If you can possibly arrange it, approach this church from around the corner on a sunny autumn morning, so that your first sight of it is full and glorious. Being mainly almost powder blue and with sparkling golden domes, it’s one of those sights that makes people produce noises usually reserved for firework displays. As you go through the entrance archway the blueness just keeps coming at you until you enter the church which is somewhat more conventional, in a Ukrainian Orthodox way. It was only rebuilt in 2001 after the ravages of the Stalin era, but you’d never know. Truly a feast for the eyes.
Most people are familiar with the beautiful multi-coloured domes of St Basil’s in Red Square whether they’ve been to Moscow or not. Fewer people seem to venture inside for a completely different experience of this iconic cathedral. It’s like wandering into something from Lord of the Rings.
Unlike most cathedrals there’s no grand space for worshipping – it’s best described as a series of small chapels connected by dark tunnels, it almost out-goths gothic. It seems appropriate that it was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible somehow, full of dark secrets as it is.
Yet it was named after the Russian saint, Basil the Fool, whose grave lies under one of the chapels. Like the building, a paradox indeed.
Red Square; nearest metro: Okhotny Ryad
Battered in an air raid in December 1940, a clock tower and domed cupola are all that remains of St Thomas's Church, left to loom over these simple gardens as a monument to Birmingham's losses.
During 1998's G8 summit in the city, each world leader planted a tree here to represent their country. A 'peace pole' rises from the centre bearing the inscription 'May peace prevail on earth' in four languages. Forsaking the benches and sitting cross-legged beside the pole under the shadow of the church can be a powerful experience.
Holloway Head/Granville St, central Birmingham
This ancient church is one of the few places where you can see original byzantine iconography. The Haghia Sofia notwithstanding.
It is small but perfect and well worth the treck out to see. May be best combined with seeing the Golden Gate in Yedikule Castle and then taxi up passing the Theodosian walls.
An independent city bordering Berlin with it's own unique character. It's full of wonderful churches and the old town hall is not to be missed. A must see is Parc Sansouci - allow a whole day to see it all.
Only 30-45 minutes from Mitte on Line 7 of the S-bahn. Direct line to Potsdam Hautbanhof (Potsdam city centre).
In the late 17th century, when the Portuguese Bandeirantes (literally standard bearers or pioneers) discovered gold and precious stones in Minas Gerais, a safe deep water port was required to ship these riches back to Europe. The calm, sheltered waters of the Baía da Ilha Grande, accessed by the precarious Indian trails that traversed the Serra da Bocaina, were ideally suited for this purpose. Thus, in about 1670, the settlement of Paraty was founded and within 20 years was one of the most prosperous ports in the Iberian Colonies.
Unfortunately for the good burghers of Paraty, but happily for the modern traveller, by 1720 a much shorter trail had been blazed from the prospecting towns of Minas to Rio de Janeiro. Despite a brief disturbance during the coffee and sugar booms of the 19th Century, this historical accident, and the fact that Paraty only became accessible by motor vehicle in the 1950s, left the region in its own development-free time bubble.
Today Paraty is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its former wealth is reflected in some of the most beautiful and assiduously preserved colonial architecture in the whole of Brazil. The Centro Histórico is a masterpiece, with its baroque churches, roughly cobbled streets that flood with the rising tide and graceful merchants’ mansions. Set all this man-made elegance in a heart-stopping setting of rainforest-clad escarpments, the dramatic Costa Verde coastline, dozens of near deserted beaches and the tropical islands of the Baía and you have a combination of sophistication and natural exuberance that is hard to beat anywhere in Brazil.
It has to be said that, as a popular weekend retreat for the well-heeled of São Paulo and Rio, Paraty is not cheap by Brazilian standards but if anywhere around Rio is worth a bit of a splurge, this is it. One lower priced accommodation option is the Cigarras Pouso Familiar near the bus station. It is a popular location for makers of period movies and novellas and has en suite rooms including breakfast at R$100 and small self catering apartments for around R$150. My personal favourite, however, is the gorgeous Mercado de Pouso, Paraty’s former coffee market, on the old quayside beside the Santa Rita church, where a double room with air conditioning, ceiling fan and bathroom with breakfast included will set you back around R$250. The hotel also has its own 80 foot schooner and organises dolphin spotting, diving and beach cruises to the islands. For the truly budget minded, camping is available at the Camping Club do Brasil a short distance out of town beside the Praia do Pontal.
One of the real pleasures of Paraty is its bewildering profusion of excellent restaurants. In a high class field there are two that really stand out. The Restaurante da Matriz is situated in a colonial house on the main square, Praça da Matriz. It is rightly famous throughout Brazil for its deliciously authentic Caiçara dishes, named after the natives of this coastal region. Try the mouthwatering sea bass and shrimp moqueca, a traditional fish stew spiced with ferociously piquant dendê oil, or the prawns fried in batter with ginger and mango sauce.
