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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Sep 24, 2020

Chartres Cathedral and its magnificent stained glass represent perhaps the greatest achievement of the High Gothic. Its story is linked to that of Blanche of Castile, one of France's most powerful queens, and her son Louis IX, later Saint Louis.

In this episode, we talk architecture, stained glass, and the use of color with listener and medieval studies scholar Chris Shanley. You'll also hear about how Blanche set Louis up for success, which he kinda sorta achieved.

And because we all need some comfort food, let's cook up a croque madame.


Ball, Philip. Universe of Stone: Chartres Cathedral and the Invention of the Gothic
Branner, Robert ed. Chartres Cathedral
Horne, Alistair. Seven Ages of Paris
Scott, Robert A. The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral
Rick Steves France
Williams, Nicola. Lonely Planet France
Wilson, Christopher. The Gothic Cathedral: The Architecture of the Great Church, 1130-1530

Photograph by Wikipedia user PtrQs

Aug 27, 2020

When you think of Ethiopia, you might think of famine in the 1980s. You might not think of a millenia-old culture, one of the powers of the ancient world. The ancient capital of Aksum, possible home of the Lost Ark, sits below mighty obelisks, testaments to the wealth still hidden below the city.

In the middle ages, under the auspices of king Lalibela and with the alleged help of angels, workers carved remarkable churches by digging down directly into the rock. These rock-hewn churches still host Orthodox services, providing a powerful sense of faith.

Listener Callum Barnes appears to discuss his travels in Ethiopia, from trying to see the Ark to being offered raw beef at a wedding in Addis Ababa. Plus making injera, the famous spongy bread that centers Ethiopia's wonderful cuisine.

Carillet, Jean-Bernard and Anthony Ham. Lonely Planet Ethiopia & Djibouti
Henze, Paul B. Layers of Time: a History of Ethiopia
The Kebra Negast

Photograph by Chuck Moravec

Aug 6, 2020

In 1204, Christian crusaders sacked the world's largest Christian city, destroying or pillaging countless artifacts, books, and works of art. Some of those works of art ended up in the Most Serene Republic of Venice, for which 1204 represents the beginning of her dominance of the Mediterranean world.

The story of how a canal-lined city in a marshy lagoon became a superpower and how cross-wearing soldiers wrecked Constantinople is a sometimes shocking tale, one that only makes sense when you consider the Sunk Cost Fallacy. We've already spent time, money or energy; we should just keep going.

Vlad Zamfira from Wonderer's History Podcast joins us to discuss Venetian history and their role in the calamitous Fourth Crusade, while Kate Storm from talks about her favorite city and how to escape the crowds.

And of course, we'll talk about tiramisu. I think we can all agree we need some of that right about now.


Hardy, Paula. Lonely Planet Venice & the Veneto
Herrin, Judith. Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire
Madden, Thomas F. Venice: a New History
McCart, Melissa. “The Mysterious Origins of Tiramisu, the Dessert That Took the ‘80s by Storm” in Eater
Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: the Decline and Fall
Phillips, Jonathan. The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople
Rick Steves Venice

Photograph by Bjoern Eisbaer
Music by Antonio Vivaldi, performed by the Wichita State University Chamber Players, John Harrison, soloist.

Jul 23, 2020

The abbey on the lonely island rises from the tidal bay like a castle out of a Disney movie. Mont-Saint-Michel is one of France's best known sites, with a history to match.

Some of that history connects with the story of one of medieval Europe's most renowned women: Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Married first to King Louis of France and then King Henry of England, she and her family would both reach incredible heights and fail spectacularly, all while leaving stories that would echo throughout time.

Maura Kanter from Historically Badass Broads talks about Eleanor and Louis, while Christine Caccipuoti from Footnoting History discusses her life with Henry and their sons.  Listeners Emma and Laura reminisce on their visits to the Abbey.

There's love, lust, disappointment, war, peace, murder, plausible deniability, and some truly horrible, horrible people. And crepes!

It's the longest episode yet, but hopefully you'll find it worthwhile!

