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Wonders of the World

Updated 2 months ago

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In this podcast, we'll visit 200 Wonders of the World, from the Pyramids to the Great Barrier Reef, to tell the story of our people, our civilization, and our planet. My name is Drew Vahrenkamp, and I'm a travel junkie. The world is filled with amazing places that reflect the greatest achievements of human accomplishment. In these uncertain times, understanding our great shared history may help to bridge the divides between us. And if not, it will be a fun ride anyway! We'll discuss the history of each place and the story of the men and women who lived there. We'll cover travel notes, examine what else to see while you're in the area, and dig into the local cuisine. Expect a new episode every two weeks. And thanks for listening!

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In this podcast, we'll visit 200 Wonders of the World, from the Pyramids to the Great Barrier Reef, to tell the story of our people, our civilization, and our planet. My name is Drew Vahrenkamp, and I'm a travel junkie. The world is filled with amazing places that reflect the greatest achievements of human accomplishment. In these uncertain times, understanding our great shared history may help to bridge the divides between us. And if not, it will be a fun ride anyway! We'll discuss the history of each place and the story of the men and women who lived there. We'll cover travel notes, examine what else to see while you're in the area, and dig into the local cuisine. Expect a new episode every two weeks. And thanks for listening!

iTunes Ratings

160 Ratings
Average Ratings
142
10
3
2
3

So much enthusiasm!

By FortMcHenry2014 - Feb 21 2020
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Drew's enthusiasm really shines through in Every. Single. Episode. I am very impressed!

Wonderful

By Tbgal - Sep 18 2019
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What a great podcast. Exactly what I have been looking for. Highly recommend!

iTunes Ratings

160 Ratings
Average Ratings
142
10
3
2
3

So much enthusiasm!

By FortMcHenry2014 - Feb 21 2020
Read more
Drew's enthusiasm really shines through in Every. Single. Episode. I am very impressed!

Wonderful

By Tbgal - Sep 18 2019
Read more
What a great podcast. Exactly what I have been looking for. Highly recommend!
Cover image of Wonders of the World

Wonders of the World

Latest release on Aug 06, 2020

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In this podcast, we'll visit 200 Wonders of the World, from the Pyramids to the Great Barrier Reef, to tell the story of our people, our civilization, and our planet. My name is Drew Vahrenkamp, and I'm a travel junkie. The world is filled with amazing places that reflect the greatest achievements of human accomplishment. In these uncertain times, understanding our great shared history may help to bridge the divides between us. And if not, it will be a fun ride anyway! We'll discuss the history of each place and the story of the men and women who lived there. We'll cover travel notes, examine what else to see while you're in the area, and dig into the local cuisine. Expect a new episode every two weeks. And thanks for listening!

Rank #1: 043- The Nazca Lines

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Etched in the rocky plains of the southern Peruvian coast, the Nazca Lines fascinate visitors and archaeologists. While we still don't know why the Nazca people created lines, shapes and figures that could only be seen from the air, we have some hypotheses. We also know: not aliens.

Max Serjeant from the Latin American History podcast talks about how civilization came to ancient Peru, how the Nazca and their predecessors tamed the desert, and why archaeologists think the Nazca created their geoglyphs.

Tracy DeLuca, an avid traveller who recently flew over the lines, tells about her experience, both the amazing views and the stomach-churning turns.

We also talk about Lima, one of my favorite cities, with its colonial architecture and incredible food scene, featuring ceviche, some of the best food on earth. So grab a pisco sour and enjoy!

Sources: Dubé, Ryan. Moon Guide to Peru

Hadingham, Evan. Lines to the Mountain Gods: Nazca and the Mysteries of Peru

Lonely Planet Peru

Masterson, Daniel. The History of Peru

Moseley, Michael E. The Incas and Their Ancestors

Sep 13 2018

51mins

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Rank #2: 045 - The Hagia Sophia

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It's the story of a farmboy, an actress, an unruly mob, and a bacterium. The Roman Empire evolved, and based in Constantinople, it reached a new golden age under the leadership of Justinian. His success is best seen in the masterpiece church: the Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya in Turkish.

The Hagia Sophia was the greatest cathedral in Christendom for a thousand years, then a resplendent mosque, and now a fully restored museum. But shortly after its construction highlighted the peak of Eastern Roman prosperity, a bacterium came to Constantinople and brought the empire to its knees.

Joining me to talk about Justinian, the Hagia Sophia, and the plague is the great Robin Pierson, host of the History of Byzantium podcast. Robin recently visited Istanbul and talks about exploring its Byzantine sites as well as how Turkish food charmed even his palate.

There are fish sandwiches to eat and Ratatouille references to enjoy.

Sources:

Heather, Peter. The Restoration of Rome: Barbarian Popes and Imperial Pretenders

Lonely Planet Istanbul

Lord Kinross. Hagia Sophia

Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: The Early Centuries

Paul the Silentiary, Descriptio S. Sophiae

Procopius. The Secret History

Procopius. Wars of Justinian

Rick Steves' Istanbul

Rosen, William. Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe

Music by Turku, Nomads of the Silk Road from their album Alleys of Istanbul

Oct 11 2018

1hr 6mins

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Rank #3: 003 - The Statue of Zeus at Olympia

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This week, it's off to Greece's Peloponnese peninsula, to visit Olympia, home of the Statue of Zeus and the original Olympic Games. We'll also take a side trip to Sparta and seek out that most Greek of healthy fats: olive oil.

Nov 18 2016

28mins

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Rank #4: 041 - Diocletian's Palace

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Rome was entrenched in chaos, until one man took charge, and through sheer force of will - and the army - remade the Empire into a completely new government, one that would last for over a thousand years.  Then he retired to farm cabbages, moving into an incredible palace on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, a palace which today forms the core of Split, Croatia's old town. Rob and Jamie from the Totalus Rankium podcast drop by once again to discuss Diocletian, one of the most significant emperors, whose legacy paved the way to medieval Europe. We dig into the good, like his bureaucratic reforms, the bad, like his persecution of Christians, and the ugly, like his edict on prices. Listener Hrvoje Tolić calls in to discuss Split, the sights, and the cuisine.  Pašticada, a long-marinated beef roast served over njoki, is the recipe of the day.

