Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Art and Culture in Fort Kochi

This is the second part of the post on Fort Kochi. It focuses on art, culture and day-trips opportunities.

Fort Kochi is like the Indian spice mixture, Masala, with different ethnic and religious groups. This part of India is known to offer refuge to persecuted persons from different parts of the world since ancient times. It offers numerous opportunities to discover verdant Kerala countryside as well as, to learn about the art and culture of this ancient land. The first image is from a visit to the Folklore museum near Fort Kochi.

For general information about Fort Kochi, seaside places to visit and important places of different religions in the area, you can also check the first part of this post.


Generally I love visiting museums. Unfortunately in India, the museums are dusty ill-kept places with little information about the exhibits and old fashioned rules like prohibition of photography. However, Fort Kochi was an exception to this trend. So let me start this post with the museums around Fort Kochi.

Ernakulam District Museum is near the Chinese fishing nets and the beach in Fort Kochi. When I visited it in April 2017, it was closed for renovation. However, I could still visit its gardens and admire the various sculptures exhibited there. It is located in a heritage building known as the Bastion Bunglow. The image below presents a sculpture by Joseph M. Verghese from the museum gardens.

There is another museum at the Dutch palace, above the Bhagwathi temple in Mattancherry. It was the palace of the Kochi kings built by the Dutch in the 17th century. However, photography is not allowed in this museum. Here, my favourite exhibits were two huge wall paintings showing the arrival of the Portuguese and their interactions with the local king, his warriors and the priests.

Another important local museum is the Folklore Museum at Thevara bridge connecting Kochi to Fort Kochi. You can take an auto to go there. You can also take a public bus going to Thevara. However the bus drops you 3 km away from the museum so you need to walk or to take an auto for the last part of the journey.

Folklore Museum is a private museum and has beautiful traditional handicrafts, art and sculptures. It also has a well-informed guides who can explain the significance of each exhibit. When I visited this museum I was in a hurry and could not spend time with the guide, but I really regretted it afterwards. It would have been a great opportunity to understand the significance of so many interesting cultural artifacts from Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Fort Kochi jail on the Tower Road, next to the Tourist Police Station, can also be seen as a museum. The earliest documents about this building are from 1865, though it could have been older than that. Different Indian freedom fighters had passed through this jail including Muhammed Abdur Rehman, K J Harshal, A K Gopalan and E M S Namboodiripad.


Around Fort Kochi there are a few art galleries. You can also admire a lot of street art like the one in the image below.

Every two years, Fort Kochi holds an international Kochi Art Biennale. The last biennale was held here from December 2016 to March 2017 and the next Biennale is planned for December 2018. During the Biennale, art exhibitions are organised in different old heritage buildings of Fort Kochi. I was fortunate to be able to visit some of the art installations and exhibitions of the Biennale this year.

Different places in Fort Kochi organise daily cultural shows to present the traditional dances, especially Kathakkali and Mohiniattam. In most of these places, one hour before the dance show, you can also see the dancers getting ready for the Kathakkali performance and how they put on their intricate make-up.


Fort Kochi has different ferry ports for visits to neighbouring areas. For example, a 10 minutes ride costing a few Rupees on the Tourist boat will take you to Vypin island just across from Fort Kochi. I took this ferry and visited its light house. With red and white stripes, the light house looked very beautiful in the evening sun. It is located close to a popular beach.

In Vypin, I also visited a small but beautiful Shiva Temple near the light house which had colourful paintings of the deities on its walls. A couple of statues on the pillars guarding the temple-gate seemed to be very old however, I could not find someone to tell me more about this temple. The image below has the Shiva painting from this temple.


There is another ferry connecting Fort Kochi to the twin city of Ernakulam. This 20 minutes ride, including a stop-over in Willingdon island, will take you to different malls and shopping centres of Kochi and Ernakulam.


You can also try a back-water tour in Fort Kochi. Different local companies organise half or full day trips for backwater canals trips. They take you in a vehicle to Vaikom, from where you take a boat to go around these canals which go through the villages. The cost for a full day trip varies from Rs 850 to Rs 1500 and includes a traditional Kerala lunch. It is an opportunity to observe the calm village life, people and nature. The image below has a kingfisher bird seen during a backwater tour.

In an earlier visit to Kochi a few years ago, I had been to the half-day tour. Thus, this time I opted for a full day tour. In both half-day and full tours, you visit the canals, see the local village life in Kerala and visit some local small scale industries and development projects. For example, this time they took us to visit a cooperative making coir ropes.

