Heritage through the eyes of the locals

Throughout our travels we were exploring, discussing and thinking about how relationships with heritage differ from region to region. It’s not straightforward or universally the same. People’s relation to their heritage depends on many factors – the way a country industrially developed, their place in the world hierarchy of power, the prevailing political ideologies and religious beliefs and much more.

Since we’ve been travelling for more than 17 months in the past 2 years we could compare this relationship throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia. For the purpose of this article, however, we’ve decided to only focus on the regions we travelled to within our OWHC travel scholarship.

Since we began our travels in Slovenia and Germany, let’s start at home. As we’ve observed, Europeans mostly see their heritage as something which has to be preserved, “locked” away, studied and maybe exhibited to tourists. Just think about how many churches also serve as tourist attractions, how many old royal buildings are now museums or galleries and how the historical centres of European cities mostly only serve tourists.

On the other side, however, we had a completely different experience in Turkey and Iraq. There, history and the present go hand in hand. Historical centres are usually home to very traditional and conservative communities and are less developed than modern outskirts. Citadels, old architecture, bazaars and mosques are sometimes reconstructed, and sometimes not. However, an underlying theme to all of these places is that they are still deeply woven into the daily lives of the inhabitants of the city. Be it shopping at centuries-old bazaars, bathing in historical hammams, dining in traditional restaurants or praying in mosques from the early days of Islam – history and the present day are not separated.

At this point a question arises – is heritage something which has to be locked down and preserved, or is it something which changes with every society inhabiting a certain time and space? We hope we will gain more answers to these questions while we continue our 10-month trip from Germany to Taiwan!

 

City no. 4 – Safranbolu

Immediately after arriving in this historical town, we were mesmerized by the brown and white ottoman houses scattered around the hills and canyons. The cool breeze and clean air were a welcome relief from Istanbul’s sweltering heat and noxious pollution. 

For our three nights at a traditional guesthouse (konag), we were welcomed by a modest family who offered us breakfasts made with local ingredients and advice.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered “Turkey’s best-preserved Ottoman village” and one of the most fascinating to explore on foot. A reconstructed caravanserai (roadside inn where travellers could rest and recover from the day’s journey) that is now a hotel and a coffee museum was formerly an important trader’s stop along the Silk Road. A few mosques and a small sector of bazaars are nearby. Surprisingly, although being roughly halfway between Istanbul and Ankara, there are few foreign tourists there, and even locals who deal with tourists rarely speak English.

Safranbolu, an ancient and well-established city, has a lengthy history. The city was located in Paphlagonia, one of Anatolia’s ancient districts. In fact, in the Iliad, the legendary poet Homer recounted the Paflagons who travelled to aid the Trojans. Anatolian Seljuk Sultan II constructed Safranbolu in 1196. Ibn Batuta, a famous traveller, visited Safranbolu in 1334 and stayed for one night, describing it as “a captivating village nested in the mountains”. Its name originates from the Turkish name for Saffron (Safran) since this precious plant was grown and traded here.

Apart from exploring the history and nature, we also sampled many local delicacies, ranging from various soups to plates full of meat, manti (Turkish pasta) with walnuts, and the famous Safranbolu pide (a pie made with cheese and spinach, a very famous for this city).

However, the various coffees we had at the Safranbolu Coffee Museum were the best treat. They provided a variety of coffees made in accordance with the regional historical legacy of many ethnic groups, rulers, and traders from far and near.

Our favourites were the local Safranbolu coffee cooked in the fire with a side of Mastic water and the Tatar coffee with cream sprinkled with pistachio. We were also shown how to drink the traditional coffee. To begin, you drink the coffee with Mastic water, followed by the sweet Sherbet to finish.

After the relaxing 3 days in nature, we boarded another bus towards Ankara, from where we went on to explore the Black Sea Coast.

