Why You Need To Watch "Hunting Nazi Treasure" On HISTORY

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


The eight-part investigative series Hunting Nazi Treasure (premieres Oct 24, 2017) chronicles one of the greatest thefts in history, and the epic quest that an international team of experts embarked on to locate billions in art, gold, and other treasure that was stolen by the Nazi's during the Second World War. 

What is Hunting Nazi Treasure about (and is it worth watching)?

The series takes you, with the investigative team, across four continents and 14 countries to locate valuable objects and artwork that were systematically looted by the Nazis and have been missing since the Second World War.

It also provides new insights into the motivations of top Nazi leaders like Hitler (who wanted to create the world's most spectacular art collection in his hometown of Linz) and Goering (Hitler's ruthless second who created the Gestapo and was obsessed with treasure), and explores how and why artwork and cultural artifacts are targets during times of war.

There are still hundreds of thousands of stolen treasures missing to this day — a staggering amount — including a painting by Italian master Raphael estimated to be worth upwards of $100 million, a $2 billion hoard of stolen Italian gold, and the legendary Amber Room from the Catherine Palace in Russia.

The series highlights how complicated the search for these artifacts really is. Are they sitting in someone's living room? Are they buried in a forgotten bunker somewhere? Are the at the bottom of an Austrian lake? 

The hunt finds the team searching for items hidden in caves, castles, museums, and even underwater while gaining access to Nazi dossiers, archives, and declassified intelligence reports. 

As the series premiere, "Hitler's Obsession", highlights, sometimes people might not even know that they have something of cultural significance.

A woman in America ate dinner every night in her family dining room sitting next to a tapestry (pictured above) that once hung in the dining room of Hitler's mountain retreat without even knowing that it was a significant and important piece of history. To her, it was simply decoration that her father had brought with him when he came home from the Second World War. 

Who are the investigators?

Robert Edsel — Team Leader

Author of the New York Times #1 bestselling book-turned-movie The Monuments Men, and Founder and Chairman of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, Edsel is the one that identifies targets and helps to connect the investigative dots. 

He has a wealth of connections and expertise that gives the team access to the backrooms and vaults of world-famous museums, including access to original documents and photo albums made for Hitler himself! He also facilitates meetings with top law enforcement officials in Italy as well as secret contacts in Russia.

As the series unfolds, the viewer is introduced to Hitler’s grand plan to become “the curator of the German people” atop one of the world’s most spectacular art collections, and the desperate last-act by the Nazis to hide an unimaginable trove of gold, most likely in the Bavarian Alps.

“It is my hope that our program will become America's Most Wanted for culture and lead to the return of priceless objects to their rightful owners,” says Robert Edsel. “This program will present a unique opportunity to put the foundation’s extensive records and archives to use.

“George Clooney's film introduced The Monuments Men to a worldwide audience,” Edsel continues, “and now we have an opportunity to enlist the help of the public to join the hunt for some of the hundreds of thousands of objects still missing."

Conor Woodman — Investigative Journalist

Charismatic investigative journalist Conor Woodman is an eager adventurer who stops at nothing to locate the stolen items.

In the series, Woodman scuba dives off the coast of Corsica in the search for Rommel’s Gold (a treasure that fascinated James Bond creator Ian Fleming and a story that leads to an escaped Nazi in South America) and crawls into the ruins of an underground bunker where Nazi #2 Hermann Goering once kept pet lion cubs and a huge stolen art collection. 

James Holland — Second World War Historian 

Historian James Holland provides analysis and perspective to the team.

He interviews the British soldier who found Hitler’s last will and testament, and travels to Auschwitz to uncover the chilling story of the unit responsible for stealing gold from camp victims, and spotlights a Nazi looting operation in Paris, so cold and so calculated, it even included stealing children’s toys.

+ Other top experts on Nazi history from the various countries that they are searching in

More about the Monuments Men Foundation (because it's really cool)

Thrown into the spotlight recently by the movie The Monuments Men (see trailer below), according to the website, this foundation, 

"...honors the legacy of the men and women who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section, known as the "Monuments Men," and their unprecedented and heroic work protecting and safeguarding civilization's most important artistic and cultural treasures from armed conflict during World War II. Raising public awareness is essential to the Foundation's mission."

