Sitting at the centre of the ancient Mayan site of Chichen Itza on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, the pyramid of Kukulcan has a pleasing symmetry and an imposing bulk, but perhaps its true majesty lies in the secrets of its construction - over 1000 years ago. The pyramid is a giant calendar. It consists of nine levels faced with a total of 52 panels - the number of years in the Mayan- Toltec cycle. The staircases on each face of the pyramid have 364 steps. Add the square platform at the top, and you have 365 - the number of days in the solar year. Most impressively, at the spring and autumn equinoxes the shadow cast by the sun on the northern staircase appears to cause a massively long 'snake' to crawl down the building and link with the stone serpent's head at the foot of the staircase.
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Saint Peter´s Basilica is simbol of the force and the platform which, when the time again became ripe, would explode as the glorious centre of a rejuvenated Rome. By the third century, the Roman Empire had grown too big for its own good. Emperor Diocletian, aiming to make his cumbersome and restless dominions more manageable, divided the Empire into Eastern and Westem parts. The East was governed from Constantinople and the West from Ravenna, and then Milan. No longer the political focus of the Mediterranean and the conquered European world, the splendid city of Rome went into decline. However, before the Western Empire fell apart, two developments ensured that through its dark years, Rome's light would diminish but not extinguish. One was the establishment of the papacy. The second was the Basilica erected by Emperor Constantine, that great saviour of the Christians, over St Peter's grave.
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After the death of Philip of Alsace at the Siege of Acre, during his return visit to the Holy Land, The Gravensteen became the permanent seat of the counts of Flanders until the 14th century. After their departure, the castle was used first as the royal mint, then as a courthouse, then as a prison, and finally as a textile factory, before it was abandoned altogether and fell into decay.
Private houses were attached to the castle and a substantial amount of its stonework was removed for use in the construction of other buildings. By the end of the 19th century the castle was a forlorn ruin, and plans to demolish it were announced.
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Overlooking Granada, the Alhambra presents a hard and unyielding face to the world, its square towers displaying martial symmetry. This severity is softened when you approach from the back, as terraces of ornate gardens, interspersed with pools of running water, seek to emulate the shady, cool gardens of the Koranic heaven.
After the heat and dryness of North Africa the Moors must have thought they had reached heaven when they conquered Granada. The Sierra Nevada. snow-capped for much of the year, provided the conquerors with water for the fountains and pools that helped to make this corner of Spain paradise on Earth.
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Although the trees that surround Angkor have been tamed, it is still possible to imagine how this ancient city was “lost” to the outside world for centuries until the French explorer Henri Mahout discovered it smothered in the jungle in 1860.
Angkor was the capital of the Khmer civilization, which spanned some 500 years, until it was sacked by Thai invaders in 1431. It reached its zenith in the 12th century, first with the building of the temple that came to be known as Angkor Wat and later with the construction of Angkor Thom, a royal city-within-a-city.
The temple was built by King Suryavarman II as a representation of Mount Meru, the mythical holy centre of Hinduism. Sorrounded by a large moat bridged by a stone causeway, it is a west-facing rectangular stone structure comprising three levels. The uppermost level, formerly open only to priests and the king, is topped with four corner towers and a central sanctuary 65 metres from the ground. Originally devoted to the Hindu god Shiva, the temple later became a Wat, or Buddhist monastery, and is now accepted as a spiritual monument by the predominantly Buddhist Cambodians. Images of the Buddha can be found among its vaulted galleries.
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The most evocative views of the Taj Mahal are across the Yamuna River, and getting to the Taj is part of the magic. Although it is quicker to take a boat across, taking a cycle-rickshaw through the village of Katchpura is more atmospheric. In the cool of a pre-dawn morning, you will pass villagers sleeping on low charpoy beds outside their small dwellings, often passing so close that they could reach out and touch you.
