#February 24, 1825: Thomas Bowdler, the man who Re-wrote the “Offensive” Shakespeare

Thomas Bowdler, a doctor and philanthropist, popular to be the man who took all the naughty bits out of Shakespeare, died on this day, February 24, 1825, even if he would probably have preferred to read “went to sleep on this day.” In 1807 he published his first edition of “The Family Shakspeare”, a book contained 24 versions of Shakespeare plays, all with words, expressions and sometimes even plots changed to be more “family friendly.” He explained that nothing had been added to the original text, but he had omitted…

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The truth behind the haunted house that fascinates all Bologna – Italy

Are you familiar with the classic abandoned houses, dark and falling apart? Those houses that seem a set of a horror movie? In short, the houses in the middle of the woods where in horror movies a group of idiotic students goes to take refuge for some idiotic bet, or to spend an “exciting” weekend. So, the villa located in Casalecchio, a municipality very close to Bologna, Italy, is exactly like that. The only difference compared to traditional horror movies is that this villa is not isolated, but in close…

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Aunt Claudia’s Dolls, a collection of unique items that includes the most diverse display of northern indigenous dolls.

After World War II, Claudia Kelsey, a longtime toy collector, moved to Juneau, Alaska with her friend Beatrice Shepard, Bea, to set up a life as an artist. She brought with her a large collection of dolls, figures, and miniatures dear to her that would, after her death, become the beloved gallery in the heart of Juneau known today as Aunt Claudia’s Dolls. Upon Claudia’s death some 60 years after the war, her friend Bea decided the collection, which had amassed more than 800 items, should be put on display…

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Libreria Acqua Alta: one of the most interesting bookshop in the world.

Perched on a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, the beautiful city of Venice evokes countless quaint aquatic images, from gondolas and vaporetti lumbering down the canals to tiny bridges arching between its sidewalks. However, sometimes, water becomes more than an idyliic backdrop to the city: strong tides in the Adriatic can cause water levels to rise, creating the so-called “Acqua Alta,” floods that force the lagoon to pour from the canals onto Venice’s sidewalks and into its buildings. Keeping a collection of books in a city where the roads are…

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#February 16, 1923: A deadly bite, or King Tut’s revenge?

Cairo, Egypt. February 16, 1923, and a discovery that would have made Indiana Jones himself envious: archaeologist Howard Carter opened the sealed doorway leading to the burial chamber and sarcophagus of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. Just a few weeks earlier, after making a “tiny breach” in the top left hand corner of the tomb doorway, he was asked by his patron Lord Carnarvon if he could see anything. Howard replied: “Yes, wonderful things” and added: “As my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of…

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#February 14, 1779: Captain James Cook’s last adventure

Captain James Cook, the legendary British explorer, was savagely murdered on this day, February 14 (but in 1779!) after a confrontation with islanders at Hawaii who had mistaken him for a god. He discovered and charted New Zealand and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, since noted as one of the world’s most dangerous areas to navigate. His voyages around the world helped guide other explorers for generations and, in addition, he provided the first accurate map of the Pacific and many believe that he did more to fill the map of…

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#February 13, 1945: Ancient Dresden reduced to rubble

February 13, 1945. On this day, waves of British bombers began reducing one of the Germany’s (and world) most beautiful cities to rubble. Thousands were to die in the ensuing firestorm as war against Nazi Germany was intensified. The bombing of Dresden in East Germany, a splendid medieval city formerly renowned for its rich artistic, cultural and architectural treasures, remains controversial: the war was coming to an end with Hitler holed up in his Berlin bunker, the Russian Red Army racing towards the German capital from the east and the…

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The abandoned disco Par hasard: it was the VIPs’ club

Sixty years of history, music, loves, dances and foreign customers of the local spas were not enough to save this disco, now abandoned to itself. And here, at the Par Hasard in Abano Terme, Italy, music and psychedelic lights have definitively shut down. It was a historic dance club, opened more than sixty years ago under the name of Dancing San Daniele and then became a Par hasard Village disco in the 90s. It worked until autumn 2015, and the structure that has entertained generations of young people and not…

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25 Great Insults From 18th Century British Slang

For history enthusiasts and linguists, “You jerk” just doesn’t have the same ring as “You unlicked cub,” an insult from Georgian England. And there’s more where that came from if you browse through “A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue”, a work by English lexicographer Francis Grose (in image below) first published in 1785 and recently spotted by the Public Domain Review. The anthology is filled with slang words and terms of the kind dictionary scribe Samuel Johnson had previously deemed unfit for his influential “A Dictionary of the English…

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The dark origins of the fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is one of the most famous (and appreciated) fairy tales in the world, first related in 1812 when the Grimm brothers published their collection of tales that had been gathered from old European folk stories. Like many of the Grimm tales, it is supposed that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has been in existence since the Middle Ages, passed down through word-of-mouth over the centuries. The version that is universally told today is the most “digestible” by a non-adult audience, and in 1937,…

