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Ordubad: a Cradle of Religious Tolerance in the Caucasus

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Religious architecture in the region of Ordubad, Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan (Azerbaijan), has established new paradigms in the shaping of Azerbaijani Islamic culture, interfaith dialogue, and has reflected a deep sense of conviction within its citizens and a unique enrichment of religious tolerance, cultural dialogue, and multicultural coexistence.

The Region of Ordubad is the symbol of a religious harmony, unique architectural treasures that enshrine the superior values of the architecture school founded by Ajami Ibn Abubakr Nakhchivani, the city displays to the world a great sense of Azerbaijani patriotism and is home of many beautiful mosques that ought to be visited by religious scholars, international university researchers and be given a special international status by UNESCO; during the upcoming commemorations that will take place in Nakhchivan in 2018, as this region of Azerbaijan will become the World’s capital of Islamic Culture and Art. The Region of Ordubad is known for its famous apricots that were exported regularly to Moscow and other parts of the Soviet Union; however its religious treasures, mosques and archeological sites are not well known internationally, they must acquire a wider presence abroad. The city of Ordubad has distinguished itself for having seven principal avenues, on each one of these avenues it has: a mosque without a minaret; an underground fresh water creek; traditional, rare Caucasian homes equipped with a main entrance door that has two types of ancient knocking metal rings that produce two different types of sounds (one of them is used by men and the other used by women). Some of the most important mosques in Ordubad region are: Dilbar Mosque, Dirnis Mosque, Haji Huseyngulu Mosque.

In Ordubad City is located Dilbar Mosque, a historical and architectural monument that provide some unique features to foreign visitors and theologians. In Ordubad City there are a number of buildings that embody special values of Nakhchivan architectural school and Dilbar Mosque is one of them. The mosque is open to the public for religious ceremonies. The structure is right angled, has a square shape and equipped with columns.   Many of the mosque’s features are a representation of Nakhchivan’s school of architecture. Dilbar Mosque is an example of an architectural composition that intertwines style and structure that was typical in the 1700s. This Mosque is furnished with its altar, latticed windows; the entrance gate is on its main façade. The main entrance and its sides have incorporated big windows and sections that are latticed, with asymmetric installation of the head span and other marvelous features. This uniqueness shows that Dilbar Mosque embodies a perfect harmony with Ordubad’s architecture and urban – rural landscape.

According to the history of Ordubad, preserved by its residents, Dilbar Mosque was built to honor a woman named Dilbar and it has emerged as a center of Islamic faith established to honor the valuable role of women in the Muslim faith and its emblematic communities across the Caucasus region.

Another religious landmark is Dirnis Mosque, located on Mirza Street in Yukhari, Dirnis Village, and Region of Ordubad. It has a large size and the local people call it with the name ‘Boyuk Masjid’ meaning a large Mosque (Jame Mosque). Its main entrance is from the western side and for women is on the east side. Its ceiling stands on five poles on each side, totaling ten poles or columns. In front of the East – North wall there was built a balcony on the first floor to host women. The Mosque has: three big windows in the east wall, two windows on the western wall; and three windows on the southern wall. According to the inscription located at the head of one of the columns, written in black color, it is very clear that the Mosque was repaired in 1920-1921 and it was Architect Hasan from Ordubad who had repaired this cultural monument. Once again, this religious monument was renovated in 1999 at the expense of the local people and a balcony had been assembled in front of the entrance door on the west side, where a minaret was also erected. According to its architectural features, the Dirnis Mosque was first built and erected in the XVII Century.

