Tag Archives: architecture

Fountains Abbey

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As soon as you walk down the hill, the tower emerges in all its glory. Then you see the columns and arches soaring into the sky.

Fountains Abbey is a skeleton of its former glory, yet one of the best preserved ruins in Britain. You need to spend all day in this UNESCO World Heritage site in Ripon.

After admiring the ruins you can explore the 18th and 19th century follies in the landscaped grounds.

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The abbey was built in 1132, the result of a religious divide amongst monks in York.

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You could ring the bell of the mill that ran here until 1927.

The small group that settled here were more conservative, believing that Benedictine monks should live more closely to the rules laid down by the Bible.

Eking out a living on the verge of starvation, they sold wool to pay for their upkeep.

The Abbey would not have survived without France. Money and supplies were sent over from there when they joined the Cistercian Order. They lived in silence, suffering cold temperatures with only brief respite at the fire.

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They suffered from the Plague and finally from Henry VIII’s pillaging. He sold it to a nobleman in the 1500s, after arranging for the roof to be removed and sold.

In the 19th century it fell into ruin before being restored, which is still an ongoing project.

It costs £1,000,000 to run each year with the combined forces of The National Trust and English Heritage.

To discover more about its history, visit this WordPress page.

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August 31, 2018 · 7:01 pm

Buxton day trip

I have had a lovely couple of days off lately. On Wednesday I went to a shopping mall and bought some presents, on Thursday I went to Buxton and on Friday I joined a new gym, went swimming and had a haircut!

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Buxton is a lovely place to visit in the Peak District. It is a village of around 20,000 with some nice cafes and quaint OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAold-fashioned shops, including a chemist that looks like it is still stuck in the Victorian era.

In 1572 Dr John Jones wrote the first medical book on Buxton waters entitled The Benefit of the Auncient Bathes of Buckstones. The spring waters were believed to have healing properties. Even Mary Queen of Scots visited to benefit from them. In the Victorian era it was a popular spa town and there is still a baths. You can drink the natural mineral water for free there and it is still bottled and sold today.

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We went to a tea shop for a drink. It was a bit of a disappointment and tasted the same as when I make it at home.

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The “Devonshire Dome” there is a feat of civil engineering. It is hard to believe it was the roof of stables. It was built in 1789 by John Carr, commissioned by the duke for Buxton Crescent, converted into a hospital and is now restored by the University of Derby. Go in if you get a chance. I only got a chance to view it from the outside but the inside looks impressive just from looking at pictures.

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Buxton_Dome_South_Elevation1000Mum’s main mission was the charity shops. Relentlessly we hit every single one. There were rail upon rail of cheap but tacky clothes, clothes only geriatrics wear and probably had. When I am that old I’ll wear charity shop clothes because I won’t need to look presentable anymore. I’ll be like the lady in the Purple poem.

But surprisingly we did find some that weren’t from M ‘n’ S, Tesco or Primark – Coast ones. I got a painted silk-style sleeveless ruffled top with a dark beige pencil skirt and a 1950s-style A-line dress. It’s blue with roses on and I can’t wait to wear it. Even mum laughed at the “vintage” charity shop. The clothes were like fancy dress for a 1970s party.

We went back to the tea shop for lunch. I was impressed with the selection – chicken curry, jackets with cream cheese and spring onion, steak sandwiches and “Buxton” burgers.

Mum said the burgers were good so I went for one of those. This was served with salad and posh crisps. Salt and vinegar, my favourite. I was enjoying it until I crunched on a couple of bones. I got one and thought that was it, continued eating and then got another…and another. Luckily I didn’t swallow them as I may have choked. I was slightly put off. The meat had been lovely, but I didn’t want to be reminded that I was eating an animal. The whole point of cooking meat is not just that it tastes better but also that you don’t feel like an animal eating another animal, like a lion at zoo feeding time.

I didn’t want to make a scene but Mum insisted we say something. They’d be nice about it, she said. So I told the manager.

“Ohhhhh.” She said, haughtily, the disdain all too audible, “we haven’t had that before. We’ve never had a customer complain about that.”  I thought I must be imagining her tone. I went to the toilet. It was cold like the cafe – at least the food was hot. There were flannels to dry your hands on that you put in a little basket, a nice touch.

On the way back, I saw her poking the burger meat around angrily with a knife, peering at it from the side. She then triumphantly reported to mum that it was “gristle” I had nearly taken a tooth out on, not bone. She said “I poked it with a knife and it wasn’t hard, so it must have been gristle”. How gristle was better than bone I don’t know. One woman walked out having hardly touched her “spicy potato soup” a thick orange lumpy broth. Mum was served hers with stale bread, the staff urging her to “help yourself to more if you want”. Clearly they needed to get rid of it.

