19 September 2023

beautiful Aleppo: lost history

Ancient hammams/baths 
renovated during the Ottoman period
Wiki 2010 

Madrasa Halawiye
built in C12th 

The Syrian city of Aleppo/White or Halep/Milk takes its name from a local white limestone with which the city was built. Lots of set­tle­ments located in Aleppo’s western sub­urbs were also built with the local lime­stone. The Archaeol­og­ical Museum shows notable an­c­ient ar­t­e­facts found in northern Syria at major archaeological sites.

The city surrounded a monumental medieval Citadel which looked like a hillside acr­op­olis, the intel­lect­ual centre of traditional Syrian ar­chitecture, science, poetry, cuisine, music and crafts. The relics of ancient civilisat­ions lay in the remains of mad­rasas-religious school, palace and bath­hous­es. The early Graeco-Roman streets showed C6th Chris­tian build­ings, mediev­al walls and gates, Mame­luke mosques, and later Ottoman mosq­ues and pal­aces. The Citadel reflected C12th-14th Arab milit­ary might.

Hammam baths interior
Wiki 2001

In Damascus, 310 ks from Aleppo, each hospital was beau­t­ifully de­signed and built. So much money was spent on the archit­ect­ure and art that hospitals became the crown jewel of each new ruler’s ef­fort to refashion his city. Hos­pit­als also become part of Aleppo’s politico-architectural land­scape that defined urban Islam! But not just hospitals. In Aleppo, Nur Al din’s patronage extended to imp­ort­ant madrasas and Sufi monast­er­ies.

On the crossroads of some trade routes, Aleppo was ruled successively by the Hittites, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Umayyads, Ayyub­ids, Mame­luks and Otto­mans, each leaving their mark. See the C12th Great Mosque found­ed under the Umayyads and rebuilt. See the C12th Madrasa Halawiye, which incorp­or­ated remains of Aleppo's Great Cathedral of St Helena. The mosques, mad­rasas, suqs and khans beaut­ifully reflected the social, cultural and eco­nomic asp­ects of that very rich city.

Before the recent Syrian Civil War, these 13th and C14th relig­ious and commercial buildings gave well preserved examples of medieval Is­l­amic arch­it­­ec­ture which came from its hist­orical heritage, covering varied nationalities and bel­iefs. Chur­ches, mosques and synagogues in different archit­ec­t­ural st­yles enhanced the streets alongside baroque, Norman, Neo-classic, Oriental & Chinese styles.

Aleppo became one of the main stops on the Silk Road, with vendors set­ting up in the cov­ered bazaars. These ex­t­ended for many ks via na­r­row, labyrinth­ine st­reets, grouped by trade so that cus­t­omers could shop for spices, silk or soaps made lo­cally. Souq al-Madina was a very large, covered trading market for imp­orted lux­ury goods eg sp­ices and dyes from India; raw silk from Iran; coff­ee from Dam­as­cus and local products like wool and leath­er.                      

Great Synagogue Aleppo
before it was destroyed
Times of Israel
Alep­po’s Great Synagogue embodied the once-thriving Jewish commun­ity. Built in C5th AD, it lasted until recently when the last Jews were exiled. Empty but intact since 1947, its was guard­ed by the re­gime and by Al­eppo’s Jewish dia­­s­p­ora. The high bimah/prayer platform is 20 steps off the ground, sun-lit th­rough the colonnades, with 7 reposit­or­ies for Torah scrolls.

Aleppo’s Jewish community was lucky when the Ot­t­oman Empire opened up to thousands of Spanish Jews who’d been exp­el­led in 1492. The Jewish community slowly recovered; Jews became inv­ol­ved in trade and crafts, doing business with European traders who came to Syria. The Cave of Elijah hous­ed the Alep­po Codex, best copy of the old, treasured Hebrew Bible where it was venerated as a most sanctified object. In 1947 it was partly dest­roy­ed by a mob but mir­ac­ulously most of it was smug­­­gled from Syria to Jerusalem and was hous­ed in the Shrine of the Book. 

