Monday, 31 March 2014

The Eiffel Tower

125 years ago today, the Eiffel Tower officially opened.Embedded image permalink

When Gustave Eiffel’s company built Paris’ most recognizable monument for the 1889 World’s Fair, many regarded the massive iron structure with skepticism. Today, the Eiffel Tower, which continues to serve an important role in television and radio broadcasts, is considered an architectural wonder and attracts more visitors than any other paid tourist attraction in the world.

In 1889, Paris hosted an Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) to mark the 100-year anniversary of the French Revolution. More than 100 artists submitted competing plans for a monument to be built on the Champ-de-Mars, located in central Paris, and serve as the exposition’s entrance. The commission was granted to Eiffel et Compagnie, a consulting and construction firm owned by the acclaimed bridge builder, architect and metals expert Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. While Eiffel himself often receives full credit for the monument that bears his name, it was one of his employees—a structural engineer named Maurice Koechlin—who came up with and fine-tuned the concept. Several years earlier, the pair had collaborated on the Statue of Liberty’s metal armature.

The base pillars of the Eiffel Tower are oriented with the four points of the compass.

Eiffel reportedly rejected Koechlin’s original plan for the tower, instructing him to add more ornate flourishes. The final design called for more than 18,000 pieces of puddle iron, a type of wrought iron used in construction, and 2.5 million rivets. Several hundred workers spent two years assembling the framework of the iconic lattice tower, which at its inauguration in March 1889 stood nearly 10,000 feet high and was the tallest structure in the world—a distinction it held until the completion of New York City’s Chrysler Building in 1930. (In 1957, an antenna was added that increased the structure’s height by 65 feet, making it taller than the Chrysler Building but not the Empire State Building, which had surpassed its neighbour in 1931.) Initially, only the Eiffel Tower’s second-floor platform was open to the public; later, all three levels, two of which now feature restaurants, would be reachable by stairway or one of eight elevators.

Millions of visitors during and after the World’s Fair marvelled at Paris’ new architectural wonder. Not all of the city’s inhabitants were as enthusiastic, however: Many Parisians either feared it was structurally unsound or considered it an eyesore. The novelist Guy de Maupassant, for example, allegedly hated the tower so much that he often ate lunch in the restaurant at its base, the only vantage point from which he could completely avoid glimpsing its looming silhouette.

Originally intended as a temporary exhibit, the Eiffel Tower was almost torn down and scrapped in 1909. City officials opted to save it after recognizing its value as a radio-telegraph station. Several years later, during World War I, the Eiffel Tower intercepted enemy radio communications, relayed zeppelin alerts and was used to dispatch emergency troop reinforcements. It escaped destruction a second time during World War II: Hitler initially ordered the demolition of the city’s most cherished symbol, but the command was never carried out. Also during the German occupation of Paris, French resistance fighters famously cut the Eiffel Tower’s elevator cables so that the Nazis had to climb the stairs.

Over the years, the Eiffel Tower has been the site of numerous high-profile stunts, ceremonial events and even scientific experiments. In 1911, for instance, the German physicist Theodor Wulf used an electrometer to detect higher levels of radiation at its top than at its base, observing the effects of what are now called cosmic rays. The Eiffel Tower has also inspired more than 30 replicas and similar structures in various cities around the world.

Now one of the most recognizable structures on the planet, the Eiffel Tower underwent a major facelift in 1986 and is repainted every seven years. It welcomes more visitors than any other paid monument in the world—an estimated 7 million people per year. Some 500 employees are responsible for its daily operations, working in its restaurants, manning its elevators, ensuring its security and directing the eager crowds flocking the tower’s platforms to enjoy panoramic views of the City of Lights.


Friday, 28 March 2014

Virginia Woolf

VirginiaWoolf.jpgAs you all probably know, I am a keen fan of Virginia Woolf. I wrote an essay based on A Room of One's Own for a Newnham history essay prize over Christmas, and I also reviewed the book on my blog in the same month. Today is the anniversary of her suicide, and in her memory I have decided to dedicate this blog post to her. Adeline Virginia Stephen was born on 25 January 1882 in London. Her father, Leslie Stephen (1832-1904), was the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography who came from a family distinguished for public service (part of the ‘intellectual aristocracy' of Victorian England). Her mother, Julia (1846-95), was the daughter and niece of the six beautiful Pattle sisters. Both parents had been married before: her father to the daughter of the novelist, Thackeray, by whom he had a daughter Laura (1870-1945) and her mother to a barrister, Herbert Duckworth (1833-70), by whom she had three children, George (1868-1934), Stella (1869-97), and Gerald (1870-1937). Julia and Stephen had four children: Vanessa (1879-1961), Thoby (1880-1906), Virginia (1882-1941), and Adrian (1883-1948). All eight children lived with the parents and a number of servants at 22 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington. 

