18 January 2018

Krakow Salt Works Museum, under- and over-ground

Since first writing about art stolen by the Nazis during WW2 and hid­den in various underground salt mines in Germany and Aust­ria, I have read everything I could on The Monument Men. When the Nazis found the Altaussee Salt Mines in Alp­ine Bavaria, for examp­le, they were delighted to ship their 6500 stolen art treas­ures into this salt-heavy, pastoral hideout. Today, ever since the film Monument Men appeared in our cinemas, tourists have flocked to the Altaussee Mines.

When I heard of the Krakow Salt Mines Museum of Art on tv, I assumed it was another amazing memorial to art stolen by the Nazis during WW2. Wrong! Nonetheless it is fascinating.

The Krakow Salt Works Museum is a large exhibition space in the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Southern Pol­and, established after WW2. The mine, which continuously pro­duced table salt from the Middle Ages on, now consists of Two Worlds, A] an underground with a large exhibit in the salt mine 135m below and B] an above­ground in the Salt Works Castle.

A] The Underground World is located in 17 historic mine work­ings, designed out in the 19th and early C20th. The museum has a rich collection of mining technology, inc­l­uding a collection of treadmills for horses, an early form of lifting gear which is displayed in its original environment.

The tourist route takes up only 2% of the mine’s total length. The large Under­ground Salt Cathedral of Poland, with walls carved to replic­ate chapels from the earlier centuries, has chandeliers made from rock salt which have a glassy appear­ance, and rel­ig­ious sculpture. Plus there are historic and modern stat­ues eg Copernicus, Goethe, Chopin.

Wide salt stairs, from which one can admire St Kinga's Chapel (started in 1896) in its full splendour, lead inside. Opposite the entran­ce to the chapel is the main altar with a statue of St Kinga, car­v­ed by Józef Markowski. The chapel walls are adorned with salt reliefs featuring various scenes from the New Testament and decorated by the Wieliczka miner sculptors. It is here that the only exist­ing underground salt-carved monument of Polish Pope John Paul II.

 Cathedral

Chapel

There is reception room that is used for priv­ate functions, including weddings. The chamber has walls carved by miners to resemble wood, to resemble medieval wooden churches built all over Eastern Europe. A wooden staircase provides access to the mine's 64m level and a lift returns visitors to the surface.

Many shafts were dug throughout the time the mine was op­er­ating. See the preserved mining equip­ment, small under-ground brine lakes, and salt-hewn spaces. The underground ex­hibition features a unique collection of horse powered extracting tread­mills of three different types: Polish, Saxon and Hung­arian, and machines to haul the salt to the top of the surface.

There is wide range of exhibits: specimens of beautiful salt cryst­als, ancient utensils for salt production, documents and maps, paintings and sculptures from the non-existent und­er­ground chapels, ceremonial mining weapons, a Miner’s Union Horn, a collection of mining lamps and tools illustrating the various historical stages of salt production locally.

 Żupny Castle

B] The Aboveground World is located in Żupny Castle, built on the hillside above Wieliczka, started under the C14th reign of Casimir III the Great and compl­eted in the C16th reign of Sigismund I the Old. It was built in a square form­ation, in­cluding liv­ing quarters outside the castle walls. Until 1945, this defensive castle was the administ­ra­tive and business headquarters of the salt mine

The Saltworks Castle has a great collection of salt cellars – the oldest, silver Baroque salt cellar was made in the C17th in Augsburg. The most interesting include the por­c­elain salt-cellars with figurines of African girls carrying baskets, made by the Meissen manufacturers. My favourite collection exhibits the small works of salt art: silver saltshakers and dishes, armoured strong boxes, bronze ornam­ents and the C16th silver-mounted horn of the Diggers Brotherhood, the treasure showing the mine's wealth. The Gothic Hall displays portraits of mine managers. 

 Biblical sculptures


silver salt cellars and shakers
The Krakow Salt Works Museum Wieliczka duration of sightseeing tour about 3 hours in total with the route length of about 4km. Tourists can only visit the mine with a guide.

C] World War Two
The complex of Kraków-Płaszów concentration camps was located nearby and slave labour was readily available. So the mine shafts were used by the Germans to create war industries here, doubly suitable because the underground spaces were safe from Allied bombing raids. How ironic that thousands of Jews were trucked from the slave labour camps in Plaszow and Mielec to the Wiel­iczka mine; ever since the laws of Polish king Sigimund August (mid C16th), Jewish settlement in Wieliczka was banned until 1867.

