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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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.

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

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