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 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

May 10, 2021

A Star Wars special!

For May 4, 2021, I contributed a mini-episode for the No Redeeming Qualities podcast's annual Star Wars Day special.  To spare you having to listen to 30 minutes of grown men complaining about the sequel trilogy, I'm offering this to you.

In the early days of the Clone Wars, separatist forces were on their way to conquer Ryloth, an important trading point in the outer rim. One man would lead the Republic garrison: Jedi Master Ima-Gun Di.

While on Ryloth, Master Di would visit the remarkable Floating Rock Garden, a uniquely powerful place, where the force of the wind makes the impossible real. And if you're on Ryloth, only the best Gruuvan Shaal Kebabs will do.

Star Wars: Clone Wars, episode 3.3 - "Supply Lines"
Monroe-Cassel, Chelsea and Marc Sumerak. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge: The Official Black Spire Outpost Cookbook
The Holocron wiki for Star Wars Combine online simulation

Apr 22, 2021

A majestic pavilion crowned in blue, the Temple of Heaven stands as one of the crowning architectural triumphs of the Yongle Emperor, a man responsible for three wonders.

In this episode, we trace the origins of the Yongle Emperor.  Chris Stewart from the History of China podcast appears to take us on a whirlwind adventure that took his father from being an orphaned beggar in Anhui to emperor of all China. In the process, we discuss his rather unique brand of paranoia, and the path by which his son proved himself to be a chip off the old block.

In addition, listener Jesse Oppenheim returns to discuss visiting Beijing and the Temple and of course, eating Peking Duck, which you can't make at home. So instead we try zhajiangmian.

This one gets a bit crazy! Enjoy!


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 John Joh

Apr 1, 2021

The largest brick castle of its day sits along the delta of the Vistula, a testament to the power and prestige of the order of crusading knights who built it.  The Teutonic Order, from their castle at Marienburg, sought to Christianize and "civilize" the heathens of the Baltic.

In this episode, we'll investigate the knights' relationship to its neighbors, Poland and Lithuania, united under the crown of Władysław Jagiełło, and the great but stupid war that broke out between them.

And listener Rafał Źukowski drops by to talk about visiting the castle, other sights in Northern Poland, and of course food!


Bousfield, Jonathan. DK Eyewitness Poland
Čapaitė, Rūta. “The Topic of Health in the Letters of Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania and His Contemporaries.” in Lithuanian Historical Studies
Emery, Anthony “Malbork Castle - Poland” in The Castle Studies Group Journal No 21
Palmer, Alan. The Baltic: A New History of the Region and Its Peoples
Sunkara, Lavanya. “Take A Look Inside The World’s Largest Brick Fortress In Poland” in Forbes
Urban, William. The Last Years of the Teutonic Knights

Photograph by Gregy

Mar 15, 2021

A bonus episode introducing the new host of Wonders of the World

Mar 15, 2021

Its gold walls reflected in the pond at its feet, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji, is glorious in any season. It was originally the retirement villa of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, former shogun and patron of the arts.

How Yoshimitsu was able to be shogun is a story from some decades before, a story of betrayal, revolutions, and lots of samurai warriors committing ritual suicide.

Listener Jaime discussing seeing the temple in various seasons, as well as the experience of visiting Kyoto itself. Also, somehow Drew makes it through an entire episode on Kyoto only mentioning geisha once, and that's in the opening song lyrics.  They make up for it with all the good food, including okonomiyagi, "Japanese pancakes".

NB: Drew makes an important announcement at the end of the episode.


Dougill, John. Japan’s World Heritage Sites
Miller, David. Samurai Warriors
Milner, Rebecca. Lonely Planet Japan

Photograph by Pedro Szekely

Feb 20, 2021

Stunning medieval monasteries perched on infinitely steep precipices, the monasteries of Meteora are sanctuaries in the sky. But what happened in Byzantium to convince monks to seek solitude in such forbidding locales?

Stories of the collapse of Constantinople typically focus on the end, in 1453, but the fall really begins much earlier than that, fueled in many ways by the sheer incompetence of John V Palaeologos, the second longest serving Roman emperor, whose reign was a constant barrage of humiliations. He managed to be put in prison on four different occasions!