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Signal de Botrange: the highest point in Belgium is a staircase to nowhere

We are about 5km north of Ovifat, in Belgium. Signal de Botrange, the lowly remains of an ancient volcanic area once called de Hoge Venen, now doesn’t look like much little more than a big plateau. The area experiences stronger winds than the centre of Belgium, its average and extreme temperatures are usually lower than at any other place in the country and rainfall is much greater: there are over 200 days of precipitation per year. However, this rainy and seemingly flat landscape is actually situated 694 meters above sea…

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Today is 02/02/2020: the first palindrome day after 909 years

Today is a very special day: it is not only the day on which Christians celebrate Candlemas, or Super Bowl Sunday and Groundhog Day, but the date is also a palindrome, meaning it is the same when read forwards and backwards. A palindrome is any word, phrase or sequence of numbers that reads the same whether you read it forward or backward, such as “mom,” “race car” or “tacocat.” Famous palindromes include “rats live on no evil star,” “never odd or even” and “a man, a plan, a canal, Panama”,…

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29/30/31 January: the Merla days (hen blackbird), according to tradition are the coldest days of the year ~

It was a very, very cold Winter. That year the month of January put every effort to live up to his reputation as a freezing, windy month. The snow was high, and a layer of ice covered fountains, streams and ponds. Even the fire lit in every small and big house in the countryside, did not seem warm enough, in the bedrooms and in the attic, sometimes in the morning it was discovered that the chill night had even turned into ice the water in buckets and basins. People walked…

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La Giubiana: a curious tradition linked to the last Thursday of January in Northern Italy

A great fire that will illuminate the darkness, with the hope that it will burn well and quickly so as to drive away the winter and propitiate the year that has just begun. The traditional ceremony, which this year falls just today, on January 30th, includes a large bonfire where a straw puppet dressed in rags (the Giubiana) is burned, which represents the malaise of winter and the troubles of the past year. The Giübiana, or feast of Giobia is a traditional recurrence very popular in northern Italy, especially in…

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The “anomalous” burial of a child in a 5th century Umbrian cemetery

Lugnano in Teverina is a small village, located in the region of central Italy Umbria, surrounded by green hills that descend towards the valley of the Tiber river. At the beginning of the first century AD, on one of these hills, an unknown man, probably a wealthy Roman, built his villa (a complex of over 1800 square meters), which however was already in ruins around the third century. For some unknown reason, around the middle of the 15th century, when the western Roman empire was very close to its end,…

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A forest of pillars, recalling the Holocaust: the controversial Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin

In the 15 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of the nation, Germany has struggled to come to terms with its Nazi past. Nowhere has that been more evident than in the restored capital, where a vast rebuilding effort has transformed the once-ravaged city center. Probably Berlin’s signature monument is the Brandenburg Gate, a 20-meters-tall and 12-collumned triumphal arch topped by a life-sized bronze quadriga. The gate was built in the late 18th century, and opens onto the Unter den Linden. During the Cold War,…

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Venice: the only city in the world whose shape resembles a Swan

It is called “Pareidolia”, and it is the tendency for incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns, or hearing hidden messages in music. In the case of Venice, for example, the shape that the city assumes seen from above is attributable to a swan with its head bent towards the body. The profile of the splendid creature, icon of universal beauty, is easily associated with Venice also because…

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Fort de la Chartreuse: the fort that was never used…as a fort!

The Fort de la Chartreuse is an about 150-year-old fortification that once should have been defend the Amercœur neighborhood of Liège in Belgium, but is now an abandoned big ruin that is slowly being overtaken by foliage and graffiti. Built between 1817 and 1823, the fortress rests on the grounds of a former Carthusian (Ordre des Chartreux) monastery in operation until the French Revolution, on an elevated hill in Liège, and it is part of the fortification line along the river Meuse which crosses Belgium. It was originally built by…

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Paris through a Nazi’s lens: Propaganda pictures of Occupied France in 1940’s

André Zucca (1897-1973) was a French photographer and Nazi collaborator, popular thanks to his work with the German propaganda magazine Signal. Born in 1897 in Paris, son of an Italian tailor, André spent part of his youth in the United States before returning to France in 1915. After the outbreak of World War I he enlisted in the French army, where he was wounded and decorated with the Croix de Guerre, and after the conflict he became a photographer. Much later, during the 1930s, he made several reports in countries…

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“Half-Hangit” Maggie Dickson: the woman who survived the hangman’s noose.

