Atlas Obscura - Latest Places
Yoshinogari Historical Park in Yoshinogari, Japan
Sat, 30 May 2020 16:00:00 -0400

First-century-B.C. Korean-style bronze swords excavated from the site

The Yayoi period, which spanned from around 300 B.C. to 250 A.D., ushered in a new chapter in Japanese history. With the advent of metal-edged tools, hunter-gatherer culture gave way to a more settled, agricultural society, often under the rule of local leaders.

One of the largest archaeological sites from this period is the Yoshinogari ruins, the remains of an ancient settlement that covered nearly 40 hectares. It was constructed within a 2.5-kilometer-long (1.5-miles) moat, bolstered by earthwork fortifications and inner moats. Inside, centuries-old relics of pit dwellings, raised granaries, and tumuli abound. Recent excavations have unearthed a large number of artifacts such as pottery, wooden tools, bronze weapons, fabrics, magatama beads, and burial pots.

Situated close to the coastline, ancient Yoshinogari was first settled by nomadic groups during the earlier Jōmon period. When the last glacial period came to an end, the region became more mountainous, and its inhabitants made use of this geographical feature for wartime protection. As relative peace spread, people began to move out of the mountains, often to cultivate rice on flatter terrain. By the end of the Yayoi period, the Yoshinogari area had been all but abandoned, and became a large-scale graveyard of sorts. It housed several burial mounds, three of which have been preserved today.

Despite having been recognized for decades, the site wasn’t archaeologically appreciated until the late 1980s, when the land was being surveyed for a potential construction project. In 1989, the local community began to raise awareness about the site, and official excavation work began. Initially, the ruins were thought to be linked to the Yamatai Kingdom or the Kyūshū Dynasty, but neither of these theories have been confirmed.

The Yoshinogari ruins are now maintained as a historical park, with a number of ancient pit houses and granaries recreated on-site. The park contains a small museum exhibiting local artifacts, a camping area, and fields growing an ancient species of rice. About a dozen times per year, special events are held for visitors who want to experience life during the Yayoi period, such as recreations of ancient jewelry, clothing, and food.

Gamla Riksbanken (The Old National Bank) in Stockholm, Sweden
Sat, 30 May 2020 15:00:00 -0400

The history of banking is very long, dating back thousands of years. Many cultures independently came up with ways to facilitate barter and store riches over the ages, but it took very long for the first dedicated "banks" to start popping up. It was only in the mid-to-late-17th century that it happened, and one of the first such buildings was built in 1675 in Stockholm

The bank was built in three stages from 1675 to 1737, and served as the head office for the Riksbank—the country's central bank—until 1905. It was the first of its kind in Northern Europe, at least the first intended solely for banking. 

Interestingly enough, all of its contemporaries seem to have been demolished over the years, by city planning or bombings during war. This has made the first bank building in the world the oldest bank building in the world—a title that it proudly displays on a plaque next to the main entrance.

Today the building is owned by the state and maintained as a monument, though it still houses several companies that use it for office space, including a game developer. 

Castello Carrarese di Este in Este, Italy
Sat, 30 May 2020 13:00:00 -0400

The area where the town of Este in northern Italy is located was originally occupied by the important Roman town of Ateste, and also inhabited before Roman times. Barbarian invasions and floods destroyed the ancient town during the late sixth century. Then nothing is said of the town in historical sources until the 10th century.

The origins of this castle—not to be confused with the moated Este Castle in Ferrara—are also unclear. One hypothesis is that the castle was originally a mansion of a local lord that was progressively expanded, and at some point it may have been part of a system of fortifications surrounding a central citadel. The castle was assaulted numerous times during the 13th and 14th centuries. The original structure was destroyed in 1249 by the troops of the powerful nobleman Ezzelino II da Romano. The castle was probably partially rebuilt and destroyed again, maybe more than once. This constant process of destruction and rebuilding slowly deleted all the evidence of the original structure. 

The current structure was probably erected at some point during the 14th century, but then abandoned for centuries. The castle then became a country residence of a local noble family and it was acquired by the municipality of Este in 1887. It now hosts an archaeological museum and public gardens. 

Xu Zhimo Memorial in Cambridge, England
Sat, 30 May 2020 10:00:00 -0400

The Xu Zhimo Memorial.

Quietly now I leave the Cam
As mute as I arrived;
Waving sleeve so slight, lest sky
of cloudspeck be deprived.

Written on the occasion of his second and last trip to Cambridge, Xu Zhimo's "Second Farewell to Cambridge" has become emblematic of modernist Chinese poetry. Xu (1897–1931) was one of the most prominent literary figures of China's New Culture Movement, which sought to free Chinese thought through an emancipation of literature from classical strictures.

