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
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
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
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
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
Treadgold, Warren. A Concise History of Byzantium
Photograph by Gerardo Lazzari
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
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
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
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
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
We return to the land of the Maya, to visit their most stunning artistic achievement. The stelae of Copán, many constructed to honor Waxaklajuun Ubaad Kawiil, 13th king of the city, are remarkably intricate, humanist yet fantastic. His reign marked the highest point and also the lowest, as within decades of his untimely death, Copán and the other Classic Mayan cities would be abandoned. Or were they?
Listener Richard Dennis describes his impressions of visiting Copán and traditional Honduran cuisine: beans and tortillas, culminating in the baleada. And we can't talk about Honduras without discussing the Football War.
Bunce, Steve. “How a World Cup qualifier and the suicide of a young girl launched the bloody 100 Hour Football War” in the Independent.
Earley, Caitlin C. “The Mesoamerican Ballgame” at Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Timeline of Art History.
Footprint Handbook: Honduras
Martin, Simon and Nikolai Grube. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya
Moon Handbook to Honduras and the Bay Islands
Schele, Linda and Peter Mathews. The Code of Kings : the Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs
Webster, David L. The Fall of the Ancient Maya: Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse
Photo by Dennis Jarvis on wikicommons
After the Muslims exploded onto the scene in the 7th century, they learned that anyone can take a empire, but holding an empire is another matter entirely. We go to Syria, where Damascus served as the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate. The Umayyads were the family who eventually took control following the turmoil of finding successors to Muhammad.
Ali A Olomi, historian and host of Head on History, rejoins us to take us into the next phase of Muslim history, in which the rich and connected Banu Umayya demonstrate the durability of hegemony: after every revolution, the elite and connected always come back in the end.
The Umayyads may get a bad rap in places, but they left an enduring empire in their wake, best shown in the remarkable mosque in their capital.
While we discuss the splendor and tragedy of Damascus, try some tabbouleh, my all-time favorite salad.
Armstrong, Karen. Islam: a Short History.
Donner, Fred McGraw. Muhammad and the Believers: at the Origin of Islam
Ingraham, Christopher. “How rising inequality hurts everyone, even the rich” in Washington Post
Keenan, Brigid. Damascus: Hidden Treasures of the Old City
Kennedy, Hugh. Caliphate: the History of an Idea
Bradt guide to Syria
Footprint Syria handbook
Photograph by wikipedia user Aladdin
We return to China, where the Tang Dynasty has embarked on a golden age of culture and cosmopolitanism. In the valleys of Sichuan, a monk begins to carve the largest statue built in pre-industrial history. And in Chang'an, the world's largest and most international city, a young girl begins the path which would take her to the throne. And in Beijing, a half-Sogdian will launch the revolt that will bring everything crashing down.
Katy and Nathan from the Queens podcast drop by to talk about Wu Zetian, the only ruling Empress in China's long history. The chroniclers reviled her as a monster, but we take a closer look at this woman who dominated her country for 50 years.
Listener Jake volunteers to talk about his time in Sichuan, visiting the Giant Buddha, and eating Sichuan's famously delectable cuisine, fueled by tongue-tingling sichuan peppercorns.
Speaking of cuisine, we dig into Gong Bao Chicken, the real thing, with all its sweet, spicy, crunchy goodness.
Clements, Jonathan. Wu: The Chinese Empress Who Schemed, Seduced and Murdered Her Way to Become a Living God
Keay, John. China: a History
Lewis, Mark Edward. China's Cosmopolitan Empire: the Tang Dynasty
Rough Guide to China
Photo by Ariel Steiner