Barber, Richard W. The Devil's Crown: A History of Henry II and His Sons
de Torigny, Robert. The Chronicles of Robert de Monte 
Owen, D.D.R. Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen and Legend
Steves, Rick. Rick Steves France
Weir, Alison. Eleanor of Aquitaine: a Life
Williams, Nicola. Lonely Planet France

Photograph by Amaustan

Jun 25, 2020

A quick break from the wonders narratives to answer many questions about Drew, the show, the wonders, food, travel and more!  Find out which wonders missed the list, why there won't be a WotW cookbook, and why Drew has issues with "synergy" and "win-win" scenarios. Plus a new Demetrios Poliorcetes!

Jun 11, 2020

The greatest of squares throbs with life: the scent of spiced, roasted meat, the cacophony of voices and drums, the visual rainbow of color. The Djemaa el-Fna is everything and more. Its history reflects the great medieval golden age of Morocco under the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties, a golden age for prosperity but not necessarily for culture.

Both dynasties began as fundamentalists determined to bring back religion to the libertine cities, and both eventually fell victim to cosmopolitan delights. But the story of Ibn Tumart and the Almohads has much to teach us about the intensity of extremism.

The always brilliant Nitin Sil from Flashpoint History returns to discuss the rise and fall of the Almohads and their legacy in Spain, Morocco and beyond. And listener Jesse Oppenheim also comes back to discuss visiting the square. Plus there will be tagines!

Photograph by Michal Osmenda

Apr 23, 2020

The Cambodian jungle hides one of the world's largest pre-industrial cities: Angkor. Highlighted by its magnificent main temple, Angkor Wat, the city's other monuments testify to the prosperity of the Khmer empire. Those other monuments, many still semi-ruined by the jungle, make for even more compelling travel than Angkor Wat itself.

From Suryavarman's exploits in battle to Jayavarman VII's countless Buddha-like faces, Angkor's kings led a society built on pushing back the jungle, until the jungle finally won. 

Listener Jesse Oppenheim joins us to discuss visiting Angkor, learning from guides who survived the Khmer Rouge, and fighting through instagramming yogis.  Plus, of course, food.

Photograph by Gisling

Apr 2, 2020

Perhaps America's most famous landscape, Monument Valley and its fantastically shaped red-streaked buttes have starred in countless films and television shows. But its story truly hearkens to the people who have lived here for centuries: the Navajo, and before them, the Ancestral Puebloans.

In this episode, we'll discuss how the Ancestral Puebloans rose and then collapsed, victims of social breakdown in the face of climate change, and how the legacy of colonial oppression lives on in the dish most commonly associated with the Navajo: fry bread and the Navajo taco. But despite those setbacks, the culture of the indigenous southwest lives on strong to this day.


DuVal, Linda. “THE WRITING ON THE WALL; The Southwest: Mysterious and beautiful, the ancient petroglyphs and pictographs etched on canyons throughout Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Nevada speak to the eye and the soul.” in the Baltimore Sun (Arizona and New Mexico)

Kohler, Timothy A., Mark D. Varien, Aaron M. Wright and Kristin A. Kuckelman. “Mesa Verde Migrations: New archaeological research and computer simulation suggest why Ancestral Puebloans deserted the northern Southwest United States” in American Scientist

Newitz, Annalee. “Conservatism took hold here 1,000 years ago. Until the people fled.” in the Washington Post.

Schwindt, Dylan M., R. Kyle Bocinsky, Scott G. Ortman, Donna M. Glowacki, Mark D. Varien and Timothy A. Kohler. “The Social Consequences of Climate Change in the Central Mesa Verde Region.” in American Antiquity

Woodhouse, Connie A., David M. Meko, Glen M. MacDonald, Dave W. Stahle, and Edward R. Cook. “A 1,200-year perspective of 21st century drought in southwestern North America” in PNAS

Photograph by wikipedia user Supercarwaar

Mar 19, 2020

At the southern end of Arabia, Yemen was once rich from trade and frankincense.  By the 11th century, it had fallen off the map, but two strong queens led it back to prosperity, particularly Arwa Al-Sulayhi, whose reign did more for Yemen than 350 years of men who followed. There's assassins, executions, heads on pikes.

