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Wonders of the World

Wonders of the World

In this podcast, we'll visit 200 Wonders of the World, from the Pyramids to the Great Barrier Reef, to tell the story of our people, our civilization, and our planet. My name is Caroline Vahrenkamp, and I'm a travel junkie. The world is filled with amazing places that reflect the greatest achievements of human accomplishment. In these uncertain times, understanding our great shared history may help to bridge the divides between us. And if not, it will be a fun ride anyway! We'll discuss the history of each place and the story of the men and women who lived there. We'll cover travel notes, examine what else to see while you're in the area, and dig into the local cuisine. Expect a new episode every two weeks. And thanks for listening!


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Bonus - The Total Solar Eclipse of 2024

A quick bonus episode about how eclipses connect with human history

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099 - The Meenakshi Amman Temple of Madurai

Towering above the city of Madurai, the gopurams or gateways of the Meenakshi Amman Temple are medieval skyscrapers, awash in color, writhing in movement, beautiful and otherworldly at the same time.

In this episode we'll discuss the rise of the Mughal Empire, the fall of Vijayanagara, and of course, masala dosa, that most incredible of South Indian streetfoods.

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100 - The Wieliczka Salt Mine

In the late 1500s Poland and Lithuania joined to create the Commonwealth, a remarkable, if flawed, experiment in constitutional monarchy that would last more than 200 years. Its legacy of religious tolerance and representative republicanism is strangely overlooked in American history books - and I would guess in other histories as well.

One of the chief economic engines of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was the Wielizcka Salt Mine, an amazing wonder delved over 700 years. To visit Wieliczka is to be amazed at the artistry of salt sculptures and impressed by the sheer cheesiness of all the salty dwarves. So many salty dwarves. Or maybe they're gnomes...

Finally, let's grab some friends and make pierogis! 

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098 - The Süleymaniye Mosque of Istanbul

Suleiman the Magnificent? Suleiman the Lawgiver? Suleiman the Bisexual Poet? No matter how you label him, Suleiman was a fascinating sultan of the Ottoman Empire who strode upon the world stage, and his private life was worthy of a scandalous Netflix show.  Among his greatest legacies was commissioning this phenomenal mosque, designed by Mimar Sinan, one of the history's most successul and significant architects.

Listener and traveler Emma Browning returns to discuss visiting the mosque and Istanbul and trying to find vegetarian food in a city known for its meat and seafood. Grab some Turkish delight and enjoy!

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097 - Machu Picchu

The world-famous "lost city of the Inca".  It wasn't a city, and it wasn't lost, but yes, it was made by the Inca.  The incredibly scenic former estate of kings is a true marvel, as I can personally attest, but this episode is about so much more than the ruins that people come from all over the world to see.

Joined by Nick Machinski of the History of the Inca Empire podcast, we talk about the dramatic rise and fall of the Inca Empire, their staunch resistance to Spanish conquest, and the wonders that might have been, like the gold-covered Qoriqancha.  Listener and friend of the pod Jesse Oppenheim shares his breathless experience visiting Peru as well.  And if you haven't had lomo saltado, you should fix that.

Photo by Allard Schmidt

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Mental Health Hiatus

It's all too much for me to take - the Beatles, 1969

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096 - The Humble Administrator's Garden of Suzhou

He was from the richest city in Ming China, or one of the richest, and after his checkered political career, he came home and planted a garden.  500 years later, we can still visit his garden and marvel at the humility of Wang Xianchen, the Humble Administrator. This episode is a pleasant diversion beforewe get back to the big stories.

And we'll have Suzhou "smoked" fish while we're here!

Clunas, Craig. Fruitful Sites: Garden Culture in Ming Dynasty China
Lonely Planet China   Photograph CC4.0 by wikicommons user Another Believer
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095 - The Migration of the Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies are tiny, ephemeral creatures, whose audacious color patterns makes them beloved across a continent, yet few realize how remarkable their migration from Canada and the US to their winter ground west of Mexico City really is.  Listener Livia Montovani joins us to talk about visiting the mountain reserves where hundreds of millions of butterflies spend their winter.

We'll also cover the conquest of Mexico and the personalities involved, from Motecuhzoma of the Mexica to Cortés of Spain to the controversial role of la Malinche, the formerly enslaved woman who translated for the Spainiards. It's a story with no heroes, but it needs to be told.

And we'll make carnitas at home with salsa verde!


Baumle, Kylee, The monarch: Saving our Most-Loved Butterfly
Dennis, Peter. Tenochtitlan 1519-21: Clash of Civilizations
Diáz dl Castillo, Bernal. The True History of the Conquest of New Spain
Dykman, Sara. Bicycling with Butterflies: My 10,201-mile Journey Following the Monarch MMigration
Fehrenbach, T.R. Fire & Blood: a History of Mexico
Keeling, Stephen et al. The Rough Guide to Mexico 
Levy, Buddy. Conquistador: Hernán Cortés, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs
Sainsbury, Brendan et al. Lonely Planet Mexico

Photograph by pendens proditor CC 2.0

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Update and Intelligent Speech

A brief update about the show!

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094 - Chambord Chateau

Just a little 440-room hunting lodge built among other chateaux in France's Loire Valley, Chambord is the grand dame of them all.  Built for François Ier, it betrays the influence of the Italian Renaissance, specifically of Leonardo da Vinci, François' teacher and mentor.

Gary Girod, host of the French History Podcast, joins us to discuss François and his place in French history, while listener Sarah Demetz shares her experience visiting the chateau and the Loire.