Jul 24 2018

1hr 8mins

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Rank #5: 011 - Santorini

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We go to the Greek island of Santorini to learn about the eruption that devastated the Minoan civilization of nearby Crete. Plus minotaurs, donkeys, Atlantis and Cretan cuisine!  Thanks to Ryan Stitt, Margo Anton, and Seth Ruderman for their help.

Mar 07 2017

57mins

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Rank #6: 048 - The Temples of Tikal

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The Maya return as we visit Tikal, nestled in the jungles of northern Guatemala, and pick up the story of Nuun Ujol Chaak, after he left Palenque.

Nuun Ujol Chaak was a rebel, facing unfathomable odds against an evil empire.  And even if he might fall in the end, his son Jasaw Chan Kawi'il would take up the mantle and restore Tikal to greatness.  It's his pyramids that tower above the treeline, representing the greatest architectural achievement of the Classic Maya.

Nitin Sil from the Flash Point History podcast, appears to talk about his travels to Tikal, from climbing pyramids to avoiding monkeys.

Guatemala is much more than Tikal, and its history as a "Banana Republic" gets a closer look.  Its food, with its roots in centuries of Maya culture, merits a taste as well, especially pipian, a pumpkin-seed based sauce that works splendidly with chicken.

Sources:

Brown, Chip. "El Mirador: the Lost City of the Maya" in Smithsonian Magazine

Harrison, Peter D. The Lords of Tikal: Rulers of an Ancient Maya City

Insight Guides: Guatemala, Belize & the Yucatán

Lonely Planet Guatemala

Martin, Simon and Nikolai Grube. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya

Montgomery, John. Tikal: an Illustrated History of the Ancient Maya Capital

Schele, Linda and Peter Mathews. The Code of Kings : the Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs

Photo by user chensiyuan on wikicommons

Dec 13 2018

43mins

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Rank #7: 036 - The Pantheon of Rome

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Back to Rome for a meeting with Hadrian, the roving emperor.  Ryan Stitt from the History of Ancient Greece podcast comes by to discuss the "Greekling" and one of his most impressive monuments, the Pantheon: the best preserved Roman temple anywhere.

Hadrian is a fascinating soul: bearded, homosexual, flaunting conventional wisdom, travelling to the farthest reaches of the empire just because. Ryan shares his experience visiting Hadrian's villa in Tivoli as well.

To eat, consider artichokes this spring, either alla Romana or alla giudia (Jewish-style), both Roman classics.

May 01 2018

46mins

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Rank #8: 033 - Pompeii and Herculaneum

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The volcano Vesuvius still looms of the ruined Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, along the coast of Southern Italy. Dr. Fiona Radford from the Partial Historians stops by to discuss these accidental wonders: towns whose destruction have preserved a remarkable view of Roman daily life. We follow Pliny the Elder as he ventures to his death, pillow strapped to his head. There's chaos, destruction, drama, and weird fish sauce! 

Plus I cannot be so close to Naples without talking about pizza, that most glorious gift to the world.

Mar 13 2018

59mins

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Rank #9: 028 - Petra

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Lost city of the Nabataeans, the rock-cut city of Petra has been rightfully celebrated as a Wonder of the World, at least since that Indiana Jones movie. But the story is well worth telling. We'll talk about the Nabataeans, their caravans, and their run-ins with the Greeks, Romans and Judeans.  We'll meet Pompey the Pompous.  And we'll eat Bedouin classics from underground pit ovens.

Stephanie Craig from the History Fangirl podcast shares her experiences traveling in Jordan.  For such a small country, there's so much there.  You will have chosen wisely to download this episode.  Enjoy!

Dec 19 2017

49mins

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Rank #10: 049 - The Giant Buddha of Leshan

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We return to China, where the Tang Dynasty has embarked on a golden age of culture and cosmopolitanism.  In the valleys of Sichuan, a monk begins to carve the largest statue built in pre-industrial history.  And in Chang'an, the world's largest and most international city, a young girl begins the path which would take her to the throne.  And in Beijing, a half-Sogdian will launch the revolt that will bring everything crashing down.

Katy and Nathan from the Queens podcast drop by to talk about Wu Zetian, the only ruling Empress in China's long history.  The chroniclers reviled her as a monster, but we take a closer look at this woman who dominated her country for 50 years.

Listener Jake volunteers to talk about his time in Sichuan, visiting the Giant Buddha, and eating Sichuan's famously delectable cuisine, fueled by tongue-tingling sichuan peppercorns.

Speaking of cuisine, we dig into Gong Bao Chicken, the real thing, with all its sweet, spicy, crunchy goodness. 

Sources:

Clements, Jonathan. Wu: The Chinese Empress Who Schemed, Seduced and Murdered Her Way to Become a Living God

Keay, John. China: a History

Lewis, Mark Edward. China's Cosmopolitan Empire: the Tang Dynasty

Rough Guide to China

Photo by Ariel Steiner

Jan 24 2019

1hr 9mins

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Rank #11: 046 - The Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock

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Another big episode, as Muhammad arrives on the scene.  An illiterate merchant in faraway Arabia, Muhammad develops a new faith and community that builds upon the monotheist faiths of his people's  neighbors.  Ali A Olomi, historian and host of the Head on History podcast, joins me to discuss Muhammad's impact as well as the holiest site in Islam: the Kabaa in Mecca.

But most people are forbidden from visiting the Kabaa, so the wonder for this episode is the holiest site in Islam that others can, in theory, visit: the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.  Randa Ulankiewicz drops by to discuss visiting those sites and Palestine in general.

