ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “library



After an isolated retreat at Siwa Oasis, I once again headed back onto the road. This time, the destination was my home in Toronto. The journey from the Egypt’s Western Desert to Canada took me first to Alexandria and Cairo by land, and then Athens and Zurich by air before touching down on the North American soil. I took an 8-hour night bus leaving Siwa at 22:00, and arriving Alexandria in early morning the next day. I sat beside a friendly old lady who kept on offering me peanuts. After some snacks and chat, I felt asleep with my headphone music. When I get up, Alexandria was just minutes away.

Founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great, Alexandria is the largest city by the Mediterranean and the second largest city in Egypt. In the Classical era, the city was well known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and its Great Library, the largest library in the Classical World with 400,000 scrolls. The city itself was once the largest city in the western world before overtaken by Rome. Alexandria remained as the capital of Egypt for a thousand years from Ptolemaic Egypt, throughout much of the Roman and Byzantine era until the Muslim conquest in 641 AD, when the political centre of Egypt was shifted to Cairo. By that time, the magnificent city that once rivaled Rome and Constantinople was already largely plundered and destroyed. In the modern age, Alexandria regained a part of its former glory as an important port of international trading, connecting Egypt and its products (such as Egyptian cotton) to the outside world.

Before leaving Alexandria for Cairo by train, I had a bit of free time to wander around the port city.
I slowly found my way through a number of residential neighborhood towards the sea.
Between 1882 to 1956, Egypt was under the British colonial rule. Buildings from the colonial era became a major part of the architectural heritage as Alexandria entered the modern age.
Beautiful ornament on an old building in downtown Alexandria
Behind the 1.2km sea mole known as Heptastadion, the Great Harbour of Alexandria or Al Mina’ ash Sharqiyah (Eastern Harbour) is a safe haven for fishing boats.
The Minaa El Sharkia Beach near Citadel of Qaibay is also a popular spot for locals seeking for a moment of relaxation.
Boys swam in the water at the Minaa El Sharkia Beach.
I walked along the Minaa El Sharkia Beach towards Manar El Islam Mosque and the Citadel of Qaitbay.
The Citadel of Qaitbay is a 15th century fortress built by Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf al-Din Qa’it Bay. The Qaitbay Citadel is an important defensive stronghold at the Mediterranean coast. Formerly known as Pharos Island, the citadel is situated at the former site of the legendary Lighthouse of Alexandria.
Known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Lighthouse was damaged by a series of earthquakes from the 8th century to the 14th century. The massive earthquake in 1303 caused a decisive blow to the structure. The remnant was then built over by Qaitbay Citadel in 1480.
The legendary lighthouse was long gone, but the 3rd century BC Heptastadion continued to harbour the people of Alexandria.
Grey Mullet, Red Mullet, Sea Bass, Red Smelt, Bluefish and Sole are some of the fish found in the Mediterranean near Alexandria.
The downtown of Alexandria and the waterfront Corniche unfold along the waterfront of Eastern Harbour.
After spending some time by the waterfront, I slowly walked through Downtown Alexandria to the railway station.
Alexandria is full of buildings of distinct character.
Finally I arrived at Sidi Gaber Railway Station, the oldest railway station in Egypt, for my train back to Cairo.

RUINS OF EPHESUS, Selcuk, Turkey


After breakfast, a staff of Homeros Pension drove us to a bank for money exchange before dropping us at the world renowned archaeological ruins of Ephesus (Efes).  Ephesus is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Turkey, thanks to its close proximity to the cruise port and airport in the resort town of Kusadasi.  The magnificent facade of Ephesus’ Library of Celsus is the signature image of Classical ruins in Turkey.  Two thousand years ago, Ephesus was one of the greatest Greek and Roman cities in Asia Minor.  Founded in the 10th century BC by Attic and Ionian Greeks, Ephesus reached its peak after the Roman takeover in 129 BC.  From 52-54 AD, Paul the Apostle stayed in Ephesus and probably wrote his Gospel in the city.  Ephesus was named as one of the seven churches of Asia in the Book Revelation, indicating Christianity was quite popular back then.  In the Byzantine era, major earthquakes, shifting of trade routes, and sacking by the Arabs all contributed to the downfall of Ephesus.  Its glorious past was eventually forgotten, and Ephesus was eventually abandoned in the 15th century.  Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the magnificent Library of Celsus and the 25,000 seat theatre exemplify the former grandeur of the city.  Already in ruins since 401 AD, the Temple of Artemis has little remained except a restored column.  The restored facade of Library of Celsus remains as the biggest draw for visitors.