City No. 3 – Istanbul

We took a flight from Munich to Istanbul after spending another night with our friends in Forstinning. Arriving by bus to Taksim Square is always a magical experience, with the smokey smells of the kebab restaurants, the frantic crowds making their way towards the bustling Istiklal street, and many street vendors selling anything from corn to tours to kid’s toys.

We grabbed two steamed hamburgers (islak hamburger – a local favourite), jumped into the crowd, and followed Istiklal Street to our accommodation.

We slept in an Airbnb with some local LGBT activists, which was conveniently placed just a short walk from the famed Galata Tower but was somewhat under-equipped.

Istanbul in 2022 was unlike any of our previous visits to our favourite city in the world. After the COVID restrictions were nearly completely lifted, a large influx of Europeans, Americans, and Arabs flooded the city, significantly raising hotel and restaurant prices as well as taxi fares. This, combined with the extreme inflation, makes life difficult for the locals, as our friends have attested. To make the matters worse, Amadej also got quite sick with a cold, so we had to take a slow pace and avoid the overcrowded tourist attractions.

Nonetheless, we had a great time exploring the city’s many different aspects of heritage. First and foremost, we enjoyed the long walk from the Galata Tower through the Grand Bazaar to the Sultanahmet historical quarter. There, we tried to imagine what life was like at the Ottoman Court. With its numerous mosques, fountains, and palace complexes, it served as a link between two continents and a wide range of nationalities, cultures, cuisines, religions, and ideas.

After three nights in the city heat, a move to the countryside town of Safranbolu was more than needed. Our friend Nina joined us, and we boarded the 8-hour bus drive towards central Anatolia.

City no. 2 – Augsburg

“Augsburg’s Water Management System documents the 800-year development of the city’s water supply system, which is unparalleled worldwide.”

We also visited Augsburg with our local Bavarian friend Richard, who used to go to both beautiful Bavarian destinations with his family as a child. Our first stop in Augsburg was coffee on the Rathausplatz, the impressively big main square dominated by the grandiose town hall building, after which the square is named.

This location is also said to be locals’ favourite spot for a cup of coffee when they are in the area, so we felt that the break was necessary to truly immerse ourselves in the local (coffee) culture.

But the city’s impressive main square or its coffee aren’t reasons the city is a UNESCO Heritage city. It is actually its water management system. Water is undoubtedly one of the most noticeable features of the city. It is present in almost every street while walking through the old town and gives it a kind of a fresh, vibrant and breezy feel even during the hot summer days that we visited.

There is also a UNESCO Heritage information centre on the main square, but we were too late to visit it and just decided to stroll around the city and enjoy its impressive and innovative way of building the city centre on top of numerous water streams

The city of Augsburg is actually located on the northernmost point of a glacial deposit that stretches between the Lech and Wertach, two Alpine rivers, although the canal system also incorporates spring and river water sources. Regensburg’s earliest water supply system was built by the Romans and included a number of canals that brought water to the settlement.

Today, it is made up of 22 separate components that work together to form the entire system. It has been developing for more than a thousand years and has been operating for the benefit of the population until this day. As far back as the 15th century, drinking water and process water have been kept separate. In addition to providing drinking water,  the system’s primary tasks include providing process water for energy production and hygienic disposal

After admiring and learning about the water flowing through the city centre, we quickly drove to the system’s most important water monument, the Hochablass, where the Lech River is redirected to the majority of the canals.

Catching the last moments of daylight, we admired the huge water monument that made us understand the scope and importance of the water system better and ended the day off in the best way possible. 

Saying goodbye to Richard, his family and their lovely home in Forstinning, which is always hard because of all the Spezi (Bavarian soda drink), pretzels and especially their kind hospitality, we made our way to the airport and with that our third OWHC destination – Istanbul.