In the full day tour they made us experience two different kinds of boats. However, except for the traditional Kerala lunch served on a banana leaf, in terms of canals and local visits, there was hardly any difference between the two tours. Thus, if you don't have much time, take the half day tour as you are not going to miss anything significant.


In conjunction with Kochi Art Biennale, Sahapedia has been involved in a mapping of different communities in Fort Kochi. The few examples of community-mapping I saw during my visit were very interesting. A mixture of persons from different religions and ethnic backgrounds live in Fort Kochi.


This second part of the post on Fort Kochi focuses on art, culture and day-trips opportunities. It is a magical place where art and culture are part of your daily living experience. I loved staying in Fort Kochi.

You can also check the first part of this post for general information, seaside places to visit and important places of different religions in Fort Kochi,


Saturday, 17 June 2017

Baby in mother's womb Museum of Bologna

The Science museum of Palazzo Poggi in Bologna (Italy) is famous for their models showing babies growing in the womb used for teaching about child-delivery to doctors, nurses and obstetricians. This post celebrates the recent birth of my grand-daughter.

Model of a baby in mother's womb at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

However, this museum is not just about babies in the womb, it also has many other important exhibits related to scientific discoveries in the 16th -19th centuries. This post will introduce you to this beautiful museum.

Origins of the Science Museum in Poggi Palace

Bologna has one of the oldest universities in Europe, it started in 1088 and was part of that era which led to Enlightenment and Renaissance periods. During these, persons started looking at critically and exploring their surroundings, from natural phenomenon to rocks and minerals to plants and animals. Rationalism became the key word and people started questioning the religious dogmas.

Bologna had a number of noblemen (and a few noble women, though their work has not been documented equally well) who did pioneering work in the scientific enquiry. Ulisse Androvandi born in Bologna in 1522 was one such pioneer, whose work on natural history led to a private collection of objects, that became the core of the Science museum of Palazzo Poggi in the 20th century (Image below: the Aldrovandi room.

Aldrovandi room at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

Poggi Palace was built around 1550 as the house of the Poggi family. In 1714 it became the Science Institute of Bologna and a tower of an astronomical observatory called Speculam was added. At the end of 18th century, the arrival of Napoleon in Bologna resulted in dispersal of the different collections of Poggi Palace. In early 20th century many of these were brought back to lay the foundation of the present museum.

Story of the Odysseus

The hall near the entrance, now used for meetings and events, shows beautiful paintings of the artist Pellegrino Tibaldi depicting the episodes from the life of Odysseus (Ulysses in Latin), the Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer's epic poem The Odyssey.

Story of Odysseus by Pellegrino Tibaldi at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

Thus, the Science Museum is also an important place to admire art. It includes the works of Niccolo dell'Abate, Prospero Fontana and others. Another work of Tibaldi, the story of Susanna, is on the first floor of the building, which hosts the main museum.

Babies in the womb exhibits

This is my favourite part of the museum. The use of three dimensional models to teach the complexities of child birth to future obstetricians was started in Bologna by Prof. Giovanni Antonio Galli in the 18th century (image below). His teaching was so good that a school of obstetrics was created here in 1758.

Model showing Giovanni Antonio Galli teaching to obstreticians, at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

He combined the teaching of theory and practice through these models.

Child in the womb models at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

The models show the different ways in which the umbilical cord can lie around the baby in the womb and in rare cases cause complications. Thus obstetricians could understand the mechanisms of cord-prolapse and other complications and think of solutions to safeguard the lives of the mothers and babies.

Umbilical cord and babies in the womb models at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

The models also show the different positions of placenta inside the womb. The placenta is the bridge between the mother and the baby. Sometimes, the position of placenta near the womb opening at the bottom can create dangerous complications for the life of mother and baby. Therefore it was important for the obstetricians to understand those positions properly. In the 18th century this kind of understanding contributed to better delivery practices. Today such complications can be seen easily through ultrasound.

Models showing position of placenta in the uterus, at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

The models also show the different ways in which identical and non-identical twins can occupy space inside the womb and how this may affect their delivery.

Models showing twins in a womb at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

Anatomical wax statues

Doctors like Prof Galli employed their own sculptors and artists to make the human body models to teach to the students. Ercole Lelli was appointed as the head of this department of scientific artists. In 1742, Lelli proposed the creation of human sized statues of men and women to explain the different layers of muscles and bones. Thus the anatomy room was created in Poggi Palace in 1747.