Mum bought some cake and they charged her full price for that and the meal, despite my bones of contention. It had butter icing, not even cream cheese icing like mum does, which is much better and tastier. Cheaper ingredients and maximum profit. I stalked out indignantly. Mum was apologetic as I grumbled about the disgusting lack of customer service skills. I wouldn’t be going there again. Its name was “The Cafe at the Green Pavilion”.

Anyway then we went to the library and art gallery, which was a much more enjoyable experience. It was combined in an old building with wooden doors and stained glass windows. But it had also been converted into a museum about Buxton’s history. I expected it to be poor as it was only two floors and looked poorly funded. We went into the exhibition space of a dire modern artist, abstract shapes in different colours spoiling the walls.

In the corner was a dark corridor. I went down it and there were little labels indicating different periods of time hanging from the ceiling and a video showing the passing of time from prehistoric to modern times in photos and drawings. I turned a corner and walked into the Cretaceous Period.

A massive dragonfly clung to a tree and there were noises of the forest around me. I walked on and into a cave.

There were bones of mammoths, bears, hyenas and in the corner roaring at me, a bear that looked rather too life-like. I quickly walked on into the “hunter-gatherer” age and a skeleton lay in a glass case, a man of 25-30.There was a little burial tomb reconstruction that you could crawl into. There were knife and axe heads on display. I went under an arch into the Roman period.

This interactive journey through time just kept on going, a maze of corridors and passages making you feel like you were actually in that era. It was fantastic.

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There were Roman columns all around me and a life-like centurion in full armour standing by the wall.

A ceremonial washing basin was on the right with a bronze head above it. Further on was a Roman rubbish dump – much nicer than modern ones – all broken jars and animal bones. I wonder what future ancestors will make of ours.

There were videos playing and you could hear the audio so you could take it in as you looked at the exhibits without having to watch them. I heard that to become a Roman citizen you had to serve 25 years with their army. Many Anglo-Saxons did and were posted away from their families in the Empire. Some would never have seen their families again.

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Due to space there was only a corridor linking this age to the 1700s, telling of medieval hunts in the forests. Then I went into a 1700s sitting room.

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You could sit on an imitation chair by the fire surrounded by fancy things. In the next room was a reconstructed “Buxton” black marble workshop.

The public went mad for this rare marble in the Victorian era and would buy loads of the stuff while on their spa breaks. It was made into everything – tables, chairs, jugs. But production virtually stopped when the craze was over. You can still buy it though.

There was a corridor dedicated to more recent years and all too soon I was back from my time-travel journey. I enjoyed it so much I went back in time instead of forwards. I couldn’t believe the collection box was empty. Museums are poorly funded these days so if they do a good job they need financial backing. I gave them a little. The time travel machine was too good to be free.

We then went round the flowers in a conservatory, enjoying the sweet scent that filled the air. We passed by the Pavilion Gardens on the way out but sadly it was too cold to enjoy them.

On the way home we saw what looked like World War Two bunkers but they were in fact enclosed kilns (enclosed to conform to blackout regulations) for the production of quicklime from Derbyshire limestone, which was produced in Buxton from the late 1800s until 1944.

If you’re visiting Yorkshire or England for that matter, don’t miss Buxton and its museum. It’s great for adults as well as children.

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Filed under Days out/nights out, Life of Lydia

Istanbul Day 1 – Tokapi Palace

Kebab pizza

Kebab pizza

After the magnificence of the Haggia Sophia we refreshed ourselves with a visit to a traditional restaurant where we ate kebab main meals (when in Rome, or rather Istanbul!). I had it with the hot spiced apple tea again. It was sweet and revitalising and I couldn’t get enough of it. I then had a tea but I had to ask for milk – if you don’t they just serve it black! Every drink is also served with mounds of sugar cubes as well as having it added. After a while I began to appreciate the EU sugar limits.

Lamb kebab. Photos copyright literarylydi

Lamb kebab. All photos on this page copyright literarylydi

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delicious cous cous salad

We then continued our tourist experience by buying up boxes and boxes of Turkish delight and nougat. Massive blocks of the stuff were chiselled off.  They had an array of colours and nuts, it was quite a display. The Turks are very fond of anything with nuts in. 342

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We then went to the Tokapi Palace (Tokapur in Turkish pronunciation), where we marvelled at the variety of styles of 16th-17th century tiled walls.