Xu first entered King's College, Cambridge, in 1922, where he was enraptured with Romantic poetry and literature. Upon his return to China in 1923, he founded the Crescent Moon Society, after a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, and taught English at Peking University. His take on the New Culture Movement was to bring European Romanticism into Chinese poetry, and through a focus on authentic human emotions make a shift from classical to vernacular Chinese, the place of which in Chinese literature was being hotly debated.

Xu returned to Cambridge in 1928, and romanticized his memories of his alma mater through the punters, willows, duckweeds, and sunlight he experienced in the Backs of King's College. The poem was published in the Crescent Moon periodical that December, and has since become a staple of the Chinese literary canon. Xu died in a plane crash not long after, in 1931.

Chinese tourists have flocked to Cambridge ever since in search of the scenes that so inspired Xu. In 2008, King's College erected a memorial on the Backs facing the scene described by Xu, inscribing the first and last couplet of the poem on Beijing marble. A Xu Zhimo Friendship Garden was added next to the memorial in 2018.

The memorial has become one of the most important sights for Chinese tourists in the United Kingdom, with many making their way to Cambridge to pay homage to one of China's most beloved poets. 

Church of Blessed Maria Restituta Kafka in Brno, Czechia
Fri, 29 May 2020 16:00:00 -0400

Church of Blessed Maria Restituta Kafka

Maria Restituta Kafka, who was born Helena Kafka in 1894, was a nun and a nurse from Brno, Czechia. Known for her devotion to God and her love of beer, she was beheaded by the Nazis who controlled what was then Austria-Hungary. Now, a new church that features unique architecture is named after her.

The result of a multi-million dollar fundraising campaign and designs that evolved over many years, the Kostel Blahoslavené Marie Restituty, or Church of Blessed Mary Restituta, has a striking, circular interior topped by a full rainbow of stained glass, a decidedly non-steeple-like tower, and a modern, concrete facade. It was Kafka's criticism of the Nazis and her refusal to take down crucifixes in the hospital where she assisted with surgeries that led to her death by guillotine, as well as her beatification by Pope John Paul II in 1998. But another of her notable attributes is commemorated in the church's design: Her love of beer is represented by a pint of beer.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France
Fri, 29 May 2020 15:00:00 -0400

In the garden.

A magnificent pink mansion sits atop a hill on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, a French peninsula near its border with Italy. The villa is not well known to tourists to the French Riviera, but is a gem of the region, tucked away on a small peninsula between Nice and Monaco. And it is not necessarily easy to get to. One needs to take the bus, or an Uber, or simply walk some distance from the nearest train stop (located in Beaulieu-sur-Mer).

What makes this villa so unique is its history with the French aristocracy. The woman who lived there, Beatrice de Rothschild, bought the land and had this architectural landmark built over five years. With a free audio guide, visitors can make their way through the mansion's many decadent rooms and halls on their own. Among the countless stories of de Rothschild are tales of her particular taste, as well as the many exotic animals she owned (including a pet monkey), and her penchant for collecting, art, antiques, china, and wigs. In today's terms, she might be considered a hoarder.

Even more enchanting than the building are the gardens that surround it—actually nine gardens that stretch as far as the eye can see, each with a different theme. All the flowers and greenery are still perfectly curated and maintained, with fragrant whiffs of roses and phlox. A koi-filled stream that leads from the villa to a gazebo at the back of the property. Every 20 minutes fountains shoot out streams of water to the classical music, and from the center of the garden, the Mediterranean Sea is visible on either side of the estate. It's about as close as one can come to a fairy tale come to life.  

Norwegian Canning Museum in Stavanger, Norway
Fri, 29 May 2020 14:00:00 -0400

A canning machine.

Though they may seem like a humble foodstuff, canned sardines have played an important role in culinary history. This was particularly true for Stavanger, Norway, where canning fish was the leading industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This local canning heritage is celebrated at the Norwegian Canning Museum.

The museum is housed in a former canning factory, which was operational from 1916 until 1958. As you walk around, you'll get a sense of what it was like working in the factory from every level, from administration to the factory floor. 

The interactive museum encourages visitors to mingle among the machinery and learn about every step of the sardine-canning process, from the arrival of fresh fish (usually brisling, a type of herring) to smoking in the ovens to the canning itself. Several times a month, the museum fires up its ovens so visitors can taste freshly smoked fish. 