In 1895 her mother died unexpectedly, and Woolf suffered her first mental breakdown. Her half-sister Stella took over the running of the household as well as coping with Leslie’s demands for sympathy and emotional support. Stella married Jack Hills in 1897, but she too died suddenly on her return from her honeymoon. The household burden then fell upon Vanessa.

Woolf was allowed uncensored access to her father’s extensive library, and from an early age she was determined to be a writer. She had a patchy education and never actually went to school, instead training to be a painter. Their two brothers were sent to preparatory and public schools, and then to Cambridge. There Thoby made friends with Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Lytton Strachey and Maynard Keynes - the nucleus of the Bloomsbury Group.

Leslie Stephen died in 1904, and Woolf had a second breakdown. While she was sick, Vanessa arranged for the four siblings to move from 22 Hyde Park Gate to 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury. At the end of the year Woolf started reviewing with the Guardian. In 1911 Woolf moved to 38 Brunswick Square. Leonard Woolf had joined the Ceylon Civil Service in 1904 and returned in 1911 on leave. He soon decided that he wanted to marry Virginia, and she eventually agreed. They were married in St Pancras Registry Office on 10 August 1912. They decided to earn money by writing and journalism.

Since about 1908 Virginia had been writing her first novel The Voyage Out (originally to be called Melymbrosia). It was finished by 1913 but, owing to another severe mental breakdown after her marriage, it was not published until 1915 by Duckworth & Co. (Gerald’s publishing house). The novel was fairly conventional in form. She then began writing her second novel Night and Day - if anything even more conventional - which was published in 1919, also by Duckworth.

In 1917 the Woolfs had bought a small hand printing-press in order to take up printing as a hobby and as therapy for Virginia. By now they were living in Richmond (Surrey) and the Hogarth Press was named after their house. Virginia wrote, printed and published a couple of experimental short stories, 'The Mark on the Wall' and 'Kew Gardens'. The Woolfs continued handprinting until 1932, but in the meantime they increasingly became publishers rather than printers. By about 1922 the Hogarth Press had become a business. From 1921 Virginia always published with the Press, except for a few limited editions.

After completing the manuscript of her last novel (Between the Acts) which was published after her death, Woolf became depressed once again caused by the onset of World War II and the destruction of her London home during the Blitz. On 28 March 1941, Woolf put on her overcoat, filled its pockets with stones, walked into the River Ouse near her home, and drowned herself. Woolf's body was not found until 18 April 1941. Her husband buried her cremated remains under an elm in the garden of Monk's House, their home in Rodmell, Sussex.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Britain Declares War on Russia (160 years ago)

On this day, 160 years ago Britain declared war on Russia and the (first) Crimean War began. The Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856) was a conflict in which Russia lost to an alliance of France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia.

The immediate issue involved the rights of Christians in the Holy Land, which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. The French promoted the rights of Catholics, while Russia promoted those of the Orthodox. The longer-term causes involved the decline of the Ottoman Empire, and the unwillingness of Britain and France to allow Russia to gain territory and power at Ottoman expense. Russia lost and the Ottomans gained a twenty-year respite from Russian pressure. The Christians were granted a degree of official equality and the Orthodox gained control of the Christian churches in dispute. Russia survived, gained a new appreciation for its religious diversity, and launched a reform program with far-reaching consequences.

Russia and the Ottoman Empire went to war in October 1853 over Russia's rights to protect Orthodox Christians. Russia gained the upper hand after destroying the Ottoman fleet at the Black Sea port of Sinope; to stop Russia's conquest, France and Britain entered in March 1854. Most of the fighting took place for control of the Black Sea, with land battles on the Crimean peninsula in southern Russia. The Russians held their great fortress at Sevastopol for over a year. After it fell, a peace was arranged at Paris in March 1856. The religion issue had already been resolved. The main results were that the Black Sea was neutralised—Russia would not have any warships there—and the two vassals Wallachia and Moldavia became largely independent under nominal Ottoman rule.

Because of battles, population exchanges, and nationalist movements incited by the war, the present-day states of Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and regions such as Crimea and the Caucasus all changed due to this conflict.

