All posts by Joanna

Roof – the Top Covering of a Building

Part of the building that limits it from the top and protects it against atmospheric conditions. It directly protects the ceilings or vaults of the highest storey, or is a direct covering of the interior. Thanks to its artistic values, such as the spatial value and colour, it largely shapes the entire body of the building.

The roof consists of a load-bearing structure and a covering (sheathing, roofing). The supporting structure in steep roofs consists of wooden carpentry trusses, i.e. a timber roof truss, steel and prefabricated, reinforced concrete trusses. In slightly sloping and horizontal roofs, the supporting structure consists of beams, trusses and plates. In the roofs with curved surfaces, the supporting structure was formerly a timber roof truss, and now reinforced concrete shells. Roofing is covered with tiles, shingles, slate, sheet metal, tar paper, straw, reed etc.

The upper surfaces of the roofing are called roof slopes, and the place of intersection of slopes – corners when they form an acute angle. On the other hand, when an obtuse angle is created, the places of intersection of the slopes are called roof valleys. The vertical plane limiting the roof slopes to the side is called the gable. The lower edge of the slope protruding beyond the face of the wall is called the eaves, and the upper edge, which is the line of intersection of the two slopes, parallel to the eaves, is called the ridge (peak, gable line).

Conical roof, Nanhai Academy in Taipei. National Taiwan Science Education Center Chinese style roof at the Nanhai Academy, Taipei City. Photo by Meiguoren~commonswiki (2011). CC0. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Roof” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

The eaves can rest on corbels, the ends of the beams, etc. Under the eaves, horizontal gutters and special funnels connected with vertical gutters to the sewage network are attached to drain the rainwater.

The attic is the space between the highest ceiling or vault of the building and the covering, filling the zone of the roof truss. The attic can be extended for residential purposes. The slope of the roof slopes depends on the climatic conditions and the type of covering.

Depending on the angle of inclination (slope) and shape, it is possible to distinguish the following roofs:

Flat (terraced-type) roofs, usually devoid of roof truss.

Sloped roofs (high, steep) with a clear slope. The sloping roof can be single-slope roof (mono-pitched, pent), gable roof (two-slope, saddleback) or multi-pitched (multi-slope).

The variants of gable and hipped roofs are: a half-hipped roof, which has got a gable with pediments, that is to say, small triangular slopes cutting the gables from the top. By these means, the gable is replaced here at the top and bottom of the roof by roof slopes, as in the case of the Black Forest house (German: Schwarzwaldhaus). There is also a gablet roof or dutch gable roof, hipped with half-gables or abutments. “A hybrid of hipped and gable with the gable (wall) at the top and hipped lower down. […] Overhanging eaves forming shelter around the building are a consequence where the gable wall is in line with the other walls of the buildings; i.e., unless the upper gable is recessed” (“List of roof shapes” 2021). Its variety is the roof of Podhale (in southern Poland).

House of a Black Forest peasant farmer around 1900. Unknown author – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsca.00288. Public domain. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Black Forest house” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Curved roofs with curved or warped surfaces. A special variation is the flat roof with concave slopes, reducing its slope downwards.

Helm is a steep tower roof in the form of a pyramid, cone, also with curved slopes, or in the shape of a dome.

Onion roof resembles an onion and is especially found in southern Germany, Austria and Russia.

Bulbous cupola had originated from the onion roof, but it is concave in the lower part; often it is the basis of a multi-storey helmet. In the Baroque style, the roof is topped with a lantern.

Gabled steeple is a multi-slope roof, in a quadrilateral or polygonal projection,resembling the form of an accordion.

Rhomboidal roof consists of a diamond-shaped slopes.

Transverse roofs covering a church are distinguished by the coverage of the side aisles with a row of gable roofs parallel to each other, transverse to the longitudinal axis of the church.

Raised roofs are typical of the type B of the so called stave churches in Norway (see Hopperstad Stavekirke: Under the Surveillance of Wooden Dragons). “On the stone foundation, four huge ground beams (…) are placed. (…) The ends of these beams support the sills of the outer walls, forming a separate horizontal frame. The tall internal posts are placed on the internal frame of ground beams, and carry the main roof above the central nave (…). On the outer frame of sills rest the main wall planks (…), carrying the roof over the pentice or aisles (…) surrounding the central space” (“Stave church” 2021). The two roofs are made of roof shingles and, by the way of being constructed, they slope down in two steps, as in a basilica, giving a beautiful effect of a single overhung, usually multi-tiered and cascading roof.

Tiered roof, a type having a series of overlapping rows or levels placed one above the other. It occurs, for instance, in raised roofs of stave churches (Norway) or in prasats (Thai architecture).

Clerestory roofs, typical of a basilica type of churches and cathedrals. A clerestory covers a high section of the church, which wall contains windows above eye level. Its purpose is to admit light into the main nave of the church, situated between two lower and separately roofed aisles.

Shell roof (contemporary times) covers a spherical structure supported on its four corners.

Suspended roof (contemporary times) the weight of which rests on oval supports and allows large areas to be covered without internal supports.

A curved roof, including a tower roof (cupola), a spire, a conical roof, a spherical, domed (cupola), and an onion-shaped roof always have one gable point. A decorative round or polygonal canopy, placed on a tower or a spire in those types of roofs is called a cap.

Mansard roofs are roofs with two storeys of slopes separated from each other by a break, a step, a cornice or a wall. The roof was named after the French architect J. H. Mansart (1648-1708), whose design makes it possible to place residential rooms with sloping walls (mansards) in the attic. This type of roof also includes the Polish mansard roof, and its variant, the roof of Cracow (Poland).

Type of the roof of Cracow, applied in a design of an outbuilding of the Ustronie castle in Warsaw (architect S. Zawadzki). Drawing from C. Antonini – Książka Ireny Malinowskiej – “Stanisław Zawadzki” (1953). Public domain. Photo source: “Dach krakowski” (2020). In: Wikipedia. Wolna encyklopedia.

Shed roofs consist of several asymmetrical gable roofs arranged one after the other in such a way that the cross-section of the roof creates a toothed line. Usually, less steep roofs form a cover in a saw-tooth roof, while windows are placed in steeper slopes, which allows good lighting of workshop rooms.

Tented or pavilion roofs (hipped; in the form of a pyramid) have several triangular slopes, depending on the projection of the covered building (quadrangular, rectangular, polygonal), descending overhead at one gable point. For example, in a square projection, the four roof slopes meet at one gable point.

Pitched roofs (concave, recessed) have slopes with a slope towards the center of the building, forming a trough or a basin, with adequate water drainage, often covered with an attic. In contemporary architecture, there is a return to curved roofing, based on new construction solutions.

Surfaces and solids of the roof can be enriched with a decorative roofing system, openings, mansards, dormers, skylights, chimneys, and with special decorations: pinnacles, combs, laces and balustrades.

Featured image: Zakopane (Poland), a house with a half-gable roof. The roof is characteristic of the architecture of Podhale, hence it is also called the Zakopane or Podhale roof. Photo by Januszk57 (2012). CC BY-SA 3.0 pl. Photo source: “Dach półszczytowy” (2021). Wikipedia. Wolna encyklopedia.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Dach półszczytowy” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna encyklopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3tgL7MF>. [Accessed 1st February, 2021].

“Black Forest house” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/2NXEqyX>. [Accessed 1st February, 2021].

“Dach krakowski” (2020). In: Wikipedia. Wolna encyklopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3tpk7L9>. [Accessed 1st February, 2021].

“Dach pilasty” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna encyklopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3ahe5mI>. [Accessed 1st February, 2021].

“List of roof shapes” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3tiNWgg>. [Accessed 1st February, 2021].

“Roof” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/36x2LSn>. [Accessed 2nd February, 2021].

“Stave church” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3reLRQr>. [Accessed 1st February, 2021].

Koch W. (2009) Style w architekturze. Arcydzieła budownictwa europejskiego od antyku po czasy współczesne. [Baustilkunde], pp. 244, 281, 436, 680. Baraniewski W., Kunkel R., Omilanowska M., Sito J., Zięba A., Żak K. trans. Warszawa: Świat Książki.

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, pp. 81-82. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.


Qilin – a Mythical Animal in Chinese or ‘Kirin’ in Japanese

It “is a specific type of the lin mythological family of one-horned beasts”, resembling a unicorn. It looks like a “hooved chimerical creature [mostly represented] in Chinese and other East Asian cultures”. It “is said to appear with the imminent arrival or passing of a sage or illustrious ruler”. The qilin has thus symbolized good and wise governance of a country.

The earliest records with references to the qilin date back to the fifth century BC. The Chinese emperor Wu of Han (157-87 BC.) is believed to have captured a live qilin in 122 BC. Yet the contemporary historian, Sima Qian (ca. 145 – 86 BC.) expressed his skepticism concerning that account. Since then, the qilin has appeared “in a variety of subsequent Chinese works of history, [art] and fiction.

Qilin tomb guardian, fourth century. Placed in a tomb, a dragon provided a means to get to heaven. But ceramic dragons were also modeled in times of drought: “When the dragon appears, then wind and rain arise to escort him.” Photo by Anonymous author (China) – Walters Art Museum: Home page Info about artwork (date not provided). Public domain. Colours intensified; image cropped. Photo and caption source: “Qilin” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

They have been described and depicted in art in various hybrid forms but always with a pair of horns or a horn, the single one or double. Most often, the quilin resemble Chinese dragons with an elongated body and with antlers. Yet, they may also look like a horned bull or a horse. Since the times of the Ming Dynasty (the fourteenth – the seventeenth centuries AD.), the quilin’s body became much more massive than before. It was often covered in fish or reptile scales, and was built of the components of a dragon, fish, and ox, with the pair of horns on top of its maned head.

