Showing posts with label Travelogue. Show all posts
Text: Mariam Qureshi

Photography: Courtesy the author and Dirk

Dhaka is a city of paradoxes; on one side we look down the 18 story of Westin Dhaka with all the glitz of an international five star hotel on to the dirtiest slums of the city. On the other hand is a tuk tuk driven by men all around the city whose stamina can match a sprinter performing in the Olympics and on the other hand cars lined up at a traffic signal for no less then forty five minutes. To narrate another contradiction would be that a real string of pearl will cost you as less as 300 Bangladeshi Takkas which would amount to around four hundred Rupees where as a bottle of water can cost you up to 500 BDT. It is a characteristic city with a flavor of its own.  Essentially another paradox of the city; it is extremely poverty stricken yet art and culture thrives in abundance.

Text and Photography by Ar. Jinisha Jain

For me, traveling on the Grand Trunk, alias the GT road has always invoked the lure of a joie de vivre ride. Conjuring a surreal jugglery of images from the past, it morphs and paints destinations and characters into picture-perfect illustrations: landscapes whittled by hills, rocky passes, fertile valleys, rivers and plains; charming countryside with hamlets and agrarian burjis(straw huts) amid cropped fields; aspiring cities embellished by the sensuous skylines of their forts, the mosques and the mausoleums; the aristocracy entouring on elephants with gilded howdahs, their silk drapes fluttering in the wind; the bazaars swarming with wrangling merchants and their camels, horses or even donkeys laden with merchandise; colorfuly attired gypsies roaming from one village to the other; Kheras (mounds) of the dead towns; sites of great battles; the settlements of mystic origins and much more to the fetish of the effortless, friskful imagination. Since the Aryan invasion of the subcontinent, it has served as a corridor for the movement of invaders, adventurers, armies, goods and ideas. This was the road that witnessed the Scythians, Huns, Seljuks, Tartars, Mongols, Sassanians, Turks, Mughals and Durranis making successive inroads into the territories, hitherto uncontrolled beyond the Indus. The likes included Timur, Babar, Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali. Along this road were the empires expanded; the political, the trade and the sacred magnets founded, erased and re-raised; and the genealogies of the patron dynasties inscribed on the most splendid monuments. More than a road, it is a long-winding narration of a timeless journey!

Text & Photography: Shermeen Beg

One of the things I enjoyed most during my forays of Rome was the sensation of sudden revelation. This is the secret of its charm and that of much of old Rome; it is also one of the reasons why the modern sectors of the city, built or ‘opened up’ by the Haussmann and Fascist schools of town planning during the twentieth century, appear dull in comparison.

I can only guess, but the Trevi Fountain appears to be the busiest monument in Rome; the only time I have been able to appreciate this baroque splendor was when I trekked out at sunrise to visit it, even then I was carefully watched by two policemen. Any other time of the day you have to be prepared for the over the shoulder tossing of coins into the fountain that is being faithfully recorded by the ‘non tossers’! Legend has it that the coin toss (over your left shoulder) will ensure your return to the eternal city in 7 years. This particular legend earns the city of Rome some 3000 Euros daily (that is collected every night and distributed to a supermarket that serves the poor of Rome, the Italian Red Cross, as well as other local charities); this may explain the watchful eye of the policemen at 7 am!

The allegories and symbolism of the fountain are lost on the masses as they pose for the perfect picture. The large architectural backdrop is not unlike a Roman triumphal arch. Crowning the attic and supported by symbolic representations of Fame, is the coat of arms of Pope Clement XII who commissioned the fountain. The four allegorical figures set against the balustrade probably represent the seasons. In the lower part, at the centre, stands the majestic figure of Ocean, personification of water, accompanied by tritons and seahorses pulling a chariot in the shape of a seashell. The juxtaposition of a calm horse on the left and an unruly one on the right serves to remind us of the dual nature of the sea. Around them, pools and basins overflowing with water, recreate a natural setting. In the niches on the sides stand the personifications of Abundance on the left and Health on the right. Water, forcefully gushing from the rocks into the basin below, is the real protagonist of the site.

Text & Photography: Ar. Shermeen Beg
I must confess: Rome is not my favorite Italian city. Give me the grandeur of the Renaissance Palazzo of Florence, or the quintessential charm of Sorrento or even the small town warmth of Gubbio over the chaos and disrepair of Rome. Rome is just not a lovable city; the ruins, the traffic, the noise and the filth have made it less than appealing. Pope Pius II once commented on the Roman Forum: “Time has ruined all; ivy covers the walls that once were clothed with tapestries and golden draperies; thorns and scrub flourish where once sat purple-clad tribunes, and snakes infest the queen’s chambers.”

To experience true Rome I would suggest you stay home and watch the 1953 film ‘Roman Holiday’; a time when you could see the Trevi Fountain without being squashed by a Bangladeshi trying to sell you a rose on one side and a modern day gladiator offering to have his picture taken with you on the other; a time when you could fall asleep on a bench like Audrey Hepburn by the Coliseum without fear of someone picking your pocket; a time when you could playfully put your hand in the Bocca della Verita without first standing in line for the privilege.

Yet, there was one place that completely mesmerized me, one place where the hordes of tourists would evaporate in my mind’s eye as I would feel so completely engulfed in this womb. For me, all forays into the Historic City Centre of Rome began at the Piazza del Popolo, usually with one pilgrimage in mind. For it can only be described as a pilgrimage.

My favorite route would consist in taking the little alleys and lanes I had discovered during the course of my stay. I would avoid at all costs the Via del Corso, an Oxford Street of sorts, promising high street shopping teems of tourists and screeching cars. As I left the throbbing Corso behind me, the lanes become narrower and cooler as sunlight rarely filters through, and the only people I encountered along the way were locals who kept their heads down as they rushed about their business.

Anticipation pulsates as I get nearer. Despite knowing what awaits me at the end of my pilgrimage I find I am quickening my pace, and then I squint, for suddenly I have entered a sun-drenched piazza and before me stands the Pantheon.

