Gamsutl: nestled high atop the peak of Mount Gamsutlmeer, this abandoned russian village is one of the oldest settlements in the region.

We are in the Gunibsky district of Dagestan, Russia, where lies Mount Gamsutlmeer. At an altitude of roughly 1,400 meters above sea level, resides the pictoresque village of Gamsutl, known to be one of the oldest settlements in the region. Translated from the Avar, the majority ethnic group of the republic, Gamsutl literally means “at the foot of the kahn’s fortress”, leading many to assume that someone named Khan chose this location to build his fortress or tower, to defend himself from his enemies. And, eventually, a community evolved around…

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The macabre forgotten profession of Sin-Eaters

The “Sin-Eater” is a profession that survived until the last century: in short, grieving family members of a recently deceased would pay these characters to rid their departed loved ones from all the sins they had accumulated during their lives, and the sin-eaters would then perform an eerie ritual that supposedly allowed the dead to enter Heaven. Documents dating back to 1680 define “funeral in traditional style” as those involving the intervention of these characters, and as soon as the rumor of a death spread, especially if sudden or accidental,…

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The stunning statue on the tomb of the legendary Maid Marian

Little Dunmow Church, St Mary, is one of the oldest buildings in Essex, England. The building was originally the chapel of the lady of an Augustinian convent of the 12th century, and inside there is an alabaster tomb depicting one of the most famous women in British history, Maid Marian. Legendary companion of Robin Hood, the literary character was actually inspired by the life and legends surrounding the daughter of a 13th-century Essex baron, Matilda Fitzwalter. Born in the late 12th century, Matilda was the daughter of Robert, Baron Fitzwalter,…

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Brunost: the norwegians “brown cheese” that tastes like caramel.

Norway’s national diet harks back to its days as a poor country, expecially with preserving fish and meats in salt, lots of potatoes and simple sauces, in a heritage still dominates today. One of Norway’s most intriguing foods (at least, for foreigners) is eaten daily by many Norwegians for breakfast, lunch, or as a snack. Norwegians buy a special slicer just to eat their brunost, a “brown cheese” that has a texture more like fudge than any regular cheese, and a salty-sweet, almost tangy flavor. Brunost, also known as mysost,…

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Vicars’ Close: the oldest residential street in Europe that also features an optical illusion.

Vicars’ Close, in Wells, Somerset, England, is claimed to be the oldest purely residential street with original buildings still intact in Europe. The first houses on this attractive street, close to Wells Cathedral in Somerset, England, were built during the mid 14th century, while the street was completed about a century later. The area was initially used to house a group of chantry priests. During the 12th century, the group of clergy who served the cathedral were responsible for chanting the divine service eight times a day and were known…

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Louis Réard and the birth of the Bikini

Millions of men would come to be grateful that Frenchman Louis Réard, a car mechanic, had an unlikely sideline in the 1940s: he also looked after his mother’s lingerie boutique in Paris. And from there he created the bikini, which was unveiled on this day, July 5, 1946! European women first began wearing two-piece bathing suits that consisted of a halter top and shorts in the 1930s, but only a sliver of the midriff was revealed and the navel was vigilantly covered. In the United States, the two-piece made its…

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Holy Well of St. Madron – Cornwall

Cornish culture is legendary and mystery awaits around every corner in its land. Despite holy wells are water sources with specifically Christian associations, identified from as early as the 6th century AD, and the custom of venerating springs and wells as sacred sites have characterised pre-Christian religions in Britain, it is clear that some originated as earlier sacred sites. The cult of holy wells continued throughout the medieval period. Its condemnation at the time of the Reformation, around 1540, ended new foundations but local reverence and folklore customs at existing…

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Why do we have Easter bunny and Easter eggs?

