The Beautiful Town Idstein – Part 4 – Schloss

German, as well as Czech, has two words for a castle. One is “das Schloss” which means a luxurious aristocratic residence. The other one is “die Burg” and means a fortified luxurious aristocratic residence.

Castle in Idstein

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

From what I have been able to decipher on German Wikipedia the castle in Idstein used to be both of those. Originally it started with a lookout tower (the previously mentioned Hexenturm) around which a fortified residence was built. Sometime around the Renaissance period the castle was rebuilt from fortress into purely representative luxurious dwelling.

First picture shows the castle as seen from the town. The castle itself is located uphill and can only be accessed via the gate near Rathaus.


Castle in Idstein

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

At the foot of the Hexenturm is this beautiful building connecting the base of the tower with the gatehouse (named “Alte Kanzlei”). This building, at least its lower parts, is what remains of the original fortress. There were some significant damages to be seen, right behind the gatehouse the original stone wall was bulging out and it had markers on it probably to keep an eye on the bulge. Unfortunately in our somewhat chaotic and unguided stroll through the town I did not make more pictures  of the remnants of the original fortifications, because I did not know where to look and for what.

However I did make a picture of the main castle building. With “chemtrails” behind it. Today it serves as a high school, a much better purpose than a demonstration of wealth and power.

Castle in Idstein

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The Beautiful Town Idstein – Part 2 – Rathaus

Rathaus has of course nothing to do with rats, unless you mean politicians. Which would be insulting to rats, I guess. Rathaus is from german words for a counsel (Rat) and  a house (Haus) and means town hall.

The building is nothing extraordinary in the context of the town, but to the right side of it is a beautiful gate to the castle. Unfortunately you can only imagine the gate, because it was being  repaired at the time of our visit so I could not take good pictures of it . And I did not have time to spend with the various plaques around the staircase either.

Idstein Town Hall

Idstein Town Hall

Idstein Town Hall

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.



The Beautiful Town Idstein – Part 1 – Town Square.

I avoid business travel like the plague, but it is unavoidable sometimes. This week thursday I have spent in the beautiful town Idstein. Most of the day was of course spent with traveling to the location and then spending a few hours with the actual business, but we managed to finish at about 4 p.m. so we had still plenty of time to have a look around the town.

I knew I have to expect some splendid medieval architecture, but I did not take my camera with me because… reasons. So I had to do with my phone which luckily is up to the task of making passable pictures in good light. And the light was splendid. The spring did not come this year, winter morphed directly into summer. Only shadows were a little long because of the time of day, but I think you will all enjoy the architecture nevertheless.

For starters here is the town square near the hotel at which we resided.

Idstein Town Square

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Russia – The Novodevichy Nunnery

Gate Church of the Transfiguration, Novodevichy Nunnery


Novodevichy, corner turret

Our tour of the Novodevichy Nunnery was like stepping into a fairy tale from long ago. The complex is beautifully built with white stone set against pink and red brick in what later came to be came known as the Moscow Baroque style.  Its four corners are marked by richly decorated round turrets that tower above you. The convent has also been kept intact and unchanged since the 17th century. In 2004 Novodevichy became a Unesco world heritage site.

Main gate, Novodevichy Nunnery

Novodevichy was founded in 1524 by Grand Prince Vasily III, son of Ivan the Great. It was built to commemorate the victory of Russia over Polish and Lithuanian forces in 1514 for the town of Smolensk. The oldest building in the convent complex is the Smolensky Cathedral built in 1524 – 1525, and later renovated by Prince Vasily’s son Ivan the Terrible in the 1550’s. Smolensky cathedral was modeled after The Assumption Cathedral located at the Kremlin and because of this its architecture is different from that of any other building in the complex. Unfortunately, while we were there the building was undergoing restoration and was blanketed by scaffolding. Built at the same time as the cathedral is Prokhorov’s Chapel, which still receives prayers today.

Prokhorov's Chapel

Prokhorov’s Chapel, front view


Prokhorov’s Chapel, trim detail


Prokhorov’s Chapel, ceiling detail


Prokhorov’s Chapel, rear view

The remainder of the convent complex was built around the cathedral and was designed to also fully function as a military fort. The entire complex is surrounded by towering walls, in places up to 11 meters high and 3 meters thick, and it has a total of 12 watch towers surrounding the perimeter. The convent was strategically placed along the banks of the Moscow River and on the only southern access road into Moscow. Part of its mandate at the outset was to serve as a first defense post protecting Moscow, but because of its well situated location it also became a convenient military barracks and outpost. The nunnery has also seen battle. During Napoleon’s Russian campaign, French forces attempted to blow up the convent, but quick thinking nuns extinguished the fuses as soon as the soldiers left.