From the foundation of the religion to its remarkable rise and conquest of Syria and Mesopotamia, we'll cover the world-changing impact of the world's most unexpected major religion.

This episode is therefore much longer than normal, with significantly more detail than usual.  But there's stuffed grape leaves and hummus, so it's worth it.

Sources:

Armstrong, Karen.  Islam: a Short History.

Armstrong, Karen.  Muhammad: a biography of the prophet

Donner, Fred McGraw.  Muhammad and the Believers: at the Origin of Islam

Lonely Planet Israel & the Palestinian Territories

Lonely Planet Saudi Arabia

Moon Guide to Jerusalem

Nov 04 2018

1hr 20mins

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Rank #12: 034 - The Colosseum

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We who are about to podcast salute you! Titus comes back for one more round as he unveils his father's masterpiece: the Flavian Amphitheater, a.k.a. the Colosseum. The stadium on which all future stadia have been based is a magnificent creation, site of gladiatorial combat, public executions, and emperors giving thumbs up and thumbs down.

Dr Peta Greenfield of the Partial Historians podcast drops by to talk about Vespasian, Titus, and the gladiators themselves.  We discuss visiting Rome, gorging on gelato, and the joys of exploring the living city.

The recipe is bruschetta, the perfect appetizer of which you've probably only had disappointing versions.  Not this time, my friends.  Not this time.  Salvete!

Mar 27 2018

1hr 4mins

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Rank #13: 057 - Aachen Cathedral

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On the western fringe of Germany, near the Dutch and Belgian borders, sits Aachen, favored city of Charles the Great, or Charlemagne. He was King of the Franks in the late 8th and early 9th centuries, and through conquest and economic success, he unified much of Western Europe. Crowned Emperor of the Romans on Christmas Day, 800, he could be considered the father of Europe.

Or he might just have been incredibly lucky.

Travis Dow from the History of Germany Podcast joins us to discuss Charlemagne, his conquests, reforms, and buildings, including his great chapel in Aachen, one of the best examples of early medieval architecture.  In its central octagonal chapel, you can still see Charlemagne's simple marble throne, where many future German kings would be crowned.

Of course, there's lots of talk of food, from currywurst to döner kebabs, but Aachen is famous for its own special spicy cookies, Aachener printen, as well.  And there's the story of Pippin, which is not at all as the musical described it.

Sources: 

Barbero, Alessandro. Charlemagne: Father of a Continent

Lonely Planet Germany

Schillig, Christiane. "Wider den Zahn der Zeit: Der Dom zu Aachen" Monumente Online: Magazine of the Deutsche Stiftung Denkmalschutz 

Schneider-Ferber, Karin. Karl der Große. Der mächtigste Herrscher des Mittelalters

Wilson, Derek. Charlemagne

www.aachenerdom.de

Photograph by Jim Linwood

Jul 04 2019

52mins

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Rank #14: 038 - The Ruins of Leptis Magna

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So close to the tourist trail, yet so far, Libya sits on the Mediterranean yet has been isolated for decades by poverty, dictatorship and civil war.  But should peace return, Leptis Magna is the jewel in Libya's crown: potentially the largest and best preserved Roman city in the Mediterranean.  With a resplendent forum, theater, basilica, harbor, amphitheater, and especially, a colossal arch, Leptis is an unvisited gem.

Leptis' golden age came under the leadership of local-boy-made-good Septimius Severus.  To help tell the story of how a lad from Leptis became ruler of the "known world," Rob and Jamie from the Roman Emperors: Totalus Rankium podcast stop by.  

Not only do we talk about Severus and the disastrous emperor who preceded him (Didius Julianus), but we also discuss Severus' evil son Caracalla.  Evil.  Oh so evil.

No discussion of Libya would be complete without discussing the cuisine: a blend of North African and Middle Eastern, highlighted by couscous. This isn't your store-bought fluffy cardboard; we'll be properly steaming it this time.

Jun 12 2018

58mins

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Rank #15: 007 - The Lighthouse of Alexandria

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This episode, we visit Alexandria, Egypt, at its peak, as we check out the Lighthouse (or Pharos) and the Great Library. We'll enjoy some ful medames, and talk Ptolemy.  Plus science!

Jan 10 2017

41mins

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Rank #16: 059 - The Pyramid of Kukulkan at Chichén Itzá

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You've seen the Pyramid on countless tourism brochures, but what do you really know about the Mayan city of Chichén Itzá and it's magnificent pyramid? Did you know it's built over a cenote, a natural water-filled sinkhole? Have you heard the legend of the Toltec king from Central Mexico who might have conquered the city in 987?

To help explore the answers, Robert Bitto from the Mexico Unexplained podcast appears with his take on the mysteries of the pyramid. We also talk about the Spanish archbishop who first described the city after having burned nearly all Mayan writings and the wild rush that was 2012, the apocalypse that didn't quite come off.

Join us for some cochinita pibil as we talk about the Yucatán!

Sources:

Carlsen, William.  Jungle of Stone: the True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya

Fehrenbach, TR. Fire and Blood: a History of Mexico

Hecht, John. Lonely Planet: Cancún, Cozumel & the Yucatán

Landa, Diego de.  Yucatan Before and After the Conquest

Onstott, Jane. National Geographic Traveler: Mexico

Prado, Liza and Gary Chandler. Moon Handbook: Yucatán Peninsula

Schele, Linda. The Code of Kings: the Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs

Stephens, John L. Incidents of Travel in Yucatan

Weaver, Muriel Porter. The Aztec, Maya, and Their Predecessors: Archaeology of Mesoamerica

Webster, David L. The Fall of the Ancient Maya: Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse

Music by Los Tres Reyes, Los Montejo, Victor Manuel Aarón Sánchez, and Hidalgo Tzec Haas

Photograph by wikipedia user Cocojorgefalcon

Aug 29 2019

55mins

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Rank #17: 032 - Masada

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A drama in three acts, all centered on the Fortress of Masada, a remarkable bastion perched above the Dead Sea in Israel. King Herod builds a pleasure palace, the Zealots make their last stand against Rome, and Israel returns at last. There are no heroes here, no villains, just complex people doing great and terrible deeds. Josephus, historian/traitor,  takes us through the story of the Great Jewish Revolt and the destruction of the Temple.