Plus fish in a lovely white butter sauce!

Horne, Alistair. Seven Ages of Paris
Isaacson, Walter. Leonardo da Vinci
Nuland, Sherwin B. Leonardo da Vinci
Price, Roger. A Concise History of France
Rick Steves Loire Valley 
Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects
Photograph by Patrick Giraud CC 3.0

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093 - Vatican City

The largest episode on the smallest country. It's the city-state home of the Catholic Church, a neighborhood of Rome, home to some of the greatest art in the western world.

In the early 16th century, the Catholic Church began to turn Rome into a capital glorious enough to serve as the capital of Christendom, and in the process, the popes drove Christendom apart. And Michelangelo was there the whole way.

Bry Rayburn from the Pontifacts podcast joins us to talk about some of the most epic popes in history, from Alexander VI to Paul IV: the good, the bad, and the ugly. We talk about Michelangelo, the role of the papal patrons, Martin Luther, the Swiss Guard, and so much more!

Plus a mysterious pasta recipe from the Vatican cookbook!


Beck, James H. Three Worlds of Michelangelo 
Buonarroti, Michelangelo. Michelangelo's Notebooks: The Poetry, Letters, and Art of the Great Master
Cahill, Thomas. Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World
Garwood, Duncan. Lonely Planet Rome
Graham-Dixon, Andrew. Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel
Phillips, Charles. The Illustrated History of the Popes: An Authoritative Guide to the Lives and Works of the Popes of the Catholic Church, with 450 Images
Rick Steves Rome 2020
Rome, Insights Guides
Scotti, R.A. Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter's
The Pontifical Swiss Guard. The Vatican Cookbook: Presented by the Pontifical Swiss Guard: 500 Years of Classic Recipes, Papal Tributes, & Exclusive Images
Wallace, William E. Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and His Times

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092 - The Hieronymites Monastery of Lisbon

The enormous church on the banks of the Tejo, carved with ropes and knots and anchors as though it were going to sea itself, represents the vast wealth and untold adventure of Portugal's Age of Discovery.

Portuguese king Manuel I commissioned the monastery upon learning of the success of Vasco da Gama's first expedition to India, the longest sea voyage undertaken to that time, a voyage that would seal the fate of three continents. For good and ill.

Listener Maria Fernandes joins to talk about her home country, and we wax nostalgic on the pleasures of Portugal, a country I very much like, including my favorite dessert of all time: pastéis de Belém.  

Clark, Gregor. Lonely Planet: Portugal
Cliff, Nigel. The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama
Payne, Stanley G. A History of Spain and Portugal
Taborda, Joana. Lisbon

Photograph by Concierge.2C (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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091 - The Great Mosque of Djenné

The best example of Sahelian mud-brick architecture, the great mosque seems like a sandcastle rising from the Niger Inland Delta in Mali.

Originally built in the early days of the Mali Empire, the mosque also connects with the Songhai, Africa's largest and strongest empire, whose collapse came at key moment in world history.

We'll follow the fates of two great kings and see how choices made in the early 1500s echo today. And we'll eat tiguedegana, a peanut tomato stew that is just so freaking delicious.


Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sa?di. Tarikh al-sudan

Davidson, Basil, et al. A History of West Africa to the Nineteenth Century

Dorsey, James Michael. ?Mud and infidels: Djenné, Mali? in the San Diego Reader

Dubois, Félix. Notre beau Niger?

French, Howard W. Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War.

Ibn Mukhtar.  Tarikh al-fattash

Lonely Planet West Africa

Meredith, Martin. The Fortunes of Africa: A 5000-year History of Wealth, Greed, and Endeavour

Reader, John. Africa: A Biography of the Continent

Wilson, Joe. ?In search of Askia Mohammed: The epic of Askia Mohammed as cultural history and Songhay foundational myth?


Photograph by Francesco Bandarin CC 3.0

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090 - The Bioluminescent Bay of Puerto Mosquito on Vieques, Puerto Rico

Officially, this episode is on the amazing glowing algae living in the waters of three of Puerto Rico's bays, most notably Puerto Mosquito on Vieques, one of Puerto Rico's smaller islands. Listener and boriqueño native Roberto Cancel describes swimming in the bay on a dark night, surrounded by glowing blue waters.

But most of the episode is devoted to perhaps the most important event in world history: 1493. Not 1492, but 1493. That's the year when Christopher Columbus returned to the Americas, not as an explorer, but as a conqueror.

We discuss (and really only scratch the surface of) the impact of this second voyage. It's only the beginning, because every episode to come will exist in the new world (pun intended) created by this event.

And we have shrimp mofongo, a boriqueño specialty that blends European, African, and American in a way that exemplifies the new global world.

Bergreen, Laurence. Columbus: the Four Voyages
Diamond, Jared. Germs, Guns, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Fodor?s Puerto Rico
Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything your American History Textbook Got Wrong
Mann, Charles C. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus 
Mann, Charles C. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

Photograph by Edgar Torres CC 3.0

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089 - The Kremlin of Moscow

The once and future political center of Russia, the brick-walled Kremlin dates from the Middle Ages, but received its boost when a Byzantine refugee princess married an ambitious Muscovite prince, and together they created a fortress that would one day serve a superpower.

Dr Charles Ward, professor emeritus of Foreign Languages and Literatue at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee shares his thoughts of the rise of Moscow under Ivan III and Sofiya Palaeologina and the construction of the Kremlin we see today, while listener Geoff Kozen discusses visiting Moscow, from the Kremlin to the subway stations.

