Photo Of The Day: Alhambra’s Palacio De Carlos V

Mike Rowe, Flickr

Capturing a stunning combination of architecture and weather, Flickr user Mike Rowe took this black and white photo at the palace of Charles V, contained within the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain.

Commissioned as a royal residence close to the Alhambra palace, the 16th-century building is a square, two-level structure done in the Renaissance style. It’s also home to two museums: the Museo de la Alhambra and the Museo de Bellas Artes. With this photo perspective, you certainly get a feel for the grandiose scope the building.

Have a photo that captures the essence of travel? Submit it to the Gadling Flickr pool for your chance to be featured on Photo of the Day.

Ghosts Of A Dictatorship: Visiting Saddam Hussein’s Palaces

Saddam Hussein, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel
The name “Babylon” brings up two associations – that of an ancient city in Iraq, and of a place of sin and decadence. It’s only fitting then that Saddam Hussein erected one of his palaces on a hill overlooking the ancient site of Babylon.

This is only one of 70 such palaces, many built during the UN sanctions while Saddam’s people were short on food and medicine. Many Iraqis complained the sanctions did nothing to hurt the dictator, and this Babylon-on-a-hill seems proof of that.

Saddam had palaces in every corner of the country, and this one and another I visited in Basra are both opulent, even though they’ve been stripped of everything even remotely valuable, even the wiring. They were once fitted with the finest rugs and gilded furniture. There are rumors that there were solid gold toilets.

These empty, echoing shells are the only thing left of a huge cult of personality. Saddam’s face used to be everywhere. Statues stood at every intersection, giant murals decorated every neighborhood. He was a constant presence in the media. Saddam used to joke that if an Iraqi family’s TV broke, all they had to do was tape a poster of him on the screen. Now there are only empty plinths and whitewashed walls, and the Iraqis watch satellite channels from Europe and Dubai.

You’ll have a hard time finding Iraqis who will say anything good about Saddam Hussein. Even those who hated the sanctions, bombings and eventual invasion are glad he’s gone. Of all the people I talked to in my 17 days here I only found two guys, workers in a roadside tea stand, had something positive to say about his rule.

“In Saddam’s time Iraq was strong. Now it’s weak,” they said.

True enough as far as it goes, but Saddam’s megalomania was what brought Iraq to ruin and the vast majority of Iraqis understand this. During his reign everyone pretended to love him, because to act otherwise was to court death. In their hearts, though, they hated him. It must have galled the Iraqis to see his image everywhere, and to think about the treasures that filled his palaces.

All those treasures are gone now, except for one sad reminder of a pot-bellied dictator and his limitless greed. In a dark side room on the second story of the Babylon palace, I came across the shattered bowl of a gold-painted toilet. Not solid gold, sadly, just gold paint. Must have been the guest bathroom. It was good enough for me. I’d been in the bus for a long time and there was no other bathroom available so …

%Gallery-171444%Yeah, baby!!!!! Gadling dumps on the dictatorship!

Don’t miss the rest of my series, “Destination: Iraq,” chronicling my 17-day journey across this strife-ridden country in search of adventure, archaeology and AK-47s.

Coming up next: “Beer run in Basra!”

[Top photo by Sean McLachlan. Shameless bottom photo taken by a laughing Per Steffensen. He was laughing with me, not at me. Really.]

Saddam Hussein, Iraq, Iraq travel, Iraq tourism

Getting to know the royal history of Norfolk, United Kingdom

norfolkNorfolk is a mainly rural county in the United Kingdom that offers many experiences for visitors, such as historical market towns and villages, nature reserves, wildlife, excellent dining and shopping options, unique heritage sites, and, of course, chances to experience the royal history of the area.

Visit Castle Rising Castle (shown right), which dates back to the 12th century and was owned by various members of royalty, Holkham Hall, which was once occupied by Princess Victoria and holds a quirky story, or Sandringham Estate, which celebrates its 150th year of royal ownership this year.

These are just a few of the royal history experiences that are possible in Norfolk. To get a better idea of the royal history, check out the gallery below.

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Ancient city of Mari in Syria under threat

Syria, MariLast month we reported that the Biblical city of Nineveh is falling apart due to the ongoing war in Iraq. Now it turns out another ancient Mesopotamian city is in danger of being lost.

Mari, in Syria, was one of the great cities of Mesopotamia. It was a trading center on the Euphrates River and was founded some 7,000 years ago. Archaeologists have discovered the giant palace of a Sumerian ruler, a temple to Ishtar, and a huge library with more than 25,000 clay tablets written in Akkadian cuneiform.

Now Popular Archaeology magazine reports that erosion and neglect are returning the city to the earth. The people of Mari built with fired mud brick, using clay that was cheap and plentiful along the banks of the Euphrates. Wind and rain have been picking away at the bricks for thousands of years, and it doesn’t help that more walls have been exposed by archaeologists. Dust to dust.

The Global Heritage Fund released a report on Syria’s endangered heritage sites that lists Mari as the one in most need of help.

I visited Mari in the 1990s and it was one of the biggest archaeological orgasms of my life. To walk through a Mesopotamian palace, to visit one of the ancient world’s biggest libraries, and to stand atop a ziggurat all in the same afternoon is something you can’t do anywhere else outside of Iraq. It’s one of many outstanding archaeological treasures in Syria that are in desperate need of protection and conservation. Crac de Chevaliers, one of the ten toughest castles in the world, is also in danger.

Sadly, with the Syrian government more interested in killing their own people, I don’t think protecting the world’s heritage is very high on their “to do” list.

[Photo courtesy peuplier via flickr]

Rwanda looks to its history to get over its past

RwandaSadly, when people think of Rwanda they tend to think only of the 1994 genocide, yet Rwanda has a rich history and heritage.

Now the government is developing its museums and historical sites to encourage cultural tourism. Sites like Nyanza Palace, shown here, will get special attention. Other attractions include dance troupes and even something called the Inyambo dance, performed by trained cows!

Rwanda has been inhabited for at least ten thousand years. Around the 15th century AD, several kingdoms cropped up with distinctive artistic styles. Several good Rwandan museums showcase this heritage.

Rwanda has become increasingly popular with adventure travelers and safari groups. It’s working to preserve its environment to help its rebounding population of mountain gorillas as well as other species.

This new move towards cultural and historical tourism appears to be emphasizing a common past in order to erase longstanding ethnic divisions. Hopefully this new project will get the international community to see more to Rwandan history than its tragic recent past.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]