Having devoted yesterday’s post to the beauty of the natural world, I thought I’d share postcards of beautiful features humans have added to the landscape. This selection is not at all geographically representative of the world’s architectural marvels, just some I have nice postcards of.
While architecture can be an absolute blight when designed without care, it can also be a long-lived testament to technical genius, overwhelming collective effort and, ultimately, human creativity. As an art of large proportions and public visibility, architecture throughout history reaffirms what creators we humans are. Our creations last for centuries. When they are destroyed by natural disaster or our own destructiveness in war, the destruction does not remain. We always rebuild.
South Rose Window of Notre Dame de Paris
One of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Europe, Notre Dame was built over the course of a century and a half, from 1163 to 1345. It was one of the first buildings in the world with flying buttresses, and it is graced with three rose windows. The windows are very precious because all the other rose windows in France have been ravaged by war and weather. Some have been taken out completely, while art historians have restored others. Notre Dame’s Rose Windows, however, each still contain original glass.
For more postcards of Notre Dame (including its famous gargoyles) and others of Paris, check out my Bastille Day post
St. Basil’s Cathedral
This shimmering centerpiece of Moscow was built in Red Square by decree of Ivan the Terrible in 1555 to commemorate his successful siege of Kazan. Despite various clues, the architect is unknown, and his creation was completely unprecedented. No buildings predating it have any of this cathedral’s fantastical style, as intricate as the Fabergé eggs that would not establish a Russian aesthetic until over 300 years later.
I wonder who’s in that stretch limo…
These stamps are so typically Russian! …A space satellite, a ballerina, and a golden statue of a muscular man.
Mama Snail has been writing a novel set in the Russian Revolution. For one of her research trips, she traveled to Russia’s major cities with a professor and fellow alums of her alma mater. January 2008:
“Made it to Moscow–I’m on the bus now! Tomorrow we hit Red Square. Today museums + the Kremlin–a very Reed trip…smart people with bad haircuts + ugly shoes…can spot ’em a mile off!!”
Because Mama Snail is a lifelong Russophile, we have dozens of wonderful Russian postcards. I’ll take a week in October to share them all (I think then will be appropriate). Can’t wait!
The Royal Alcazar
As I wrote when I included this postcard in my post of Spanish postcards, the Royal Alcazar originated as a Moorish fort in the 12th century. With the Reconquista of 1364 it evolved into a stunning palace under the Christian kings, with many peaceful courtyards and balconied walkways. The top floor continues to serve as the Spanish royal family’s Seville residence. This postcard features the gilded cedar cupola of the Ambassadors’ Hall, constructed in 1427.
Jinshanling is the best preserved stretch of The Great Wall. The six mile long section was built around 1570 in the Ming Dynasty. The astoundingly steep and snaking five passes are dotted with 67 watchtowers!
Doesn’t this look like a painting?! An old pen pal sent it to me.
July 18 2005
“The Great Wall was so unreal in its great leng[t]h. It took so long to actually get up to the wall. There were so many stairs! Getting down was so much more worthwhile–there’s a big slide that winds its way down a mountain.”
Settled by the Ancient Mayans in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico between 750 and 900 CE, Chichen-Itza became a regional capital in the 10th century. This postcard features the site’s most famous landmark, El Castillo. As I wrote in my astronomy-oriented post, however, this Spanish name is misleading. El Castillo was not a castle, but an observatory of sorts. At three p.m. on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the sun hits the balustrades of the western stairway, giving the effect of a chain of triangles. Captured in this postcard, the chain runs down to a carved stone serpent’s head at the base of the stairs! This is Kukulkan, the feathered serpent, apparently signaling the time for spring and fall agricultural practices. The Ancient Mayans continue to amaze us.
This incredibly designed complex, as I wrote in my ¡España! post is the draw of the city. Created by two architects, one a native Valencian, the other sadly passed a way in 1997, the year before the Ciudad was completed. The “City” features an opera house and performing arts center, an Imax cinema and planetarium, and garden promenade, all partially sunken in an outdoor marine aquarium!
Don’t forget to check out my Bastille Day post for more Paris postcards, including more of this iconic edifice!
This incredible stainless steel arch–630 feet in both height and width–on the bank of the Mississippi River is a tribute to America’s Westward Expansion. The extremely modern design was the dreamchild of architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel in 1947! Construction did not begin until 1963. Completed in 1965, the Gateway Arch is the tallest monument in the U.S. and the tallest of this style and material in the world.
Mama Snail sent me this postcard after an evening with our cousin by the Arch while on a book tour stop in St. Louis.
June 17, 1999
“…we went to see this arch–it is shiny metal and very beautiful + there were riverboats on the river, MISSISSIPPI, (even a McD’s on a riverboat). The fireflies were blinking + made me think of you.”
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco, California
I have several postcards of this iconic bridge, but this is my favorite. The regular fog bank, creating illusions of color, is distinctly clearing from the bay to reveal the lay of the land. Meanwhile, to me, the red suspension posts have always been reminiscent of San Francisco’s vital Chinese population. While New York’s Ellis Island with the Statue of Liberty is of course the ultimate symbol of entrance to the United States because of the early waves of immigration from Europe, the Golden Gate Bridge is the West Coast equivalent. As the United States’ grandest port on the Pacific Rim, the Golden Gate Bridge became an icon of new beginnings due to waves of later-arriving Asian immigrants joining the established Chinese communities.
“Open up that golden gate, California here I come!”
I guess I can mention that Grandma and Grandpa Snail told me we’re related to the Golden Gate’s architect, Joseph Strauss. He was something like my great-grandfather’s first cousin. I hadn’t given it much thought until, earlier this year, I was watching a television series about the world’s major bridges, and an episode was devoted to the Golden Gate. Joseph Strauss, it turns out, was a very mixed bag. His original design for the bridge was so ugly, the San Francisco citizenry laughed it off the drafting table. Strauss then hired architect Irving Morrow as his right hand man, and it was Morrow’s design that we have larger than life today. Strauss was jealous of Morrow’s talent and sent him on an endless “vacation” without pay as soon as his services were no longer essential. On the other hand, Strauss was a passionate salesman. He basically sold citizens of the Bay Area the bridge, instead of getting a private firm to fund it and thereby control it. Thus, the bridge belongs to the people. They voted for a tax on themselves to go toward building the bridge, and they made good on it. Strauss’ greatest deed in building the Golden Gate, however, was his insistence of using safety nets. Simple as this was, nets had never been employed on a major bridge before, because project administrators had such little regard for workers; They were deemed expendable, whereas nets were a cost. Joseph Strauss however was deeply concerned about the workers’ safety, and his nets saved 11 workers in the four years of construction, from 1933 to 1937.
The London Eye
Tallest Ferris Wheel in Europe
Architects Frank Anatole, Nic Bailey, Steve Chilton, Malcolm Cook, Mark Sparrowhawk, and the husband-and-wife team of Julia Barfield and David Marks