Wonders of the World

Wonders of the World: the podcast that visits the great places on Earth to tell the story of our people, our civilization, and our planet.
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Apr 25, 2024

One of the world's great museums of Renaissance art: the Uffizi.  Meaning "the offices," the Uffizi were quite literally built as an office buidling for the growing administration of Cosimo I de' Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, the leader who brought authoritarian rule, if also stablity, to Florence.

Bry Rayburn from the Pontifacts podcast, joins me once again to talk about Cosimo, her historic bae, the great museum, and the rest of his legacy. We also talk about our old friend Giorgio Vasari, author, artist and architect, a true Renaissance man.

And of course, ribollita, that classic Tuscan white bean stew! 

Apr 8, 2024

A quick bonus episode about how eclipses connect with human history

Mar 21, 2024

Towering above the city of Madurai, the gopurams or gateways of the Meenakshi Amman Temple are medieval skyscrapers, awash in color, writhing in movement, beautiful and otherworldly at the same time.

In this episode we'll discuss the rise of the Mughal Empire, the fall of Vijayanagara, and of course, masala dosa, that most incredible of South Indian streetfoods.

Sep 7, 2023

In the late 1500s Poland and Lithuania joined to create the Commonwealth, a remarkable, if flawed, experiment in constitutional monarchy that would last more than 200 years. Its legacy of religious tolerance and representative republicanism is strangely overlooked in American history books - and I would guess in other histories as well.

One of the chief economic engines of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was the Wielizcka Salt Mine, an amazing wonder delved over 700 years. To visit Wieliczka is to be amazed at the artistry of salt sculptures and impressed by the sheer cheesiness of all the salty dwarves. So many salty dwarves. Or maybe they're gnomes...

Finally, let's grab some friends and make pierogis! 

Aug 15, 2023

Suleiman the Magnificent? Suleiman the Lawgiver? Suleiman the Bisexual Poet? No matter how you label him, Suleiman was a fascinating sultan of the Ottoman Empire who strode upon the world stage, and his private life was worthy of a scandalous Netflix show.  Among his greatest legacies was commissioning this phenomenal mosque, designed by Mimar Sinan, one of the history's most successul and significant architects.

Listener and traveler Emma Browning returns to discuss visiting the mosque and Istanbul and trying to find vegetarian food in a city known for its meat and seafood. Grab some Turkish delight and enjoy!

Feb 9, 2023

The world-famous "lost city of the Inca".  It wasn't a city, and it wasn't lost, but yes, it was made by the Inca.  The incredibly scenic former estate of kings is a true marvel, as I can personally attest, but this episode is about so much more than the ruins that people come from all over the world to see.

Joined by Nick Machinski of the History of the Inca Empire podcast, we talk about the dramatic rise and fall of the Inca Empire, their staunch resistance to Spanish conquest, and the wonders that might have been, like the gold-covered Qoriqancha.  Listener and friend of the pod Jesse Oppenheim shares his breathless experience visiting Peru as well.  And if you haven't had lomo saltado, you should fix that.

Photo by Allard Schmidt

Dec 7, 2022

It's all too much for me to take - the Beatles, 1969

Aug 18, 2022

He was from the richest city in Ming China, or one of the richest, and after his checkered political career, he came home and planted a garden.  500 years later, we can still visit his garden and marvel at the humility of Wang Xianchen, the Humble Administrator. This episode is a pleasant diversion beforewe get back to the big stories.

And we'll have Suzhou "smoked" fish while we're here!

Clunas, Craig.
Fruitful Sites: Garden Culture in Ming Dynasty China
Lonely Planet China
Photograph CC4.0 by wikicommons user Another Believer
Jul 14, 2022

Monarch butterflies are tiny, ephemeral creatures, whose audacious color patterns makes them beloved across a continent, yet few realize how remarkable their migration from Canada and the US to their winter ground west of Mexico City really is.  Listener Livia Montovani joins us to talk about visiting the mountain reserves where hundreds of millions of butterflies spend their winter.

We'll also cover the conquest of Mexico and the personalities involved, from Motecuhzoma of the Mexica to Cortés of Spain to the controversial role of la Malinche, the formerly enslaved woman who translated for the Spainiards. It's a story with no heroes, but it needs to be told.

And we'll make carnitas at home with salsa verde!


Baumle, Kylee, The monarch: Saving our Most-Loved Butterfly
Dennis, Peter. Tenochtitlan 1519-21: Clash of Civilizations
Diáz dl Castillo, Bernal. The True History of the Conquest of New Spain
Dykman, Sara. Bicycling with Butterflies: My 10,201-mile Journey Following the Monarch MMigration
Fehrenbach, T.R. Fire & Blood: a History of Mexico
Keeling, Stephen et al. The Rough Guide to Mexico 
Levy, Buddy. Conquistador: Hernán Cortés, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs
Sainsbury, Brendan et al. Lonely Planet Mexico

Photograph by pendens proditor CC 2.0

Jun 12, 2022

A brief update about the show!