This piazza is an epitome of the insouciant attitude of Romans to their great monuments. In spite of the edicts of successive popes and the provision of an alternate site, the populace persisted in using this piazza with its charming Renaissance fountain as a fish market till 1847. The roofs of the market stalls were supported by poles inserted into still visible holes cut in the columns of the Pantheon’s portico.

Today the fountain plays merrily on, the piazza a perfect setting for this perfect building that encapsulates perfect space. I have visited the Pantheon at all times of the day, I have been there in rain and shine, I have been there on Pentecost when rose petals are showered upon the congregation, I have watched the painstaking progress of the restoration as the scaffolding moved ever so slowly on the inside. Yet it is always this first breathtaking view that fills me with complete wonderment.

I could tell you the building is circular with a portico of three ranks of huge granite Corinthian columns (eight in the first rank and two groups of four behind) under a pediment opening into the rotunda. I could tell you that the 16 gray granite columns Hadrian ordered for the Pantheon’s pronaos were quarried at Mons Claudianus in Egypt’s eastern mountains. Each is 39 feet tall, five feet in diameter, and 60 tons in weight. These were dragged on wooden sledges when transporting on land. They were floated by barge down the Nile and transferred to vessels to cross the Mediterranean to the Roman port of Ostia where they were transferred back onto barges and up the Tiber to Rome. I could also tell you that except for the 3 columns on the left all are original. But in order for you to understand and appreciate the glory that is the Pantheon I must first tell you its history.

The origin of the Pantheon has been a much debated mystery. The inscription that appears on the trabeation of the portico tells us that this building was erected in 27BC by Marcus Agrippa. However this is misleading. While Marcus Agrippa may have made the first Pantheon, it was burnt in a fire in 80AD. Emperor Hadrian rebuilt the Pantheon in its entirety in 118-125AD but such was the emperors modesty that he never had his name inscribed on any of his buildings. Finally, in 1892, French architect Georges Chedanne discovered that the bricks of the Pantheon bore stamps dating from years between AD 120 to 125.

This Roman ‘temple of gods’ was ceded in 608AD by the Emperor of Byzantium to Pope Boniface IV, who dedicated it to the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs. In the Middle Ages it was used as a fortress, while, in 1625, at the orders of Urban VIII, the bronze sheeting of the beams of the portico was removed to cast 80 cannon for Castel S. Angelo and the four serpentine columns of the baldachin of Saint Peter’s. In 1870 the Pantheon was made the sacrarium of the kings of Italy and was restored; gates that had been installed to prevent the market held on the square in front from extending all the way into the temple were removed and the bell towers added by Bernini were demolished.

Moving through the portico one enters the Pantheon via bronze doors. Unlike all previous temples where the exterior dominated the interior architecturally, here it is the ‘cella’ (the cella or shrine being small and reserved for a limited number of adepts) which is the cynosure of the whole building. It is roofed with what was still the greatest dome in the world until the 20th century. The wonderful sense of harmony is probably due to the fact that the diameter of the dome is equal to the height of the building.

Aesthetics aside even a layman can appreciate this feat of engineering that would enable a building to withstand the thrust of the dome. This was achieved by a complicated system of relieving arches embedded in the huge mass of concrete that forms the core of the whole building, from its foundation to the summit of the dome. The concrete was mixed with travertine, tufa, brick and pumice stone in successive layers, with the heaviest materials at the lower levels, the lighter tufa and pumice mixture being used at the top of the dome. The thickness of the dome diminishes from about 20 feet at the base, to 5 feet at the summit. At the centre of this dome is an opening or oculus, 27 feet in diameter; the sole source of light within the building.

Hadrian has said about his design “My intentions had been that this sanctuary of All Gods should reproduce the likeness of the terrestrial globe and of the stellar sphere…The cupola…revealed the sky through a great hole at the center, showing alternately dark and blue. This temple, both open and mysteriously enclosed, was conceived as a solar quadrant. The hours would make their round on that coffered ceiling so carefully polished by Greek artisans; the disk of daylight would rest suspended there like a shield of gold; rain would form its clear pool on the pavement below, prayers would rise like smoke toward that void where we place the gods.”

As I stand inside the Pantheon looking heavenward, the chaos that I had managed to keep at bay is filtering through (an estimated 15 million tourists visit Rome each year). Returning to reality I have to admit that as much as I criticize the city, it is the enduring qualities of Roman sanctity, beauty and sensuality that offer a slight hope of outwitting time and decay.

Text and Photography by: Shermeen Beg

It was Christmas Eve and after a grueling flight (with an emergency landing in Milan due to water flooding the plane thrown in for good measure) me, 69 kilos of luggage and my Springer Spaniel finally landed at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport.

Christmas Day dawned and feeling surprisingly recovered from my trip I was ready to begin my exploration of the city. Explore it I did for the next three and a half years. I traveled the length and breadth of Italy and once I discovered low cost airlines, the world was my oyster; I traveled to Paris, Berlin, Istanbul, Morocco and ultimately even Russia.

I was so ill prepared for my move to Rome that I didn’t even own a map of the city but undaunted I charged on, feeling the pulse of this metropolis that had doubled its population for the Christmas holidays when Catholics the world over flock to Rome to hear the Pope’s sermon and receive blessings from the Holy Father himself at the famous little balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

I still remember that first day vividly. I took a tram (electronic train) to start my journey through an imposing entrance into the city for those traveling from the north; that of the Porta del Popolo. Designed by architect Nanni di Baccio Bigio, the outer face features statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The internal façade was redesigned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini as a welcome to Queen Christina of Sweden, newly converted to Catholicism (at the cost of her throne) who arrived in Rome in December 1655. The gate opens into the impressive Piazza del Popolo. Designed in a neoclassical style, it is elliptical in shape and widens panoramically into two broad exedras that have set within them fountains made of travertine with basins shaped like giant seashells surmounted by sculptural groups. In the centre of the square lies an obelisk amidst lion shaped fountains. The design for the Piazza (and the fountains in the hemicycles) was completed by Guiseppe Valadier; though it is not difficult to read into his design the influence of Bernini’s Piazza San Pietro. Both piazzas have semi-circular elements that are further accentuated by the lack of enclosing loggias that had been the norm at that time.