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We walked in ancient regal rooms with 16th century bronze and tile fire places. Odd things with pointy tops. Every so often there would be a little courtyard, sometimes with a fountain.

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I got the impression the Turks were also very fond of these, which seemed logical given that Turkey is usually lovely and warm, unlike the bitter cold that day. I had forgotten gloves and I soon lost all feeling in my hands.

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The best bit of the palace were the imperial treasures, which at one time only the royals could admire. I had never seen anything like it. Such a large amount of incredibly valuable precious-stones, gold and diamonds, all glistening and dazzling in two rooms, crammed together in a breathtaking display of opulence. There were bronze and ivory thrones from the 16th and 17th centuries, every inch dripping in rubies and emeralds. I asked my boyfriend whether I could have some ruby or emerald jewellery for Christmas. Even if we won the lottery I doubt that is possible, but one can dream. I was like a magpie in the dragon’s cave of the Hobbit. I had never seen anything like this before.

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The gold was highly polished and almost blinded you in its magnificence. The diamonds looked thoroughly transparent. These were the literal jewels in the crown of a vast and wealthy Empire that had at one point stretched all the way to “threaten the gates of Vienna”. Incredible given that they started off as a nomadic desert tribe. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photographs.

We saw the Harem where the Emperor’s many wives and the black Eunuchs that served them were housed. The quarters of the Eunuchs were the most modest rooms in the palace, quite small but still richly decorated with painted tiles.

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We saw the religious artefacts (the Prophets beard, bits of the Kaa’ba in Mecca and so on). These were the busiest rooms and there was a hushed solemn silence throughout the crowd.

The Library of Ahmed 3rd was built in 1719 for use by royal officials. Today its books are stored in the Agalar Mosque.

The Library of Ahmed The Third was built in 1719 for use by royal officials. Today its books are stored in the Agalar Mosque.

We saw the library and as the sun went down we walked through the gardens to the edge of the palace. Here there was a viewing platform with a little seat. The city stretched away on the other side of the river. It was quiet and rather romantic and we took a picture against the sunset.

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The building’s illuminating lights came on and after three hours touring this vast complex it was time to go, we were told the palace was closing.

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I had enjoyed feeling like a princess and would have to make do with our “palace” hotel instead that night. As we walked out we saw that the place was guarded by armed soldiers. The Haggia Sophia looked even more dominating in its floodlit glory.

We walked back using the GPS on my boyfriends phone, winding around narrow dark streets, all the while passing burnt down houses standing as they were, dilapidated houses that surely were not safe to live in, disturbing alley cats scrabbling at the rubbish, some of them with infected eyes.

We crossed a railway and navigated for a while longer through the gloom – there were few street lights. Thankfully the streets were largely deserted and we finally made our way back to the hotel.

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December 26, 2013 · 2:45 pm

Istanbul Day 1 – The Haggia Sophia

The next morning I awoke expecting sunshine and was dismayed to hear rain lashing against the window and a dull grey sky. Any photographs I was going to take would be ruined.

I must point out that this photo was taken at night, it wasn't this dark in the day.

The hotel chandelier. I must point out that this photo was taken at night, it wasn’t this dark in the day.

We went down for breakfast. I’d never seen such a selection. Pastries, fried eggs and bacon, deli meat, salad and cheese, cereals, yoghurts and dried fruit. I had some of this with delicious sweet Turkish tea, sipping it under the massive hotel chandelier which took centre stage, glistening even in the gloom.

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We headed to the main attraction, the Hagghia Sophia, by way of the Byzantine Hippodrome. The history of it was incredible. The obelisks thankfully had a brief information plaque and were barricaded off. Other relics of a lost age have simply been left where they were dumped, abandoned ancient rubble in amongst the modern tram tracks on either side. The Turks do not seem very interested in the Byzantine history of their country. Apparently Prime Minister, Recep Tayipp Erdogan  even bemoaned the “clay pots” and “other stuff”, excavations of which delayed the building of a new underwater tunnel under the Bosphorous. We went on a boat tour of this river, but that is a story for another day.

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The Hippodrome was a vast square and we were walking where horse-drawn chariots would have thundered down and around it for public entertainment. The obelisks looked like giant stone fingers reaching into the air, and each one had been carefully engraved. One was stolen from Greece and had hieroglyphics all the way up. Another had Byzantine sculptures on it (above left). Then there was randomly a broken bronze sort of sculpture next to them all. I wanted to know more about the history of these objects, as the plaques really just described what we were seeing. But my boyfriend was not a fan of audio guides.

