Buildings and Architecture in Europe
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Mir Castle is a real 16th-century castle with towers, spires, courtyard and everything. It's one of the few UNESCO sites in Belarus and a must-do day trip from Minsk. The castle has recently been through a total makeover, so it once again is complete. The interior has been cleverly rebuilt so the new modern exhibition rooms morph together with the original structure. Existing castle rooms are set up as dining room, meeting hall, etc. like in the old days, with antique furnitures and paintings. Information is only in Belarusian, but you can make sense of most of the stuff without.
Another great sight in Mir is Mir village itself across the road. Colourful wooden cottages make up most of the village and there are some pretty churches too. It might be your only change to have a peek at rural Belarus.
Mostar town is famous for its old bridge, Stari Mostar, that was built in the 16th century. It is connecting the old cobblestoned quarters on both side of Neretva River and was a local tourist magnet even before the war. In 1993, during the Yugoslavian war, it got a direct hit from some artillery fire and was completely destroyed. Pictures of the demolished bridge became iconic for the Yugoslavian war and suddenly Mostar was on the world map. Luckily, Stari Mostar was quickly rebuilt after the war and today spectators are again lining up when young daredevils dive from the top into the cold river 24 m below.
UNESCO rarely gets it wrong. Amazing buildings, beautiful nature and cultural heritage fill the list of sites around the world. Nestled deep in the pristine Rila Mountains of South-western Bulgaria is the Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila (aka Rila Monastery). There is little question to those that visit the nearly 1,000 year old site (rebuilt a few times), that the monastery is most worthy of its UNESCO honour. The beautiful building set with a dramatic mountain backdrop are the things that postcards were designed for. Some may dismiss it as touristic. But an overnight stay is well rewarded as the day-tripper leave the place virtually deserted once they head back the the capital. Serene, beautiful, cultural. It's what historical sites were meant to be.
Rock Church Temppeliaukio
From the outside Temppeliaukio Church doesn't look like much. Just a green copper dome ontop of a rocky outcrop in the middle of a residental area. But the church is hewn into solid rock. Inside it's a prime example of Nordic modesty. Natural light flows through narrow glass panels which hold the cobber string dome, making it surprisingly bright even during wintertime. The raw granite walls stand as bare as they were the day the church got hacked into the rock. Concrete balcony and minimalistic Finnish interiour in cool colours finish off this crazy architectural masterpiece from 1969. Temppeliaukio Church rank as Helsinki's number one attraction which it fully deserves, for it's truely an astonishing sight.
Art Nouveau District
Elisebetes iela, Strelnieku iela and Albert iela
Since Riga didn't get as destroyed during WWII as Germany, it has today some of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture. These buildings got built in the late 19th century and early 20th century with heavy ornamentation. The elaborated facades can contain anything from flowers and pillars to semi naked women and grotesque faces stirring down at you from high above. While you probably need to be some kind expert to appreciate all the nuances, you can easily distinct the Art Nouveau from the concrete and even older wooden houses which it shares the neighbourhood with.
The charm of Riga's Old Town lies in the fact that it's still very much alive, and not some tarted up open air museum with pretty churches. The rugged streets are worn and the old houses holds more great things than souvenirs shops. There are lots of bars and clubs, with a thriving nightlife as a consequence. But there are also forgotten corners with dilapidated buildings and walls which just adds to the great atmosphere of Old Riga. UNESCO have been kind enough to enlist the historical part of Riga consisting of Old Town along with the 'newer' suburbs of Art Nouveau houses and wooden buildings in neoclassical style.
Stalin's Birthday Cake
Academy of Science, Riga
This 108 m tall monster of classic Soviet architecture is locally known as 'Stalin's birthday cake'. Officially is the Academy of Science, Zinātņu Akadēmija, but today it's a less science with more space taken up by anyone from astrologists to private enterprises. It was built between 1953-56 and is similar to other Stalin-era skyscrapers like the Moscow State University, Palace of Culture in Warsaw and Hotel Ukrania in Kiev. It was completed without the Stalin portrait that was supposed to be a part the facade, for Stalin died during the construction in 1953 and was quickly disowned afterwards - but the Latvians were probably alright with that.
Solidarity Square, Bar
The area around the tranquil town of Bar is known for old olive trees (more than 2000 years old), Stari Bar (the old town that lies in ruins after some attack by the Turks in 1878), an ancient aqueduct, and has apparently some nice beaches too. But the sight that will make the deepest impression on you, will be the shopping mall in the center of the new town. It is designed in an eighties-futuristic style and looks like a fleet of space ships ready to take off. It is a bit drape, but we give points for uniqueness.
On a mountain peak outside Sintra stands the colourful Pena National Palace. It served as summer palace for the Portuguese royal family through the last centuries. The buildings you see today are mostly from the 19th-century, but the first construction on the site dates back to the Middle Ages. Pena Palace is part of the UNESCO listed Cultural Landscape of Sintra and stands out with its fairy tale style of oriental ornamentation, bright colours, wide gates and tall towers and spires. The surrounding wooded ground is grand with winding trails leading to magnificent view points. However, since the palace is perched on top of a mountain ridge facing the Atlantic Ocean, the panoramic views either stretch all the way to Lisbon - or equally likely, are obscured by dense fog from the clouds that are rolling over the ridge.
Peri monastery, Sapanta
The new wooden church at Peri monastery in the outskirts of Sapanta village (yes, the one with the Merry Cemetery) is simply towering. Official signs modestly claim that the 75m tall wooden church is the tallest wooden building in Europe, but we can't think of any other wooden building worldwide that beats it. Some might argue that the church's stone base disqualify it, making another Romanian wooden church in Surdesti the tallest (72m). As you probably have figured out, wooden churches are not something new to this region. Where ever you go in northern Romania, you will see beautiful, old wooden churches - though not all are mega tall.