Saturday, June 17, 2017

Cesky Krumlov - A Pearl of European Renaissance

Vitkovki, a Czech noble clan which also include the residents of the famous House of Rosenberg started the construction of the castle and their settlement in 1240 at a site in the South Bohemian Region of the then Czechoslovakia chosen due to its location on an important trade route of the region which was traditionally known as Chrumbenowe and now as Český Krumlov which literally means a crooked meadow in German. Gold was found at a site near to the settlement in the 15th century which attracted the German miners to come and settle here which eventually led to a shift in the ethnic characteristics of the region to an extent that the natives became a small minority. 

Rudolf II, the then emperor of the present regions of Croatia, Hungary and Austria who is also led responsible for the deadly Thirty Years War period of European religious war history bought Český Krumlov in 1602 and gifted it to his son. The castle which is now identified as a World Heritage site since 1992 then went into the hands of House of Schwarzenberg in 1719 whose current head Karel served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic & remained in their hands up till the onset of the twentieth century. After the first world war, the city became part of the Bohemian Forest Region & was declared a part of German-Austria though it didn’t lasted very long & the Czechoslovakian army occupied it by the end of 1918. The town experienced a phase of decay since the completion of both the world wars until 1989 when it restored its historic beauty as a result of Velvet Revolution and is now one of the important tourist destinations of the Czech Republic. 

Český Krumlov lies in the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic along the meanders of River Vltava which is the longest river of the nation. The population of the town in 2007 was around 14,000 which is approximated to be around 8,000 in 1910 just before the first world war. The architecture of the Castle and the town is a mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque schools of Architecture and the period of Renaissance had a huge impact in the making of it. There are various festivals like the five petaled rose festival & the International Music festival which are organised by the local society. This human settlement beholds in itself the rich medieval European Architectural Expression Style preserved and conserved for centuries along with a culture that started off around the lifestyle of the royal families to the theatrical tradition of contemporary times that got enriched after the second world war especially with the onset of the South Bohemian Theatre Festival in the mid parts of the twentieth century. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Coastal Cities - Our Glorious Past at Risk in its Future

Human Settlements of early and medieval times got shaped around water, may it be in the form of a river or of an ocean. The former saw development of big settlements along with the development of rich culture and the latter acted as a facilitator to transport culturally produced items to other parts of the world by means of Oceans and Seas in the absence of Airways or any connecting mode of transportation. A boat is said to be in existence much earlier than 3000 BC when the Egyptians knew how to assemble wooden planks into a hull. There are numerous such examples which got developed as a means of connection between two culturally different regions/nations. For instance - three out of four India’s earliest metropolitan cities are on the Indian coastline and reasons behind it are quite obvious - the then East Indian Company governing on some parts of Indian boundaries like any other company was doing its business and their business was closely linked to those of the importers and exporters. Coastal Cities got their existence majorly to boost the trading activities and nearly every coastal city has the same story - a story of cultural exchanges in various forms. And henceforth these acted as a source of connection between different regions of human settlements which were otherwise not accessible by any other available means of transportation. 

They have a rich glorious past & they used to help in shaping the identity of the citizens of a country in the minds of the citizens of another. Time has never been stagnant and will never be. It changes for everyone but it seemingly looks to be changing more for the coastal cities and their citizens in the coming decades of the ongoing century. The rise in the sea levels is known to many now and many knows about the effects of climate change & global warming but the direct effect it has on over 100 million human beings is generally less talked about. 

As per the third assessment report of IPCC, a global sea level rise ranging from 1.0 to 2.0 mm annually is being experienced by the oceans and seas depending on the nature of the region. Economically, as per a prediction made in a study conducted by World Bank and OECD suggests that the global flood losses will rise upto $52 billion annually by 2050 which was around $6 billion in 2013 and the figure only considers socio economic factors such as increasing population and ever increasing land value. This is comparatively an old news now but still no national government has took steps in this matter that will sustain in the longer duration of human developmental story and measures which are being taken are just eyeing on current conditions as if cities are just a case of a couple of year developmental process. Senior Economist at the World Bank Stephane Hallegate describes the situation as ‘coastal defences reduces the risk of floods today, but they also attract population and assets in protected areas and thus put them at risk in case of the defence fails, or if an event overwhelms it’.

