From Siwa to Miami: ‘The Ship of Tolerance’ Art Project

Ever since 2005, “The Ship of Tolerance” has been traveling the globe. It all started in the Egyptian Oasis of Siwa where Ilya and Emilia Kabakov (Ukrainian-American couple) launched their art / education project tailored towards children: A ship was built, its sail made of tens of paintings about tolerance and diversity made by local children.

The children –who never had any art classes before- were given classes on drawing, given waterproof paint and invited to paint something that reflect their view of the community in which they lived. The kids were so excited to participate, and even more excited to see a boat (some of them had never seen any) sailing a saltwater lake in their oasis with the paintings that they created hanging from the mast.

The ship is built from scratch every time the project moves to a new country, and cities are chosen were strong economic, political, social or cultural conflicts or challenges are present, so that ‘an answer’ could be formulated by children through their art, which ‘sails’ the Ship of Tolerance. Venice, St Moritz, Manchester, Sharjah and Miami are among the ‘harbors’ that hosted the ship, with children from every color, race, cultural background and socio-economic stratum participating in the project and engaging in discussion about humanity.

Here is the official website of the project where you can follow the updates, see the photos, and read more about the concept:

Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’ – II: The universe inside

More interesting facts and reflections from the series ‘Cosmos: A Personal Voyage’ by Carl Sagan:

“We are in the suburbs, in the countryside of the galaxy.”

“The written record of human history occupies only the last 10 seconds of the cosmic year.”

“The DNA is written in a language billions of years older than any human tongue (…) the language of life.”

“There are as many atoms in one DNA molecule as there are stars in a typical galaxy.”

“We are made of trillions of cells…within us, is a little universe.”

“Atoms are mainly empty space; matter is composed chiefly of nothing.”

“The equivalent of 20 million volumes worth of information is inside the head of every one of us. The brain is a very big place in a very small space.”

“The brain library has 10 thousand times more information in it than the gener library. Our passion for learning is our tool for survival.”

“Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.”

“We are star stuff harvesting sunlight.”

Stephen Hawking Exhibition: From his wheelchair to the stars

“Be curious (…) look up at the stars and not down at your feet.” – Stephen Hawking

This is the latest message from Stephen Hawking, the legendary physicist / cosmologist whose sudden appearance at the Science Museum in London caused a sensation. The Museum -on the occasion of his birthday- hosts an exhibition titled ‘Stephen Hawking: A 70th Birthday Celebration’:

Incredible how a man diagnosed with motor neuron disease when he was just 21 (back in 1963) and told he would live no longer than 5 more years has defied medical science the way he did, but even more, it’s awe-inspiring how a man physically-challenged in every way possible has defied his paralysis to change our understanding of the universe and our position in it.

Happy Birthday Sir!

Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’ – I: We have always been space travellers

‘The Earth has made more than 4 billion circuits around the Sun since its origin (…) we have always been space travelers.’ – C. Sagan

Today I watched the last episode of ‘Cosmos: A Personal Voyage’, a thirteen-part epic series in which Carl Sagan (one of my heroes) explains –over 13 hours- the birth of the universe; the life cycle of the stars; the rise of life; the evolution process; and a brief history of science and scientific endeavors from Eratosthenes to Kepler. It is simply breathtaking, but it made me somehow sad: sadness for the empty space that this man left in our world, sadness for seeing that humanity has not learned the lessons of the past, and sadness because they do not teach this kind of knowledge at school!

Carl Sagan is a world-renowned cosmologist and prominent scientist famous for pioneering the SETI program (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). His scientific knowledge and track record aside, he is also a brilliant storyteller and a true humanist, something that you can clearly spot while watching ‘Cosmos’ (bearing in mind it was produced in the 80s). Vangelis music is a nice touch there as well.

I will be posting some excerpts from ‘Cosmos’, and I here I start with these:

“As long as there have been humans, we have searched for our place in the cosmos. Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet, of a humdrum star, lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.”

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

“We’re interested in communication with extraterrestrial intelligence, wouldn’t a good beginning be better communication with terrestrial intelligence? With other human beings of different cultures and languages? With the great apes? With the dolphins?”

“We accepted the products of science, we rejected its methods (…) Perhaps, one day; there will be civilizations again on Earth, there will be life, there will be intelligence…”

“We see that space and time are intertwined: we can not look out into space without looking back into time.”

“The cosmos was originally all hydrogen and helium. Heavier elements were made in red giants, and in supernovas, and then blown off to space, where they were available for subsequent generations of stars and planets. Our Sun is probably a third-generation star. Except for hydrogen and helium, every atom in the Sun and the Earth was synthesized in other stars. The silicon in the rocks, the oxygen in the air, the carbon in our DNA, the gold in our banks, the uranium in our arsenals were all made thousands of light years away and billions of years ago. Our planet, our society, and we ourselves are built of star stuff.”

Faking Heritage in Barcelona? Three Cases

When I first saw the soaring Columbus Monument in Barcelona (60 meters), I obviously wondered: as far as I know, he is Italian, and he set sail for his first voyage from Palos de la Frontera in Southern Spain, so, where does Barcelona fit into the picture? I asked an old Catalan historian who replied with a sense of accusation in his eyes: ‘you live in Barcelona and you don’t know Columbus was Catalan!’ I will leave it here (there is a debate going on about Columbus and his origins), but to be honest, Columbus was received in Barcelona by the Catholic Monarchs (Ferdinand and Isabella) upon his return from the first voyage to the New World. Maybe that is the missing (and only relevant) link he had to the city.

