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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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Beyond the Liberty Bell: Exploring Western Philly

MD Staff

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A visit to Philadelphia is sure to be steeped in American history and culture. It doesn’t get more American than the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. And it doesn’t get more authentically Philly than cheesesteaks at competing Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King Of Steaks, and the oldest farmers market in the country, Reading Terminal Market. But, when you’ve been there, done that, what else can you explore?

Philadelphia neighborhoods beckon the savvy traveler who can, by slowing down, get a glimpse of what it’s like to live here, to exhale and experience the heart and soul of a great American city. One neighborhood that’s not on the radar of many travelers, but should be, is West Philadelphia, or West Philly as it is commonly known, with University City as its bustling heartbeat. Aptly named — the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University are located here — the area buzzes with youthful exuberance. The diverse, worldwide student population brings the magic of different languages, dialects and customs to the area.

Strolling along the bustling sidewalks, visitors will find a foodie’s dream with a vibrant street-food scene, high-end, locally owned restaurants and everything in between. Historic sites and museums are everywhere, with some pop culture icons as well, and the parks add a touch of green to the cobblestone and brick.

Here are some gems of West Philly not to be missed:

* The Penn Museum will take you back to ancient times in faraway places and other lands. You’ll find jewelry from Ethiopia, Mayan sculptures, an Egyptian tomb, the Granite Sphinx of Ramses and new Middle East galleries. After you’ve seen the amazing American History of Philadelphia, the Penn Museum gives you the world.

* World Cafe Live is a multi-level venue devoted to music and good food. Take a seat upstairs at the chic Upstairs Live Cafe, where you can get late-night food and drinks along with an eclectic array of live music (they don’t call it World Cafe Live for nothing!). Downstairs Live is a larger concert venue, hosting nationally known artists. It’s also the home of WXPN radio, which broadcasts a show of the same name.

* The Study at University City is a local gem for guests who believe the right hotel can enhance and elevate an already wonderful trip into the stratosphere. This is not a cookie-cutter chain, but a boutique that features local artwork in an onsite gallery; hand-blown glass light fixtures (locally made); display cases with artifacts of the city’s past; and its lobby, dubbed the Living Room, a vibrant and dynamic core of the hotel, a gathering place for guests to feel at home.

* Schuylkill River Trail meanders along some 30 miles of the Schuylkill river, and is a favorite of bicyclists, walkers, runners and families. Enjoy the green space along the riverfront, or use it as your way to and from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and other area attractions. If you really want to get your exercise and American history on, you can pick up the trail in West Philly and take it all the way to Valley Forge National Historical Park.

* The multitude of cuisines in the West Philly neighborhood is reflective of the diversity of the student population. A true foodie destination that’s a bit off the beaten path, you’ll find African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian spots with daring fusions of flavors; upscale, chef-driven restaurants; and down-home Philly goodness. Highly recommended from the city’s foodie community: Marigold Kitchen (its gin-marinated venison gets rave reviews), Aksum, which blends Mediterranean and North African cuisine; and Dock Street Brewing (Philly’s first microbrewery) for all-American bar food, burgers and of course, beer.

For other insider tips on exploring West Philly, contact the knowledgeable staff at The Study at University City. They’ll make sure you get the most out of your visit to the neighborhood.

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The Bern Old Town: Shopping and cultural experiences of a special kind

MD Staff

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The Bernese love laid-back, hour-long shopping trips – and will do so in any weather. Thanks to the longest weather-protected stretch of shopping promenade in Europe, this is in fact quite feasible. The arcades are admirably suited for a jaunty stroll among the historic city scenery.

It is in the Bernese Old Town in particular where one can be witness to the unique historical ambiance and combine shopping with a journey through time into the past.

The Kramgasse forms the centerpiece of the Bern Old Town. This alley was once Bern’s busiest trade route for marketers and shopkeepers who loudly advertised and sold their goods here, and swapped the latest news. The six kilometer long series of arcades form a distinctive feature of the Old Town. The history of this arcade passage reaches back to the earliest city development (1191), and even then served to accommodate market stalls and businesses. Traders could thus trade and earn their living in any weather.

The Bernese also demonstrated their practical sense in putting the nether regions to good use. They built vaulted cellars under every house in order to be able to store their goods. Nowadays, entirely different treasures are hidden in these cellars. Descend the steep stone steps, and find yourself in a different world. The underground reveals trendy and traditional bars, clubs, theatres, cellar cinemas and special fashion shops. There’s no other place that offers such historic settings for a shopping excursion!

