Archaeological Discoveries Beneath Valencia, Spain

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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A portion of the cemetery of Valentia, from the Roman Republic

Last week, work took me to Valencia, a city on the east coast of Spain. Like many Spanish cities, it is built on layers of history, and luckily for the visitor, archaeologists digging under one of the city squares found a rich collection of remains from various periods. These have been preserved as El Centro Arqueológico de l’Almoina.

With some 2,500 square meters of remains uncovered between 1985 and 2005, it displays numerous buildings from the Roman, Visigothic, and Moorish periods. Some of them date back to the city’s founding in 138 BC during the Roman Republic as a home for retired soldiers. The city, called Valentia, expanded with typical Roman efficiency until it was obliterated, with equal Roman efficiency, by Pompey in 75 BC during the Roman civil war. It remained abandoned for more than 50 years.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Friday, May 10th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

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The Balrog Award, often referred to as the coveted Balrog Award, was created by Jonathan Bacon and first conceived in issue 10/11 of his Fantasy Crossroads fanzine in 1977 and actually announced in the final issue, where he also proposed the Smitty Awards for fantasy poetry. The awards were presented for the first time at Fool-Con II at the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas on April 1, 1979. The awards were never taken particularly seriously, even by those who won the award. The final awards were presented in 1985. The Film Hall of Fame Awards were not presented the first year the Balrogs were given out, being created in 1980. The SF Film Hall of Fame was given to two films each in its first and final years.

Filmed by Stanley Kubrick and based on several short stories by Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: a space odyssey was released to theatres in April of 1968, it was nothing like the B science fiction films which preceded it.  Kubrick, guided by Clarke, attempted to make a realistic portrayal of space flight, even if it did have an ending that would appeal to the drug culture of the period.

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Inquisition Dungeons, Decapitated Heads, and Fighting Gentrification: A Creepy Tour Through Lavapiés, Madrid

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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“Anarchy in the nursery!”

Madrid is a walkable town. Most of the city’s interesting barrios are clustered close together, and even if you have to take a quick trip on the bus or Metro, you’ll find that each barrio has all you need within an easy stroll. That makes Madrid feel a lot smaller than it is, because you can shop, dine, drink, work, and go to school all in the same barrio.

Several tour companies offer interesting walking tours of the city, focusing on Madrid’s history, nightlife, or culture. The latest addition is The Making of Madrid, which specializes in history. I recently took a tour of the working class barrio of Lavapiés, known for its left-leaning politics and large immigrant community.

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The Storyteller’s Voice: Basil Rathbone Reads Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, May 6th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Basil Rathbone

Basil Rathbone

If I say the name Basil Rathbone, I have a very good chance of guessing exactly what you’ll think (if you’re old enough, that is — if you’re below a certain age, you may only think, “Who?”); ten will get you twenty you’ll think “Sherlock Holmes,” the character that Rathbone indelibly portrayed in fourteen films from 1939 to 1946, so successfully that for many people his name has become synonymous with the character.

And if by some chance you don’t think of Holmes, you’ll almost certainly think of the greatest swordsman in Hollywood, the piercing-eyed, hawk-visaged athlete who figured in some of the screen’s most thrilling duels, most famously against John Barrymore and Leslie Howard in Romeo and Juliet (1936), Errol Flynn in Captain Blood (1935) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and Tyrone Power in The Mark of Zorro (1940), the latter battle the most exciting swordfight in movie history, in my opinion.

In addition to these swashbuckling villains, in his almost fifty year film career Rathbone applied his singular talents to bringing many other characters to vivid life. Some of his most memorable non-action roles are his icily sadistic Mr. Murdstone in David Copperfield, his brutally indifferent Marquis St. Evrémonde in A Tale of Two Cities, his rigid, fatally conventional Alexi Karenin in Anna Karenina (all in 1935 — studio era Hollywood worked its players hard), and his witty, cynical Richard III in Tower of London (1939), with Vincent Price as his brother Clarence and Boris Karloff as his murderous, club-footed henchman, Mord; truly, they don’t make ’em like that anymore!

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A Medieval Synagogue in Toledo, Spain

Wednesday, May 1st, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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In my last post, I talked about an early Christian church and some Visigothic remains in Toledo in central Spain. Toledo was a mix of cultures during the Middle Ages, with Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities all leaving their mark. The city is home to an excellent Sephardi Museum housed in a medieval synagogue.

The synagogue was founded in 1356 by Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia, Royal Treasurer to King Pedro of Castile and León. It was attached to Abulafia’s palace and intended as a private house of worship.