Wax anatomical models of Enrico Lelli at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

Inspired by their example, medical schools all over Europe created similar departments and human anatomy models.

The museum also hosts a copy of a famous female body model called "Medici's Venus" (the name referred to the Medici family of Florence as well as to doctors) created in Florence by the artist Clemente Susini around 1780. In this model, the students could open the different parts of the female body and understand how different organs were placed inside and their inter-relationships, including the pregnant uterus. The model was useful for surgery students to see the blood supply and nerves around the different organs and plan their surgery.

Medici's Venus model at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

People visiting the museum are fascinated by these models and often forget to look around. For example, the room with the "Medici's Venus" has beautiful frescoes of cherubic boys busy in vineyard designed by Niccolò dell'Abate in 1552 before he left for the court of king Henry II in France.

Vineyard boys' frescoes at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

Other important scientists in the museum

The museum is full of exhibits from Bologna, each of which has its own importance in the history of science in the world. It has equipment that was used to make important scientific discoveries. I just want to share two examples with you.

The first example is of Marcelo Malpighi, called the father of microscopic anatomy, histology, physiology and embryology. He pioneered the use of microscope to understand the human and animal bodies. For example, he was the first person to see the capillaries and explain how arteries and veins connected and their role in blood circulation. His name is remembered in "Malpighian" bodies.

Statue Marcelo Malpighi at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

The other example is of Luigi Galvani who discovered different things about the electricity. It was his idea that human electricity transmission makes the contraction of muscles needed for body movements. He showed it by demonstrating the effect of electricity on a frog-leg.

Experiments of Luigi Galvani at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

In the museum you will come across many names which are familiar to medical and science students during their studies. Personally I find it exciting to see the equipment those persons had invented in their search for understanding the world.


The science museum of Palazzo Poggi in Bologna is a treasure trove if you are interested in the history of medicine and use of art for teaching science. In this post, I have limited myself to certain parts of this museum. However, the museum has many more things to show, such as the development of war strategies and the ship-building.

Beautiful roof paintings at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

I have been to the science museum a couple of times and every time, I find new things in it. If you are visiting Bologna and you are interested in the history of science, do not miss this amazing place.


Saturday, 10 June 2017

Fifty Shades of Green in Munnar

Munnar in Kerala with its gently rolling hills covered with rolling mists and neat rows of tea-plants is one of the most beautiful places in India. Recently I was there for a short holiday, recovering from an intensive Ayurvedic treatment. I have come back enchanted from this visit.

The infinite hues of green cut into squares and arranged in neat rows of the tea gardens draped over the hills and valleys are always the same and yet different, every time a source of joy and wonder.


During British colonial period, Munnar was a part of the Travancore estate. At that time it was mainly forest area with some agriculture and it belonged to the Poonjar family. John Munro, the British resident and Dewan of Travancore between 1810 to 1814, had visited different parts of the estate including Munnar, leaving descriptions which later helped in its use for the tea plantations.

In 1833, when the agreement for the supply of tea between China and England ended, the British started the search for alternative places in India to grow tea. Tea plants were stolen from China and brought to India. Native tea varieties were also identified in Assam. During 1850s the first Indian tea plantations were tried in the north especially around Darjeling in West Bengal and Sadiya in Assam. The first tea plantation in Munnar is credited to A. H. Scharp in 1880. Tea garden workers were brought from Tamilnadu, mainly poor peasants and tribals. Gradually tea plantations expanded all around Munnar.


I was at an Ayurvedic hospital in Kothamangalam for a knee pain. After treatment, I was told to give rest to my joints for a few days. Since Munnar was close, I decided to go there. I stayed at SMM Lodge near the old KRTC bus stand, which meant that I was just outside the main town in a calm place with beautiful views. The image below shows a tea garden about 1 km from the hotel.

I took some leisurely walks in the city. I also made two tourist trips around Munnar - one to the south-west, going towards Pallivasal and the other to south-east, going towards Devikulam. Here is a brief presentation of the places that I visited during my stay.


The old town of Munnar is located to the south along the Muthirappuzha river and extends from the old KRTC bus station to the bridge near the Christ church. The new Munnar is more developed with more shops and traffic and is to the north. Since I was staying in old Munnar, I only had glimpses of the new town while passing from there in an autorickshaw. It looked like any other town, full of shops, restaurants and noise. Probably it has some temples or other places to see, but I did not explore it.

