What's A UNESCO World Heritage Site?

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

As of 2018, there are 1092 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which includes 845 cultural and 209 natural sites.

But, what is a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and is a branch of the United Nations (UN) that recognizes, preserves and protects sites that are an important part of the cultural heritage of the world.

These sites — amongst other things — "represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; or exhibit important developments in architecture, technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design; or bear a unique  testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared; or are areas of exceptional natural beauty; or are outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history." (from the UNESCO World Heritage website)

As someone who has been lucky enough to visit quite a few of these sites, I can attest to the incredible importance of an organization like this to not only protect these important relics of human history, but to allow them to be safe and accessible to visitors from all over the world.

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Reads For The Road: The Lost City of Z by David Grann

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

Everyone loves a swashbuckling, edge-of-your-seat adventure tale, but a true one? Even better! 

One of the greatest exploration mysteries of our time, finding The Lost City of Z has claimed the lives and minds of scientists and adventurers from all over the world. The ancient city — with complex networks of roads, bridges, temples, and treasures — is believed to be hidden deep within the dark, unmapped depths of the Amazon. 

In 1925, the legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett decided to go in search of Z.

He never returned.

I had lost my guide. I was out of food and water. Putting the map back in my pocket, I pressed forward, trying to find my way out, as the branches snapped in my face. Then I saw something moving in the trees. “Who’s there?” I called. There was no reply. A figure fluttered among the branches, and then another. They were coming closer, and for the first time I asked myself, What the hell am I doing here?
— "The Lost City of Z", page 5

In this fascinating biography/detective story/travel tale, journalist David Grann takes readers on the same journey that Fawcett took, following his footsteps into the heart of the Amazon and the history of obsession, discovery, and mystery.

And trust me, the book is better than the recently released film of the same name. 

What Is An Inukshuk?

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

An Inukshuk Built by a Hiker in the Rocky Mountains

Meaning “in the likeness of a human” in the Inuit language, these mysterious stone figures are found throughout the circumpolar world (and often on hiking trails in the Canadian Rocky Mountains) and are the oldest, and most important, objects placed by humans upon the vast Arctic landscape. 

Made from un-worked stones found in nature, these monuments are used for communication, survival, and cultural purposes.

The arrangement of the stones is what indicates their purpose. For example, the directions that the arms or legs are pointed could indicate the direction that would allow for safe passage through difficult terrain. An inukshuk with no arms or legs may indicate a food cache, or that good hunting and fish can be found nearby. 

These monuments may also mark a place of respect, or a memorial for a venerated ancestor who knew how to survive on the land in a traditional way. 

Whether you come across a single inukshuk, a sequence of them, or a bunch arranged in a group, you can be sure that you have stumbled upon a very special place and a symbol of an ancient culture. 

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what's an inukshuk

Exploring The Interior Of A WWII Submarine at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

On December 7, 1941 more than 350 Japanese ships attacked Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, the home of the US Pacific Fleet. 

More than 2,000 soldiers were killed during the two hour attack, 1,177 of which died in the battle ship USS Arizona which took a direct hit and sank in less than nine minutes.

Twenty other US ships were sunk or damaged and over 300 airplanes were destroyed, an act that caused the US to officially join the Allies in the fight against Hitler. 

Moored in an inactive part of the harbor sits the USS Bowfin (above), a submarine that sank 44 ships before the end of the war, that has been preserved and is open to the public. 

The Bowfin is open daily from 7 am to 5 pm. A self-guided tour of the submarine and the museum costs $15 for adults, and is free for any military personal in uniform. Visit the official website for more information.

You begin the tour on the sub’s deck before descending a narrow staircase into the belly of the ship.

I would not consider myself to be claustrophobic, but even with all of the hatches open to allow fresh air into the long, narrow boat I still felt uncomfortable at the thought of having to spend any serious amount of time in it.

The controls looked archaic and the living space miniature.

The men who signed up to be closed into the cold body of the sub and lowered thousands of feet into the ocean, with limited radar equipment, were a lot braver than I had ever appreciated.