The obelisk was erected in 1589 and is the second oldest obelisk in Rome standing 111 feet tall (including its base); it was brought back from Heliopolis to Rome by Augustus in 10 BC as a decorative element for the Circus Maximus. Over time the Circus was left unused and this obelisk was buried under rubble. When it was re-discovered in the 16th century during excavations, it was in two pieces. Pope Sixtus V had it restored and employed these relics of antiquity like punctuation marks at the crossings and terminals of his new road system. He originally intended to use them as the gnomons of sundials, but, like his scheme for turning the Coliseum into a wool factory, this was never carried out.

In keeping with the overwhelming Egyptian theme, one often stumbles upon a mummy standing in front of the obelisk. Upon closer inspection the mummy’s death mask covers the face of an immigrant standing stock still for hours hoping to get a few tips at the end of the day. For every coin you drop in the box, the mummy bows once!

Legend has it that the ghost of Nero, the infamous Roman Emperor said to have fiddled as Rome burned, would terrorize the neighborhood in the form of demon crows that lived in a cursed walnut tree. Pope Paschal II reassured the locals in 1099 by replacing the tree with a church paid for by the people (hence the name ‘il popolo’).

[An aside for all Dan Brown fans; this church is home to the Chigi Chapel where the first of the cardinals was found murdered in ‘Angels and Demons’.]

By 1660, the designs for the twin churches of Santa Maria di Montesano and Santa Maria dei Miracoli were commissioned by Pope Alexander VII and several architects were employed before the project could be completed, these included Carlo Rainaldi, Bernini and Carlo Fontana. The churches frame the so-called Trident of three streets fanning from the piazza. By various ingenious devices a dramatic effect is achieved; two symmetrical looking churches that in reality stand on two different sized and shaped lots. The solution was to use an elliptical design for the church on the smaller site. The building was then pushed as far back as possible so the smallest diameter of the ellipse would correspond in width to that of the other building that was circular in plan. Simultaneously the smaller church is capped with an oval dodecagonal dome while the other with a round octagonal one, thereby happily achieving the apparent similarity rendered so elusive by the difference in shape of the sites.

Today, Piazza del Popolo is one of Rome’s most appealing squares. This vibrant piazza is one of the best places to soak up the Roman experience. The triangle to the south is home to some of the city’s most exclusive shopping, and the ocher-colored buildings that dominate the surrounding neighborhood make for pleasant wandering through narrow side streets. Throughout its checkered history the Piazza has been home to many events. From the Barbary horse race at the culmination of the Carnival in the 17th century, to being the smart meeting place for evening carriage drives or being a stopping place for diligences arriving from the north and the venue for public executions till as recently as the 19th century, the Piazza del Popolo has always remained a focal part of Rome. In more recent times, the Piazza has hosted many events from state functions, charity concerts, art exhibitions, Christmas markets and of course the biggest part of the year on New Year’s Eve. Every Wednesday, the members of the Pattinatori del Pincio Association meet in Piazza del Popolo for a wild roller-blading tour of the city. The route varies each week and is decided on the spot once everyone is there.

The most unexpected and memorable event during my stay in Rome at the Piazza del Popolo was an exhibition of the Trash People, life-size representations of people created from consumer refuse, like tin cans and metal containers, by German artist Ha Schult. These Trash People had been traveling the world, starting from Germany and heading onwards to La Grande Arche de la Defense in Paris and Moscow’s Red Square in 1999, the Great Wall of China in 2001, the Giza Pyramids in 2002, and Switzerland’s Matterhorn in 2003. Schult is one of Europe’s foremost practitioners of Action Art and to see the military like placement of the figures on the piazza was reminiscent of the Terracotta Army of Shi Huang Di, the First Emperor of China.
Rome is often described as the Eternal City; it has always been and will always be. To me the magic of Rome is in its eternal discovery of its multiple facets; whether in the form of a fountain covered with crawling bees carved out of stone, or a single ray of light penetrating an oculus, or God giving life to man via a single touch. But to reach any of these destinations my journey always began at the Piazza del Popolo. My sentiments are echoed in the words of an Italian author who in 1686 described the Piazza as ‘so majestic as to promise well from this beginning how many marvels must lie within so famous a city’.

Text and photography by: Ar. M Sayem Ghayur

Italy is an ambiguous country, where you have information desks but no one in them, you have phone booths but no cheap phone cards available, and if you have coins for the booth, the engage tone doesn’t let you dial (dial tone in Italian phone lines is like the engaged tone and the vice versa). What more? You see shops but they are mostly closed (due to multifarious intervals Italians take during working hours), and most of all you see people but you can’t expect them to communicate, unless you know their language or you are really good at sign (or maybe body) language. This list of ambiguities continues; Italians take tea and coffee without milk, Italians never give you an option for having milk in your tea or coffee but they will give you options for water to drink, “frizante” (fizzy water) or “naturale” (natural). In this global age, Italian cities have internet connection but you can’t use it until you submit your passport at the internet provider’s desk (thus no concept of free Wi-fi connection anywhere). Further more, all Italian cities have dual names, an international name and the Italian name, like Venice is also Venezia and Florence is Firenze as well as Florentia! Much later on in my one month long trip I had to ask an old lady in my inter-city train if the next stop was of Florence and I had to utter the city name many times and in many different ways until I realized I should call it Firenze!

Our first stop in Italy was of Milan and the airport greeted us with all of these ambiguities. We had landed early morning, and so no information desk was open, we never found a foreign exchange or a place we could get some change for the phone booth. We did find a stall from where we bought a very expensive phone card and luckily our hotel manager knew English but our journey to it was still hours away.
What is good about Italy is its transportation network; however it was hard to understand how to get to Milan Central from the airport. There were many other tourists like us who were wandering around the airport just to understand the way out. When we managed to get to the right train, for our hotel, we got there with no problem at all.

