There hasn’t been a post in this series since February. I made a lot of notes for some more, but decided that they were all too familiar. Yes I had seen and admired them, but so have so many others. I needed to find some of the more unusual ones again, and that was proving to be more challenging. These posts are very time-consuming, involving lots of research, to ensure accuracy. This one alone has taken most of a day. On this occasion, I have included three mammoth architectural icons that I have never seen. This diversion from my usual discipline is inspired by the thought that I almost certainly never will see them, but some of you may well get the chance. I have separated them at the end of the post, for clarity.
Jardin Majorelle, Marrakesh, Morocco.
Very rarely, you visit a place where you would actually like to live. Perhaps not always in the country where you find it, but certainly in the actual place itself. Being able to own it, then move it to the perfect location, is a rewarding fantasy. French artist Jaques Majorelle created just such a place, in Marrakesh, Morocco, in the years between the two world wars. The modernist house and buildings are surrounded by acres of lush gardens, courtyards and fountains, and fine examples of cactus, and other exotic plants. His paintings are displayed inside, and much of the area is painted with the most vibrant shade of cobalt blue, of his own concoction. So distinctive, it has become known as ‘Majorelle Blue.’ Tiles and mosaics are used extensively, and the design is cleverly intended to make the best use of angles of sight, and to allow light to fall just where it is needed.
The house was bought by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent in 1980, and when he died in 2008, his ashes were scattered in the gardens. I can understand why he would have wanted that. There is also a museum of Berber art and textiles founded by Saint Laurent, and like the gardens, open to the public. If you ever visit that city, be sure not to miss this treat for the senses.
Eltham Palace, South London, UK.
Eltham is a sprawling suburb of south-east London, on the border with the county of Kent. Driving along its High Street, with the usual mix of estate agents, ‘phone shops, and chain stores, you would hardly be aware of the treasure that lies just behind it. This is definitely a house that I would love to live in, for so many reasons. Built as a moated manor house in 1296 for the Bishop of Durham, it was given over to the crown as a gift to Edward II, in 1305.
This house has such a connection with the history of the British Royal Family, and that of our country too, I am at a loss to understand why it is almost unknown to so many of us. It was one of the primary Royal residences for over two hundred years, and is the place where Henry VIII grew into manhood. However, life in Tudor England was all about being close to the River Thames, the main artery of travel, and because of this, Eltham fell out of use, with the palace at Greenwich coming into favour, due to its riverside location. After the English Civil War, and the restoration of Charles II, it was little more than a ruin, and was bequeathed by the King to John Shaw. All that remained was the Great Hall, and some of the original walls, and Shaw’s family held on to the property in this condition, until the end of the 19th Century.
In 1933, Stephen Courtauld bought the house. He was part of the rich industrial family that were famous art collectors, and founders of the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. He built the current house, incorporating the restored Great Hall. The interior is an Art Deco wonderland, of untouched stylistic features and furniture from the mid-1930s, with a circular entrance hall/reception room that has an amazing ceiling, and beautiful wood-panelled walls. The gardens are delightful too, and since the building was taken over by English Heritage in 1992, it has been open to the public. This is a real gem, tucked away just a short train ride from Central London to Eltham Station, or easily accessible by car, using the main A2 or A20 roads from London to the coast. I urge you to make the effort.
The Gherkin, St Mary Axe, London, UK.
During the IRA bombing campaign against London, a huge bomb devastated the area in the City around the Baltic Exchange building, in 1992. Despite demands to retain the facade of the damaged building, it was declared unsafe, and soon demolished. There were many ideas put forward to replace it, with Sir Norman Foster, the distinguished British architect, gaining acceptance for his design, which was built from 2001, and officially opened in 2004.