Novodevichy’s Protection of the Holy Virgin Temple


Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God and refectory, Novodevichy Nunnery


Chapel, Novodevichy Nunnery

Over the course of its history the convent had close ties to the Kremlin and was well favoured by the elites of Russia. Many of the nuns came from high ranking families, including the royals. This was often not the choice of the women themselves. In historic Russia, as with many other parts of the world, if a woman became troublesome it was often her fate to be sent to a nunnery. Looking around the complex I had occasional feelings that the walls were meant as much to keep some people in as they were to keep invaders out.

Residence, Novodevichy Nunnery

It has been suggested that Prince Vasily actually founded the convent in part as a way to exile his ex-wife Solomonia because she did not bear him an heir. Perhaps the most famous of Novodevichy’s unwilling residents is the half sister of Peter the Great, the Regent Sophia, who ruled Russia from 1682 – 1689. When Peter turned 17 he seized power and Sophia was arrested and forced into the nunnery. It is the Regent Sophia who ordered the construction of many of the buildings in the complex including the Church of the Transfiguration and the famous bell tower.

Novodevichy Bell Tower, undergoing restoration


Administration building, Novodevichy Nunnery

Novodevichy is still an operating convent, but the order is now small. The church maintains the convent mostly out of desire to preserve the site and the large number of important religious relics and icons which are housed here.

Present day nuns at Novodevichy

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Link to previous post – Russia – The Kremlin

Russia – The Kremlin

The word kremlin translates to fort and there are many historic kremlins in Russia. There is, however, only one The Kremlin and it is in the heart of Moscow. It’s beginnings date to the 1150’s when it was a wooden fort known as the “grad” of Moscow. At that time it housed the entire city within its walls. This fort was later destroyed by the Mongols and then rebuilt in the 1300’s when the word Kremlin first came into use. In the 1500’s under the rule of Ivan the Great the current stone walls were built. The fortress was enlarged at this time and Ivan imported master architects and stone masons from Italy to build the new city. It was during this period that most of the cathedrals and palaces were built.

Kremlin clock tower

Kremlin clock tower

The Kremlin is a vast compound, more than 27 hectares, and for centuries has been the seat of Russian political power, machinations and intrigue. The fortified stone wall surrounding it contains 18 watch towers, the tallest being the Spasskaya (Savior) tower with its 4 huge clock faces. These clocks are connected underground to the Institute of Astronomy and are the most accurate time pieces in the country. The Spasskaya tower was the entrance of the Tsars and also used for important dignitaries and religious processions. The 5 sided stars of the soviet era were added to the towers in 1937 by Stalin who molded his political career at the Kremlin. During the soviet years many churches and cathedrals were destroyed across the country. Today, within the Kremlin walls 4 Grand Cathedrals and 3 smaller churches remain.

The Cathedral of the Annunciation

The Cathedral of the Annunciation sits on the crest of Borovitsky Hill, the original of the 7 hills of Moscow. It was built in 1484 by Ivan the Great. It was closed in 1918 under the Bolsheviks and now operates as a museum.

The Cathedral of the Assumption

The Cathedral of the Assumption is the most important church in The Kremlin being the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is here that the Patriarchs (highest clerical rank) and bishops were consecrated and it was here that Tsars were crowned.  The current building was erected in 1472 by Ivan the Great. During soviet times the church was closed and its treasures taken by the Bolsheviks. It reopened to the public in 1990.

The Cathedral of the Archangel

The Cathedral of the Archangel was also commissioned by Ivan the Great, but finished after his death. It has undergone expansion and renovation several times. It is notable as the burial chamber for 46 members of the Imperial family, including Ivan the Great and all the Tsars of the 14th to 17th centuries. This church was also closed during soviet times and since 1955 has operated as a museum.

The Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles in the Patriarch’s Palace

The Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles in the Patriarch’s Palace was built in the 17th century. As with the other Kremlin churches it was shuttered during Soviet times and now operates as the Museum of 17th Century Life and Applied Art.

Ivan the Great Bell Tower

In addition to the cathedrals there are a number of other significant buildings in the Kremlin. The tallest building in the Kremlin is the Ivan the Great Bell Tower at a height of 81 meters. The Bell Tower was commissioned by Grand Prince Vasily III in 1505 as a tribute to his recently deceased father Ivan the Great. It was situated next to the construction site of the new Cathedral of the Archangel which had been commissioned by Ivan as part of his grand plan to update the Kremlin. For 400 years the Bell Tower was the tallest building in Russia. There are 21 bells in the tower and belfry, the largest weighing 70 tons. The last Easter service in the Kremlin took place here in 1918 and then the church was closed. In the 1950’s restoration work was done and an exhibition hall was added which is still in use today.