Plus borscht! Perfect for a cold winter night when you're craving beets.


Merridale, Catherine. Red Fortress: History and Illusion in the Kremlin
Plokhy, Serhii . Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation, from 1470 to the Present
Sixsmith, Martin. Russia: A 1,000-year Chronicle of the Wild East
Voorhees, Mara. Lonely Planet Moscow

Photograph cc:4.0 by wikipedia user Ludvig14

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088 - The Tower of London

Is it the world's most famous prison? Or a magnificent medieval castle steeped in history? The Tower has stood over London since the days of William the Conqueror and still amazes today.

Its most famous story is that of the princes: Edward the V and his younger brother, killed in the Tower. But by whom? And how? It's a True Crime! episode. Graham Duke and Ali Hood from the Rex Factor podcast join us to discuss the theories, while listener Kassia Bailey shares insights into visiting both the Tower and the East End.

For food, we'll of course discuss pie and mash, liquor and eels, but chances are you'll prefer our recipe for a true British classic: chicken tikka masala.

Benham, William. The Tower of London
Caird, Jo. Fodor?s London 2020
Fields, Bertram. Royal Blood: Richard III and the Mystery of the Princes
Langley, Philippa and Michale Jones. The King?s Grave: the Discovery of Richard III's Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds
Skaife, Christopher. The Ravenmaster: My Life With the Ravens at the Tower of London
Rick Steves London 2020
Weir, Alison. The Princes in the Tower
Weir, Alison. The Wars of the Roses

Photograph by Wikipedia user Teseum

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Where the Heck Is Caroline?

A quick apology for the delay in the next episode

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087 - The Topkapi Palace of Istanbul

It stands on a promontory jutting into the Bosphorus, a pleasure palace of sultans and their harem. Its tiled walls, fountains and pools are sumptuous legacies of the Ottoman Empire.

1453 marks the final fall of the Roman Empire and the ascendency of the Ottomans, led by Mehmet the Conqueror, the 21 year old who took the city with an audacious military strategy.

Rosa Hayes of the History of the Ottoman Empire joins us to talk about Mehmet and Constantine IX, the final Byzantine Emperor. And listener Roberto Cancel returns to discuss visiting the palace and Mehmet's Grand Bazaar. Plus baklava!


Duducu, Jem. The Sultans: the Rise and Fall of the Ottoman Rulers and Their World
Herrin, Judith. Byzantium: the Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire 
Hughes, Bettany. Istanbul: a Tale of Three Cities
Maxwell, Virginia. Lonely Planet Istanbul
Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: the Decline and Fall 
Wheatcroft, Andrew. The Ottomans

Photograph © A.Savin, WikiCommons

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000 - Introduction

Welcome to the Wonders of the World!  In this podcast, we'll visit the Earth's great places to tell the story of our people, our civilization, and our planet.  From history to travel and even to food, we'll examine what makes us great and what makes us human.  This NEWLY REVISED (as of August 2021) introductory episode covers where we'll go, why we'll go there, and what our plan will be.

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086 - Shwedagon Pagoda of Yangon

Like a giant bell covered in gold, Shwedagon Pagoda lords over Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)'s skyline.  Its story is much like Burma's: elusive, mysterious. Shin Sawbu was a princess of the southern kingdom of Hanthawaddy Pegu. Through an exciting life documented by practically nobody, she rose to become queen and then in retirement to bring the gold to the great pagoda.

In this episode, we attempt as best we can to piece together her story and we make a Burmese curry while we're at it.

Victoria and Albert Museum website
Duguid, Naomi. Burma: Rivers of Flavor
Lonely Planet Myanmar
Insights Guide Myanmar

Photograph by Marcin Konsek / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

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085 - The Registan of Samarkand

Ulugh Beg was the Astronomer King of Samarkand, who in one of the richest cities of the Silk Road, built a madrassa and observatory to chart the stars. Wonderful astronomer. Not much of a king. His madrassa though stands on, one of the three grand buildings of the Registan square.

Scott Chesworth of the Ancient World and Nadeem Ahmad of Eran ud Turan both visited Uzbekistan just before the pandemic, and they join us with tales of gorgeous tilework, empty museums, and more plov (Uzbek rice pilaf) than you can imagine.

Bradley, Chris. The Silk Road
Carter, Jamie. ?The Tragic Story Of The Man Who Unlocked The Universe? in Forbes
Ibbotson, Sophie. Uzbekistan : the Bradt travel guide
Krisciunas, Kevin. "Ulugh Beg's Zij," in H. B. Paksoy, ed., Central Asian Monuments.
Manz, Beatrice Forbes. Power, Politics and Religion in Timurid Iran
Waugh, Daniel C. ?Ulugh Beg and His Observatory? in Silk Road Seattle

Photograph by Euyasik, @Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

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084 - The Duomo of Florence

It's the largest masonry dome ever built, its terracotta curves dominating the Florence skyline. The story of how that dome was built is the story of the birth of the Renaissance.

But the real story is that of the artists, the petty, bickering, intensely human geniuses: the secretive, bitter Filippo Brunelleschi and the social climbing, self-promoting Lorenzo Ghiberti, not to mention their friends like Donatello. Yes. That Donatello. They bicker and feud and bring Florence new perspectives.

