Posts Tagged ‘art & architecture’

Video: The Valley of the Kings

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Imagining Egypt’s Valley of the Kings and seeing it up close are two very different experiences. As archaeologists continue to discover new tombs, the area has proven to be a treasure trove of well-preserved tombs buried for centuries. There have been 63 tombs that have been discovered so far, ranging over 500 years of history from the 16th to 11th century BC. The area has been a focus for archaeological excavation for the past 200 years, and is one of the most well-known UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world as part of the Necropolis at Thebes (today known as Luxor). Most people know it as the home of King Tut’s Tomb.

To get a close up view of what to expect in the Valley of the Kings, check out this video from the Smithsonian Channel’s series Lost Gods of Egypt.

Have you been to the Valley of the Kings? What was your first impression?

Journey to the Valley of the Kings on our Egyptian Odyssey tour, and meet working archaeologists who will update you on their current research!

The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010
Egypt Paintings Valley of the Kings

Tomb paintings from the Valley of the Kings

We’ve all heard the story. The “Curse of the Pharaohs” is a strong belief that anyone who should disturb a mummy or a Pharaoh’s tomb will be cursed. This commonly known belief was  intended to preserve the sanctity of these tombs in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, rather than to deter grave robbers. But in the past century, the curse has turned into a grave warning, particularly in the case of King Tut’s tomb. Some people choose to believe the curse is alive and well, while others feel it can be simply explained by simple science.

Archeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter’s team was put under the microscope after opening the tomb of King Tutankhamun, as people wondered if the curse had truly affected the people who witnessed the tomb’s opening in 1922. Here are a few of the people and pets connected to “the curse.”

Who: Howard Carter’s pet canary. Cause of Death: Eaten by a cobra. Explanation:  The cobra is symbolic to the Egyptian Monarchy and it is believed that the Royal Cobra was released in Carter’s home as a symbol of how the King strikes his enemies. This began local rumors that the curse had been released.

Who: Lord Carnarvon, sponsor of the King Tut dig. Cause of Death: Blood Poisoning. Explanation: Carnarvon was bitten by a mosquito, and accidentally cut the bite while shaving. It then became infected, and he died of blood poisoning. Some believed the mosquito bite was in the same location as a lesion on King Tut’s cheek, but since Lord Carnarvon was buried with no formal autopsy, no one could confirm this.

Who: Sir Bruce Ingham, Carter’s friend. Material Destruction: House burned down—twice. Explanation: Ingham received paperweight made of mummified hand with its wrist adorned with a scarab bracelet marked with, “Cursed be he who moves my body. To him shall come fire, water and pestilence.” No one has an explanation for this other than bad luck.

Carter himself did not believe in the curse, and out of the 58 people present when the sarcophagus was opened, only eight died within twelve years. Carter passed away at the age of 64 of lymphoma in 1939 and was not one of the eight. Scientists note that the tomb may have been filled with a deadly fungus that had grown over the centuries and was released when the tomb was opened.  Air samples were taken from inside an unopened sarcophagus through a drilled hole to test the air quality- and high levels of ammonia, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide were all found. However, all of these would have a strong scent and people would have been repelled by the odor.

In the end, it is believed that it wasn’t these particular situations that fed the rumor of the curse, but rather the world’s newspapers, who found they sold more papers saying that a terrible curse was unleashed the moment King Tut’s tomb was opened.  

Do you believe in the Pharaoh’s Curse on King Tut’s tomb?

Journey into the Valley of the Kings and see these tombs and their artwork up close on our Egyptian Odyssey tour!

Japan’s Tradition of Make-Up

Thursday, August 12th, 2010
A Traditional Geisha in Japan   Photo by Tracey Taylor

A traditional geisha in Japan. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The beauty and grace of Japan’s geishas are among many reasons visitors travel to certain parts of the Japan, such as Kyoto. The geisha tradition gained prominence in the mid-18th century, as women worked as skilled entertainers after seeing the success of male performers. Their talents included dancing, singing, playing music, and even creating poetry and artistic calligraphy.