I visited the Parvathi Amma temple and the Christ church in the old town. Just after the KRTC bus stand there is also the Blossom Park (Hydel park), but I did not visit it.

Parvathy Amma temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva. It is built in the south-Indian style with statues of different goddesses on the temple dome as shown in the image below. It is supposed to be very old.

In the courtyard next to the temple is an area for Shiva devotees with nine statues of Shiva.

Christ church is the oldest church of Munnar. A stone in the back-wall of the church explains that its foundation was laid by Sir Alexander Kay Muir, Baronet of Deanston (Glasgow, UK) in 1910. It is a simple church on the top of a hill with beautiful views of Munnar city and some nice stained-glass windows.


The road coming from Kochi, passing through Pallivasal, reaches south of Munnar. Along this road, a couple of kilometres before Munnar, a bridge across Muthirappuzhar river leads to a hill.

A climb along the hill on the right side after this bridge, overlooking the tea gardens in Pallivasal, brought me to Pothamedu View Point. I did this trip with an auto-rickshaw as I didn't want to strain my knees.

Further down this road, around 5 km from Munnar, a side road in Pallivasal took me to Atukkad water falls. The image below shows an overview of the whole area along with the water falls (towards the right edge of the image). When I visited it, the rains had not yet started and there was little water in the waterfall. Reaching the falls is difficult, so most people stop at a place on the hill from you can see the water fall, without going all the way down to the falls.

On the whole this visit towards Pallivasal was disappointing. For me, the most beautiful places on this visit were the tea gardens on the way.


A road going towards east from New Munnar will take you towards Devikulam, passing through Mathupetti and Kundala dams on Mathurippuzhar river, and then going up to Top Station at the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

As for the visit to Pallivasal, the views of the tea gardens were breathtaking. The image below shows a view of the waters from the Mathupetty dam.

After Mathupetty dam, our next stop was Echo Point where the configuration of the river banks provides a good echo. Here, young persons were busy shouting and taking selfies.

Then we stopped at Kundala dam which has beautiful views of the mountains. Along the dam there are shops and restaurants and people stopped here for picnics.

Our last stop was Top Station which has beautiful views of higher mountains around Munnar. It is 32 Km from Munnar, and because of the stops on the way, the journey can take upto one and half hour. It is located slightly less than 1900 metres and from here, the views of Western Ghats and Theni valley in Tamil Nadu are amazing.  

There were some other places to visit on this visit such as the rose garden and the botanical gardens. However, I did not visit them.


Munnar provides a lot of opportunities for observing nature. During my walks in the city, I could observe numerous birds. On the visit to Devikulam, we were lucky to see a couple of female elephants with baby elephants.


After visiting a number of tea gardens in Assam, I was also curious about visiting the tea garden workers in Munnar and to learn about their lives. The opportunities to visit them came in Old Munnar itself where the side roads took me to areas where tea garden workers lived.

I also visited some houses of tea garden workers in Yellapetty in Devikulam. It was difficult to communicate since they did not speak Hindi or English. However, I was fortunate to find an auto driver, who spoke English, who had grown up in a tea garden and whose father and brother still worked in a tea garden. Compared to the situation in the north-east of India, my impression was that the tea garden workers had much better living and working conditions in Munnar. The image below shows a housing area for tea garden workers in Old Munnar town.


My visit to Munnar was a last minute decision. Since I like quiet and beautiful views, I am glad that I chose to stay in Old Munnar, away from the shops and noise of New Munnar.

Though I did make some tourist visits around Munnar, I usually avoided walking so I visited a limited number of places.

My most beautiful memories of Munnar are those of the tea gardens spread over hills and valleys. The last image of this post shows the morning mists in the hills of Devikulam. 


Sunday, 4 June 2017

Street Artists of Ferrara

Ferrara is one of the most beautiful cities in northern Italy. Its medieval city centre has been declared a World Heritage of Humanity. In August every year, the city centre is filled by the colourful street artists (buskers) coming from different countries for the Annual Buskers Festival.

However, Ferrara is not just about the street artists. It also has many beautiful buildings and monuments. This post explains about some of the key places to see in the city, especially during the Buskers Festival.

History of Ferrara

The history of the medieval and renaissance city of Ferrara is closely bound to the Este family. Their castle is the symbol of the city. For about two centuries the splendour and richness of Ferrara matched other famous cities like Florence and Venice or with other great European courts in France or Spain.