06ME12-10Seats for up to 24,000 spectators, the splendid great theatre of Ephesus was the first impressive building that we encountered in the site.

ephesus 1It was the time in the year where poppies flourished.

06ME12-21Right by Celsus Library, the Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates was a arch of triumph built in 40 AD during the reign of Augustus, the first Roman emperor and the great nephew of Julius Caesar.

06ME12-24Popular with tourist advertisements, the facade of the Library of Celsus is the most famous image of Ephesus.  Named after Celsus, a Roman consul in Rome and later the provincial governor of Asia, the library was built by Celsus’ son Aquila and filled with over 12,000 scrolls of reading materials acquired by the money of Celsus left behind.

ephesus 3From 117 to 262 AD, the Library of Celsus served as an important public space in Ephesus for 145 years, where people came to read the rare scrolls under natural light at the main floor.  In 262 AD, the library was destroyed by fire caused by earthquake or Gothic invasion.

ephesus 2The statues at the library facade symbolize wisdom, knowledge, intelligence and valor.

ephesus 5Episteme, the Greek philosophical term of “knowledge”, was depicted as one of the statues at Library of Celsus.

06ME13-11The imposing Library of Celsus is the most popular photo spot in Ephesus.

06ME13-07After the destruction in 262 AD, the facade survived for another 800 years or so until the tenth or eleventh century.  Lying in ruins for about a thousand years, the facade of Library of Celsus was restored in the 1970s.

06ME13-10As an important Roman city, Latin inscriptions can be found all over Ephesus.

06ME13-04Beyond Mazeus & Mithridates Gate, a Corinthian colonnade marks the Agora, the former commercial heart of the ancient city.

06ME13-20Paved with marble stone and flanked by colonnade, Curetes Street was one of the main treets in Ephesus.

06ME13-30Along the street, there are lots of interesting architectural details for all visitors to discover.

06ME13-25The Odeon was used for political meetings, concerts and theatrical performances.

06ME13-26Roman relief of the Memmius Monument

06ME13-28Nike, the goddess of victory, was depicted on a marble relief.

06ME13-16Arch with relief sculpture at the Temple of Hadrian.

06ME13-18Headless Roman statue at Curetes Street.

06ME13-22The Hercules Gate at Curetes Street marked the separation between uptown and downtown.

06ME13-32Beautiful frieze at Hadrian Temple revealed the high craftsmanship of the Roman  builders.



DAY 8 (1/2): SAKYA MONASTERY (ས་སྐྱ་དགོན་པ། 薩迦寺), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.23

Founded by Konchok Gyelpo in 1073, Sakya Monastery is the seat of Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. During its heyday in the 13th and 14th centuries, Sakya abbots were the actual governors of Tibet under the Mongol’s rule.  There are actually two monasteries in Sakya at either side of Trum-Chu River.  While the older north monastery (1073) with its 108 structures has been reduced to ruins over the years, the fortress like south monastery (1268) survives and remains as one of the largest in Tibet.  The impressive fortress like monastery washed with ash grey and white and red vertical stripes symbolizes the trinity of Bodhisattva, and had became the symbol of Sakya.  Everything at Sakya is large in size, from its 16m high main assembly hall to the extensive defensive walls.

Many refers Sakya Monastery as Dunhuang (敦煌) of Tibet because of its remarkable murals, artefacts, and medieval scriptures.   Sealed behind a wall and rediscovered in 2003, the 60m long by 10m tall library wall (拉康欽莫大經堂) behind the altar in the main assembly hall is particularly impressive.  It contains a huge variety of text, 84000 in total, made of different materials and about different subjects from the Yuan Dynasty when Tibet was under Mongol rule.  The equally important murals made in the Mongolian style are also a rarity in China nowadays.  In the main assembly hall, the most valuable object is probably the white conch shell (海螺).  Legends has it that the conch shell originally belonged to the Buddha.  Then it went into the hands of an Indian king, and later became an offering to Kublai Khan (忽必列).  Kublai Khan gave the sacred object to Sakya and it remained in the monastery until present day.  Still capable to make a soft low sound, the conch is still blown by the monk to give blessing to pilgrims.  While we were visiting the main assembly hall, we did see a monk took out the conch to offer blessing to the pilgrims, who were so excited and eager to get as close as possible to the sacred object.  Also from Kublai Khan was one of the huge wood columns in the assembly hall.  With a diameter ranging from 1m to 1.5m, these wood columns are quite impressive disregard who its donor might be.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs soon as we arrived in Sakya, our driver Sangzhu took us to the large dining hall of Manasarovar Sakya Hotel Restaurant for lunch.

02Unlike most other Tibetan monasteries, Sakya’s grey walls with red and white stripes offer a unique visual symbol for Sakya in the past 900+ years.