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Jaisalmer Fort sits in the Thar Desert in the westernmost part of Rajasthan. Located on a former trade route used to transport spices and silks between Arabia and India, Jaisalmer, more than anywhere else in India, appears to have stepped out of the Tales of the Arabian Nights - a collection of ancient folk tales. This is partly due to its location in a remote and inhospitable desert. and partly because of its appearance. Made rich from trade, its merchants built havelis, or merchants houses, with finely detailed windows and balconies that owe more to Arab style than Indian.
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During the 16th century, Lisbon played a prominent role in international trade. Because of the established sea routes it became a natural port of call, and King João II devised a plan to protect the city by building three fortresses on the Tagus to form a triangular defence. The king died in 1495, and the building of the tower in the Belém district was left to his successor, Manuel II. Dedicated to the patron saint of the city, St. Vincent, the tower was designed by the architect Francisco de Arruda, recently returned from North Africa, and work was completed in 1520.
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It is not just the altitude that makes Lhasa a dizzying experience, although at nearly 4300 metres you get only get 65 per cent of the oxygen you would get in each breath at sea level. That light-headed feeling comes in part from the deep spirituality of the place, and from the heady mix of juniper smoke and the ever-present smell of yak butter. Expansion and modernization characterize the Chinese part of the city, but the old Tibetan quarter still has an ethereal, almost medieval atmosphere, especially in the network of small streets that surrounds the Jokhang Temple. The centre of Tibetan Buddhism, the Jokhang was completed in AD 647, although it has been continually restored and expanded ever since - most recently following damage caused when the Chinese brought their Cultural Revolution to Tibet.
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No city is more romantic than Venice, and no sight more essentially Venetian than gondolas bobbing on a misty Molo, the waterfront where the Piazza San Marco meets the lagoon. In the very early morning the square is quiet, with only a few commuters disturbing the handful of pigeons that strut imperiously on its worn flagstones. Soon the place will be thronged with both tourists and birds, but for now you can be virtually alone.
Piazza San Marco has been at the centre of the city since it was first constructed in the 16th century, aLthough some of the buiLdings around it date from much earlier. At one end lies the Basilica di San Marco, construction of which began almost 1000 years ago. Squat and strangely shaped, its domed roof looks more Islamic than Christian when seen from the soaring heights of the adjacent campanile, or bell tower. At sunset the façade of the basilica seems to come alive as the mosaics, and even the stone itself, glow in the warm evening light.
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The mountain of Corcovado, topped by a 32-metre statue of Christ the Redeemer facing out over Guanabara Bay, has to be the great enduring image of Rio de Janeiro. From up here, on a clear day, you can see almost the whole city, from the downtown business district to the Internationally famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. It also has one of the best views of Sugar Loaf Mountain, another of the city's great landmarks.
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If the mention of a place can bring to mind a season, then St Petersburg conjures up winter - deepest winter. Snow-covered statues, breath rising in clouds and the Winter Palace seen through mist across the frozen River Neva.
Winter is not an easy time to visit Russia - the biting cold might restrict your sightseeing - but it is the time of year that defines both the city and the Russian people. It is nlso the season when the tsars used to visit St Petersburg. The Winter Palace was built to house and amuse the Russian royal family during the long dark winter months. From inside you can gaze out upon the same frosty scenes that Catherine the Great once saw, the views distorted by a covering of ice on the windows.
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Looking down on to the red-tiled roofs of the Old Town of Dubrovnik as it nestles quietly alongside the cool waters of the Mediterranean, it is hard to credit that its history is steeped in political intrigue, war and destruction. But appearances_are deceptive, and Dubrovnik has a more violent and colourful past than most cities in Europe. For most of its long history Dubrovnik was an independent city state. It ccame under the protection of Venice in the 13th century, and Hungary some 150 years later. The city preserved its independence by careful diplomacy and payment of tributes. Under these conditions it grew into a wealthy democracy with a wide network of trading outposts. As the importance of the city increased many civil construction projects, such as the city walls, were undertaken, and Dubrovnik proved attractive to writers and artists.