If that doesn’t take your fancy, on Rua do Comercio you will find Merlin o Mago, an award winning establishment with an idiosyncratic fusion style that incorporates the best of Europe, Asia and Brazil. The restaurant is aptly named as its chef, the German-born former restaurant critic, Hado Steinbrecher, is truly a magician. His onion ice cream (yes, that’s onion ice cream) dumplings on tomato with grilled goat’s cheese are a sensation and you’ll have to go a long way to find anything to beat the lobster in orange sauce.
A good, if expensive, time to visit Paraty is during the low season months of July and August when two events draw visitors from all over the world. Every August since 1972 the town has organised the Festival da Pinga. Time was when the town and surrounding area had over 200 distilleries, or “alambiques”, producing Brazil’s sugar cane spirit, cachaça, the principal ingredient of the ubiquitous caipirinha. Whilst the alambiques are somewhat less numerous today, Paraty is still a major producer and the festival attracts some 20,000 aficionados who take their cachaça as seriously as any single malt whisky drinker.
For those of a less bacchanalian disposition, for four days every July Paraty becomes a sort of tropical Hay-on-Wye as it presents the annual Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty. Run by Bloomsbury Publishing founder, Liz Calder, the festival has played host to the likes of Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie and, after only three years, is already established as one of the world’s premier literary events.
Do bear in mind that accommodation prices can double and even triple during these busy periods and hotel bookings should be made weeks, if not months, in advance.
As far as activities are concerned, clearly the sea plays a major role. A number of companies offer skippered sailing and motor yacht charters in modern, well equipped boats and Paraty is also one of Brazil’s scuba diving meccas with a host of companies to choose from. On the other hand, if just lazing on a palm-fringed beach is your thing, the boat ride to Praia do Sono is an absolute must. Quite simply, they don’t make beaches any lovelier. Praia do Sono and the larger, busier beach at Trindade can also be reached by bus.
Paraty’s other major attraction is the Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina, which straddles the border of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and is home to endangered species such as spider and howler monkeys, harpy eagles, tree porcupines and giant anteaters. Four wheel drive and horseback tours of the Park and the Trilha de Ouro (gold trail), with English speaking guides, can be arranged at the Centro de Informações Turisticas on Avenida Roberto Silveira.
Paraty is a magical, almost unreal place with a delight round every corner. From the moment you arrive your senses will be overwhelmed by a heady confection of sights, sounds, smells and tastes that few places in the world can equal. Don’t take my word for it, though. While anchored in the Baía da Ilha Grande during his second South American voyage of 1501, Amerigo Vespucci wrote in a letter home, “Oh God! If there was a paradise on earth, it would not be very far from here!” He was not wrong.
To reach Paraty from Rio, take an air conditioned coach from the Rodoviária Novo Rio bus station. The journey time is about four hours. Here are some useful websites: Paraty, www.paraty.com.br/iindex.asp. Mercado de Pouso, www.mercadodepouso.com.br/. Cigarras Pouso Familiar, www.paraty.com.br/cigarras/ICIGARRA.HTM. Merlin o Mago, www.paraty.com.br/merlin. Restaurante da Matriz, www.paraty.com.br/matriz/index.asp. For yacht charters, Coconut Yacht Adventures (www.geocities.com/bra1868/) is a reliable German run company and for diving, Mr. Big Paraty (tel. 024/3371-1327) has a good reputation.
Whatever your religious beliefs or non-beliefs may be, check out Rio's cathedral, the Nova Catedral Metropolitana. Shaped like an enormous, majestic teepee, the cathedral is a mix of gritty urban concrete with 60- metre-high coloured stained glass panels. It is almost entirely devoid of the often garish imagery and relics on display in many Baroque and Rococo churches in Brazil.
A symbol of space, colour and tranquility. Contrasting beautifully with the urban landscape, the cathedral and surrounding area are well worth a visit. Make it a day-trip and catch the bonde (tram) up to Santa Teresa afterwards.
Avenida República do Chile, 245, Centro
The best views in the city! Climb El Sagrat Cor de Jesus for the unbelievable contrast between the city in front of you and the tree-covered mountains behind you. Also fun is the tram and funicular railway you should take to get there.
FGC stop Av. Tibidabo, then take Tramvia Blau followed by the funicular railway to the top
The Santa Maria del Mar is a beautiful church in the Barri Gottic area of Barcelona. It is just gorgeous and is as all churches should be: right in the centre of the city, not hidden behind grounds or mysterious gates. Inside it is so peaceful and surprisingly dark in comparison to the bustling street and bright blue skies of outside. There is a beautiful stain glass window, which glows like jewels in the wall. Also on a summer Sunday, the streets come alive with the brightly coloured gowns of wedding guests and the streets are littered with rose petal confetti.