Bry Rayburn of the Pontifacts Podcast comes by to talk about her favorite city in the whole world. We share our experiences and love of stracciatella gelato. Plus bistecca alla fiorentina.

PS - Despite this being my longest episode, I still completely failed to mention that the name of the cathedral is Santa Maria del Fiore: Saint Mary of the Flower, which sounds so nice. So there you go.

Hollingsworth, Mary. The Family Medici: The Hidden History of the Medici Dynasty
King, Ross. Brunelleschi?s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture
Perry, Susannah. Fodor's 25 Best: Florence
Rick Steves Italy 2020
Walker, Paul Robert. The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World

Photograph by Grueslayer @Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

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083 - The Karst Islands of Halong Bay

It's one of the most glorious seascapes on earth: thousands of limestone pillars rising from the bay, clothed in jungle green. Listener Emma Browning, who was literally just there, shares her experiences cruising among the islands and even shares the real-life sounds of the bay.

When I say Vietnam, most Americans expect an episode on the US-Vietnam War of the 1960s, but no, I'm going to discuss another superpower's invasion of the land of the Viet and their subsequent failure against Vietnamese resistance and guerilla warfare.

Yes, the Yongle Emperor is getting Robert McNamara'd into submission, this time by Vietnamese nobleman turned freedom fighter Lê L?i  There are magic swords, marketing guys with water metaphors, and so much more.

Finally, we get my personal story of Vietnamese catfish. And in honor of that, I give you cá kho t?, catfish caramelized in a clay pot. It is maybe my favorite thing to eat ever.

Filek-Gibson, Dana. Vietnam (Moon Guide)
Goscha, Christopher E. Vietnam: A New History
Kiernan, Ben. Viet Nam
Stewart, Iain. Lonely Planet Vietnam
Viet Vision Travel ?Vietnamese Legend: The Lake of the Restored Sword?

Photograph and audio samples courtesy of Emma Browning

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082 - The Forbidden City of Beijing

It's unfathomably huge.  The Forbidden City, a city within the city, and the Yongle emperor's crowning achievement, is almost too big to comprehend.  8,886 rooms, nearly 135 football fields in area, it's huge.

The Yongle Emperor also sent out Zheng He and the Ming Treasure Fleet to exert China's superpower influence across Asia and even to Africa. 

Chris Stewart from the History of China podcast returns to talk about the Forbidden City and the great naval voyages, while listener Jesse Oppenheim returns to discuss visiting the palace as well as sharing some Beijing taste treats, like Mao's favorite braised pork belly.


Bedford, Donald. China (DK Eyewitness)
Fodor's Essential China
Haw, Stephen G. A Traveller's History of China
Humphreys, Andrew. Top 10 Beijing
Keay, John. China: a History
Wood, Michael. The Story of China: The Epic History of A World Power From the Middle Kingdom to Mao and the China Dream

Photograph by Asadal

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Bonus - The Floating Rock Gardens of Ryloth

A Star Wars special!

For May 4, 2021, I contributed a mini-episode for the No Redeeming Qualities podcast's annual Star Wars Day special.  To spare you having to listen to 30 minutes of grown men complaining about the sequel trilogy, I'm offering this to you.

In the early days of the Clone Wars, separatist forces were on their way to conquer Ryloth, an important trading point in the outer rim. One man would lead the Republic garrison: Jedi Master Ima-Gun Di.

While on Ryloth, Master Di would visit the remarkable Floating Rock Garden, a uniquely powerful place, where the force of the wind makes the impossible real. And if you're on Ryloth, only the best Gruuvan Shaal Kebabs will do.

Star Wars: Clone Wars, episode 3.3 - "Supply Lines"
Monroe-Cassel, Chelsea and Marc Sumerak. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge: The Official Black Spire Outpost Cookbook
The Holocron wiki for Star Wars Combine online simulation

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081 - The Temple of Heaven of Beijing

A majestic pavilion crowned in blue, the Temple of Heaven stands as one of the crowning architectural triumphs of the Yongle Emperor, a man responsible for three wonders.

In this episode, we trace the origins of the Yongle Emperor.  Chris Stewart from the History of China podcast appears to take us on a whirlwind adventure that took his father from being an orphaned beggar in Anhui to emperor of all China. In the process, we discuss his rather unique brand of paranoia, and the path by which his son proved himself to be a chip off the old block.

In addition, listener Jesse Oppenheim returns to discuss visiting Beijing and the Temple and of course, eating Peking Duck, which you can't make at home. So instead we try zhajiangmian.

This one gets a bit crazy! Enjoy!


Bedford, Donald. China (DK Eyewitness)
Fodor's Essential China
Haw, Stephen G. A Traveller's History of China
Humphreys, Andrew. Top 10 Beijing
Keay, John. China: a History
Wood, Michael. The Story of China: The Epic History of A World Power From the Middle Kingdom to Mao and the China Dream

Photograph by John Joh

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080 - Malbork Castle

The largest brick castle of its day sits along the delta of the Vistula, a testament to the power and prestige of the order of crusading knights who built it.  The Teutonic Order, from their castle at Marienburg, sought to Christianize and "civilize" the heathens of the Baltic.

In this episode, we'll investigate the knights' relationship to its neighbors, Poland and Lithuania, united under the crown of W?adys?aw Jagie??o, and the great but stupid war that broke out between them.

And listener Rafa? ?ukowski drops by to talk about visiting the castle, other sights in Northern Poland, and of course food!