I got nervous on a twenty minute walk through the Bowfin while it was above the water — those men must have had nerves of steel!

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Exploring a WWII Submarine in Hawaii

The Paintings in Palazzo Vecchio: Is It Right To Destroy History In The Spirit of Discovery?

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

National Geographic has aired a documentary, media outlets from around the world have written stories and Art Historians have taken sides on the controversial search for the elusive, lost Leonardo Da Vinci masterpiece

If you have no idea what I am talking about (or are wondering when/how Leonardo lost his painting) here is some background to get you up to speed. 

At the start of the 16th century, the leaders of Florence commissioned Leo to paint a massive fresco (a fresco is basically a painting done directly on a wall) in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio (city hall). They asked that it represent the Florentine Republic’s victory over the Milanese in a battle on the plains of Anghiari that took place on June 29, 1440.

Leonardo decided to use this commission to experiment with some new techniques, but about a year after he started, he abandoned the work, because his experiments had failed and were causing the pigments in the painting to run. 

When the Palazzo Vecchio was going through a renovation 50 years later, Giorgio Vasari — an artist and art historian — was commissioned to paint a new fresco covering the entire wall of the room where the unfinished Da Vinci lived.

This is where the history gets fuzzy.

Some believe that Vasari could never have destroyed a work by Da Vinci and so built a new wall in front of the fresco with an air gap in order to protect it, while others are convinced that he just painted right over top. 

Fast forward to the present…

San Diego University Art History Professor Maurizio Seracini (featured in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code), has made it his life’s work to find the 'missing' Leonardo. Suspecting the rumors that it could still exist behind the Vasari, he travelled to Florence and, after examining the painting himself, discovered the phrase “Cerca Trova” (Seek and You Shall Find) written on a flag in the fresco.

Taking it to be a clue from Vasari himself — very Indiana Jones — he asked for and received permission to bring in high frequency, surface penetrating radar that revealed a hollow space behind the wall where the inscription is. Seeing this as proof that the Da Vinci still exists, he put into motion a plan to drill 14 small holes into the Vasari in order to see if the Leonardo was behind it. That is when the problems started. 

When word got out that someone was going to drill into a famous work of art, there was both public and political outcry. After A LOT of debate, Seracini’s team received permission to drill 6-7 holes, but ONLY in preexisting cracks or in areas that had been recently restored. Because most of these approved zones were not in the target area, what began as a well researched plan, giving the scientists the best chance to achieve success, came down to sheer luck. 

Some believe that Vasari could never have destroyed a work by Da Vinci and so built a new wall in front of the fresco with an air gap in order to protect it, while others are convinced that he just painted right over top

Each hole took painstaking hours to drill and investigate, and before the team could finish their research, they were attacked in the Italian media and work halted as news reports claimed that they were vandals who were drilling up to 78 holes into the existing Vasari and were using devices that emitted neutrons (both lies).  

But, like a scene in a Dan Brown novel, all was not lost.

In an exciting twist, traces of pigments known to be used exclusively by Leonardo were discovered in one of the holes that had been drilled before the media attack. A black pigment found can even be traced back to the Mona Lisa

To Seracini, this has become definite proof that, though the condition of it is unknown, the lost work is there behind the Vasari and needs to be revealed. At this point, he is trying to come up with a way to see more of the pigments behind the Vasari and eventually reveal (what he is convinced is) the Leonardo, while those who are convinced there is nothing there are doing everything that they can think of in order to stop him. 

The controversy brings up very good questions

  • In the art world, who has the right to decide which work is more important — a Da Vinci or a Vasari?

  • Is it right to destroy in order to discover? Disturb in order to satisfy our human need to learn?

  • Is there a compromise to be found?

  • Will the world ever really know what’s behind the wall?

For arguments sake, you could say that we would know nothing about ancient Egypt if we never dug into the pyramid,s and even less about ancient pagan religions if we didn’t disturb the floors and foundations of churches to find the pagan alters that they were built on.

What do you think? 

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