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Architecture: The ‘salt curse’ threatening Cádiz cathedral in southern Spain | Culture

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An overhead net prevents pieces of the vaulted ceiling from crashing down on the floor, or on visitors.
An overhead net prevents pieces of the vaulted ceiling from crashing down on the floor, or on visitors.Juan Carlos Toro

In 1838, just three months after the consecration of the newly completed cathedral in the southern Spanish city of Cádiz, the cleric Domingo González Villanueva raised the alarm. Referring to its brand new vaults, he warned officials in the cathedral chapter that “stone slabs and somewhat larger pieces are falling.” What should have been a glorious celebration of more than a century’s tortuous work was undermined by concern. Now, 183 years later, salt continues to erode the 3,100 square meters of roofing. On January 29, a piece of masonry came loose from the façade, in a reminder to the authorities that it has now been a decade since any significant restoration work has been carried out; and that the blueprint to tackle the issue drawn up at the request of the Andalusian regional government is still to be executed.

The piece of rubble from the façade, which landed in the cathedral’s courtyard without causing injury, is not the only sign that the salt curse still threatens to wreak havoc. Repeated instances of falling masonry led to the building being closed between 1969 and 1983, and also to the installation in 1989 of a large net that stretches under all its interior vaults. The decision was made after the fall of a large block of masonry that shattered one of the pews mere days before the celebration of a First Communion mass.

The crumbling of the vaults can be seen at a glance. The corroded blocks of stone constantly cause pieces of rubble to fall into the net, which is emptied periodically. Juan Jiménez Mata, the architect who installed the net over 30 years ago, is unable to say how much weight it would stand in the event of a major incident.

The net that catches falling rubble.
The net that catches falling rubble.Juan Carlos Toro

Building work on the cathedral began in 1722 as a project that would reflect the prosperity of a city enriched by trade with the Americas. But it wasn’t finished until well into the 19th century, using a poorer type of stone as the city was entering a crisis from which it would never really emerge. As Juan Alonso de la Sierra, one of building’s top experts, says: “The cathedral reflects the city’s own trajectory.”

The cathedral was built with 24 different kinds of stone, first under the direction of architect Vicente Acero, who introduced hints of the Baroque style though later architects would tend more to neoclassicism and academicism. But it is specifically the kind of building material known as Estepa limestone that has plagued the edifice. As Juan Jiménez Mata, the architect behind the last 16 major restoration projects, explains the problem. “When there was less money, this stone was used in the areas above the cornices. The trouble is that this stone is softer and reacts far worse to the weather.” The damage would be similar to that endured by many other great monuments if it were not for the salt in the air that penetrates the walls. “The cathedral is an immense salt factory,” adds Jiménez Mata.

The building was constructed using mortar made from beach sand and water extracted from a brackish well located in the crypt. According to the architect Alberto Jiménez, the son of Juan Jiménez Mata, “when the tides were high the mortar did not set, and the lime turned to dust.” This caused the vault’s ashlars to be held in place by nothing more than fragments of material used to fill gaps, generating tension and causing the soft masonry to break. The proximity to the sea does the rest: the salt dissolves with the humidity, penetrates the ashlars and breaks them when it crystallizes again on dry days.

A plan of the Cádiz Cathedral drawn by the architect Juan Jiménez Mata, showing the vaults and roofs.
A plan of the Cádiz Cathedral drawn by the architect Juan Jiménez Mata, showing the vaults and roofs.El País

The salt curse could have been contained if the cathedral had not also had long periods when it was open to the elements. Between the 18th and 19th centuries, it spent 40 years without a roof. Then in 1947, an explosion left the building without windows for years.

There is a laborious and expensive solution to the problem, which involves filling the empty joints with new mortar and replacing the lost stones with new pieces of masonry. It is the solution that the Jiménez Mata studio has resorted to for the last 30 years during which some sections have been restored, such as the lower sacristy or the Chapel of the Relics. Extending this solution to the 3,100 square meters of vaults would cost €15 million. At least this is the sum that Juan Jiménez Mata calculated in 2009 when the Andalusian government’s department of culture commissioned him to draw up a blueprint listing priorities and laying out how the restoration work should be tackled. It has been more than a decade ago now since the architect delivered the document to the cathedral’s college of clerics and to the regional government. When questioned on the matter by EL PAÍS, the culture department’s representatives in Cádiz had no idea why the architect’s master plan has still not been approved.