The Crimean War is notorious for logistical, medical and tactical failure on both sides. The naval side saw both a successful Allied campaign which eliminated most of the ships of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea, and a successful blockade by the Royal Navy in the Baltic. It was one of the first "modern" wars because it saw the first use of major technologies, such as railways and telegraphs.It is also famous for the work of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, who pioneered contrasting modern medical practices while treating the wounded. The war was one of the first to be documented extensively in written reports and photographs.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Mau Mau Uprising

On my visit to Cambridge for a history master class, I was lucky enough to go to a lecture on the Mau Mau Rebellion, something I find incredibly interesting. I thought I would share what I learnt with you all.

The Mau Mau Uprising (also known as the Mau Mau Revolt, Mau Mau Rebellion and Kenya Emergency) was a military conflict that took place in Kenya between 1952 and 1960. It involved Kikuyu-dominated groups summarily called Mau Mau and elements of the British Army, the local Kenya Regiment mostly consisting of the British, auxiliaries and anti-Mau Mau Kikuyu.The capture of rebel leader Dedan Kimathi on 21 October 1956 signalled the ultimate defeat of Mau Mau, and essentially ended the British military campaign.

Mau Mau failed to capture widespread public support, partly due to the British policy of divide and rule, and the movement remained internally divided, despite attempts to unify its various strands. The British, meanwhile, could draw upon their ongoing efforts to put down another rebellion in Malaya.

The uprising created a rift between the European colonial community in Kenya and the metropole but also resulted in violent divisions within the Kikuyu community.The financial cost of the uprising to the former colony amounted to £55 million.

The uprising is now regarded in Kenya as one of the most significant steps towards a Kenya free from British rule.

The Mau Mau fighters were mainly drawn from Kenya's major ethnic grouping, the Kikuyu.

More than a million strong, by the start of the 1950s the Kikuyu had been increasingly economically marginalised as years of white settler expansion ate away at their land holdings.

Since 1945, nationalists like Jomo Kenyatta of the Kenya African Union (KAU) had been pressing the British government in vain for political rights and land reforms, with valuable holdings in the cooler Highlands to be redistributed to African owners.

But radical activists within the KAU set up a splinter group and organised a more militant kind of nationalism.

By 1952 Kikuyu fighters, along with some Embu and Meru recruits, were attacking political opponents and raiding white settler farms and destroying livestock. Mau Mau supporters took oaths, binding them to their cause.

In October 1952 the British declared a state of emergency and began moving army reinforcements into Kenya.

So began an aggressively fought counter-insurgency, which lasted until 1960 when the state of emergency was ended.

The number killed in the uprising is a subject of much controversy. Officially the number of Mau Mau and other rebels killed was 11,000, including 1,090 convicts hanged by the British administration. Just 32 white settlers were killed in the eight years of emergency.

However, unofficial figures suggest a much larger number were killed in the counter-insurgency campaign.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission has said 90,000 Kenyans were executed, tortured or maimed during the crackdown, and 160,000 were detained in appalling conditions.

Even though the Mau Mau were thoroughly defeated by 1960, the exact reforms that nationalists had been pressing for before the uprising had started and, by 1963, Kenya was independent.

British soldiers check identity papers of suspected Mau Mau members

Sunday, 16 March 2014


I spent this weekend at Cambridge University for a History conference. Of course, being the history nerd I am, I loved it. I will blog some time later this week about the lectures I had and some of the interesting stuff I learnt. Next week I'm going to a Law conference at Cambridge, so I won't be able to blog much, apologises in advance! Today I've decided to blog about the history of Cambridge University itself.

The university was established in 1209 when groups of scholars used to congregate at the ancient Roman trading post of Cambridge for the
purpose of study. In 1284 Peterhouse, the first college at Cambridge, was founded by the Bishop of Ely. In 1347 Mary, Countess of Pembroke, founded Pembroke College. In 1503 Thomas Cranmer, aged 14, joined the newly-endowed Jesus College; he left in 1533 to become the first post-reformation Archbishop of Canterbury. While in the post, he annuls Henry VIII's marriages to Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn and divorces him from Anne of Cleves. He is also largely responsible for the Book of Common Prayer, the official directory of worship of the Church of England. In 1511 Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, founded St John's College.

In 1546 Henry VIII founded Trinity College and in 1584 The Cambridge University Press, the world's oldest-established press, began its unbroken record of publishing every year until present. In 1628 William Harvey of Gonville and Caius College, published his celebrated treatise, 'De motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus', (On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals), describing his discovery of the mechanism of blood circulation and in 1687 Isaac Newton published 'Principia Mathematica', establishing the fundamental principles of modern physics.

