Today 28 June we have heard much of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo 100 years ago; the event that sparked the beginning of the first World War. I was lucky enough to visit Sarejevo last year and of course the first place I visited was that corner. However it was the more recent events of the 4 year siege 1992 to 1995 and the massacres in Srebenica, where 8000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed, that had a very strong impact on me. These were not in far gone days but only 20 or so years ago.
I thought of the other places I have visited where history changed.
When I visited Genoa 1982 I was very conscious that this was the city where Christopher Columbus was born.
Though Columbus was not the first European explorer to reach the Americas (having been preceded by the Norse expedition led by Leif Ericson in the 11th century), his voyages led to the first lasting European contact with the Americas, inaugurating a period of European exploration, conquest, and colonization that lasted for several centuries.
I remember eating dreadful fish and chips on a very cold day looking at Plymouth Harbour in 1990 and thinking that this is the port from which the Mayflower sailed in 1620 taking all those hopeful dissenters, we know as the Pilgrims, to the New World with their world view that was to be so influential in shaping the United States of America and of course impacting on us.
I walked around the war graves in Verdun silently pondering all the young lives who were buried there.
Tiananmen Square was a place I visited in 2008 and found the whole experience most dispiriting. I was quite surprised I would feel so strongly about this place. All I could think of were the scenes on our TV screens of the tanks rolling in against the demonstrators in 1989 I found it bleak, souless and ugly. On my second visit to Beijing last year the guide had no understanding of why I did not wish to go.
In Canterbury Cathedral England I had a great sense of history and thought of the murder of Thomas a Becket there on 29 December 1170. All I could hear was the voice of the chorus and the sermon delivered by Thomas A Becket on Christmas Day in T S Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.
Amphitheatre of Epidarius
The Amphitheatre at Epidaurus built 4th century BC, was another extraordinary experience for me.
The theatre is marveled for its exceptional acoustics, which permit almost perfect intelligibility of unamplified spoken word from the proscenium or skēnē to all 15,000 spectators, regardless of their seating.
I thought of all those who had witnessed performances here for over 2000 years.
I had deliberately chosen to visit Dresden but I had no idea that 90% of Nuremberg had been destroyed by bombing in one hour in January 1945. I found my visit to the Documentation Centre in the Nazi Party Grounds an extraordinary experience. Of course I had seen newsreels of Hitler’s Nuremberg Rallies but I had no idea at how central this city was to the rise of National Socialism.
On 1,300 square meters, the permanent exhibition “Fascination and Terror” looks at the causes, the context and the consequences of the National Socialist reign of terror.
I have visited many places where history changed but these are a few which stand out for me.
You may think of other such places which had a similar impact on you.