Versailles: A Short History

Located about 20 kilometers southwest of Paris, Versailles is a wealthy and quickly expanding metropolitan city inviting a large number of visitors. The topmost attractions are the huge royal palace and gardens built by King Louis XIV. Besides featuring elegant and impressive architecture, the palace was also the proud seat of a number of important historic events. It is perhaps best remembered for the famous Treaty of Versailles signed on 28 June 1919 within the Hall of Mirrors; this peace treaty brought the First World War to an end.

In the year 1624, King Louis XIII constructed a hunting lodge in Versailles. Turning that hunting lodge into the palace it is today was accomplished in four distinct phases. The first phase of alterations stretched between 1664 and 1668, and during this time, the château and gardens were expanded to accommodate the 600 guests at the Plaisires de l’Île Enchantée (Pleasures of the Enchanted Island) celebration.

Signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the War of Devolution and gave way to the second phase of development to the Palace between 1669 and 1672. During this period, Le Vau’s enveloped Louis XIII’s hunting lodge. The grand appartement du roiand the grand appartement de la reine made up the complex of seven rooms. The décor depicted heroic kings of the past including Alexander the Great, Augustus, and Cyrus.

The Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678 ended the Dutch War and triggered the third phase of enhancements to the Versailles Palace. Much of the present-day look of the facility can be traced to this period. During this time, Hardouin-Mansart designed the Hall of Mirrors, north and south wings, and the Orangerie. The gardens also underwent landscaping.

After the defeat of the War of the League of Augsburg, the fourth and final phase of construction took place between 1699 and 1710. The focus of this task was the construction of the royal chapel that was designed by Hardouin-Mansart and Robert de Cotte. During this time, the Salon de l’Œil de Bœuf and the King’s Bedchamber were added with due modifications to the appartement du roi. 

Louis XV and XVI

Louis XV modified the palace during his reign; developments during this period include completion of the Salon d’Hercule, the petit appartement du roi, the appartements de Mesdames, the appartement du dauphin, the appartement de la dauphine, the petit appartement du roi au deuxième étage, and the petit appartement du roi au troisième étage, as well as the construction of the Opéra and the Petit Trianon.

Louis XVI ordered for the complete replanting of the garden to transform it to English style. He added the library and the salon des jeux to the petit appartement du roi and decorated the petit appartement de la reine for Marie-Antoinette.

French Revolution and Today

During the French Revolution, the royal court was moved to Paris and the security of the palace was entrusted to the citizens of Versailles. In 1791, the arrest of Louis XVI lead to the confiscation of all properties of the royal household and the palace was sealed. Following this, many pieces from the palace were sold or auctioned. The 1804 constitution designated Versailles Palace as the imperial court for the department of the Seine-et-Oise. Later arrivals made some small-scale enhancements to the facility, and time saw the decline of the facility to some degree. During the time of the Fifth Republic, the palace was transformed into one of the foremost tourist attractions in France.

Tours, France During the Middle Ages

In the 6th century Gregory of Tours, author of the Ten Books of History, made his mark on the town by restoring the cathedral destroyed by a fire in 561. Saint Martin’s monastery benefited from its inception, at the very start of the 6th century from patronage and support from the Frankish king, Clovis, which increased considerably the influence of the saint, the abbey and the city in Gaul. In the 9th century, Tours was at the heart of the Carolingian Rebirth, in particular because of Alcuin abbot of Marmoutier.

In 732 AD, Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi and a large army of Muslim horsemen from Al-Andalus advanced 500 kilometres (311 miles) deep into France, and were stopped at Tours by Charles Martel and his infantry igniting the Battle of Tours. The outcome was defeat for the Muslims, preventing France from Islamic conquest. In 845, Tours repulsed the first attack of the Viking chief Hasting (Haesten). In 850, the Vikings settled at the mouths of the Seine and the Loire. Still led by Hasting, they went up the Loire again in 852 and sacked Angers, Tours and the abbey of Marmoutier.