The website features a list of the most wanted works of art and documents, a tip line where you can share information on any of these pieces, and stories about recent discoveries that have been made! 

It's a fascinating organization, and if the series captures your interest, I highly recommend signing up for the Monuments Men newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest news. 

Here's what you need to know

Premiere Date: October 24 at 10 pm ET/PT on HISTORY (full episodes will be available after airing on HISTORY.ca)

Nazi Treasure Tipline: Viewers who may have a lead on a piece of looted treasure can contact 1-866-994-4287 or wwiiart@monumentfoundation.org 

Hunting Nazi Treasure is produced by Saloon Media and BriteSpark Films (UK) in association with Corus Entertainment’s HISTORY and More4 (Channel 4).

Photos are all courtesy Hunting Nazi Treasure

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Reads For The Road: "The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu" by Joshua Hammer

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , ,


I'll admit it.

I definitely judged this book by its cover.

And man, oh man, did the cover make me want to read it! 

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race To Save The World's Most Precious Manuscripts — it sounds like a Dan Brown historic thriller!! But, the coolest thing about this book written by journalist Joshua Hammer, is that this crazy story is one hundred percent true.

Yup, you read that right. 

This is a true story about how thousands of priceless ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts were rediscovered and saved from the elements and human influence in Western Africa.

The book recounts the journey that archivist Abdel Kader Haidera took through the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River to discover these ancient texts that had been passed down in families for generations. He often found these tomes disintegrating in old trunks and had to find ways (often monetary) to convince the owners of these texts to donate them to a library he was building so that they could be preserved. 

His discoveries had shocked the Western World (who, at this point largely considered most of the history out of Africa to be oral and discounted the idea that there could be written texts), and as a result he was starting to receive grants and funding that would help with preservation and with sharing these manuscripts with the rest of the world. 

Everything was going great — and then Al Qaeda showed up. 

Using first-hand accounts from Haidera, former high-ranking officials, the American military, and first-hand witnesses, Hammer tells the captivating true story of how all 350,000 manuscripts in the collection were smuggled to safety in southern Mali under the nose of terrorists who were ready to seize and burn them, not to mention kill anyone who was caught with them. 

It's a dramatic adventure that will have you captivated from cover-to-cover! 




The 10 Most-Visited Museums In The World

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


Put your hand up if you are one of those people who LOVES to geek-out in museums when you travel! 

Well, I definitely am. 

On every trip I take, I make it my goal to visit at least one well-known and one totally quirky museum (looking at you chocolate museum in Barcelona!) before leaving the city. 

And, according to research conducted by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), I am not the only one — more than 106.5 million(!) people visit the top 20 museums in the world every year.  

Not surprisingly, these havens of history are located in some of the world's most well-known cities — Paris, Washington DC, London, New York, Rome, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, and St Petersburg. Here's a look at the top ten most-visited museums in the world.  

1. Louvre
Paris, France
8.7 million annual visitors

Admission: 15 Euros; those aged 18 and under are free
Opening Hours: Mon, Thu, Sat, Sun 9 am – 6 pm; Wed, Fri 9 am – 9:45 pm; Closed on Tuesdays

The Louvre is huge, impressive, and houses some of the most well-known art in the world — Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, ancient Greek vases... But, it's not only the art and artifacts that are impressive. The museum is housed in the former royal palace where famous historical figures like the Marie Antoinette and Napoleon once lived (not together, of course), and blockbuster films like The Da Vinci Code were filmed. 

2. National Museum of China
Beijing, China
7.3 million annual visitors

Admission: FREE
Opening Hours: Open daily 9 am – 5 pm; Closed on Mondays

This enormous building is located on the east side of Tiananmen Square and covers a staggering 192,000 square meters. You will find a vast array of historic Chinese art, artifacts, porcelain, traditional furniture, and more! There are also regular travelling collections on display like a recent showcase of the works of Rembrandt. 

