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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is a royal Islamic mosque located in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of the Sultanate of Brunei. The mosque is classified as one of the most spectacular mosques in the Asia Pacific and a major tourist attraction. Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is considered amongst the people of Brunei as the country's major landmark.


Named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei, the mosque, which is seen as a symbol of the Islamic faith in Brunei, dominates the skyline in the capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan. The building was completed in 1958 and is an impressive example of modern Islamic architecture. It is one of the main sights in the capital and the country in general.


The architecture of the mosque has a heavy influence of both Islamic and Italian. Designed by an Italian architect, the mosque is constructed on an artificial lagoon near the banks of the Brunei River circulated by a water village (named Kampong Ayer). The Sultan Omar Ali Saiffuddin mosque consists of marble minarets and golden domes with courtyards and fertile gardens filled with fountains. The mosque is circulated by a plethora of trees and floral gardens which in Islam it is considered as an interpertation of heaven. It also has a long bridge meandering across the lagoon to Kamong Ayer (the water village). Also, there is another marble bridge connecting to a structure in the water that resembles a ship was at one time used for official state ceremonies.

The main dome which is thought to be the mosque's most recognisable feature is covered in pure gold. The mosque stands stands at 52m (171ft) high and can be seen from virtually anywhere in Bandar Seri Begawan. The main minaret is the mosque's tallest feature. It incorprotes a Renaissance and Italian architectural style which is a unique theme not seen in many Islamic houses of worship across the world. The minaret has a working and modern elevator which goes to the top of the structure, people who reach the top of the minaret can witness a panoramic view of the city.

The interior of the mosque is for prayer only but it has a magnificent mosaic stained glass, as well as many arches, semi-domes and marble columns. Nearly all the material used in the construction of the building has been shipped in from other countries. For example, the marble is from Italy, the granite from Shanghai, the crystal chandeliers from England and the carpets from Saudi Arabia.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

The Taj Mahal (Nastaliq: تاج محل, Devanagari: ताज महल) is a mausoleum located in Agra, India, that was built under Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

The Taj Mahal (also "the Taj") is considered as the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian, Turkish, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles. In 1983, Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was cited as "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage."

While the white domed marble mausoleum is most familiar, Taj Mahal is an integrated complex of structures and was completed around 1648. Ustad Ahmad Lahauri is generally considered as the principal designer of Taj Mahal.

Origin and inspiration

In 1631, Shah Jahan, emperor during Mughal's period of greatest prosperity, was griefstricken when his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during the birth of their fourteenth child, Gauhara Begum. The court chronicles of Shah Jahan's grief illustrates the love story traditionally held as an inspiration for Taj Mahal. The construction of Taj Mahal begun soon after Mumtaz's death with the principal mausoleum completed in 1648. The surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later. Visiting Agra in 1663, French traveller François Bernier wrote:

I shall finish this letter with a description of the two wonderful mausoleums which constitute the chief superiority of Agra over Delhi. One was erected by Jehan-guyre [sic] in honour of his father Ekbar; and Chah-Jehan raised the other to the memory of his wife Tage Mehale, that extraordinary and celebrated beauty, of whom her husband was so enamoured it is said that he was constant to her during life, and at her death was so affected as nearly to follow her to the grave.

The Taj Mahal incorporates and expands on design traditions of Persian and earlier Mughal architecture. Specific inspiration came from successful Timurid and Mughal buildings including the Gur-e Amir (the tomb of Timur, progenitor of the Mughal dynasty, in Samarkand), Humayun's Tomb, Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb (sometimes called the Baby Taj), and Shah Jahan's own Jama Masjid in Delhi. While earlier Mughal buildings were primarily constructed of red sandstone, Shah Jahan promoted use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones and buildings under his patronage reached new levels of refinement.


Soon after Taj Mahal's completion, Shah Jahan was deposed and put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort by his son Aurangzeb. Legend has it that he spent the remainder of his days gazing at the Taj Mahal. Upon Shah Jahan's death, Aurangzeb buried him in the Taj Mahal next to his wife. By late 19th century, parts of Taj Mahal had fallen badly into disrepair.

During the time of Indian rebellion of 1857, Taj Mahal faced defacement by British soldiers and government officials, who chiseled out precious stones and lapis lazuli from its walls. At the end of 19th century British viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a massive restoration project, completed in 1908. He also commissioned the large lamp in the interior chamber, modeled on one in a Cairo mosque. It was during this time the garden was remodeled with British looking lawns that are visible today.