Sardine super-fans can admire the collection of 35,000 can labels or buy chocolates and cufflinks shaped like sardine cans in the gift shop. While its subject may seem ordinary, the museum offers a fun and insightful look into the history of Stavanger and Norway, through the sardine, to which they owe so much.

Sasso Menicante (Trembling Stone) in Soriano nel Cimino, Italy
Fri, 29 May 2020 13:00:00 -0400

Sasso Menicante on Monte Cimino

The peak of Monte Cimino in Central Italy is crowned by an ancient beech forest and massive volcanic rocks. None, however, are as famous as the sasso menicante (trembling stone), which was already known to Pliny the Elder, who recognized it as a natural wonder in his Natural History.

This massive trachytic peperino rock was hurled to its present resting site during the age of Monte Cimino's volcanic activity, between 1.35 million and 800,000 years ago. When the boulder crashed on the mountain, it found itself balanced on another buried volcanic rock. Until a few decades ago, the massive 250-tonne monolith, which measures 8.5 meters (28 feet) in length and 3 meters (10 feet) in height, could swing with the assistance of a lever, usually a log or branch.

Nowadays, because of the accumulation of sediment, the boulder stands still. But all of those who visit this unusual natural monument give it a push, just to check.

People's Park Complex in Singapore
Fri, 29 May 2020 11:00:00 -0400

Street view of People's Park Complex

At over 300 feet tall, this towering green and yellow landmark is an unmissable feature of Singapore’s Chinatown. With space for shopping, restaurants, and residential apartments, the 31-storey modernist structure from famed Singaporean architect William Lim is a testament to collective social living and urban regeneration. 

The complex was built on the grounds of the former People's Park Market, once a large urban park framed by an impromptu network of shopping and street-food vendors, beloved by the area's working class as a social and commercial hub. The Singaporean government, however, deemed the organic, unregulated market unsanitary, and in 1966 a fire razed the long-loved but ramshackle institution.

Lim's firm won the contract for redevelopment, and by 1970, had completed an impressive lower level designated for commerce. By 1973, a dizzying vertical stack of apartment spaces was completed above the shopping space; for a time, the modernist complex was the tallest residential building in the country. Seamlessly housing commercial and residential space, it was also an early example of multi-use building projects in Southeast Asia. 

People's Park Complex was never meant to change the Singaporeans lifestyles, but rather to make new space for existing customs. Not only does the building host accessible, sociable commerce as in the days of the old patchwork market, but in its heyday also hosted government events, performances, and fashion shows as well. The project harnesses the power of urban connectivity, with covered concrete bridges linking nearby neighborhoods to the building's shopping center. 

Steinerner Mann (Stone Man) in Augsburg, Germany
Fri, 29 May 2020 10:00:00 -0400

Stoinerne Ma

Hidden in a wall recess in Augsburg, Germany stands in a statue known as Steinerner Mann or Stoinerne Ma (Stone Man). Local legend says the statue represents a baker whose bold scheme helped save the city during the Thirty Years' War—but history doesn't quite match up with that tale.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, both Catholics and Protestants lived in the city of Augsburg. But conflict between the groups intensified with the beginning of the Thirty Years' War. In 1629 the Catholics first tried to gain dominance, then in 1632, Augsburg was conquered by Swedish Protestant troops, who occupied the city. Imperial Catholic opponents then besieged the city and prevented it from being supplied for half a year and people suffered from a terrible famine. 

According to a local story, on March 22, 1635, the baker Konrad Hacker scraped together his last flour, bulked it up with some sawdust, and baked a large loaf of bread. He climbed the city wall and showed his loaf to the besiegers as a sign of allegedly abundant supplies. Konrad was shot, and lost his right arm. He ultimately died as a result of complications from the injury, and didn’t get to see that his tactics were successful. The imperial troops lost faith in being able to starve the Augsburgers and withdrew.  As a reminder of the courageous rescuer, the grateful residents collected money to build a sculpture showing the one-armed man in baker's clothes with a bread in his left hand.

However, it is now proved that this is only a legend. Records show that there has been a baker with this name but he died under different circumstances and the siege ended with a capitulation of the city.

The real statue itself is formed by different parts which, according to examinations, dated earlier than 1550. You can also see that the proportions are not fully correct, e.g the arm with the "bread". The upper parts may origin from a former cemetery and the lower parts are most likely Roman. It might be that the city’s construction manager put the parts together in the 18th century. In these times his place was the location where all excavated parts of sculptures have been collected. As the statue was damaged several times the nose was replaced with a copy from metal.

The statue was brought to its current location in 1950. Although the legend is widely known, not many know its location at Augsburg’s fortification.