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The great city of Samarkand lies on the so-called Silk Road, the ancient trading route that led from China through the Middle East and into Europe. The city grew rich through trade, and constructed some of the finest buildings to be found in the Islamic world. Its strategic position has led Samarkand to be conquered and sacked many times throughout its long and bloody history. The first settlement there was constructed in the 6th century BC and was first conquered by Alexander the Great some 200 years later. As trade routes built up over the next few hundred years, the city grew in power and wealth despite being captured by both the Turks and Hun tribes. Indeed, it continued to flourish, as recorded by the Buddhist monk and traveller Xuan Zang when he arrived there in AD 630. At this time Samarkand followed the Zoroastrian religion of Persia, but the city fell to Islam when Qutaiba ibn Muslim invaded it in 712. This was the start of the first great period of Islamic development, which was curtailed at the beginning of the 13th century when the city was sacked by the Mongols of Genghis Khan, who slaughtered much of the population.
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Reputed to be the oldest living city in the world, having been continually inhabited for more than 4000 years, Varanasi (formerly Benares) is also one of the holiest places of Hinduism. It is so revered that the devout believe that just by dying there they can be freed from the endless cycle of rebirth. The old Hindu name for Varanasi is Kashi - City of Light - and the quality of light here is truly spectacular. It is one of the few places in the world where this has inspired artists with its clarity and texture. It IS best appreciated at sunrise as the faithful come down to the sacred : River Ganges to bathe.
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A place to be experienced as much as seen, Havana lives up to all the clichés that have characterized it for so long: the people really do dance the rumba, drink rum and smoke cigars. And everywhere you look, classic American cars - Buicks, Dodges and Chevrolets - cruJse along streets that seem to have changed little since the revolution.
The old part of the city, Habana Vieja, appears caught in a 1950s time warp. It looks like a film set, while the people who inhabit it resemble casually positioned extras: the elderly man sitting on the waterfront at sunset playing the trombone to his friend, another carrying a double bass across a square and the young woman dancing by herself to the music of the band on the terrace of El Patio restaurant. And over it all, making the scene unmistakably Cuban, is the scent of cigar smoke.
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'To shanghai' originally meant to kidnap a drunken man and press him into work as a sailor, but it eventually came to mean compelling someone to do something by fraud or by force.There are few cities in the world that have given rise to a verb, but it seems wholly appropriate that the frenetic city of Shanghai should have done so. The verb fits the city that was once central to the commercial exploitation of China and much of Asia but had an underbelly steeped in vice, gambling. prostitution and opium. The British were granted the first trading concession in 1842 after the First Opium War, when the Chinese government was forced to relegalize the import of the drug. The commercial exploitation of China by Europe had begun. Great fortunes were made in trade and lost on the spin of a roulette wheel. Shanghai thrived on intrigue, catered to every kind of perversion and allowed criminal gangs to roam the streets. Not for nothing was the city known as the “Whore of the Orient”.
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No artist's palette could ever conceive of a more perfect, more luminescent turquoise than that of the lagoon of Aitutaki, arguably the most beautiful in the world. Triangular in shape, the lagoon is formed by an atoll that rises some 4000 metres from the base of the Pacific Ocean. Within the lagoon is Aitutaki itself, the main island of the group, and a number of volcanic and coral motus, or islets.
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The bustling tourist town of Guilin in Guangxi Province is famous across the world for its limestone peaks, which rise majestically from lush green rice paddies. However, the best scenery is further down the Li Jiang (Li River), at Yangshuo. A number of official tourist boats ply this route, but they are primarily designed for the burgeoning domestic tourist market and drastically overcharge the foreigners they ferry down the river, in a long and decidedly unatmospheric convoy, then whisk them to Guilin by coach.
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Lake Titicaca has a haunting and desolate beauty. The intensity of the rich, dark blue of the water is unique among freshwater lakes and makes the wide expanses of sky and landscape look even more stark and exceptional. At more than 3800 metres above sea level, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. The clarity of the air at this altitude, combined with the hues of the lake and its islands, produces a colour palette of intense vibrancy. The lake, which is 176 km long and some 50 km wide, and straddles Bolivia and Peru, is considered to be sacred by many of the local people, who believe that spirits live in its deep waters. In Andean creation myths Lake Titicaca was the birthplace of civilization, and the sun, moon and stars rose out of it.