Great Kremlin Palace behind Assumption Cathedral

The Great Kremlin Palace was built in 1849 by Emperor Nikolai. This 700 room palace became the Moscow residence of the Tsars. After the October Revolution, the Soviets used the building as The Seat of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. Today the building is a museum that juxtaposes Tsarist treasures with Soviet military might.

The Arsenal at the Kremlin

The Arsenal was commissioned by Peter the Great in 1702, but took many years before completion. In 1812 it was blown up by Napoleon’s troops (along with many other Kremlin buildings) and was not reconstructed until 1828. Today the building is used as a barracks and houses a large collection of military hardware.

The Tsar Cannon

The Tsar cannon sits in front of The Arsenal and is one of the largest cannons ever built. It is more than 5 meters long and weighs 39 tons. It has a calibre of 890 millimetres and each cannon ball weighs 1,000 kg. It has never been fired because of logistical problems. Mostly it serves as a symbol of Russian power.

The Tsar Bell

The Tsar Bell also sits outside The Arsenal and like the Tsar Cannon it has never been used. It is the largest bell ever cast and it weighs almost 202 tons. It stands more than 6 meters high and has a sad history. It was poured in 1735, but cracked during cooling and an 11 ton piece came loose. It was only in 1836 that it was finally dug up and placed on exhibit.

Senate Building, Kremlin

The Senate Building  was built in the late 1700’s. It is a triangular building with a central rotunda 27 meters high and 25 meters in diameter containing 24 windows. It currently serves as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation. The current president Vladimir Putin has updated the complex by installing a helipad for his private use.

I know this has been a long post and I thank you for reading this far. Future posts will be much shorter. The Kremlin was really a lot to take in. I’ll leave you with one final photo. This is a 60′ statue of St. Vladimir the Great that overlooks the Kremlin. It was commissioned by Vladimir Putin and erected in 2016 to the consternation of many Muscovites. The photo was taken from a moving bus so the quality isn’t great, but our guides had a great deal to say about it. I can see why.

Statue of St. Vladimir, Moscow

©voyager, all rights reserved

April 12/18

This post has been edited to correct 2 errors. Thanks to Bruce who pointed out that it was Stalin and not Lenin who added the stars to the Kremlin wall in 1937. They are called Lenin’s stars, but Lenin himself died in 1924. Thanks also to Lumipuna who noticed an error in the date for the construction of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower. It was built in the early 1500’s, not the mid 1500’s as originally noted.


Link to previous post – Russia – Red Square


Jack’s Walk

We had an errand in Toronto today and it’s a long drive so we stopped at this beautiful building near the airport for a walk on the way home. I popped my head in to pick up a brochure and learned that this is the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple built in 2007 with 95,000 cu. ft. of hand carved marble. There are more than 24,000 blocks fitted together puzzle style with no steel hardware or reinforcement. It’s highly ornate and more than a little imposing, but the day was sunny and warm and we had a lovely wander around. It reached a balmy 6 degrees today and actually felt like spring. Tomorrow we’re back to our usual and much more mundane stomping grounds.

©voyager, all rights reserved






Design Crime: Art & Social Justice.

Stickers by Stuart Semple.

From spikes installed on window ledges to bars that divide benches into a set number of seats, examples of disciplinary architecture — otherwise known as hostile urban architecture — are all around us. Such designs deliberately restrict certain behaviors in public spaces, and while they affect everyone, they especially target homeless individuals, who cannot rest on these surfaces.

The UK-based artist Stuart Semple has created a campaign to try and raise awareness about these often subtle forms of social control. Today, he launched a website, Hostile Design, as a platform where people can easily and quickly spread word about these designs. It simply calls for anyone to photograph examples anywhere in the world, and share them on Instagram with the hashtag #hostiledesign. The website then aggregates these in a “design crime gallery.”

“Hostile design is design that intends to restrict freedom or somehow control a human being — be that homeless people, a skater or everyday humans congregating to enjoy themselves,” Semple told Hyperallergic. “The danger of hostile design is it’s so insidious. It’s so quiet, so camouflaged, that unless you know what it is, you accept it. And that blind acceptance makes things grow and spread.”

To further inform people beyond the digital sphere, he is also distributing stickers he created, which are available on the website. These “design crime” stickers are intended for pasting on offending surfaces and are available through pay-what-you-can pricing.