The cities which are most vulnerable to are Guangzhou with an average annual loss of around 1.32 % of its total GDP, New Orleans losing around 1.21 % & Guayaquil 0.95 %. Mumbai has an average annual loss of around 0.47 %, for Kochi its around 0.29 % while for Surat it is 0.25%. If overall damage cost is taken into consideration then Guangzhou still tops the list while Miami comes at the second spot. Its just not about economics though - around 2.8 million people are nearly crammed into low-lying slums that flood regularly in Mumbai. Around 40 % of the population of the United States of America lives in the coastal counties which are affected by it in some way or the another. Natural Disasters are unpredictable but not that much that the government is there just to act once the calamity does its work. 

New Orleans


Human Developmental Planning has seemingly transformed into mere an urban planning exercise and that too ironically more towards planning physical facets of human development and settlement and the results are very well evident of themselves - planning without considering cities as a part of natural system will eventually lead to an increase of such urban flooding situations in the times to come & rise in the sea levels will only add to it. Human Settlement Planning isn’t an exercise which can be done as per the plans of a term-based government whose vision is generally and logically based upon short-term gains and success. Planning isn’t just providing better amenities & physical comfort - its rather a tool that  shapes the lives of human beings not only of the living generation but also of those who are yet to touch this turf & it can only arrive when one understands the amount of collective hard work that goes into shaping a human settlement and that too many generations back to back building it brick by brick. 

When planning for coastal cities, planners should keep in mind that there once was a coastal city of Muziris on the west coast of India which was in existence at least from 1st century BC till the devastating floods in River Periyar in the 14th century AD which for centuries acted as the doorway to India for its varied culture & natural gifts. Every city is at the mercy of nature for that matter but the role of human development planners is to maximise the glory in its entirety in the best possible manner and not just enhance its glory in terms of the number of high rise buildings a city has or by doing things like building the tallest buildings in different categories out of lack of understanding of concepts and ideas of real collective well-being.  

Human Settlements are a testament of human generations and their collective creative & imaginative skills & therefore those shall be given their right worth and place in the overall human developmental process. There is a lot of economic & emotional cost that goes into building a human settlement and for situations like these the race of humanity shall learn to act as early as possible else all the intelligence which the human race has collectively discovered from time immemorial will be of no or very little use in the future to come.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Nako - A Himalayan Human Settlement With Its Private Natural Lake

During the second wave of diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet, Rinchen Zangpo was a principal translator of Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Tibetan. He wasn’t a born Buddhist by belief but his parents supported him in his quest of knowing the world and he came to India to study Buddhism. He is said to be responsible for building various monasteries thereafter including Tabo in the Spiti Valley & Poo in Kinnaur in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. In 956 AD, a monastery in Nako was build under the inspiration and supervision of the same which eventually accompanied the small human settlement of Nako to sustain and receive its specific identity in the form of Buddhism and its teachings. The monastery at Nako presents a testimony and is different from other sister monasteries in a way that it showcases the Vajranya Buddhist iconography.

Nako lies along the backdrop of Res Purgyal which is the highest mountain of this particular Indian state facing an oval shaped natural lake. The total population of the village in 2002 was 416 and the main occupation of the local community has been agriculture especially in the form of Apples and Sun Dried Apricots while tourism has added to the list lately. Nako for centuries has remained majorly a close knitted community where not many things have changed except the nature of the tourist which used to be traditionally spiritual in nature due to the presence of the monastery to one-day fun & adventure tourists in contemporary times in general. 


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Isertoq - A Small Glacial Settlement in GreenLand

Nuuk the capital & the largest city of Greenland lies in the municipal region of Sermersoog which is a newly constructed municipality in Greenland in operations from 2009 formed after merging former municipalities of Easter and South-Western Greenland. Isertoq lies in the same region and is a very small human settlement with a population of 93 in 2010 which has decreased to nearly half from 1991 when it was 171 and by 27 per cent if compared with the levels of 2000. It has a maritime influenced tundra type of climate with temperature limits ranging from -16 degrees in winters to a maximum of around 7 degrees in summers. The conditions must be tough to live at times but the natural beauty around showcasing its ever present serenity would have made it a bit easier, comfortable & meaningful for the local population. 