As soon as the Soviets were about to liberate the area, the German war industry was disassembled and transp­orted to Lieb­enau slave lab­our camp in the Sudetes mountains. The Jew­ish lab­ourers were trucked to camps in the Czech Republic and Austria.

In 1978, was placed on UNESCO World Heritage Site because The Wieliczka salt mine reflects all the historic stages of devel­opment in mining techniques from the 13th to the C20th, while the preserved devices and tools document the old systems of working the deposits, drainage, lighting and ventilation of the mine in a unique manner by world standards. In 2010 a sis­ter mine 28ks apart, hist­oric Bochnia Salt Mine, was added to the list of UNESCO World Her­it­age sites. In 2013 Żupny Castle was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.



16 January 2018

The true story of Pocahontas - in Virginia and in England

English King James I granted a charter to the Virginia Co. to form a North America settlement in 1606. The Virginia Co. was to search for local riches and a sea trade route to the Pac­ific Ocean. 100 colonists left England on three ships and landed on a narrow peninsula in the James River. Cap­tain John Smith chose the inland location to hide them from Spanish ships and to pro­vide protection from any Native American enemies.

John Smith and the English colonists stayed near the Powhatan on nearby Jamestown Island, but later began to explore out-lying areas.

In the meantime Smith terrorised Native people when he put guns to heads of village chiefs, demanding food and supplies. In fact the early 1600s were a horrible time for all local tribes. Young children were targets of rape, so the Native women offered themselves to men, to keep their children safe. The Powhatan people were in an unwinnable situation since the English government offered them no protection.

The true story of  Matoaka (later Pocahontas c1596-1616) has been gathered from years of extensive research of the written records and oral histories from her descendants and tribal peoples of Virginia. Read Vincent Schilling  who tells a tale of tragedy and heart­break about a young Native girl Matoaka who was kidnapped, raped and perhaps murdered by those who were supposed to keep her safe.

Matoaka’s mother was Pocahontas (who died giving birth) and her father was Wahunsenaca, the tribal chief. Little Matoaka was raised by the Mat­tap­oni women, along with her many sib­lings.

Matoaka was c10 when John Smith and English col­on­ists arrived. Since Pocahontas was liv­ing with her father Chief Powhatan Wahunsenaca, she seemed to be protected. In wint­er 1607, the colonists and Smith met with Powhatan warriors and Smith was captured by the chief’s younger broth­er. Later Wahunsenaca grew to like Smith, offering him the position of werowance/colonists’ leader, plus land with great access to game and seafood.

"English" Pocahontas' portrait, 1616
She was in rich red and gold, with white lace cuffs and high collar, pearl earring, and an ostrich feather fan.

Years later, Smith alleged that Pocahontas saved his life in the four-day process of becoming a werowance. But children were not allowed to attend any sort of religious rituals, so she could not have thrown herself in front of John Smith to beg for his life. [In 1624 Smith pub­lish­ed his book General Historie of Virginia where he claimed Pocahontas had twice saved his life, but Vincent Schilling said it wasn’t true].

In 1608-09, Smith’s role as the colonists’ wero­w­ance had failed. The colonists made inadeq­uate attempts to plant crops to harvest, and Smith violently demanded supplies from surrounding vil­lages. Pocahontas’ father was disgusted.

When Matoaka turned 14, she choose a new name after her moth­er, Pocahontas. During a ceremony she danced a courtship dance with Kocoum, younger brother of Potowomac Chief Japazaw. She married the young warrior and soon became preg­nant. It was at this time rumours surfaced that colonists planned to kidnap Pocahontas.

An English colonist Captain Samuel Argall was particularly keen to find her, thinking that a captured daughter of the chief would prevent Native attacks. Argall came to the village and demanded Chief Japazaw, Pocahontas’ brother-in-law, to give up Pocahontas or suffer violence against his village. So he relented in the ridiculous hope that she would only be gone temporar­ily. Before Argall left the village, he gave Chief Japazaw a copper pot as a “trade” for her.

Pocahontas had to give her baby, Kocoum, to the women of the village. She was trapped onboard an Eng­lish ship and her husband was killed by the colonists. The tribal chiefs of the Powhatan never retaliated for the kidnapping of Pocahontas, fearing they would suffer!