Masada visitor Lisa Goldberg tells us about the experience of climbing up (and down again) and exploring the ruins. And we eat traditional holiday goodies: sufganiyot and just in time for Purim, hamantaschen. Plus Israeli breakfasts.

Feb 27 2018

41mins

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Rank #18: Bonus - Notre-Dame de Paris

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On April 15, 2019, a fire started in Notre-Dame de Paris and caused significant damage.  In its honor, here is a bonus episode on the great cathedral.

We know that Notre Dame will survive this calamity, because it has survived other calamities before.  From Baroque refacing to revolutionary desecrations, Notre Dame had become an absolute wreck. Then Victor Hugo's novel started a restoration movement which led to the appointment of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, whose detailed work created the church we've grown to love.

Beyond talking about the cathedral, we have sidebars about post-war Poland (it makes sense; trust me) and the Montparnasse neighborhood.

Finally, we link to the narrative by discussing the Muslim conquest of Spain and the Battle of Tours (or Poitiers) in 732, setting the stage for the next three episodes.

Sources:

Eyewitness Travel Paris

Hollis, Edward. The Secret Lives of Buildings

Horne, Alistair. Seven Lives of Paris

Rick Steves Paris

Robb, Graham. Parisians: an Adventure History of Paris

Winston, Richard and Clara. Notre-Dame de Paris

May 02 2019

30mins

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Rank #19: 015 - The Dead Sea

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Near the shores of the salt-saturated Dead Sea, the Israelites wrote the world's most read book. Garry Stephens of the History in the Bible podcast helps us examine historical accuracy, while Lara Rodin and Noah Lew help us visit Israel. Plus falafel!

May 03 2017

51mins

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Rank #20: 022 - The Oracle of Delphi

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The priestess of Apollo will answer your questions, if not how you expect. Will Athens survive the war with the Persians? Should Sparta march to help? Will you enjoy this episode on the Oracle of Delphi in Greece, featuring the brilliance of Alison Innes and Darrin Sunstrum from the MythTake podcast and Lantern Jack from Ancient Greece Declassified? Yes. Yes you will.

We'll talk about the Oracle, how it came to be and how it worked. We'll follow the Greeks in their war with the Persians. We'll visit Delphi and eat roast lamb and greens. You won't need gas rising from the temple floor to enjoy this one!

Sep 12 2017

1hr 3mins

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069 - The Grand Canal of Venice

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In 1204, Christian crusaders sacked the world's largest Christian city, destroying or pillaging countless artifacts, books, and works of art. Some of those works of art ended up in the Most Serene Republic of Venice, for which 1204 represents the beginning of her dominance of the Mediterranean world.

The story of how a canal-lined city in a marshy lagoon became a superpower and how cross-wearing soldiers wrecked Constantinople is a sometimes shocking tale, one that only makes sense when you consider the Sunk Cost Fallacy. We've already spent time, money or energy; we should just keep going.

Vlad Zamfira from Wonderer's History Podcast joins us to discuss Venetian history and their role in the calamitous Fourth Crusade, while Kate Storm from ourescapeclause.com talks about her favorite city and how to escape the crowds.

And of course, we'll talk about tiramisu. I think we can all agree we need some of that right about now.

Sources:

Hardy, Paula. Lonely Planet Venice & the Veneto Herrin, Judith. Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire Madden, Thomas F. Venice: a New History McCart, Melissa. “The Mysterious Origins of Tiramisu, the Dessert That Took the ‘80s by Storm” in Eater Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: the Decline and Fall Phillips, Jonathan. The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople Rick Steves Venice

Photograph by Bjoern Eisbaer Music by Antonio Vivaldi, performed by the Wichita State University Chamber Players, John Harrison, soloist.

Aug 06 2020

1hr 8mins

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068 - Mont-Saint-Michel

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The abbey on the lonely island rises from the tidal bay like a castle out of a Disney movie. Mont-Saint-Michel is one of France's best known sites, with a history to match.

Some of that history connects with the story of one of medieval Europe's most renowned women: Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Married first to King Louis of France and then King Henry of England, she and her family would both reach incredible heights and fail spectacularly, all while leaving stories that would echo throughout time.

Maura Kanter from Historically Badass Broads talks about Eleanor and Louis, while Christine Caccipuoti from Footnoting History discusses her life with Henry and their sons.  Listeners Emma and Laura reminisce on their visits to the Abbey.

There's love, lust, disappointment, war, peace, murder, plausible deniability, and some truly horrible, horrible people. And crepes!

It's the longest episode yet, but hopefully you'll find it worthwhile!

Sources: Barber, Richard W. The Devil's Crown: A History of Henry II and His Sons de Torigny, Robert. The Chronicles of Robert de Monte  Owen, D.D.R. Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen and Legend Steves, Rick. Rick Steves France Weir, Alison. Eleanor of Aquitaine: a Life Williams, Nicola. Lonely Planet France

Photograph by Amaustan

Jul 23 2020

1hr 51mins

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Bonus - Your Questions, Answered

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A quick break from the wonders narratives to answer many questions about Drew, the show, the wonders, food, travel and more!  Find out which wonders missed the list, why there won't be a WotW cookbook, and why Drew has issues with "synergy" and "win-win" scenarios. Plus a new Demetrios Poliorcetes!

Jun 25 2020

27mins

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067 - The Djemaa el-Fna of Marrakesh

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The greatest of squares throbs with life: the scent of spiced, roasted meat, the cacophony of voices and drums, the visual rainbow of color. The Djemaa el-Fna is everything and more. Its history reflects the great medieval golden age of Morocco under the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties, a golden age for prosperity but not necessarily for culture.