Ferrara city grew up around a ford over the River Po. With its increasing prosperity, famous artists and intellectuals came to the city during the Italian Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries. Over time, the encircling walls of the medieval town were extended to accommodate urban growth, resulting in one of the first planned European cities where the medieval part of the town merged seamlessly with the new areas.

Red and pink colours dominate in Ferrara city centre and is the city of bicycles. It is on the Bologna-Venice railway line and easy to reach. A 15 minutes walk from the railway station will bring you to the Este castle and the city centre. The city has numerous hotels and B&B for the tourists.

Buskers Festival

The Annual Buskers Festival brings street artists including musicians, acrobats, clowns, illusionists and dancers, from the different parts of the world. It is held over a ten days period in August of each year. In 2017, this festival will be held from 17 to 27 August. The festival has street artists exhibiting along the winding medieval streets of the city centre. It is one of the best periods to visit Ferrara.

Este Castle

This beautiful castle complete with towers, moat and draw-bridges was built in 1385 and then expanded over the successive centuries.

The castle holds a museum and beautiful rooms with paintings, sculptures and frescoes. It includes hanging gardens built on a terrace. It is also a venue for different exhibitions and cultural events. For example, around Christmas the castle holds an exhibition of Christmas cribs from different parts of the world.

The castle is surrounded by different squares which are also venues for different events during the year. The image below presents the castle seen from the Savonarola square with a statue of Friar Girolamo Savonarola.

St George Cathedral of Ferrara

It is a beautiful building in pink and white marble, a short walk from the castle. Its construction was started in 1135, initially in the Romanic style which can still be seen in the facade. The entrance shows scenes from hell and heaven. Over the entrance sits archangel Gabriel with a balance in his hands. In the image below you can see the cathedral facade with a group of musicians during the Buskers festival in the foreground.

Inside, the cathedral is richly decorated in Baroque style and has different beautiful paintings and sculptures. Of special interest is a 16th century fresco by Bastiniano inspired by the famous painting of Michelangelo in the Sistine chapel in Vatican.

The cathedral was damaged by the allied bombings during the second world war and has been reconstructed. Next to the Cathedral is one of the largest and most beautiful squares of Ferrara called the Trento and Trieste square. From the square you can also see the 15th century pink and white banded bell tower of the cathedral. The image below shows the square during an open-air antiquarian market.

On the other side of Trento and Trieste square once there used to another famous medieval building, Reason Palace, which was damaged during the second world war and replaced by a modern building. It's tower was built in the second half of 15th century and use to hold the Bell of the Reason. In 1864, a clock was placed on it. After the second world war, enlargement of the road brought this tower in the middle of the street and is known as the Clock Tower.

Municipal Square and Staircase of Honour

On the opposite side of the road across from the cathedral, a high arched entrance called il Voltone leads to the Municipal Square. Before the construction of the Este Castle, the noble Este family used to live in the building of this square, marked by a beautiful marble staircase. The image below shows the Municipal Square during the Buskers Festival with the Staircase of Honour in the background.

Above the Voltone arched entrance, there are two statues - a bronze statue of Borso d'Este (Este treasury) and a statue of Nicholas the III from the Este family sitting on a horse, shown in the image below.

Diamond Palace

The urban expansion of Ferrara during the renaissance period led to the construction of new buildings outside the medieval town. Among these is the Diamond Palace built in 1492, named so because of diamond shaped cones covering its external walls. The Diamond Palace holds the city art museum and is the venue of  art exhibitions.

Monumental Water Reservoir

Closer to the railway station in the 24th May Square, there is another important site of Ferrara - the Monumental Water Reservoir with Acquedotto which collects and supplies water to the city. It is a tall round structure with columns, resembling a temple and holds a beautiful fountain showing the origins of river Po shown as a beautiful woman.

The park near the water reservoir also has a monument remembering the first war of independence of Italy against the Austrians, showing the historical "Bersaglieri of Po" unit of Italian military. The Bersaglieri wear a cap with a long plume. It is the work of the sculptor Fiorenzo Bacci.

Medieval Streets of Ferrara

Apart from the monuments mentioned above, the narrow and twisting cobbled medieval streets of Ferrara around the cathedral and clock tower are worth looking at.


Ferrara is a gem of a city in north Italy. Most tourists to Italy think only of Rome, Venice, Florence and Pisa. However, if you have a little time to visit it, Ferrara is definitely worth a visit.

The last image of this post (above) shows the Corso Martiri della Liberta, the main street in the centre of Ferrara with Voltone on the left and the Este Castle behind it. This part of the city is closed to cars and vehicles.

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