Among Arwa's accomplishments was refurbishing the Great Mosque of Sana'a, Yemen's  capital, whose medieval old city features gingerbread-like skyscrapers. Despite the horrors of war, Yemen perseveres.

Charlie from the Almost Forgotten podcast joins us to discuss Arwa and other historical figures that we've forgotten. Plus saltah!


Daftary, Dr. Farhad. Sayyida Hurra: The Isma‘ili Sulayhid Queen of Yemen
Mackintosh-Smith, Tim. Yemen: the Unknown Arabia
Mernissi, Fatima. The Forgotten Queens of Islam
Walker, Jenny. Lonely Planet Oman, UAE and the Arabian Peninsula
Wintour, Patrick. “Yemen civil war: the conflict explained” in the Guardian

Music by Mohamed al-Kouek, Kamilia Anbar Yakout, and Mohamed Hmoud al-Harithy

Photograph by Maria Gropa

Feb 13, 2020


A group of temples sits in the hills of central India, stunningly studded with sculptures. Built by the Chandela dynasty, they are remarkably well preserved testaments to medieval power, but they are best known for their many erotic images.

Anirudh Kanisetti of the Echoes of India podcast returns to discuss the Chandelas, their connection with tantra, their views of sex, their run-ins with the famed Turkic warlord Mahmud of Ghazni, and how all of that relates to India's political environment today.

Medieval India shows the panoply of human experience in all its colors and shades. Nothing is a simplistic black and white.


Bose, Nemai Sadhan. History of the Candellas of Jejakabhukti

Desai, Devangana. Khajuraho

Desai, Devangana. The Religious Imagery of Khajuraho

Dikshit, R.K. The Candellas of Jejakabhukti

Keay, John. India: a History

Lonely Planet India

Miller, Sam. Blue Guide India

Mitra, Sisir Kumar. Early Rulers of Khajuraho

Nasr, Mohamed. The Emergence of Muslim Rule in India

Ramadurai, Charukesi. “India’s Temples of Sex” BBC Travel

Tammita-Delgoda, Sinharaja. A Traveller's History of India

Jan 16, 2020

It's the world's greatest comic strip. The Bayeux Tapestry, technically an embroidery, documents the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest.

We explore this cheeky document and tell its tale: the story of 1066, that most crucial year in English history. It's the tale of Edward the Confessor, powerful earl Harold Godwinson, one-man military machine Harald Hardrada, and William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy.  There's battles, invasions, and an insane amount of luck, and the Tapestry covers it all. Or rather the parts it wants to cover.

I've wanted to tell this story since I started the podcast. I hope you enjoy it. Plus, there's an apple pie at the end you won't want to miss.


Bridgeford, Andrew. 1066 : the hidden history in the Bayeux Tapestry

Harper, Damian and Catherine Le Nevez. Lonely Planet Road Trips: Normandy & D-Day Beaches

Howarth, David. 1066: the Year of the Conquest

Marren, Peter. 1066: the Battles of York, Stamford Bridge & Hastings

Morris, Marc. The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England

Rick Steves France

Wilson, David M. The Bayeux Tapestry

Dec 25, 2019

It's our bonus holiday episode!

Nestled in the mountains along the border of North Macedonia and Albania sits Lake Ohrid, a deep, blue lake as old as time. On its shores, in the town of Ohrid, Samuel, tsar of the First Bulgarian Empire, directed his kingdom's last hurrah against the mighty Roman Empire to his east. His opponent: Basil II, known now as the "Bulgar-Slayer."  I guess you can figure out how this goes.

Eric Halsey of the Bulgarian History Podcast gives his thoughts on Samuel and his brothers and the epic confrontation with Basil, while Allison Greene from Sofia Adventures and Eternal Arrival shares her experience of visiting Ohrid, whose Byzantine-era churches charm and whose lakeside boardwalk invigorates.