Bousfield, Jonathan. DK Eyewitness Poland
?apait?, R?ta. ?The Topic of Health in the Letters of Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania and His Contemporaries.? in Lithuanian Historical Studies
Emery, Anthony ?Malbork Castle - Poland? in The Castle Studies Group Journal No 21
Palmer, Alan. The Baltic: A New History of the Region and Its Peoples
Sunkara, Lavanya. ?Take A Look Inside The World?s Largest Brick Fortress In Poland? in Forbes
Urban, William. The Last Years of the Teutonic Knights

Photograph by Gregy

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Just Like Starting Over

A bonus episode introducing the new host of Wonders of the World

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079 - Kinkaku-ji of Kyoto

Its gold walls reflected in the pond at its feet, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji, is glorious in any season. It was originally the retirement villa of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, former shogun and patron of the arts.

How Yoshimitsu was able to be shogun is a story from some decades before, a story of betrayal, revolutions, and lots of samurai warriors committing ritual suicide.

Listener Jaime discussing seeing the temple in various seasons, as well as the experience of visiting Kyoto itself. Also, somehow Drew makes it through an entire episode on Kyoto only mentioning geisha once, and that's in the opening song lyrics.  They make up for it with all the good food, including okonomiyagi, "Japanese pancakes".

NB: Drew makes an important announcement at the end of the episode.


Dougill, John. Japan?s World Heritage Sites
Miller, David. Samurai Warriors
Milner, Rebecca. Lonely Planet Japan

Photograph by Pedro Szekely

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078 - The Monasteries of Meteora

Stunning medieval monasteries perched on infinitely steep precipices, the monasteries of Meteora are sanctuaries in the sky. But what happened in Byzantium to convince monks to seek solitude in such forbidding locales?

Stories of the collapse of Constantinople typically focus on the end, in 1453, but the fall really begins much earlier than that, fueled in many ways by the sheer incompetence of John V Palaeologos, the second longest serving Roman emperor, whose reign was a constant barrage of humiliations. He managed to be put in prison on four different occasions!

While we explore this fascinating loser, listener Roberto describes his trip to see the great monasteries in north central Greece, and we discuss dolmades, stuffed grape leaves.


Fodor?s Essential Greece
Gibbons, Herbert Adams. The Foundation of the Ottoman Empire: a History of the Osmanlis up the the Death of Bayezid I (1300-1403)
Herrin, Judith. Byzantium: The Surprising Life of A Medieval Empire
Luttrell, Anthony. ?John V's Daughters: A Palaiologan Puzzle.? Dumbarton Oaks Papers
Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: The Decline and Fall
Treadgold, Warren. A Concise History of Byzantium

Photograph by LucT

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077 - The Alhambra of Granada

Nestled in the mountains of southwestern Andalucia, Granada's magnificent Alhambra palace represents the last hurrah of Moorish architecture in Spain, but what a last hurrah! Delicate and intricate, the Alhambra feels like something from a dream.

This episode, I talk about Muhammad V, who survived a coup, exile, murderous intrigue and cruel allies to inspire and create the most splendid part of the Alhambra. Fun with assassinations!

And I'll talk about my favorite food on earth: jamón ibérico. And tortilla española for the vegetarians. The Alhambra is my favorite place on the list, and I hope my enthusiasm comes through.


Fernández-Puertas, Antonio. ?The Three Great Sultans of Al-Dawla Al-Ism?'?liyya Al-Na?riyya Who Built the Fourteenth-Century Alhambra: Ism?'?l I, Y?suf I, Mu?ammad V (713-793/1314-1391).? Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 7, no. 1, 1997, pp. 1?25.
Irving, Washington. The Alhambra
Lowney, Chris. A Vanished World: Medieval Spain's Golden Age of Enlightenment
Menocal, Maria Rosa. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created A Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain
Noble, Isabella. Lonely Planet Andalucía

Photograph by Oscarmu90

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076 - Cologne Cathedral

It was the world's tallest building, 632 years after work started: an exercise in persistence. Cologne Cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece.

Cologne itself is a good place to tell the story of the 13th century's great disaster: the Black Death, and the social upheaval it brought, including the pogroms that swept through the Rhineland.

Willem Fromm of the History of Cologne podcast brings a local perspective to his home city, its magnificent cathedral and its 2000 years of history. And beer! And potato soup!


Di Duca, Marc. Lonely Planet Germany
Kelly, John. The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time
Orent, Wendy. Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World's Most Dangerous Disease
Ozment, Steven E. A  Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People
Rick Steves Germany
Photo by Nikolai Karaneschev

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075 - Bali

A Hindu island in the world's largest majority Muslim country, Bali is world-renowned for its natural and cultural beauty. But underneath the surfing and partying and rituals is the last bastion of an empire that once ruled all of Indonesia.

Gajah Mada was the prime minister for Queen Gitarja of the Majapahit dynasty, and together, they united the islands. That is, until a wedding massacre sent it all spiraling.

Tracy deLuca of the Results May Vary podcast describes her experience in Bali, where she got married! And we talk food, including sucking pig and fried rice.


Coedès, George. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia.
DK Eyewitness. Bali and Lombok
Lonely Planet Bali, Lombok and Nusa Tenggara
The Nagarakretagama
Odorico, da Pordenone. Cathay and the way thither: being a collection of medieval notices of China (Translated by Sir Henry Yule and Henri Cordier)
The Pararaton

Photograph by chensiyuan

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036 - The Pantheon of Rome

(This episode has been re-recorded since its initial release.)