Apr 28, 2022

Just a little 440-room hunting lodge built among other chateaux in France's Loire Valley, Chambord is the grand dame of them all.  Built for François Ier, it betrays the influence of the Italian Renaissance, specifically of Leonardo da Vinci, François' teacher and mentor.

Gary Girod, host of the French History Podcast, joins us to discuss François and his place in French history, while listener Sarah Demetz shares her experience visiting the chateau and the Loire.

Plus fish in a lovely white butter sauce!

Horne, Alistair. Seven Ages of Paris
Isaacson, Walter. Leonardo da Vinci
Nuland, Sherwin B. Leonardo da Vinci
Price, Roger. A Concise History of France
Rick Steves Loire Valley 
Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects
Photograph by Patrick Giraud CC 3.0

Mar 31, 2022

The largest episode on the smallest country. It's the city-state home of the Catholic Church, a neighborhood of Rome, home to some of the greatest art in the western world.

In the early 16th century, the Catholic Church began to turn Rome into a capital glorious enough to serve as the capital of Christendom, and in the process, the popes drove Christendom apart. And Michelangelo was there the whole way.

Bry Rayburn from the Pontifacts podcast joins us to talk about some of the most epic popes in history, from Alexander VI to Paul IV: the good, the bad, and the ugly. We talk about Michelangelo, the role of the papal patrons, Martin Luther, the Swiss Guard, and so much more!

Plus a mysterious pasta recipe from the Vatican cookbook!


Beck, James H. Three Worlds of Michelangelo 
Buonarroti, Michelangelo. Michelangelo's Notebooks: The Poetry, Letters, and Art of the Great Master
Cahill, Thomas. Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World
Garwood, Duncan. Lonely Planet Rome
Graham-Dixon, Andrew. Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel
Phillips, Charles. The Illustrated History of the Popes: An Authoritative Guide to the Lives and Works of the Popes of the Catholic Church, with 450 Images
Rick Steves Rome 2020
Rome, Insights Guides
Scotti, R.A. Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter's
The Pontifical Swiss Guard. The Vatican Cookbook: Presented by the Pontifical Swiss Guard: 500 Years of Classic Recipes, Papal Tributes, & Exclusive Images
Wallace, William E. Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and His Times

Mar 10, 2022
The enormous church on the banks of the Tejo, carved with ropes and knots and anchors as though it were going to sea itself, represents the vast wealth and untold adventure of Portugal's Age of Discovery.

Portuguese king Manuel I commissioned the monastery upon learning of the success of Vasco da Gama's first expedition to India, the longest sea voyage undertaken to that time, a voyage that would seal the fate of three continents. For good and ill.

Listener Maria Fernandes joins to talk about her home country, and we wax nostalgic on the pleasures of Portugal, a country I very much like, including my favorite dessert of all time: pastéis de Belém.  

Clark, Gregor. Lonely Planet: Portugal
Cliff, Nigel. The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama
Payne, Stanley G. A History of Spain and Portugal
Taborda, Joana. Lisbon

Photograph by Concierge.2C (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Jan 20, 2022

The best example of Sahelian mud-brick architecture, the great mosque seems like a sandcastle rising from the Niger Inland Delta in Mali.

Originally built in the early days of the Mali Empire, the mosque also connects with the Songhai, Africa's largest and strongest empire, whose collapse came at key moment in world history.

We'll follow the fates of two great kings and see how choices made in the early 1500s echo today. And we'll eat tiguedegana, a peanut tomato stew that is just so freaking delicious.


Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sa’di. Tarikh al-sudan

Davidson, Basil, et al. A History of West Africa to the Nineteenth Century

Dorsey, James Michael. “Mud and infidels: Djenné, Mali” in the San Diego Reader

Dubois, Félix. Notre beau Niger…

French, Howard W. Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War.

Ibn Mukhtar.  Tarikh al-fattash

Lonely Planet West Africa

Meredith, Martin. The Fortunes of Africa: A 5000-year History of Wealth, Greed, and Endeavour

Reader, John. Africa: A Biography of the Continent

Wilson, Joe. “In search of Askia Mohammed: The epic of Askia Mohammed as cultural history and Songhay foundational myth”


Photograph by Francesco Bandarin CC 3.0

Jan 6, 2022

Officially, this episode is on the amazing glowing algae living in the waters of three of Puerto Rico's bays, most notably Puerto Mosquito on Vieques, one of Puerto Rico's smaller islands. Listener and boriqueño native Roberto Cancel describes swimming in the bay on a dark night, surrounded by glowing blue waters.