Featured image: Plate with a qilin in the center, Yuan dynasty (1271 to 1368 AD.). Photo by Rijksmuseum (not provided). CC0. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Qilin” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Qilin” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3bwTqMf>. [Accessed 23rd February, 2021].

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 340. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Pediment as an Ornament in Architecture

An architectural ornamental element, specifically found in Classical, Neoclassical and Baroque architecture, where it is called frontispiece, where it is richly filled with sculpture. In the construction of roofs, it takes the shape of the half-hipped roof (see:). The pediments usually consists of triangular gable (a portion of a wall between the edges of intersecting roof pitches). Nevertheless, it can equally be segmental, broken, shaped, or scrolled (in the form of a volute), or it can constitute a cantilever above a window or door.

Illustrations of types of pediments. Photo by Beautiful Buildings Pics (2019). CC BY-SA 4.0. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Pediment” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Featured image: Two windows with pediments of the house with number 10 on the General Eremia Grigorescu in Bucharest (Romania). Photo by Beautiful Buildings Pics (2019). CC BY-SA 4.0. Image cropped; colours intensified. Photo source: “Pediment” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Pediment” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3bgG2eT>. [Accessed 17th February, 2021].

Koch W. (2009) Style w architekturze. Arcydzieła budownictwa europejskiego od antyku po czasy współczesne. [Baustilkunde], pp. 436, 460, 484-485, 496, 498. Baraniewski W., Kunkel R., Omilanowska M., Sito J., Zięba A., Żak K. trans. Warszawa: Świat Książki.

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, pp. 81, 125, 272. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Obelisks in the Landscape, from Ancient Egypt to Modern Times

From Greek obeliskos: spit, nail, pointed pillar; from Latin obeliscus.

Tall and usually four-sided, narrow stone pillar tapering upwards, truncated at the top, with a pyramid-like shape or pyramidion in the form of an elongated pyramid. Monumental and monolithic obelisks were made of a single stone. They are characteristic of ancient Egyptian architecture, where they “[originally] were called tekhenu. […] The Greeks who saw them [in Egypt] used the Greek term obeliskos to describe them, and this word passed into Latin and ultimately [into] English [and other modern languages]” (“Obelisk” 2021).

Pylon of the Temple of Luxor with the remaining Luxor Obelisk in front (the second is in the Place de la Concorde in Paris). Photo by Olaf Tausch (2019). CC BY 3.0. Colours intensified. Photo and caption source: “Obelisk” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

In modern European art, obelisks were adopted as one of the forms of commemorative monuments, and in smaller proportions as a decorative element in architecture, including the form of pinnacles, sculpture and artistic craftsmanship. The obelisk has also been popularized especially in the romantic gardens as a form of monument commemorating outstanding people and events. “Most modern obelisks are made of several stones” (“Obelisk” 2021).

Featured image: Niney-two foot (over twenty-eight metres), the unfinished obelisk, before sand was cleared away (stereograph, 1904), still lying in the Assuan granite quarry at the first cataract, Egypt. Underwood & Underwood – This image comes from the Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA) where it is available at the following Uniform Resource Identifier: 5646. CC BY-SA 2.5. Photo and caption source: “Unfinished obelisk” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Obelisk” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/2NTU5PX>. [Accessed on 1st March, 2021].

“Unfinished obelisk” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3e3T2YF>. [Accessed on 1st March, 2021].

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 281. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Travel Guidebooks of the Ancients in the Hands of Modern Visitors

The ‘Seven Wonders of the Ancient World’ is the collective concept and canon of knowledge, widely known to the ancient European (Klein 1998:136). The entry into the canon was determined not only by the majesty and uniqueness of a given building, but also by its historical significance and, above all, the myth related to these wonders (Ibid.:136). The latter has always revived ancient monuments and their creators in wandering human minds trying to fully embrace their mystery with a triggered imagination. Such feelings must have accompanied ancient travellers while they were setting off in the unknown to visit the outstanding monuments, many of which had already been said archaic in those times. Even today, when one is faced with the fate of the seven ancient wonders, they unconsciously study the history of the real world from those ages, where such monuments were a real symbol of human striving for perfection and beauty, and of a growing desire to discover and travel far, beyond one’s limits and knowledge (Ibid.:136). But visitors of the ancient wonders had already been guided.

Eternal ancient wonder in Egypt

I was in Egypt on the Plateau of Giza, surrounded by over two millions of squared multi-ton blocks of stone, piling up into three massive pyramids. While standing at the foot of the Pyramid of Khufu, I was looking up at its cone shining in the background of the clouded sky. After a while, I decided to follow some visitors in their way up along the pyramid’s northern wall.

While walking with my sister along the base of the Great Pyramid, I am pointing to the white rows of stones, imitating a fragment of the casing of the Pyramid of Khufu. It was not placed there originally due to its wrong trajectory. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

When I approached its base at the north side, the pyramid’s stones enormously grew in my eyes, which is quite logical when one observes something from close but at the same it was still surprising how large they really turned out to be, especially for someone who had just looked at illustrations of the pyramids depicted from the distance. Simultaneously, I noticed at the bottom of the pyramid a fragment of a flat and white row of stones which were said to be the remains of the outer casing of the pyramid (Grimault, Pooyard 2012). It was not, however, placed there originally, as if its trajectories are stretched up it would hit the opposite blocks just above it (Ibid.). 

Presumably, the fragment of the imitated casing was there just to show how it may have looked like in the past, yet it does not give any valuable insight into an actual construction of the pyramid (Grimault, Pooyard 2012). When I got used to my first impressions, I started climbing up the pyramid, stretching my arms forwards and lifting my legs up to reach the edge of another block above, using each like a successive step of the stairs on my way  up the building. Every block reaches at least to my hips, and some even up to my arms, so climbing up the pyramid definitely involves some physical fitness and strength. Soon my sister joined me and we were both found ourselves just under the original entrance to the pyramid, flanked by angled stones forming a pointed arch above it.

“Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids”

The Great Pyramid, as the Pyramid of Khufu is usually called, has captivated human imagination throughout centuries. Various studies evidently show that there are as many presumptions as false facts about the history and construction of the pyramid (Grimault, Pooyard 2012). As a result, it has remained an everlasting mystery (Ibid.). Actually, it was already so in the times of Herodotus (the fifth century BC.), who, together with other contemporary and later authors unanimously identified it and the two other pyramids of Giza as one of the architectural wonders of the ancient world (see: Zamarovsky 1990:13-64; Klein 1998:141-146).

Soon my sister joined me and we were both found ourselves just under the original entrance to the pyramid, flanked by angled stones forming a pointed arch above it. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

It may have been either due to their massiveness, majesty, age or mystery, or all these aspects together were taken into account, deciding about their high status throughout human history (Zamarovsky 1990:13). The pyramids are also the only wonder of the ancient world that has ever survived and is still enjoyed by the modern world. As such these three pyramids in Egypt  seem to be eternal, which is highlighted by the old and broadly known Arab proverb “Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids.”

As many wonders as their lists

Since the discovery of the pyramids in Egypt by the Hellenized world, much progress had already been made in history by construction of brand-new in comparison to the pyramids but spectacular buildings that arouse such admiration among people to which only natural wonders inspire (Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:2). There were many authors of the lists of wonders, enumerating these human achievements, and their selection was measured, as it seems, by certain criteria (Ibid.:2).

At some point in history, there were huge discrepancies in various records of the Seven Wonders, which were prepared by independent ancient authors. And although the enumerated wonders were always compiled in the number of seven, each list slightly differed depending on its author. After an archaeologist from the University of Trier (Germany), Michael Pfrommer, If one would sum them all up, they could find ten, if not eleven, or even a dozen ancient wonders described by all the ancients writing on the subject (Klein 1998:137). On the other side, the fact that the successive wonders are listed by various authors in a different order is quite irrelevant as they are all treated on the same scale; It is not a ranking (Zamarovsky 1990:8).

Modern list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

The modern canon of the ancient wonders, known today as the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is provided by numerous contemporary lexicons and the Internet (Zamarovsky 1990:7). It includes works which, due to their technical or artistic qualities, were admired by the ancients (Ibid.:7). These are: the Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes (see: Island of the Sun in Favour of Gods), and the Lighthouse of Alexandria (Ibid.:7).

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (from left to right, top to bottom): Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Temple of Artemis, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. A collage of The Seven Wonders of the (ancient) world, depicted by sixteenth-century Dutch artist Maarten van Heemskerck. The original uploader was Mark22 at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons (2005). Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Although at first the Seven Wonders of the World, including the pyramids and the hanging gardens of Babylon, were considered must-see attractions on ancient travel routes, they were later considered the greatest structures ever built by man (Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:1). What was so special about them that they were clearly distinguished by the ancients? Philo of Byzantium answers that question:

For these wonders are the only things which diminish the worth and reputation of other distinguished sights, for, truly, ordinary men may see them in the same way as other sights, but they do not marvel at other sights in the same way. For beauty, like the sun, dazzles by its own brilliance and does not allow one to see the others.