In 1784 The Rt Hon William Pitt of Pembroke was elected MP for the University at the age of 25, a year after becoming Prime Minister. 1829 saw the staging of the first Boat Race between Cambridge and Oxford, won by Oxford. In 1897 J.J. Thomson, Cavendish Professor of Physics, discovered the electron, laying the foundations for the whole of modern physics, including electronics and computer technology. In following years, inventors used his work to develop new devices such as the telephone, radio and television. Two years later,Lytton Strachey, Leonard Woolf and Thoby Stephen met as under-graduates at Trinity and formed the nucleus of what was to become known as the Bloomsbury Group.

In 1953 Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the structure of DNA, unlocking the secret of how coded information is contained in living cells and passed from one generation to the next - the secret of life. Their discovery opened the door to the study of an entirely new science - genetics. Since 1904, three years after the Alfred Nobel established the Nobel Prize, 90 affiliates of the University of Cambridge have won the Nobel Prize since 1904, winning in every category, with 29 Nobel prizes in Physics, 26 in Medicine, 21 in Chemistry, nine in Economics, two in Literature and two in Peace. Trinity College has 32 Nobel Prize winners, the most of any college at Cambridge. Dorothy Hodgkin is the first woman from Cambridge to win a Nobel Prize, for her work on the structure of compounds used in fighting anaemia.

In 2009 The University of Cambridge celebrates its 800th anniversary, and today it still remains one of the most prestigious universities in the world, a place of great research and learning and, most importantly, a really pretty city which makes for a great day out! 

Machu Picchu

machu picchu

Some of you may remember that I promised to do a biog on Machu Picchu a few weeks ago. it may be slightly late, but better late than never!

I went to Machu Picchu three years ago with my family whilst on a tour of South America, and it was an experience I will never forget.

Machu Picchu was built in 1450 by the Incas and is located on a ridge between the Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu mountains in Peru. It sits 7,970 feet (2,430 meters) above sea level on the eastern slope of the Andes and overlooks the Urubamba River hundreds of feet below.

The site’s excellent preservation, the quality of its architecture, and the breathtaking mountain views has made Machu Picchu one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world today. The site covers 80,000 acres. Terraced fields on the edge of the site were once used for growing crops, likely maize and potatoes.

In 1911, an explorer, Hiram Bingham, accidentally discovered it whilst searching for Vilcabamba,  the last capital of the Inca before their final defeat at the hands of the Spanish in 1572. He found it covered with vegetation, much of which has now been removed, however it was largely intact, having never been found by Spanish conquistadors. The buildings were made without mortar (typical of the Inca), their granite stones quarried and precisely cut. The only reference to the site at all in Spanish documents is a mention of the word “Picchu” in a 1568 document, the text implying that it belonged to the Inca emperor.

Machu Picchu is believed to have been built by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the ninth ruler of the Inca, in the mid-1400s. An empire builder, Pachacuti initiated a series of conquests that would eventually see the Inca grow into a South American realm that stretched from Ecuador to Chile.

Many archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was constructed as a royal estate for use by the emperor and his family. The site also housed a small number of caretakers. Although Machu Picchu has a wall, modest gateway and dry moat (likely used for collecting rainwater) it doesn't appear to have been set up with military purposes in mind, and there is no evidence that a battle of any sort was fought there.

Machu Picchu has a number of structures that would have enhanced the spiritual significance of the site. One of them, the “Temple of the Sun,” or TorreĆ³n, has an elliptical design similar to a sun temple found at the Inca capital of Cuzco. It is located near where the Inca emperor is believed to have resided at Machu Picchu. A rock inside the temple could have served as an altar. During the June solstice the rising sun shines directly into one of the temple’s windows, and this indicates an alignment between the window, rock and solstice sun.

The biggest puzzle at Machu Picchu is a giant rock, named “the Intihuatana” by Bingham, after other carved stones found in the Incan empire. The stone at Machu Picchu is situated on a raised platform that towers above the plaza. Its purpose is a mystery, with recent research disproving the idea that it acted as a sundial. It may have been used for astronomical observations of some form. It may also be connected with the mountains that surround Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu did not survive the collapse of the Inca; in the 16th century the Spanish appeared in South America and plagues afflicting the Inca along with military campaigns waged by conquistadors saw the fall of the last Incan capital, in 1572 and their line of rulers came to end. Machu Picchu, a royal estate once visited by great emperors, fell into ruin. Today, the site is on the United Nations' list of World Heritage sites.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Flight Disasters