We walked on to the Haggia Sophia (As I’ve said before, the Turks call it Aya Sofya and didn’t always understand if we said “Haggia Sofia”). We were dwarfed by this beautiful colossal structure. It looks like it couldn’t possibly have been built by humans as the scale is unbelievable. We went towards it past the fountains and trees framing it and it just kept on growing in size until I felt very small indeed.

Due to the weather the only decent photos of the Haggia Sophia were taken at night.

Due to the weather the only decent photos of the Haggia Sophia were taken at night.
All photos on this page copyright of Lydia (literarlydi). Please contact me if you wish to use them.

We queued for some time at the ticket office, but thankfully as it was December and a rainy overcast day, we didn’t have to wait long. The ticket price was very modest without a tour and it would have taken far too long to find out about the former church/mosque and museum as it is so steeped in history. Looking up minarets and domes went up into the sky as far as you could see.

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As we entered we were engulfed. Entering through the vast doors a massive painted, columned, domed space opened out before us and took our breaths away. I got a crick in my neck trying to admire the central dome. It had Arabic script in massive gold linear script. Next to it in a marvellous fusion of religious art, was the Virgin Mary and child.

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A zoom of the ceiling painting you can just see in the first picture of the Haggia Sophia interior above

All around the edge of the central dome, light flooded through from windows carved into the stone, framed by orange and green painted triangular tiles. There was a second level  almost touching the roof it seemed, with delicately carved viewing screens.

The floor was made up of slabs of marble, worn slightly from the worshippers and visitors over hundreds of years. In fact the main shell of the building is 2,500 years old, the first structure being built on the site around 500AD by a Roman emperor. There is a fantastic programme on the BBC at the moment: Byzantium: A Tale of Three Cities which can tell you much more than I can about the history of Istanbul and buildings such as the Haggia Sophia. It really brings the past to life, and without virtual reconstruction scenes in a way which is really quite clever. Let me know if you watch it and what you thought of it. I found the narrator quite amusing with his ironed jeans and fancy sunhat at a jaunty angle.

All photos displayed on this page are copyright Lydia Benns.

The lights seem to float in the air. All photos displayed on this page are copyright of Lydia (literarylydi)

The main area of worship was dark on this cloudy winter day and this made it all the more atmospheric, the gold Islamic inscriptions illuminated by rows of hanging metal chandeliers. Of course they no longer held candles but odd electric lights in little individual glass jars. They seemed to hang by themselves as you could hardly see the thin chains in the gloom, stretching down right from the cavernous roof.

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We then walked out of the doors and up to the royal viewing floor, the “upper gallery”. On doing so you really feel yourself following footsteps of the past as the beauty of the church dramatically disappears and you climb up a rough cobbled stone corridor weaving around and up with stone arching around you.Apparently this was part of a network of secret passageways enabling the Emperors and their families to go to the church/mosque without having to mingle with the commoners.

The Upper Gallery

The Upper Gallery (Copyright literarylydi)

Suddenly the cramped walkway opened out without warning into a grand open space, the high ceilings completely covered in painted and tiled patterns. This time you could not see the individual slabs of marble on the smooth shiny floor. There was so much history you could almost physically feel its presence in the building. There was even a bit of Viking graffiti reminding you of its age, vertical lines rudely etched into the viewing wall.

There were columns framing the space on the side towards the mosque, intricately patterned at the top. They were blackened up here with the soot from what must have been hundreds, perhaps thousands of candles hovering above the floor below. Every inch of ceiling was carefully painted and the variety of colours and patterns was astounding. In places you could make out where Byzantine church crosses had been painted over after the building was converted (literally). I had never seen mosaics of such scale. The whitewash that had previously covered them had been removed and they glittered even now. The figures looked at you serenely from their lofty perches, exquisitely detailed and done with such care and attention, showing how even their creation was a kind of worship.

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The view to the church below was an awe-inspiring sight. Watching the service from this height, royalty must have felt like Gods themselves.

I was in a dream-like daze in that superhuman structure. It is hard to believe it was built just 500 years after the supposed birth of Christ, without the impressive civil engineering technology we have today. I wondered how many slaves had died building it. The scaffolding must have been terrifying.

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I don’t think I will ever see anything as beautiful or as incredible as the Haggia Sophia again. If you haven’t seen it yet you must experience it for yourself.

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December 17, 2013 · 11:45 pm