Etched in the rocky plains of the southern Peruvian coast, the Nazca Lines fascinate visitors and archaeologists. While we still don't know why the Nazca people created lines, shapes and figures that could only be seen from the air, we have some hypotheses. We also know: not aliens.
Max Serjeant from the Latin American History podcast talks about how civilization came to ancient Peru, how the Nazca and their predecessors tamed the desert, and why archaeologists think the Nazca created their geoglyphs.
Tracy DeLuca, an avid traveller who recently flew over the lines, tells about her experience, both the amazing views and the stomach-churning turns.
We also talk about Lima, one of my favorite cities, with its colonial architecture and incredible food scene, featuring ceviche, some of the best food on earth. So grab a pisco sour and enjoy!
Dubé, Ryan. Moon Guide to Peru
Hadingham, Evan. Lines to the Mountain Gods: Nazca and the Mysteries of Peru
Lonely Planet Peru
Masterson, Daniel. The History of Peru
Moseley, Michael E. The Incas and Their Ancestors
BONUS EPISODE! In March 2018, Drew Vahrenkamp appeared on Stephanie Craig's History Fangirl podcast to discuss what was once the largest city on earth, in area at least: Angkor, Cambodia. For the upcoming holiday weekend in the US, we are honored to share this episode with you. Please check out more of Stephanie's interviews with travelers, historians, bloggers and podcasters at https://historyfangirl.com.
Angkor, along with its most famous temple Angkor Wat, is one of the most unique places in the world. The French claim to have discovered it when Cambodia was part of French Indochina, but like so many “lost” places the locals always knew about it. However, much of what we know about the ancient city comes from inscriptions and other artwork on the temple. And because the jungle climate much of the other information we have about the city may be lost forever, but we do know that it was the largest pre-industrial city in the history of the world.
My guest today is Drew Vahrenkamp of the Wonders of the World podcast. We chat about the ancient history of Angkor, how tourism in the city has changed dramatically over the last two decades, and how history lovers grapple with the ancient past of Cambodia, and the more recent reign of the Khmer Rouge.
A great trade route connected China to the West: the Silk Road. No place in China better illustrates the value of that route than Dunhuang, site of the Mogao Caves, grottos carved into a cliffside which hold the largest collection of Buddhist art anywhere. In Gansu province, Dunhuang was the site of the Jade Gate, where the main road left China into the lands beyond.
Nathan Cherry of the Silk Road History Podcast helps tell the story of these caves, their city, and the route, starting with the expedition of Zhang Qian, China's Lewis (or maybe Clark?) who first traversed into the unknown.
More stories follow: the son of immigrants who translated the sutras, the daughter who went to war, the crown prince who saved countless artifacts.
The caves are remarkable; the town is too, nestled against giant sand dunes at the edge of the desert. To eat, try Lanzhou Beef Noodle Soup, the perfect breakfast, if you like soup for breakfast - Westerners might find this a perfect dinner instead.
Keay, John. China: a History
Kwa, Shiamin and Wilt L. Idema. Mulan: Five Versions of a Classic Chinese Legend, with Related Texts
Lagerwey, John and Lü Pengzhi, editors. Early Chinese religion. Part 2, The period of division (220-589 AD)
Lonely Planet China
Stephan, Annelisa. "14 Fascinating Facts about the Cave Temples of Dunhuang" from The Iris from the Getty Museum
The Dunhuang Academy's website (http://public.dha.ac.cn/)
A quick update about the podcast, with news of all sorts. To learn more: click here
Rome was entrenched in chaos, until one man took charge, and through sheer force of will - and the army - remade the Empire into a completely new government, one that would last for over a thousand years. Then he retired to farm cabbages, moving into an incredible palace on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, a palace which today forms the core of Split, Croatia's old town.
Rob and Jamie from the Totalus Rankium podcast drop by once again to discuss Diocletian, one of the most significant emperors, whose legacy paved the way to medieval Europe. We dig into the good, like his bureaucratic reforms, the bad, like his persecution of Christians, and the ugly, like his edict on prices.
Listener Hrvoje Tolić calls in to discuss Split, the sights, and the cuisine. Pašticada, a long-marinated beef roast served over njoki, is the recipe of the day.