During the Middle Ages, Tours consisted of two juxtaposed and competing centres. The “City” in the east, successor of the late Roman ‘castrum’, was composed of the archiepiscopal establishment (the cathedral and palace of the archbishops) and of the castle of Tours, seat of the authority of the Counts of Tours (later Counts of Anjou) and of the King of France. In the west, the “new city” structured around the Abbey of Saint Martin was freed from the control of the City during the 10th century (an enclosure was built towards 918) and became “Châteauneuf”. This space, organized between Saint Martin and the Loire, became the economic centre of Tours. Between these two centres remained Varennes, vineyards and fields, little occupied except for the Abbaye Saint-Julien established on the banks of the Loire. The two centres were linked during the 14th century. Tours is a good example of a medieval double city.

Tours became the capital of the county of Tours or Touraine, territory bitterly disputed between the counts of Blois and Anjou – the latter were victorious in the 9th century. It was the capital of France at the time of Louis XI, who had settled in the castle of Montils (today the castle of Plessis in La Riche, western suburbs of Tours), Tours and Touraine remained until the 16th century a permanent residence of the kings and court. The rebirth gave Tours and Touraine many private mansions and castles, joined together to some extent under the generic name of the Chateaux of the Loire. It is also at the time of Louis XI that the silk industry was introduced – despite difficulties, the industry still survives to this day.

Jewish History in Poland World War II and Beyond

At the start of World War II, Poland was partitioned between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact). The war resulted in the death of one-fifth of the Polish population, with 90% or about 3 million of Polish Jewry killed along with approximately 3 million Polish non-Jews. Examples of Polish gentile attitudes to German atrocities varied widely, from actively risking death in order to save Jewish lives, and passive refusal to inform on them; to indifference, blackmail, and in extreme cases, participation in pogroms such as the Jedwabne pogrom. Grouped by nationality, Poles represent the largest number of people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

In the postwar period, many of the approximately 200,000 Jewish survivors registered at Central Committee of Polish Jews or CKŻP (of whom 136,000 arrived from the Soviet Union) left the Communist People’s Republic of Poland for the nascent State of Israel and North or South America. Their departure was hastened by the destruction of Jewish institutions, post-war violence and the hostility of the Communist Party to both religion and private enterprise, but also because in 1946–1947 Poland was the only Eastern Bloc country to allow free Jewish aliyah to Israel without visas or exit permits. Britain demanded Poland to halt the exodus, but their pressure was largely unsuccessful. Most of the remaining Jews left Poland in late 1968 as the result of the Soviet-sponsored “anti-Zionist” campaign. After the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, the situation of Polish Jews became normalized and those who were Polish citizens before World War II were allowed to renew Polish citizenship. Religious institutions were revived, largely through the activities of Jewish foundations from the United States. The contemporary Polish Jewish community is estimated to have approximately 20,000 members, though the actual number of Jews, including those who are not actively connected to Judaism or Jewish culture, may be several times larger.

Château d’Amboise and Environs

Amboise is a commune in the Indre-et-Loire department in central France. It lies on the banks of the Loire River, 17 miles east of Tours. Today a small market town, it was once home of the French royal court. The town of Amboise is also only about 11 miles away from the historic Château de Chenonceau, situated on the Cher River near the small village of Chenonceaux. Its former name was Ambacia, from the old name of the river and marsh Amasse.

The city is famous for the Clos Lucé manor house where Leonardo da Vinci lived (and ultimately died) at the invitation of King Francis I of France, whose Château d’Amboise, which dominates the town, is located just 1,640 feet away. The narrow streets contain some good examples of timbered housing.

Just outside of the city is the Pagode de Chanteloup, a 144.4 feet tall Chinese Pagoda built in 1775 by the Duke of Choiseul. The Pagoda is seven levels high, with each level slightly smaller than the last one. An interior staircase to reach all levels is open to the public. The Musée de la Poste (in the Hôtel Joyeuse) is a museum tracing the history of the postal delivery service. A 19th-century fountain by John Oswald of a turtle topped by a teddy bear figure, standing in front of the spot where the markets are held.

Clovis I (c. 466–511) and the Visigoths signed a peace treaty of alliance here with the Arvernians in 503, which assisted him in his defeat of the Visigothic kingdom in the Battle of Vouillé in 507. Joan of Arc passed through in 1429 on her way to Orleans to the Battle of Patay.

