Aquarium

 Sears Tower seen from the Shedd Aquarium

The Tallest

There was much discussion on whether the Petronas Towers are actually taller than the Sears Tower as the height of the antennas on the Petronas Towers are included in the total height, while the height of the antennas are not included in the height calculation of the Sears Tower as they are not considered an actual part of the building.

With the construction of the 508 meters tall Taipei 101 in 2004 this discussion became irrelevant. However, when in November 2013 New York's One WTC was officially declared taller than the Sears Tower - grabbing the coveted title of the tallest building in the US, the issue was brought up once again: one WTC's rather pathetic spire was included in the calculation of its height, so that even though the Sears Tower's roof is a substantial 25 meters (83 feet) higher than One WTC's, the latter is now officially 99 meters (325 ft) taller.

Anyhow, the Sears tower is still the tallest Chicago skyscraper, exceeding the height of the number two, the Trump International Hotel and Tower by 27 meters (89 ft) and the Aon Center by 96 meters (315 ft).

The Structure

Sears-Tower-night

 Sears Tower at night

The building consists of nine framed tubes, which are actually nine skyscrapers on themselves taken together into one building. Originally, the plan included no less than fifteen tubes, but when the planned hotel was 
  taken out of the project, only nine tubes were used in the final designs. The nine tubes all reach forty-nine stories. At that point, two tubes end. The other rise up to the sixty-fifth floor. From the sixty-sixth to the ninetieth floor, the tower has the shape of a crucifix. Two tubes, creating a rectangular, reach the full height of 442 meters (1451ft).

Wind Load

The result is an interesting tower, which looks different from all angles. The construction, designed by Fazlur Kahn (1929-82), has other advantages : the construction with separate tubes provides lateral strengths to withstand the strong Chicago wind loads, as each tube only needs to take a part of the pressure.

Observation Deck

The Sears Tower's observation deck - known as the skydeck - is one of Chicago's most popular attractions. At 1,353 ft or 412 m, it's Chicago's

highest observatory, besting the John Hancock Center's by 323 ft (98m).
The most spectacular attraction at the skydeck is 'the ledge', a glass balcony extending 4.3 ft where you can look straight down. It will make most people feel uneasy at first but the balconies offer spectacular views over Wacker Drive and the Chicago River.

Willis Tower

The tower was named after Sears, Roebuck and Co., an American chain of Department Stores which was headquartered here. Sears sold the building in 1993 after moving to the suburbs. The building's name was left unchanged until Juli 16, 2009, when it was renamed Willis Tower for one of the skyscraper's tenants, a British insurance firm. The move was met with local opposition however, and some even started online petitions to protest the name change.

Sunday

Top Attractions of Rome Circus Maximus Circo Massimo

The Circus Maximus was the largest stadium in ancient Rome. Popular chariot races were held here for almost a millennium. At one point the Circus could seat 250.000 people, one quarter of Rome's population.

Early History

Circus-Maximus-Rome

 Circus Maximus Today

Chariot races were one of the Roman's most popular forms of entertainment. Romulus, the first of Rome's seven kings, is said to have held chariot races.

The origins of the Circus Maximus go back to the 6th century BC when Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth king of Rome, created a track between the Palatine and Aventine hills. The first permanent starting gates were created in 329 BC. In 174 BC the gates were rebuilt and seven wooden eggs were placed on top of the spina, the central wall in the arena. The eggs were used to count the number of laps; after each lap one egg was removed. In 33 BC seven bronze dolphins were added to the spina for the same purpose.

Wooden Structures

A fire in 31 BC, the first of three, destroyed the wooden structure. It was rebuilt by Emperor Augustus who also added an imperial box on the Palatine Hill. A large obelisk from Heliopolis was added to the spina as a decoration. The obelisk can now be found at the center of the Piazza del Popolo. Another obelisk was added much later, in the 4th century.
A second fire, in AD 64, which started in wooden shops at the bottom around the track started the fire that burned much of Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero. 
 
Scale-model-Circus-Maximus
 
Scale model of the Circus Maximus in Ancient Rome

The Marble Stadium

After yet another fire the Circus was rebuilt by Trajan in AD 103. The Roman Empire was at the height of its power and the new Circus Maximus reflected this status. The Circus was now a stone construction, three stories high. The lower part of the cavea (seating area) was built in marble. The arena complex was now more than 600m long and 150m wide (2000x500ft).

Popular Events

The Circus Maximus was occasionally used for events such as processions or gladiator combats, but on most days only chariot races with quadrigaes, pulled by four horses, were held here. The races themselves were wildly popular with people fanatically supporting one of the four factions: red, white, green and blue representing summer, winter, spring and autumn respectively. Bets were laid on one of the factions and supporters of the different factions often clashed, sometimes resulting in deaths among the spectators.

The Last Race

The last race at the Circus Maximus was held in AD 549, almost a millennium after the first races were held at this location. Today only the layout of the original circus can be seen in what is now a large grassland. Most of the original structure was used as building material for medieval and Renaissance constructions.