Both dynasties began as fundamentalists determined to bring back religion to the libertine cities, and both eventually fell victim to cosmopolitan delights. But the story of Ibn Tumart and the Almohads has much to teach us about the intensity of extremism.

The always brilliant Nitin Sil from Flashpoint History returns to discuss the rise and fall of the Almohads and their legacy in Spain, Morocco and beyond. And listener Jesse Oppenheim also comes back to discuss visiting the square. Plus there will be tagines!

Photograph by Michal Osmenda

Jun 11 2020

1hr 2mins

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066 - Angkor Wat

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The Cambodian jungle hides one of the world's largest pre-industrial cities: Angkor. Highlighted by its magnificent main temple, Angkor Wat, the city's other monuments testify to the prosperity of the Khmer empire. Those other monuments, many still semi-ruined by the jungle, make for even more compelling travel than Angkor Wat itself.

From Suryavarman's exploits in battle to Jayavarman VII's countless Buddha-like faces, Angkor's kings led a society built on pushing back the jungle, until the jungle finally won. 

Listener Jesse Oppenheim joins us to discuss visiting Angkor, learning from guides who survived the Khmer Rouge, and fighting through instagramming yogis.  Plus, of course, food.

Photograph by Gisling

Apr 23 2020

42mins

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065 - Monument Valley

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Perhaps America's most famous landscape, Monument Valley and its fantastically shaped red-streaked buttes have starred in countless films and television shows. But its story truly hearkens to the people who have lived here for centuries: the Navajo, and before them, the Ancestral Puebloans.

In this episode, we'll discuss how the Ancestral Puebloans rose and then collapsed, victims of social breakdown in the face of climate change, and how the legacy of colonial oppression lives on in the dish most commonly associated with the Navajo: fry bread and the Navajo taco. But despite those setbacks, the culture of the indigenous southwest lives on strong to this day.

Sources:

DuVal, Linda. “THE WRITING ON THE WALL; The Southwest: Mysterious and beautiful, the ancient petroglyphs and pictographs etched on canyons throughout Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Nevada speak to the eye and the soul.” in the Baltimore Sun

frommers.com (Arizona and New Mexico)

Kohler, Timothy A., Mark D. Varien, Aaron M. Wright and Kristin A. Kuckelman. “Mesa Verde Migrations: New archaeological research and computer simulation suggest why Ancestral Puebloans deserted the northern Southwest United States” in American Scientist

Newitz, Annalee. “Conservatism took hold here 1,000 years ago. Until the people fled.” in the Washington Post.

Schwindt, Dylan M., R. Kyle Bocinsky, Scott G. Ortman, Donna M. Glowacki, Mark D. Varien and Timothy A. Kohler. “The Social Consequences of Climate Change in the Central Mesa Verde Region.” in American Antiquity

Woodhouse, Connie A., David M. Meko, Glen M. MacDonald, Dave W. Stahle, and Edward R. Cook. “A 1,200-year perspective of 21st century drought in southwestern North America” in PNAS

Photograph by wikipedia user Supercarwaar

Apr 02 2020

33mins

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064 - The Old City of Sanaa

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At the southern end of Arabia, Yemen was once rich from trade and frankincense.  By the 11th century, it had fallen off the map, but two strong queens led it back to prosperity, particularly Arwa Al-Sulayhi, whose reign did more for Yemen than 350 years of men who followed. There's assassins, executions, heads on pikes.

Among Arwa's accomplishments was refurbishing the Great Mosque of Sana'a, Yemen's  capital, whose medieval old city features gingerbread-like skyscrapers. Despite the horrors of war, Yemen perseveres.

Charlie from the Almost Forgotten podcast joins us to discuss Arwa and other historical figures that we've forgotten. Plus saltah!

Sources:

Daftary, Dr. Farhad. Sayyida Hurra: The Isma‘ili Sulayhid Queen of Yemen Mackintosh-Smith, Tim. Yemen: the Unknown Arabia Mernissi, Fatima. The Forgotten Queens of Islam Walker, Jenny. Lonely Planet Oman, UAE and the Arabian Peninsula Wintour, Patrick. “Yemen civil war: the conflict explained” in the Guardian

Music by Mohamed al-Kouek, Kamilia Anbar Yakout, and Mohamed Hmoud al-Harithy

Photograph by Maria Gropa

Mar 19 2020

43mins

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063 - The Western Group of Temples at Khajuraho

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THIS EPISODE CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT.

A group of temples sits in the hills of central India, stunningly studded with sculptures. Built by the Chandela dynasty, they are remarkably well preserved testaments to medieval power, but they are best known for their many erotic images.

Anirudh Kanisetti of the Echoes of India podcast returns to discuss the Chandelas, their connection with tantra, their views of sex, their run-ins with the famed Turkic warlord Mahmud of Ghazni, and how all of that relates to India's political environment today.

Medieval India shows the panoply of human experience in all its colors and shades. Nothing is a simplistic black and white.

Sources:

Bose, Nemai Sadhan. History of the Candellas of Jejakabhukti

Desai, Devangana. Khajuraho

Desai, Devangana. The Religious Imagery of Khajuraho

Dikshit, R.K. The Candellas of Jejakabhukti

Keay, John. India: a History

Lonely Planet India

Miller, Sam. Blue Guide India

Mitra, Sisir Kumar. Early Rulers of Khajuraho

Nasr, Mohamed. The Emergence of Muslim Rule in India

Ramadurai, Charukesi. “India’s Temples of Sex” BBC Travel

Tammita-Delgoda, Sinharaja. A Traveller's History of India

Feb 13 2020

1hr

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062 - The Bayeux Tapestry

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It's the world's greatest comic strip. The Bayeux Tapestry, technically an embroidery, documents the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest.

