This was one of the most difficult jobs I ever undertook. If one could find the essence of Islamic architecture, might it not lie in the desert, severe and simple in its design, where sunlight brings forms to life? I believe I found what I was looking for in the Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun in Cairo (876-879).
Doha, the capital of the tiny state of Qatar, is not exactly my kind of place. It may be an impressive human achievement of clawing an urban oasis from the clutches of unforgiving desert. Yet, shiny and brand new, Doha largely lacks the appeal of cities with long history and local character. Up until the early 20th century, Doha just like most other settlements on the Persian Gulf, was a small fishing and pearling town ravaged by economic depression after the introduction of the cultured pearls in the region in the 1930s. Its fortune reversed – just like Dubai’s – with the discovery of oil and later natural gas, and a steady stream of petrodollars that followed. In a rush to modernize, most of the remnants of Doha’s previous self were eradicated to make space for highways crowded with ubiquitous Nissan pick up trucks, expensive hotels, and futuristic-looking sky scrapers. Read the rest of this entry
Geography is a weird thing. In my mind North Africa is a different, exotic place. But Tunisia almost touches the tip of Sicily and, not surprisingly given this close proximity, its history is tightly intertwined with that of Europe. Tunisia was founded in the 11th century B.C. as a Phoenician port of Hadrumetum, then for centuries was a part of the Roman Empire, a Byzantine city of Justinianopolis, and finally in the 7th century A.D. conquered by the Arabs who gave the city its current character. Its medieval heart, medina, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with truly unique architecture and atmosphere. Narrow streets meander through spice-scented souks and countless shops, sumptuous aromas ooze out of hole-in-the-wall eateries, and street vendors call out their offers. To my great surprise they address me in Polish! I guess there have been so many Polish tourists in Tunisia in the last few years that it pays to learn how to haggle in the client’s language – and clearly I look the type. Read the rest of this entry
Can you build a sail-shaped structure surrounded by the ocean? Sure, as the iconic Burj Al Arab luxury hotel proves. How about the world’s largest shopping mall? Stop by the Dubai Mall with over 1,000 shops, aquarium, ice rink, 30-acre lake and the world’s largest dancing fountain. The tallest structure in the world? Burj Khalifa, 800+ meters tall skyscraper that opened last year will leave you rubbing your eyes in disbelief. Want to go skiing indoors when it’s 30C outside? No problem, Mall of the Emirates invites you to its 400 meter-long ski slope. Man-made island? Why not – check out the palm-shaped artificial archipelagos off Jumeirah Beach built on sand dredged from the bottom of the Persian Gulf. Read the rest of this entry