Considering the fact that Italy is one of the world’s most toured countries, it strikes as odd to see tourists being treated without much care. In our country locals stand in a line while the tourists get a VIP treatment (with agents at their disposal), in Italy tourists are made to stand in long queues while the EU nationals get better treatment here as well. Still what pulls the globe to Italy is its history mainly. Besides the classic flavor of its cities Italy is home to the top brands of global fashion industry. Italy is the third largest producer of wine in the world and one of the leading in olive oil, various fruits, flowers and vegetables. Hence what you will see the most on streets are bars, pastecerias, gelaterias and pizzerias (no KFCs and Mcdonalds). All shops close down till six in the evening, while the bars stay open till customers stop coming. Italians are lazy for everything but their drinks.

Streets of Italian cities still maintain a very relaxed mood, people are never in a hurry, they walk for miles, they jog in their bazaars, and even old people cycle to get groceries. Italy’s economy was agriculture based until a major wave of industrialization occurred after the Second World War, now the country belongs to the Group of eight (G8) industrialized nations. The industrial setup mostly comprises of small and medium-sized family-owned businesses, thus it has been less successful in terms of developing world class multinational corporations. This aspect of their modern society distinguishes them from their earlier generations who used to think big and achieve equally too. On the other hand Italian culture is best explored in their own country as they are still much more indigenous than global.

Even when the economy of Italy happens to be multi-directional and multi-faceted, its Cityscapes wear a look that appears to be paused in time, its people have come into the 21st century but have not modernized culturally all that much. Many of them still make a living by putting to show the marvels their ancestors built, the contribution of modern day Italians is absolutely non-existent. I fail to understand why the people of such nations don’t realize the void their act of commercializing the past has created. A void of retrogression and backward thinking, putting exorbitant ticket fee for every monument they inherit doesn’t make them any more progressive than a third world nation stuck in its miseries. Present day Italians are too lazy to match the majesty their ancestors had possessed, this laziness shows in the lack of contemporary developments and the absence of physical and behavioral modernization.

However, Turin also called Torino is a city which did surprise me with its versatility, dynamism, charm, and strife for revitalization of its image every now and then. Besides being historically rich, it did prove to be trendy and modern with respect to its cityscapes, its development schemes, its activities on both city and street levels and the attitude of its people too.

Torino is the birthplace of Italian industries and it still is the center of Italian automobile industry. The city ranks second after Milan as an industrial city of Italy. To understand the highly innovative and super self-reconstructive nature of this city, its history will have to be briefly mentioned. Turin was the seat of the Savoy kings till the 16th century; later on it became the first capital of a unified Italy until it was shifted to Florence and then Rome. Through out the twentieth century, Torino was a typical one factory town, a town whose economy was completely dependent upon the auto-industry. Fiat (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino) was the Italian auto industry with more than half of the market at home and a booming export business throughout Europe. It caused population to migrate from impoverished southern Italy, while getting transformed into an industrial city itself with a vast network of suppliers clustering around it. In no time Fiat dwarfed Italy’s other manufacturers and its political leaders, single-mindedly focused on profit, growth and market domination. With Fiat’s contribution Italy transformed from a country of farmers with huge families into a modern state with the fifth largest economy in the world. In the years that Fiat dominated the economy of Torino there was little development outside the physical and social parameters of the Factory. From this monopolistic footing Fiat exercised an almost direct power over the city through a network of social, cultural, sporting, and pensioners’ institutions under the Company’s control. Local political institutions were almost completely marginalized.

After years of industrial rule came its decline. Torino witnessed shutdown of factories, therefore the lay offs, abandoned sheds, old chimneys, and the company towns speaking tons of its historical past and a tale of sudden urban degradation. But the city did not take a long time to realize the need for its reinvention with the help of rethinking economic strategy, social planning and urban development schemes to help Torino rise to prosperity again.

The idea of urban renewal emerged for the very first time when The Fiat factory called the Lingotto Complex shut down 1n 1982. This was the largest car factory in the world and the first that was constructed on an American model in Italy in 1923. Its unusual design had five floors, with raw materials coming in at ground level. Cars were built on a ramp that went up through the building. Finished cars emerged at rooftop level, where there was a test track. The destiny of the avant-garde Lingotto building changed when in the 70’s it became outdated and finally it closed down in 1982. In the coming years, it was decided to convert the complex into a large multifunctional centre. Architect Renzo Piano won the competition to evolve the symbol of 20th century Turin’s identity into a 21st century landmark. The Lingotto Fierre is home to an immense convention centre, a concert hall, a conference centre, an art gallery, an auditorium, a hotel, a service centre, a shopping area, executive offices and also the Faculty of the Automotive Engineering of the Polytechnic Institute.

Turin saw this as one of the first examples of rethinking urban-identity for an old building without ignoring its glorious past. Besides the ever famous test drive track on its roof top which still exists, Piano chose to remodel only the inside of the building, thus leaving the outside unaltered, with its rhythm marked by large windows and pillars. The panes of glass in the floor-to-ceiling windows, for which the old factory was famous, have also remained unaltered.

In the 90’s Torino formally launched a rethinking process in order to build up an identity comparable to that of other cities of Italy and unique to it’s self alone. A major driving force behind speeding up this process of urban and economic reconversion came with the city’s selection to host the Winter Olympics of 2006. Many urban spaces of the industrial city were remodeled into the most contemporary of sporting facilities for the Olympics events. Other events endowing the city with some more international investment, diversified economic structure, creation of new jobs, better quality of life and most importantly a diverse cultural identity, include its appointment as 2008 World Design Capital, hosting the World Congress of Architecture UIA 2008, the World Air Games event in 2009 and being the European City of Science in 2010. However, most important of all the events that has already had the most impact on the city, once filled with sputtering smokestacks, is the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy in 2011. Torino is planned to play a leading role in the celebrations as it was Italy’s first capital. All the urban transformation projects have been directed to facilitate this next big event. A challenge that is no test for a city that has already reinvented itself into a center for contemporary art and design, while preserving its historical significance quite adeptly.