Tuesday

Top Attractions of Rome Trevi Fountain Fontana di Trevi

The Fontana di Trevi or Trevi Fountain is the most famous and arguably the most beautiful fountain in all of Rome. This impressive monument dominates the small Trevi Square located in the Quirinale district.

Aqua Virgo

Trevi-Fountain

 

Trevi-Fountain
Trevi-Fountain

 

 
Trevi-Fountain

Trevi Fountain

Trevi-Fountain-night

 

The Trevi Fountain is situated at the end of the Aqua Virgo, an aqueduct constructed in 19 BC by Agrippa, the son-in-law of Emperor Augustus. The aqueduct brings water all the way from the Salone Springs (approx. 21km from Rome) and supplies the fountains in the historic center of Rome with water.

According to legend, Agrippa sent out a group of soldiers to search for a spring near Rome. The spring was found after a young virgin (virgo) showed the source to the soldiers, hence the name of the aqueduct.

Construction of the Fountain

Statue-of-Neptune-Trevi-Fountain

Statue of Neptune, Trevi Fountain

Already in the fifteenth century a small Trevi Fountain was built here during the papacy of Nicholas V. In 1732, pope Clement XII commissioned Nicola Salvi to create a large fountain at the Trevi Square to replace the existing fountain. A previous undertaking to build the fountain after a design by Bernini was halted a century earlier after the death of pope Urban VIII. Salvi based his theatrical masterpiece on this design. He never saw his monumental Baroque fountain completed. The Trevi Fountain was only inaugurated in 1762, eleven years after Salvi had passed away.

The Fountain

Tritone-and-horse-Trevi-Fountain

 Tritone and horse, Trevi Fountain

Triton-and-Restive-Seahorse

Triton and Restive Seahorse

Triton-with-calm-horse

The obedient sea horse
The fountain, which is designed like a monumental triumphal arch, was built against a wall of the Palazzo Poli. It measures twenty meters wide and twenty-six meters high and occupies more than half the square.

The central figure of the fountain, standing in a large niche, is Neptune, god of the sea. He rides a shell-shaped chariot that is pulled by two sea horses. Each sea horse is guided by a Triton. One of the horses is calm and obedient, the other one restive. They symbolize the fluctuating moods of the sea. The statues were sculpted by Pietro Bracci.

On the left hand side of Neptune is a statue representing Abundance, the statue on the right represents Salubrity. Both these statues were the work of Filippo della Valle.

Above the two allegorical statues are bas-reliefs. The one on the left shows Agrippa, the general who built the aqueduct that carries water to the fountain.

He is shown explaining his plan for the aqueduct to Augustus. The bas-relief on the right captures the moment the virgin points to the source of the spring. The allegorical statues in front of the attic symbolize the four seasons. Crowning the top is the coat of arms of pope Clement XII.

Water flows over artificial rocks into a large semicircular basin that represents the sea. Every day some eighty million liters of water flow through the fountain. The water is reused to supply several other Roman fountains, including the Fountain of the Four Rivers, the Tortoise Fountain and the Fountain of the Old Boat in front of the Spanish Steps.

Tossing a Coin

Crowds-at-the-Trevi-Fountain

Crowds-at-the-Trevi-Fountain

 The crowded square

Tradition has it that you will return to Rome if you throw a coin into the fountain's water basin. You should toss it with your right hand over your left shoulder (or left hand over your right shoulder) with your back to the fountain. You're not allowed to look behind you while you're tossing the coin but the fountain is so large it's basically impossible to miss.

Monday

Top Attractions of London Houses of Parliament Palace of Westminster

The Houses of Parliament, also known as the Palace of Westminster, is the seat of the two parliamentary houses of the United Kingdom: the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
The most famous feature of the Houses of Parliament is its clock tower, known as Big Ben.

The Seat of Government


Houses-of-Parliament

Houses-of-Parliament

Houses of Parliament
 
 
In the middle of the eleventh century, King Edward the Confessor had moved his court to the Palace of Westminster, situated on a central site near the river Thames. In 1265 a parliament was created with two houses: the Lords and the Commons. The House of Lords met at the Palace of Westminster while the House of Commons did not have a permanent location. 

Houses-of-Parliament-seen-from-Lambeth-Bridge

Houses of Parliament seen from Lambeth Bridge

After King Henry VIII moved his court to Whitehall Palace in 1530, the House of Lords continued to meet in Westminster. In 1547 the House of Commons also moved here, confirming Westminster as the central seat of government, a position it still holds today.
 
Houses-of-Parliament-seen-from-London-Eye
 

View from the London Eye

The new Palace of Westminster

In 1834 a fire destroyed the Palace of Westminster, leaving only the Jewel Tower, the crypt and cloister of St. Stephens and Westminster Hall intact. After the fire, a competition was organized to create a new building for the two houses of parliament.

