Category - Culture

Karahunj: The mystery of Armenia’s Stonehenge

clip_image002Large monolithic stones stand aging stoically in a circle on top of a grassy field. No, this isn’t England’s Stonehenge. This is Karahunj located in Southern Armenia. Even older than its British neighbor, Karahunj’s ancient origins are shrouded in just as much mystery. For all that we’ve been able to discover about the world around us, some places still remain just outside the reach of our understanding. Karahunj is one such enigma we may never find the answers to.

Fragments of a structure from the past

clip_image004Karahunj – or Zorats Karer – is comprised of 220 odd stones altogether. It’s located on a rocky promontory at the deep canyon of Dar river in Armenia and is constructed from local stones. Jutting out from either side of the main circle are two stone arms running both north and south. They could have made a wall at one bygone time.

clip_image006Now mostly camouflaged in rust-colored lichen, the stones themselves have been worked by human hand in ways that add to the mystery of their purpose. Some of the stones depict curious carvings of alien-like humanoid figures with oversized almond eyes. But most outstanding is the fact that some stones have a single circular hole drilled through their upper portions.

clip_image008Ancient Necropolis or Astronomical Observatory?

clip_image010While theories abound regarding Karahunj’s origins, two stand out as the most prominent. The more recent of the two postulates the place is a burial site dating mainly from the Middle Bronze Age to the Iron Age. Many shallow stone graves have been discovered in the surrounding area so it’s possible Karahunj was the central point of a vast necropolis.

One alternative theory pushed by Russian prehistorian Professor Paris Herouni introduced the far more exotic idea that this may be the world’s oldest astronomical observatory, built in the 6th millennia BC. To test this out, researchers measured the locations and directions of the stones and holes and compared them against constellations and the sun and moon. They did find a handful of stones where the holes point directly at the sunrise and sunset in midsummer as well as some holes that pointed directly at a smattering of constellations.

However, some questions exist about this theory. For instance, if there are so many holes in the stones, is it not possible some would point directly to astronomical phenomena as a matter of chance? Also, in some cases, the holes are drilled so large, they don’t seem to point accurately to any one location in the distance.

Other ideas on origin

clip_image012Local stories hold that Karahunj was a place built by kind-hearted giants as a gift for us small folk. And a simpler explanation taps into human nature to provide some answers. That this was simply a place marked off for prehistoric-style parties and ritual celebrations in the days of our ancestors.

Whatever the explanation, there is no doubt Karahunj has some ancient secrets locked inside. But with most clues to its origins lost to time, we may never discover them again.

(image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,)

There’s a tropical island in the middle of Germany that stays a balmy 80 degrees year round

When you think of Germany, a lush tropical island probably doesn’t immediately spring to mind. For good reason: there are no tropical islands anywhere near the European country, known for its harsh winters and skiing mountains. And yet! Inside a renovated Soviet military base in Brandenburg there exists an oasis— an oasis that could easily fit eight football fields inside its dome.tropical_island_resort_germany_1The man made paradise is actually the world’s largest indoor water park where the temperature stays a balmy 80 degrees, it never rains and you don’t have to worry about sunscreen. The park has a number of different sections, from a 2 acre rainforest with over 50,000 species of plants to a Bali-eque lagoon that boasts a waterfall, spa and hot air balloon. There’s bungalows to rent, pools to swim in, restaurants to dine in and nightclubs to dance in. It’s a full-service, family-friendly warm weather vacation that anyone can enjoy year round. [h/t nedhardy.com]YX3w9_It0ppu_KXA 1cd_VTs_I AQukfx_U DQKd_Ons s_MCFG17 tropical_island_resort_germany_3 tropical_island_resort_germany_11 tropical_island_resort_germany_19

Hampi: Lost relics of an ancient India

Riding into the remote little town of Hampi in the heart of South India, you might not be initially impressed by the rolling green hills and unimposing chai stands dotting the side of the road. But it’s a modest cover for greater marvels. Walk just a little further into the heart of the city to uncover towering temple structures and massive stone ruins that speak to the hidden history of a civilization now gone.

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Between the 14th and 16th centuries, Hampi – or Vijayanagara as was its ancient name – was the capital city of a powerful and wealthy empire that spanned the Southern region of India. And the buildings and relics left standing today give us a small glimpse into the glory and beauty of this piece of India’s history.

Vijayanagara: Capital of an empire

clip_image004Accounts differ as to the founding of the city of Vijayanagara. But the best version is the one rooted in folklore. Two local chieftains, Hakka & Bukka, went to their guru with an unusual sighting after a hunting expedition. Their hound was chasing a hare when the prey suddenly grew courageous and chased the hound back. The guru explained by saying the place is special and must become the location of their capital. And so the location of Vijayanagara was chosen.

One of the largest cities of its time

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The area is mentioned in the Hindu legends of Ramayana as Kishkinda, the realm of the monkey god. Vijayanagara grew into the political and commercial hub for the Vijayanagara Empire in South India and was one of the largest cities in the world at the time. The city’s bazaars were a center for commerce and lured merchants from all over the world. Its gardens were said to rival in beauty those of Renaissance Europe.

But the city’s glory would come to an abrupt end in 1565 when it was conquered and ransacked by rival Deccan sultanates.

Sacred places of worship

clip_image008Today, visitors flock to the still-standing city to view in awe its architectural feats. The monolithic steeple of Virupaksha Temple crowns the center of modern-day Hampi. It predates the Vijayanagara Empire and is still in use today as a place of worship. The place is dedicated to Virupaksha, an aspect of Shiva and his consort Pampa.

If you’ve seen postcards of Hampi, you’ve probably seen monuments inside Vittala Temple northeast of Virupaksha. Notable sights include a massive stone chariot or ratha, and 7 musical pillars supporting the main temple building. When struck, the pillars produce a sound corresponding to a specific musical instrument.

Besides these two landmarks, a vast wealth of temples and small shrines dot the bouldered landscape, providing a seemingly endless supply of places to discover.

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Relics from the former seat of government

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Buildings dedicated to the royalty and administration stand a little further south from the river. Lotus Mahal was used as the women’s quarters and displays a symmetrical layout with intricate carvings typical of Indo-Islamic architecture. The still-standing elephant stables housed ceremonial elephants of the royal household.

A clash between old and new over a world heritage site

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The area was declared a World Heritage site in 1986. And in order to stay on this list, Hampi must preserve their monuments according to the exacting standards set by UNESCO. This is where old and new interests have come into conflict as the state government attempts to modernize in order to meet the needs of the local community while still preserving Hampi’s World Heritage listing.

Although Hampi sits on the south side of the Tungabhadra River, many of the hotels catering to the town lay on its north side. Locals must also frequently cross the river to get to cities on the north side of the bank.

Despite all this transportation need, people still line up to board boats to get them and their vehicles across the waters.

The government and UNESCO clashed in the past over the construction of two bridges linking Hampi with its neighbors. The unsightliness of the bridges and the danger of increased traffic congestion were enough to put Hampi’s World Heritage listing in danger in 1999. Today, the government and UNESCO have come to a compromise and construction continues for a bridge further downstream from the main historic area. So monuments will stay safe while local transportation needs are addressed.

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