And we talk about Macedonian food, including ayvar, a red pepper spread-slash-dip that pairs with everything.


Crapton, RJ. A Concise History of Bulgaria

Evans, Thammy. Macedonia: the Bradt Travel Guide

Herrin, Judith. Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

Knowlton, Mary Lee. Macedonia

Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: The Apogee

Michael Psellus. Chronographia

John Skylitzes. A Synopsis Of Byzantine History, translated by J. Wortley

Photograph by Silfiriel

Nov 11, 2019

THIRD ANNIVERSARY BONUS EPISODE! People often ask me where they should go when they visit the US. Having been to all 50 states (plus DC and Puerto Rico, which should be states), I can actually answer this. And in this not-at-all-serious episode, I try to answer that question.

Being a nerd, I created a spreadsheet and complex formula tanking each state in terms of natural scenery, historical sites, charm, cuisine, and debauchery.  I share the top ten on this episode.

For the full list, check out the website:

When you disagree, and you will, drop me a line or pick a fight on Twitter (@wonderspodcast).

Oct 10, 2019

Europe and North America are drifting apart, and where the plates diverge, an underwater volcanic mountain range has formed.  It peeps above the ocean in several spots, the largest and most magnificent of which is Iceland.  Iceland's underground magma and mountaintop glaciers have conspired to create a wonderland of fire and ice, the perfect setting for the development of a remarkable medieval culture.

In this episode, Noah Tetzner from the History of Vikings podcast joins us to discuss the settlement of Iceland, their literature (the sagas), their government, and their expansion to Greenland and North America.

There's Flóki, the raven-carrying discoverer who gave Iceland its name.  There are Ingolf and Leif, the oil-and-water brothers who first settled the island.  There's Aud the Deep-Minded, noblewoman and matriarch.  There's Þorgeir Þorkelsson, who had to make a choice that would change Iceland forever.  And there's Erik the Red and his son Leif, who set out to find new lands to the west.

In addition, listeners Brian Conn and Quinn Campagna describe their recent trips to the island and all the glorious natural wonders to see. And we'll have hot dogs (really), fermented shark meat (really), and Icelandic yogurt, or skyr, after a dip into the hot springs.



Ari Þorgilsson, The Book of the Icelanders

Averbuck, Alexis.  Lonely Planet Iceland

Barraclough, Eleanor Rosamund.  Beyond the Northlands: Viking Voyages and the Old Norse Sagas

The Book of Settlement (Landnámabók), translated by Thomas Ellwood

Ferguson, Robert. The Vikings: a History


Haywood, John. Northmen: the Viking saga, AD 793-1241

Konstam, Angus. Historical Atlas of the Viking World

Laxdæla Saga, translated by Muriel A. C. Press

Magnusson, Magnus. Vikings!

Rick Steves Iceland

Roberts, David.  Iceland: Land of the Sagas

The Saga of Erik the Red, translated by J. Sephton



Music includes “Gjallar,” “Fólkvangr,” and “The Vikings” by Alexander Nakarada
Music promoted by
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Photograph by Andreas Tille

Sep 19, 2019

Carved by glaciers during the Ice Age, Norway's more than 1100 fjords are spectacular. The sea enters narrow valleys with high cliffs laced with waterfalls. This rugged seacoast nurtured ancient Norway and its ruthless seafaring raiders: the Vikings.

The Vikings came out of the north like a thunderbolt to ravage the coastlines of Europe, but the people of medieval Scandinavia were so much more than just Vikings. 

In this episode, Lee Accomando of the Viking Age Podcast talks about Harald Fairhair, legendary first king of united Norway, and his sons Håkon the Good and the excellently named Erik Bloodaxe.  Lee has a soft spot for Erik's sorceress wife Gunnhild.

Listener and patron Kjartan Bærem talks about his homeland, and tells us which fjords are most worth visiting. We also discuss various lamb dishes before curing our own salmon: dill-scented gravlax.