03.JPGWe headed into the entrance courtyard of Sakya and soon found out that almost all buildings were locked.  Apparently the monks were having lunch somewhere else and we had no choice but to wait for their.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn front of the main assembly hall, we stood by the stone lion and wait for the monk’s return.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoon more local visitors arrived and waited for the monk’s return.  We decided to take a walk in the enormous compound.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe followed the long and narrow kora route around the central complex.  There were prayer wheels on one side and the defensive high walls on the opposite.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe buildings in Sakya Monastery all seemed really large to us.

06The Western style lamppost and the ash grey wall with red and white stripes somehow didn’t seem too coherent visually.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt last the monk with the keys showed up and led us into the inner monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeyond the gate, a dark hallway with beautiful murals and old prayer wheels led us into the inner courtyard.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoing through the dark hallway with religious murals on both sides felt like going back in time.

12Without extensive renovations, many murals in Sakya were gradually fading.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the inner courtyard, we walked into the main assembly hall.  In the main hall, we saw the famous white conch shell, wood columns, historical murals and most impressive of all, the 10m high library wall behind the altar.  Just like most other monasteries in Tibet, photography of the interior is prohibited.

14After seeing the interior of the main assembly hall, we climbed the adjacent stair up to the flat roof of the complex.

15The flat roof offers another unique angle to admire the robust architecture of Sakya.

16Via the flat roof, we could walk to a variety of side chapels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe small chapels are accessible via doorways in the otherwise fortress like walls.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALayers of eaves form a series of interesting lines on the flat roof.

19As we departed from Sakya Monastery, more pilgrims arrived to pay respect to this once most powerful monastery in Tibet.

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More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road


Our last day in Guangzhou was dedicated to the contemporary architecture at Zhujiang New Town again.  The night before, we had a brief visit of the area to check out Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House, Rocco’s Guangdong Museum, and Nikken Sekkei’s Central Library illuminated with dramatic lights.  The next day we returned to check out the interior of these buildings.

The first stop we made was Guangzhou Opera House.  We joined a 1.5 hour guided tour that took us into the a number of the major spaces in the complex, from the main auditorium to practice rooms.  While the interior spaces of the Opera House were visually impressive, the uncounted design and construction deficiencies and traces of poor maintenance were all difficult to ignore.  Nevertheless, Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House still stood out as the most unique architecture we saw in Guangzhou.

Not far from the Opera House stood the new Guangzhou Library designed by Japanese design firm Nikken Sekkei.  Completed in 2013, Guangzhou Library is a neatly detailed and designed public building.  Once got in, we were immediately overwhelmed by the large and airy atrium and the glassy link bridges overhead.  We wandered in the library briefly before moving over to the Guangdong Provincial Museum.  Opened in 2010, Rocco Design Architects’ museum building is a mega-scale Chinese treasure box.  Similar to the library, the main atrium space of the museum offered a pleasant surprise for us.  A single footbridge high up overhead created a dramatic visual impact.  To our disappointment, we then discovered that it was blocked off from public access as soon as we reached the bridge.  The permanent collection of the museum presented the rich heritage of various regions in Guangdong.

It was late afternoon by the time we left Guangdong Museum.  We rushed to the Guangzhou East Station for our direct intercity train back to Hong Kong.  Overall our three-day trip was a pleasant introduction to the heritage of Guangdong Province.  Seeing the photogenic diaolous in Kaiping County was especially interesting for us.  Perhaps one day we would return to Kaiping at a different season, such as early spring when yellow mustard flowers blanketed the fields under the shadow of the century-old watchtowers.

01From the metro station, we made a short walk underground before ascending to the ground level.  At almost 600m, the Canton Tower played well as an urban icon for us to orient ourselves.

02Approaching Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House and the reflective pool.

03The triangular ceiling coffers and curved concrete walls reminded me of Hadid’s other projects,

04The ceiling motif did remind me of Hadid’s Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany.

05Bronze statue at a stair landing that led to the underground parking level.

06The magnificent main auditorium of Guangzhou Opera House.

07Cool light troughs filled up the walls and ceiling of the music practice room.

08The wavy ceiling and wall treatment of the dance studio was another highlight of our guided tour.

09Interior circulation space in the Opera House on the upper levels.

10During daytime, the building structure and facade details could be closely examined by visitors.

11Overall view of the Opera House.

12Atrium of the smaller concert hall in the Opera House complex.

13Approaching the Guangzhou Manmade Library.

14Central atrium of the Guangzhou Library.

15Rocco’s Guangdong Museum resembled an enlarged Chinese treasure box.