A bus stop in Bournemouth.

Living rural, I don’t see things like the above bus stop, which honestly shocked me. I’m about the size of a twig, and trying to sit on that “bench” would be very uncomfortable for me. Has it become so important to us to keep the afflicted and unfortunate out of sight that we willingly go along with being punished by this “disciplinary architecture”? This certainly strikes me as immoral and unethical, making every surrounding hostile because oh my, someone might actually find a place they could lie down and sleep, the horror! Par for the course, there’s zero effort to do anything about the problem of homeless people, but there’s a whole lot of effort going into driving them away from all public spaces. Certainly does not speak well of us. This isn’t just about driving the unfortunate out of sight, there’s also a public stair handrail, which has a block placed on it, just in case anyone had a fit of happy and wanted to slide on the railing.

I can’t say I’ve noticed anything like this in Bismarck, but I’m arming myself with stickers, and I’ll be looking.

There’s much more to read and see at Hyperallergic.

A Climbable Bookshelf.

Oh do I ever have bookshelf and house envy right now. Raging envy. This is such a good idea! And all that spaciousness and light!

Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves are lovely, and can act as a robust focal point in any home. But accessing the high shelves can be a problem. The common side-kick has always been ladders, which can also add character and charm. But for smaller homes like in Japan they can be a nuisance, occupying too much space for not enough usage. But Japanese architect Shinsuke Fujii came up with a simple, yet brilliant solution that solves another problem too: earthquake safety.

The “House in Shinyoshida,” as it’s called, named for the neighborhood in Yokohama where it stands, was conceived shortly after the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. The client, who happened to be an avid book lover, approached Fujii with the task to design a home around a large bookshelf that’s both easily accessible but also one that won’t spill all the books if there’s ever a tremor.

The solution was to slant the entire western-facing façade and create a built-in slanted bookshelf whose shelves also function as a ladder.

You can read and see more at Spoon & Tamago.

Cool Stuff Friday.

Photos: Niklas Adrian Vindelev.

Instead of accelerating the demise of traditional craftsmanship, what if digital tools enhanced it and expanded the possibilities of what we can make?What if an architect could use a digital tool — a CNC machine, say — to create something with a distinctly human quality? How might the machine be applied to skills such as woodwork and metalwork? Could it be used to make objects with the aesthetic appeal, including the touch and feel, of a handmade object? Could it also make objects that can be scaled — objects with applicability to architecture?

These were the timely questions that three architects recently explored as residents at SPACE10  — IKEA’S external future-living lab. With a shared interest in exploring how digital tools can be applied to traditional techniques — and the potential of a CNC milling machine in particular — Yuan Chieh Yang, Benas Burdulis, and Emil Froege together found answers in three very different but eye-opening ways.

You can read and see more at Space10.

If you’re in Ottawa, consider Indigenous Walks.

Indigenous Walks is a walk and talk through downtown Ottawa exploring landscape, architecture, art and monuments through an Indigenous perspective.

The character Danerys Targaryen finally returned to Westeros on Sunday night’s Game of Thrones Season 7 premiere, but the actress, Emilia Clarke, shot the scene on a Northern Irish beach called Downhill Strand. Much of what viewers know as Westeros, in fact, is actually Northern Ireland, including parts of Winterfell, Slaver’s Bay, and the Kingsroad—all thanks to the nation’s open tracts of land and many surviving castles. To draw attention to this fact, Ireland’s tourism board commissioned a massive tapestry that details every episode of the series.

The 66-meter-long artwork is on display at the Ulster Museum in Belfast. A group of artisans including the museum’s director, Katherine Thomson, are embroidering each meter with characters and symbols that summarize each one of the episodes preceding Sunday’s “Dragonstone.” As Season 7 progresses, they’ll add more yardage to the tapestry to reflect new developments on the HBO juggernaut. By the end of season 7 it will be 77 meters long.

You can read and see more at The Creators Project.

Cēsis, Part 1.

From rq: Cēsis is a very historical city up to the north of us – very beautiful, parts of it are very well-preserved, never mind the major wars that it has survived. Not sure when it was founded exactly, but it does have a 13th century stone castle  (well, the ruins). Here’s a few of the old town itself, some views of the castle up next. The adorable building in the last is now a children’s kindergarten/daycare facility. Pretty awesome, if you ask me. (We went because Eldest Child is in the school folk dancing group and there was a major event that weekend in Cēsis – something like 5000 school age folk dancers congregating into one city!) Click for full size!

© rq, all rights reserved.