Alcuin. Letter to Ethelred, King of Northumbria

Alcuin. Letter to the Bishop of Lindisfarne

Ferguson, Robert. The Vikings: a History

Greshko, Michael. “Famous Viking Warrior Was a Woman, DNA Reveals” in National Geographic.  September 12, 2017.

Ham, Anthony. Lonely Planet Norway

Haywood, John. Northmen: the Viking saga, AD 793-1241

Konstam, Angus. Historical Atlas of the Viking World

Magnusson, Magnus. Vikings!

Nozari, Elaheh.  “My Biggest Accomplishment of 2018 Was Making My Own Gravlax” in Bon Appetit. December 13, 2018

Rick Steves Scandinavia

Sturluson, Snorri. Heimskringla

Music includes “Gjallar,” “Fólkvangr,” and “The Vikings” by Alexander Nakarada
Music promoted by
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Photograph by TomasEE

Aug 29, 2019

You've seen the Pyramid on countless tourism brochures, but what do you really know about the Mayan city of Chichén Itzá and it's magnificent pyramid? Did you know it's built over a cenote, a natural water-filled sinkhole? Have you heard the legend of the Toltec king from Central Mexico who might have conquered the city in 987?

To help explore the answers, Robert Bitto from the Mexico Unexplained podcast appears with his take on the mysteries of the pyramid. We also talk about the Spanish archbishop who first described the city after having burned nearly all Mayan writings and the wild rush that was 2012, the apocalypse that didn't quite come off.

Join us for some cochinita pibil as we talk about the Yucatán!


Carlsen, William.  Jungle of Stone: the True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya

Fehrenbach, TR. Fire and Blood: a History of Mexico

Hecht, John. Lonely Planet: Cancún, Cozumel & the Yucatán

Landa, Diego de.  Yucatan Before and After the Conquest

Onstott, Jane. National Geographic Traveler: Mexico

Prado, Liza and Gary Chandler. Moon Handbook: Yucatán Peninsula

Schele, Linda. The Code of Kings: the Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs

Stephens, John L. Incidents of Travel in Yucatan

Weaver, Muriel Porter. The Aztec, Maya, and Their Predecessors: Archaeology of Mesoamerica

Webster, David L. The Fall of the Ancient Maya: Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse

Music by Los Tres Reyes, Los Montejo, Victor Manuel Aarón Sánchez, and Hidalgo Tzec Haas

Photograph by wikipedia user Cocojorgefalcon

Aug 15, 2019

Sometimes a wonder which no longer exists is worth an episode. In the 9th century, the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad created the Bayt al-Hikma, the House of Wisdom, a great library which served as the starting point for a remarkable intellectual program. There, hundreds of scribes translated as many Greek, Persian, Indian and other documents that they could, and these widespread translations fueled new advances that would make Baghdad the Silicon Valley of the 9th and 10th centuries.  Men like al-Khwarizmi, the Father of Algebra, and al-Kindi, the Philosopher of the Arabs, changed the world.

Dr. Ali A Olomi, frequent guest, friend of the show, and host of Head on History, appears to discuss the House of Wisdom, the thinkers who worked there, and the caliphs who helped make it happen, like Harun al-Rashid and al-Mamun. 

In the process, we'll cover murderous kings, "true crime" mysteries, civil wars that really were brother vs brother, medieval machines, brilliant alchemists and mathematicians, and the guy who gave us the three-course meal and toothpaste. Plus we revisit masgouf, Iraq's favorite grilled fish.


Bobrick, Benson. The Caliph's Splendor: Islam and the West in the Golden Age of Baghdad

Hann, Geoff et al. Iraq: the Ancient Sites & Iraqi Kurdistan: the Bradt Travel Guide

Kennedy, Hugh. When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: the Rise and Fall of Islam's Greatest Dynasty

Lyons, Jonathan. The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization

Morgan, Michael Hamilton. Lost History: the Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists

Thousand and One Nights

Photograph of Mustansiriya Madrassa by Taisir Mahdi

Jul 18, 2019

Nestled in the hills of north central Morocco, Fès' ancient walled medina is a labyrinth of narrow alleys, passages, lanes and souks: the world's largest car-free urban space.  Founded by Idris, an Arab refugee-turned-Moroccan king, Fès also claims the world's oldest university, built by Fatima al-Fihri, herself a refugee from Tunisia.

