Here, there, everywhere. We have to call it something, don't we? Who's got an idea? Let's call it Toponymy.


Rubber's Boomtown

De haven van Manuas, originally uploaded by elinegijs.

Deep in the middle of the Amazon Jungle there is a city named Manuas. Situated near the confluence of the Negro and Amazon rivers Manuas acts as a transportation hub for the interior of South America. Founded to keep Spanish armies from floating into the Portuguese mainland but it later became wealthy because of the rubber trade.

Rubber trees naturally occur throughout the Amazon rain forest. Latex rubber can be extracted from trees in a way that is similar to gathering sap from maple trees. Although colonists and native South Americans knew about latex rubber there were few good uses for the sticky substance until 1844. In that year Charles Goodyear developed the first vulcanization process, this would lead to the now common brand of tires. By 1879 industries began exploring and extracting rubber from the Amazon.

The fundamental fact that explains Brazil’s entry into and domination of natural rubber production during the period 1870 through roughly 1913 is that most of the world’s rubber trees grew naturally in the Amazon region of Brazil. The Brazilian rubber industry developed a high-wage cost structure as the result of labor scarcity and lack of competition in the early years of rubber production. Since there were no credit markets to finance the trips of the workers of other parts of Brazil to the Amazon, workers paid their trips with loans from their future employers. Much like indenture servitude during colonial times in the United States, these loans were paid back to the employers with work once the laborers were established in the Amazon basin. (source)

Manuas was named after the original inhabitants of the area, the Manaós. In their language the word means "mother of God," ("Mãe de Deus" in Portuguese) an idea that would certainly conflict with the Catholic colonists setting up this new town. If the rubber boom had not occurred it is unlikely that any other wealth would have come into the area. Manuas' landmarks such as the Teatro Amazonas could never have been built without rubber money.

The rubber boom died out around the 1920s when industrialists discovered that rubber could be grown and harvested at a lower cost in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Africa. At this time synthetic blends of rubber also became prevalent reducing the amount of actual latex rubber needed for many rubber products.


No Toro, Más Dinero

Sometime next year Barcelona will have its last scheduled bull fight. The city once was home to three bullrings, Plaza de el Torin (demolished), Plaza de las Arenas (closed in 1977), and the Plaza de Toros Monumental

These massive stadiums were designed for the "national spectacle" of bullfighting. However, many Catalans consider bullfighting a tradition that is "too Spanish." The Monumental has announced that it will hold the last scheduled bullfight in the city sometime next year.

Architect Richard Rogers has signed on to a 100 Million Euro project to transform the dilapadated Plaza de las Arenas bullring into a shopping destination. Catalans and tourists alike can now shop for shoes and CDs on the very soil where matadors and bulls danced to the death.


Sri Pada, Adam's Peak

Shadow, originally uploaded by MaxxG.

No other mountain in the world is revered by as many different religions as Sri Pada. It is known as Al Rohoun to Arabs, Svargarohanam to Tamils, and Adam's Peak to English speakers. Even before Bhuddists arrived at Sri Pada (or any part of Sri Lanka, the island south of the Indian peninsula) the mountain had religious significance. An ancient and mysterious footprint was carved into rock near the mountain's peak. Abrahamic religions interpreted this as Adam's footprint, Bhuddists see it as a mark left by Bhudda himself during one of his many journeys to Sri Lanka.

Thirty miles of tiny islands seperate Sri Lanka from India. While geologists, oceanogaphers, and historians cannot agree on the age of the formation, most agree that it is a man-made structure. Hindus call it Rama's Bridge after the popular epic hero of Hinduism. Westerners typically refer to it as Adam's Bridge in order to tie together the region's religious metaphors. The water is typically shallow between these limestone islands (rarely greater than 30 feet) - this would presumably have aided human movement between India and Sri Lanka.

The Indian government has started a dredging project through the narrow and shallow strait. Although people have opposed the project on religious and environmental grounds their objections fell on deaf ears. It is officially known as the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project.


Retracing the footsteps of Alexander

This BBC documentary attempts to follow in the "Footsteps of Alexander" (the Great, as he is known in the West). You can watch the entire thing on YouTube.

The two "webisodes" above highlight Alexander's truly earth-changing force. The island city of Tyre resisted his authority in 332 BC. Alexander ordered his army to build a causeway from the mainland to the Phonecian city (in modern Lebanon). The earthworks took seven months but had the desired effect. Alexander took over the city and essentially attached it to the shore. The 6/10 mile long road collected silt from sea currents and transformed the island city into a peninsular city.

Another video in this series discusses the Egyptian city of Alexandria far more eloquently than I can. Many cities throughout the Middle East and Central Asia bear his name. This map shows where a few of them are located.


A Tale of Two Monuments

spire, originally uploaded by Peanut99.

The wedge on the right part of that photo is not an errant needle. It is the Dublin Spire, officially known as the "Monument of Light." At 400 feet tall this stainless steel spike punctures the skyline of a mostly horizontal city.