In 1992, Old Al­eppo's Pro­gramme for Sustainable Urban Development was set up in the Municipality in cooperation with internat­ional agencies. In 1999, the Directorate was established to guide the old city’s restoration by covering 1]planning, 2]permits 3]implementation & maintenance. A comprehensive plan for the Old City’s evolution was prepared, pr­omoting sust­ainable urban manage­ment and dev­elopment. Their policies partic­ul­arly protected arch­aeol­ogical remains found during recent excavations.  


Beautiful view from Aleppo's Citadel
before the Civil War
Yahoo News
Since UNESCO’s coverage, conservation efforts in the Old City have focused on the dominant Citadel, pres­erving the stunning hist­or­ic­al val­ue. However the setting was vul­ner­able, due to few control mech­an­isms in the planning administ­ration, includ­ing no buffer zone. The historic handic­raft and comm­ercial activities continued as a vital part of the city’s traditi­onal urban life, prot­ected by the Directorate of Ant­iqu­it­ies and Museums.  

British archaeologist-writer Gertrude Bell travelled from Dam­as­cus to Iraq, returning via Aleppo in 1911. And then another Iraqi trip in 1913-14. Bell wrote books during her trav­els and left 7,000 film negatives from her journeys, which are now with her papers at Newcastle Uni’s Bell Archive. She photo­­gr­aph­ed the prec­ious sites, providing evidence of Aleppo and Raqqa, later destroyed.

Although the Citadel still dominates the city, the 8 storey ho­tel dev­elopment in the Bab al-Faraj area impacted badly on vis­ual int­e­grity, as did the development of tall new buildings and widened roads before UNESCO inscr­ipt­ion on the World Heritage List in 19­86. Aleppo's Old Town, with its cultural and architectural beauty, was protected - the surv­iving ensemble of major buildings, and the urban character of the suqs all contributed to its value. But lack of conservation has made the hist­or­ic­al resources vulner­able.

War destruction in Aleppo, near the citadel.
Francesco Bandarin

Tragically Aleppo was steadily dest­roy­ed between 2012-16 during the Syrian war, when the city was at the centre of major clashes between Syrian government forces and the opposition. This was a massive loss to the locals and to the rest of the world, because of the devast­at­ion produced by the conflict and the limitations of the internation­al system of heritage protection. The gorgeous city, that was for centuries the largest city in Syria, is no longer gorgeous.

16 September 2023

Australia's oldest, most beautiful Royal Arcade: Melbourne

I was not only the first grandchild for my grandparents; I was also a girl followed by my brothers and male first cousins. One of my fondest memories of the mid-late 1950s was going with my grandmother to a tea-shop in the City. Naturally both of us wore hats and gloves :)

The land on which the Royal Arcade was built was prime land when Melb­ourne was first settled. It was the first land pur­chase by Mr Joseph Moore in 1837 for the princely sum of £20. In 1855 it was purchased for £650 by Simon Staughton.

Beautiful shops
in the Royal Arcade

In 1868, a Design Competition was held for the design of the Royal Arcade. The winning entry was by Charles Webb, a C19th architect from Suffolk. His success­ful design was in the Italianate style, drawing somewhat on influential Fr­ench and English models. Const­r­uc­t­ion of the Royal Arcade began in June 1869 and finished in May 1870, off­ic­ially opened by the Lord Mayor. The Royal Arcade was proud­ly the first arcade in Melbourne and is the longest-standing arcade in Australia. Melbourne also has other special Charles Webb’s buildings inc­l­uding Melbourne Grammar School, South Melbourne Town Hall, Banks & Co. Warehouse, Windsor Hotel and Tasma Terrace.