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Medieval Wall Paintings and Visigothic Artifacts in Toledo, Spain

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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Portion of a Visigothic sarcophagus, with scenes from the Bible

Enough about the Western Desert of Egypt! Let’s pull the sand out of our teeth, bid the mummies goodbye, and go to Toledo, Spain. You can eat pork, drink wine, and see some historic churches.

One of the most interesting is the Iglesia de San Román.

This church dates to the early 13th century, and like many buildings in town was built atop earlier structures. Before the church there was a mosque, and before that a Visigothic church. There may have been a Roman building before that. Its interior is in the Mudéjar style, a Moorish influenced architectural style that has continued in Spain until the modern day.

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Rare Weapons Collection at the Abdeen Palace Museum, Cairo

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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Want a special gift for the gun nut who’s got everything? The Abdeen Palace Museum in Cairo has you covered! How about this 13-shot breastplate? The perfect accessory for the discerning armed citizen.

Abdeen Palace was built in the 1863 by the Khedive Ismail and remained the residence for the royal family for many years. The khedive wanted a more central seat of government than the Citadel, built on a hill on the edge of Cairo and all too medieval for a modern monarch. A great fire in 1891 led to Abdeen Palace being substantially rebuilt. It imitates European palaces in style, at least in those portions I have seen. The grander rooms such as the throne room, reception room, and private quarters are all off-limits. A historian friend of mine has seen them and says they are magnificent. Perhaps I’ll have to work on my connections in Cairo and find a way to take a peek.

After the revolution of 1953 toppled the monarchy, Abdeen Palace was shut for many years before being reopened with the ground floor devoted to several museums, including the Silver Museum, the Arms Museum, the Hunting Museum, and the Royal Gifts Museum.

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The Strange Tale of the Fighting Model T Fords

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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While writing my next novel in the Western Desert of Egypt (something I’ve discussed in several previous posts), I came across an interesting local landmark. Behind my campsite in Bahariya Oasis stands a grim heap of black volcanic stone called “English Mountain”. When I asked around about this unusual name, the local Bedouin told me that it was once home to an English soldier who kept watch for attacking tribes back in the days when Egypt was still a colony. I was told the ruins of his house could still be seen.

So of course I went up to see them!

But not before taking Ahmed Fakhry’s excellent book Bahariya and Farafra out of my backpack to see what he had to say about this. Yes, I travel through the Sahara with a bag full of books.

Written in 1974 but mostly based on expeditions the archaeologist took in the 1930s, Fakhry’s book is full of useful information and folklore. In it he says that English Mountain is actually named after a New Zealander named Claud Williams, who commanded No. 5 Light Car Patrol during World War One. Williams, Fakhry says, kept a lonely vigil atop that mountain for hostile Senussi tribesmen.

And therein lies a tale.

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Exploring the White Desert in Egypt

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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In my last post, I looked at some of the archaeological remains around Bahariya Oasis, in the Western Desert of Egypt. Those ancient buildings had been hammered by centuries of sandstorms so the article didn’t have the prettiest pictures in the world. To compensate, I’ve decided to give you something a bit more pleasing to the eye this week.

To the south of Bahariya Oasis, almost to the next major oasis at Farafra, is a large expanse of soft white limestone and chalk that has been scoured by the wind into elaborate and surreal shapes. The view is constantly changing as the white stone takes on various hues through the day, turning a deep crimson at sunset. Anyone going to either Bahariya or Farafra Oasis will find a night or two camping out in this natural wonder one of the most memorable events of their trip.

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Greco-Roman and Early Christian Ruins at Bahariya Oasis, Egypt

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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The guard at the Temple of Alexander showing off
some of the stray finds to me and my Bedouin driver

In my last post, I talked about the Egyptian tombs at Bahariya Oasis, some 340 km southwest of Cairo. The oasis was on the fringe of civilization in those days, but became more important during the Greco-Roman period because its well-watered soil didn’t flood like the Nile valley and thus was a good place to grow grapes to make wine, something the Greeks and Romans couldn’t live without.

The oasis became prosperous during Greek and Roman rule. It gained significance right from the start when Alexander the Great passed through here on the way to Siwa Oasis further to the west, where he had his famous meeting with the oracle of Amun at the sanctuary there, where he was proclaimed the son of the god and thus pharaoh. The temple honors his visit to the oasis and is the largest in the Western Desert, with a two-room sandstone chapel and a temple enclosure with at least 45 rooms and a surrounding wall.

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