Turin has everything you’d expect to love about an Italian city. It is located mainly on the left bank of the Po River, surrounded by the Alpine arch, and is about an hour away from the coastline. Its history left quite a few moonlit piazzas, baroque churches, and fairy-tale castles all around it. Considering it’s the birthplace of Italian industry, today Turin seems surprisingly pristine. It has green parks, clean wide boulevards and snow-covered mountains in the distance that boast a network of ski resorts. On our train to Torino I befriended two Milanese girls, both of them mentioned they were going to Torino to see their boyfriends. So from the beginning of my journey it was hoped that the industrial city would have some kind of a twist to its image.

Porta Susa is the train station I got off at and it was a surprise to see how many people were there just to attend the architecture conference that had brought me to Torino as well. Right after getting off the train, stalls could be seen giving free information to groups of tourists about the conference program, the accommodation, routes, tourist spots and history of the city in general. Getting out of the station did not discontinue the Torino-awareness program, as the exhibition banners and posters accompanied you everywhere across the city.  The World congress of Architecture had been draped around the city like a party dress.

As ambiguous as other cities had proved to us Torino came as a comfortable and a tourist friendly city. Another thing that made it more cosmopolitan was its multi-ethnic populace. Throughout Europe, Turks, Arabs and Bengalis have opened up Halal fast food joints that say “Doner Kebab” outside. Doner kebab (rotating roast) is a Turkish dish like the Arabic shawarma made of meat cooked on a vertical spit and sliced off to order in pita bread or a bun. In Torino you will find these stores all along every street, due to the large number of Arab and Turk Muslims living here. Only in Torino I got “Muslim” discounts on these Kebab shops.

The hectic scheduling of the conference would have given one no opportunity to go around the city if it wasn’t arranged around the city itself. The opening ceremony took place at La Venaria Reale, a huge complex that includes the baroque Royal Palace, with breathtaking gardens and a 3000 hectare La Mandria Park. This extravagant palace was used as a Savoy residence. Located in Piedmont which happens to be in the suburbs of Turin, one has to go through different routes of public transport which bring splendid piazzas and stradas on the way. Most notable of the lot was Piazza Castello which is connected to a few more piazzas through Via Roma that is acclaimed as one of the best shopping streets around Italy.

The city with all its historical sites and future projects in the pipeline comes out to be very scattered, and in order to improve mobility across the city, citta di Torino has proposed setting up of a single, integrated metropolitan area system intended to become the backbone of transportation in Torino. This program intends to encourage the use of collective transport (trains, trams, the underground and buses) as opposed to individual transport.

Other works to be completed till 2011 are well documented in the new master plan of the city. According to the master plan, all development will be directed along three main axes of the city, namely the Po River Axis, Central Backbone Boulevard, and The Corso Marche Axis.

The Po River Axis is marked by natural as well as historical sites. The program for valorizing this area focuses on restoration of existing parks, rivers, landscapes, as well as villas, piazzas, palaces and abandoned factories of historical importance. In short, such projects are taken to be improved and developed that highlight the presence of Po as the axis of leisure and tourist retreat.

Notable projects include restoration of the beautiful Parco Del Valentino; restructuring of the contemporary National Automobile Museum; physical and functional refurbishment of the Luigi Nervi designed Palazzo del Lovoro; restoration and redefinition of the Regia Manifattura Tabacchi and construction of a new Humanistic Facilities University Centre, the team of architects working on which includes Sir Norman Foster.

The project that interested me the most out of these on the Po River Axis is that of Regia Manifattura Tabacchi. It is one of the oldest buildings in Torino, characterized by long wings and large courtyards, situated near the Po River. Only parts of the building remain, thus refurbishment sees radical changes as buildings are planned to be immersed in the landscape with terraces and courtyards stepping down towards the river. This complex plans to house teaching, sports training and recreational facilities in it.

The second axis called Central Backbone Boulevard is planned quite radically and targets construction of the crossrail system, directed by reunification of the two parts of the city separated by the railway line. Train tracks will be moved underground, and the free surface area will be converted into a large tree-lined avenue. The Spina Centrale will have cycle tracks and squares embellished with works of art by 11 famous contemporary artists. This area is targeted to become Turin’s new cultural and artistic district.

Projects along this axis include the Milanese architect Mario Bellini designed Central Municipal Library, to be constructed in the area left idle by the abandoned Nebiolo and Westinghouse Plants, parts of which will be preserved.

A new Porta Susa Railway station will be built as well as a major exhibition centre in place of the OGR (Officine Grandi Riparazioni Ferroviarie), a surviving emblem of Torino’s industrial past and an agglomerate of industry buildings that used to construct and repair engines and carriages. This project of building preservation and functional transformation will be dedicated to the exhibition of contemporary art. Another of such projects in this area witnesses the transformation of the former prison complex. The Carceri Le Nuove will now hold the extensions of the law courts, judicial offices and notary archives alongside hosting various cultural activities. This complex along with the OGR and the New Cultural Centre by Bellini will form the contemporary cultural hub of the city.

Other projects along this axis include the construction of the new Intensa Sanpaolo Headquarters, a hi-tech skyscraper designed by Renzo Piano, recovery and extension of the Polytechnic Campus (originally built in the 1950’s), the construction of the large Dora Park in place of an area heavily occupied by the memory of various abandoned industrial sites, and the dynamic urban restructuring interventions in Savigliano area and Vanchiglia Railway Yards.

Developments on the Corso Marche Axis put an end to Torino’s urban transformation process. This area is getting planned to form the metropolitan area for the city. The urban and architectural facilities planned will particularly reflect the activities of sectors Torino has been successfully catering to for many years; cars, automation, the aerospace industry and electronics, alongside the training, research and health sectors. Projects like the New Alenia District and Mirafiori Design Centre Area will form the hub dedicated to the new economy, design and high level training.