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The Great Barrier Reef is a series of interlocking reefs and islands that stretch for over 2000 km in the waters off the coast of Queensland, Australia. It is the most extensive coral-reef system in the world, and the largest structure made completely from living organisms: tiny coral polyps. Between 50 km and 300 km away from the shore, the reef comprises more than 2500 individual reefs (strips of rock or coral) and 600 islands. There are basically three types of island: continental islands (the peaks of sunken mountain ranges), sand islands and coral cays. Many of these islands have coral reefs nearby. or even mini-reefs fringing them, but Heron Island and the near'by Wilson Island are unique in that they are true coral cays that offer accommodation and actually form part of the reef. This means that you can simply swim from their beaches to dive or snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef itself.
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Stand by the edge of the 850-metre cliffs of the amphitheatre of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park and you will be dwarfed. The cliffs are a massive horseshoe of rock, often filled with swirling clouds that appear to change their mood as you watch. Sometimes they fill the basin, making the view of a few seconds ago seem like a mirage. At other times they just disappear, revealing the valley below. The cliffs of the amphitheatre drop vertically down to a green valley I and offer commanding views of the Devil's Tooth rock formation. Part of the way along the upper rim of the amphitheatre the 'bridal veil' Tugela Falls spills 850 metres over the edge to form the source of the Tugela River.
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In the parched landscape of the Namib Desert, the golden-orange light of dawn starts by illuminating the very tips of the dead camelthorn trees that point skeletal branches at the lightening sky. It then moves down their trunks and onwards, just as it has done every morning of their 600-year existence, until it reaches the drought-crazed white surface of Dead Vlei. Then everything appears to speed up, as the sunlight pushes aside the shroud of shadow and sweeps across the pan of the former take. The contrast between the cracked white of Dead Vlei and the red sand dunes that surround it is stark. There is literally a hard line where one finishes and the other begins.
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Face towards one of the 16 glaciers that carve their way down the Chugach Mountains of College Fjord and even though the ambient temperature is low, you will be able to feel a wave of cold air coming from these solid walls of ice. College Fjord was discovered in 1898 by an expedition looking for a way to get to the goldfields of the Klondike without having to pass through the Yukon. The fjord runs for 30 km and the glaciers in it are named after American Ivy League colleges. The furthest point is Harvard Glacier, one of the few that is still advancing towards the cold waters of the Gulf of Alaska. Although others are still grinding down steep-sided valleys towards the sea, they are melting faster than they are moving, which gives them the appearance of retreating.
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As you stand in the cold darkness of an Arizona night, waiting for dawn, you will have no comprehension of the enormity of the landscape in front of you. In the dull early light your first view of the Grand Canyon will be a flat, almost painterly composition. Then gradually the sky turns to blue and red, and golden sunlight starts to pick out details - first the edge of the far ridge, then the tallest pinnacles inside the canyon itself.
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If you were to design the perfect waterfall then Iguassu would have to be it. Straddling the border between Brazil and Argentina, where it is known as Saltos do Iguazu and Cataratas do Iguazu respectively, it comprises a range of cataracts.
One such is the Devil's Throat (Garganta del Diablo), which has a classic horseshoe shape and drops into a deep chasm. A walkway runs from the Argentinian side to the edge of the cataract, allowing you to stare directly at the wall of water as it drops into the void below.
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From whatever angle you look at it, Uluru (commonly known as Ayers Rock) dominates the surrounding landscape. Seen from afar, it is the only feature that breaks an otherwise flat horizon, while up close - such as on the approach road from the cultural centre - it looms above you, completely filling your vehicle's windscreen. Uluru is the largest monolith (single piece of rock) in the world. Composed of sandstone, which is normally grey, it has become redthrough a process of oxidization (in effect, rusting). As you get closer to Uluru, its brooding mass yields up a wealth of detail. Follow the walk that skirts the base of ttle rock and you will see great flutes that spawn torrential waterfalls when it rains, which is quite often despite the parched landscape round about. Elsewhere are caves and crevices eroded into the rock - many of which have been woven into Aboriginal creation tales - and right up close the rock is stippled and textured in a variety of ways.