Maggie Dickson was consigned to the gallows on Edinburgh’s historic Grassmarket on September 2, 1724. So, it was unlikely that anyone attending her public execution thought they would see her alive again afterward. The day of the hanging should have been just another ordinary day, with an ordinary routine on an ordinary schedule: just the hanging of another ordinary woman sentenced to death. Her public death was certainly observed by both court and church representatives, family members and relatives, and probably other people who, as usual, were there just for…

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The splendid grave of the dancer Rudol’f Nureev covered by a rug like mosaic

A short distance from Paris is the Orthodox Cemetery Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, which houses many Orthodox Russians who died and were buried close to the French capital. Among these there is also Rudol’f Chametovič Nureev, one of the greatest dancers and choreographers of the 20th century, who rests in a decidedly particular grave. The sepulcher is in fact covered by a mosaic in the shape of a Kazakh kilim, a carpet of great value which is woven like a tapestry, because the dancer was an avid collector of beautiful carpets and antique…

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122 and not feeling it: the (unhealthy) Lifestyle of the longest-lived person in history!

Ms. Jeanne Louise Calment was born in Arles (France) on February 21, 1875, a year before the battle of Little Big Horn, and a year before Alexander Bell patented the phone. She died at the age of 122, 5 months and 14 days, and she still represents the person who has lived the longest life in history. At least, according to official records. But this is not the most relevant thing in the very long life of the French lady, much more amazing is how she got to that old…

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January 1985-2020: the anniversary of the greatest snowfall of the (last) century.

The snowfall of January 1985 in Italy is very popular still today: between 13 and 17 January many cities in the north of the country found themselves covered by almost a meter of snow. The legendary snowfall in these days turns 35. And the memory remains indelible: who was there will never forget it, and who has not lived it surely have heard of it. The beginning was on January 13th, exactly 35 years ago. A very cold day, with the thermometer dropped over 10 degrees below zero. In the…

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Berlin: The Return of the Cows

Dietrich-Bonhoeffer Strasse is a quiet street in Berlin, which lies on the lively edge of gentrified Prenzlauerberg’s encroachment into Friedrichshain. If you are in the splendid German capital, apparently there aren’t many reasons to visit an otherwise ordinary street. However, Sergej Dott’s whimsical public art installation, “Die Rückkehr der Kühe” (literally “The Return of the Cows”) just might make it worth the trip. Halfway down the block, if you peer into the empty lot (currently a building site) and look up, you’ll see a green field full of larger-than-life cows…

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Snagov Monastery: the island that (allegedly) houses the tomb of Dracula

We are in Romania. Transylvania has long been known as a place where vampires, werewolves, and the souls of the dead haunt dark forests, like Hoia Baciu forest, which has a reputation as one of the most haunted place of the world, and ghostly-looking fortresses. Many of the most “haunted places” in Transylvania, Romania are also popular tourist attractions. On a tiny island in a lake just outside of Bucharest stands Snagov Monastery which local tradition states is the burial place of Vlad Tepes, better known as Vlad the Impaler,…

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A splendid collection of rare color Photos of Paris taken about 100 Years Ago

For most of us are normal to see historical photographs in black and white, due to the diffusion of monochrome films during the early years of photographic technique. The color images, however, were almost contextual to the invention of photography itself, and it was only the difficulty of creating the supports capable of resuming the different colors that changed over the years, making the spread of colour photograph more and more common. Tired of the endless series of black and white photos that were popular in that days, French banker…

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Julia Margaret Cameron: the greatest Victorian-era portrait photographer

Julia Margaret Cameron (11 June 1815 – 26 January 1879 ) was an English photographer considered one of the most significant portraitists of the 19th century, who managed to make a vast production of images during her very short career (she made around 900 photographs over a 12-year period). She is known for her soft-focus close-ups of famous Victorian men and for illustrative images depicting characters from mythology, Christianity, and literature. She also produced sensitive portraits of women and children. Born in India in 1815, after showing a keen interest…

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Sostila, the uninhabited village where the road don’t go

Of countries without roads, in Italy, are few left: one of these is Sostila in Val Fabiolo, a small picturesque valley out of time in Valtellina, between Morbegno and Sondrio. The village has remained isolated in time and space, pulsating with peasant life until a few decades ago. Today it is uninhabited: if in 1928 it had about 120 inhabitants, already in the early 50s the number has tragically halved, up to a total of 14 inhabitants in the early 60s. There was the school until 1958, while the church…

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Torre Nueva: The defensive tower in Spain built centuries ago to warn locals of pirate attacks.

We are on the South of Spain, where a series of centennial towers are spread along the whole coast, some of which still standing. One of the best preserved towers is in La Linea de la Concepcion, the Spanish town that borders the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. The sea-facing structure has one room some four meters above ground, the place were soldiers kept a constant eye to the south, where Africa is just about 15 kilometers away. The guards who manned the tower sent smoke signals to warn the…

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How do people celebrate New Year around the world?

Even if people celebrate New Year in a number of ways, on 31st December, the festivities hit all places across the world at slightly different times too, due to the different time zone. Where’s the first place in the world to celebrate New Year? Tonga and Kiritimati (Christmas Island), part of Kiribati, are examples of the first places to welcome the New Year, while Baker Island in the United States of America is among the last. Some cultures may celebrate New Year at a different time to our 31st December,…

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