Predating the Pyramids at Giza in Egypt by about 1000 years and Britain’s Stonehenge by a similar period, the temple at Hagar Qim, along with its sister temples on the tiny island of Malta, is widely considered the oldest stone structure standing anywhere in the world. And like the Gizan Pyramids and Stonehenge, Hagar Qim is a place of almost unimaginable and incomprehensible early human craftsmanship and engineering prowess. Deliberately positioned on a hilltop vantage point overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the main 5,500 year old megalithic temple dates back to between 3600 and 3200 BCE, although an earlier ruined temple to the north of the site is significantly older. Translating from the Maltese as ‘standing stones’ or ‘worshiping stones’, the structure also contains artistic treasures that have changed the way archaeologists look at this period of our shared history within its C-shaped rooms. A retaining wall of huge slabs of local limestone more than 10 feet high encloses the rooms, accessed through a paved entrance way of equally massive stones. So large are they, in fact, that a seventeenth-century investigation of the structure determined that it must have been built and inhabited by a population of giants. The facade contains the largest stone used in any of Malta’s megalithic temples, with an estimated weight of 57 tons, while a slender ‘menhir’ standing stone soars over the complex with a height of 17 feet. Large and beautifully carved spheres of stone, perhaps used as rollers, dot the site. Structural stones around altar spaces are decorated with crisp spiral designs and marked with regular drilled dots that give the impression of a leopard’s markings. The altars themselves suggest animal sacrifices due to their concave shape. Several finely-carved statues of the female figure (now housed in the National Museum of Archaeology in the capital just a few miles away) including one called the ‘Venus of Malta’ or the ‘Fat Lady’ also suggest a link to the cult of Venus that spread across Europe during the period.
Streets are full of unnoticed letters most often hand-made or designed long ago. The Lettering da is a project which put together a collection of letters, numbers and street inscriptions, whose design and typography is then analyzed and redesigned. It started in 2012 by Silvia Virgillo and was born from her fascination with urban typographic elements visible in the public space. Its aim is to create a photographic archive of letters focusing on design that mirrors the historical period in which they originated. The project begun in Turin, birthplace of Silvia, and then spread to other Italian cities like Milan, Genoa, Mater, Venice, Rome, Faenza, Trieste, and Lecce. Each of these cities has its own curator, with a graphic education background and a passion for letter design. The curator’s task is to collect the material in the city, and then prepare it for the archives. It is later redesigned and made available in a web archive; the project is transparent and accessible to everyone. Every city has its Lettering da Facebook page that a particular curator regulates. The process of preparing material for the archive involves the digital transcription of letters, which are then compared with existing fonts. Then, their exact location as well as their origin and purpose are determined, documented and given a number. This project is just the starting point for what’s planned to be achieved in the future: designing completely new typographic letters inspired by city typography, hand-made or taken from a non-digitized alphabet. Lettering da is constantly growing because of the rich city typography of Italy, and many cities will join the project in the future. The desire of the curator is to bring the citizens closer to the treasures they pass on a daily basis, so that the typography of the cities will receive their deserved attention and respect. In addition to archiving and designing, this team also organizes various events, exhibitions, workshops, bicycle tours, which support this basic idea of promoting city inscriptions.
There’s an instant sense of unadulterated astonishment and wonder to seeing in person the perfectly symmetrical cruciform structure of the Church of Saint George in the northern Ethiopian town of Lalibela. For although it is equivalent in height to a four story office block, not an inch of it rises above ground level. To touch its pinky rock-hewn surfaces, surrounded by sheer walls 50 feet high, is to understand the enormity of such a task, while to hear the rhythmic chanting of its religious services is to be transported back hundreds of years. Known in Ethiopia’s Amharic language as Bet Giyorgis, the monolithic Church of Saint George was cut from the bedrock with the most basic of hand tools, and is just one of 13 of all different architectural styles and shapes in Lalibela. Located in the Lasta Mountains, more than 8,000 feet above sea level, amid the steep slopes of craggy bare mountains and vast escarpments, the town was long considered the kingdom of the legendary Christian ruler Prester John when reached by European adventurers. Although the church’s real origins are lost in the mists of time, with Bet Giyorgis dating back at least 800 years, local legend has it that Saint George was so upset that none of Lalibela’s other churches had been dedicated in his honor he sought to rectify the fact in a midnight vision to the king. Now the saint not only has an astonishing feat of ancient engineering to his name, but also a rather fine lager brewed in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. What makes the UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site Church of Saint George all the more stunning, as you pass through the long trench that leads to it from ground level before removing your shoes to enter the finely-carved interior, is the sight of the church as a functioning place of worship and pilgrimage site, mired in the elaborate and sometimes mysterious ceremonies of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The keys still hang from the belts of richly-robed priests, fierce guardians of the sanctity of the structure and protectors of the unseen Holy of Holies, while hermits continue to live in small cells cut from the precipitous walls all around. (images wiki commons)