16The museum atrium was a remarkable design.

17New kinds of materials were used in the museum project.  The overall experience of the space was centred at the flying bridge high above.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVisitors leaving the Guangdong Museum, with Hadad’s Opera House at the back.

19The entrance path of the museum provided a nice urban playground.

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All posts on 2015 Kaping and Guangzhou

1) TWO EPOCHS OF EAST MEET WEST: Kaiping (開平) and Guangzhou (廣州), China
2) QILOU (騎樓) BUILDINGS OF CHIKAN (赤坎鎮), Kaiping, China
3) DIAOLOU (碉樓) OF ZILI (自力村) VILLAGE, Kaiping (開平), China
4) VILLAGE OF MAJIANLONG (馬降龍村), Kaiping, China
5) JINJIANGLI (錦江里村) VILLAGE, Kaiping, China
6) ZHUJIANG NEW TOWN (珠江新城) AT NIGHT, Guangzhou, China
7) SHAMEEN ISLAND (沙面島), Guangzhou (廣州), China

ZHUJIANG NEW TOWN (珠江新城) AT NIGHT, Guangzhou, China

Other than Kaiping diaolous, another reason for our 3-day excursion from Hong Kong was to check out Guangzhou’s contemporary architecture.  After arriving in Guangzhou by long distance bus, we took the city’s metro to Shamian Island (沙面島) to check in at our hotel and had a Cantonese meal.  Before calling it a day, we rushed out again to explore the new central business district to see its flamboyant buildings at night.  Soon we arrived at Zhujiang New Town Metro Station and walked towards the Opera House.

In a distance, the Guangzhou Tower on the south side of Pearl River aligned perfectly with the strip of public plaza that marked the central axis of Zhujiang New Town (珠江新城), the new central business district of Guangzhou.  Along both sides of the axis, new commercial towers lined up like soldiers queuing from afar all the way to the Pearl River.  Before reaching the river, three public buildings stood out, the Guangzhou Library designed by Japanese firm Nikken Sekkei, Guangdong Provincial Museum by Rocco Design Architects, and Guangzhou Opera House by Zaha Hadid.

01Reaching Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House from its back.

02A ramp flanked by stone walls of the opera house expressed a sense of urban fluidity.

03The craftsmanship and the maintenance of the stone cladding were far from ideal.

04Similar to many other cities around the world, The Phantom of the Opera has become a popular musical with lots of sold out shows.

05Main hall of Guangzhou Opera House with Guangzhou IFC at the rear.

06The upper plaza of the Opera House has become a hotspot for photos.

07The Guangzhou Library by Nikken Sekkei was another interesting building in the area.

08Cool facade treatment expressed horizontality and layering.

09Rocco’s Guangzhou Museum presented a sense of mystery.

10The semi-outdoor stadium on an island in the Pearl River.

12Guangzhou Tower with colouful lighting effect.

13Guangzhou IFC and the axial plaza.

14Visitors enjoyed themselves on the floor feature lighting.

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All posts on 2015 Kaping and Guangzhou

1) TWO EPOCHS OF EAST MEET WEST: Kaiping (開平) and Guangzhou (廣州), China
2) QILOU (騎樓) BUILDINGS OF CHIKAN (赤坎鎮), Kaiping, China
3) DIAOLOU (碉樓) OF ZILI (自力村) VILLAGE, Kaiping (開平), China
4) VILLAGE OF MAJIANLONG (馬降龍村), Kaiping, China
5) JINJIANGLI (錦江里村) VILLAGE, Kaiping, China
6) ZHUJIANG NEW TOWN (珠江新城) AT NIGHT, Guangzhou, China
7) SHAMEEN ISLAND (沙面島), Guangzhou (廣州), China


We started our tour of the Centro of Rio de Janeiro with the Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura (Portuguese Reading Room).  In contrast to the hectic chaos of traffic and pedestrians in the Centro, the Portuguese Reading Room seemed like a peaceful haven to us.  An association that promoted culture of the community found the Portuguese Reading Room in 1837, during the time when Rio was the national capital of Portugal.  The architecture was built in Manueline style, which emphasized the royal power of Portugal with decorations inspired by Italian Renaissance, European Gothic, and Moorish art.


Read other posts on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Day 20.1 – Ipanema
Day 20.2 – Urca
Day 20.3 – Pao de Acucar
Day 21.1 – Ipanema Beach
Day 21.2 – Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura (Portuguese Reading Room)
Day 21.3 – Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil
Day 21.4 – Lapa and Santa Teresa
Day 21.5 – Botafogo and Leblon
Day 22.1 – Museu de Arte do Rio
Day 22.2 – Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)

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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought