Upon arriving in Brussels we quickly realised exactly how important art, design and architecture is to the Brusseleers. With its generous assortment of public art, intriguing architecture and socially engaging urban spaces like Mont Des Arts, Brussels Park and Le Botanique, it is no wonder why the city has fostered so many talented and creative minds. Like Victor Horta, who is generally considered the father of the architectural styling of art nouveau. On our second day in Brussels we were fortunate to be granted audience with architect site manager for the Grand Place, Paula Cordeiro and general director of the urbanisation
department in Brussels Michael Goetynck. They thought us a lot about the history of the Grand Place and the preservation processes that concerns the are before taking us on an exclusive tour up the 96 metre tall spire of the iconic Broodhuis. From there we could see most of
the city and it was easy for our hosts to share their knowledge, by pointing to various buildings, explaining their function and historical significance. Afterwards we were taken for lunch at the stylish BOZAR – a restaurant situated in one of the city’s most important cultural hubs, which also happens to be designed by the aforementioned Victor Horta.
Entering Bruges felt almost like stepping into a real-life painting. It is by far the most picturesque city any of us have ever visited, with its cobblestoned streets, monumental churches, the chocolatiers crooked brick facades, the weeping willow trees lingering above waters, which mirror like surface is only occasionally broken by the currents of a swan.
Crossing the streets you need seldom worry about passing cars but rather horse carriages and bikes. The air carries a sweet mixture of scents, from bakeries, confectioners, De Halve Maan brewery, and Belgian waffle parlors.
The historic center of Bruges which is under the protection of UNESCO world heritage, comprise of the famous belfry tower, burg square, basilica of the holy blood (where you can touch a vial supposed to contain Jesus Blood) the church of our lady (which is the second tallest medieval brick tower in the world), the intriguing Begijnhof (which local nuns still use as a cloister), Wijngaardplein and Minnewater which perennially inspire romantic aspirations.
Bruges is historically significant for having been a nexus in northern economic trade. It was even a major trading post within the Hanseatic league. As is usually the case with economically strong cities with high fluctuations of external impressions, Bruges also became a centre for art in the Middle Ages, especially what is now referred as the Flemish primitives. Today the city still serves an important role fir Baltic and international trade, but is generally known as for being a tourist Mecca.
Amsterdam, capital of Netherlands, is one of the most iconic canal cities in the world. It is a city with rich history and was once one of the main economic trade points in seventeenth century Europe. As a leading economic force it was only natural that Amsterdam also became a hub for cultural development, especially during the era we now refer to as the Dutch Golden Age, which led to advancements in painting, architecture and technology. Perhaps particularly impressive was the advancements made within the field of hydraulic engineering, which the city is very much a testament of today. In modern times, the city has become a hot spot for tourism. It is unique in its libertarian views on recreational substances and continues to produce products like cheese and beer that is widely enjoyed across the globe.
While visiting Amsterdam, we were quickly drawn toward the idiosyncratic architectural style and city planning, which due to now outdated utilitarian features, seemed almost lost in time. A good example is how almost every building still furnish hooks and pulleys to raise and lower cargo, despite there being virtually no need for such accessibility any longer. Though practically redundant these appendixes now pose a symbolic value and aptly reflect the city’s history as a naval-based center of commerce. DespiteAmsterdam’s unique infrastructure clearly being designed to minister a different function, than the one its currently serving, it is still fascinating to see how the city council has benefited from this unique layout as well as the locals tailored lifestyles, favouring bikes over cars.
After two fully packed days in Amsterdam, we still felt as if we had barely scratched the surface of what the city had to offer. As we walked we sometimes abstained from conferring with the map, because there was simply no point in prioritising certain parts of the town over others. It is a city one could keep exploring ad infintum.
Wanting to discover and learn more about World Heritage Sites in Western and Central Europe within the context of urbanisation, architecture, society and culture we thought Berlin, with its rich history and multicultural atmosphere, a great place to begin our trip around Europe. While manoeuvring most of the city by foot and public transport, we got a first hand impression of Berlin’s broad spectrum of architectural styles which indirectly speaks to the city’s turbulent history.
The mixture of neoclassical facades, Parisian building models, modern housing projects, grandiose structures and monumental edifices like the Berliner Fernsehturm speaks to Berlin’s many phases – from First, to Second World War and the division posed during the Cold War – and show how the denizens responded to periods of both adversity and prosperity.
In light of Iga’s research, we organised a meeting with Dr.Anke Zalivako from Ladesdenkmalamt Berlin, who is responsible for the protection and preservation of major World Heritage SItes in Berlin such as: Museum Island, Palaces and Parks in Potsdam and Berlin and Six Berlin Modernism Housing Estates. The meeting was very insightful and Dr. Anke told us a lot
about the particular challenges that come with preserving World Heritage Sites. Perhaps especially interesting was it to learn more about the modern housing project and the difficulties that emerge in preserving something that is still in use by the public.
After the meeting with Dr. Zalivako, we begun to see the city in a different perspective as we now knew more about its architectural past and the changes particular neighbourhoods went through.
In curious pursuit of the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates we decided to see the Britz Residential Estate, which includes the Famous Horseshoe Estate. Although perhaps nothing special to a modern, its accolade as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is more than understandable. At the time of its inception in the 1920s, the Hufeisensiedlung was a highly innovative housing structure, meant to improve living conditions of lower income families by offering affordable, airy, sun-lit residencies,
with individual kitchens, bathrooms and access to green spaces. The modern housing projects was also a shrewd move in tackling the housing shortage Berlin then suffered.
The idea of modern housing might have been too innovative to be fully appreciated in the 1920s. However adding Modern Estate Building of Berlin to World Heritage SItes list was an important decision as it is clear to see how much of an impact this way of making buildings has since had.
And so we’ve arrived at the final destination of this journey – Goslar. Once again, when friends asked me where I am going and I told them about my choice of destinations, they were all surprised why would I go to these unknown places. And indeed, Goslar wasn’t full of tourists. But it was full of beautiful architecture and lovely views.
I only had one day to experience Goslar, but if I were to go again, I would have planned two. Unlike the previously visited cities, it’s not just Goslar’s Old Town that’s on the UNESCO World Heritage list, but also the Mines of Rammelsberg. The reason I’d recommend two days for visiting is so that you have enough time to see and enjoy both parts of the world heritage. Sadly, I only managed to explore the Old Town – but it was still worth it!
The Old Town of Goslar was named a UNESCO World Heritage thanks to its 1,500 extremely well-preserved half-timbered houses, dating back to different eras in time. The town is famous for gaining its wealth from mining and at one point it became the seat of the German Emperor. The historical old-town vibes can be experienced at every corner of Goslar’s narrow and cobbled streets.
Finding your way around the streets and figuring out what to see in which order can be tricky, so my biggest recommendation would be to grab yourself a map with pre-described routes from the Tourist Information Centre (it costs 1.50 euros). This map was my best friends for the whole time I was in Goslar, and it helped me see all the important and historical sights in a timely matter.
As sad as it is, we have come to the end of my journey and it is time to go back to where it all began – Vienna.
– La terrible legende du dragon de la rue de la Vieille Tour –
as told to me by a local:
Once there was a dragon who would bring illness to the people and let the fields full of crops burn, so that the citizens would have nothing to eat anymore. He lived up high in a tower in Bordeaux and would only stop terrorizing the locals if he would get young virgins as a sacrifice every Sunday. So the city would offer him poor girls from the streets to keep him satisfied.
But one day a girl from a richer family offered to go. She took a lot of wine and fresh food with her. Because she had a plan to talk to the dragon and hopefully find out his weakness to free the city from this terror. Luckily when she went in to the tower the dragon did not eat her immediately. The girl was intelligent and had a lot of wit, the dragon enjoyed talking to her. And he also enjoyed the food and especially lots of the wine. As the night went on the dragon told her his secret: only the holy staff of a saint could kill him. The girl quick wrote this down and threw little pieces of paper out of the window when the dragon wasn’t looking. Of course the people found the clues and searched everywhere for the staff but the weapon was nowhere to be found in Bordeaux. Actually a town near Bordeaux called Limoges had the staff but when the people of Bordeaux asked for it, they wouldn’t give it to them. They were afraid that they would never get it back. But the Bordeaux people begged and even agreed to send sons of the rich families as hostage to Limoges as insurance.
The staff was traded and when the bishop hurried to the tower and touched the wall, the frightened dragon burst out in a stunning noise and jumped into the Garonne where he went up in flames and smoke. Nicolette was saved and all the people of Bordeaux gave her a wonderful celebration. She was proposed to by a rich and beautiful lord of the region. But the staff was never given back, because they just washed and dressed up some poor men of the streets that they did’t want them back.
– The End –
I loved the story and the way the french lady told it to me but of course i had to research a bit more. So here are some additional info about the legend:
The name of the girl allegedly was Nicolette. She was very pretty, very intelligent and a ploughman’s daughter. The dragon told her he could only be forced to leave the tower by presenting him with the miraculous stick of Saint Martial, a pastoral staff endowed with miraculous powers, which Pope Saint Peter had given to Martial a long time ago before sending him to convert Aquitaine to Christianity. The staff had been in the Limoges Cathedral for years. Twelve jurats from Bordeaux were sent to Limoges to negotiate the loan of the famous staff, six were held hostage to guarantee the loan and the staff of Saint Martial finally arrived in Bordeaux. The sad end of the story tells us that the people of Bordeaux, having learned of the other magical powers of the St Martial’s staff, in particular its ability to bring rain, decided to keep it in the Basilica of St Seurin. As for the hostages, in other sources i read that they were not jurats but in fact poor heirs paid for this mission. Because of the Bordeaux refusal to return the staff of St Martial, they were buried up to their necks and massacred in a square in Limoges.
The legend about a dragon in Bordeaux originates from a time, in that the city of Bordeaux belonged to the English. In the famous tower there was a cannon, used to announce the curfew or to sound the alarm in time of war. At the top of the tower, floated the english standard decorated with leopards that the Bordeaux people called “dragons”. Extraordinary things were reported very quickly about the tower and the children who were shouting were threatened to be handed over to the dragon. Even though in the legend the dragon dies, scary stories of a dragon in the tower continued to be told to the children so that they would remain well-behaved.
The dragon’s tower allegedly still stands today, but now it’s part of Hôtel Tour Intendance so you can’t visit it anymore, a tour guide told me.
My second-to-last stop on this trip of discovering hidden UNESCO gems is Quedlinburg – a beautiful little town in Germany, full of typical half-timbered houses and medieval streets. I chose Quedlinburg as part of my itinerary for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I had never heard of this place before, and neither had any of my friends. So my curiosity to discover the undiscovered arose. And secondly, the city looked absolutely stunning when I looked it up.. And it was even better in person, if I have to be honest.
Quedlinburg’s Old Town has been put on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994 and this year the city celebrates a few occasions, one of which is 25 years since becoming a world heritage. Quedlinburg also marks 1100 years since the return of King Henry I’s reign to become the first German king, as well as 30 years since the peaceful revolution.
I had two days in this little paradise and it was more than enough to see everything Quedlinburg has to offer. Since I had never seen the typical German half-timbered houses before, I honestly thought I was walking in a fairytale. My eyes just couldn’t believe how beautiful this city actually was.
Amongst the main tourist attractions in Quedlinburg are the Schlossmuseum and Stiftskirche, Münzenberg, the main square with the city hall, and, of course, the cobbled streets of the Old Town.
An interesting fact is that the government doesn’t usually finance the renovation of the old houses, but instead encourages citizens to buy them and renovate the facades themselves. Even though most of the old town has now been renovated, there are still a few houses here and there that do not look as new as the rest – this means they are still waiting to find their new owner.
Quedlinburg is a lovely getaway for a day trip for everybody, interested in history and heritage. And an absolute must-see if you’re in the region of Saxony-Anhalt in Germany.
After three days spent in beautiful Regensburg, it was time to head west. After a long overnight bus journey, I found myself in one of the smallest countries in Europe – Luxembourg. Yet again, I was greeted with rainy weather. Are we surprised? – Definitely not! Thankfully, I had three days there as well, so the weather eventually turned out to be perfect.
The very first thing on my agenda for Luxembourg was to meet up with the lovely Claudine who works for OWHC and agreed to greet me and show me Luxembourg City through the eyes of a local. We went on a tour around town and I got to see all the major attractions in one go – this is how small the capital actually is! I made a long list of all the places I wanted to go back to and explore even further, but a quick tour was exactly what I needed in the very beginning, just to get a feel of the place.
Fun fact – Luxembourg is the only Grand Duchy in the world. In the city centre you can see the Grand Ducal Palace, and only during the summer months you can visit it. Luxembourg is also where many European institutions are seated. They even have a whole area dedicated to European Union buildings.
The fortress and the old city centre of Luxembourg have been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1994. Because of its strategic position, Luxembourg had one of Europe’s greatest fortifications between the 16th and 19th century. Despite its compactness, the Old Town offers plenty of sites to visit, such as the Notre Dame Cathedral, The Bock and the City casemates, the Lower part of the city (Grund) and much more.
Luxembourg’s population is just about 600 000 people. Did you know that most of the inhabitants are foreigners, mostly Portuguese? The country has an incredibly high standard of living, which makes it the perfect place to settle. On top of that, most locals speak at least 4 languages fluently – Luxembourgish, French, German and English, which makes Luxembourg one of the easiest countries to get around.
One last important thing you shouldn’t miss when visiting Luxembourg – checking out the view from the Chemin de la Corniche, also called “the most beautiful balcony of Europe”. It is definitely not surprising with a view like this.
Bordeaux – the Port of the Moon always has been and will be a melting pot of cultures and ideas. A local told me that the only people not welcome in Bordeaux are those who want to keep people out. And that’s exactly the feeling i got from my stay in the city. Bordeaux has a proud number of 347 listed UNESCO buildings. Wandering through the city, i noticed a lot of them: the Basilique Saint-Michel, Cathédrale Saint-André, the Grosse Cloche and other belfries and city gates. Colorful wooden shop facades and many beautiful green areas. For over a decade the city is working on transforming itself into a much greener place. Every year the city f.e. plants at least 1000 trees, from this year on, the new major, doubled the goal.