There is an evident contrast between the dome of the cathedral, which has been restored and is now free from falling rubble, and the lateral vaults, which are crumbling.
There is an evident contrast between the dome of the cathedral, which has been restored and is now free from falling rubble, and the lateral vaults, which are crumbling.Juan Carlos Toro

It is also more than 10 years since the cathedral last carried out major restoration in its battered vaults. During this time, neither the regional nor the central authorities have come up with the necessary funding, although from 1998 to 2009 they invested €1.5 and €2.3 million respectively in other restoration projects.

Meanwhile, the cathedral chapter’s efforts have been focused on annual maintenance for the roofs and on emptying the net installed by Juan Jiménez Mata 32 years ago to catch falling debris, as well as occasionally restoring chapels and sculptures. The Cádiz Culture Delegation has authorized various restoration projects during this period, the last of which concerned the Chapel of the Assumption, the first in the cathedral to be built. But tackling the damage to the stones in the various vaults does not show up on the to-do list of the last 10 years.

Fabián Pérez, who has regularly collaborated in the cathedral’s restoration work as part of the Ars Nova studio, defends the work of the cathedral’s officials. “The chapter’s efforts to restore movable and immovable assets is remarkable. It hasn’t stopped even with the pandemic.” However, the institution has rejected three requests by EL PAÍS to explain how much it has invested and whether it is following the blueprint’s list of priorities.

Meanwhile, the Jiménez Mata family is concerned about the absence of major work on the increasingly ravaged vaults. “There should be a group of contracted masons, led by an architect, constantly reviewing roofs and cornices,” says Juan Jiménez Mata. “We are not asking for the work to be entrusted to us, but we do ask that the people who intervene in the restoration of historical heritage be assessed with transparency and a public tender,” adds his son Alberto.

Almost two centuries after the cleric González Villanueva realized that the cathedral’s construction was riddled with problems, the curse of the salt continues to eat away at it with no solution in sight. As Alberto Jiménez Mata says, “pieces of rubble continue to fall, but the size of them is a lottery.”

English version by Heather Galloway

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Egypt: Excavating the archives of the man who uncovered Tutankhamun’s tomb | Culture

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Howard Carter and an Egyptian worker remove a fragment of the deathbed from Tutankhamun’s tomb in February, 1923.
Howard Carter and an Egyptian worker remove a fragment of the deathbed from Tutankhamun’s tomb in February, 1923.Griffith Institute

It is rare to travel north in search of Tutankhamun. The young Pharaoh’s tomb is actually to the south, in Luxor, Egypt, as is his mummy, while the vast majority of artefacts buried with him – the famous “wonderful things” that include treasures such as the gold mask – have traditionally had their home at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. But there is another treasure linked to Tutankhamun, less glittering but also fascinating, in the shape of the archives of the late Howard Carter, the archaeologist who discovered the tomb.

The documents compiled by Carter include maps and plans, detailed records of the thousands of artefacts – 5,300 to be exact, photographs, drawings, slides and both personal and excavation diaries, as well as other materials, such as private letters, telegrams and press clippings, all of which give the discovery context and are an exceptional source of information.

Donated to the center for Egyptology at Oxford University’s Griffith Institute by Carter’s favorite niece and heir, Phyllis Walker who died in 1977, the collection is now the subject of a timely exhibition at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, with additional material from other sources such as the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Open until February 5, 2023, Tutankhamun: Excavating the Archive, invites visitors to “see beyond” the golden treasures of the young Pharaoh and explore the complexity of the discovery as it unfolded. A celebratory centenary exhibition, it recalls the moment on November 26, 1922, when Carter and his sponsor Lord Carnarvon looked into the tomb for the first time, breaking a seal that had held for over 3,000 years and beginning the excavation of the only untouched ancient Egyptian royal burial site to be found in the Valley of the Kings.

The exhibition features Carter’s first written mention of the find in one of the Lett’s Indian and Colonial Rough Diary pocket notebooks he used to record his activities during the eight months he spent each year in Egypt: “First steps of tomb found,” he scrawled in pencil, conveying irrepressible enthusiasm. The entry takes up the entire page for Saturday, November 4, 1922. It was the fourth day into the last sponsored excavation, as Lord Carnarvon had finally decided to stop paying for the concessionary rights to the Valley of the Kings.

