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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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Please visit the show's official page at wonderspodcast.com

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!

Sources:
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!

Sources:

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.  

Sources:
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.

Sources:

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.

Sources:
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.

Sources:

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.

Sources:
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!

Sources:

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.

Sources:
Victoria and Albert Museum website
Wikifreakingpedia
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.

Sources:
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.

Sources:
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.

Sources:

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.

Sources:
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!

Sources:

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!

Sources:

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

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.

Sources:

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.

Sources:

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!

Sources:

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.

Sources:

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.

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