Philo of Byzantium, “On the Seven Wonders of the World”. A free translation by Jean Blackwood of the text of De Septem Orbis Spectaculis as it appears in Aelianus Praenestinus, compiled by Rudolf Hercher and published in 1858. In: Rogers Pearse. Thoughts on Antiquity, Patristics, Information Access and More.

Though tarnished by time, the Pyramids of Giza have fortunately survived to our times. But what about those wonders that have already gone? Michael Pfrommer says that ancient travellers describing the wonders were surely convinced of the durability of these places and monuments (Klein 1998:137). Often, however, of the architectural wonders people consider to be eternal, there is absolutely nothing left behind after all (Ibid.:137). Or at least very little. The garden on the terraces of Babylon and two statues, one of Zeus made of chryselephantine and the other of Helios made of bronze, have disappeared forever. Of the burial site of Mausolus of Caria, the mighty temple of Artemis in Ephesus and the Lighthouse of Pharos, there are left only few remains, of which some are scattered in museums around the world.

The real authorship of the list

Little is known today about an ancient Greek poet, named Antipater of Sidon, who lived in the second half of the second century BC. (Klein 1998:147).  His character unfortunately disappears now in the fog of history (Ibid.:147). Still it is believed that it was him who compiled the first completely preserved list of wonders of the ancient world in the second century BC. and perhaps he had seen them all himself during his long and distant journeys (Ibid.:147). It was a list of architectural wonders that would surely have been labelled today as ‘must see monuments’, and therefore his work can be regarded as the first travel guidebook for contemporary adventurers and travellers.

Assyrian wall relief showing Hanging Gardens of Babylon … in Assyrian Nineveh. Photo by Noah Wiener (2015). Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Initially, the creation of the list was mistakenly attributed to a certain Philo of Byzantium, a mathematician who probably lived in the second century BC. and was wrongly said to have been the author of a treatise titled On the Seven Wonders of the World (Klein 1998:147; Zamarovsky 1990:7). Such information was first disseminated by the first modern translator of the book by Philo of Byzantium, a French D.S. Boessius, who in 1640 discovered the Greek original in the Vatican Library and translated it into Latin as De septem mundi miraculis (Zamarovsky 1990:7-8). Such mistakes once in writing are often copied in the literature, and the wrong information about the authorship had been then unintentionally replicated and so circulated from one work to another (Ibid.:7-8).

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, as imagined, at the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology. Photo by Jona Lendering – Livius.org Provided under CC0 1.0 Universal license (notice under the photograph in the description page of the photograph). Retouched by the uploader (2018). CC0. Photo and caption source: “Mausoleum at Halicarnassus” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

The matter was clarified only by a Swiss classical scholar, Johann Caspar von Orelli, who published Philo’s book in print for the first time in 1816 and it finally turned out that there were actually two different ‘Philos’, who had initially been confused (Klein 1998:147; Zamarovsky 1990:7-8). The real author of the work is also Philo of Byzantium but he lived much later than his namesake, probably in the third or fourth century AD. (Zamarovsky 1990:7-8). The records of him are fragmented almost as much as those of the ancient Philo (Ibid.:7). It is only known for certain that Philo from our era is an actual author of the book On the Seven Wonders of the World (Klein 1998:147; Zamarovsky 1990:7-8). Additionally, from this work one can also learn that he had not seen a single monument of the architectural wonders he described in his work (Zamarovsky 1990:7-8). So he depicted them just with the eyes of his imagination, inspired only by what he knew from second-hand accounts (Ibid.:7-8). To justify such practice, it can be added that many current authors, including myself, do the same today, when it Is not possible to take a trip and see a given site personally (Ibid.:8). Sometimes, it is an education that relieves some authors of the necessity of traveling, and things worthy of their attention they learn just from books without even leaving home (Ibid.:8).

The fame of the Temple of Artemis was known in the Renaissance, as demonstrated in this imagined portrayal of the temple in a sixteenth-century hand-colored engraving by Martin Heemskerck. Photo by Philip Galle – From en:wikipedia. Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Temple of Artemis” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

In any case, Antipater of Sidon has regained his right to be named the first author of the list of the Seven Wonders of the World that he described in a poem written about 140 BC. (Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:3; Klein 1998:147-150; “Antipater of Sidon” 2021). Accordingly, his name is now placed just along with Philo of Byzantium, Strabo, Herodotus and Diodoros of Sicily, who were all involved in writing on the subject (“Antipater of Sidon” 2021).

Travel fever in ancient times

Today there is a common view that real travellers no longer exist and a noble phenomenon of traveling has already been replaced by the less noble term of mass tourism (Lachowicz 2015). As a result, white spots on the travel map of the world are slowly disappearing, being replaced by tourist folders to distant, so far inaccessible places on the planet (Ibid.). The epoch of pioneering unknown routes and travelling over hidden treasures has unfortunately ended with the last dare-devil explorers at the turn of the twentieth century. Yet, I believe that a human desire for an adventure is still alive in the hearts of curious modern travellers and there is somewhere not a single wonder still waiting for its discoverer.

The Colossus as imagined in a 16th-century engraving by Martin Heemskerck, part of his series of the Seven Wonders of the World. By Marten van Heemskerck (1498-1574). Uploaded in 2014. Public domain. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Colossus of Rhodes”(2020) Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.

Simultaneously, I can imagine all these ancient visitors coming to see the seven wonders, directed just by guidelines of contemporary authors, who had visited the sites first. Surely, a journey along the track of the seven wonders must have taken many years or even a lifetime to be accomplished, providing that one was taking a journey with intention to see all the monuments on the list. Alternatively, ancient travellers could  have chosen their desired destinations at random, according to their own bucket list, as it is practised today. I can bet that many modern travellers, if they only had a chance to live in those times, would have travelled long distances to visit the wonders at their height. Nowadays, there are, after all, lots of people who are addicted to travelling and they are only fully alive on the way, even at their personal cost. On the other side, although such an ancient journey made one’s dreams come true, it must simultaneously have been a real challenge to contemporary travellers.

Everyone knows of the renowned Seven Wonders of the World, but few have set eyes on them, for, in order to do so you have to arrange a long journey to the land of the Persians on the far side of the Euphrates; you have to visit Egypt; you must then change direction and go to Elis in Greece. Then you must see Halikarnassos, a city-state in Caria, and Ephesos in Ionia, and you have to sail to Rhodes, so that, being exhausted by lengthy wanderings over the Earth’s surface, and growing tired from the effort of these journeys, you finally fulfil your heart’s desire only when life is ebbing away, leaving you weak through the weight of years.

Philo of Byzantium, “On the Seven Wonders of the World“. A free translation by Jean Blackwood of the text of De Septem Orbis Spectaculis as it appears in Aelianus Praenestinus, compiled by Rudolf Hercher and published in 1858. In: Rogers Pearse. Thoughts on Antiquity, Patristics, Information Access and More.

An outstanding ancient travel journalist, Antipater of Sidon must also have possessed quite a bit of courage and endurance to visit all the wonders he later described (Klein 1998:147). Certainly, in antiquity there were people such as the author, who were ready to endure the hardships of dangerous journeys, especially in the period after the conquests of Alexander the Great, when the world known at that time expanded considerably in the fourth century BC., including the lands of Babylon, Persia and Egypt (Klein 1998:147; Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:1).

Reconstruction of the Oikoumene (inhabited world), an ancient map based on Herodotus’ description of the world, circa 450 BC. Photo by Bibi Saint-Pol (2006), based on the GIF by Marco Prins and Jona Lendering from www.livius.org. Public domain. Photo source: “Atlantis” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Those ancient travellers took risks that modern tourists have not even dreamed of (Klein 1998:147). To imagine any struggles they may have encountered on their way, it is enough to read various descriptions of a number of journeys done by mythological heroes, such as Hercules, Theseus or Odysseus, who on their way met hosts of various monsters, robbers, giants, including cyclops, or mermaids, and their journey lasted for years, additionally experienced by the violent vagaries of nature and the whims of the gods deciding about travellers’ fate (Ibid.:147,149). All these stories testified to the dangers that the ancient traveller had to reckon with (Ibid.:147,149). How mysterious and dangerous but, at the same time, fascinating the world must have been for them (Ibid.:147,149). For some, travel meant fullness of life, but also death (Ibid.:147). Nevertheless, the ancient traveller, though exposed to many dangers, trusted in both, their lucky star and the smile of gods (Ibid.:147,149). They were also able to be delighted with what they had seen, as can be noticed in the verses recorded by Antipater of Sidon, returning from his expedition (Ibid.:147,149).

I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.

Antipater, “Greek Anthology IX. 58“. In: “Antipater of Sidon” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

The walls of Babylon instead of the Lighthouse of Pharos

It is noteworthy that Antipater mentions the walls of Babylon in his work, an object that does not appear in later lists (Klein 1998:149). And he omits the Pharos Lighthouse (Ibid.:149). This may be a decisive clue saying that Antipater used a prototype for his own work as the Lighthouse had already been there when the author lived, that is to say in the second century BC. (Ibid.:149-150). Babylon’s walls made of fired bricks were on everyone’s lips in the fourth and third centuries BC, while the Pharos Lighthouse had not been built until around 280 BC. (Ibid.:149-150). On the other hand, the original list cannot be much older than the Alexandrian Tower, since the author mentions the Colossus of Rhodes (Ibid.:150). This statue was built less than twelve years before the Lighthouse was built (Ibid.:150). Thus, the date of the creation of the oldest list of wonders of the world can be placed between 292 and 280 BC. (Ibid.:150).  