The Château at Amboise was home to Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots, for much of her early life, being raised there at the French court of Henry II. She arrived in France from Scotland in 1548, aged six, via the French king’s favourite palace at Saint Germain en Laye near Paris, and remained in France until 1561, when she returned to her homeland – sailing up the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh on 15 August that year.

Leonardo da Vinci spent the last years of his life in Amboise. Some of his inventions are still there and have not been removed. The house has lost some of its original parts, but it still stands today and has a beautiful overlook of the Loire River.

The Louvre: A Short History

The Louvre or the Louvre Museum is the world’s largest museum and a historic monument in Paris, France. A central landmark of the city, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the city’s 1st arrondissement. Nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 652,300 square feet. The Louvre is the world’s second most visited museum after the Palace Museum in China, receiving more than 9.26 million visitors in 2014.

The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as a fortress in the late 12th century under Philip II. Remnants of the fortress are visible in the basement of the museum. Due to the urban expansion of the city, the fortress eventually lost its defensive function and, in 1546, was converted by Francis I of France into the main residence of the French Kings. The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace. In 1682, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection, including, from 1692, a collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. In 1692, the building was occupied by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, which in 1699 held the first of a series of salons. The Académie remained at the Louvre for 100 years. During the French Revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces.

The museum opened on 10 August 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings, the majority of the works being royal and confiscated church property. Because of structural problems with the building, the museum was closed in 1796 until 1801. The collection was increased under Napoleon and the museum renamed the Musée Napoléon, but after Napoleon’s abdication many works seized by his armies were returned to their original owners. The collection was further increased during the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X, and during the Second French Empire the museum gained 20,000 pieces. Holdings have grown steadily through donations and bequests since the Third Republic. The collection is divided among eight curatorial departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; Paintings; Prints and Drawings.

Paris: An Overview


Paris is the capital and the most populous city of France. It has an area of 105 41 square miles and a population in 2013 of 2,229,621 within the city limits. Paris is both a commune and department, and forms the centre and headquarters of the Île-de-France, or Paris Region, which has an area of 4,638 square miles and a population in 2014 of 12,005,077, comprising 18.2 percent of the population of France.

The agglomeration has grown well beyond Paris’ administrative limits. The Paris unité urbaine is a measure of Paris’ continuous urban area for statistical purposes, including both the commune and its suburbs, and has a population of 10,601,122 which makes it the largest in the European Union. The aire urbaine de Paris, a measure of Paris’ metropolitan area, spans most of the Île-de-France region and has a population of 12,405,426, constituting one-fifth of the population of France. The Metropole of Grand Paris was created in 2016, combining the city and its nearest suburbs into a single area for economic and environmental cooperation. Grand Paris covers 314 square miles and has a population of 6.945 million persons.

Paris was founded in the 3rd century BC by a Celtic people called the Parisii, who gave the city its name. By the 12th century, Paris was the largest city in the western world, a prosperous trading centre, and the home of the University of Paris, one of the oldest universities in history. By the 17th century it was one of Europe’s major centres of finance, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts, and it retains that position still today.

The city is a major rail, highway, and air-transport hub, served by the two international airports Paris-Charles de Gaulle (the second busiest airport in Europe after London Heathrow Airport with 63.8 million passengers) and Paris-Orly. Opened in 1900, the city’s subway system, the Paris Métro, serves 5.23 million passengers daily. It is the second busiest metro system in Europe after Moscow Metro. Paris is the hub of the national road network, and is surrounded by three orbital roads: the Périphérique, the A86 motorway, and the Francilienne motorway.

Among Paris’ important museums and cultural institutions are the most visited art museum in the world, the Louvre, as well as the Musée d’Orsay, noted for its collection of French Impressionist art, and the Musée National d’Art Moderne in the Pompidou Centre, the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe. The Central area of Paris along the Seine River is classified as a UNESCO Heritage Site, and includes many notable monuments, including Notre Dame Cathedral (12th century to 13th century ); the Sainte-Chapelle (13th century); the Eiffel Tower (1889); the Grand Palais and Petit Palais (1900); and the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur on Montmartre (1914). In 2015 Paris received 22.2 million visitors, making it one of the world’s top tourist destinations. and is also known for its fashion, particularly the twice-yearly Paris Fashion Week, and for its haute cuisine, and three-star restaurants. Most of France’s major universities and grandes écoles are located in Paris, as are France’s major newspapers, including Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Libération.