In 2015, ISIS terrorists destroyed the Temples of Bel and Baalshemin in the Syrian desert city of Palmyra, temples which had remained in pristine condition since their city's glory days in the 3rd century.
Back then, under the capable leadership of its rulers Odenaethus and the "Warrior Queen" Zenobia, Palmyra rose from wealthy caravan town to leader of the Eastern Mediterranean, taking advantage of the chaos of the Roman Crisis of the Third Century. So. Many. Emperors. So. Much. Chaos.
Scott Chesworth from the Ancient World podcast returns to finish his tale of Roman Syria, discussing how Palmyra challenged two empires, and how they very nearly pulled it off.
Also, listener David Adam recounts his trip to Palmyra before the temples were destroyed; you'll appreciate how he brings the humanity of modern Syrians into the story. And you can see his photos here: https://www.wonderspodcast.com/single-post/2018/07/10/The-Temple-of-Bel-at-Palmyra
The destruction of Palmyra and of Syria has been a great human catastrophe, and by acknowledging and remembering lost Palmyra, we might hope to prevent the next one.
Also, there are cookies! Date-filled cookies, in honor of the date palms that gave Palmyra its name.
In the remote Bekaa valley in Eastern Lebanon sit the ruins of the great temples of Heliopolis, some of the largest and most impressive ever built in Antiquity, three times larger than the Parthenon, which columns half again as tall as as those in Karnak.
The temples are mysterious, and Scott Chesworth from The Ancient World podcast helps explain what they might be, and how they might be connected to Elagabalus, one of the most fascinating and least appreciated Roman emperors. Not good, mind, but fascinating.
Elagabalus does not get the coverage of a Caligula or Nero, but maybe he should. The teenage emperor did not kill indiscriminately, but his sexual and religious activities shocked conservative Roman society and make for excellent story-telling.
Some modern writers call Elagabalus the world's first known transgender leader. Maybe? We'll discuss.
There's also the story of how Caracalla meets his untimely demise, thanks to a prescient fortune-teller and a dislike of reading his own mail.
And of course, we'll talk about Lebanon, its Phoenician heritage, and the way Lebanese food has spread around the world. The recipe of the week is kibbeh, a deep-fried croquette of goodness that is as popular in the Dominican Republic as it is in Lebanon.
So close to the tourist trail, yet so far, Libya sits on the Mediterranean yet has been isolated for decades by poverty, dictatorship and civil war. But should peace return, Leptis Magna is the jewel in Libya's crown: potentially the largest and best preserved Roman city in the Mediterranean. With a resplendent forum, theater, basilica, harbor, amphitheater, and especially, a colossal arch, Leptis is an unvisited gem.
Leptis' golden age came under the leadership of local-boy-made-good Septimius Severus. To help tell the story of how a lad from Leptis became ruler of the "known world," Rob and Jamie from the Roman Emperors: Totalus Rankium podcast stop by.
Not only do we talk about Severus and the disastrous emperor who preceded him (Didius Julianus), but we also discuss Severus' evil son Caracalla. Evil. Oh so evil.
No discussion of Libya would be complete without discussing the cuisine: a blend of North African and Middle Eastern, highlighted by couscous. This isn't your store-bought fluffy cardboard; we'll be properly steaming it this time.
Nestled along the coast of India's most southwesterly state, the Backwaters are a 600 km-long series of lakes, rivers, channels and canals linking the jungle to the sea. Their story, and Kerala's story, is the tale of maritime trade, and to help tell that story, Brandon Huebner from the Maritime History Podcast stops by.
Kerala is the birthplace of pepper, and given how rancid meat would get in the age before refrigeration, the Mediterranean world craved it. The Romans traded extensively with the kingdoms of Southern India, we discuss how they figured out the monsoons, and what they brought in exchange for that piquant spice.
Tianna Gratta from Passportchronicles.com was just in Kerala, and she gives her insights about traveling there today and riding on a houseboat along the backwaters: definitely the most chill of all the wonders on this show.
We try different Keralan curries, rich with coconut, curry leaves, and pepper, and as the coup de grace, Marcus Aurelius makes a cameo, as trade to Asia had brought something unexpected to Rome: a plague. You take the good, you take the bad...