The exhibition goes into the details of the sensational find and how it developed for better and worse, with recognition of the fact that Carter and Carnarvon lied in order to smuggle several small objects out of Egypt. It also explains how the discovery coincided with the proclamation of Egypt’s independence from Britain and the change in the country’s policy regarding its antiquities; and it mentions the infamous “curse” associated with the tomb. Significantly, it acknowledges the shortcomings of European colonial archaeology during that era and hails the essential role of the overlooked Egyptian professionals and laborers in the investigation.

The Egyptians, including many child laborers, appear in numerous photos of the excavation without being identified, reducing them to little more than exotic extras. They were rarely mentioned, and their role was underestimated in official reports. Now, archival research “is making it possible to restore the Egyptians’ role in the excavations,” and to “address the error.”

Donkeys instead of cabs

The exhibition also flags up the neglected role of the women who participated in the venture, such as Minnie, the wife of photographer Harry Burton, author of the famous photos of the excavation, who helped her husband and kept a personal diary that is a valuable source of information. In one passage, she recalls the excitement of visiting the tomb while it was being emptied and how Carter sent a donkey to fetch her home like someone might send a cab.

Carter’s drawing of fragments of carts from Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Carter’s drawing of fragments of carts from Tutankhamun’s tomb. Griffith Institute

Coming to Oxford with the sole purpose of seeking out Tutankhamun lends the city an incongruous air of Egypt, even if arriving by bus rather than donkey. The kites spotted en route over the English countryside bring to mind the birds that fly over the pristine skies of Luxor, which are represented in pharaonic temples and tombs as divine creatures. These same birds are also present in Carter’s paintings, such as the 1895 watercolor of a falcon in the chapel of Anubis in the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari. Carter was an excellent draughtsman who came to archaeology precisely because of his artistic ability.

Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus.
Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus.AMR NABIL (AFP)

The Bodleian exhibition occupies the treasury room of the library and is small, like Tutankhamun’s tomb, but equally full of documentary wealth, though it requires immersion and the determination of an archaeologist to extract the information from the 20-odd showcases fittingly shrouded in gloom and mystery.

In a preamble, data is given on the reign of the young Pharaoh. For example, it is emphasized that his death was unexpected, and his burial consequently improvised, which explains many of its unusual characteristics. It is also mentions that the tomb remained substantially intact despite being visited by thieves shortly after first being sealed – they did not gain access to the mummy and the tomb was again rearranged and resealed so that what Carter encountered was virtually untouched. While it is written on a vaulting that the body of Tutankhamun is still in the sarcophagus, it was, in fact, removed from the stone coffin years ago and is exhibited in the same enclosure, but in a modern heated urn installed in the antechamber.

Obsession with the tomb

The tour begins with the climax of the discovery noted in Carter’s diary, before delving into the background of the discoverer himself, who was a complex personality who never married and had no children. A photo shows him at the age of 19, the same age as Tutankhamun when he died. An 1892 letter from the great Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, who took him to Egypt, offers this insight: “His interest is in painting and natural history (…) He is of no use to me as an excavator.”

There is then a space dedicated to “the long search” – a period that began after a proclamation in 1913 by excavation sponsor Theodore Davis that the Valley is exhausted; enter Carnarvon, who hired Carter, as he was obsessed with the idea that there was still a tomb to be found. It is thrilling to actually see a map drawn by Carter’s own hand with the excavations between 1917 and 1922, when the tomb was not yet located, lying concealed beneath the remains of the ancient workers’ huts from the neighboring tomb of Ramses VI. And then, the great moment of the discovery and the first actual foray into the tomb, around four o’clock in the afternoon on November 26, by Carter, Carnarvon, his daughter and several others.

A page from Carter’s excavation diary contains the account of that Great Moment in his own handwriting. The hole in the door, the candle inserted, and Carnarvon asking: “Can you see anything?” The answer, Carter noted, was not the famous “yes, wonderful things” which he later claimed in subsequent records, but the less dramatic “yes, it’s wonderful.”

It was the beginning of an amazing scientific adventure that would last until December 1932, the 10 years it took to empty the tomb. Carnarvon died on April 5, 1923, without seeing the opening of the sarcophagus and the mummy of Tutankhamun, which was not examined until November 11, 1925. A letter from Carter to Egyptologist Alan Gardiner describes some of the emblematic artefacts observed in the antechamber: carts, beds with strange animal shapes, two life-size figures of guardians… “So far, it is Tutankhamun,” he writes.