In the village of Ganza, Region of Ordubad, stands tall the historic Haji Huseyngulu Mosque, located right at the center of the village. Its size is 23 meters by 14 meters, according to the local community, this Mosque was built by Haji Huseyngulu, an influential man who was active in promoting various shapes and construction styles from the Ajami Nakhchivani Architecture School. When Haji Huseyngulu passed away, he was buried in front of the southern wall of this gorgeous creamy white-brick mosque. At a later stage, the renovation team of this Mosque placed a head stone above the tomb of Haji Huseyngulu, the words of the late “Haji Huseyngulu of the XVI century,” are carved in Arabic language, on the head stone. This is considered to be one of the oldest mosques of Nakhchivan and throughout Azerbaijan, it is a unique religious monument, inside it has a big hall. According to the local builders, in the beginning of the XX Century there was built an additional hall that was joined with the hallway of males that is located in the western part of the old Mosque. The old part of the mosque and its main hall sits on three big columns and walls built of stones.   Its inner-columns and its sections between the columns and walls are connected through a span shape and its walls reach one meter of thickness. Five wall recesses have been placed inside of the mosque. A balcony is in front of the entrance; its façade consists of 12 spans. Near the mosque there is a guest house, when this object was restored there were written colorful religion words on its limed walls.

During its restoration project a wonderful minaret was added to this cultural monument on the South Western side of the structure. On the minaret is written an inscription that says: “this minaret of the mosque was built by Haji Israfil Sadigli in 2000; architects Karbalayi Sayid, Karbalayi Gurban.”

There are always held mourning events and religious ceremonies during the months of Muharram and Ramadan that take place in this Mosque; certainly during the commemoration events of Nakhchivan Region becoming the World’s Capital of Islamic Culture in 2018, there will be taking place memorable events in the Haji Huseyngulu Mosque.

The area on the southern side of the mosque at one time belonged to Haji Huseyngulu who donated this land to be the Mosque’s cemetery. Based on the grave inscriptions of this cemetery it is ascertained that Haji Huseyngulu lived during the XV century and this Mosque was built in that time.

The 2018 World celebrations of Islamic Culture in Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic are approaching; foreign visitors, tourists and scholars must visit the Region of Ordubad in order to appreciate a series of unique architectural features tailored by Ajami Nakhchivani that are melted together with: an ancient Islamic Culture, attractive religious tolerance practices, deeply rooted historical awareness within the context of Azerbaijani historiography.

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UNESCO and CHANEL empowering women in Madagascar through sustainable tourism

MD Staff

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© UNESCO

A new programme aims to help women in Madagascar who have missed out on the economic benefits of growing tourism.

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world with the almost 80% of the population living on less than $1.90 a day. Tourism has grown significantly in recent years but the industry has often failed to translate into economic prospects for local communities, and, in particular, women.

UNESCO’s CapED Programme has been active in Madagascar since 2011 supporting the country’s vocational education and training, with particular emphasis on agriculture, being the largest sector. In January 2018, CapED formed a partnership with Fondation CHANEL  to further vocational education and training in the area of sustainable tourism, with a particular focus on women. The programme will benefit communities surrounding the Tsingy Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, on the western coast of Madagascar. While this site attracts a high level of tourism, the local population does not benefit from this opportunity.

The innovative partnership brings together expertise from UNESCO’s Culture and Education Sectors. It works to provide women with access to training and opportunities in the sustainable tourism sector to improve their livelihoods and help them become financially independent.

Two vocational training programmes encourage sustainable tourism and support local produce. Six hundred women will be trained to grow vegetables to sell in local hotels and markets or to produce marketable handicrafts, supported by a designer while preserving local traditions. These products will be awarded a Sustainable Tourism Label. The women will also benefit from literacy and accounting lessons. The second programme provides vocational training opportunities to local youth in sustainable tourism trades such as hotel or restaurant management and is offered through training centres already supported by the CapED programme.

The programme is co-financed by the Government of Madagascar, Fondation CHANEL and UNESCO’s CapED Programme, with in kind support from the US Embassy and National Geographic.

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South African culture, history, and heritage in Durban

MD Staff

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Think of South Africa, and images of majestic savanna landscapes and roaming wildlife may come to mind. A South African safari is an unforgettable experience, but no visit to the country is truly complete without a cultural immersion. Luckily, the vibrant city of Durban combines the best of both worlds in the most stunning of settings. Located along the Indian Ocean coast just an hour from Johannesburg by air, Durban offers an eclectic array of activities where you can explore the city’s important role in world history, the rich heritage of its Zulu people, and innumerable natural wonders – from the beach to the bush.