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The Ngorongoro Crater feels so cut off from the outside world that you almost expect to see long-extinct dinosaurs. not just teeming wildlife, roaming within its steep, forbidding walls. Veined by the forces that created them, these walls rise 600 metres above the flat floor. Ngorongoro is actually a caldera not a crater formed when a volcano collapsed millions of years ago. At more than 20 km across, it is the largest complete, unflooded caldera in the world. As you look down from the rim you could be forgiven for thinking that Ngorongoro is completely deserted and rumours of its bounty exaggerated. But closer inspection through binoculars reveals signs of life. Those ant-like dots moving slowly across the caldera floor are actually bristling Cape buffalo, arguably the most dangerous animal in Africa. Only then does the true scale of the caldera become apparent.
The ruins at Ephesus are the best preserved of any Roman site in the Mediterranean. Although only 1 0 per cent of the city has been excavated, the wealth of surviving detail makes it easy to imagine the lives of the people who lived there: the latrines in the public baths are communal and packed close together; the brothel is across the street from the library of Celsus; the agora, or market area, is vast, showing the importance of trade to the city; temples occur at frequent intervals; and a cemetery for gladiators has provided much information about their lives.
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The city of Petra was carved from red sandstone in the 3rd century BC by nomadic Arabs known as Nabataeans. The only entrance is through a siq - a long, narrow gorge. This channel, eroded by thousands of years of floods, forms a twisting and convoluted pathway through solid rock that looms up to 100 metres on either side.
At some points along its 1.2-km length the siq is wide enough for the sunlight to flood in and lift the dark and oppressive atmosphere, but at others it is no wider than a couple of metres, and the walls appear to close above your head. An early morning visit can be an eerie experience, with just the wind whistling through the gorge and the strangely tinny echo of your own footsteps.
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Everything about Machu Picchu makes you marvel that it ever came to exist. The lost city of the Incas is built on a saddle-shaped ridge slung between two giant peaks. Near-vertical slopes drop away on either side, down to a massive bend in the Urubamba River. What could have motivated the Incas to undertake such a construction at this remote location in the Andean cordillera? Machu Picchu, built over 700 years ago and hidden by jungle since the 16th century, was rediscovered in 1911. It consists of about 200 buildings, which include dwellings and temples, a central plaza and a royal palace, all flanked by terraces for farming.
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It is easy to lose yourself in the fairy-tale mystique of Wat Phra Kaeo(or Temple of Emerald Buddha). Shimmering gilt towers, or stupas, vie for your attention with golden buildings topped with soaring arched roofs of multicoloured tiles. Small shrines give out clouds of sweet-smelling incense, and their fearsome stone guardians tower high above your head. But this is no fantasy palace: this is the most sacred place in Thai Buddhism - home to an Emerald Buddha statue so precious that nations have gone to war over it.
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The last bit of uneven rock that protrudes from the top of Mount Moriah is the holiest spot in Judaism. Jews identify it as the foundation stone of the world laid by God. On it, at God's behest, Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac, and Jacob, son of Isaac, dreamt of the ladder to Heaven used by the angels. In the tenth century BCE, King Solomon erected the first Jewish Temple on top of the rise - hence the name Temple Mount - at the centre of which was the Rock. On this stone was installed the Ark of the Covenant, in which were kept the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments revealed to Moses by God. A chamber, called the Holy of Holies, was built over this. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter it.
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Karnak Temple is a lasting tribute to the ancient Egyptian pharaohs quest for immortality. And as a powerful religious institution it is arguably more representative of life in ancient Egypt than the Giza pyramids which. despite their impressive size, are ultimately tombs for the dead rulers of the Old Kingdom. The temple's influence, which lasted for more than 1300 years, was central to the power of numerous New Kingdom pharaohs, including Seti I and Rameses II.