3. National Museum of Natural History
Washington DC, USA
6.9 million annual visitors

Admission: FREE
Opening Hours: Open daily 10 am – 5:30 pm

A part of the Smithsonian Institution, this green domed structure is one of the world's top research complexes and museums "dedicated to inspiring curiosity, discovery, and learning about the natural world through its unparalleled research, collections, exhibitions, and education outreach programs." Basically, it's huge and full of a lot of really cool stuff! 

4. National Air and Space Museum
Washington DC, USA
6.9 million annual visitors

Admission: FREE
Opening Hours: Open daily 10 am – 5:30 pm

Also part of the Smithsonian Institution, this is the ultimate place for space nuts to geek-out. It is here that you can actually get up-close-and-personal with the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia and the 1903 Wright Flyer! There is also a huge IMAX theatre, an amazing planetarium, and a public observatory. 

5. British Museum
London, United Kingdom
6.8 million annual visitors

Admission: FREE
Opening Hours: Open daily 10 am – 5:30 pm; Fri until 8:30 pm

This museum is home to some of the world's most important artifacts — the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone (not the language software). The building itself is a lovely mix of classical architecture and modern glass (see images above) that you could spend days in and still never see even a fraction of the incredible collection! 

6. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, NY, USA
6.3 million annual visitors

Admission: FREE
Opening Hours: Sun to Thu 10 am – 5:30 pm; Fri to Sat 10 am – 9 p

This sprawling, massive white building is perched on the edge of Central Park on Fifth Avenue in the Upper East Side. That means that views from its many windows are of the beautiful green space, and there are lots of paths for you to stroll if you need to take a break from a full day of wandering through galleries. Founded in 1870, it actually is home to one of the largest permanent collections in the world — more than 2 million objects!

7. Vatican Museums
Vatican, Vatican City, Rome
6.0 million annual visitors

Admission: 16 Euros
Opening Hours: Mon to Sat 9 am – 6 pm (final entry 4 pm); last Sun of the month 9 am – 2 pm

Located in the heart of the Vatican, this complex is made up of multiple museums, archaeological areas, villas, and gardens. The amazing artwork, sculptures, and artifacts are almost as impressive as the ornate rooms that they are housed in. There are multiple tours available including one that takes you into hidden and inaccessible areas of the Vatican. 

8. Shanghai Science & Technology Museum
Shanghai, China
5.9 million annual visitors

Admission: 60 RMB (approx $10)
Opening Hours: Tue to Sun 9:00 am – 5:15 pm

This massive museum celebrates science and tech with permanent exhibitions like the World of Animals, Children's Science Land, World of Robots, Human and Health, the Chinese Ancient Science & Technology Gallery showing off Chinese ancient inventions, and more! 

9. National Gallery
London, United Kingdon
5.9 million annual visitors

Admission: FREE
Opening Hours: Open daily 10 am – 6 pm; Fri until 9 pm

Located on one end of the famed Trafalgar Square in London, this museum contains more than 2,300 masterpieces by Da Vinci, Cézanne, Monet, Rubens, Vermeer, Van Gogh, and many more esteemed artists. This is also the home of portraits of some of England's most famous historical figures. 

10. National Palace Museum
Taipei, Taiwan
5.3 million annual visitors

Admission: 250 NT (approx $10)
Opening Hours: Sun to Thu 8:30 am – 6:30 pm; Fri and Sat until 9 pm

This museum has a permanent collection of more than 700,000(!) pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks, most of which were part of the Chinese imperial collection started over 1,000 years ago in the Song Dynasty.

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Reads For The Road: "The Spy" by Paulo Coelho

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


Since the first time I read a book by Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist), I've been hooked — and The Spy does not disappoint. 

The book is based on the life and death of the fascinating Margaretha Geertruida "Margreet" MacLeod, also known as Mata Hari.

Escaping a terrible marriage to become one of the most powerful exotic dancers in Paris, Mata Hari became a woman with connections and means. She moved in influential circles and managed to keep herself lavishly clothed, covered in jewels, and living in luxury thanks to the generosity of rich men who were intrigued by her. 