While we explore this fascinating loser, listener Roberto describes his trip to see the great monasteries in north central Greece, and we discuss dolmades, stuffed grape leaves.


Fodor’s Essential Greece
Gibbons, Herbert Adams. The Foundation of the Ottoman Empire: a History of the Osmanlis up the the Death of Bayezid I (1300-1403)
Herrin, Judith. Byzantium: The Surprising Life of A Medieval Empire
Luttrell, Anthony. “John V's Daughters: A Palaiologan Puzzle.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers
Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: The Decline and Fall
Treadgold, Warren. A Concise History of Byzantium

Photograph by LucT

Jan 28, 2021

Nestled in the mountains of southwestern Andalucia, Granada's magnificent Alhambra palace represents the last hurrah of Moorish architecture in Spain, but what a last hurrah! Delicate and intricate, the Alhambra feels like something from a dream.

This episode, I talk about Muhammad V, who survived a coup, exile, murderous intrigue and cruel allies to inspire and create the most splendid part of the Alhambra. Fun with assassinations!

And I'll talk about my favorite food on earth: jamón ibérico. And tortilla española for the vegetarians. The Alhambra is my favorite place on the list, and I hope my enthusiasm comes through.


Fernández-Puertas, Antonio. “The Three Great Sultans of Al-Dawla Al-Ismā'īliyya Al-Naṣriyya Who Built the Fourteenth-Century Alhambra: Ismā'īl I, Yūsuf I, Muḥammad V (713-793/1314-1391).” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 7, no. 1, 1997, pp. 1–25.
Irving, Washington. The Alhambra
Lowney, Chris. A Vanished World: Medieval Spain's Golden Age of Enlightenment
Menocal, Maria Rosa. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created A Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain
Noble, Isabella. Lonely Planet Andalucía

Photograph by Oscarmu90

Jan 14, 2021

It was the world's tallest building, 632 years after work started: an exercise in persistence. Cologne Cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece.

Cologne itself is a good place to tell the story of the 13th century's great disaster: the Black Death, and the social upheaval it brought, including the pogroms that swept through the Rhineland.

Willem Fromm of the History of Cologne podcast brings a local perspective to his home city, its magnificent cathedral and its 2000 years of history. And beer! And potato soup!


Di Duca, Marc. Lonely Planet Germany
Kelly, John. The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time
Orent, Wendy. Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World's Most Dangerous Disease
Ozment, Steven E. A  Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People
Rick Steves Germany
Photo by Nikolai Karaneschev

Dec 24, 2020

A Hindu island in the world's largest majority Muslim country, Bali is world-renowned for its natural and cultural beauty. But underneath the surfing and partying and rituals is the last bastion of an empire that once ruled all of Indonesia.

Gajah Mada was the prime minister for Queen Gitarja of the Majapahit dynasty, and together, they united the islands. That is, until a wedding massacre sent it all spiraling.

Tracy deLuca of the Results May Vary podcast describes her experience in Bali, where she got married! And we talk food, including sucking pig and fried rice.


Coedès, George. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia.
DK Eyewitness. Bali and Lombok
Lonely Planet Bali, Lombok and Nusa Tenggara
The Nagarakretagama

Odorico, da Pordenone. Cathay and the way thither: being a collection of medieval notices of China (Translated by Sir Henry Yule and Henri Cordier)
The Pararaton

Photograph by chensiyuan

Dec 7, 2020

(This episode has been re-recorded since its initial release.)

Back to Rome for a meeting with Hadrian, the roving emperor.  Sarah Yeomans, archaeologist and art historian specializing in Imperial Rome, comes by to discuss the peripatetic emperor and one of his most impressive monuments, the Pantheon: the best preserved Roman temple anywhere.  Sarah shares her experience visiting Hadrian's villa in Tivoli as well. 

Hadrian is a fascinating soul: bearded, homosexual, flaunting conventional wisdom, travelling to the farthest reaches of the empire just because.  On his travels, he bickered with philosophers, visited historic sites, and micromanaged architects. Cheryl Morgan, an author who studies transgender and intersex people in the ancient world, brings the story of Favorinus, an intersex philosopher with whom Hadrian famously had a conversation.