Three Egyptian workers dismantle the wall between the antechamber and the burial chamber in Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Three Egyptian workers dismantle the wall between the antechamber and the burial chamber in Tutankhamun’s tomb. HARRY BURTON

Burton’s photos displayed in the exhibition are “the most famous archaeological images ever taken,” and these, together with the drawings of the different rooms of the tomb and the artefacts as they were discovered transport us to the key moments of the discovery. The exhibition also explains the conservation challenges faced by the archaeologists and the solutions they came up with to preserve the objects. Then there is documentation of the complex system of rails used to transport the tomb’s contents in wagons to the river to be shipped to the museum.

Particularly moving is a large portrait of an anonymous Egyptian boy photographed in 1927 by Burton wearing one of Tutankhamun’s necklaces, demonstrating how it would have been worn. Years later, Hussein Abd el Rasul, a member of the local Qurna family, identified himself as the sitter. The exhibition points out that “many stories have been told about the image and who the boy was and his role in the excavation.”

A group of Egyptian schoolchildren stopped in front of the photo the other day listening very attentively to the explanations of their teachers. Despite the lack of recognition for the Egyptians who worked on the tomb’s excavation, some names have nevertheless been salvaged thanks to the gratitude Carter expressed in his writings, such as the name of the foreman, Ahmed Gerigar and his colleagues Gad Hassan, Hussein Abu Awad and Hussein Ahmed Said.

Drawing by Carter of the artefacts located in the antechamber of Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Drawing by Carter of the artefacts located in the antechamber of Tutankhamun’s tomb.Griffith Institute

Besides criticizing the patronizing attitude toward the Egyptians involved in the excavation, the exhibition flags up the pursuit of profit, especially Lord Carnarvon’s. It suggests that the origin of the famous curse on those tampering with the tomb mentioned in a delightful yellowed telegram in 1923 to “Carter Tutankhamun Thebes” from Dublin warning that if trouble continues he must reseal the tomb, was partly revenge by certain media angered by the aristocratic Carnarvon’s exclusive contract with The Times.

Curses and criticism aside, public excitement at the find was such during the 1920s that it inspired a boardgame and a rash of songs. Meanwhile, the archive, which continues to be enriched and has been digitized for open access (www.griffith.ox.ac.uk), is invaluable to the study of the tomb’s material, a work that Carter left unfinished.

For those whose appetite for “wonderful things” is not yet sated, the Ashmolean Museum close by houses an extraordinary collection of Egyptian antiquities, such as the large statues of the god of fertility Min who appears excited at the sight of a sensual bust of Antinous, Hadrian’s lover who drowned in the Nile; an impressive stone head of a crocodile; the precious coffins and the mummy of the Theban priest Djed-djehuty-iuef-ankh and the Amarna pieces, which are closely linked to Tutankhamun as they represent his family, Akhenaten, Nefertiti and the princesses, as well as to people and places he saw during his lifetime. The ostraca collection compiled by Gardiner, who collaborated with Carter, is also on display there.

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Hollywood: They have it all, and take it on the road, too: These are the luxury RVs of the stars | Culture

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RVs have long been considered a fairly modest means of travel, an option that combines transportation and accommodation and that allows you to enjoy a more affordable vacation – bearing in mind that the comforts that they offer have little or nothing to do with those of a five-star hotel. However, this image has evolved in recent years, and the alternative of touring the world with your house in tow is gaining more and more followers, including some movie and music stars. Some use them for tourism and others to move between cities while they promote something or as a dressing room during shootings or tours, but they all have a few things in common: their enormous dimensions, their luxurious amenities and their million-dollar price tags.

At the beginning of July, all the details of Dolly Parton’s mansion on wheels were released. More than an RV, this one is a bus. Dubbed Suite 1986, it is 45 feet long and Dolly has traveled more than 300,000 miles and visited more than 60 American cities in it. It houses all kinds of luxuries and personal belongings of the country music star — a display case for her wigs, a wide bed with pink velvet sheets, or a Parisian-inspired dressing table, among other things — and it is available to rent from $10,000, with a two night minimum stay. The Dollybus is part of the hotel complexes offered under the Dollywood label, the universe created in her image and likeness, which also includes a theme park inspired by Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, numerous hotels and spas and a water park.