Pocah­on­tas’ anxiety was so severe that her English captors allowed sister Mattachanna and brother-in-law Utta­mattamakin to help. In The True Story of Pocahontas, The Other Side of History, Linwood Custalow wrote that when Mattachanna and Utta­mattamakin arrived at Jamestown, Pocahontas confided she had been brutally raped.

By the time John Rolfe arrived in Virginia in May 1610, 600 colon­ists had been reduced to 70 by famine, disease and clashes. Mat­taponi history is clear that Pocahontas and Rolfe had a son out of wedlock, Thomas. Event­ually Pocahontas was converted to Christianity and took the name Rebecca.

During her captivity, the English colony of Jamestown was fail­ing. John Rolfe was under a 1616 deadline to become profitable or lose financial support from home. Rolfe sought to learn tobacco-curing techniques from the Powhatan, but curing tobacco was a sacred Native practice. Realising the value of aligning himself with the tribe, he eventually married Pocahontas.

Only then did the Powhatan spiritual leaders and family share the curing practice with Rolfe. And soon Rolfe’s tobacco was a sensation; he saved the colony of Jamestown!

The Powhatan tribal lands were now highly sought after for the tobacco trade and the tribe suffered badly of greedy tobacco farmers. Rumours of the colonists’ desire to take Pocahontas made its way to the Powhatan, who feared for her well-being. They thought of rescuing her, but once again Wahunsenaca did nothing because he feared his daughter might “be harmed”.

Rebecca Pocahontas Rolfe travelled to England in 1616 with John Rolfe, son Thomas Rolfe, John Argall and some Native tribal members. The bringing of Pocahontas to Eng­land was to show friendship with Native nations; it was a key to continued financial support for the struggling colonists.

According to Mattachanna’s record, Pocahontas realised that she was being used and desperately desired to return home. According to Jane Dismore, Pocahontas carried herself with great dignity. The Bishop wrote he ‘accustomed her selfe to civilitie’ and ‘still car­r­ied her selfe as the Daughter of a King, and was accordingly respected [by] persons of Honor, in their hopefull zeale by her to advance Christianitie’. Clearly she was very popular in King James’ court, and did not want to go home.

Plans were made to return to Virginia in 1617 when Pocahontas was in good health. Yet at only 20 she died (of TB?) in March 1617 and was buried in St George’s Church Gravesend.




13 January 2018

Acre/Akko - an architectural historian's dream city .............. Guest Blog

Some history
Acre/Akko was conquered by Pharaoh Ramses II (1279-1213 BC), then by the Greeks, the Persians and the Syrian Sel­eucids. Herod the Great and Roman Emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD) used Akko and Caesarea for their campaign. The town pros­pered in Byzantine times and Om­mayad times, when it was the port for their capital in Damascus.

The Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099 and Akko in 1104. They renamed it St Jean d'Acre and made it the head quarters of the Knights of St John. The Italian port cities est­ablished trading posts in Acre, and made it a flourishing port. After Jerusalem fell in 1187, Acre became the large capital of the Crusader kingdom. In 1219 St Fran­cis of Assisi visited the town and estab­lish­ed a nun­nery. In 1228 Emperor Freder­ick II landed here during his Crus­ade, as did Louis IX of France in 1250. Soon afterwards there was a bitter civ­il war, between the two Christian orders, The Knights Hospital­l­ers of St John and The Templars. In 1290, the Crusaders slaught­ered large num­bers of Muslims. When the Mameluke Sultan arrived in 1291, the Crusader kingdom ended.

Fortified walls around the Old City 

Crusader knights' hall - the refectorium

Akko was not rebuilt until the Druze emirs took over in 1750. It was enlar­g­ed by the Bosnian Pasha  Ahmed el-Jazzar who ruled 1775-1805. In 1799 he withstood a siege of the town by Nap­oleon, with Brit­ish help. From 1833-40 Akko was held by Ib­ra­him Pasha who defeated the Turks with Egyptian forces but was compelled by the European powers to withdraw. In the lat­er C19th, Akko lost its importance as a port to Beirut and then Haifa. Brit­ish forces captured the town from the Turks in 1918 and used the citadel as a prison. Finally the town was saved by Israeli troops in May 1948. 

Visit the City
With its carav­an­serais, fortific­at­ions and Crusader buildings packed in the narrow alleyways, history-lovers will be very happy. Akko's incredible surviving walls around the Old City are the town's most distinctive fortifications. They were built in their present form by Ahmed el-Jazzar in the C18th. Climb up onto the ramparts and walk along the walls. The northeast corner is domin­ated by the massive tower that stands on the foundations of Richard the Lionheart’s tower. Further south is the Treasures in the Wall Museum, which has a coll­ect­ion of artefacts from C19th Jewish set­tlers in the area. Along the sea-side wall, inspect the Otto­man Tower of the Vine, built to defend against sea attacks.