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Destination Langkawi: Beyond the Beaches

MD Staff

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With 550-million years of geological history and generations of mythical folklore, there is always something new for guests of Four Seasons Resort Langkawi to uncover on the island.

A paradise of panoramas, the Langkawi archipelago is an amalgam of mangroves and mountains, rainforests and rivers, wildlife and waterfalls, legends and local charm, tidal flats and coral reefs, cliffs and caves. Whether appreciated from the vantage point of a bike, kayak, boat, cable car, sky-bridge or simply on foot, the islands’ thrilling topography ensures a truly breathtaking backdrop for myriad magical and memorable encounters.

Water Worlds

Beyond the beaches, water sports and diving, Langkawi offers visitors rainforests, mangrove “sea forests,” cascading waterfalls, hidden lakes and glistening paddy fields to explore.

Outdoor enthusiasts will be spoiled for choice.  The uninhabited islet of Pulau Langgun offers an exhilarating rainforest immersion and lush wilderness trek to the hidden sanctuary of Tasik Langgun, a large freshwater lake.  Build an appetite biking through paddy fields to Durian Perangin Waterfall – 14-tiers of clear cascading water – perfect for a refreshing dip and picnic.  Or visit the island’s tallest waterfall, Temurun (30 metres or 98 feet), for another scenic natural swimming pool.

A mangrove kayak get guests unobtrusively close to the magic and mystery of forests that straddle land and sea. Traverse small, dense tributaries and follow the natural ebb and flow of this fascinating ecosystem to uncover hidden delights behind each corner. Alternatively, take a coastal kayak along the emerald seascapes of Langkawi’s less explored eastern rim, and paddle through a 15 metre (49 foot) cave tunnel for an unforgettable swim in a salt-water lake.

Mineral and Mystical  

Steeped in geological heritage, Langkawi has some of the world’s oldest and most intriguing naturally formed gems.  Shaped by plate tectonics, volcanic activity, ocean submersion and erosion, Langkawi’s many rock formations have evolved over millennia into exciting natural habitats, many animated by fantastical folklores and legends.

Adrenalin seekers can heed the call of the ancient limestone cliffs for an afternoon of rock-climbing and abseiling within the Resort’s grounds. Just a short distance away, the Langkawi Sky Bridge – suspended 700 metres (2,300 feet) above sea level and accessed via the world’s steepest cable car – offers an up close experience of Malaysia’s oldest rocks (the Machinchang Formation), not to mention far-reaching views extending to southern Thailand.

Fuel for the imagination, Langkawi’s craggy coastline of hidden coves, sunken caves and majestic peaks is straight out of a fairytale and sets the scene for a magical adventure. The intriguing Gua Cerita (Cave of Legends) is the mythical home of a giant phoenix, a captive princess and a deadly giantess. Tasik Dayang Bunting (Lake of the Pregnant Lady) was formed when a huge limestone cave collapsed, resulting in a figure resembling a pregnant woman lying on her back. Locals believe that the lake, famed for the legend of celestial princess Mambang Sari, possesses mystical powers.

Back at the Resort, Spa devotees will be entranced by the element-based offerings at the Geo Spa, where the ancient healing energies of the Geopark meet bespoke natural treatments by ila.

Wildlife and Local Life

A bird watcher’s paradise – the open rainforest corridor, mist-covered Gunung Raya peak, and local village ponds provide the opportunity for ornithologists to tick a fair few flying friends off their must see list. Langkawi is home to approximately 200 species including: flower peckers, hills mynas, dollar birds, sun birds, eagles, woodpeckers, lesser whistling-ducks, little egrets, Chinese pond herons, striated swallows and the largest of them all, the great hornbill, measuring in at 1.3 metres (more than 4 feet).

Animal lovers will not want to miss the mangrove boat safari into the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park and its maze of meandering mangroves for exciting up-close encounters with majestic eagles and kites, mischievous macaques, fish that walk (mudskippers), colourful fiddler crabs, shy otters and sleeping bats.

Cultural connoisseurs will be enthralled by the Malaysian book village of Kampung Buku and the bucolic beauty of stilted wooden houses in local villages. A visit to the fishermen’s village of Kuala Teriang enables visitors to quietly observe fisherfolk return with their day’s catch, or sample delicious deep-fried banana fritters with local milk tea at wooden roadside stalls. Back at the Resort, relish local spices and ingredients during a Malay-cuisine cooking class – available as both adult and child-size experiences.

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