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This beautifully constructed castle, which stands on a hill at an altitude of 540 metre-high (1770ft), near Bari in south-eastern Italy, is testament to the personality and talents of its inceptor, Frederick II. Known as the "stupor mundi" or "wonder of the world”, Frederick was said to speak nine languages and to have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, especially in mathematics, science and astronomy. In January 1240, Frederick issued a decree ordering Richard of Montefulsco, governor of Capitanata, to prepare the necessary materials to construct a castle near the church of Santa Maria del Monte (since disappeared). It was built over the next decade, but since Frederick died in 1250, it is uncertain how much he used it - although it is known to have been the site of his daughter Violante's wedding in 1249.
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Situated at the meeting point of three sea lochs - Loch Alsh, Loch Duich and Loch Long - and looking west to the Isle of Skye, the castle of Eilean Donan, or island of Donan, combines spectacular location and colourful history in a way that makes it everything a British castle should be.
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Located at the shortest crossing between the UK and continental Europe, Dover Castle played a prime role in England's historical fortunes. Invading from France, William the Conqueror built the first castle in 1066 - an earthwork structure with a motte. Henry II did most to shape the building between 1179 and 1188, adding defences radiating out from the keep to produce Europe's first concentric castle. Henry II’s work was carried out with the help of Maurice the Ingeniator, and was completed by King John, resulting in a four-storey keep, a three-towered forebuilding and impregnable defensive walls.
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There have been fortifications on the site of Windsor Castle since the 9th century, when the Saxons built a stockade to guard the adjacent River Thames.The artificial mound on which the present castle stands was put in place by William the Conqueror in around 1070.
The first stone building - a round tower - was constructed during the reign of Henry II (1154-1189) and flanked on three sides by a high outer wall. The unprotected southern side was later fortified by Henry III (1216-1272), who erected a fourth wall and had a chapel installed in it.
In 1348, Edward III converted the central fortress into royal apartments; subsequent monarchs - notably Charles II and George IV made many additions and improvements.
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Built atop a high rocky outcrop, known as the Festungsberg, Hohensalzburg Castle is the work of successive archbishops, who enlarged and modified it through the centuries. Constructed originally as a stronghold rather than a residence, the powerful archbishops came increasingly to rely on it as a place to hide from their enemies and own rebelling subjects.
The first structure on the site was little more than a bailey with a wooden wall, built by Archbishop Gebhard in 1077. The archbishop had taken the side of the pope in his power struggle with Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor, and the castle was required to shore up Salzburg's defences. Under the subsequent reign of Archbishop Konrad I, a stone tower was added.
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Dating back over 130 million years, laman Negara is the oldest rainforest in the world. Home to elephants, the Sumatran rhinoceros and even tigers, as well as 14,000 species of plants and 300 species of birds, the forest is just three hours' drive from the city of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. The best way to reach the national park that surrounds the forest is to take a bus to Kuala Tembeling, from where you can catch a boat down the river to the park gate at Kuala Tahan. This boat journey is a major part of the Taman Negara experience, and makes you realize just how isolated it is from the outside world. Skirting the border of the park, the trip offers breathtaking views of the forest overhanging the water.
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At the time of Charles I of Anjou's ascension to the throne of Naples in 1266, the Kingdom's capital was already established at Palermo. When the tag of principal city was transferred to Naples, Charles was prompted to order the construction of Castel Nuovo there in 1279. The work took three years and was carried out under the supervision of French architects Pierre de Chaulnes and Pierre d'Agincourt. But Charles I’s attention was diverted to a rebellion in Sicily,and no one occupied the castle until 1285, when Charles II succeeded to the throne.
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It was Robert Fitzhamon, the Norman Lord of Gloucester, who first built a 10.6m (35-foot) motte here around 1091, on the site of a former Roman fort. This was surrounded by a moat and crowned with a wooden stockade, which was later followed by a stone keep. In the 13th and· 14th centuries, the de Clare family added the Black Tower, which they linked to the keep via an embattled wall. Then in 1423, Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, added the Octagon Tower and hall block. In the late 16th century the Herbert family made further improvements, creating a luxurious abode.