In light of the recent missing Malaysian flight MH370, I thought I would do a short blog on the worst plane crashes in history. 
No. 1 Tenerife Airport Disaster (1977)
A bomb explosion at the nearby Gran Canaria Airport forced KLM Flight 4805 and Pan Am Flight 1736 to divert to Los Rodeos Airport (now Tenerife North Airport) on March 27, 1977. However, a dense fog, lack of ground radar at the small airport and several miscommunications resulted in the two Boeing 747 passenger aircraft colliding on the runway in the deadliest accident in commercial aviation history. All 248 passengers and crew aboard the KLM flight perished, along with 335 of the 396 people aboard the Pan Am flight, resulting in a staggering death toll of 583.
No. 2 Japan Airlines Flight 123 (1985)
Japan Airlines Flight 123 left Tokyo en route to Osaka on Aug. 12, 1985, when a catastrophic mechanical failure involving the plane’s rear pressure bulkhead sent the Boeing 747SR straight into Mount Takamagahara. All 15 crew and 505 of the 509 passengers died, resulting in the deadliest single-aircraft accident in history with a total of 520 deaths.
No. 3 Charkhi Dadri Mid-Air Collision (1996)
The world’s deadliest mid-air collision occurred on Nov. 12, 1996, over the village of Charkhi Dadri, west of New Delhi. Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 763 had just departed New Delhi and Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907 was arriving when they crashed, killing all 349 people on both flights.
No. 4 Turkish Airlines Flight 981 (1974)
Turkish Airlines Flight 981 crashed just outside of Paris in March 1974 killing all 346 people on board. Investigators found that the rear cargo hatch of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 blew off, causing decompression, severing cables and leaving the pilots with no control of the vessel.
No. 5 Saudia Arabian Flight 163 (1980)
All 287 passengers and 14 crew on board Saudia Arabian Flight 163 died after the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar caught fire after take off from Riyadh International Airport (now Riyadh Air Base) in August 1980. The plane made an emergency landing back at the airport and burst into flames when ground personnel opened the R2 door, though autopsies revealed that passengers had died from smoke inhalation and not burns. The incident remains the deadliest aviation disaster that did not involve a crash on impact or mid-flight break up.
No. 6 American Airlines Flight 191 (1979)
American Airlines Flight 191 crashed just moments after take off from Chicago O’Hare on May 25, 1979, when engine number one on the left wing of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 separated and flipped over the top of the wing, severing hydraulic fluid lines and damaging the plane. All 258 passengers and 13 crew on board were killed, and the crash remains the most devastating air disaster on U.S soil.
No. 7 American Airlines Flight 587 (2001)
The second-deadliest aviation accident in the United States also involved American Airlines. Flight 587 out of New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport crashed into the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens shortly after take off on Nov. 12, 2001, killing all 260 people on board and five more on the ground. The incident took place just two months after the events of 9/11, and many initially feared it was another terrorist attack on the city. However, the National Transportation Safety Board attributed the tragedy to the first officer’s overuse of rudder controls to counter wake turbulence from a Japan Airlines flight that took off five minutes prior.
No. 8 China Airways Flight 140 (1994)
Pilot error was responsible for yet another accident: China Airlines Flight 140. The first officer on the flight from Taipei, Taiwan, inadvertently pressed the take off/go-around button prior to landing at Nagoya Airport in Japan, and the pilot and co-pilot were unable to remedy the situation after autopilot on the Airbus A300 kicked in. A total of 264 of the 271 crew and passengers died as a result.
No. 9 Nigeria Airways Flight 2120 (1991)
A group of Muslim pilgrims traveling to Mecca on Nigeria Airways Flight 2120 died on July 11, 1991, when their flight caught fire and crashed just short of King Abdulaziz International Airport. All 261 passengers and crew aboard the McDonnell Douglas DC-8 passed away as a result. An investigation into the accident revealed that the lead mechanic had requested that two tires be inflated prior to takeoff, as they were below the minimum for flight dispatch. A manager ignored his request after no nitrogen gas was readily available. The tires failed early on in the takeoff, and the subsequent friction generated enough heat to start a fire that spread when the wheels retracted into the aircraft. The plane was not equipped with fire or heat sensors in the wheel assembly, and training on the DC-8 did not include any mention of rejecting takeoff for tire or wheel failures.
No. 10 Air New Zealand Flight 901 (1979)
From 1977 to 1979, Air New Zealand operated a so-called “flight to nowhere” that looped from Auckland Airport over Antarctica and returned via Christchurch. The sightseeing route ceased to exist after Air New Zealand Flight 901 collided with Mount Erebus on Ross Island, Antarctica, killing all 237 passengers and 20 crew on board. The accident remains New Zealand’s deadliest peacetime disaster. An investigation discovered that the coordinates of the flight path had been altered the night before the disaster, though the crew was not informed of the change. Instead of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 soaring down McMurdo Sound, it was re-routed directly into Mount Erebus.