We explore this cheeky document and tell its tale: the story of 1066, that most crucial year in English history. It's the tale of Edward the Confessor, powerful earl Harold Godwinson, one-man military machine Harald Hardrada, and William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy.  There's battles, invasions, and an insane amount of luck, and the Tapestry covers it all. Or rather the parts it wants to cover.

I've wanted to tell this story since I started the podcast. I hope you enjoy it. Plus, there's an apple pie at the end you won't want to miss.

Sources:

Bridgeford, Andrew. 1066 : the hidden history in the Bayeux Tapestry

Harper, Damian and Catherine Le Nevez. Lonely Planet Road Trips: Normandy & D-Day Beaches

Howarth, David. 1066: the Year of the Conquest

Marren, Peter. 1066: the Battles of York, Stamford Bridge & Hastings

Morris, Marc. The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England

Rick Steves France

Wilson, David M. The Bayeux Tapestry

Jan 16 2020

55mins

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Bonus - Lake Ohrid

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It's our bonus holiday episode!

Nestled in the mountains along the border of North Macedonia and Albania sits Lake Ohrid, a deep, blue lake as old as time. On its shores, in the town of Ohrid, Samuel, tsar of the First Bulgarian Empire, directed his kingdom's last hurrah against the mighty Roman Empire to his east. His opponent: Basil II, known now as the "Bulgar-Slayer."  I guess you can figure out how this goes.

Eric Halsey of the Bulgarian History Podcast gives his thoughts on Samuel and his brothers and the epic confrontation with Basil, while Allison Greene from Sofia Adventures and Eternal Arrival shares her experience of visiting Ohrid, whose Byzantine-era churches charm and whose lakeside boardwalk invigorates.

And we talk about Macedonian food, including ayvar, a red pepper spread-slash-dip that pairs with everything.

Sources:

Crapton, RJ. A Concise History of Bulgaria

Evans, Thammy. Macedonia: the Bradt Travel Guide

Herrin, Judith. Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

Knowlton, Mary Lee. Macedonia

Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: The Apogee

Michael Psellus. Chronographia

John Skylitzes. A Synopsis Of Byzantine History, translated by J. Wortley

Photograph by Silfiriel

Dec 25 2019

1hr 6mins

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3rd Anniversary Bonus - Fifty States Ranked

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THIRD ANNIVERSARY BONUS EPISODE! People often ask me where they should go when they visit the US. Having been to all 50 states (plus DC and Puerto Rico, which should be states), I can actually answer this. And in this not-at-all-serious episode, I try to answer that question.

Being a nerd, I created a spreadsheet and complex formula tanking each state in terms of natural scenery, historical sites, charm, cuisine, and debauchery.  I share the top ten on this episode.

For the full list, check out the website: wonderspodcast.com/50states

When you disagree, and you will, drop me a line or pick a fight on Twitter (@wonderspodcast).

Nov 11 2019

50mins

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061 - The Volcanic and Geothermal Features of Iceland

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Europe and North America are drifting apart, and where the plates diverge, an underwater volcanic mountain range has formed.  It peeps above the ocean in several spots, the largest and most magnificent of which is Iceland.  Iceland's underground magma and mountaintop glaciers have conspired to create a wonderland of fire and ice, the perfect setting for the development of a remarkable medieval culture.

In this episode, Noah Tetzner from the History of Vikings podcast joins us to discuss the settlement of Iceland, their literature (the sagas), their government, and their expansion to Greenland and North America.

There's Flóki, the raven-carrying discoverer who gave Iceland its name.  There are Ingolf and Leif, the oil-and-water brothers who first settled the island.  There's Aud the Deep-Minded, noblewoman and matriarch.  There's Þorgeir Þorkelsson, who had to make a choice that would change Iceland forever.  And there's Erik the Red and his son Leif, who set out to find new lands to the west.

In addition, listeners Brian Conn and Quinn Campagna describe their recent trips to the island and all the glorious natural wonders to see. And we'll have hot dogs (really), fermented shark meat (really), and Icelandic yogurt, or skyr, after a dip into the hot springs.

Sources:

Ari Þorgilsson, The Book of the Icelanders

Averbuck, Alexis.  Lonely Planet Iceland

Barraclough, Eleanor Rosamund.  Beyond the Northlands: Viking Voyages and the Old Norse Sagas

The Book of Settlement (Landnámabók), translated by Thomas Ellwood

Ferguson, Robert. The Vikings: a History

Haywood, John. Northmen: the Viking saga, AD 793-1241

Konstam, Angus. Historical Atlas of the Viking World

Laxdæla Saga, translated by Muriel A. C. Press

Magnusson, Magnus. Vikings!

Rick Steves Iceland

Roberts, David.  Iceland: Land of the Sagas

The Saga of Erik the Red, translated by J. Sephton

Music includes “Gjallar,” “Fólkvangr,” and “The Vikings” by Alexander Nakaradahttps://www.serpentsoundstudios.com Music promoted by https://www.free-stock-music.com Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Photograph by Andreas Tille

Oct 10 2019

1hr 11mins

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060 - The Fjords of Norway

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Carved by glaciers during the Ice Age, Norway's more than 1100 fjords are spectacular. The sea enters narrow valleys with high cliffs laced with waterfalls. This rugged seacoast nurtured ancient Norway and its ruthless seafaring raiders: the Vikings.

The Vikings came out of the north like a thunderbolt to ravage the coastlines of Europe, but the people of medieval Scandinavia were so much more than just Vikings. 

In this episode, Lee Accomando of the Viking Age Podcast talks about Harald Fairhair, legendary first king of united Norway, and his sons Håkon the Good and the excellently named Erik Bloodaxe.  Lee has a soft spot for Erik's sorceress wife Gunnhild.

Listener and patron Kjartan Bærem talks about his homeland, and tells us which fjords are most worth visiting. We also discuss various lamb dishes before curing our own salmon: dill-scented gravlax.