A mosaic depicting the Pharos of Alexandria, (labeled “Ο ΦΑΡΟϹ”), from Olbia, Libya c. 4th century AD. Mosaic Lighthouse of Alexandria: was found in the Qasr Libya in Libya, which was known by several names including history and Olbia Theodorias, This is a painting that was left over to show the form of lighthouse after the quake, which destroyed the lighthouse. Uploaded by Qasr Libya Museum – Qasr Libya Museum (2010). Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Lighthouse of Alexandria” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Accordingly, some scholars claim that in the third century BC., a Greek scholar of the Great Library of Alexandria, Callimachus of the Cyrene, Libya, was probably the first to have compiled the very first list of marvellous buildings (Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:3). Presumably, he placed on it the greatest achievements of contemporary Greece, taking into account their size, materials used, technical solutions and innovation of their creators (Ibid.:3). His list, however, has not survived to our times (Ibid.:3).

As it is seen, while searching for any historical traces of the first description of the ancient wonders, one comes across many complex issues, in which they move like in a maze of assumptions and questions (Klein 1998:150). Generally, taking into account the above, Antipater of Sidon, who was born a hundred years later than the estimated above dates, may have used an earlier source, treating it as a travel guidebook in his journey and at the same time the source of his own work (Klein 1998:150; Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:3). Is it possible that Antipater had access to Callimachus’ work, and so compiled his list a century later? (Klein 1998:150; Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:3). Or maybe his trip, which he described, took place only in his imagination …? (Klein 1998:150; Starożytne Cywilizacje). Or for the author, the walls of Babylon he had visited deserved more attention and privilege to be called one of the wonders than the Lighthouse itself; accordingly, the latter did not appear on his list, which was created in the second century BC.

Map of Europe according to Strabo. Photo by Fphilibert – Picture from polish Wikipedia (2005). Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Strabon” (2020). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

The truth, however, remains unknown.

Different roads guided by different writers

Like Antipater of Sidon, Philo of Byzantium lists other wonders of the world than those given in today’s lexicons (Zamarovsky 1990:8). He clearly does not consider the Lighthouse from Pharos as a wonder of the world and, like Antipater, grants this dignity to the walls of Babylon (Ibid.:8). There is also no description of the Mausoleum in Halicarnassus in his work, as this chapter has been lost along with a part of the description of the temple of Artemis (Ibid.:8). What is more, after J.C. Orelli, Philo of Byzantium describes the wonders in a more subjective way, ascribing them more glory and splendour than they really deserve (Ibid.:8). Therefore, in order to obtain a faithful description of these timeless works, one should turn for help to Herodotus, Strabo, Diodorus, Pliny the Elder, Pausanias and many other ancient authors and, equally, to modern archaeology (Ibid.:8).

Father of History

Herodotus (the fifth century BC.), called by Ciceron the “Father of History”, was a native but Hellenized Carian, born in Halicarnassus (modern Turkey) (Zamarovsky 1990:8). He has travelled a huge part of the world, even for our measure, and everywhere he did what the Greeks called ‘theory’, that is to say in modern language, conducting research (Ibid.:8). Accordingly, he got to know countries, cities and people, and wrote down everything he learned about their past (Ibid.:8). The work Histories of Herodotus to this day is a valuable historical resource about peoples such as the Lydians, Medes, Persians, the ancestors of the Greeks, the Scythians, and even the Slavs, and about lost countries, such as Babylon, Little Asiatic Greece, regions of India and Arabia, and, of course, ancient Egypt (Ibid.:8).

Bust of Herodotus, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen (2009). Public domain. Photo and caption source: ”Herodot” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

Herodotus adds to the list of wonders and describes in detail also the Tower of Babel (the ziggurat of Etemenanki in ancient Babylon and not necessarily the Biblical Tower of Babel), the bridge over the Euphrates River again in Babylon and the legendary Egyptian labyrinth (Zamarovsky 1990:8). All these wonders either are in ruins, vanished or, like the latter, has never been found (though academic Egyptologists claim that the labyrinth has already been uncovered and it has turned out to be much less miraculous than it is described by the ancient historian).

Simultaneously, Herodotus also delightedly described three other buildings, all of the located on the island of Samos, treating them as ancient marvels of architecture (Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:3). These were the water-pipe tunnel, port breakwater and a temple in honour of Hera (Ibid.:3).

The book, Travels with Herodotus (2004) by Ryszard Kapuściński (1932-2007), a Polish journalist, photographer, poet and author shows how Herodotus’ records have also stimulated an imagination and creativity of modern authors (“Ryszard Kausciński” 2021). Kapuściński was the Communist-era Polish Press Agency’s correspondent and in the aforementioned book the author compares his travels through Asia and Africa with the adventures of the ancient historian, Herodotus, where he conducts deliberations and often recounts amusing or interesting anecdotes from his escapades, enriched by those from the Histories of Herodotus (“Ryszard Kausciński” 2021; lubimyczytać.pl 2021).

Personally, I often refer to the quotes from this book, especially those about the nature of man in relation to travel and the passion for discovering the world, or the the phenomenon of travelling itself:

After all, the journey does not start when we hit the road and it does not end when we reach the finish line. In fact, it starts much earlier and practically never ends, because the tape of memory keeps spinning inside us, even though we haven’t physically moved for a long time. Actually, there is such a thing as an infection by travel, and it is a kind of disease that is essentially incurable.

Ryszard Kapuściński, Travels with Herodotus, 2004.

And there is another interesting quote that seems particularly true in relation to travelles being continuously pushed into the unknown by their own personal passion and curiosity of the wold, in comparison to people to whom such feelings are completely alien:

The average person is not particularly curious about the world. Well, they are alive, they have to face this fact somehow and the less effort it costs them, the better. But learning about the world involves effort, and that is a great deal of effort that consumes men.

Ryszard Kapuściński, Travels with Herodotus, 2004.

I believe that explorers of the world must have made such an effort, from ancient times to the present day.

Father of Geography

Strabo. By André Thevet (1584) Original uploads comes from Potraits from the Dibner Library of the History and Science of Technology. Updated upload from the original scan from the book André Thevet, Les vrais pourtraits et vies des hommes illustres, chap. 35, page 76. Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Strabon” (2020). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

Strabo (the first century BC.), called in turn the “Father of Geography”, was a slightly later travel guide around the contemporary world (Zamarovsky 1990:8). He was born in the Greek settlement of Amaseia in Pontus (in present-day Turkey), by the Black Sea (Ibid.:8). Like Herodotus, Strabo undertook numerous journeys and travelled all over the known world (Ibid.:8). The results of his observations the author included in the seventeen books of Geographica hypomnemata (Ibid.:8).  As an ancient guide along the track of the Seven Wonders, Strabo helped find paths in ancient Egypt, on the Island of Rhodes and in Mesopotamia and described some of the Eastern legends related to the subject, such as those about Ninos and Semiramis (Ibid.:8).

Diodorus, Pliny and Pausanias, and their wonders

There were also other ancient travellers and authors, who were experts on the ancient wonders (Zamarovsky 1990:8). One of them was Diodorus Siculus or Diodorus of Sicily (the first century BC.) (Ibid.:8). He includes particularly important information on the wonders in his descriptions about Egypt, Babylon and Greece (Ibid.:8). Some of them he drew from the now lost work of Ctesias of Cnidus (the fifth century BC.), the physician of the Persian king, Artaxerxes the Second (Ibid.:8).

Diodorus Siculus as depicted in a nineteenth-century fresco). Uploaded by fonte. Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Diodorus Siculus” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

The next author, Gaius Plinius Secundus, known as Pliny the Elder (the first century AD.), was a Roman author, who created the famous Historia Naturalis (Zamarovsky 1990:8). In terms of the subject of wonders, it is extremely important that he was interested in the history of art and so he interpreted the wonders in their artistic context (Ibid.:8). Moreover, as a real Roman citizen, he also included on the list the whole city of Rome (Klein 1998:137). The constant drive to knowledge, however, ultimately led to Pliny’s downfall; on August 24, in 79 AD., the author wanted to take a closer look at the erupting volcano Vesuvius, which resulted in his death from poisoning by sulfur fumes (Zamarovsky 1990:8-9).

Nineteenth century image of Pliny the Elder. Uploaded by the User: Angela (2019). Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Pliniusz Starszy” (2020). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

In the second century AD., there was another guide to the Seven Wonders, a Greek geographer Pausanias, who elevates to the rank of wonders the walls of a citadel from the times of the Mycenaean, located in Argolis, in the Peloponnese (today’s Tiryns) (Zamarovsky 1990:9). According to legend, it was the seat of the hero, Hercules, built of blocks so huge that the structure is attributed to one-eyed giants, Cyclopes (Ibid.:9). Hence, similar megalithic walls composed of crude stones are called Cyclopean. Pausanias’ work, known as Hellados Periegesis (Description of Greece), was especially appreciated by Heinrich Schliemann (1822 – 1890), the famous discoverer of Troy, who, using information from Pausanias, thought that he had excavated the so-called tomb of king Agamemnon in Mycenae (Peloponnese), in 1876 (Ibid.:9). The archaeological site is located around twenty kilometres north of Tiryns and is also characterised by similar Cyclopean masonry. Moreover, it has turned out that it is not the tomb of the legendary Greek chieftain from Troy, but actually of a Mycenaean king who reigned in Mycenae several centuries earlier (Ibid.:9).