At the end of Carrer de L'Argenteria
Bucovina is well known throughout the world for its painted monasteries. The churches were founded, in most cases, as family burial places of princes and high nobles. Each painter, although following the canonical iconographic program, interpreted the scenes in a slightly different way. The scenes were first painted on the interior walls, and then extended to the exterior ones. The reasons for such vast scenes were both religious and didactic: to promote Orthodoxy and to educate the illiterate.
The most interesting monasteries and churches in the Bucovina area are: Probota, St. John the New, St. Demetrius and St. Elijah in Suceava, Dragomirna, Patrauti, Parhauti, Slatina, Rasca, Baia, Dolhestii Mari, Sucevita, Arbore, Putna, Balinesti, Humor, Voronet and Moldovita.
Most of these churches have frescoes covering both their facades and their interior walls, and several of them have been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
See pictures, maps and detailed information about each monastery: www.romanianmonasteries.org/allchurches.html
Centred around the chapel, every inch of the mediaeval building’s surface is clad in biblical scenes. It’s as if students of Giotto had fallen on hard times and turned to exterior decorating.
On the west wall, rows of saints stare at you from their backdrop of Voronet's very own specially-named shade of blue like a holy crowd of football supporters. Next to this, a Dantesque scene of hell leaps out at you as sinners tread the path to iniquity borne on the tongue of the devil himself.
Inside, the serious-but-benevolent features of Christ stare down at you from every corner, and all is quiet but for the murmurings of prayer. Nothing is left bare, with every surface decorated in gold leaf. Even the monks are covered, dressed from head to toe in deep black robes topped with a black pillbox cap and with just the pink of their cheeks and foreheads peeping out from above shaggy beards.
Not the easiest place to get to, your best bet may be to check with the Romanian tourist board: see www.turism.ro/english/addresses.php
There is a lot to be said for seeing the major works of art in the churches for which they were created, especially as the queues for the major museums are horrendous. In 15th-century Florence no one covered more walls than Ghirlandaio, and his fresco cycles are well worth seeking out in Santa Maria Novella, Santa Trinita and the refectory of Ognissanti. But the most dramatic painting in a Florentine church is Pontormo's Deposition in Santa Felicita. Pontormo was stylistically in the thrall of Michelangelo but has a more agitated artistic personatlity, which reveals itself in the sheer strangeness of the colours and the forms on the canvas (this is an oil painting, although there is also a fresco of the Visitation on the adjoining wall). It's a mannerist masterpiece. Don't miss it.
The church of Santa Felicita is just south of the Ponte Vecchio. If you're walking towards the Pitta Palace, it's in a small piazza on your left. Take coins for the light meter.
Turn up early (7.30, 8, 8.30 services) and listen to mass or Lauds in the cathedral. The early light makes the stained glass glow, and when the bells start ringing the whole building seems to vibrate with thunder. A little time out before a day of busy tourism.
Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza del Duomo;
Storefront church in the Filmore district that believes that the word of the Lord is communicated through the music of John Coltrane. The service (Sundays, 12pm-3pm) consists of roughly 2 hours of exceptional jazz and 30 minutes of the Archbishop Franzo King's messages of local grassroots activism to make the earth a more loving, peaceful and just place. Musicians are welcome to bring their instruments and sit-in from their seats. The bass player's smile will make a believer out of all doubters.
1286 Fillmore Street
Tel: 415 673-7144
A church which resembles a boat from the outside with a mast forming the shape of an exquisite and eccentric cross. This two-level church features a number of chapels and sculptures and was the first new church to be built in Nowa Huta, Krakow's soviet suburb.
This really is a hidden gem in an area which is often overlooked by most visitors to Krakow.
Krakow's easternmost district can be reached by bus, taxi or take the tram to Plac Centralny station.
The island of Torcello, about 10km across the lagoon from Venice, is dominated by the stunning Romanesque cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. The sombre beauty of its exterior contrasts sharply with the startling blaze of colour that hits you as you enter. Its walls and floor are covered with a riot of breathtaking mosaic work: the elegantly curved apse at the eastern end depicts a serene Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus whilst the 12 apostles mooch around, a tad self-consciously, beneath. Things are a lot less tranquil at the opposite, western end which portrays a disconcertingly vivid last judgement scene. Contemplating this you can at least console yourself that, even if you do not deserve to sit with the righteous, your sufferings are as nothing compared to the torments of the damned. With glum resignation these unfortunates endure their kebabing in the inferno: sitting rueful amidst the flames while an avenging angel pokes them with a stick.
Although, of course, it could have been a whole lot worse: at least it’s not Jamie Oliver.
This is a real wedding cake of a building – it looks like someone’s taken to it with a giant icing bag. It was built in 1902 by Alexander III in memory of his father and the interior includes some original mosaics.
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