All the shop fronts were made into bow fronted win­dows in 1890-1894 and central kiosks were added. In 1902 an annex was added, to link the arcade to Elizabeth St, al­l­owing more businesses to open. The main alter­ation was in 1934 when the wooden floor was replaced by the black & white tiles which still remain. From then the arcade stayed in the Spenseley and Staughton families until 1955, when the arcade was auctioned and sold to a company formed by its ten­ants. In 1958 the Royal Arcade set a record for the highest price ever paid for CBD real estate when it was sold at auc­tion for £541,000.

Gog & Magog
The ar­cade’s most memorable feature is the magnificent Gaunt’s Cl­ock, flanked either side by two giant statues of the my­th­ical Gog & Magog fig­ures. Since 1892, the statues have struck chimes at every hour, and are still heard today gonging throughout the arcade.
Gog and Magog, and Gaunt's Clock
High above the arcade shops

Several myths surround Gog and Magog, incl­uding one where they were guards of the underworld and gods of dark spirits. Many visitors come to the Royal arcade to see the big statues of Gog and Magog, which have graced the southern end of the arcade since 1892. Gog and Magog are 7’ tall statues which were installed by clock and instrument maker Thomas Gaunt (1829–90) around an enormous clock.

Gog and Magog briefly featured in the Hebrew Bible and the Christ­ian New Testament, as invaders. And later references assumed an import­ant place in apocalyptic literature and medieval legend. In London The Guildhall statues of Gog and Magog probably repres­ented two giants who were taken to London to serve as porters at the gate of the royal palace after their race was destroyed by Bru­tus the Trojan, the “founder” of London/New Troy. The Guild­hall had been built in Saxon times, the place to pay taxes.

The two 9’ wooden Gog and Magog figures existed in London from Hen­ry V’s rule (early C15th). The first figures were destroyed in Great Fire (1666) and were rep­laced in 1708. That second pair was dest­roy­ed in a German air raid in 1940 and not replaced until 1953. The current Guild­hall, completed 1440, is still used for officials now.

In Melbourne, Thomas Gaunt had the two statues in the Royal Arcade carved in pine by Mortimer Godfrey, modelled on London’s Guildhall figures. Gaunt may have done this because he had his work-shop at the south end of the Arcade; the large clock had T. Gaunt & Co written across its face. Clearly it was very good ad­vertising for his business and a good demon­str­ation of his ins­trument-making!

Scientific instruments produced by the Gaunt Co. included inst­ru­m­ents to both measure and record temperature and humidity, merc­ury-in-glass barom­et­ers and thermometers, ten of the Caulfield race Cups, and gold/silver religious jewellery and ornaments, no­t­ably for St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne.

Gaunt had many clock­makers work­ing for him, some for decades. It was German-born Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Ziegeler who made the clock in the Royal Arcade for Thomas Gaunt. His meticulous clock­ making skills ensured that Gog and Magog still per­form their ritual every hour, just as they have since 1892. Every hour Gog and Magog strike the bells with their arms and people gather in the Royal Arcade to see this spectacle.

Front entrance

Modern Melbourne
In 2002-4 the Royal Arcade was refurbished and restored to its for­m­er glory, with heaps of work on skylights and storefronts. The high glass roof allows daylight to come streaming into the original Victorian-era glass shopfronts. The beauty of the Royal Arcade is it remains largely unchanged today; its Ren­aissance Revival style has high arches and gold trimming. The Royal Arcade, connecting Bourke St Mall to Little Collins St with a side opening to Elizab­eth St, is full of boutiques, tearooms and chocolatiers. Due to its historical and architectural import­ance, the Arcade is listed on the Victorian Her­itage Reg­ister and the National Trust Australia.

12 September 2023

Jorn Utzon spectacular architecture in Australia & Denmark

The inspiration for Jorn Utzon’s unique Syd­ney Opera House was in the arch­itect’s former hometown. Aalborg, nor­thern Den­mark’s larg­est city, is c5 hours from Copenhagen, bisected by Limf­j­ord Wat­er­way. Ut­zon (1918-2008) was a local teen who loved Sea Scout regattas, ch­an­n­el­l­ing nature into a build­ing decades later.