There's no specific wonder here other than the medina, and that's OK. Sometimes a city or neighborhood is exemplary enough to be a wonder in and of itself.

Listener Steve Fait joins us to talk about visiting Fès, navigating its maze, exploring its secrets and managing carpet salesmen.  Plus, we discuss the joys of tagine, although the recipe this week is b'stilla, a savory/sweet Moroccan pot pie that is one of my all-time favorite foods.


Abun-Nasr, Jamil Mirʻi.  A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period

Carrington, Daisy. "This 1,157-year-old library gets a facelift". CNN. 

DK Eyewitness Morocco

Hourani, Albert.  A History of the Arab Peoples

Lonely Planet Morocco

Nader, Emir.  “The World's Oldest University Was Founded by a Woman of Color” in Vice

Othman, Najwa. “Kairouan: Capital of Political Power and Learning in the Ifriqiya”

Sarkeesian, Anita and Ebony Adams.  History vs Women: The Defiant Lives that They Don't Want You to Know

Wolfert, Paula.  The Food of Morocco

Photo by Alina Chan

Jul 4, 2019

On the western fringe of Germany, near the Dutch and Belgian borders, sits Aachen, favored city of Charles the Great, or Charlemagne. He was King of the Franks in the late 8th and early 9th centuries, and through conquest and economic success, he unified much of Western Europe. Crowned Emperor of the Romans on Christmas Day, 800, he could be considered the father of Europe.

Or he might just have been incredibly lucky.

Travis Dow from the History of Germany Podcast joins us to discuss Charlemagne, his conquests, reforms, and buildings, including his great chapel in Aachen, one of the best examples of early medieval architecture.  In its central octagonal chapel, you can still see Charlemagne's simple marble throne, where many future German kings would be crowned.

Of course, there's lots of talk of food, from currywurst to döner kebabs, but Aachen is famous for its own special spicy cookies, Aachener printen, as well.  And there's the story of Pippin, which is not at all as the musical described it.


Barbero, Alessandro. Charlemagne: Father of a Continent

Lonely Planet Germany

Schillig, Christiane. "Wider den Zahn der Zeit: Der Dom zu Aachen" Monumente Online: Magazine of the Deutsche Stiftung Denkmalschutz 

Schneider-Ferber, Karin. Karl der Große. Der mächtigste Herrscher des Mittelalters

Wilson, Derek. Charlemagne

Photograph by Jim Linwood

Jun 6, 2019

In the soft volcanic rock of Cappadocia, eroded by wind and water into fantastic shapes, ancient peoples carved dwelling places.  By the Byzantine era, locals created vast underground refuges: places to hide from raiders and foreign armies.  They painted murals on rock-cut churches, exemplars of medieval Roman religious art.

In the 8th century, this art, both here and around the empire, became the centerpiece of a spirited controversy: iconoclasm.  Some, particularly the emperors Leo III and Constantine V, believed that people's venerating religious art was causing God to forsake the empire. Others disagreed.  The argument would have far-reaching consequences for the empire and for history.

Iconoclasm initially ended under the guidance of Irene, the first ruling Empress in Roman history. She was ruthlessly efficient, as seen by her treatment of her son. She's one bad mother....

Listeners Krister and Jacob Törneke come by to discuss visiting Cappadocia, where cave churches and underground cities should the mark of the medieval Byzantines and where the natural landscape inspires jaw-dropping amazement.

Plus, they talk about the Cappadocian Turkish food, including ayran, a salty yogurt drink that goes perfectly with meat kebabs, even if it sounds repulsive.