While well-known for thir exquisite clothing, one of the most notable identifiers of a geisha is her immaculate make-up. The application of this makeup is time-consuming, detailed, and specific, and is an extra effort for apprentice geishas who are required to wear it while in public. For the first three years, the young maiko wear their make-up almost constantly.

The make-up of an apprentice geisha include three notable features – the thick, white foundation, red lips, and red and black highlights around the eyes. The white foundation originally included lead, but when it was discovered how toxic it was, the ingredient was changed to rice powder.

The white foundation covers the face completely except for two notable areas – the hairline, which gives the illusion of a mask, and the nape of the neck, which is designed in a traditional W shape, highlighting and accentuating the area, which is considered alluring. Then the eyes are outlined, originally using charcoal. Today modern eyeliner is used, but maiko still add red around the eyes to show their youthful status.

The woman’s red lips are filled in using a small brush with crystallized sugar added to the color to add texture. The rank of the geisha can easily be identified by looking at her lips. First year maiko only have their lower lip filled with color. Only a full-fledged geisha may have her lips fully colored red. It rare to see the lips filled in western-style as it would make the lips look unusually large; the intent is to give the illusion of a flower bud.

After a maiko has worked for three years, her make-up becomes more subdued because now she has matured to a point where her natural beauty can be seen. After the age of thirty, geisha wear the traditional make up only for formal events or special performances.

Which kind of make-up would you never forget to put in your luggage? Share below.

Appreciate the cosmetic efforts and performance skills of geisha in person on our Eternal Japan tour. International airfare included!

Gardens of the Caribbean

Thursday, August 5th, 2010
The <i>Sea Cloud II</i> sailing the Caribbean.

The Sea Cloud II sailing the Caribbean.

The first thing most of us think about when we imagine the Caribbean is how fast we can get a bathing suit on and stick an umbrella on a sandy part of the beach. But the Caribbean is also a haven for beautiful gardens, unique animal species, and an eclectic ecosystem.

The region ranges in elevation from 40 meters below sea level to up to 3,000 meters, resulting in a variety of rare animals and plants that can only be found on these islands. The lowlands are don’t receive much rain and are considered semiarid, with some plants such as cactus scrubs being found on parts of Barbados, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. At the same time, trade winds tend to push moisture in the highlands of the islands, creating a rainforest climate where completely different species of flora and fauna are found.

How special is the Caribbean when it comes to biodiversity? When you look at the numbers, it’s pretty amazing. There are over 13,000 plant species found on these islands, and 50.4% are only found in this region of the Earth. But it’s the amphibians that truly makes the islands special. Amazingly, 100% of the amphibians—over  170 species—are native to the islands. Then there is the unique diversity of mammals, reptiles, and birds that are found on each island.

The wildlife to view and appreciate in the Caribbean is everywhere, and if you have really good eyes, you might see a few of the tiny hummingbirds found in the tropics - all while getting a great tan.

Which Caribbean Island is your favorite to visit? Tell us why!

Marvel at the beautiful colonial architecture and gardens of the Caribbean this January aboard the Sea Cloud II with Smithsonian Journeys!

Splendors of Morocco – The Fabric of Life

Monday, July 26th, 2010
Moroccan textiles to be sold at a town market.

Moroccan textiles to be sold at a town market.

Strolling through a souk, it’s hard not to notice the intricately woven textiles of Morocco. The Smithsonian found these textiles to be so fascinating, they created an exhibit at the National Museum of African Art called The Fabric of Moroccan Life.

The traditional world of Moroccan textiles was predominantly filled with wealthy women, who learned to sew, embroider, and design as young girls. The women adorned themselves with exotic fabric and jewelry both to show their economic status and create their own style. What makes these particular textiles so unique is that Moroccan style borrows from various other cultures -  the dominant influences are Islamic and Berber, but elements of Jewish, African, and Mediterranean styles are also incorporated.

Once married, women would continue to embroider and might have joined harems where they learned and shared their technical skills and ideas with other women. Because these textiles brought critical income to their communities, women also enjoyed a certain amount of creative freedom.

If you were shopping at a Moroccan souk, what would you buy? Jewelry, blankets, artwork, clothing?

Shop at a medieval maze of souks on our Splendors of Morocco tour.