More travel guides wanted

Manuscript of Pausanias’ Description of Greece at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, created circa 1485. Uploaded by Institution: Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana – Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork. Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Pausanias (geographer)” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Among other authors writing with the wonders of the world, a Roman poet, Marcus Valerius Martialis (the first century AD.), considers the Roman Colosseum to be the first of the wonders of the world (Zamarovsky 1990:9; Klein 1998:137). A Latin Author, Gaius Julius Hyginus (at the turn of our era) adds to the list of wonders the palace of the Persian king Cyrus in Ekbatan (today Hamadan in Iran), built of coloured stones and gold by an artist, named Memnon (Zamarovsky 1990:9; Klein 1998:137). The palace is also included among the wonders of the world by a  Roman writer Vibius Sequester (the fifth century) (Zamarovsky 1990:9). Another Roman geographer and historian, Lucius Ampelius (the fourth century) even multiplies the number seven by seven wonders and records forty-nine wonders of the world, including the oil sources in present-day Iraq or Iran (Ibid.:9).

More pretenders for the title

Among other wonders mentioned by various ancient authors, there is also a notice of the horned altar on the Greek island of Delos and Egyptian Thebes of the hundred gates (Klein 1998:137). And then one can list the wonders endlessly: Minos’ Labyrinth in Crete, Hadrian’s Tomb in Rome (today’s Castel Sant’Angelo), the Roman Capitol, the Athenian Acropolis, or finally the altar of Zeus in Little Asian Pergamon (modern Turkey) (Zamarovsky 1990:9).

From the Middle Ages to modern times

In the first millennium AD, two monks also wrote about the wonders of the ancient world in Christian Europe (Zamarovsky 1990:9). The one was an ex-dignitary at the court of the Ostrogothic king, Theodoric the Great, and was called Cassiodorus (490-583), whereas the second was an Anglo-Saxon historian, known as Beda (673-735) (Ibid.:9). J.C. Orelli assumes, however, that the work on the ancient wonders is wrongly ascribed to Bede, as the book seems too primitive to have been written by a man as educated as he was (Ibid.:9).

Historia Nturalis by Pliny the Elder. Uploaded in 2005. Public domain. Photo source: “Pliniusz Starszy” (2020). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

The author of the first modern work on the ancient wonders was also a monk, but apart from that also a French philologist and archaeologist, and a great traveller (Zamarovsky 1990:9). He is known as Bernard de Montfaucon (1665-1741) (Ibid.:9). In his work Diarium Italicum (Italian Journal) there is a new list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, which was based on ancient sources (Ibid.:9). It contains: Egyptian Thebes, the walls of Babylon, the Mausoleum in Halicarnassus, the pyramids by the Nile, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Roman Capitol and the Tomb of Hadrian (Ibid.:9).

After Bernard de Montfaucon, it was the turn for an encyclopaedist who eventually  represented such a list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World as it is well known today (Zamarovsky 1990:9).

The magic number of seven

All the lists of the ancient wonders may have  contained various monuments but they have always had one common feature (Klein 1998:139). Namely, the number of the ancient wonders has always been limited to seven (or seven was additionally multiplied by seven) (Ibid.:139). This was because the number of seven played an important role in the Greek tradition (Klein 1998:139; “7 (liczba)” 2020). Moreover, it was already widely referred to in cultures much older than that of ancient Greece (Klein 1998:139; “7 (liczba)” 2020). As a matter of fact, the ‘seven’ encompassed the entire mystery of existence and was seen as a magic number (Klein 1998:139). As such it reappears numerously in culture (Ibid.:139).

Masonry tunnel in ancient Tiryns,in Peloponnese, Greece. According to legend, it was the seat of the hero, Hercules, built of blocks so huge that the structure is attributed to one-eyed giants, Cyclopes. Photo by Alun Salt – originally posted to Flickr as Tiryns, a passageway (2005). CC BY-SA 2.0. Photo source: “Tiryns” (2021). ” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

In ancient Greece, there were seven artes liberales, in Greek mythology, seven gates defended the Greek city of Thebes (Boeotia, central Greece), against which Theseus set off at the head of seven heroes (Klein 1998:139; “7 (liczba)” 2020). Then, the Christian tradition enumerates the Seven Cardinal Virtues, the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Sacraments, and the week was divided into seven days, too; as the Bible says, on the seventh day God rested after creating the world (Genesis 2:2-3) (Klein 1998:139; “7 (liczba)” 2020). It was also believed that there had been seven hills of Rome, on which the city was established, and that the heaven and hell were divided into seven spheres, hence the phrase ‘the seventh heaven’ (Klein 1998:139; “7 (liczba)” 2020). In addition, the Bible says about seven fat cows and seven thin cows, and then the seven ripe heads of grain and the seven worthless heads of grain (Genesis 41:26-27) (Klein 1998:139; “7 (liczba)” 2020). Noah waited seven days before he released a dove from the Ark to see if the flood waters had subsided (Genesis 8:6-12) (Klein 1998:139). Seven is also the key to Saint John’s Revelation; there are mentioned the seven churches, the seven spirits (Revelation 1:4), the Seven Signs in the Book of Signs (Revelation 1:19-12:50), seven golden lampstands (Revelation 1:12), seven stars (Revelation 1:16), a scroll with seven seals (Revelation 5:1), the Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits (Revelation 5:6), as many angels, the trumpets of the Last Judgment (Revelation 8:2) thunders (Revelation 10:3) and seven thousand people killed in the earthquake (Revelation 11:13) (Ibid.::139). There is also a dragon with seven heads and seven crowns on its heads (Revelation 12:3), the seven last plagues (Revelation 15:1), seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God (Revelation 15:7) and also seven kings (Revelation 17:10). Such list is much longer.

Coin from Elis district in southern Greece illustrating the Olympian Zeus statue (Nordisk familjebok). Unknown author – second (1904–1926) edition of Nordisk familjebok Transferred from sv.wikipedia. Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Statue of Zeus at Olympia” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

A special position of the number seven can also be obtained scientifically (Klein 1998:139). In mathematical terms, seven is a prime number, so it is only divided by itself and by one (Klein 1998:139; Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:2). Accordingly 7 cannot be a product or a quotient of integers other than 7 in the range from 1 to 6 and from 6 to 10, so it cannot be obtained either by multiplication or by dividing the integers from the given range (Klein 1998:139-140).

Rankings of modern wonders

From a psychological point of view, the number seven seemed to be perfect for the ancients in terms of quantity; it would have been too difficult or even impossible to select up to three ancient wonders, and a list of more than ten would, in turn, have lost its relevance (Klein 1998:140). One could imagine loads of magnificent buildings, but not loads of wonders of the world (Ibid.:140).

Nowadays, numerous travel guidebooks and magazines are created describing increasingly distant and exotic destinations (Lachowicz 2015). Such “wonders of the world” are usually illustrated in rankings, by referring to them as ‘places to visit before you die’. And although ‘the must-see places’ are usually grouped into sub-categories, like monuments and places within particular countries, cities, or lists including just architectural monuments or wonders of nature, their number keeps changing. Accordingly, one can find in travel books or online such travelling clues as “21 Most Beautiful Places in Poland to See Before You Die!”, “25 Truly Amazing Places To Visit Before You Die”, “30 World’s Best Places to Visit”, “50 Must Visit Places in the World” or “50 awe-inspiring natural wonders for your bucket list”, and so on …

Well, once the world has become larger, it has also got smaller due to greater possibilities of modern travellers to reach its remotest corners. Accordingly, the number of places to visit has essentially grown.

“Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids”, as an Arab proverb says; the Great Pyramid, as the Pyramid of Khufu is usually called, has captivated human imagination throughout centuries. Various studies evidently show that there are as many presumptions as false facts about the history and construction of the pyramid. As a result, it has remained an everlasting mystery. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Despite all these changes of the world, we still come back in memories to the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, which even now create a unique world of human achievements, on which Pliny the Elder writes about in the first century AD., referring to the Egyptian pyramids in his words: “Owing to such works, people ascend to gods, or gods descend among people” (Klein 1998:140-141).

Featured image: Own work made of two images from Wikipedia, illustrating the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World on the map: there are Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (also known as the Mausoleum of Mausolus), Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria as depicted by 16th-century Dutch artist Maarten van Heemskerck. Images of the ancient wonders by Mark22 at English Wikipedia (2007). Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Wonders of the World” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Combined with: Europe depicted by Antwerp cartographer Abraham Ortelius in 1595. The used Map by Abraham Ortelius – Orteliusmaps.com (created from 1570 until 1609). Public domain. Photo and caption source: “History of Europe” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Images cropped, colours changed to sepia.

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.

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Columns ‘in Antis’ in Ancient Temples and Tombs

In ancient architecture, an anta or antae (antas) is an architectural term that describes the end of the protruding side walls of the naos (the inner chamber or sanctuary of a temple), forming a pronaos (a porch). By these means, the antas, as a part of the front walls, create posts or pillars on either side of an entrance to the naos and are usually shaped as pilasters, usually with more decorative capitals than the front columns. However, the anta differs from the pilaster, where the latter is purely decorative element and does not function as a structural support of the anta. The term in antis, applied to a pronaos or a temple (aedes in antis, templum in antis), meaning a type of structure (a temple, a tomb) with two (or more) columns or caryatids in the pronaos, placed between the antas.