To eat, consider artichokes this spring, either alla Romana or alla giudia (Jewish-style), both Roman classics.

Nov 26, 2020

Some call him the richest person in human history. Whether that's true, Mansa Musa of Mali shook up the world with his gold-laden hajj through Cairo and his university in Timbuktu.

That city at the edge of the Sahara might seem like the furthest place on earth, but it was a remarkable center of learning, home to as many as 700,000 manuscripts.

Cody Michaels from the History Unwritten podcast comes by to talk about Musa, his gold, and his famous journey to Mecca, as well as how African history is so much more than what we're commonly taught.  Plus poulet yassa!


Baxter, Joan. "Africa's 'greatest explorer'" in BBC News

Bell, Nawal Morcos. "The Age of Mansa Musa of Mali: Problems in Succession and Chronology" in The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Coleman de Graft-Johnson, John. "Mūsā I of Mali" in Encyclopaedia Britannica

Hamidullah, Mohammed. "Echos of What Lies Behind the ‘Ocean of Fogs’" in Muslim Historical Narratives

Levtzion, N. "The Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century Kings of Mali" in The Journal of African History

Mohamud, Naima. "Is Mansa Musa the richest man who ever lived?" in BBC Africa

Sogoba, Mia. "Mansa Musa: the Rejected Ruler of the Mali Empire?" in Culture of West Africa

Photograph by Francesco Bandarin

Nov 23, 2020

We go to the Greek island of Santorini to learn about the eruption that devastated the Minoan civilization of nearby Crete. Plus minotaurs, donkeys, Atlantis and Cretan cuisine!  Thanks to Margo Anton and Seth Ruderman for their help.

Nov 15, 2020

East vs West? Maybe. We're off to Iran to greet the rise of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, the world's greatest by this point in history. Between Cyrus and Darius, we'll deal with two Great rulers, but we've also got medieval Iranian love poetry, unappetizing royal banquets, Croesus making bad decisions, and kebabs! `

Even better, Yentl from comes by to bring her knowledge of Achaemenid Persia, as we climb the magnificent staircases of Persepolis.

Nov 7, 2020

Note: This episode contains a bit of profanity.

The swampy county of Flanders was the richest part of Europe in the 14th century, fueled by the international cloth trade, and Bruges was the center of that trade, spinning English wool into Flemish cloth. The trade brought power to the craft guilds, and that power brought those guilds into conflict with the aristocracy, and ultimately, the king of France.

In this episode, Manuel Van den Eycke of the Random History of Belgium Podcast joins us to examine the Bruges Matins, a worker-led uprising, and the subsequent Battle of the Golden Spurs. That victory, which nationalists have given connotations well beyond the intent of the participants.

We also talk about Belgian food (the best), including chocolate, fries, beer, and waffles, with a recipe for Liege-style waffles that will bring a smile to your face.

Belgium means so much to me, and I hope my enthusiasm shines through in this episode.

Brown, Elizabeth, A.R. “Philip IV, King of France” in Encyclopedia Britannica
“Enchanted Bruges” New York Times 2006
“The Rise and Fall of the Medieval Flemish Cloth Industry”
Rick Steves Belgium: Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp & Ghent
Thomson, Emma. Northern Belgium: Flanders With Brussels, Bruges, Ghent & Antwerp

Photo by Hans Hillewaert


Oct 22, 2020

It's a great wall. A really great wall. It also never really did its job.

Among those who so easily moved past the Great Wall were the Mongols, and Khubilai Khan, Mongol conqueror of China and founder of the Yuan dynasty, is perhaps the best known Chinese emperor, even though he's maybe the least Chinese of them all. Thanks, Marco Polo.

Joined by the phenomenal Chris Stewart of the History of China Podcast, we explore the wall, the Mongols, the Song Dynasty they vanquished, and Khubilai himself as he sat in his pleasure palace we know now as Xanadu.

There's hot pot, Olivia Newton-John references, two different typhoons, and more fun than you can shake a bottle of fermented mare's milk at.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. "Kubla Khan, or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment."
de Rachewiltz, Igor. tr. The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century
Keay, John. China: a History

Photograph by Severin.stalder

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.

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