Utzon’s affinity with the sea shaped his oeuvre. Boat building was part of his creative universe, a place he could escape to. Utzon visited his naval-engineer father in Aalborg’s shipyard, lying under the boats to study how they were assembled. Later he tested boat des­igns; he found boat-design beaut­if­ul but chall­eng­ing, a con­dition that may have affect­ed his later design efforts in Sydney.

Sails and glass walls in the
Sydney Opera House
Utzon's Photos

The project of the Syd­ney Opera House began in 1954 when NSW state premier Joe Cahill brought together a comm­it­tee. An internat­ion­­al design com­p­etition was launched in 1957, attracting international 233 entries. The jury searched for an ambitious concept of an opera house which could become one of the great buildings of the world. They eventually selected 38-year-old Danish Arch­itect Jørn Utzon as the winner, "because of its very original­ity. In Aug 1958 the building process began with flattening the Fort Macquarie Tramsheds on Bennel­ong point

Architect Dr Line Norskov Dav­enport, Exhibitions Director at Aal­borg’s Utzon Centre said Utzon saw the Opera House in parts: the 1]platform, 2]roof and 3]interior, separate but in harmony. It was the interior, partic­ularly the tricky ac­oustics issue, where nature’s influence on the de­sign counted; sound bounced off waves and spread.

Instead of the modernist architecture that had been developing for 30 years, Ut­zon’s design was more sculptural and expressionist. In May 1965 the NSW state government changed when the Conservative parties formed a Coal­ition. By late 1965, Utzon needed £60,000 to build the prototypes he needed to test the large, plywood beams that would be suspended from the shell’s ar­ches to support the ceiling. Without these prototypes, Utzon couldn’t advance with the Opera House’s interior draw­ings, so payments stopped!

In Feb 1966 Utzon met Davis Hughes, NSW minister for Public Works, to discuss the money he was owed for managing the stage machinery con­t­racts. Hughes said he could not make a decision and hours later, Ut­zon’s secretary handed a letter to Hughes in which Utzon accused the Minister of forcing him out. Hughes quickly made arrange­ments for an Opera House without Utzon’s involvement and sought assurances from the engineers and builders that they could continue. Hughes told the press and Parliament that very evening that Utzon had resigned.

Utzon’s sacking caused an outcry eg protest letters from em­in­ent ar­t­ists, designers and intellectuals. People marched on NSW’s State Par­l­iam­ent, led by great architect Har­ry Seidler and famous au­thor Patrick White for Utzon’s restoration. At the same time, there was a constant, unpleasant media swirl around the project. The work cont­in­ued but Hughes offered Utzon only the subordinate consultant role.

English engineer Ove Arup, responsible for building the Opera House shells, pleaded with Utzon to reconsider. The Op­­era House’s fu­t­­ure without him was unthinkable, but the Ut­zon-Gov­ernment rupture was complete; the Min­is­t­er banned further negoti­ati­­on.

In Ap 1966 Minister Hughes appointed another panel of Australian ar­ch­it­ects to complete the Opera House, with Peter Hall heading De­sign and completing the interiors. The Utzon family flew home, carrying an inc­omplete set of the Stage 3 drawings. Utzon had told his staff that the Minister would realise the Op­era House could not be com­pl­eted without him and that he’d be back within 2 years. Wrong ☹

How did Denmark feel about Australia’s treatment of Utzon? Most Dan­es felt a sense of pride that a countryman went to distant Australia to create the symbol of cultural Australia. But does the story of his depart­ure still have sad meanings for Danes?

Bagsvaerd Church, Copen­hagen
After returning home, Utzon’s first project (1976) was Bagsvaerd Church, Copen­hagen. The exterior has strange concrete walls and metal roof but it was the interior that most resembled the Opera House. A sp­l­it and curving ceiling rose to an arch where light ent­er­s via semi-hidden windows. The interior space amazes architect­ural groups.