But most of the episode is devoted to perhaps the most important event in world history: 1493. Not 1492, but 1493. That's the year when Christopher Columbus returned to the Americas, not as an explorer, but as a conqueror.

We discuss (and really only scratch the surface of) the impact of this second voyage. It's only the beginning, because every episode to come will exist in the new world (pun intended) created by this event.

And we have shrimp mofongo, a boriqueño specialty that blends European, African, and American in a way that exemplifies the new global world.

Bergreen, Laurence. Columbus: the Four Voyages
Diamond, Jared. Germs, Guns, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Fodor’s Puerto Rico
Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything your American History Textbook Got Wrong
Mann, Charles C. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus 
Mann, Charles C. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

Photograph by Edgar Torres CC 3.0

Dec 23, 2021

The once and future political center of Russia, the brick-walled Kremlin dates from the Middle Ages, but received its boost when a Byzantine refugee princess married an ambitious Muscovite prince, and together they created a fortress that would one day serve a superpower.

Dr Charles Ward, professor emeritus of Foreign Languages and Literatue at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee shares his thoughts of the rise of Moscow under Ivan III and Sofiya Palaeologina and the construction of the Kremlin we see today, while listener Geoff Kozen discusses visiting Moscow, from the Kremlin to the subway stations.

Plus borscht! Perfect for a cold winter night when you're craving beets.


Merridale, Catherine. Red Fortress: History and Illusion in the Kremlin
Plokhy, Serhii . Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation, from 1470 to the Present
Sixsmith, Martin. Russia: A 1,000-year Chronicle of the Wild East
Voorhees, Mara. Lonely Planet Moscow

Photograph cc:4.0 by wikipedia user Ludvig14

Nov 12, 2021

Is it the world's most famous prison? Or a magnificent medieval castle steeped in history? The Tower has stood over London since the days of William the Conqueror and still amazes today.

Its most famous story is that of the princes: Edward the V and his younger brother, killed in the Tower. But by whom? And how? It's a True Crime! episode. Graham Duke and Ali Hood from the Rex Factor podcast join us to discuss the theories, while listener Kassia Bailey shares insights into visiting both the Tower and the East End.

For food, we'll of course discuss pie and mash, liquor and eels, but chances are you'll prefer our recipe for a true British classic: chicken tikka masala.

Benham, William. The Tower of London
Caird, Jo. Fodor’s London 2020
Fields, Bertram. Royal Blood: Richard III and the Mystery of the Princes
Langley, Philippa and Michale Jones. The King’s Grave: the Discovery of Richard III's Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds
Skaife, Christopher. The Ravenmaster: My Life With the Ravens at the Tower of London
Rick Steves London 2020
Weir, Alison. The Princes in the Tower
Weir, Alison. The Wars of the Roses

Photograph by Wikipedia user Teseum

Nov 4, 2021

A quick apology for the delay in the next episode

Sep 16, 2021

It stands on a promontory jutting into the Bosphorus, a pleasure palace of sultans and their harem. Its tiled walls, fountains and pools are sumptuous legacies of the Ottoman Empire.

1453 marks the final fall of the Roman Empire and the ascendency of the Ottomans, led by Mehmet the Conqueror, the 21 year old who took the city with an audacious military strategy.

Rosa Hayes of the History of the Ottoman Empire joins us to talk about Mehmet and Constantine IX, the final Byzantine Emperor. And listener Roberto Cancel returns to discuss visiting the palace and Mehmet's Grand Bazaar. Plus baklava!


Duducu, Jem. The Sultans: the Rise and Fall of the Ottoman Rulers and Their World
Herrin, Judith. Byzantium: the Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire 
Hughes, Bettany. Istanbul: a Tale of Three Cities
Maxwell, Virginia. Lonely Planet Istanbul
Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: the Decline and Fall 
Wheatcroft, Andrew. The Ottomans

Photograph © A.Savin, WikiCommons

Aug 26, 2021

Welcome to the Wonders of the World!  In this podcast, we'll visit the Earth's great places to tell the story of our people, our civilization, and our planet.  From history to travel and even to food, we'll examine what makes us great and what makes us human.  This NEWLY REVISED (as of August 2021) introductory episode covers where we'll go, why we'll go there, and what our plan will be.

Aug 19, 2021

Like a giant bell covered in gold, Shwedagon Pagoda lords over Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)'s skyline.  Its story is much like Burma's: elusive, mysterious. Shin Sawbu was a princess of the southern kingdom of Hanthawaddy Pegu. Through an exciting life documented by practically nobody, she rose to become queen and then in retirement to bring the gold to the great pagoda.