Back to Rome for a meeting with Hadrian, the roving emperor.  Sarah Yeomans, archaeologist and art historian specializing in Imperial Rome, comes by to discuss the peripatetic emperor and one of his most impressive monuments, the Pantheon: the best preserved Roman temple anywhere.  Sarah shares her experience visiting Hadrian's villa in Tivoli as well. 

Hadrian is a fascinating soul: bearded, homosexual, flaunting conventional wisdom, travelling to the farthest reaches of the empire just because.  On his travels, he bickered with philosophers, visited historic sites, and micromanaged architects. Cheryl Morgan, an author who studies transgender and intersex people in the ancient world, brings the story of Favorinus, an intersex philosopher with whom Hadrian famously had a conversation.

To eat, consider artichokes this spring, either alla Romana or alla giudia (Jewish-style), both Roman classics.

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074 - The Madrassas of Timbuktu

Some call him the richest person in human history. Whether that's true, Mansa Musa of Mali shook up the world with his gold-laden hajj through Cairo and his university in Timbuktu.

That city at the edge of the Sahara might seem like the furthest place on earth, but it was a remarkable center of learning, home to as many as 700,000 manuscripts.

Cody Michaels from the History Unwritten podcast comes by to talk about Musa, his gold, and his famous journey to Mecca, as well as how African history is so much more than what we're commonly taught.  Plus poulet yassa!


Baxter, Joan. "Africa's 'greatest explorer'" in BBC News

Bell, Nawal Morcos. "The Age of Mansa Musa of Mali: Problems in Succession and Chronology" in The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Coleman de Graft-Johnson, John. "M?s? I of Mali" in Encyclopaedia Britannica

Hamidullah, Mohammed. "Echos of What Lies Behind the ?Ocean of Fogs?" in Muslim Historical Narratives

Levtzion, N. "The Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century Kings of Mali" in The Journal of African History

Mohamud, Naima. "Is Mansa Musa the richest man who ever lived?" in BBC Africa

Sogoba, Mia. "Mansa Musa: the Rejected Ruler of the Mali Empire?" in Culture of West Africa

Photograph by Francesco Bandarin

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011 - Santorini

We go to the Greek island of Santorini to learn about the eruption that devastated the Minoan civilization of nearby Crete. Plus minotaurs, donkeys, Atlantis and Cretan cuisine!  Thanks to Margo Anton and Seth Ruderman for their help.

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020 - The Staircases of Persepolis

East vs West? Maybe. We're off to Iran to greet the rise of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, the world's greatest by this point in history. Between Cyrus and Darius, we'll deal with two Great rulers, but we've also got medieval Iranian love poetry, unappetizing royal banquets, Croesus making bad decisions, and kebabs! `

Even better, Yentl from comes by to bring her knowledge of Achaemenid Persia, as we climb the magnificent staircases of Persepolis.

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073 - The Canals and Belfries of Bruges

Note: This episode contains a bit of profanity.

The swampy county of Flanders was the richest part of Europe in the 14th century, fueled by the international cloth trade, and Bruges was the center of that trade, spinning English wool into Flemish cloth. The trade brought power to the craft guilds, and that power brought those guilds into conflict with the aristocracy, and ultimately, the king of France.

In this episode, Manuel Van den Eycke of the Random History of Belgium Podcast joins us to examine the Bruges Matins, a worker-led uprising, and the subsequent Battle of the Golden Spurs. That victory, which nationalists have given connotations well beyond the intent of the participants.

We also talk about Belgian food (the best), including chocolate, fries, beer, and waffles, with a recipe for Liege-style waffles that will bring a smile to your face.

Belgium means so much to me, and I hope my enthusiasm shines through in this episode.

Brown, Elizabeth, A.R. ?Philip IV, King of France? in Encyclopedia Britannica
?Enchanted Bruges? New York Times 2006
?The Rise and Fall of the Medieval Flemish Cloth Industry?
Rick Steves Belgium: Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp & Ghent
Thomson, Emma. Northern Belgium: Flanders With Brussels, Bruges, Ghent & Antwerp

Photo by Hans Hillewaert


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072 - The Great Wall of China

It's a great wall. A really great wall. It also never really did its job.

Among those who so easily moved past the Great Wall were the Mongols, and Khubilai Khan, Mongol conqueror of China and founder of the Yuan dynasty, is perhaps the best known Chinese emperor, even though he's maybe the least Chinese of them all. Thanks, Marco Polo.

Joined by the phenomenal Chris Stewart of the History of China Podcast, we explore the wall, the Mongols, the Song Dynasty they vanquished, and Khubilai himself as he sat in his pleasure palace we know now as Xanadu.

There's hot pot, Olivia Newton-John references, two different typhoons, and more fun than you can shake a bottle of fermented mare's milk at.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. "Kubla Khan, or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment."
de Rachewiltz, Igor. tr. The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century
Keay, John. China: a History

Photograph by Severin.stalder

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071 - The Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres

Chartres Cathedral and its magnificent stained glass represent perhaps the greatest achievement of the High Gothic. Its story is linked to that of Blanche of Castile, one of France's most powerful queens, and her son Louis IX, later Saint Louis.

In this episode, we talk architecture, stained glass, and the use of color with listener and medieval studies scholar Chris Shanley. You'll also hear about how Blanche set Louis up for success, which he kinda sorta achieved.

And because we all need some comfort food, let's cook up a croque madame.