What is truly spectacular about the Spire is that it stands on the site of Nelson's Pillar. An IRA bomb demolished the top part of the Pillar in 1966 - nobody was hurt or killed by the blast. In fact, many Irish seemed happy that the monument to their British colonial past had suffered such a blow. Several folk-style songs, such as Up Went Nelson, commended the bombers and quickly rose to the top of the Irish radio.

One early morning in the year of 'sixty six,
A band of Irish laddies were knocking up some tricks,
They thought Horatio Nelson had over stayed a mite,
So they helped him on his way with some sticks of gelignite.

While the Spire has its own share of detractors, it is not nearly as unpopular as its predecessor. There is no "visitors center" or other means of interpretation on the site. A coil of metal at street-level is said to signify prehistoric Celtic megaliths. Beyond that the site is entirely void of description. As Witold Rybczynski says, the Spire "gains its power from its engineering, rather than from symbolism."


Rule of the East

Vladivostok Station., originally uploaded by chimpsonfilm.

The Vladivostok Terminal of the Trans Siberian Railway is an elegant structure. It is eight time zones and several days' journey away from it's opposite terminus.


8-Bit Graffiti

does this really need a title?, originally uploaded by Bernat_83.

Fixed-width, or monospace, fonts wouldn't exist if not for the invention of the typewriter. While many people claim to have invented the first typewriter it was first manufactured in Central New York. L.C. Smith, Corona, and Morse Chain Company were among the first to build typewriters for the general public.

Manual typewriters used these fixed-width fonts to simplify the key-to-print machinery. These fonts were adopted by early word processing programs and redrawn to for dot-matrix printers.

Nostalgic feelings run deep for these digital relics such as this Graffiti example, ASCII, and other 8-bit art.


Factories of Art

dafen, originally uploaded by lila75.

The gates to the village of Dafen are marked by this giant sculpture. Dafen has gained international fame and noterity as a hub for art reproductions. Cribbing works like the Mona Lisa requires a great deal of technical skill.

In vast studios Dafen's artists create their reproductions in an assembly line fashion. Each artist adds only a few brush strokes, ones that he or she has perfected. The end result is a stunningly high quality painting that is difficult to differentiate from the original.

Dafen is located outside Shenzhen, a large Chinese city near Hong Kong. Each year more artists flock to the village. Spiegel estimates that over 5 million oil paintings come out of Dafen each year.


Australia's Meeting Place: Canberra

Nighty Sky in Canberra, originally uploaded by OzBandit.

The largest and best known planned city in Australia is its capital: Canberra. Around 1900 Aussies debated whether to put the capital in Sydney or Melbourne, the two largest cities on the continent. Since it was located between the two cities Canberra was picked as a compromise in 1908. Currently it is the largest inland city in Australia.

The name of Canberra comes from the Ngunnawal and Walgalu tribes who inhabited the area. It translates to "meeting place." The nomadic tribes gathered around present-day Canberra to meet the annual Bogong moth migration.

"As the moths migrate southwards, their world collides with human society. Their route, followed for thousands of generations past, now passes over the bright lights of Canberra and other large cities. The lights fool the moths into behaving as if the sun is coming up. Their natural response is to dive down to the ground to find a dark place before the heat of the day sets in, and suddenly there are moths everywhere."
Bogong moths travel over 900 miles during their short lives. The aboriginal Australians met the moth flock every spring to feast on them. According to anthropologists the moths were mashed into a pasty meal that tasted like walnuts. The giant swarm of moths is critical for the ecosystem of the Australian Alps; they are a food source for many animals.

The design of Canberra was selected from an international competition in 1911. Chicago architect Walter Burley Griffin along with his partner and wife, Marion Mahony Griffin won the contract. Both had worked for Frank Lloyd Wright. The influence of his prairie style and the City Beautiful movement is evident in their designs.



Jeepney, originally uploaded by Raphael Borja.

At least one resident of Manila is sick of his city's portrayal in popular media. Carlos Celdran, a tour guide in Manila, expressed his anger at outsiders who come to the Philippines in search of only poverty, slums, and desperation. In response to a photographer searching for Manila's "bat people" he wrote,

" I have always been so confused about why is it that the negative side of Manila is what a lot of photographers and journalists are interested in. My request to these people in the past to show a balanced picture of Manila (a good side, as well as a bad one), has always been met with confused stares. It's as if Philippine middle class values, arts, heritage, and beauty in the "normal" sense isn't beautiful to them or worse, it won't sell. To many, the Philippines has become the cliche/easy picking for the grotesque and I will not enjoin this cause. Once again, my apologies if I offended you or seem a little politicized or upset, but poverty and bat people is NOT ALL that we are about." (via MetaFilter)
The photograph above is a "Jeepney." At the end of World War II, the American military abandoned hundreds of jeeps on the main island of the Philippines. Lavishly decorated and often crammed full of passengers these vehicles act like buses on the streets of Manila.

The name "Manila" derives from the Tagalog word "maynilad", a reference the white mangrove-like plants named "nilads". Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi took over Manila in 1570 ousting the Muslim Sultanate that originally settled it. Since that time the city had been under the control of the British and Americans before gaining independence in 1946.