Akko harbour was an important port from the class­ic­al age until the medieval period. During the Crusader era, it could be occup­ied by up to 80 ships. That port has now silted up, and all that is left is a small tranquil fishing harbour. From here the tour­ist boats sail out to give excellent views of Akko Old City. 

Fishing and tourist boats in the Marina

See the late C12th Hospitallers and Templars Fortress where vis­itors can wander through the strong stone rooms with vaulted ceilings. See the spectacular dining hall, dormitories and an­cient latrines. In the large courtyard, note the stab­l­es, the well and the etched crusaders’ tombs.

In the underground Crusader Tunnel, the sea above is audible. The 350m passage or­ig­inally con­n­ected the harbour with a Templar pal­ace, prov­id­ing a secret esc­ape route to the sea during attacks. 

Khan al-Umdan
Built in 1784-5 by el-Jazzar Pasha

Khan al-Umdan/of the Columns was named because of the granite and porphyry columns which Ahmed el-Jazzar brought from Caesarea. Built on the site of the Crus­ader's Dominican monast­ery, the khan provided travelling merch­ants with housing while trading in the city. Set around a large rectangular court­yard, the ground floor rooms were used for stor­age and stables, with the sleeping quarters upstairs. Over the north entrance is the clock tower commemor­at­ing a 1906 Sultan.

On the Crusader cathedral site, Ahmed el-Jazzar Mos­que was built in 1781. The mosque has its tall slender minaret, a fine example of Turkish rococo archit­ec­ture with a mam­moth interior decorated in ornate blue, brown and white. A small plain domed building to the right of the prayer hall en­t­rance which had the mausoleum of Ahmed el-Jazzar (d1804) and of his successor Sulieman Pasha. The arcaded courtyard has a small rococo-style kiosk and accommodat­ion spaces for pil­g­rims and Isl­amic schol­ars. On the east side of the gall­ery, a cistern dating from the Crus­ad­er era ran a water supply for the populat­ion, whenever the town was under siege. 

Akko's finest church, St John's Church, was built in 1737 and occupies the site of a C12th Crusader chur­ch ded­icated to St Andrew. Note the juxtaposition of its white walls and red bell tower surrounded by the crumbling stone walls.

An C18th hammam/Turkish Bath now houses the Hammam al-Pasha Mus­eum with exhibits on the history and culture of Turkish baths. This preserved hammam has colourful til­es walls encl­os­ing the space where important men bathed and women held parties in a separate enclosure.

Underneath Ahmed el-Jazzar's citadel is a series of gothic vault­ed halls, which were once head-quarters for the Crus­ader armies. See their Knights Hall and the Dining Hall, a series of nar­row subterranean tun­nels and a crypt. The grand bulk of Ahmed el-Jazzar's C18th cit­adel sits just inside the Old City walls.

Ahmed el-Jazzar Mos­que 

Tunisian Synagogue
covered with mosaics, inside and out

Akko’s Old Town Souk/market place is in the centre of the Old City and is a vibrant bazaar full of fruit, spic­es, tex­t­iles and souvenirs. Eat the Arab pastries in the bakeries! 

During the British Mandate, the Citadel was used as a pris­on; today it houses the Museum of Underground Prisoners. This museum commemorates the Jewish fighters who were imprisoned or executed here by the British authorities.

Lohamei Hageta'ot Kibbutz was founded in 1949 by Polish and Lith­uanian Jews. Now is home to a moving mus­eum dedicated to the Jew­ish resistance against the Nazis and the Holocaust. On the ground floor are disp­l­ays illustrating the history of Jewish Vilnius un­t­il 1940. There is material on the early days of Jewish nat­ional­ism at the end of the C19th, the everyday life of Polish Jews and an exhibit of art works by concent­rat­ion camp prisoners.

Just north of Akko, the lovely gardens of Bahje Baha'i Centre contain the shrine of Bahu Ullah, founder of Baha'i faith. He was exiled to Akko in 1868 and spent the later life in the red-roofed house in the gardens. Just like the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa. 

The World Heritage Committee inscribed The Old City of Acre on the World Heritage List in 2001. You will love this city, NaftaliTours