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Undredal - A Norwegian Fjord Village Known For Its Goat Cheese

The history of Undredal can be traced up from 1147 AD in the form of an existing church built out of staves lying along the Aurlandsfjord between Flam and Gudvangen in Norway which was for the most part of its human settlement history was only accessible by boats until 1988 when the village saw its connection with the outer world in the form of roadways. The introduction of roadways opened it for more prominent outer exchanges in the form of the locally produced distinctly famous as Undredal Cheese and in the form of tourism when people outside of the community started visiting them very often. The population of the village is around 100 while that of the goats is 500. Eight goat farms produce around 10,000 kgs of cheese every year which is exported along with the locally produced goat sausage. This small human settlement imbibes in itself the natural scenic beauty along with a distinct human culture which developed and flourished in a close knit system for the most part of its developmental story. 


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Cinque Terre - The Colourful Set of Five Villages Overloaded with Visitors

Monterosso and Vernazza were the first two villages which sprang up in the 11th century among the set of five in present times connected by narrow cliffside natural trails which are collectively known as Cinque Terre literally meaning five towns lying across the Ligurian Riviera which wasn’t connected externally till recently by vehicular road and were dependent on only mules & water at first and through railways at a later stage of its development. The other three human settlements (Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) shaped themselves during the military and political supremacy of the Republic of Genoa which are also responsible for the development of Corsica from around 1300 to 1700. The attacks of the Turks in the 16th century forced the local population to reinforce their old forts and built new defence towers which subsequently also led to the decline of the settlement on a comparative scale till the 19th century when railways connected it with other parts of the region which allowed people to escape the isolation of their region on one hand leading eventually towards the abandonment of the local traditional activities in some healthy manner on the other. 

The Cinque Terre saw its modern rejuvenation in the 1970’s when the village’s economic activity turned inward than from being outward to the spheres of tourism after the concerned authorities decided to develop the region as a tourism destination. Houses were painted in the same colourful fashion which can be found today and the reason behind it must have been the same - impart it with a distinct flavour to attract people from other landforms. The locals previously were dependent on vineyard and olive cultivation besides on fishing which used to be the main industry of Monterosso in particular. The Cinque Terre was declared as the UNESCO’s Mankind’s World Heritage in 1997 and became a part of Italy’s list of National Parks and Protected Marine area at a later stage with the objective of protecting this distinct human cultural heritage along with conserving the natural beauty which has provided it with a platform to flourish. In 2015, around 2.5 million tourist visited Cinque Terre which is a huge number for a comparatively smaller site and the administration henceforth decided to put a limit to it which came in the form of 1.5 million to preserve locally lying rich heritage both natural and cultural. 

Images from feel-planetsmugmugworldfortravelcloudinaryfavorouteres, tedytraveltopworldresortwild-about-travel & improvephotography

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Colmar - The Capital of The Alsatian Wine

In the 9th century a human settlement named Colmar got its birth under the patron-ship of the Carolingian Empire, it was granted a free imperial city status in 1226 by Emperor Frederick II, took over by the Swedish Army in 1632 during the Thirty Years War period, it was annexed by the German Empire along with the region lying across in 1871, handed over to France after World War I in 1919 under the Treaty of Versailles, annexed again for a short span of time during Word War II by the Nazi Empire in 1940 until the battle of the Colmar Pocket in 1945 before becoming one of the last towns in France to get freed after the Second World War. 

Colmar lies in the Alsace region of North Eastern France across the famous Alsatian Wine Route commonly termed to as the capital of the Alsatian Wine. The population of Colmar Metropolitan Area was around 1,25,000 in 2009. The Architecture which evolved over the human settlement is a mix of German and French School of Architecture with numerous secular and religious buildings, museums, fountains, etc built over different phases of its developmental history providing architectural diversity along with a sense of locality in this beautiful town of Colmar. The lifestyle of the local people can be termed to as a very customised one and denotes the significances of the society’s cultural identity in shaping a human settlement and in showering upon a human collective space with its distinct flavour and smell. 

Images from tourismefankhausercarbpkisforkanihbufreeyorkstationedingermany & youramazingplaces