Brownworth, Lars.  Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization

Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner

Herrin, Judith.  Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

Lonely Planet Turkey

Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: the Early Centuries

Theophanes. Chronographia

Treadgold, Warren.  A Concise History of Byzantium

Photograph by Gerardo Lazzari

May 16, 2019

The eighth century's greatest adventure story.  Abd al-Rahman, low-ranking Umayyad prince, finds himself the only male member of his family to survive a massacre at the hands of the Abbasid rebels.  He escapes through many adventures to the Maghreb (present-day Morocco) where he decides to try his luck in Spain, or as it was called then: Al-Andalus.  More adventures await him there before he eventually becomes the Emir of Córdoba, establishing what would become Medieval Europe's richest and most prosperous country.

His greatest achievement is the mosque that still stands in Córdoba today: the Mezquita. Row upon row of red and white double arches fill the immense, contemplative space, except for a giant Renaissance cathedral dropped in the middle of it.

Sarah Kildow, listener and Assistant Professor of Spanish at the University of Akron, stops by to discuss visiting Córdoba, seeing the Mezquita, eating tapas and enjoying Féria, the great Spring fair.  Plus salmorejo, a chilled tomato soup that's perfect for hot summer days.

Andalucía is one of my favorite places, and I'm excited to bring this story to you.


Ahmed ibn Mohammed Al-Makkari. The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain

Gerber, Jane S. The Jews of Spain: a History of the Sephardic Experience

Jayyusi, Salma Khadra and Manuela Marín. The Legacy of Muslim Spain

Kennedy, Hugh. Caliphate: the History of an Idea

Kennedy, Hugh. Muslim Spain and Portugal: a Political History of al-Andalus

Lewis, David Levering.  God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215

Lonely Planet Guide to Andalucía

Lowney, Chris. A Vanished World: Medieval Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment

Masood, Ehsan.  Science & Islam: A History

Menocal, María Rosa.  The Ornament of the World

Rick Steves Spain

Photograph by Fabio Alessandro Locati


May 2, 2019

On April 15, 2019, a fire started in Notre-Dame de Paris and caused significant damage.  In its honor, here is a bonus episode on the great cathedral.

We know that Notre Dame will survive this calamity, because it has survived other calamities before.  From Baroque refacing to revolutionary desecrations, Notre Dame had become an absolute wreck. Then Victor Hugo's novel started a restoration movement which led to the appointment of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, whose detailed work created the church we've grown to love.

Beyond talking about the cathedral, we have sidebars about post-war Poland (it makes sense; trust me) and the Montparnasse neighborhood.

Finally, we link to the narrative by discussing the Muslim conquest of Spain and the Battle of Tours (or Poitiers) in 732, setting the stage for the next three episodes.


Eyewitness Travel Paris

Hollis, Edward. The Secret Lives of Buildings

Horne, Alistair. Seven Lives of Paris

Rick Steves Paris

Robb, Graham. Parisians: an Adventure History of Paris

Winston, Richard and Clara. Notre-Dame de Paris

Apr 25, 2019

On the coast of Northern Ireland lies a remarkable feature: a field of more than 40,000 interlocking hexagonal columns, leading down into the sea. To the ancient Irish, the basalt columns -- the result of a long ago volcanic eruption -- seemed like the foundations of a bridge made for giants. And so they are still called the Giant's Causeway to this day.

On this abnormally long episode, we discuss the mythological origins of the causeway and the legendary Irish hero, Fionn Mac Cumhaill, a.k.a. Finn McCool. While the physical bridge to Scotland might be a myth, other connections in the early medieval period were very much evident.

Dr. Lucy Barnhouse (@singingscholar),  medieval historian and contributor to @historyfootnote, drops wisdom about Irish monasticism and its impact in Ireland and abroad. We discuss the beer-multiplying, chariot-riding St. Brigid, the hot-tempered St Columba, and the wandering St. Columbanus.

In addition, listeners Jenn and Diarmuid talk about their experiences visiting the causeway and reflections on the North. We also discuss Game of Thrones locations, surfing off the Antrim Coast, and the joy of grabbing a pint in an Irish pub.

There's Irish butter and soda bread and more Houses of the Holy references than are necessary. (That 1973 Led Zeppelin album features the Giant's Causeway on the cover).