Experience authentic Zulu culture in the Valley of 1,000 Hills

Named for its dramatic surrounding landscape, the Valley of 1,000 Hills has been home to the Zulu people, South Africa’s largest ethnic group, for centuries.

Visitors can take an organized tour deep into tribal lands to experience Zulu culture with its exuberant ceremonies, traditional music, and dancing. You’ll learn about Zulu beliefs and healing practices, break bread with local families, and learn the hidden meanings behind their colorful beadwork. Those seeking a truly transformative experience can arrange one-on-one sessions with the village healer or spend the night with a Zulu family in their home. The natural scenery in the Valley of 1,000 Hills will take your breath away, and the welcoming nature of the Zulu people will stay in your heart forever.

Walk in the footsteps of Gandhi and Mandela

Not everyone is aware that Mahatma Ghandi’s life work was inspired by his experiences in Durban. In 1893, he arrived as a young lawyer, and the discrimination he witnessed personally and against his fellow Indians drove him to start his worldwide movement of passive resistance as he fought for the legal and civil rights of the Indian population. At the Phoenix Settlement, you will see Gandhi’s house and the printing press he used to publish his newspaper, The Indian Opinion. Many of the more than one million Indians living in the city make the pilgrimage to this important historical site alongside visitors from around the world.

Five years after his death, the great Nelson Mandela remains South Africa’s most revered public figure. 2018 marks a year-long celebration of his life and what would have been his 100th birthday on July 18. Honor his work when you’re in Durban by visiting the Nelson Mandela Capture Site, located at the exact spot where he began his “Long Walk to Freedom” after being arrested for anti-Apartheid activism in 1952. The focal point of the site is a striking monument, and an educational exhibition walks you through Mandela’s life and role in establishing a democratic South Africa.

Hit the beach at Umhlanga Rocks

To play amongst the ocean-loving locals, head to Umhlanga Rocks, Durban’s laidback beach village. Located on a picturesque stretch of the Indian Ocean, Umhlanga Rocks beckons visitors with a scenic promenade that passes by local landmarks including Umhlanga Lighthouse and Whale Bone Pier. A walkable downtown area makes dining and nightlife easily accessible from the area’s many upscale boutique hotels and guesthouses, and opportunities to get on the water abound – from surfing to deep sea fishing, scuba diving, whale watching, and kiteboarding.

Discover an underwater wonderland at Aliwal Shoal

Those intrigued by the underwater world can get their adrenaline pumping on Aliwal Shoal. Consistently rated one of the top warm water diving and snorkeling sites in the world, Aliwal Shoal is also the spot to get up close and personal with blacktip reef sharks. Those brave enough can swim or dive alongside these mysterious creatures in the open ocean, but viewing from inside a cage is always an option.

Witness stunning wildlife on a Big Five safari

Back on land, the South African bush is less than four hours away by car. A number of private game reserves offer high-end safari lodge accommodations, minimal crowds, and optimal chances for getting the perfect photos of the “Big Five” – elephants, rhinos, water buffalo, lions and leopards. In iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, hippos, crocodiles, pelicans, and flamingos roam Lake St. Lucia, while elephants, giraffes, and leopards inhabit the adjacent grasslands.

Is Durban, South Africa calling you?

Visit www.durbanexperience.co.za to start planning your journey.

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Chinese history comes alive in Nanjing

MD Staff

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In southern China, the ancient capital city of Nanjing beckons travelers who long to immerse themselves in Chinese history and culture.

Nanjing served as the capital city of 10 dynasties and regimes over more than 1,800 years and is home to some of China’s most significant historical attractions, including the Xiaoling Tomb of the Ming Dynasty, Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum, the Presidential Palace and the City Wall, which dates back more than 600 years.

Here, past dynasties are alive and well, entwined with glittering modern skyscrapers. The misty Purple Mountain looms in the distance and the Ningzheng Ridge forms a crescent around this city in the heart of the Yangtze River delta.