Regensburg- Living History

We stayed in Regensburg for two days. Regensburg is one of the oldest cities in Germany. Archaeological research has proven that the Romans used Regensburg as a military base during their reign in Bavaria which can still be seen in some architecture throughout the city. In the early medieval times, Regensburg belonged to the Dukes of the house of Agilofings but Charlemagne discharged the last Duke Tassilo III. in 763. Furthermore, Regensburg used to be a very wealthy city since the “Steinerne Brücke” (“stone- brigde”), which was built in the 12th century, was an important trade junction for commercial goods in Europe. In the 13th century, Regensburg became independent from the Bavarian dukedom and became a free and independent city of the Holy Roman Empire. Sadly, Regensburg started to lose its importance in the early 14th century.

On our first day, we had a guided tour through the city. Our guide Monica showed us some of the Roman remains, as well as other interesting historical and architectural sights. For us, walking through the city accompanied by her, was one of our highlights because it was very authentic and educational. In addition, she showed us the World Heritage Center which has no entrance fee and people can learn about Regensburg`s history and why Regensburg is part of the world heritage. We can recommend the exhibition, because it is designed in a very interactive way and apart from that, it is easy to get there, since it is on one side of the “Steinerne Brücke”.

On our second day, we visited the museum “Haus der bayerischen Geschichte” (Museum of the Bavarian history) which presents a very interesting exhibition of Bavarian history from the 18th century till today. Afterwards, we visited the “Walhalla” which was founded by King Ludwig I. of Bavaria in 1842. It was built to show the most iconic Germans or people who had a great impact on German culture, such as Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schiller or Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Until today it is updated continuously, and you will find people like Sophie Scholl among many others.

Regensburg is definitely a place you should visit because its history is visible and noticeable everywhere in the city and besides its Roman origins and Bavarian history, the architecture itself is worth it.

Bordeaux –  Porte de la Luna

Bordeaux is a city located at the southwest Atlantic coast of France. It is known for its famous wine and very tasty food. Furthermore, the city offers a lot of cultural and architectural sights and monuments. As an icing of the cake, the historical part of the city (“Vieux Bordeaux”) is part of the UNESCO world heritage. The city`s nickname “Porte de la Luna” (“Port of the moon”) is a reference due to its location in a semicircular riverbank.

Most of the time while visiting Bordeaux, we walked through the old town because by doing so, you are able to see many beautiful sights and little, historical streets can be spotted around almost very corner. In our travel guide we found a tour around the old town which is called the “Renaissance walk”.  We enjoyed every minute of it! When doing the tour, you come across many old Renaissance buildings which have been important in the last centuries. We saw beautiful churches such as the Basilica “Saint Michel” and even the town houses made us feel as if we were walking through Bordeaux in Medieval times.

As we have already mentioned, Bordeaux is a very old city. Its development began 2300 years ago when a Celtic settlement originated there. After the Roman conquest , Bordeaux functioned as a granary for the Roman Empire. Probably, the Romans  brought wine and wine-growing culture to Bordeaux. In medieval times, Bordeaux was part of the duchy “Aquitanien” which belonged to England for a few centuries since Duchess Eleonore of Aquitanien married the English Prince Henry who later became Henry II. of England. Under her reign, Bordeaux had its second blossoming. Until today, Eleonore is supposed to be one of the most fascinating medieval female personalities.

One of Bordeaux’s most significant sights is St. Andre Cathedral. The cathedral is a must-see, first because it is one of the oldest cathedrals in France and secondly because of its striking beauty since it is covered with an amazing white stone façade. We can truly say that St. Andre Cathedral was one of the most beautiful buildings we have seen while travelling.

 

Besides the outstanding architecture, we visited a few museums as well. Our favorite museum was “La Cité du Vin” – The Wine Museum. Its permanent exhibition explains how wine grows and how it is finally made tasteful. It is a very modern exhibition where you can learn about wine by smelling, listening and seeing. In addition, you learn about the history of winemaking and its cultural impact. The exhibition is very interactive and it is fun for young and old. We can highly recommend a visit there.

All in all, our trip to Bordeaux was exciting, wonderful and full of new and interesting figures and facts. We definitely enjoyed every single minute of it.