Bitel, Lisa M. “St. Brigit of Ireland: From Virgin Saint to Fertility Goddess”

The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn mac Cumhaill

Bunting, Eve. Finn McCool and the Great Fish

Byrd, Robert. Finn MacCoul and His Fearless Wife: a Giant of a Tale from Ireland

Byrne, Francis. Irish Kings and High-Kings

Catholic Encyclopedia. “St. Columba”

Cogitosus. The Life of St. Brigid

The Colloquy of the Ancients

De Hamel, Christopher. Scribes and Illuminators

De Hamel, Christopher. A History of Illuminated Manuscripts

Lord, Victoria. The Other Irish Saint: Brigid of Kildare

Lonely Planet Guide to Ireland

MacNab, P.A. Mull & Iona

Marron, Emmet. “The Communities of St Columbanus: Irish Monasteries on the Continent?”

McCaffrey, Carmel and Leo Eaton. In Search of Ancient Ireland: the Origins of the Irish from Neolithic Times to the Coming of the English

McCullough, David Willis. Wars of the Irish Kings: a Thousand Years of Struggle from the Age of Myth Through the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I

Meehan, Bernard.  The Book of Kells

O’Hanlon, John. Life of St. Brigid, Virgin: First Abbess of Kildare, Special Patroness of Kildare Diocese, and General Patroness of Ireland

Ollivier, John J. Fun with Irish Myths: a Must for Every Irishman or Those Who Have to Live with One

Rick Steves Guide to Ireland

Suehle, Ruth. “The story of St. Columba: A modern copyright battle in sixth century Ireland”

Photograph by wikipedia user Jal74

Music by Aislinn

Mar 28, 2019

While the Silk Road gets the fame, and the catchy nickname, the Indian Ocean maritime trade moved far more goods over a longer period of time.  That trade, combined with its own unique products, made Indonesia and its first great kingdoms possible.  The result were Indian-influenced trading empires and regional behemoths capable of creating the world's largest Buddhist monument on the island of Java.

Anthony Frisina of the History of Indonesia podcast joins the show to discuss how these empires, the Srivijaya and Sailendra, came to be, how they built the great Borobudur, and why we don't know nearly as much about them as we'd like. We'll also discuss the interplay between Hinduism and Buddhism, which led to the creation of Prambanan, a massive Hindu temple just 44 km from Borobudur, that is a wonder in its own right.

There's Chinese monks on pilgrimage, cloves a-plenty, and nasi goreng, a Javanese fried rice that hits all the right flavor notes.


Cœdès, George. The Indianized States of South-East Asia

Forman, Bedrich. Borobudur: the Buddhist Legend in Stone

Guy, John. Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia

Insight Guide to Indonesia

Lonely Planet Guide to Indonesia

Marks, Copeland. The Exotic Kitchens of Indonesia: Recipes from the Outer Islands

Viegas, Jennifer. “Madagascar Founded By Women” on NBC News

Mar 14, 2019

Early medieval India saw the rise of an empire based in the Deccan plateau: the Rashtrakutas.  Despite their significant power and influence, their story is little-known and under-appreciated.  From their most remarkable king, Amoghavarsha the author, to their architectural masterpiece at the caves of Ellora, we will remedy this shocking omission.

The Kailashanatha Temple, carved from the Deccan rock, is a true wonder, and Anirudh Kanisetti, historian and host of the Echoes of India, brings its magic to life. We also talk about Indian math, Sanskrit poetry, and chicken kolhapuri, a spicy Deccan specialty.


Keay, John. India: a History

Lonely Planet Guide to India

Mani, Chandra Mauli. A Journey through India's Past (Great Hindu Kings after Harshavardhana)

Reu,Pandit Bisheshwar Nath.  History Of The Rashtrakutas

Rice, Edward P.  A History of Kannada Literature

Sample, Ian. "Asteroid that killed dinosaurs also intensified volcanic eruptions - study" in the Guardian

Photo by Ms Sarah Welch in wikicommons

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