On top of developments on these three axes, much uplift projects are underway to improve the quality of life and environment of the citizens and the tourists. Italians love basking in the sun in their public piazzas while they park their cars in shaded areas. Car parks in public places have been moved underground to liberate the piazzas and walkways from the menace of cars and their pollution, giving prominence to a better urban life, pedestrian flow and architectural heritage.

The example of Torino with all its rechristened industries and urban squares prove how dynamic efforts can shape up new directions for old cities. Other cities of Italy appeared conservative and indolent with respect to the coyness they had for contemporariness. Their strong identity brings people from around the world to them but cities with a penchant for progression never wear out.

Text and Photography: M. Sayem Ghayur

Right at the time when our country is witnessing the worst social conditions in its short history as a free state, with a looming energy crisis, religious confusion, political instability and an insatiable onslaught of inflation, I decided to take a break. To be factual more than fictional, I actually planned to go to Indonesia via Dubai but gave up the idea the moment I realized that my travel dates had actually coincided with DSF (Dubai Shopping Festival). Saving on the Indonesia trip altogether would have given me a larger budget for shopping that I had never done with an open heart before, and going to a shopping festival sounded like just the right thing to do.

So I embarked upon the experience after reading and listening to opinions of many just to observe how opinions contrasted with personal experience. Dubai fifty years back was just a desert comprising primarily of fishermen and their camels, and a few decades later, its not only a desert but has the best shore lines, islands, hotels, night clubs, resorts, shopping malls, and all the best of the globe. To the eye it looks like a shot out of the “fast and the furious”, where speedy cars, stretching highways, winding bridges and the out of scale skyscrapers teach you the lifestyle, but actually just like the manifold and eclectic influences, the Emirate is a lot more than just that too.

Dubai is one of the seven Emirates of the UAE (United Arab Emirates), other being Abu Dhabi, Al-Ain, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, Ajman and Sharjah. The total population of UAE is around 4.4 million out of that only 1.4 million are UAE nationals and the rest are expatriates from all around the world. Indian community is the biggest with a population of around 1.4 million; the second largest community is that of around half a million Pakistanis. The multi-ethnic demographics and the transit nature of Dubai give it a very global appeal. To make it more global it is thematically planned and designed to have the best characteristics of the entire globe. Multiple culture influenced development is coupled with corresponding events and festivities to put it all in the befitting limelight. This multi-ethnic characteristic of UAE is evident not only in its built spaces and development but even in the way people use and inhabit these places. Dubai reflects the presence of all these expatriates in its events and architecture.

Overall Dubai, a tax-free port city, looks like a big shopping mall in itself. It has huge shopping malls at the corner of every street, in fact all along every street, and all of them are cities in themselves; cities of commodities, designer-ware and food courts. Just to attest the presence of a global culture and not taking precedence in local history, art, crafts and culture, these malls take on themes based on foreign cities and their respective histories and cultures. Dubai relies deeply upon borrowed ideas and themes to make the borrowed manpower from these foreign lands interested in a land as such. Besides giving these expatriates a reason to feel at home and environments to relate to, these global influences and artificial environments make the Emirate itself rich and full of variety, and above all prove to be business friendly for the tourism industry.
These thematic shopping malls along with their pseudo-environments make shopping experience not only fun for window-shopping but sight-seeing too. Mercato Shopping Mall is designed to look like a Mediterranean town during the Renaissance era. Wafi City complex is a mixed-use development in Dubai, including a mall, hotel, restaurants, residences, and a nightclub. This “city’s” environment is themed after ancient Egypt by the help of pharaoh statues, hieroglyphics embossed columns, hieroglyphics painted glass pyramids and entire building plans derived out from a pyramid form.  Mall of the Emirates is currently the largest shopping mall in the Middle East. Its biggest claim to fame is the Middle East’s first indoor ski slope, Ski Dubai, that gives you a feel of the northern hemisphere in the land of sweltering sand and dusty winds.

Ibn Battuta Mall is one of Dubai’s most visited sites due to its astounding architectural design, its concept and the way it combines retail, entertainment, historical education, eating-out and various other family activities within a distinctively themed environment. This fabricated environment aptly reflects the very essence of Dubai in the combination of Middle Eastern heritage and cosmopolitan lifestyle. It encapsulates the true spirit of 21st Century Shopping in the 14th Century World, besides bringing to life the adventures and excitement of the life of Ibn Battuta, the famous Arabian traveler and scholar.

The said mall takes its name and design concepts from the travels of the renowned 14th century explorer, Ibn Battuta, a man who traveled over 75,000 miles during his lifetime. He set out to go on Haj, and before returning home, he toured many countries for the next 25 years. This experience resulted in a travelogue called Rihla, in which he penned down his worldwide encounters in a comprehensive manner. And finally, Ibn Batuta mall presents the same adventures in an interactively illustrative way.

The Mall is divided into six main courts reflecting the most influential places Ibn Battuta traveled. The six courts: China, India, Egypt, Tunisia, Persia and Andalusia, not only allow visitors an invaluable glimpse into the past but conceptually enable people to follow the footsteps of the legendary Moroccan explorer. No expense has been spared in order to ensure that each court is able to maintain the look and feel of the represented regions through the attention to detail in the architecture.

Furthermore, the mall offers ‘edutainment’ features that combine entertainment and education. Visitors can benefit from storytelling tours at the mall providing an exciting opportunity for the public to better understand the historic value of the architecture, theme, and the life of Ibn Battuta. “1000 Years of Knowledge Rediscovered” is a unique and historical exhibition which is open for viewing in different parts of the mall. It aims to increase awareness on 1000 years of Muslim contribution in science and technology to modern civilization and is the first of its kind in the World. The exhibition consists of 27 historical inventions, discoveries and innovations all by Islamic scholars. Visitors have the opportunity to view and read about all of the exhibits free of charge, as they stroll through the mall’s six courts. However, more than anything else, the concept of having super-incorporated an interactive science centre and a museum in a place as commercial as a shopping mall seems possible only in a place like Dubai.