In this episode, we attempt as best we can to piece together her story and we make a Burmese curry while we're at it.

Victoria and Albert Museum website
Duguid, Naomi. Burma: Rivers of Flavor
Lonely Planet Myanmar
Insights Guide Myanmar

Photograph by Marcin Konsek / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Jul 22, 2021

Ulugh Beg was the Astronomer King of Samarkand, who in one of the richest cities of the Silk Road, built a madrassa and observatory to chart the stars. Wonderful astronomer. Not much of a king. His madrassa though stands on, one of the three grand buildings of the Registan square.

Scott Chesworth of the Ancient World and Nadeem Ahmad of Eran ud Turan both visited Uzbekistan just before the pandemic, and they join us with tales of gorgeous tilework, empty museums, and more plov (Uzbek rice pilaf) than you can imagine.

Bradley, Chris. The Silk Road
Carter, Jamie. “The Tragic Story Of The Man Who Unlocked The Universe” in Forbes
Ibbotson, Sophie. Uzbekistan : the Bradt travel guide
Krisciunas, Kevin. "Ulugh Beg's Zij," in H. B. Paksoy, ed., Central Asian Monuments.
Manz, Beatrice Forbes. Power, Politics and Religion in Timurid Iran
Waugh, Daniel C. “Ulugh Beg and His Observatory” in Silk Road Seattle

Photograph by Euyasik, @Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Jul 1, 2021

It's the largest masonry dome ever built, its terracotta curves dominating the Florence skyline. The story of how that dome was built is the story of the birth of the Renaissance.

But the real story is that of the artists, the petty, bickering, intensely human geniuses: the secretive, bitter Filippo Brunelleschi and the social climbing, self-promoting Lorenzo Ghiberti, not to mention their friends like Donatello. Yes. That Donatello. They bicker and feud and bring Florence new perspectives.

Bry Rayburn of the Pontifacts Podcast comes by to talk about her favorite city in the whole world. We share our experiences and love of stracciatella gelato. Plus bistecca alla fiorentina.

PS - Despite this being my longest episode, I still completely failed to mention that the name of the cathedral is Santa Maria del Fiore: Saint Mary of the Flower, which sounds so nice. So there you go.

Hollingsworth, Mary. The Family Medici: The Hidden History of the Medici Dynasty
King, Ross. Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture
Perry, Susannah. Fodor's 25 Best: Florence
Rick Steves Italy 2020
Walker, Paul Robert. The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World

Photograph by Grueslayer @Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

May 28, 2021

It's one of the most glorious seascapes on earth: thousands of limestone pillars rising from the bay, clothed in jungle green. Listener Emma Browning, who was literally just there, shares her experiences cruising among the islands and even shares the real-life sounds of the bay.

When I say Vietnam, most Americans expect an episode on the US-Vietnam War of the 1960s, but no, I'm going to discuss another superpower's invasion of the land of the Viet and their subsequent failure against Vietnamese resistance and guerilla warfare.

Yes, the Yongle Emperor is getting Robert McNamara'd into submission, this time by Vietnamese nobleman turned freedom fighter Lê Lợi  There are magic swords, marketing guys with water metaphors, and so much more.

Finally, we get my personal story of Vietnamese catfish. And in honor of that, I give you cá kho tộ, catfish caramelized in a clay pot. It is maybe my favorite thing to eat ever.

Filek-Gibson, Dana. Vietnam (Moon Guide)
Goscha, Christopher E. Vietnam: A New History
Kiernan, Ben. Viet Nam
Stewart, Iain. Lonely Planet Vietnam
Viet Vision Travel “Vietnamese Legend: The Lake of the Restored Sword”

Photograph and audio samples courtesy of Emma Browning

May 13, 2021

It's unfathomably huge.  The Forbidden City, a city within the city, and the Yongle emperor's crowning achievement, is almost too big to comprehend.  8,886 rooms, nearly 135 football fields in area, it's huge.

The Yongle Emperor also sent out Zheng He and the Ming Treasure Fleet to exert China's superpower influence across Asia and even to Africa. 

Chris Stewart from the History of China podcast returns to talk about the Forbidden City and the great naval voyages, while listener Jesse Oppenheim returns to discuss visiting the palace as well as sharing some Beijing taste treats, like Mao's favorite braised pork belly.


Bedford, Donald. China (DK Eyewitness)
Fodor's Essential China
Haw, Stephen G. A Traveller's History of China
Humphreys, Andrew. Top 10 Beijing
Keay, John. China: a History
Wood, Michael. The Story of China: The Epic History of A World Power From the Middle Kingdom to Mao and the China Dream

Photograph by Asadal

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