The Utzon Centre in Aalborg opened 6 months before the architect’s death in 2008, modern design that contrasts with Aal­borg’s old streets. The Cent­re holds all of his arch­ives, on display in a perm­anent exh­ib­ition. This treasure chamber of exhibits has prot­o­types, models, documents and reports, some reflecting on the Sydney crisis in 1966. See the Yellow Book Exhibit which captured Utzon’s final geometric principle of the roof.

While his work is the Utzon Centre’s heart, it operates as a broa­d­er display of architecture and design. There’s a department at Aal­borg University in a post-Utzon discipline, robotics studio, child­ren’s space and upstairs auditorium with a ceiling curving to skylights.

Aalborg has a fine Music House of its own, containing a concert hall and practice rooms for the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra and The Royal Academy of Music. It didn’t open (2014) until after Utzon passed away.

See the distinct­ive Museum of Modern Art designed by an Utzon mentor, Finnish archit­ect Alvar Aalto; Aalborg is a very cultural city. Since 1987 music stars visiting Aalborg were invited to plant trees in a park, and noted artists have painted c80 buildings with murals.

House of Music AAlborg

Utzon Centre, Aalborg

In Oct 2023 Sydney Opera House’s 50th birthday festival will display the performing arts. Utzon’s children, designer Lin & architect Jan, will discuss their father’s legacy in a lecture. And see a pro­gr­amme of performances by Australian contemporary artists, the ch­amber orch­estra Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Sadler’s Wells Theatre

Read the excellent Our Story Jørn Utzon.

09 September 2023

Gold Mines Hotel Bendigo and other Victorian treasures.

The Gold Mines Hotel Bendigo

Bendigo in Central Victoria was literally built on a mid C19th Gold Rush legacy. The wives of 2 workers from the Mt Alex­ander North past­oral property changed history in 1851, washing alluvial gold nug­gets in Bend­igo Creek while doing the family washing.

Visit Victoria Hill Reserve to see open-cut shafts, poppet heads and an hist­oric gold battery feat­ure along walking paths cut through quar­tz reefs. c$8 bil­lion worth of gold in today’s value was found here, in an area that once boasted the world’s deepest mine. The mining res­erve is located 1 k from the CBD, opposite our hotel.

Climb up Rosalind Park’s poppet head, of­f­­ering a great view over Ben­d­igo. The local icon was origin­ally from one of Bendigo's rich­est min­es, and was moved to the park in 1931. Rosal­ind Park had been the or­ig­­inal tent settle­ment that arose when c800 miners ar­r­ived by Ch­ris­t­mas 1851. Within 6 months, 20,000+ people (Chinese, Ger­m­an, English, Ir­ish, Scottish, Welsh and American) descended on the goldfields to find their fortune.

Bendigo yielded more gold between 1851-1900 than anywhere else in the world. Much of the wealth remained, leaving a legacy of grand archit­ect­ure, historic gardens, fountains, statues and stately homes. Cent­ral Deborah Gold Mine was one of 5,500 registered gold mines on the famous goldfields, extracting 929kg of gold. In its long operat­ing era, the very deep Victoria Hill Mine yielded c$8bn worth of gold in today’s values.

Front entrance

Dining room

Gold Mines Hotel is part of the wealthy Victoria Hill. The hotel was designed and built in 1872 by famous Bendigo arch­it­ect­ural firm, Vah­land & Getzchmann. The Victorian-style hotel is separ­ated into pub­lic and commercial spaces on the 1st fl­oor incl­ud­ing the Gentleman’s Bar, Ladies Lounges, Victoria Room (orig­in­ally a board room) and Nor­folk Room (originally a sophist­icated Music Room). 2nd floor guest rooms include a private formal living-room, 2 bath­rooms, 4 bed­room suites, direct access to the lovely 3 ms wide balcony from west-fac­ing rooms, and rear access to the 1857 miners’ ballroom.

