Before there was a Thailand, there was the Mon-speaking Dvaravati culture, which migrated from what is today Myanmar. The Dvaravati occupied present-day central and northern Thailand, and their seat of power was the central city of of Nakhon Pathom. One of the earliest cultures to reside in Southeast Asia, it lasted from around the 6th to the 11th century.
Dvaravati was not so much a civilization as a collection of disparate moated cities. They became the basis for some of the earliest civilizations in Southeast Asia, including the Isaan in eastern Thailand, the Sri Gotapura in central Laos and northeast Thailand, the Thaton Kingdom in lower Burma (Myanmar), and the Hariphunchai Kingdom in northern Thailand. By the 10th century, Dvaravati had come under the influence of the Khmer Empire, in what is present-day Cambodia. Ultimately, central Thailand was invaded and occupied by the Khmer. The moated cities in the north managed to avoid the Khmer invasion, but gradually succumbed to and were absorbed by the Mon-speaking Hariphunchai culture.
According to legend, an ascetic who refrained from worldly affairs was the actual founder of Hariphunchai Kingdom. He invited Chamthewi, a daughter of the King of Lopburi, to ascend to the throne, and helped her to firmly establish Buddhism in the land. Although experts disagree on the exact date of the kingdom’s founding, it is generally accepted that Queen Chamthewi reigned during the mid-to-late 7th century. The city of Lamphun was founded in the 9th century and became the capital of the kingdom. Located about 17 miles southeast of Chiang Mai, Lamphun is one of Thailand’s oldest cities. Read More
My jaw dropped when I discovered this brilliant red bloom on a tree in Lamphun, Thailand. It was the most astonishingly weird flower I’ve ever seen. “Alien” flashed through my mind. The pistil and anthers protruding from the lacy white center petals looked like eyes. I almost expected them to raise their spotted red and green heads to scan me with some otherworldly laser ray. I snapped a few photos, thinking I’d figure out what it was later. Read More
The Welsh love their symbols. The leek has been a national symbol of Wales since Saint David ordered Welsh soldiers to wear a leek on their helmets to identify themselves. The tradition ostensibly hails from a battle with Saxons that occurred in a field of leeks. The daffodil, also known as “Peter’s Leek,” apparently became the national flower of Wales when David Lloyd George, the only Welshman to serve as Prime Minister of Britain, decided it was a more attractive symbol than the stinky leek.
But nothing symbolizes Wales more than the red Welsh dragon. Its first written mention was in the Historia Brittonum, a Latin history of the indigenous British people that was written during the 9th century by the Welsh monk Nennius. However, legend insists that the red dragon was the battle standard of King Arthur, leading archeologists to speculate that it evolved from an even earlier Celtic symbol. Read More
The city center of Cardiff, Wales, with its spectacular castle, may be the number one tourist destination in the Welsh capital, but Cardiff Bay runs a close second. The popular waterfront area owes its existence to abundant coal and iron deposits that were discovered in Wales during the 1700’s. Both commodities were in great demand as the industrial age dawned at the beginning of the 19th century. During the 1830’s, docks were constructed along the bay to facilitate the export of iron and coal. As a result, the city thrived. Seafarers from around the world made Cardiff their home. People from at least 50 nationalities settled in the area, a trend that continues to this day, making Cardiff one of the world’s most diverse cities. Read More
With more than 2,000 years of history enclosed within its walls, Cardiff Castle is a popular destination for history buffs who visit the capital city of Wales. The earliest fortifications on the site were likely built by the Romans around A.D. 50. Today, all that remains of the Roman era is a small section of the surrounding wall, from which this photo was taken. After their conquest in the 11th century, Normans built the castle keep (above center). After Medieval times, the Cardiff Castle passed to a string of noble families, ending with the fabulously wealthy Bute family. The 2nd Marquess of Bute turned Cardiff into the world’s greatest coal exporting port and his son, John, was said to be the richest man in the world. They transformed the castle lodgings into a proper Victorian mansion, lavishing it with murals, stained glass, marble, gilded ornaments, and elaborate wood carvings. Read More
When I prepared my Last Will and Testament some years ago, I included specific provisions that I wish to be cremated. I promised my sisters that if they put me in the cold, hard ground, I’d come back to haunt them. But a recent visit to the Monumental Cemetery in Milan, Italy, had me reconsidering that view.
In 1838, the city of Milan announced a competition for the design of a new cemetery that would be open to citizens of “all forms and all fortunes” and become a “Monument of Milan.” It took 28 years, but Cimitario Monumentale finally opened in 1866. Being interred here quickly became a status symbol. The city’s elite commissioned famous sculptors such as Luca Beltrami, Giò Ponti, Pietro Cascella, Giò Pomodoro, Giacomo Manzù, Arturo Martini, Lucio Fontana, Medardo Rosso, Vincenzo Vela, and Adolfo Wildt to create tombs and grave sculptures in increasingly elaborate designs.