In 1942, the government erected a scaffolding in anticipation of an air attack by German Luftwaffe and later by Japanese Air Force. During the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971, scaffoldings were erected to mislead bomber pilots. Its recent threats came from environmental pollution on the banks of Yamuna River including acid rain due to Mathura oil refinery, which was opposed by Supreme Court of India directives. In 1983, Taj Mahal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The Taj Mahal attracts 2 to 3 million visitors every year with more than 200,000 from overseas, making it the most popular tourist attraction in India. Most tourists visit during the cooler months of October, November and February. Polluting traffic is not allowed near the complex and tourist must either walk from the carparks or catch an electric bus. The Khawasspuras are currently being restored for use as a new visitors centre. The small town to the South of the Taj known as Taj Ganji or Mumtazabad was originally constructed with caravanserais, bazaars and markets to serve the needs of visitors and workmen. Lists of recommended travel destinations often feature Taj Mahal, which also appears in several listings of seven wonders of the modern world, including the recently announced New Seven Wonders of the World, a recent poll with 100 million votes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

National Capitol Building, Washington, DC

United States Capitol is the capitol building that serves as the seat of government for the United States Congress, the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government. It is located in Washington, D.C., on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. Although not in the geographic center of the District of Columbia, the Capitol is the focus by which the quadrants of the district are divided. Curiously, the west face, which is often taken to be the "front" of the building, is actually its "back"; the true front is the east face.

The building was originally designed by William Thornton. This plan was subsequently modified by Stephen Hallet, Benjamin Latrobe and then Charles Bulfinch. The current dome and the House and Senate wings were designed by Thomas U. Walter and August Schoenborn, a German immigrant, and were completed under the supervision of Edward Clark.

The building is marked by its central dome above a rotunda and two wings, one for each chamber of Congress: the north wing is the Senate chamber and the south wing is the House of Representatives chamber. Above these chambers are galleries where visitors can watch the Senate and House of Representatives. It is an example of the Neoclassical architecture style. The statue on top of the dome is the Statue of Freedom.


Previous Capitols
Prior to 1800, at least eight other buildings and eight other cities have hosted Congress, going back to the First Continental Congress. Since the ratification of the United States Constitution, Congress has only met in two other buildings. The capital was first located in New York, with Congress meeting in City Hall (Federal Hall) from 1785 to 1790. Philadelphia served as the Capital from 1790 to 1800. During that time, Congress met at the Philadelphia County Building (Congress Hall).


The site for the United States Capitol chosen by Pierre Charles L'Enfant was Jenkins Hill, which rose 88 feet (27 m) above the Potomac River. The site is one mile (1.6 km) from the White House. Pierre-Charles L'Enfant secured the lease of quarries at Wigginton Island and along Aquia Creek in Virginia for use in the foundations and outer walls of the Capitol in November 1791.

In 1792, a contest was announced by Commissioners of the Federal City seeking designs for both the Congress House and the President's House. The contest deadline was July 15, 1792, with rewards including $500 and a lot in the city. All the drawings submitted were considered inadequate and rejected. The most promising of the submissions was by Stephen Hallet. However, a late entry by amateur architect William Thornton was submitted on January 31, 1793 to much praise by President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Thornton was inspired by the east front of the Louvre, as well as the Pantheon for the center portion of the design. Thornton's design was officially approved in a letter, dated April 5, 1793, from George Washington. In effort to console Hallet, the commissioners appointed him to review Thornton's plans, develop cost estimates, and serve as superintendent of construction. Hallet proceeded to pick apart and make drastic changes to Thornton's design, which he saw as amateur with numerous problems and high costs to build. Jefferson appointed a five-member commission, including Hallet and James Hoban, to address problems with and revise Thornton's plan. Except for some details in Thornton's plan that specified an open recess in the center of the East front, the revised plan was accepted.

Adorned in masonic attire, George Washington laid the cornerstone on September 18, 1793 during a groundbreaking ceremony for construction of the Capitol. The stone is located near the Old Supreme Court, through a passageway taken by people visiting the United States Senate Gallery. It is not known that this actually is the original cornerstone, but it was engraved with a masonic symbol and commissioned in 1893 (100 years after its placement). The cornerstone has been moved from its original location.

Construction proceeded with Hallet working under supervision of James Hoban, who was also busy working on construction of the White House. Despite the wishes of Jefferson and the President, Hallet went ahead anyway and modified Thornton's design for the East front and created a square central court that projected from the center, with flanking wings which would house the legislative bodies. Hallet was dismissed by Jefferson on November 15, 1794. George Hadfield was hired on October 15, 1795 as superintendent of construction, but resigned three years later in May 1798, due to dissatisfaction with Thornton's plan and quality of work done thus far.