The association football club Paris Saint-Germain and the rugby union club Stade Français are based in Paris. The 80,000-seat Stade de France, built for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, is located just north of Paris in the commune of Saint-Denis. Paris hosts the annual French Open Grand Slam tennis tournament on the red clay of Roland Garros. Paris hosted the 1900 and 1924 Summer Olympics and is bidding to host the 2024 Summer Olympics and thus become the second city to have hosted the Games three times. The 1938 and 1998 FIFA World Cups, the 2007 Rugby World Cup and UEFA Euro 2016 were also held in the city, and every July, the Tour de France of cycling finishes in the city.

Himeji Castle (姫路城)

Himeji Castle is a hilltop Japanese castle complex situated in the city of Himeji which is located in the Hyōgo Prefecture of Japan. The castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, comprising a network of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems from the feudal period.

Himeji Castle, also known as White Heron Castle (Shirasagijo) due to its elegant, white appearance, is widely considered as Japan’s most spectacular castle for its imposing size and beauty and its well preserved, complex castle grounds. The castle is both a national treasure and a world heritage site. Unlike many other Japanese castles, it was never destroyed by war, earthquake or fire and survives to this day as one of the country’s twelve original castles. The castle recently underwent extensive renovation over several years and was fully re-opened to the public in 2015.

Himeji Castle lies at a strategic point along the western approach to the former capital city of Kyoto. The first fortifications built on the site were completed in the 1400s, and were gradually enlarged over the centuries by the various clans who ruled over the region. The castle complex as it survives today is over 400 years old and was completed in 1609. It is made up of over eighty buildings spread across multiple baileys, which are connected by a series of gates and winding paths.

K Coffee – Yamatokoriyama, Japan

K Coffee opened in February 2014. It grew originally out of “Art Festival Hanarart”, an art festival which was held in Yamatokoriyama in 2013 with the aim of using art to bring vitality to the region. During the festival, Mr. Kazuya Mori opened up a coffee shop at the old gas station where the current shop now stands.

The “goldfish phone box” was set up as one of the artworks displayed at the festival. After the art festival was over, there were plans to clear away both the coffee shop and the phone box; however, Mr. Mori had taken a liking to the place, and started direct negotiations to rent the spot. Most people living in the area apparently were of the opinion “a coffee shop will never work in this location”; however, Mr. Mori was determined to take up the challenge. He went ahead with the plan, and K Coffee was inaugurated as an official business.

What makes this literal hole-in-the-wall so well known is their peculiar fish tank out front. It’s an old school phone booth filled to the top with water and goldfish.

Buddha Park of Ravangla

The Buddha Park of Ravangla, also known as Tathagata Tsal, is situated near Ravangla in South Sikkim district of the Indian state of Sikkim. It was constructed between 2006 and 2013, and features a 130-foot-high statue of the Buddha, erected to mark the 2550th anniversary of the birth of Gautama Buddha, as its main attraction. The statue, built of 60 tonnes of copper, is an example of repousse work. Mount Narsing forms the backdrop to the statue.

The site was chosen within the larger religious complex of Rabong Monastery, itself a centuries-old place of pilgrimage. Also nearby is Ralang Monastery, a key monastery in Tibetan Buddhism. Built and installed through the joint efforts of the government and people of Sikkim, the statue was consecrated on 25 March 2013 by the 14th Dalai Lama. The Buddhist circuit of the park was built under a state government project, intended to boost pilgrimage and tourism to the region. The Cho Djo lake is located within the complex, surrounded by forest. The park has a tranquil setting with spacious pathways, and there is a Buddhist conclave, a meditation centre and a museum with a spiral gallery.

Roman Aqueduct of Segovia, Spain

The huge Roman aqueduct built in Segovia, Spain, by the Roman Emperor Trajan (AD 98-117).

One of the best preserved Roman engineering works, the structure was constructed from approximately 24,000 dark colored Guadarrama granite blocks without the use of mortar. The above ground part is 2,388 feet long. And it consists of approximately 165 arches that are more than 30 feet in height.