Sources:

Alcuin. Letter to Ethelred, King of Northumbria

Alcuin. Letter to the Bishop of Lindisfarne

Ferguson, Robert. The Vikings: a History

Greshko, Michael. “Famous Viking Warrior Was a Woman, DNA Reveals” in National Geographic.  September 12, 2017.

Ham, Anthony. Lonely Planet Norway

Haywood, John. Northmen: the Viking saga, AD 793-1241

Konstam, Angus. Historical Atlas of the Viking World

Magnusson, Magnus. Vikings!

Nozari, Elaheh.  “My Biggest Accomplishment of 2018 Was Making My Own Gravlax” in Bon Appetit. December 13, 2018

Rick Steves Scandinavia

Sturluson, Snorri. Heimskringla

Music includes “Gjallar,” “Fólkvangr,” and “The Vikings” by Alexander Nakarada https://www.serpentsoundstudios.com Music promoted by https://www.free-stock-music.com Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Photograph by TomasEE

Sep 19 2019

1hr 9mins

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059 - The Pyramid of Kukulkan at Chichén Itzá

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You've seen the Pyramid on countless tourism brochures, but what do you really know about the Mayan city of Chichén Itzá and it's magnificent pyramid? Did you know it's built over a cenote, a natural water-filled sinkhole? Have you heard the legend of the Toltec king from Central Mexico who might have conquered the city in 987?

To help explore the answers, Robert Bitto from the Mexico Unexplained podcast appears with his take on the mysteries of the pyramid. We also talk about the Spanish archbishop who first described the city after having burned nearly all Mayan writings and the wild rush that was 2012, the apocalypse that didn't quite come off.

Join us for some cochinita pibil as we talk about the Yucatán!

Sources:

Carlsen, William.  Jungle of Stone: the True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya

Fehrenbach, TR. Fire and Blood: a History of Mexico

Hecht, John. Lonely Planet: Cancún, Cozumel & the Yucatán

Landa, Diego de.  Yucatan Before and After the Conquest

Onstott, Jane. National Geographic Traveler: Mexico

Prado, Liza and Gary Chandler. Moon Handbook: Yucatán Peninsula

Schele, Linda. The Code of Kings: the Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs

Stephens, John L. Incidents of Travel in Yucatan

Weaver, Muriel Porter. The Aztec, Maya, and Their Predecessors: Archaeology of Mesoamerica

Webster, David L. The Fall of the Ancient Maya: Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse

Music by Los Tres Reyes, Los Montejo, Victor Manuel Aarón Sánchez, and Hidalgo Tzec Haas

Photograph by wikipedia user Cocojorgefalcon

Aug 29 2019

55mins

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058a - The House of Wisdom

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Sometimes a wonder which no longer exists is worth an episode. In the 9th century, the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad created the Bayt al-Hikma, the House of Wisdom, a great library which served as the starting point for a remarkable intellectual program. There, hundreds of scribes translated as many Greek, Persian, Indian and other documents that they could, and these widespread translations fueled new advances that would make Baghdad the Silicon Valley of the 9th and 10th centuries.  Men like al-Khwarizmi, the Father of Algebra, and al-Kindi, the Philosopher of the Arabs, changed the world.

Dr. Ali A Olomi, frequent guest, friend of the show, and host of Head on History, appears to discuss the House of Wisdom, the thinkers who worked there, and the caliphs who helped make it happen, like Harun al-Rashid and al-Mamun. 

In the process, we'll cover murderous kings, "true crime" mysteries, civil wars that really were brother vs brother, medieval machines, brilliant alchemists and mathematicians, and the guy who gave us the three-course meal and toothpaste. Plus we revisit masgouf, Iraq's favorite grilled fish.

Sources:

Bobrick, Benson. The Caliph's Splendor: Islam and the West in the Golden Age of Baghdad

Hann, Geoff et al. Iraq: the Ancient Sites & Iraqi Kurdistan: the Bradt Travel Guide

Kennedy, Hugh. When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: the Rise and Fall of Islam's Greatest Dynasty

Lyons, Jonathan. The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization

Morgan, Michael Hamilton. Lost History: the Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists

Thousand and One Nights

Photograph of Mustansiriya Madrassa by Taisir Mahdi

Aug 15 2019

59mins

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058 - The Medina of Fes

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Nestled in the hills of north central Morocco, Fès' ancient walled medina is a labyrinth of narrow alleys, passages, lanes and souks: the world's largest car-free urban space.  Founded by Idris, an Arab refugee-turned-Moroccan king, Fès also claims the world's oldest university, built by Fatima al-Fihri, herself a refugee from Tunisia.

There's no specific wonder here other than the medina, and that's OK. Sometimes a city or neighborhood is exemplary enough to be a wonder in and of itself.

Listener Steve Fait joins us to talk about visiting Fès, navigating its maze, exploring its secrets and managing carpet salesmen.  Plus, we discuss the joys of tagine, although the recipe this week is b'stilla, a savory/sweet Moroccan pot pie that is one of my all-time favorite foods.

Sources:

Abun-Nasr, Jamil Mirʻi.  A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period

Carrington, Daisy. "This 1,157-year-old library gets a facelift". CNN. 

DK Eyewitness Morocco

Hourani, Albert.  A History of the Arab Peoples

Lonely Planet Morocco

Nader, Emir.  “The World's Oldest University Was Founded by a Woman of Color” in Vice

Othman, Najwa. “Kairouan: Capital of Political Power and Learning in the Ifriqiya”

Sarkeesian, Anita and Ebony Adams.  History vs Women: The Defiant Lives that They Don't Want You to Know

Wolfert, Paula.  The Food of Morocco

Photo by Alina Chan

Jul 18 2019

46mins

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057 - Aachen Cathedral

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On the western fringe of Germany, near the Dutch and Belgian borders, sits Aachen, favored city of Charles the Great, or Charlemagne. He was King of the Franks in the late 8th and early 9th centuries, and through conquest and economic success, he unified much of Western Europe. Crowned Emperor of the Romans on Christmas Day, 800, he could be considered the father of Europe.