If you visit Nanjing, don’t just see the sights like a tourist. Walk in footsteps of the past with these thought-provoking, immersive experiences designed to bring Nanjing’s history and culture to life.

Imperial Examination Experience

Do you have what it takes to be a top scholar? When you take part in the Imperial Examination Experience at Nanjing’s Jiangnan Imperial Examination Hall Museum, you will step into the shoes of an ancient Chinese civil servant and find out. Beginning in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.), citizens wishing to serve in the state bureaucracy were required to pass a rigorous government-issued examination. However, the test didn’t involve job skills. Instead, it assessed candidates’ knowledge of classic literature and literary style. Successful candidates were generalists who shared a common language and culture, which helped to unify the empire and shape the fabric of China’s intellectual, cultural and political life.

During the three-hour Imperial Examination Experience, you’ll dress in traditional attire and learn to create Chinese calligraphy with a brush pen and make thread-bound books to take home as a souvenir. You will walk away having experienced a glimpse of what ancient Chinese life was really like.

Photo by Kenneth Yang on Unsplash

Chinese Tea Culture Experience

Few things are as closely associated with China as tea. Its long history as an indispensable part of daily life runs like a silk thread through everything from poetry to painting to calligraphy to medicine. Travelers seeking a deep exploration of tea should be sure to book the Chinese Tea Culture Experience in Nanjing.

During this four-hour activity, you’ll see the stunning and peaceful Xuanwu Lake Park, formerly an imperial garden, before you disappear into a secret interior passageway in the Nanjing City Wall to find the hidden, speakeasy-style Lao Cui Teahouse. There, you’ll learn about the importance of tea in the Chinese culture from a tea master, who will guide you in the ways of brewing a perfect cup of tea. Finally, you’ll learn the ancient art of Chinese woodblock printing and create your own as a keepsake of the experience.

Nanjing Cloud Brocade Museum

Yunjin, meaning “as beautiful as a cloud at sunset,” is silk brocade exquisitely woven in a style dating back 1,500 years. Incorporating silk, gold and silver threads, and even peacock feathers, the fabric was once reserved exclusively for the ornate dragon robes worn by emperors. At the Nanjing Cloud Brocade Museum, the only one of its kind in the world, visitors can watch as artisans weave the brocade in the traditional style on self-powered looms. The craft is so intricate that the weavers produce only five centimeters of yunjin per day.

Nanjing Impressions

Founded in 1994, Nanjing Impressions is considered one of the must-visit restaurants in all of China for locals and travelers alike. Named a Top 50 Chinese Heritage Restaurant, it aims to preserve traditional Huaiyang cuisine, a popular and prestigious style of cooking in Jiangsu Province that has been designated as one of the four great traditions of Chinese cuisine.

The atmosphere in Nanjing Impressions transports you to the past with its interior designed like an ancient tea house, hundreds of hanging lanterns, wooden benches and authentic dress for the servers and chefs. The experience is vibrant, with servers shouting blessings as they pass traditional Nanjing specialties. You’ll find many duck dishes on the menu here, but make sure to try the city’s signature dish of Nanjing Salted Duck, a 400-year-old recipe that involves a complicated procedure of brining and dry rubbing that produces a rich, tender bird.

The Chinese believe a perfect meal consists of 10 dishes, so come hungry to experience this love letter to Nanjing cuisine.

Photo by Jennifer Chen on Unsplash

Qinhuai River Cruise

Float lazily down Nanjing’s Mother River on a romantic evening cruise, and you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time to the city’s roots. Distant strains of guqin, a traditional Chinese stringed instrument, waft through the air as you cruise along the lantern-lit Qinhuai Scenic Area, with its quaint riverboats, footbridges and Chinese architecture including one of the world’s best-preserved Barbican gates. As the ancient Chinese world floats by, you’ll understand why the Qinhuai River cruise is one of Nanjing’s top attractions.

Ready to start planning your Nanjing experience? Visit gotonanjing.com for more information, details on tour packages, and other travel planning resources.

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