Starting with the China Court, it is quintessentially red and its major attraction is the life-size Chinese junk boat that is positioned in the centre of the court. This boat is similar to the one used by Ibn Battuta during his voyage through China. Ibn Battuta’s boat had crashed off the shores of China, thus the one at Ibn Battuta mall actually happens to be a replica of the wrecked boat. Intelligently enough, the wreck is turned into a virtual 3-D aquarium; the visitors can walk through this opening in the front of the boat. The Chinese inventions of Zheng He, a Muslim who was the Admiral of the vast Chinese fleet which traversed the oceans in the 15th Century, can also be viewed in this court. The China court houses a 21 screen cinema including UAE´s very first IMAX theatre. One of the two larger food courts also happens to be in the China court. The other one is at the other end, the Andalusia Court. Both the food courts offer a diverse range of international cuisine.

The Indian Court takes its decoration from the embellishments of the 17th-century Taj Mahal but meant to be conceived plainly as Mughal Architecture (or 14th Century Tughluqid); its scintillating white is enhanced by laser lights in the centre of all the motif carvings. Coming right after the red China court, it tends to appear much more majestic than it could have, being on its own. The pivot of attention in this court happens to be a modern full-size working reproduction of an elephant clock, an Islamic invention consisting of a water-powered clock in the form of an elephant. This eight-meter tall replica of the elephant clock devised by the 12th century Mesopotamian engineer Ibn Ismail Ibn Al Razzaz Al Jazari is made using the same materials as of the original. Mall visitors can watch the mechanism ticking over, the dragon-serpent, falcon, and elephant rider moving and the clock dial shifting every 10 minutes. The Mughal court with its carved arches, jali screens, columns and extravagant chandeliers looks regal as relived.

Persian Court highlights the theme of Ibn Battuta’s discovery of a hidden cave of gold and other treasures and personally I found it to be the most beautiful of all the courts with its highly ornate tiled dome, a replication of the dome of the Shaykh Lutf Allah Mosque in Isfahan, ironically enough this dome hovers above an outlet of Starbucks Coffee. It will be interesting to note that Shaykh Lutf Allah Mosque in Isfahan was not even built when Ibn Battuta traveled there, however it is borne on piers borrowed from Baghdad’s Mustansiriyyah Madrassa, a building he did see. The ancient astronomical computer called the Islamic Astrolabe is one of the four astro-tools exhibited in Persia Court. The astrolabe was used by Muslims to determine prayer times and the direction of Mecca. They remained popular until 1800 AD. The Islamic Celestial Globe, a 3 dimensional map of the stars, the quadrant and armillary sphere are interactive astronomical tools which are based around the Mini Observatory in the Persia Court.

After coming into the Egyptian Court you get a feel that it is designed naively to look just Egyptian more than the Egypt at the time of Battuta’s travel. A more cynical look at the designing of the mall would make you realize that all designing has been inspired by Ibn Battuta’s travels for sure but it doesn’t actually document the styles of architecture of that era specifically and has not all to do with his travel experience alone but the commercial catch of it. Some parts of the Egyptian court depict a 14th century Cairo, while others are themed with hieroglyphic friezes alone. The arches, ceilings, overall lighting along with suspended fixtures and ornamentation of all the courts is worth observing for most of the time. The Egypt Court is home to many fascinating inventions, including the 8m tall armillary sphere, an accurate reconstruction of a manuscript from the 14th Century.

By the time you come to Tunisia you are already hyper bombarded with visuals and information to take anything into notice, and its time that you have already realized that it all changes too much too quick. I had my fascination fixed with the Persian court and I wanted to go back to it to have coffee there, so Tunisia was not as well appreciated by me as it could have, if the Persia court fascination hadn’t stung the very best of me. However, the major difference between this area and the rest was clearly visible. All the other courts take you inside the famous architecture of the specified territories; Tunisia takes you around its architecture. Thus, shows you a fake sky with spurious impression of winds gently unsettling the leaves of plastic palm trees. It felt quite “modern” to experience the primitiveness of a 14th century city.  The exhibition hosts eight fully operational interactive exhibits representing ingenious devices of a 13th Century Muslim mechanic and engineer Al Jazari, known as the father of modern day engineering. Six of Al Jazari’s Water Raising Devices that he created to help farmers increase their agricultural area by irrigating arid soils, can be explored in the Tunisia Court at the Mall in the middle of a grand food court.

Andalusia happens to be the last of all the courts, seventh in the line, yet doesn’t have the feel of a culmination point. Considering the fact that you have to walk all the way back to the court you entered from, this becomes the start of the end, so a culmination would have been redundant. This court sees all sorts of arches used in Moorish architecture, tre-foil, horse-shoe, and others. A Court of Lions fountain is found there too, totally out of the original context, and thus holding no significance at all. Yet, it made me realize one thing quite strongly, all the design work done to create environments of the different parts of the world that Ibn Battuta traveled, was based on architectural styles and styles of ornamentation to be exact; flat ceilings, against a dome or a cylindrical one, different styles of columns in different courts, or the arches, or the lighting devices. The moment they reproduced an actual architectural element from history, like the Shaykh Lutf Allah Mosque dome or the court of lion fountain from the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, it proved a disgrace to the effect of the original. I do not doubt the level of actuality with which these architectural wonders have been replicated but the context in which they are placed, amidst food courts and retail outlets of branded wares i.e. What if all the courts had such lifted monuments rather than lifted and contemporized design elements?
Besides the conceptual, historical, thematic, and aesthetic distinction of the six courts, the single level mall covering 3.1 million square feet is also subjected to retail zoning in its shopping experience planning. The shopping zones are divided into three sections, the first being Family Convenience, then Major Department Stores, Up-Market Brands & Lifestyles and finally the Entertainment World. In doing so, a consumer can shop with ease rather than rush around the mall in search of a particular product or service, giving him a trouble-free shopping experience. The mall can be entered into different courts too, it is not necessary to take the sequence of the experience. For the first time when you come for sight seeing purpose it makes sense, but if you come for shopping, taking the whole trip just doesn’t make sense. To aid entry into different parts of the mall, a total of ten car parks with a capacity of 5000 parking spaces are provided.