Another celebrity who likes to have a traveling home is Jennifer Lopez. The Bronx Diva owns a 1,200-square-feet trailer that is valued at $2 million and, like Parton’s, is also available to rent, for between $400 and $850 a night, when the singer is not using it. Its name is Baby Girl and, judging by the pictures, it has it all: in two spacious floors you can find amenities like a huge leather sofa, furniture made from materials like granite or marble, and all kinds of image and audio technologies, including everything from large TVs to state-of-the-art audio setups. An exclusive design by Anderson Mobile Estates, an American company specializing in this type of high-end vehicle, completely customizable to the customer’s taste.

The same company built Will Smith’s RV, known as The Heat, which the actor purchased in 2000 to use while filming. It is 55 feet long, has two floors and it is valued at 2.5 million dollars. It includes a projection room with a 100-inch screen and

capacity for thirty people, an ample lounge, a bathroom with sauna, first-rate materials like granite and leather, and technological devices everywhere.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s RV does not fall far behind: it is 52 feet long, with four modules that can be extended to further expand the space. Of course, it includes all the necessary amenities, with eccentric details like two fireplaces and a large recycled glass shower valued at more than $40,000.

Justin Bieber’s RV also has its fair share of eccentricities. In 2020, the Canadian singer purchased for $2.5 million a bus turned luxurious mansion that he takes on his tours and that he himself showed off in the American edition of GQ Magazine. Equipped to the last detail, it offers wonders such as underfloor heating, ceilings with LED lights, a steam shower, and an infrared sauna.

Other celebrities, after years of traveling with their house in tow, have decided to part with theirs. That is the case of Tom Hanks. The legendary actor auctioned off his RV last year: the trailer that was his home during the shooting of movies like Forrest Gump or Apollo 13 was sold for $235,200, an almost trivial figure when compared to those of his colleagues.

Among so much luxury on wheels, Chris Hemsworth’s RV is also surprising for its modest dimensions. It was made by the Australian company Lotus Trooper, and it is equipped for all kinds of terrain. Despite its limited size, it includes things like Italian leather sofas and a designer kitchen; with this vehicle, the actor who brings Thor to life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe likes to enjoy family getaways, as he himself has shown on his social media.

Whether it is to go on road trips or as a place to rest between concerts or shootings, it is clear that the biggest music and movie stars cannot resist the opportunity to take all the comforts of home anywhere they go, preferably in rolling eccentricities that reinvent a concept popularized in the 1960s by the hippie movement – and look more fit for a Transformers movie than for an actual highway.

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Writer Salman Rushdie attacked while giving a speech in New York | USA

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Indian-born writer Salman Rushdie was attacked on Friday while giving a lecture in Chautauqua County, a town of about 140,000 inhabitants in western New York state. The first images of the event that have been shared on social networks show Rushdie on the floor, being attended by attendees and emergency services.

New York state police announced in a press release that the writer suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck, and was transported by helicopter to an area hospital. His condition is not yet known. An Associated Press reporter witnessed a man storm the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and begin punching or stabbing Rushdie as he was being introduced. The 75-year-old author was pushed or fell to the floor, and the man was restrained. The assailant has been arrested.

Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses has been banned in Iran since 1988, as many Muslims consider it blasphemous. A year later, on February 14, 1989, Iran’s late leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death. The theocratic Iranian regime also offered a reward of more than $3 million for anyone who killed the writer, who holds dual British and US citizenship.

Author Salman Rushdie in 2010.
Author Salman Rushdie in 2010.David Levenson (Getty Images)

Iran’s government had long since distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has persisted. In 2012, a semi-official Iranian religious foundation raised the reward for Rushdie’s death from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

Rushdie, an English-language writer and perennial contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, downplayed that threat then and said there was “no evidence” that people were interested in the reward. That year, Rushdie published a memoir, Joseph Anton, about the fatwa.

The 75-year-old author achieved international fame with the novel Midnight’s Children, which was published in 1980 and won him the Booker Prize, the UK’s most prestigious literary prize, the following year. The book sparked controversy in India for allegedly derogatory remarks towards the then prime minister of the country, Indira Gandhi.

With an overflowing imagination, his style has been compared to the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes, among others. He himself has recognized on numerous occasions his important links with Latin American literature. His latest book Quixote (2020) adapts Cervantes’ classic to the situation that the United States under the Donald Trump administration.

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