The Athenian Treasury in Delphi with two antae framing a set of two columns. Photo by Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada (2005). CC BY-SA 2.0. Photo and caption source: “Anta (architecture)” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

The antas could also appear from the side of the naos‘s rear wall, as a repetition of the arrangement used from the front side of the temple (the so-called temple in double antis). In the layouts of temples with a full colonnade in the facade (such as, for example, prostylos or amphiprostylos), the antas are much shorter.

Templum in antis. Drawing by CLI (2009). Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Anta (architektura)” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

Featured image: The most impressive of all the tombs of Telmessus (Fethiye). It represents a category of Lycian temple – tombs, usually with two columns in antis. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Anta (architecture)” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3nuIC6L>. [Accessed on 28th April, 2021].

“Anta (architektura)” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3eCBHVg>. [Accessed on 28th April, 2021].

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 14. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Naiskos in the Funerary Architecture of Ancient Greeks

A type of tombstone in ancient Greece, mostly in the fourth and fifth centuries BC. It imitated the shape of templum in antisIt, namely, it looked like a small temple in classical order with antas, columns or pillars and a decorative pediment, also decorated with figures in the facade. The pediment (frontispiece) was usually filled with family scenes in high relief, where the dead appeared inside the house alongside the living. Also “[some] of the Hellenistic inscriptions found in the Bay of Grama, [in the Ionian Sea of Albania], are placed inside a naiskos, and in this case the religious context is an invocation of Castor and Pollux, [the] Dioskouroi [in Greek and Roman mythology], for a safe passage across the Adriatic, rather than funerary” (“Naiskos” 2020).

Funerary naiskos of a young soldier (Aristonautes, son of Archenautes, of the deme Halai). Pentelic marble, found in the Kerameikos necropolis in Athens, ca. 350–325 BC. Photo by Marsyas (2005). CC BY 2.5. Photo and caption source: “Naiskos” (2020). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

The naiskos form developed from an Attic tombstone stelae in the second half of the fourth century BC.; initially simple in shape, with time they had acquired a more complicated form referring to the facade of a Greek temple with a pediment supported by columns.

The facade of Naiksos also appears as a decorative motif  in the funerary “black-figure and red-figure pottery of Ancient Greece at the Loutrophoros and the Lekythos and the red-figure wares of Apulia in South Italy, [the fourth century BC.]” (“Naiskos” 2020).

A similar style of funerary tombstones can be also observed in the so-called aedicula, typical of Roman art.

Featured image: Naiskos-style funerary stele of Cyzicus (an ancient town of Mysia in Anatolia, in the current Balıkesir Province of Turkey), with high-relief decoration; epitaph inscribed on the plint: “Attalos, son of Asklepiodoros, greetings!” Made of marble, from the second quarter of the second century BC. Stele of funerary banquet represents, from left to right, a servant holding a round object, perhaps a model of the Arsinoeion in Samothrace, a seated woman, a half-reclining man holding a phiale in which a snake is drinking, a boy cupbearer. Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Denon, ground floor, room 11 (Musée du Louvre, Paris, France). Photo by Jastrow (2008). Credit given by W. H. Waddington, (1854). CC BY 3.0. Image cropped. Photo and caption source: Wikimedia Commons (2021).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Naiskos” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3bQQvhL>. [Accessed on 28th February, 2021].

“Naiskos” (2020). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/2PkkoiN>. [Accessed on 28th February, 2021].

“Naiskos stele of Cyzicus” (2021). In: Wikimedia Commons. Available at <https://bit.ly/3bHRUaa>. [Accessed on 28th February, 2021].

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 274. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Matzevah – a Traditional Form of a Jewish tombstone

Jewish tombstone in the form of a vertically positioned rectangular stone or wooden slab, and from the nineteenth century also made of cast iron, topped with a straight line, triangle, semicircle or two segments of a circle, decorated with a bas-relief in the upper part and covered with an inscription (epitaph) at the bottom. The Hebrew epitaph was placed on the eastern side of the slab, as both, the tomb and the tombstone were oriented to the east. The stone slab was placed on the grave, on the headboard or in the legs of the deceased. It was often supported from the back by a stone block with a rectangular or semicircular cross-section, very rarely decorated.

Matzevot at the Cemetery in Warsaw at Okopowa Street. Photo by Grzegorz Petka (2008). Public domain. Image cropped. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Macewa” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

The reliefs in the upper part of the tombstone are not only decorative, but also symbolic; from the sixteenth century on, above the epitaph but under the top of the matzeva, there were usually sculpted symbols referring to the name of the deceased, their profession, character features, or sadness, mourning and death. Some of the decorative motifs on the matzevot are intended for representatives of traditional groups of the Jewish community, e.g. for a person from a priestly family (kohena) – those were hands folded in prayer, for a descendant of a Levite family, a cup, for a scholar or a rabbi – a Torah crown or a book for a woman, a lamp-stand, for the descendants of the tribe of Judah, a lion. Over time, the matzevot were given an increasingly complex architectural form, with cornices, columns, and recesses, and its height increased, sometimes reaching four meters.

Matzevah derived from the distant past, when it first meant sacred pillars in Canaanite sanctuaries, and then boulders, placed in memory of some important event; placed in cemeteries by Ashkenazi Jews.

Such a tombstone was adopted in Poland; the oldest one preserved there dates back to 1203 and is now at a Jewish cemetery in Wrocław (Poland), at Ślężna Street. The form of the matzevot is also recalled by erratic boulders placed on graves in Jewish cemeteries in north-eastern Poland. When in the early nineteenth century’s Poland, the administrative authorities of the partitioning powers ordered Jews to take surnames, Jewish traditionalists placed an appropriate entry containing this name on the reverse, unfinished side of the matzeva. In the areas associated with German culture, from the mid-nineteenth century, it was customary to place an epitaph in Hebrew on one side of the matzevah, and in German on the other. Similar records can also be found in Jewish cemeteries in large cities of central Poland, on the graves of assimilated Jews.

Featured image: Matzevot at the old Jewish cemetery in Wrocław. Photo by Barbara Maliszewska (2010). CC BY-SA 3.0 pl. Image cropped. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Macewa” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Macewa” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3tXyQwX>. [Accessed 14th February, 2021].

Jagielski J. (2021). “Mazewa”. In: Portal DELET. Available at <https://bit.ly/2ZeT6fx>. [Accessed 14th February, 2021].

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 244. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

The Labarum of Constantine the Great

From the time of the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great (306-337), it was the imperial and military banner (a vexillum). The original standard was first used by Constantine during the Battle of the Milvian Bridge against Maxentius (312) but the same name also refers to similar standards produced in imitation of the original one in the Late Antique world and later on.

A follis of Constantine (c. 337) showing a depiction of his labarum spearing a serpent on the reverse; the inscription reads SPES PVBLICA. Struck 337 AD. Constantinople mint. CONSTANTI-NVS MAX AVG, laureate head right SPES PVBLICA across field, labarum, with three medallions on drapery and crowned by a christogram, spearing serpent. CONS in exergue. RIC VII 19. According to RIC, this famous reverse type represents the defeat of tyranny by the death of Licinius. Yet, the scene also has powerful Christian imagery in that it allegorically portrays the power of Christianity over evil. Coin from CNG coins, through Wildwinds. Used with permission. Follis 337 Constantine. Photo and caption by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (2005). CC BY-SA 3.0. Image enlarged; colours intensified. Photo source: “Labarum” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

The origin of the word labarum is a matter of scientific debate. Some suggest it derived from the Latin word labarum. Others say it is a Gallic word because Gaul was the starting point for the war against Maxentius, and there were many Gauls in the army.

The emperor Honorius (393-423) holding a variant of the labarum – the Latin phrase on the cloth means “In the name of Christ [rendered by the Greek letters XPI] be ever victorious” and the Globus with the still pagan symbol the victory. Photo and caption by Marsyas (2006). Public domain. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Labarum” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

After a Christian author and an advisor to Roman emperor, Constantine I, Lactantius (240-320), shortly before the battle, the emperor fell into ecstasy, during which he received an order from Christ to place on the shields of soldiers the sign of heaven, consisting of the first two Greek letters of the word ‘Christ’ (ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ) — Chi (χ) and Rho (ρ). This monogram is indeed found on coins and writings from the time of Constantine. Eusebius of Caesarea (260-339), a biographer of the emperor’s life, adds that at the moment of the start of the fight, the pagan ruler called for the help of the Christian God, as a result of which he saw in the daylight a radiant cross with the Greek words: ‘Through this sign you will win!’ The next night, Constantine saw Christ with the cross and was advised to have a banner made with the image of the cross, displaying the christogram of the ‘Chi-Rho’ symbol ☧. This banner is, of course, a labarum, made in the shape of the letter T, standing for the cross, and attached to the upper bar. As such it was henceforth carried by Constantine’s troops.

The day after his victory, on October 29, 312, Constantine rode triumphantly into Rome. The city gave him a wonderful party. As for the vaccination of Christianity, it was still until the end of his reign, a transitional period. But although Constantine chose not to tease the Roman pagans with a new religion in one God, he nonetheless openly manifested the origins of Christianism in the heart of the Western world by minting coins with the christogram of the ‘Chi-Rho’ while the labarum in the form of the cross flew over the ranks of his army.