Philly’s Ultimate Gem

If you’re familiar with the movie Rocky, then you probably recognize the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s famous steps. If that doesn’t ring a bell, maybe this picture will…

*Taken from Google*

All jokes aside, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or PMA for short, is one of the most important museums in the United States. The PMA is one of the largest and oldest museums in the United States. It boasts an impressive range of artworks from all across the world and across time. Architecturally speaking, the museum is a beautiful neocolonial style with flanking columns and colorful decorations.

*Taken from Google*

Entering the museum, I was greeted by a Jazz performance. As fate would have it, that Friday night happened to be their monthly event night. It was a beautiful experience to be serenaded through my adventure of artistic pursuit.

Upon entering the impressive museum, I made my way up the stairs, past the giant statue of Diana, and turned right.

Turning the corner, I was heading toward the Asian Art wing. The museum is quite large, but I had been to this wing once before and it was my favorite one. Displaying different sculptures and architectural pieces directly unto its walls, the PMA is transformed into different worlds. First, the Medieval Cloister – I think I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves for this one.

It’s all in the details:

Waiting at the other side of the blast-to-the-past was the Japanese Teahouse.

It’s really no wonder why the museum is such a gem. I would recommend it to anyone visiting! Aside from the beautiful pieces displayed in the museum, though, there is one little not-so-hidden gem that takes place outside the museum. Because the museum is built on a hill, it looks over the beautiful Philly horizon.

Taking a deep breath, it’s easy to fall in love with Philly. It is, after all, the City of Brotherly Love.

P.S.: If you hang back, sometimes buses will come bringing tourists from all over the world, and they will literally charge out of their bus and run up the steps to relive the Rocky scene –  I think it’s so hilarious.

 

Philly’s Nighttime Hidden Gems

Philadelphia is not only the USA’s most historic city, it also happens to be my “home” town. I put “home” in quotations, because I’ve only had the privilege of calling this gem of a city my home for the past two-and-some years I’ve been living here as a student at Penn.

As you may know, it is hard to be a tourist in your own city. For me, I feel like I’ve been there and done that (even if I haven’t), or there’s just no sense of urgency to see the wonders of my own backyard. Realizing that Philadelphia is a World Heritage City though, changed that for me. I pushed myself to see something new every week.

One night, I went on a trip to Race Street Pier in Philadelphia’s Old City district. They had put up an exhibition called “Ghost Ship”.

The three-dimensional public installation features a mystique ship light projection unto black sails. Located at the Delaware Riverfront, the installation speaks to Philadelphia’s long social history since the 1600s. Recorded reflections by artists and experts tell the diverse tales of the colonial era.

Race Street Pier is the perfect viewing platform for the Ben Franklin Bridge. While it isn’t too cold out, they also have a beer garden with hammocks and beautiful lights. The misty atmosphere and faded lights brought out the city’s magical atmosphere…

Directly next to Race Street Pier is Cherry Street Pier, where they were hosting a design exhibition.

Projects ranged small and large, and there were works done by local universities including Drexel and Penn.

One design I found particularly compelling was a smaller scale one: noded bricks that locked into place. I thought it was a simple and elegant solution that solve any unevenness in building processes. Again, the architecture student in me prevails through my interests!

As the hunger in my belly began to build, there was really only one place, in my heart, to venture for dinner: Chinatown! Taking the trolley over to center city, I heard Chinatown before I saw it. Before I reveal my delicious dinner, allow me to interrupt the feed with some of Philly’s Finest Fluorescent Facades:

They really caught my eye on my walk over, and I thought they poetically served as a visual representation of the night’s electric air.

Chinatown was hosting a bazaar that night, so the streets were overflowing with people bringing pineapple drinks, skewer sticks, and even tacos, for some reason.

Escaping the chaos of the street, we found refuge in Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodles, my favorite Hidden Gem, where I concluded my day with the best bowl of House Special Noodles (beef balls, beef brisket, bone broth soup, cilantro, and hand drawn noodles, of course).

It really doesn’t get much better than this, does it?