The end result divided opinion, and it was soon nicknamed The Gherkin, relating to the shape of the small pickled cucumber. I always thought that it looked more like a bullet, and the retro-futuristic style appealed to me a great deal, like a rocket from the 1960s. Despite the circular appearance, all the glass is flat, and designed to create a pattern on the building. It is home to the Swiss Re insurance company, and a dozen or more other international companies. It also has restaurants, and a very impressive entrance lobby. On the top floor, which is the fortieth, there is a private dining room and bar for tenant’s use only, with impressive views. This building manages to appear smaller than it actually is, within the confines of that area in the congested city. But it is imposing, and can be seen from over twenty miles away.
Like my previous choice, Eltham Palace, it has attracted the attention of many film-makers, so you may well have seen it on screen.
Rochester Castle, Rochester, Kent, UK.
Built in the 11th Century, this imposing castle dominated the River Medway, and the main road from London. Despite the ravages of time, the imposing keep remains, and still looks formidable to this day. During its heyday, it was fought over many times, but saw little action after 1381, when it was all but destroyed during the famous Peasants’ Revolt.
During the late Victorian Age, it was opened as a park around the ruins, and it was not until relatively modern times that it was restored to its former glory by English Heritage, who now own the site. It is open to the public as an attraction, and continues to be well attended, and admired. Listed as a Grade 1 building of historical importance, it may be better known to anyone who has seen the film ‘Ironclad’ (2011), which was filmed in and around the castle.
These next examples are those that I have never seen, and for different reasons, probably never will. My admiration for them is no less diminished by this fact.
Ghengis Khan Equestrian Statue, Mongolia.
I have not seen this of course. It was built in 2008, funded by a Mongolian businessman who had made his fortune after the country’s independence. Determined to keep the name of his famous ancestor alive, he paid to have this statue erected, overlooking the steppes from where Ghengis began his conquest of the known world.
I saw it on TV recently, when Joanna Lumley visited it, on her Trans-Siberian tour. It may seem garish on first glance, but you have to consider how important a figure that Genghis Khan was to modern day inhabitants of Mongolia. His conquests exceeded those of Alexander The Great, and anything that the Roman Empire achieved.
During the Soviet years, he was all but erased from history, so it is fitting that such an edifice be erected to his memory. Some sixty miles from the large city of Ulan Bhator, this magnificent statue stands looking over the boundless plains of Mongolia. Visitors can access the viewing platform, on the top of the horse’s head, and gaze over plains unchanged since Ghengis rode across them. Simply marvellous.
The Motherland Calls, Volgograd, Russia.
When this amazing memorial to the battle of Stalingrad was opened in 1967, it was claimed to be the largest statue in the world. Volgograd is the modern name for Stalingrad, but the city is the same one that saw the terrible battle during the Second World war. A battle where the Germans were defeated, and indisputably changed the whole tide of the war, in favour of the allies.
The statue symbolises ‘Mother Russia’, sword in her hand, defending her nation from the invader. Despite numerous trips to the Soviet Union, I never got to see this, to my great regret.
Krak Des Chavaliers, , near Homs, Syria.
The recent tragic war in Syria has put the fate of this once magnificent castle in doubt. Perhaps the best preserved Medieval castle in the entire world, the Krak was originally developed by the order of the Knights Hospitaller in 1142, during the Crusades. They held it until it fell to the Saracens, in 1271. The huge castle complex is located in a dry desert area, and this helped to preserve the wonderful architecture over the centuries. At one time, it contained a garrison of over 2,000 knights, who used it to control a vast area of the country.
Until Syrian independence, the castle was controlled by the French in modern times, and they restored the castle to its former glory. Since 2011, the castle has been fought over by the Syrian rebels and government, suffering air attacks, and shelling. More recently, it has also been the site of fighting against Islamic State. So, it’s future is in doubt, and even if my circumstances changed, it is unlikely that I will ever see it.
So that’s my latest selection, including a few I have never seen. It may well be my last, as I have no wish to go over many other buildings and sites that so many others have seen. I hope that you can visit some, and find others to admire.