Ball, Philip. Universe of Stone: Chartres Cathedral and the Invention of the Gothic
Branner, Robert ed. Chartres Cathedral
Horne, Alistair. Seven Ages of Paris
Scott, Robert A. The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral
Rick Steves France
Williams, Nicola. Lonely Planet France
Wilson, Christopher. The Gothic Cathedral: The Architecture of the Great Church, 1130-1530

Photograph by Wikipedia user PtrQs

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070 - The Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela

When you think of Ethiopia, you might think of famine in the 1980s. You might not think of a millenia-old culture, one of the powers of the ancient world. The ancient capital of Aksum, possible home of the Lost Ark, sits below mighty obelisks, testaments to the wealth still hidden below the city.

In the middle ages, under the auspices of king Lalibela and with the alleged help of angels, workers carved remarkable churches by digging down directly into the rock. These rock-hewn churches still host Orthodox services, providing a powerful sense of faith.

Listener Callum Barnes appears to discuss his travels in Ethiopia, from trying to see the Ark to being offered raw beef at a wedding in Addis Ababa. Plus making injera, the famous spongy bread that centers Ethiopia's wonderful cuisine.

Carillet, Jean-Bernard and Anthony Ham. Lonely Planet Ethiopia & Djibouti
Henze, Paul B. Layers of Time: a History of Ethiopia
The Kebra Negast

Photograph by Chuck Moravec

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069 - The Grand Canal of Venice

In 1204, Christian crusaders sacked the world's largest Christian city, destroying or pillaging countless artifacts, books, and works of art. Some of those works of art ended up in the Most Serene Republic of Venice, for which 1204 represents the beginning of her dominance of the Mediterranean world.

The story of how a canal-lined city in a marshy lagoon became a superpower and how cross-wearing soldiers wrecked Constantinople is a sometimes shocking tale, one that only makes sense when you consider the Sunk Cost Fallacy. We've already spent time, money or energy; we should just keep going.

Vlad Zamfira from Wonderer's History Podcast joins us to discuss Venetian history and their role in the calamitous Fourth Crusade, while Kate Storm from talks about her favorite city and how to escape the crowds.

And of course, we'll talk about tiramisu. I think we can all agree we need some of that right about now.


Hardy, Paula. Lonely Planet Venice & the Veneto
Herrin, Judith. Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire
Madden, Thomas F. Venice: a New History
McCart, Melissa. ?The Mysterious Origins of Tiramisu, the Dessert That Took the ?80s by Storm? in Eater
Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: the Decline and Fall
Phillips, Jonathan. The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople
Rick Steves Venice

Photograph by Bjoern Eisbaer
Music by Antonio Vivaldi, performed by the Wichita State University Chamber Players, John Harrison, soloist.

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068 - Mont-Saint-Michel

The abbey on the lonely island rises from the tidal bay like a castle out of a Disney movie. Mont-Saint-Michel is one of France's best known sites, with a history to match.

Some of that history connects with the story of one of medieval Europe's most renowned women: Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Married first to King Louis of France and then King Henry of England, she and her family would both reach incredible heights and fail spectacularly, all while leaving stories that would echo throughout time.

Maura Kanter from Historically Badass Broads talks about Eleanor and Louis, while Christine Caccipuoti from Footnoting History discusses her life with Henry and their sons.  Listeners Emma and Laura reminisce on their visits to the Abbey.

There's love, lust, disappointment, war, peace, murder, plausible deniability, and some truly horrible, horrible people. And crepes!

It's the longest episode yet, but hopefully you'll find it worthwhile!

Barber, Richard W. The Devil's Crown: A History of Henry II and His Sons
de Torigny, Robert. The Chronicles of Robert de Monte 
Owen, D.D.R. Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen and Legend
Steves, Rick. Rick Steves France
Weir, Alison. Eleanor of Aquitaine: a Life
Williams, Nicola. Lonely Planet France

Photograph by Amaustan

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Bonus - Your Questions, Answered

A quick break from the wonders narratives to answer many questions about Drew, the show, the wonders, food, travel and more!  Find out which wonders missed the list, why there won't be a WotW cookbook, and why Drew has issues with "synergy" and "win-win" scenarios. Plus a new Demetrios Poliorcetes!

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067 - The Djemaa el-Fna of Marrakesh

The greatest of squares throbs with life: the scent of spiced, roasted meat, the cacophony of voices and drums, the visual rainbow of color. The Djemaa el-Fna is everything and more. Its history reflects the great medieval golden age of Morocco under the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties, a golden age for prosperity but not necessarily for culture.

Both dynasties began as fundamentalists determined to bring back religion to the libertine cities, and both eventually fell victim to cosmopolitan delights. But the story of Ibn Tumart and the Almohads has much to teach us about the intensity of extremism.

The always brilliant Nitin Sil from Flashpoint History returns to discuss the rise and fall of the Almohads and their legacy in Spain, Morocco and beyond. And listener Jesse Oppenheim also comes back to discuss visiting the square. Plus there will be tagines!

Photograph by Michal Osmenda

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066 - Angkor Wat

The Cambodian jungle hides one of the world's largest pre-industrial cities: Angkor. Highlighted by its magnificent main temple, Angkor Wat, the city's other monuments testify to the prosperity of the Khmer empire. Those other monuments, many still semi-ruined by the jungle, make for even more compelling travel than Angkor Wat itself.

From Suryavarman's exploits in battle to Jayavarman VII's countless Buddha-like faces, Angkor's kings led a society built on pushing back the jungle, until the jungle finally won. 