All the fun things about Easter have pagan roots, and It is not a coincidence if the most widely-practiced customs on Easter Sunday are associated to the rabbit (“Easter bunny”) and the egg. Bunnies are a leftover from the pagan festival of Eostre, a great northern goddess whose symbol was a rabbit or hare, while exchange of eggs is an ancient custom, celebrated by many cultures. As we already know, a hare was a symbol associated with great northern goddess Eostre, (goddess of Spring, otherwise known as Ostara, Austra, or…

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Fengdu: the Chinese Ghost City

High on the Ming Hill, Fengdu, or the “City of Ghosts,” is situated at the northern end of the Yangtze River, China. It attracts tourists from all over the world, and even many visitors from within China as it is the place to learn about local ghost culture and the afterlife. Visitors to the area find that they are moved by the ancient craftsmen, the unique styles of architecture, and the nagging lesson that good is rewarded with good, and evil with evil. Having nearly two thousand years’ history, the…

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Scanno, Italy: A heart surrounded by mountains

The village ef Scanno appears like small stone houses embracing each other with their tiny roofs. These roofs, so perfectly spread, have inspired hundreds of photographers and artists from all over the world who, using different techniques, have tried to represent these characteristic views. In fact the village offers a unique and characteristic atmosphere with its secular architecture immortalized by distinguished photographers such as Cartier-Bresson, Giacomelli, and Scianna. The little town is spread across a hill and it is divided by many small streets that go up and down between…

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The ancient Lycians and and their spectacular funerary culture

The ancient Lycians are probably one of the most enigmatic peoples of history, because there are not many traces of their civilization. However, what has been discovered reveals a fascinating people culturally distinct from the rest of the ancient world at the time. Today there are around twenty important sites to learn about the unusual funerary architecture of the Licyans, including the astonishing rock-cut tombs that dominate the unspoilt land of Lycia. Lycia occupied the region which is today the provinces of Antalya and Muğla on the southern coast of…

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The almost forgotten charm of the Marsh Arabs of Mesopotamia

The two great rivers of ancient Mesopotamia, Tigris and Euphrates, rises in the Taurus mountains in southern Turkey, and after flowing through Turkey and then Syria, enters the vast desert kingdom of Iraq. Before it flows into the Persian Gulf, the rivers split into dozens of small streams and channels that meander across an enormous plain in southern Iraq forming what once used to be the largest wetland ecosystem of Western Eurasia, covering some 20,000 square kilometers. In this vast fertile region, civilization was born some 5,000 years ago. After…

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The Chios Rocket War is the most explosive Easter in the world!

We are in Greece, where, during the celebration of the Mass the night before Easter Sunday, it is customary to launch fireworks. However, nothing is as spectacular as the event that takes place in Vrontados, on the island of Chios. Rouketopolemos, literally rocket war, is the traditional manifestation that takes place every year on the occasion of Orthodox Easter, and which sees two rival parishes engage in a most unusual and dangerous tradition that has been taking place quite possibly since the Ottoman era. The churches, which sit on opposite…

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The fool story of the Original “Gotham City” in England!

That’s true: Batman’s hometown wasn’t inspired by New York City, but this English village that pretended to be insane. We are near Nottingham, England, where is located the quiet town inspired NYC’s nickname and the fictional namesake in the DC Comics universe. One story goes that King John, also the villain in the legend of Robin Hood, was due to travel through Gotham on his way to nearby Nottingham. The sleepy medieval village of Gotham, or “Goat’s Town,” has by some stories been painted as town of fools, however other…

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Mongrel Mob: the most terrible Gang of New Zealand.

In Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, was born in 1960, the first nucleus of what would become the largest gang in the country, now spread throughout the country: the Mongrel Mob. The gang, initially formed by young people of European origin, has expanded to include Maori and Polynesians, although it has the appearance of a band of Nazi bikers: their symbols are a swastika and a British Bulldog wearing a German Stahlhelm, and supposedly is an image intended to offend as it is a British Bulldog wearing the helmet. Mongrel Mob…

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