I am a woman who was born at the wrong time and nothing can be done to fix this. I don’t know if the future will remember me, but if it does, may it never see me as a victim, but as someone who moved forward with courage, fearlessly paying the price she had to pay.
— from page 15 of "The Spy"

But an independent woman was suspicious in the early 1900s, and in 1917 — at the height of paranoia during World War I, Mata Hari was arrested for espionage. 

This page-turning story gives insight into who she was, the world that she existed in, and the choices she made that ultimately led to her execution. 




The Most Interesting Discoveries Made In 2016 Using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


New technology is completely changing the fields of history and archaeology, as the use of innovations like Ground Penetrating Radar archaeology are resulting in new discoveries all over the world. This tech is even changing the way we look at old discoveries, as new chambers, burials, buildings, and more are being discovered in previously excavated areas. Before I share some of the most fascinating discoveries that have been made recently using GPR, let's start with one very important question. 

What is Ground Penetrating Radar? 

According to Wikipedia, "Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) is a geophysical method that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface." So, in layman's terms, a machine (that usually looks a like an oversized lawn mower) sends a pulse into the ground that can detect what is located under the surface. It can help scientists detect rocks, soil, ice, pockets of water, and man-made structures. 
This technology has been used by the military since around the 1970s, and became available commercially in the mid 1980s. GPR has many uses including finding valuable stones, searching for utilities, finding unexploded land mines, and surveying potential archaeological sites. 

Recent Discoveries Made Thanks to GPR

(image source)

The Remains of King Henry I
Archaeologists announced in September 2016 that they may have located the remains of King Henry I (the youngest son of William the Conqueror) beneath a Ministry of Justice parking lot on the site of Reading prison. They came across the remains while using GPR to scan the parking lot, which sits on top of the ruins of Reading Abby — a huge church that King Henry I built during his reign. What's crazy about this potential discovery is that this is not the first king to be discovered under parking lot pavement in the UK. The ruins of King Richard III were found five years ago under a lot in Leicester!  

The Intact Tomb of Jesus Christ
Located in Jerusalem, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre surrounds the Holy Edicule — the shrine that surrounds the cave tomb of Jesus Christ. It is the only church in the world where six denominations of Christianity worship at the same time, which has lead to constant disagreement on how to preserve and renovate the space. Last year however, the church was closed to the public because some areas had fallen into such disrepair that they had become unsafe. Work began in 2016 on restoring the spaces including the tomb of Jesus. Using GPR, archaeologists discovered that the cave tomb, which was believed to have collapsed more than 1000 years ago, is actually fully intact and about six feet in height! Experts will be entering the cave and documenting it meticulously to share in a National Geographic documentary in 2017. 

Terracotta Warriors Mega-Tomb
This huge tomb, located just outside Xian in China, is visited by thousands of people every year who want to catch a glimpse of the famed Terracotta Warriors. According to Nat Geo, scientists using GPR have discovered that the emperor's massive tomb complex is actually larger than they thought — almost 98 square kilometres larger — and may change the way history looks at the emperor and the time period he ruled in. 

Queen Nefertiti's Tomb (or, maybe nothing at all...)
One of the most publicized "potential" discoveries made thanks to GPR in 2016 were the openings, or voids, that were found behind the West and North walls of Tutankhamen's burial chamber in Egypt. This has led to speculation that hidden behind those walls is the lost burial chamber of the famed Queen Nefertiti (considered to be the most beautiful women of the ancient world). 
I stress the word "potential" in this case, because there has been a lot of argument about whether these voids exist at all, let alone if they are the resting place of Nefertiti. Expect to see more research and many more news stories concerning this "potential" find in 2017. 

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Pantheon Facts: What's The Difference Between The Paris Pantheon and The Roman Pantheon?

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


Yes, there are two famous Pantheons that you can visit in Europe — one in Paris and one in Rome — but they were both constructed for very different reasons, and were built hundreds of years apart. 

The Roman Pantheon

One of the city’s most well preserved ancient buildings, the Pantheon in Rome was originally built as a temple to the Olympian gods (Pantheon literally means ‘all gods’) as a place where people who had different beliefs could gather and worship together. It was completed under the patronage of the Emperor Hadrian between 125 and 128 CE and was constructed on the spot of a previous temple, built by Agrippa in 27 BCE, that had burnt down a few years earlier.