Let's take a break from Roman history and see what's happening in the Western Hemisphere. Ana from the History of Small Things takes us to her hometown of Mexico City to talk about ancient Mexican history. The standout wonders this episode are the great pyramids of Teotihuacan, started in 100 CE in a city which rivaled Rome in size and artistry.
But that's just the start. We talk about the first Americans, the earliest Mexican civilizations, and stories of human sacrifice, wars, and mayhem.
Mexico City is one of the world's great cities, and we talk about two of its most magnificent sights: the National Anthropology Museum and the Zocalo. Plus street food, tacos, tamales, and huaraches.
We who are about to podcast salute you! Titus comes back for one more round as he unveils his father's masterpiece: the Flavian Amphitheater, a.k.a. the Colosseum. The stadium on which all future stadia have been based is a magnificent creation, site of gladiatorial combat, public executions, and emperors giving thumbs up and thumbs down.
Dr Peta Greenfield of the Partial Historians podcast drops by to talk about Vespasian, Titus, and the gladiators themselves. We discuss visiting Rome, gorging on gelato, and the joys of exploring the living city.
The recipe is bruschetta, the perfect appetizer of which you've probably only had disappointing versions. Not this time, my friends. Not this time. Salvete!
The volcano Vesuvius still looms of the ruined Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, along the coast of Southern Italy. Dr. Fiona Radford from the Partial Historians stops by to discuss these accidental wonders: towns whose destruction have preserved a remarkable view of Roman daily life. We follow Pliny the Elder as he ventures to his death, pillow strapped to his head. There's chaos, destruction, drama, and weird fish sauce!
Plus I cannot be so close to Naples without talking about pizza, that most glorious gift to the world.
A drama in three acts, all centered on the Fortress of Masada, a remarkable bastion perched above the Dead Sea in Israel. King Herod builds a pleasure palace, the Zealots make their last stand against Rome, and Israel returns at last. There are no heroes here, no villains, just complex people doing great and terrible deeds. Josephus, historian/traitor, takes us through the story of the Great Jewish Revolt and the destruction of the Temple.
Masada visitor Lisa Goldberg tells us about the experience of climbing up (and down again) and exploring the ruins. And we eat traditional holiday goodies: sufganiyot and just in time for Purim, hamantaschen. Plus Israeli breakfasts.
A short bonus episode. Drew's daughter makes her first podcasting appearance as she tells you the story of the Two Bethlehems.
Bethlehem, Indiana is a popular place to mail Christmas cards, but there's more to its story than that!
Jesus Christ arrives on the scene, to the consternation of the Roman authorities and the Jewish establishment. We visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, site of his death and resurrection, and the holiest site in Christianity. What made Jesus so revolutionary? Garry Stevens from the History in the Bible podcast comes back to the show to talk about the historical aspects of the gospels, as we tell the story of that fateful weekend in April, nearly 2000 years ago.
Even better, Gary Arndt from everything-everywhere.com returns to describe his visit to the church during Holy Week and to Bethlehem.
And of course, there's food too, including Jerusalem mixed grill.
Back to Alexandria we go to visit the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa, a little-known but fascinating burial chamber encapsulating the marriage of Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures and traditions.
Talking about the marriage of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman, we meet Cleopatra, last pharaoh of Egypt and noted seductress of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Or was she? She might be one of the most consequential people in antiquity, and we try to get to the bottom of her story with Margot Collins from the Undressed Historia podcast.
What's more, Gary Arndt from everything-everywhere.com drops by to talk about visiting Alexandria, including scuba diving to see the remnants of the Lighthouse! Alexandria may not have much left from antiquity, but "age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety." Sorry, obligatory Shakespeare line.
In the process, we'll talk about feteer, a sort of buttery, flaky, Alexandrian pizza. To Egypt!
Julius Caesar takes on Vercingetorix and the Gauls as we travel to Provence in Southern France. The Pont du Gard is a Roman aqueduct, the largest left standing, and it's just one of the many legacies the Romans left in the land of lavender and sunshine.
While here, we visit Avignon and spend a detour talking about the papacy and the Slap of Agnani - one of those surprising little histories we've all forgotten that had a tremendous impact on the world.