Or he might just have been incredibly lucky.

Travis Dow from the History of Germany Podcast joins us to discuss Charlemagne, his conquests, reforms, and buildings, including his great chapel in Aachen, one of the best examples of early medieval architecture.  In its central octagonal chapel, you can still see Charlemagne's simple marble throne, where many future German kings would be crowned.

Of course, there's lots of talk of food, from currywurst to döner kebabs, but Aachen is famous for its own special spicy cookies, Aachener printen, as well.  And there's the story of Pippin, which is not at all as the musical described it.

Sources: 

Barbero, Alessandro. Charlemagne: Father of a Continent

Lonely Planet Germany

Schillig, Christiane. "Wider den Zahn der Zeit: Der Dom zu Aachen" Monumente Online: Magazine of the Deutsche Stiftung Denkmalschutz 

Schneider-Ferber, Karin. Karl der Große. Der mächtigste Herrscher des Mittelalters

Wilson, Derek. Charlemagne

www.aachenerdom.de

Photograph by Jim Linwood

Jul 04 2019

52mins

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056 - The Underground Cities and Rock Formations of Cappadocia

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In the soft volcanic rock of Cappadocia, eroded by wind and water into fantastic shapes, ancient peoples carved dwelling places.  By the Byzantine era, locals created vast underground refuges: places to hide from raiders and foreign armies.  They painted murals on rock-cut churches, exemplars of medieval Roman religious art.

In the 8th century, this art, both here and around the empire, became the centerpiece of a spirited controversy: iconoclasm.  Some, particularly the emperors Leo III and Constantine V, believed that people's venerating religious art was causing God to forsake the empire. Others disagreed.  The argument would have far-reaching consequences for the empire and for history.

Iconoclasm initially ended under the guidance of Irene, the first ruling Empress in Roman history. She was ruthlessly efficient, as seen by her treatment of her son. She's one bad mother....

Listeners Krister and Jacob Törneke come by to discuss visiting Cappadocia, where cave churches and underground cities should the mark of the medieval Byzantines and where the natural landscape inspires jaw-dropping amazement.

Plus, they talk about the Cappadocian Turkish food, including ayran, a salty yogurt drink that goes perfectly with meat kebabs, even if it sounds repulsive.

Sources:

Brownworth, Lars.  Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization

Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner

Herrin, Judith.  Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

Lonely Planet Turkey

Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: the Early Centuries

Theophanes. Chronographia

Treadgold, Warren.  A Concise History of Byzantium

Photograph by Gerardo Lazzari

Jun 06 2019

57mins

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055 - The Mezquita of Córdoba

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The eighth century's greatest adventure story.  Abd al-Rahman, low-ranking Umayyad prince, finds himself the only male member of his family to survive a massacre at the hands of the Abbasid rebels.  He escapes through many adventures to the Maghreb (present-day Morocco) where he decides to try his luck in Spain, or as it was called then: Al-Andalus.  More adventures await him there before he eventually becomes the Emir of Córdoba, establishing what would become Medieval Europe's richest and most prosperous country.

His greatest achievement is the mosque that still stands in Córdoba today: the Mezquita. Row upon row of red and white double arches fill the immense, contemplative space, except for a giant Renaissance cathedral dropped in the middle of it.

Sarah Kildow, listener and Assistant Professor of Spanish at the University of Akron, stops by to discuss visiting Córdoba, seeing the Mezquita, eating tapas and enjoying Féria, the great Spring fair.  Plus salmorejo, a chilled tomato soup that's perfect for hot summer days.

Andalucía is one of my favorite places, and I'm excited to bring this story to you.

Sources:

Ahmed ibn Mohammed Al-Makkari. The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain

Gerber, Jane S. The Jews of Spain: a History of the Sephardic Experience

Jayyusi, Salma Khadra and Manuela Marín. The Legacy of Muslim Spain

Kennedy, Hugh. Caliphate: the History of an Idea

Kennedy, Hugh. Muslim Spain and Portugal: a Political History of al-Andalus

Lewis, David Levering.  God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215

Lonely Planet Guide to Andalucía

Lowney, Chris. A Vanished World: Medieval Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment

Masood, Ehsan.  Science & Islam: A History

Menocal, María Rosa.  The Ornament of the World

Rick Steves Spain

Photograph by Fabio Alessandro Locati

May 16 2019

53mins

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Bonus - Notre-Dame de Paris

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On April 15, 2019, a fire started in Notre-Dame de Paris and caused significant damage.  In its honor, here is a bonus episode on the great cathedral.

We know that Notre Dame will survive this calamity, because it has survived other calamities before.  From Baroque refacing to revolutionary desecrations, Notre Dame had become an absolute wreck. Then Victor Hugo's novel started a restoration movement which led to the appointment of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, whose detailed work created the church we've grown to love.

Beyond talking about the cathedral, we have sidebars about post-war Poland (it makes sense; trust me) and the Montparnasse neighborhood.

Finally, we link to the narrative by discussing the Muslim conquest of Spain and the Battle of Tours (or Poitiers) in 732, setting the stage for the next three episodes.

Sources:

Eyewitness Travel Paris

Hollis, Edward. The Secret Lives of Buildings

Horne, Alistair. Seven Lives of Paris

Rick Steves Paris

Robb, Graham. Parisians: an Adventure History of Paris

Winston, Richard and Clara. Notre-Dame de Paris

May 02 2019

30mins

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iTunes Ratings

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So much enthusiasm!

By FortMcHenry2014 - Feb 21 2020
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Drew's enthusiasm really shines through in Every. Single. Episode. I am very impressed!

Wonderful

By Tbgal - Sep 18 2019
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What a great podcast. Exactly what I have been looking for. Highly recommend!