Tourism increased immensely since Bordeaux became World Heritage in 2007. The city tries to minimize the impact of tourism f.e. by allowing only 50 cruise ships a year into the port. And there are other World Heritage sites only an one or two hour train ride away. This helps to stretch out the the big tourists numbers in summer. The city is perfectly situated for day trips f.e. to St. Émilion with it’s amazing monolithic church carved out of a limestone cliff. Bordeaux and St. Émilion are both very famous for wine, which is an intangible World Heritage as part of French cuisine since 2010. But more importantly on it’s own as the ancient Georgian traditional Qvevri wine-making method. In Bordeaux i visited the new wine museum Cité du Vin and studied up on some wine facts.
In front of the World Heritage Center of Bordeaux at the Place de la Bourse is a unusual sight: The Miroir d’eau was built by the city as a meeting place. For rich, poor, locals, travelers, adults, children … In the summer is also perfect for dogs to cool down. The mirror is even more spectacular in the summer months when the water transforms into a field of fog every 15 minutes.
While staying in Bordeaux i got the chance to meet with Leila, a architect from the city. We talked a lot about the measures that are in place to keep the city as beautiful as it is. The world heritage of Bordeaux includes many 18th houses and shops, which are in use every day. That’s why the regulations for the old town are very strict: f.e. the doors should always be painted in classic colors. A deep blue, red or green is fine, but no pastels. Leila also goes from house to house documenting every building . This work is time consuming but she says she loves it, because she gets to go out of the office . She also often gets approached by people who are interested in her work and wanna discuss or make her aware of a problem in the area.
The third city on my list happened to also be the place where The Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC) Regional Secretariat for Northwest Europe and North America is seated – Regensburg. This place cannot be described with anything less than immensely rich history, medieval remains and large heritage. Regensburg was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006 because of three major criteria.
First of all, the architecture of the Old Town in Regensburg represents and proves the city’s important role as a trading centre in medieval times. Thank to the Danube river, which runs through the city, Regensburg was a transition point for traders between Italy, Bohemia, Russia and Byzantium. The look of the city has also been largely influenced by different cultures and architecture styles throughout the years.
Secondly, Regensburg was part of the Roman Empire, and roman remains are still to be seen around the city. People can also see the remains of two Palatine palaces from the 9th century, as well as numerous other historic buildings, which showcase the importance and wealth of this are and its community.
Thirdly, the centre of Regensburg was lucky enough to survive the period of the Second World War, and thus preserve its authenticity and medieval vibes. The UNESCO listed part of Regensburg – The Old Town with Stadtamhof, exemplifies what a medieval central-European trading town used to look like.
Now a bit about my adventure in Regensburg..
Despite the rain being my company throughout almost my whole journey until now, Regensburg still greeted me in an extremely warm and welcoming manner.
At this point of the journey, realising I still have a long time ahead to spend roaming around Europe completely by myself, gave me a certain level of anxiety. Luckily, I got to meet up with one of the other scholarship winners – Klara, who currently lives in Regensburg. Experiencing the city through the eyes of a local, as well as the night life, was exactly what I needed at this point. Did you know that Regensburg is home to over 500 bars in the city centre alone, which makes it the largest concentration of drinking establishments in all of Germany!?
The next day was spent learning a lot about Regensburg’s history and heritage from the lovely Monika – the organisator of this whole amazing project. Thanks to the fact that she is also a tour guide, Monika was able to tell me so much about her city.
Visiting the UNESCO Information centre is an absolute must for everyone who wants to learn more about Regensburg’s history and importance. The centre consists of many interactive displays and ways of learning, suitable even for children. In the same building you can find the stairs, leading up to the top of the clock tower and revealing a fascinating view over the Old Town and the Stone Bridge.
One of the highlights of my visit in Regensburg was a boat tour along the Danube river. And when I say boat, it is more like a decently sized ship. There were three major reasons why this boat ride turned into an exceptional experience. On one hand, you get to see the city from a different perspective. Observing the beautiful Old Town and Stadtamhof from the water should be on your list of things to do in Regensburg. On the other hand, during the 1-hour trip (one way) I got to make friends and talk with some locals and tourists about why we all chose to visit Regensburg and what other places around the country are worth visiting. And thirdly, the boat took me to one of the biggest attractions of Regensburg – Walhalla – a hall of fame, that honours distinguished people in German history. Walhalla may look impressive in photos, but once you see it in person, you get a completely different feeling for how large and spectacular it is.
I spent 3 days in total in Regensburg and this time was perfect to see pretty much everything and also be able to feel and enjoy the vibes of the city.