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This volcanic eruption is believed to have devastated an outpost of the advanced Minoan civilization, which had been established on the island before 2000 BC, leading to many theories that Santorini is in fact Plato's lost city of Atlantis. The present-day island of Santorini is formed from the circular caldera of the volcano. The circle is incomplete in places and, flooded by the sea. forms a natural harbour so vast that visiting ferries and cruise ships are dwarfed by it.
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From the imposing figure of the Statue of liberty to the flashing neon signs of Times Square, from the green oasis that is Central Park to the canyon-like streets full of yellow cabs, everything about New York seems familiar, even if you have never been there before. Like no other city, it has entered into our collective consciousness through a lifetime of images, yet no superlative can really do justice to its aggressive boldness. Of course it would be churlish not to mention another image of Manhattan burnt into the world’s memory: the sight of crashing planes and burning, tumbling buildings irrevocably affected more than just the skyline of a city.
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Arriving by boat from Dar es Salaam, you will see the waterfront of Zanzibar town looking much as it did in the days when Victorian explorers used the island as a staging post for their expeditions into the interior of Africa. David Livingstone, who discovered the Victoria Falls, started out from here, as did Henry Morton Stanley, the journalist dispatched to find him.
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The Île de la Cite may blend into the Paris rooftops when viewed from the top of the Eiffel Tower, but the island is one of the most significant places in France. Politically, legally and religiously it lies at the centre of the country and, by extension, the centre of the French Empire that once controlled a number of the islands all over the world.
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The diversity of life forms he encountered in this small area, and the adaptations they had made to local conditions, led him to formulate his theory of evolution. This was eventually published as On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859, and remains one of the most influential books ever written. It was on the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador, that the process of evolution was first understood. Charles Darwin (1809-82) arrived at the Galapagos in 1835 and stayed for just five weeks, observing and collecting specimens of fauna and flora.
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Tahiti, the Society Islands of French Polynesia have been synonymous with paradise on earth - a combination of gorgeous beaches, friendly locals and peaceful idyllic lifestyles. This impression was enhanced by the paintings of Paul Gauguin, who lived on Tahiti in the 1890s, and it still rings true today. The 15 or so islands in the group are dominated by Tahiti. Most trade and industry happens here, and many people think it is a country in its own right. However although it has many attractions - in particular, its rugged and mountainous interior - for a classic white beach and clear turquoise water speckled with deserted matus (coral atolls), you should head for other islands in the group. Iconic Bora Bora is among the best known, but therefore one of the most visited, so for a completely different experience try nearby Moorea and Huahine.
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Long known as a tourist paradise, the Seychelles is also a haven for many endangered and endemic species. And nowhere more so than on Cousine Island, where all the profits from tourism are ploughed back into conservation and restoring the island to its original state. The Seychelles is typified by massive granite rocks on small, golden sand beaches, and Cousine is no exception. The beach here stretches along half the island, and as there are only four villas, with a maximum of eight people at anyone time, you should be able to find a spot for yourself. Except, that is, for the many uninvited guests: if you are here between September and December you will find hawksbill turtles lumbering up the beach to lay their eggs.
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Towering 443 ft (135m) above the South Bank of the the River Thames in London, this enormous observation wheel has become one of the city's most familiar landmarks. Remarkably, the project was conceived without official backing or even the support of a developer. The husband-and-wife team of architects responsible for its design, David Marks and Julia Barfield, drew up initial plans around their kitchen table and campaigned tirelessly to see their vision realized before striking up a partnership with the airline British Airways.
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The new Wembley Stadium was the largest soccer stadium in the world when it opened in 2006. It was designed by the World Stadium Team, a joint venture between the world-renowned architect firm Foster and Partners and the global stadium specialist HOK Sport, and built by Multiplex Constructions, who were responsible for Stadium Australia in the 2000 Olympic Games. Seating an impressive 90,000 spectators, packed with state-of-the-art facilities, and with a soaring 436ft (133m) triumphal arch, which can be seen for miles across London.
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