Sleeping in the Past

The 1530 St. Petersinsel Hotel

The other week, I saw an ad in the New Yorker for a hotel in Switzerland that indicated it was part of the Swiss Historic Hotels. Being interested in that kind of thing, I investigated more and found all sorts of fabulous places to stay. Their motto, “Patina, not dust”, made me smile.  Many of the Swiss hotels of course are high end and a tad on the expensive side, but there are plenty of other ways to sleep steeped in history.

Youth hostels, a particular favorite, come in all forms, from historic vessels in Sweden to castles in Scotland. The paradors of Spain and Portugal are usually old inns oozing with charm and character.

Cave City Wigwam Village

Wigwam Village #2, Cave City, Kentucky. Flickr photo by wendyb104.

In the United Sates, you can get your blast from the past with a stay in places built in the glory days of roadside architecture. More kitschy than stately, nonetheless, they still transport you back in time.

Sleep well!


New Muppet Movie to Promote Preservation!

S. Charles Lee-designed Los Angeles theater

We had proposed that Elmo make a pitch for preservation on Sesame Street, but the rest of the Muppets have beat him to it.

The new Muppet movie, due out November 23, is based on saving The Muppet Theater from a plan to demolish it and drill for oil on the site. Hooray for Hollywood!

Muppets Took Manhattan, Now They’re Taking LA – LA Plays Itself – Curbed LA.

City Offers Historic Sites Checklist for Bowl Game Fans

Floralcroft Street Sign

Floralcroft Street Sign, Glendale, Arizona; Flickr Photo by Glendale Webmaster

The City of Glendale has written a new page in its preservation playbook. By showcasing their history and historic buildings via a series of walking tours, which can be found on the city’s new historic preservation page of their website, they are showing that sports tourism and heritage tourism can go hand in hand. Go team!

via City offers historic sites checklist for bowl game fans – Entertainment.

The Doors of Zanzibar

Ah, Zanzibar. Simply saying the name evokes images of exotic spices and warm tropical winds. As I recently discovered, however, a trip there reveals something else special about the town: its carved wooden doors. They as much as anything illustrate the blending of cultures that occurred though Stone Town’s history, spice trade and all.

Wooden door in Stone Town, Zanzibar

Door in the square, Arab style

The heavy doors are strongly associated with Swahili culture, itself a blend of Middle Eastern, Arab, European and Asian cultures, and are found in East Africa, including Lamu and Mombasa (Kenya). The sheer number of them in Stone Town has given them the name Zanzibar doors.

The Arab influence is seen in the older doors; they are square, like the houses, and feature geometric designs. The “newer” doors, dating primarily to the late 19th century, reflect Indian influence and have arched tops and floral designs. Commonly seen elements are passages from the Quran, fish (representing the wish for many children), date trees (representing abundance) and lotus flowers (signifying regeneration).

It is interesting – and a bit terrifying – to note the large brass spikes on a great many doors, most likely a modification of a tradition from India where doors were spiked as a defense against elephants in war. While Zanzibar once had an abundant elephant population, today sadly there are none to be found on the island and the spikes are purely decorative.

Wooden door in World Heritage City of Stone Town, Zanzibar

Door showing the influence of Indian architecture

The door was often the first part of the house built, a tradition that originates from the Persian Gulf region and by the 15th century had reached Zanzibar. With their heavy jambs and ornately carved surfaces, they reflect the solid coral rag construction of the homes themselves.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to realize that the doors also reflected the relative wealth and stature of the owner of the house. According to my Footprint guide, “The door was the badge of rank and a matter of great honour amongst merchant society.”

In Stone Town the remaining doors date primarily from the 18th and 19th centuries. At present, approximately 560 doors remain. They are carefully monitored and maintained by the Stone Town Conservation and Development Authority.

Ornate lock on Stone Town, Zanzibar door

Serious doors require serious locks!

Though they are protected, it’s easy to take one home: Stone Town’s curio shops are full of hand-carved miniatures and replicas. If you have the space, adding a Zanzibar door would be a great way to add a little “spice” to your home!