Constantine’s labarum, with a wreathed Chi Rho from an antique silver medal. The “medallions” which are said to have shown portraits of Constantine and his sons are sometimes replaced by the three circles or dots. Drawing by Nordisk familjebok (1911), vol.14, p.1088. Uploaded in 2006. Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Labarum” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.
Coin of Vetranio (350 AD.), a soldier is holding two labara. Notably, they differ from the labarum of Constantine in having the Chi-Rho depicted on the cloth rather than above it, and in having their staves decorated with phalerae as were earlier Roman military unit standards. Photo by Marsyas (2010). Public domain. Colours intensified. Photo and caption source: “Labarum” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Featured image: The emperor Constantine IX Monomachos (1042-1055) (centre panel of a Byzantine enamelled crown) holding a miniature labarum. Photo by Andrew massyn (2008). Public domain. Image cropped. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Labarum” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Labarum” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3tPYsM8>. [Accessed 12th February, 2021].

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, pp. 69, 224. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Rops D. (1968). Kościół pierwszych wieków. pp. 477-480. [L’église des apôtres et des martyrs]. Ostrowska K. trans. Warszawa: Instytut Wydawniczy PAX.

Traces of Slavic Pagan Rites in the Polish Easter Tradition

Easter comes with spring and it is the most significant Christian holiday, also beautifully celebrated in Poland. The very beginning of spring had already been celebrated in Polish territory in the times of paganism and was associated among the former Slavs with the so-called Jare Gody, a several-day Slavic ritual spring festival that was a farewell to winter and a welcome to spring (Sławosław.pl 2019). These celebrations took place around the spring equinox and so began with the calendar spring, that is to say on the twenty-first March (Ibid.).

Goodbye to Marzanna

The first important ritual of the Jare Gody was to burn or drown Morena (Marzanna in Polish), an effigy which has been a symbol of the Slavic goddess of winter of the same name (Sławosław.pl 2019; “Morana (goddess)” 2021).

Marzanna in Poland. Photo by Ratomir Wilkowski, www.RKP.org.pl (2010). CC BY 3.0. Photo source: “Morana (goddess)” (2021). In Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Sometimes, for a better effect, even both of these activities were performed: first, Marzanna was set on fire, and then thrown into the water, especially into rivers whose currents are able to take her away from the view of the audience (Sławosław.pl 2019). In the past, this ritual was often accompanied by making noise: crackling, rattling, knocking, singing and playing all kinds of instruments (Ibid.). I am not sure if this custom is still celebrated in Polish schools. In my time, all the children at school participated in the competition to create the best effigy of Marzanna, which we later carried to the river and drowned them all there. I remember that the fun was great, although now children’s entertainment is unfortunately changing … Yet, my seven-year-old nephew still cuts out a small image of Marzanna from coloured paper and glues to her round head curly hair from tissue paper.

Jare Gody and Easter

As Marzanna is associated with winter, Jaryło and Jarowit, who were gods of fertility in the folklore of eastern and southern Slavs, are both associated with spring (Sławosław.pl 2019).

Morena effigy, Slovakia. Photo by T. Kičin, early twentieth century. Public domain. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Morana (goddess)” (2021). In Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Today, the place of pagan deities in Poland is obviously taken by the Risen Christ, who replaced them as a symbol of the New Life. In the pagan times, after the beginning of Jare Gody (the name originates from the names of the gods), people lit fires on the hills to summon as much heat and sun as possible (Ibid.). Willow and hazel twigs were also collected, from which the so-called panicles were made (Ibid.). Those were bunches of branches and flowers clogged on the roofs of new buildings (Ibid.). At that time, the houses were cleaned and incensed, as much as it is today, and traditional Slavic cakes were also baked (Ibid.). It was a time of joy, because then everything was slowly beginning to bloom and revive (Ibid.).

Pussy willow branches are cut and used for the panicles. Photo by Avicennasis (2010). Public domain. Photo source: “Śmigus-dyngus” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Christianity celebrates this time in a similar way, but with other religious values; houses are adorned with flowers and blooming twigs to glorify the promise of the Resurrection with the forthcoming of spring and with it, the hope that the dead will be reawakened to eternal life.

Different ways of fasting

In Poland, Easter is also a culinary celebration (Lemnis, Vitry 1979, p. 218). The overture to the Easter feasts has always been the preceding Lent. In old Poland, fasting was followed very strictly, even at the royal court, but those were primarily the poor urban population and peasants who fasted truly, in a real “Catholic” way, both for religious and material reasons (Ibid.:218). So people ate sour rye soup (żur), groats, cabbage, herring, and later also potatoes, all sprinkled only with oil (Ibid.:218). In the Polish region of Masuria, fasting was particularly exemplary, without using either butter or milk (Ibid.:218). At magnate courts and rich monasteries, people fasted in a peculiar way, serving various and deliciously seasoned fish dishes, by no means in fasting amounts, and alcoholic drinks did not seem to interfere with fasting at all (Ibid.:218).

Funeral of herring

On Good Friday, the court and city youth organized a “funeral of sour rye (żur) and herring” (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:218). The clay pot with the sour rye soup was smashed, while the herring was hung on a branch as a punishment for the fact it had ruled over meat for six weeks, harassing human stomachs with its weak meal” (Ibid.:218).

Actually nowadays, Polish żur is one of the most frequent served soups during Easter. Still, it is not a fasting dish, as it is usually enriched with halves of boiled eggs and slices of white or ordinary sausage.

The Easter “Blessed

In the mansions of magnates and noble courts, a wonderfully set Easter table was blessed by the parish priest or chaplain, while the poor brought food for the same reason to the church (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:218-219). On Easter Saturday, both in towns and villages, eggs, bread and salt were brought to the church and placed on the festive table after blessing (Ibid.:218).

Food blessing in the nineteenth century, by Michał Elwiro Andriolli (before 1893). Public domain. Photo source: “Święconka” 2020. In Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

This custom has fortunately remained in Poland to this day, when beautifully decorated baskets filled to the brim with Easter specialties are brought to the church and blessed. As the old Polish tradition dictates, the basket is not complete without beautifully painted eggs (pisanki), a piece of bread and salt.

Modern ceremony in Poland of blessing the food brought to the church in baskets for Easter breakfast. Photo by Błażej Benisz – WSD Ołtarzew, www.wsdsac.pl (2007). CC BY-SA 2.5. Photo source: “Święconka” 2020. In Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

In addition, we put now a little bit of everything in the basket that will later be served on the Easter table: pepper, sausage, ham, horseradish, butter, a lamb made of sugar or flour, with the inscription “Hallelujah”, and for children – chocolate hares.

Pisanki and kraszanki

Easter in Polish folk cuisine was much more modest than that of the nobles, but more closely related to the old customs and rituals (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:219). Such relics of pagan beliefs include Easter eggs (pisanki or kraszanki in Polish), which are hard-boiled, dyed and artfully decorated; in the past it was usually made by village women (Ibid.:219). Painting eggs, which for the Slavs symbolized energy, joy of life and harvest in the new growing year was an important part of the pagan festival of Jare Gody (Sławosław.pl 2019). The culmination of the celebrations were feasts given on the hills, during which people sang, danced and exchanged Easter eggs as gifts (Ibid.). The practice of dyeing eggs for Easter still persists (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:219). The old Easter eggs were often true works of folk art; today’s ones usually give way to the old ones in terms of elegance and artistry (Ibid.:219). Yet all do their best to make them colourful and carefully decorated.

Easter eggs (pisanki). Photo by LeCornichon (2007). CC BY-SA 3.0. Photo source: “Pisanka” (2021). In Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

Since the egg is an ancient symbol of life, it has reigned supreme on Easter tables, because Easter is also a feast of nature awakening to life (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:219). Easter eggs were often dyed red in particular (Ibid.:219). A special dye can be used to obtain a dark red colour, but my mother always dyes the eggs organically by soaking them in onion shells. Such red Easter eggs had, according to ancient Slavic beliefs, magical properties and were said to be effective, especially in matters of love (Ibid.:219).

In the eastern territories of former Poland, it was also customary to give the priest Easter eggs on Good Friday (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:219). A French cartographer and architect, Guillaume de Beauplan, who stayed in seventeenth-century Poland, described this custom, claiming that the priest collected up to five thousand eggs in two hours (Ibid.:219). He also adds that while thanking the pious donors, he kissed the girls and the younger girls, but he only gave the hand to kiss to the old women (Ibid.:219).

Easter traffic in the kitchen

During the Holy Week, the greatest traffic was in the kitchen, from which the delicious smells of various dishes prepared for Easter came from (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:219). They aroused the appetites of the fasting household, longing for the Resurrection, which marked the end of the fast and the beginning of the Easter feast (Ibid.:219). Nowadays, we do fasting in Poland only on the Good Friday and Good Saturday, till the Resurrection, or we start celebrating just after the Easter Mass, when finally we sit down to a ceremonial breakfast. As in modern-day Poland, the so-called “Blessed” (“Święcone” in Polish), that is to say the food from the basket, and other delicacies were placed on the spring-decorated table in the dining room (Ibid.:219). Compared to the old Polish appetite, today’s one is much smaller. In old Poland, the Easter breakfast consisted of hams, sausages, brawn fish, fish in jelly, whole baked piglet and Easter cakes: mazurek cakes (Easter pastry), tortes and the famous old Polish “baba” cakes (Ibid.:219-220). Of course, vodka, meads, beer and wine were not forgotten (Ibid.:210).