Listener Jesse Oppenheim joins us to discuss visiting Angkor, learning from guides who survived the Khmer Rouge, and fighting through instagramming yogis.  Plus, of course, food.

Photograph by Gisling

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065 - Monument Valley

Perhaps America's most famous landscape, Monument Valley and its fantastically shaped red-streaked buttes have starred in countless films and television shows. But its story truly hearkens to the people who have lived here for centuries: the Navajo, and before them, the Ancestral Puebloans.

In this episode, we'll discuss how the Ancestral Puebloans rose and then collapsed, victims of social breakdown in the face of climate change, and how the legacy of colonial oppression lives on in the dish most commonly associated with the Navajo: fry bread and the Navajo taco. But despite those setbacks, the culture of the indigenous southwest lives on strong to this day.


DuVal, Linda. ?THE WRITING ON THE WALL; The Southwest: Mysterious and beautiful, the ancient petroglyphs and pictographs etched on canyons throughout Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Nevada speak to the eye and the soul.? in the Baltimore Sun (Arizona and New Mexico)

Kohler, Timothy A., Mark D. Varien, Aaron M. Wright and Kristin A. Kuckelman. ?Mesa Verde Migrations: New archaeological research and computer simulation suggest why Ancestral Puebloans deserted the northern Southwest United States? in American Scientist

Newitz, Annalee. ?Conservatism took hold here 1,000 years ago. Until the people fled.? in the Washington Post.

Schwindt, Dylan M., R. Kyle Bocinsky, Scott G. Ortman, Donna M. Glowacki, Mark D. Varien and Timothy A. Kohler. ?The Social Consequences of Climate Change in the Central Mesa Verde Region.? in American Antiquity

Woodhouse, Connie A., David M. Meko, Glen M. MacDonald, Dave W. Stahle, and Edward R. Cook. ?A 1,200-year perspective of 21st century drought in southwestern North America? in PNAS

Photograph by wikipedia user Supercarwaar

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064 - The Old City of Sanaa

At the southern end of Arabia, Yemen was once rich from trade and frankincense.  By the 11th century, it had fallen off the map, but two strong queens led it back to prosperity, particularly Arwa Al-Sulayhi, whose reign did more for Yemen than 350 years of men who followed. There's assassins, executions, heads on pikes.

Among Arwa's accomplishments was refurbishing the Great Mosque of Sana'a, Yemen's  capital, whose medieval old city features gingerbread-like skyscrapers. Despite the horrors of war, Yemen perseveres.

Charlie from the Almost Forgotten podcast joins us to discuss Arwa and other historical figures that we've forgotten. Plus saltah!


Daftary, Dr. Farhad. Sayyida Hurra: The Isma?ili Sulayhid Queen of Yemen
Mackintosh-Smith, Tim. Yemen: the Unknown Arabia
Mernissi, Fatima. The Forgotten Queens of Islam
Walker, Jenny. Lonely Planet Oman, UAE and the Arabian Peninsula
Wintour, Patrick. ?Yemen civil war: the conflict explained? in the Guardian

Music by Mohamed al-Kouek, Kamilia Anbar Yakout, and Mohamed Hmoud al-Harithy

Photograph by Maria Gropa

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063 - The Western Group of Temples at Khajuraho


A group of temples sits in the hills of central India, stunningly studded with sculptures. Built by the Chandela dynasty, they are remarkably well preserved testaments to medieval power, but they are best known for their many erotic images.

Anirudh Kanisetti of the Echoes of India podcast returns to discuss the Chandelas, their connection with tantra, their views of sex, their run-ins with the famed Turkic warlord Mahmud of Ghazni, and how all of that relates to India's political environment today.

Medieval India shows the panoply of human experience in all its colors and shades. Nothing is a simplistic black and white.


Bose, Nemai Sadhan. History of the Candellas of Jejakabhukti

Desai, Devangana. Khajuraho

Desai, Devangana. The Religious Imagery of Khajuraho

Dikshit, R.K. The Candellas of Jejakabhukti

Keay, John. India: a History

Lonely Planet India

Miller, Sam. Blue Guide India

Mitra, Sisir Kumar. Early Rulers of Khajuraho

Nasr, Mohamed. The Emergence of Muslim Rule in India

Ramadurai, Charukesi. ?India?s Temples of Sex? BBC Travel

Tammita-Delgoda, Sinharaja. A Traveller's History of India

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062 - The Bayeux Tapestry

It's the world's greatest comic strip. The Bayeux Tapestry, technically an embroidery, documents the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest.

We explore this cheeky document and tell its tale: the story of 1066, that most crucial year in English history. It's the tale of Edward the Confessor, powerful earl Harold Godwinson, one-man military machine Harald Hardrada, and William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy.  There's battles, invasions, and an insane amount of luck, and the Tapestry covers it all. Or rather the parts it wants to cover.

I've wanted to tell this story since I started the podcast. I hope you enjoy it. Plus, there's an apple pie at the end you won't want to miss.


Bridgeford, Andrew. 1066 : the hidden history in the Bayeux Tapestry

Harper, Damian and Catherine Le Nevez. Lonely Planet Road Trips: Normandy & D-Day Beaches

Howarth, David. 1066: the Year of the Conquest

Marren, Peter. 1066: the Battles of York, Stamford Bridge & Hastings

Morris, Marc. The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England

Rick Steves France

Wilson, David M. The Bayeux Tapestry

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