The mall when viewed from the outside seems much larger than it is experienced, and this happens due to the fact that the retail outlets take much of the space of the mall, if you don’t go into each an every corner of all the outlets, you avoid a major chunk of the mall from walking it. So after going from one corner of the mall to the other, coming back doesn’t feel as much as it should be, logically speaking that is.

The meticulous job of art directors, designers, engineers and architects, is much evident in the way the culture of each individual place is reflected throughout the shopping mall. The team of experts responsible for such an extensive experience actually managed to transform the traditional souk concept into a modern mall experience quite successfully. Though, it could have been disturbing for Ibn Battuta himself to see how his 120,000km journey has been shrunk into an extravagant and commercial yet exuberant and fast tour of a 1.3km-long shopping mall décor, but in the end it couldn’t stop me from recalling Ibn Battuta’s own words describing his dream of a glided tour that this 21st century shopping mall has somehow tried to provide to its customers in an entertaining way:

“I dreamed I was on the wing of a huge bird which flew me in the direction of the qiblah, then to Yemen … then far to the east.”

Text & Photography:  Shermeen Beg

The Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects. When the latest exhibition entitled ‘1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces’ claimed to intersperse these structures within the existing fabric of the museum, naturally I had to go see firsthand. The curators realized what we architects have always known; architecture is not about drawings, models or photographs, but about experiencing a space. By placing these structures and allowing people to walk through them, touch them and almost inhabit them, the audience engaged with the actual buildings. The official press release states “Using the landscape of the V&A as a test site, the V&A invited 19 architects to submit proposals for structures that examine notions of refuge and retreat. From these 19 concept submissions, seven were selected for construction at full scale.” The successful teams consisted of Rural Studio from Newbern Alabama USA, Vazio S/A Belio Horizonte from Brazil, Sou Fujimoto Architects and Terunobu Fuimori from Tokyo Japan, Studio Mumbai Architects from Mumbai India, Helen & Hard Architects and Rintala Eggertsson Architects from Norway.

Text and photography: Zubia Leghari

Love is lasting; but true love is everlasting.
That’s the thought that churned in my mind as I read the story of how Lord Shiva cried so much and so long on the death of his beloved wife Satti that his unending tears created two holy ponds. One located in Pushkara in Ajmer (India) and the other at Ketaksha, which literally means “raining eyes” in Sanskrit. Standing amidst those ruins I could almost “feel” the “purity of that love”; it was as if the very air all around had somehow trapped those feelings of Lord Shiva for his wife, and those feelings could be sensed even today nearly a thousand years later. It was eerie; yet it was beautiful.

Katas, as it is called today is nestled between Lahore and Islamabad off the M2 Motorway. And is not a heavily visited place, except by those who know of it. And seek it. Driving up to it one cannot but be drawn towards its ageless magnificence. Settled on a small hill and overlooking an endless plain, the site is a treasure trove to the adventurer.

Text & Photography by Shermeen Beg

Danish architects and activists at N55 have developed a walking house in order to live nomadically with little impact on the environment. This modular dwelling unit, measuring 3.5m high by 3.5m wide and 3.72m long, allows for people to move through cities and villages. The designers say the house was constructed to move at a pace similar to human speed (the walking house can cover a decidedly leisurely 60 meters an hour on its six insect like legs) because, “walking often helps a person concentrate their thoughts and creates a mental state that enforces mobility of the mind”, which suggests that anyone feeling stressed could benefit from getting out and taking the house for a walk. To maintain stability, 3 of the 6 legs must remain on the ground at any given time.

The low environmental impact is achieved by use of solar panels and micro windmills that gather energy. Systems to collect rainwater are also incorporated. Water may be heated via the solar panels, and potentially a greenhouse can be added to the basic unit to provide a substantial part of the food needed by the inhabitants and a composting toilet system allows sewage to be disposed of.

One of the most important by-products of the walking house is the extinction of land ownership. According to the website manifesto; ‘The Walking House requires no permanent use of land and thereby challenges ownership of land and suggests that all land should be accessible for all persons.’ While this style of nomadic living is definitely not unknown to us, the walking house itself takes precedence from the traditional Romani carriages of the 18th century. So I was curious to see this insect like form, would it be in fact more comfortable than a Recreational Vehicle (RV)?

Text: Zahra Ashraf
Visuals by:
Zahra Ashraf

From the Arab conquest of Persia in 637 A.D. until the present times, the Persian Gardens have represented images of Paradise, with their dynamic realm of visual, acoustic and aromatic affects. Beyond doubt, the relatively arid and tree less lofty Persian plateau gave the gardens such supreme value. The life giving aspects of the gardens delineating pools of water and over hung by the tree of life, with the world shown as if divided into four quadrants appeared upon the earliest decorated Persian pottery. This type of cross plan arrangement, intercepted with a focal point in the centre either as a pool or a pavilion became the hallmark of Persian gardens under the name Chahar Bagh. Basically a private formal garden the Chahar Bagh was traditionally used by the affluent for entertaining in a protected and relaxing environment; essentially a paradise on earth.
One such Chahar Bagh caught my instant fancy on a quaint April afternoon while travelling in Iran.  Perhaps it was the mood coupled with the ambiance or that particular moment in time that this vintage garden in Shiraz made me reflect deeply upon “Behesht” the perfect Garden of Paradise that is promised to the faithful and the righteous.
Shiraz is home to two of the greatest poets the world has known, Hafez (1324 – 1389) and Sa’di (1207 – 1291).  The aramgahs (tombs) of these poets are nestled in pristine gardens which are visited by young and old alike for poetry recitals and pleasure.  Hafez displayed real devotion to his birth place and many of his verses refer to the charms of Shiraz, as these lines:
“Joy to Shiraz and its unrivaled border
O heaven preserve it from decay.”

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