After passing through a series of massive marble columns, visitors to the temple enter an enormous circular room (called a rotunda) with walls that are 20 feet (!) thick and a floor covered in huge slabs of colorful marble. The marble extends to the exterior of the room where it is joined by decorative columns and pilasters. 

The original 7 niches, once containing statues of the gods, are still there but now either sit empty or hold Christian relics. In 609 CE, Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon as the Christian Church of St Mary and the Martyrs. Though this wiped away the building’s original purpose of being inclusive to ‘all gods’, it ensured it’s survival through the Middle Ages when Pagan temples were being destroyed. 

The interior dome of the Pantheon is a staggering 143 feet in diameter and has patterns cut into it that may have once contained gilded bronze rosettes or stars to mimic the night sky. The central opening, called and oculus, is 29 feet wide and lets the sun and rain fall through it equally. Small holes in the marble floor beneath the opening, placed there by the original engineer, drain any water that falls. 

What most visitors don’t know is that there were once gilded bronze roof tiles inset into the remarkable ceiling. Unfortunately, they were looted and removed by an emperor from the Eastern/Byzantine Empire around 500 AD and in the 17th century Pope Urban VIII had them melted down. He then gave some of the bronze to Bernini who created the baldaccino (canopy), that can be currently seen over the main alter in St Peter’s cathedral, and used the rest to have 80 cannons for Castel Sant’Angelo made. 

The facade of the Paris Pantheon is similar to the Roman one, but it is topped by a huge dome

The Paris Pantheon

Also an impressive building, the Paris Pantheon has a very different history than the one in Rome. Located on the south side of the river near the Luxembourg Gardens, the huge, extravagant 18th-century neoclassical structure that exists now was originally built as a church by Louis XV dedicated to St. Genevieve (her body was buried in a basilica that existed on the site in 512 AD) to give thanks for his recovery from a dire illness.

Though it was built to serve as a church, the construction was completed the year that the French Revolution broke out (1789), and two years later it was converted into a mausoleum. 

It is the resting place of some very famous names — scientists Marie (the first woman to be interred in the Pantheon) and Pierre Curie, Voltaire, Jean-Jaques Rousseau, and Victor Hugo just to name a few. 

The building's facade is clearly modelled after the Roman Pantheon, but the interior looks like a grand Gothic cathedral. Arched ceilings, stunning frescos, and imposing architecture make this spot well-worth the visit. It also hosts, arguably, one of the best views in the city from the exterior of the dome (you can visit it on a tour). 

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Before European Bus Tours: The History of The 16th Century Grand Tour of Europe

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


What is the Grand Tour?

Long before Contiki Tour busses started carting tourists around Europe at breakneck speed — beginning in the late sixteenth century to be exact — young aristocrats from England, Germany, Scandinavia, and America started travelling to Paris, Venice, Florence and Rome as a way to round out their classical educations. This practice came to be known at the Grand Tour of Europe. 

Originally, the goal was to have these individuals be accompanied by a teacher who would walk them through the treasures of antiquity and expose them to the wonders of the classical world. (Most, however, set out hoping to have a grand adventure and return home with a bunch of souvenirs — not much different than many travellers today.) 

There were few museums at the time, and so paintings, sculptures, and other historic treasures were viewed in private collections, in artist's studios, or at the archaeological site where they were being excavated. The route for the Grand Tour would usually begin in London and then the travellers would head to Paris. While some might find themselves in locations like the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Greece, or Turkey, most spent the majority of their time in Italy. Rome, with its huge and well preserved historic sites, was considered to be the ultimate destination. 

The result of the Grand Tour was that a large group of young aristocrats suddenly became more worldly, bringing home ideas about architecture that were applied to country manors, and beautiful antiquities that decorated their homes (and are now in museums). These Grand Tourists also helped to support the working artists in the destination cities, as many bought paintings and sculptures from them to bring home as souvenirs of their grand adventures. 

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