The Easter Lamb made of butter or sugar towered over everything. It has been a symbol of the Risen Christ (Ibid.:210). The entire table, shimmering with a wide range of colours and tempting with seductive scents, was decorated with green dyes and colourful Easter eggs (Ibid.:220). Of course, the blessed food eaten on Easter was either more modest or stunningly rich, which depended on the wealth of the house (Ibid.:220).

Easter breakfast

Easter breakfast started either quite early, or at noon or even a little later (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:242). In some houses, the more impatient gentlemen “attacked” the festive table already on Good Saturday, but mostly these were just preliminaries to the Sunday “culinary battle” (Ibid.:242). The Easter feast, even the most modest one, began with the sharing of a hard-boiled egg with mutual wishes, as it happened between pagan Slavs (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:220; Sławosław.pl 2019). The “Blessed” consisted only of cold dishes, with a huge variety of tastes and aromas (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:220). People were seated at the table, which, due to the set of dishes, was the prototype of today’s cold buffet (Ibid.:220). Of the hot dishes, only red borscht prepared on beetroot kvass was served, which differed from Christmas borscht in that it was cooked on essential meat broth, often on boiled ham (Ibid.:242). Instead of Christmas Eve dumplings, quarters of hard-boiled eggs or sliced ​​sausage were put into the borscht (Ibid.:242). At the end of the feast, hot bigos (a Polish dish of cabbage, meat and sausages) was served (Ibid.:242).

Formerly, different beliefs were associated with some of the dishes on the Easter table (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:242). According to Mikołaj Rej (1505-1569), a poet and prose writer who lived during the reign of King Zygmunt August, sausage protected against snake biting, horseradish – from fleas, and roasted hazel grouse from … prison.

Easter baba sprinkled with powdered sugar. Photo by Diego Delso (2013). CC BY-SA 3.0. Photo source: “Baba wielkanocna” (2019). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

Polish Easter pastries also deserve special attention during the celebration: tortes, bundt cakes (“baba” cakes) and Easter pastry (“mazurek” cakes) (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:220).

Polish queen from Italy and tortes

Tortes appeared relatively late in Polish cuisine and the fashion for them probably came from Italy, thanks to Polish queen, Bona Sforza d’Aragona (1494 – 1557) who came from the Dutchy of Milan (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:220). During the reign of her son, Zygmunt II August (Sigismund II Augustus 1520 – 1572), splendour and luxury prevailed at the royal court in Krakow (Ibid.:222). The queen mother herself, marrying the Polish king, Zygmunt I Stary (Sigismund the Old 1467 – 1548), introduced Italian customs to the court (Ibid.:222).

The traditional form of baking baba cakes. Photo by Hubertl (2014). CC BY-SA 3.0. The making of this work was supported by Wikimedia Austria. Photo source; “Baba wielkanocna” (2019). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

This meeting of two high-level European cultures has proved beneficial in many cases, particularly in the fields of art, architecture, literature and music (Ibid.:223). With time, Italian influences also began to emerge in Polish cuisine (Ibid.:223). Italians were amazed to see how much meat Poles ate every day (Ibid.:223). The Poles, on the other hand, mocked the Italians’ love of vegetables, which they considered exaggerated (Ibid.:223). And although vegetables are often served on Polish tables, the excessive and by no means health-promoting passion for meat dishes has remained with us to this day (Ibid.:223). An example of this is the Easter table with the “Blessed”, both in the past and now (Ibid.:223).

Baba cakes

Among the Easter cakes served to this day, the so-called baba cakes (bundt cakes) and mazurek cakes (Easter pastry) are a peculiarity and pride of Old Polish cuisine and native Polish specialties (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:220).

The girl in the national Polish costume, serving Polish baba cake. Postcard sent on April 11, 1936, entitled “Happy Hallelujah”. Publisher: Polonia Kraków. By Adam Setkowicz.Publisher: Polonia Kraków (1936). Public domain. Image source: “Baba wielkanocna” (2019). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

Baking Easter baba cakes was an emotional event and could be called a kind of theatrical mystery (Ibid.:221). The cook, the housewife and other women locked themselves in the kitchen, where men were forbidden to enter their kingdom (Ibid.:221). The whitest wheat flour was sifted through a sieve, hundreds of yolks with sugar were rubbed in pots, saffron was dissolved in vodka, which not only beautifully coloured the dough yellow, but also gave it a spicy aroma Ibid.:221). Then the almonds were ground, the raisins were carefully selected, the scented vanilla was mashed in mortars, and the yeast was made into a leaven (Ibid.:221). The dough placed in the cupcake moulds was covered with linen tablecloths, because the “chilled” baba cake did not grow and was slack-baked (Ibid.:221). So the windows and doors of the kitchen were sealed for fear of drafts (Ibid.:221). Properly grown baba cakes were carefully put into the oven (Ibid.:221). Finally, as they were lifted from the hot cavities of the oven on a wooden shovel, it was not uncommon for the kitchen to hear dramatic shouts and crying; a baba cake which was browned too much or “sat down” was a disgrace (Ibid.:221).

A selection of Mazurek cakes ready for Easter in Poland. Photo by Magic Madzik – Flickr: 100/365: Ready for Easter (2009). CC BY 2.0. Photo source: “Mazurek (cake)” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Simultaneously, successful baba cakes taken out of the oven were placed on fluffy quilts to prevent them from being crushed while cooling down (Ibid.:221). In addition, the conversation was in whispers, as the noise could harm the delicate dough (Ibid.:221). The cooled baba cakes were beautifully and generously glazed (Ibid.:221). The most famous and delicate were the so-called fluffy and muslin babas (Ibid.:221).

Mazurek

On the other hand, the origin of the mazurek has not been sufficiently explained so far (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:221). Perhaps they reveal the influence of sweet Turkish cuisine (Ibid.:221). Mazurek is a low cake, usually on a crispy bottom or on a wafer, covered with a layer of nut, almond, cheese and dried fruit mass, colourfully glazed and beautifully decorated with preserves and dried fruit (Ibid.:221). Good housewives often had several dozen recipes for mazurek cakes (Ibid.:221).

How Poles spend Easter

According to our tradition, we spend the first day of Easter at home with our family and sometimes we invite our closest friends to the “Blessed” breakfast (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:264). On the second day of Christmas, that is the Good Monday, we either visit our friends ourselves or host guests (Ibid.:264). Then we serve cold stews or bigos as a starter, and after borscht or żur, usually roast meat, such as turkey in rich sauce (Ibid.:264). The sweet finale are surely Easter cakes: mazurek, baba cakes and tortes (Ibid.:221).

Śmigus-Dyngus

The Good Monday morning is still associated with a long tradition of pouring water over each other, hence usually called “Wet Monday” or, more commonly, “Śmigus-Dyngus” (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:264).

Soaking a Polish girl on śmigus-dyngus (a postcard). Nationwide Specialty Co., Arlington, Texas — In Buffalo, N.Y., Stanley Novelty Co., 200 S. Ogden St. – Boston Public Library (circa 1930-1945). CC BY 3.0. Photo source: “Śmigus-dyngus” (2021). Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Of course, this rite comes from our pagan ancestors (Sławosław.pl 2019). Slavic Śmigus and Dyngus were originally separate rites and cleansing rituals, bringing strength and health (Ibid.). Śmigus relied on lashing each other with blooming twigs, and Dyngus on pouring water over each other (Ibid.). In the evening of that day, the dead were remembered, their graves were visited and they were offered food (Ibid.). The custom of pouring water, that is to say Dyngus, has survived to this day as a real national water fight, especially in the countryside (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:264). Yet, it is still called Śmigus-Dyngus. In the Old Poland, particularly unmarried girls were the victims of watering, and boys were their “water” attackers (Ibid.:264). The girls defended themselves vigorously and noisily (Ibid.:264). In reality, however, they were satisfied, because if a girl had not got soaked on that day, she would have been considered deliberately disregarded, which did not bring about a quick marriage, and even threatened with her ending as a spinster (Ibid.:264). In cities, especially nowadays, water can be streamed to anybody, either with buckets, water guns, bottles, or balloons filled with water and thrown from above (Culture.pl 2014). In rare cases, water is sprayed in small sprinklers in the form of colourful eggs or perfumes are used instead of water, confined to rather symbolic sprinkling of a potential “victim” (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:264).

But just in case, to avoid getting soaked, especially when it is still chilly outside, it is definitely better to stay home on that day, enjoying that time together with your family and friends and to have an opportunity to change your clothes if the fun is full-blown (Culture.pl 2014).

Another opportunity to spend family holidays

As in 2020, Easter of 2021 is still heavily marked by the time of pandemic and so it cannot be fully celebrated, especially by participating in all religious celebrations in the church. People usually take part in them by means of online transmissions. Nevertheless, today, that is to say on Good Saturday, according to the long Polish tradition, people anyway came to the church with their beautifully decorated baskets to bless the food to be served on Easter Sunday as the “Blessed”. Although last year I was spending Easter on my own in Dublin due to the pandemic, this year for the same reasons, I can enjoy it together with my family. After Christmas, 2020, it is the second important family feast I have had an opportunity to celebrate in Poland, and hence write on typical Polish traditions connected with Christian feasts, some of which have originated from pagan Slavic rites, still very present in our modern Polish lives.

Happy Easter and God bless!

Featured image: “The Resurrection” by Ricci, Sebastiano (1659 – 1734). Uploaded by DcoetzeeBot (2012). Public domain {{PD-US}}. In: Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Image cropped.

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology;
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.

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