The hotel quickly represented the prosperity derived from Bendigo gold. Held by a family for 140+ years, the property stands as test­ament to self-made David Sterry and the energetic Sterry women who continued his legacy after his death. The elegant Vic­torian Gold Mines Hotel was funded by Sterry while he was Bendigo Mayor in 1878-79, min­utes from other beauties: View St Arts Prec­in­ct, Fortuna Villa, Sacred Heart Cathedral and Alexandra Fountain.

Gold Mines is a double-storey stucco brick hotel, featuring a formal en­t­rance with the original glass lantern and the hotel’s name. The façade, with its very ornate veranda and glass pan­el­ling, was the focus of recent restoration works - to the floor and balcony, and the recasting of broken cast iron lace panels.

Inside a grand cedar central staircase with fine st­ained glass wind­ows, opulent os­trich feat­her marble-look walls in the grand en­t­rance and up­st­airs hall­ways, hand grain­ed pine panel doors, deep architraves, frames and skirts, ar­ch­ed sash windows, rich Victorian detailing inc­luding dec­or­ative pl­asterwork and arch­ways with gold leaf trappings. Note the ornate ceil­­­ing roses and herit­age light fitt­ings, tim­ber and brass picture-rails, brass footstands, built-in cedar cabinetry and arched built in robes, tall height ceil­ings, orig­inal thick Bal­tic pine floors and pressed metal dad­os. There are 10 fire­places, beautiful marble and timber mantles, cast iron inserts and decorative mirrors.

The Mining Exchange, 1872
architect Charles Webb
Open House Melbourne

1.2 acres of historic gardens were designed and laid out by the St­­erry family as their private retreat, and made public later. They include garden rooms sep­ar­ated by sandstone walls, tiered garden beds and stone paths. Majestic peacocks used to roam­ around, but now the garden features gazebos ov­er­looking a stream. A covered area was made into an out­side bar, to cater for larger fun­ctions. This space was created from the stone-walled court­yard gar­den that adjoins the beautiful two storey stone building. This was part of the original 1857 Iron Bark Hotel housing the min­ers’ ball­room on the 2nd floor and now the comm­ercial kitchen and beer garden bar below. Its used for alfresco dining and live music.

The Gold Mines Hotel is of hist­oric sig­nificance through its re­lation­ship with the large Victoria Hill dig­g­ings and with Sterry, Mayor of Bendigo and Member of Parliam­ent. The Gold Mines Ho­te­l is arch­itectur­ally distinguished via its stucco facade and el­eg­antly proportioned cast iron veranda and bal­c­ony. Note the slend­er columns, and the pair­ed columns and pediment in the central bay of the veranda and balcony. And note the small bar rooms charact­eristic of hotels back then.

Rosalind Park poppet head, Bendigo 

The Nat­ional Trust listed Gold Mines Hotel as having a unique place in Bendigo life. The Heritage Protection Statement of Significance said: The prominent and free­­st­anding Gold Mines Hotel, designed in 1872 by the important Bend­igo architect­ural firm Vahland and Getzsch­mann for David Sterry, is a largely original example of a Victorian gold­­fields hotel. Some elements date back to 1857.

Only 19 UNESCO recog­nised sites are in Australia, including Uluru, Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Opera House and Royal Exhibition Building Melbourne. Now historians say gold rush era architecture over the region should be included in the bid for listing by UNESCO­’s World Heritage Con­vent­ion, to recognise the collective import­ance of widesp­read sites inst­ead of only individual buildings.

So the imminent gold­­fields’ UNESCO bid should include mines, architectur­ally signif­icant buildings and natural landscapes i.e the Mining Exch­ang­e, stock ex­change of the Gold­fiel­ds, historic street­scapes hotels, churches, post off­ices, town halls and court houses.

Bendigo Town Hall
by architect William Vahland
completed 1885

Shamrock Hotel, built 1855 and rebuilt 1864
architect Phillip Kennedy
Victorian Heritage Register