Bu then comes a true hoax: at the heart of El Call (the Jewish Quarter), a synagogue’s brochures and posters invite the tourists to visit ‘Europe’s Oldest Synagogue.’ You enter into a synagogue of a much later era (13th century and beyond) packed with an out-of-tune collection of objects, and the inevitable souvenir corner ‘inside’ the small synagogue. The oldest parts belonging to the original structure are from the 3rd and 4th centuries, but there is no concrete archeological evidence that this structure was a synagogue at all. If we accept the speculation about the foundation being that of a synagogue, then we must also accept that the Ostia Synagogue in Italy is Europe’s oldest synagogue (foundations dating back to the 1st century). Will the brochures and posters change? Of course not. They bring tourists in, they call it ‘cultural tourism’.

Then yet another in-your-face repatriation of someone else’s heritage: Nao Victoria. The ship-museum is a replica of one of the five ships of Ferdinand Magellan in his 16th century journey around the world. The offer is to buy a ticket to visit the ship of Juan Sebastián Elcano, the first man to ever circumnavigate the planet. Wait a minute, wasn’t that Magellan? I know he was killed in Philippines, but again, maybe Elcano was a Catalan assistant of Magellan who ‘finished the job’ after Magellan’s assassination? Well, he was his assistant, but he was Basque, not Catalan. Maybe he landed in Barcelona? No, he landed in Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Southern Spain. Again, what does Barcelona have to do with this? Why present this as if it was its heritage?

The funny part is that Barcelona has -for decades- ignored very interesting layers of its history and heritage: how many people know that Barcelona was the first Visigothic capital in the Peninsula (before Toledo)? How many people know about Barcino, the Roman city that formed the nucleus of what later became Barcelona? Is there any ‘itinerary’ of the barrack cities that once dotted the Barceloneta beach and Montjuïc? Interesting things to reflect on for all heritage specialists and fans, or maybe it’s just the dark side of cultural tourism.

El nuevo portal digital de la revista cultural de El legado andalusí

El nuevo portal digital de la revista cultural de El legado andalusí pone al alcance de los usuarios un gran archivo documental de casi 750 artículos de colaboradores nacionales e internacionales.

The new digital portal of the Andalusi Legacy magazine makes available to the users a grand archive of documents of around 750 articles by national (Spanish) and international collaborators.

Más informaciónes / More information:

I strongly recommend this portal for history enthusiasts.

My 10th Article in El Legado Andalusí: al-Mahdiya, under the sign of the Lion

Another article of mine was published by El Legado Andalusí, this time about a marvelous little city in the Tunisian coast, called al-Mahdiya.
The city, once a Fatimid capital, is dotted with monuments and archaeological sites from the tenth century. Apart from being a picturesque Mediterranean port, it was once home for such figures as the poets Ibn Hani’ al-Andalusi and Ibn Rashiq al-Kairuani. Following a brief period under the rule of the Norman kings of Sicily, the city fell to the Almohads in the twelfth century, signed peace treaties with Sicily, and flourished economically and culturally. Ibn Khaldun would refer to it in the thirteenth century as the richest Berber city of the era.

You can read the original article in Spanish at:

You can read the English translation for excerpts from the article below:

Mahdiya, the first Fatimid capital

Better said, the first capital founded by the Fatimids, who had lived in Raqqada (some 8 km from Qayrawan) before moving to Mahdiya.
The city bears the name of the caliph al-Mahdi who ordered its construction in 916. It’s a Mediterranean city that occupies a rocky peninsula whose isolation allowed for defending it by land, while the solidity of the Fatimid float guaranteed the security of the port against possible attacks form the sea. Moreover, Mahdiya was far enough from Qayrawan, whose religious scholars and people were known for their religious rigor and their rejection of the Shiite doctrine of the Fatimids.

The Fatimids, famous for their obsession with astrology and astronomy, waited till the lion (the Zodiac sign of Leo) dominated the constellations to start building the city, according to the astrologers’ instructions. Historians mention a very similar story that would take place later in Egypt with the founding of Cairo by the Fatimids in 969: only this time it was the sign of Aries that dominated, and the city was called ‘al-Qahira’ (the conqueror or invincible), the feminine form of ‘al-Qahir’, the ancient Arabic name of planet Mars which controls Aries.

Is this for real or is it just one more example of what we can call ‘the magical realism of the medieval chroniclers’? What we know for sure is that the lion (a symbol of power in Islamic iconography) became the city symbol, according to the travel accounts and the symbols seen in the walls.

With the exception of Cairo, one cannot compare Mahdiya to other Islamic capitals like Fez, Damascus or Baghdad. A typical medina of the Islamic World would have the great mosque more or less at its heart, surrounded by markets, caravanserais, hamams, etc. The Fatimid model is distinct because of the Shiite doctrine: In Mahdiya like in Cairo, the heart of the city is occupied by the palace of the Fatimid caliph, who represents the shadow of God on Earth.