The Senate wing was completed in 1800, while the House wing was completed in 1811. However, the House of Representatives moved into the House wing in 1807. Though the building was incomplete, the Capitol held its first session of United States Congress on November 17, 1800. The legislature was moved to Washington prematurely, at the urging of President John Adams in hopes of securing enough Southern votes to be re-elected for a second term as president.

The Capitol was built and later expanded in the 1850s using the labor of slaves "who cut the logs, laid the stones and baked the bricks." The original plan was to use workers brought in from Europe; however, there was a poor response to recruitment efforts, and African Americans—free and slave—composed the majority of the work force.

The Statue of Freedom on top of the dome was completed in 1863.

The Supreme Court also met in the Capitol until its own building (behind the East Front) was completed in 1935.

War of 1812

Not long after the completion of both wings, the Capitol was partially burned by the British in August 1814, during the War of 1812. Reconstruction began in 1815 and was completed by 1819. Construction continued through to 1826, with the addition of the center Rotunda area and the first dome of the Capitol. Architect Benjamin Latrobe is principally connected with the original construction and many innovative interior features; his successor, Charles Bulfinch, also played a major role, such as the design of the first dome.


The building was expanded dramatically in the 1850s. The original timber-framed dome of 1818 would no longer be appropriately scaled. Thomas U. Walter was responsible for the wing extensions and the "wedding cake" cast-iron dome, three times the height of the original dome and 100 feet (30 m) in diameter, which had to be supported on the existing masonry piers. Like Mansart's dome at Les Invalides (which he had visited in 1838), Walter's dome is double, with a large oculus in the inner dome, through which is seen The Apotheosis of Washington painted on a shell suspended from the supporting ribs, which also support the visible exterior structure and the tholos that supports the Freedom, a colossal statue that was added to the top of the dome in 1863. The weight of the cast-iron for the dome has been published as 8,909,200 pounds (4,041,100 kg).

When the dome of the Capitol was finally completed, it was significantly larger than the original plan, and its massive visual weight overpowered the proportions of the columns of the East Portico, built in 1828. The East Front of the Capitol building was rebuilt in 1904, following a design of the architects Carrère and Hastings, who also designed the Senate and House office buildings. A marble duplicate of the sandstone East Front was built 33.5 feet (10.2 m) from the old Front during 1958-1962, and a connecting extension incorporated what formerly was an outside wall as an inside wall. In the process, the Corinthian columns were removed, and landscape designer Russell Page created a suitable setting for them in a large meadow at the National Arboretum, where they are combined with a reflecting pool in an ensemble that reminds some visitors of Persepolis. The Capitol draws heavily from other notable buildings, especially churches and landmarks in Europe, including the dome of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, and St. Paul's Cathedral in London. On the roofs of the Senate and House Chambers are flagpoles that fly the U.S. flag when either is in session.

20th Century

Underground tunnels (and even a private underground railway) connect the main Capitol building with each of the Congressional office buildings in the surrounding complex. All rooms in the Capitol are designated as either S (for Senate) or H (for House), depending on whether they are north (Senate) or south (House) of the Rotunda. Similarly, rooms in the Congressional office buildings are designated as HOB (for House Office Building, which are all south of the Capitol) or SOB (for Senate Office Building, which are all north of the Capitol). Additionally, all addresses in Washington, D. C. are designated NE, NW, SE, or SW, in relationship to the Rotunda. (Since the Capitol Rotunda is not located in the center of the District — it is slightly farther east and south — the four D.C. quadrants are not the same shape and size.)

On June 20, 2000, ground was broken for the Capitol Visitor Center, which is due to open in Summer 2008. Since 2001, the East Front of the Capitol (site of most Presidential Inaugurations until Ronald Reagan broke tradition in 1981) has been the site of construction for this massive underground complex, designed to facilitate a more orderly entrance for visitors to the Capitol. (When construction is complete, the East Front will be restored to its earlier, pre-pavement appearance.) Prior to the center being built, visitors to the Capitol had to queue on the parking lot and ascend the stairs, whereupon entry was made through the massive sculpted Columbus Doors, through a small narthex (with cramped security) and thence directly into the Rotunda. The new underground facility will provide a grand entrance hall, a visitors theater, room for exhibits, and dining and restroom facilities, in addition to space for building necessities such as an underground service tunnel. Some people, however, lament the loss of the ability of the common person to walk right into the Capitol.