To eat, how about some ratatouille? Except that it's January and so good tomatoes are hard to find. So let's try soupe au pistou instead!
Bonus Episode! We have a running joke on this podcast about Demetrius Poliorcetes, Besieger of Cities. Despite having failed spectacularly at besieging Rhodes, he left a remarkable legacy across the Hellenistic world. Well, as a Christmas treat, I give you his full story.
There is no full-length modern history of Demetrius, and there ought to be. He went from young upstart general to savior-god of Athens to death in a prison cell. Very few people had the ups and downs of this man, and in the process, he experienced many of our wonders in a way that few people have. And in a very real way, his story is our story, for good or for bad.
Many thanks to Plutarch for the primary material. And Happy Holidays!
Back for Part II! Nitin Sil from the Flash Point History podcast joins me to discuss the Second Punic War, Hannibal, and Scipio. Was Hannibal crossing the Alps really a big deal? How did Rome win in the end?
I also talk about mathematician and defense contractor extraordinaire Archimedes and his antique death ray!
Plus, finally, a play-by-play of the Roman Forum, how to stroll the streets of modern Rome, and enjoying pecorino romano cheese. If you don't crave spaghetti cacio e pepe now, you will!
An episode so big I had to break it in half! Here comes Rome, both the vibrant, chaotic, eye-catching capital of Italy, and the civilization that made that capital possible. This episode looks at the rise of Rome and the first Punic War with Carthage, that other great Mediterranean Empire.
We'll take side trips to Sicily as well as Tunisia to talk about cannoli and harissa. Worth it. In fact, I get so caught up talking about Rome vs Carthage that I don't even get to the Roman Forum itself. That's OK - there's always next week, when Part II will take us to the Eternal City for a sunset look at the ruins.
It's our FIRST ANNIVERSARY. To celebrate, let's explore EPCOT: a place you can visit many wonders of the world, all at once. Sort of. What you might not expect is its fascinating history and the weird vision Walt Disney had for his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
There's also a "state of the podcast" bit at the end and a giant thank you to you for listening to me ramble all these months.
They stand row on row in silent guard of a long-dead autocrat. The Terracotta Army, built to defend the tomb of China's First Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, are the greatest archaeological discovery of the 20th century.
Joined by Abel Kay, we look into the story of the Emperor who unified China, and the ruthless path he took to do it.
We'll talk about scheming merchants, pretend eunuchs, beheaded generals, assassins, scholars buried alive, rivers of mercury, and the secret to immortality. Sound like enough for you?
We'll also explore Xian, imperial city, and sample some biang biang noodles and lamb bread soup.
On the way, there might be a detour to Indianapolis, because why not?
All the world is a stage, and the first stage was in Athens, the birthplace of tragedy. With Darby Vickers from the History of Greece podcast, we visit with the great playwrights, as Athens hits a great turning point: the Peloponnesian War.
That doesn't go well, and who's to blame? Surely not a homely old teacher in the Agora? Indeed. But his student will have the last laugh.
All this plus skordalia!
Athens has won the war against Persia, but now what? The Golden Age of Pericles, that's what! He's building temples, making money, enlarging an empire, all in the name of democracy. Darby Vickers from the History of Greece podcast stops by to talk about the Great Democrat as well as what it's like to visit the Parthenon today. The one in Athens, not the one in Nashville. She also talks about Greek bakeries and the joy that is spanakotiropita.
The intro today (my first one ever!) is from Lynn Perkins of the History of the Ottoman Empire podcast. He does fine work, and I can't wait to bug him when I get to Topkapi Palace.
The priestess of Apollo will answer your questions, if not how you expect. Will Athens survive the war with the Persians? Should Sparta march to help? Will you enjoy this episode on the Oracle of Delphi in Greece, featuring the brilliance of Alison Innes and Darrin Sunstrum from the MythTake podcast and Lantern Jack from Ancient Greece Declassified? Yes. Yes you will.
We'll talk about the Oracle, how it came to be and how it worked. We'll follow the Greeks in their war with the Persians. We'll visit Delphi and eat roast lamb and greens. You won't need gas rising from the temple floor to enjoy this one!