A design by Sir Charles Barry and his assistant Augustus Welby Pugin was chosen from ninety-seven entries. They created a large but balanced complex in neo-Gothic style and incorporated the buildings that survived the fire. The whole complex was finished in 1870, more than thirty years after construction started. It includes the Clock Tower, Victoria Tower, House of Commons, House of Lords, Westminster Hall and the Lobbies.

Big Ben

 Big-Ben

 Big Ben

The most famous part of Charles Barry's design is the elegant clock tower. Originally called St. Stephen's Tower, it was soon named after the tower's largest bell, the Big Ben. A light at the top of the tower is illuminated when Parliament is sitting at night.

Commons Chamber & Lords Chamber

The Commons Chamber, where the House of Commons meets, was destroyed during the Second World War but rebuilt in 1950 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in the same neo-Gothic style. The Commons Chamber's interior (with green colored benches) is rather austere compared to the lavishly decorated Lords Chamber (with red colored benches).

Over the centuries the balance of power has moved from the elitist House of Lords to the more agitated House of Commons, where the governing party and the opposition are seated opposite each other with exactly two sword lengths and one foot separating the two parties.

Central Lobby

One of several lobbies in the Houses of Parliament is the Central Lobby where people can meet the Members of Parliament and persuade them to
defend their interests. Hence the verb 'to lobby'.

Victoria Tower

Victoria-Tower

 

Victoria-Tower

 Victoria Tower

 
Victoria Tower
Victoria-Tower-seen-from-Victoria-Tower-Gardens
Victoria Tower seen from Victoria Tower Gardens

 
The tower opposite the Big Ben is the Victoria Tower, built in 1860. The tower contains the records of both the House of Lords and the House of Commons since 1497. During the parliamentary year the Union Flag is hoisted on top of the 98 meter-tall tower.

Westminster Hall

The oldest hall of the Houses of Parliament is Westminster Hall, dating back to 1097. The large hammer beam roof was built in the fourteenth century and replaced the original roof which was supported by two rows of pillars. The hall is one of Europe's largest unsupported medieval halls.

Friday

Top Attractions of Berlin, Germany, Reichstag

The Reichstag, the seat of the German Parliament, is one of Berlin's most historic landmarks. It is close to the Brandenburger Gate and before the unification, it was located right next to the Berlin Wall.
Construction
Reichstag-Berlin

Reichstag

Reichstag-Berlin-twilight
Reichstag at twilight

View-of-the-Reichstag-from-the-river-Spree

View of the Reichstag from the river Spree


Front-view-the-Reichstag-Building

Front view of the Reichstag Building

Pediment-Reichstag
Pediment, Reichstag

After the founding of the German Empire in 1872, there was a need for a large parliamentary building in Berlin. It would take another ten years before there was an agreement on the design. A competition was held and out of 183 submissions, a design by Paul Wallot was chosen. The German architect created an imposing neo-Renaissance building, 137m long and 97m wide (450 x 318 ft).

The building was constructed between 1884 and 1894, mainly funded with wartime reparation money from France, a result of Prussia's defeat of France in 1871. The famous inscription 'Dem Deutschen Volke' (To the German People) was added later, in 1916, by emperor Wilhelm II. The bronze letters were cast from seized French cannons.
Reichstag-Dome

Reichstag Dome
Historic Symbol
In 1933 fire broke out in the building, destroying much of the Reichstag. It is to date still unclear who started the fire, but the Communists were blamed. It gave a boost to Hitler's Party, the NSDAP, who would soon come to power.

The building was damaged even more at the end of the war, when the Soviets entered Berlin. The picture of a Red Army Soldier raising the Soviet flag on the Reichstag is one of the most famous 20th century images and symbolized Germany's defeat.


Glass dome

View-inside-from-the-top-of-the-dome-Reichstag

View inside from the top of the dome of the Reichstag

Inside-the-Reichstag-Dome
 Inside the Reichstag Dome
The-spiraling-walkways-the-dome-of-the-Reichstag
 The spiraling walkways in the dome of the Reichstag
 Oculus-of-the-Reichstag-Dome
 Oculus of the Reichstag Dome
After the war, the Reichstag ended up in West Berlin, right near the Berlin Wall. It was reconstructed between 1958 and 1972 but the central dome and most of the ornamentation were removed. During Berlin's division the West German parliament assembled here once a year as a way to indicate that Bonn was only a temporary capital. After the unification the decision was soon made to move the Bundestag (Germany's Parliament) from Bonn to Berlin.
This decision resulted in a renovation which started in 1995 and was completed in 1999.

The design by Sir Norman Foster added a glass dome over the plenary hall. At first the subject of much controversy, the dome has become one of the city's most recognized landmarks.
Since April 1999, the Reichstag is once again the seat of the Bundestag. A part of the Reichstag is open to the public. An elevator brings you to the building's roof and you can even walk all the way to the top of the dome via a spiral walkway.
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