Jul 032020

On this date in 1608 Quebec City was founded by Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer and diplomat, at the site of a long abandoned St. Lawrence Iroquoian settlement called Stadacona. Champlain served as its administrator until he died in 1635. The name “Canada” originally referred to this settlement, although the Acadian (i.e. French) settlement at Port-Royal was established three years earlier. Quebec came to be the cradle of North America’s Francophone population (although some Acadians migrated south to Louisiana where “Acadian” morphed into “Cajun”). Supposedly the indigenous people had named the area Kébec, meaning “river narrows”, because the Saint Lawrence River narrows near to the promontory of Quebec and its Cape Diamant. Quebec City is one of the oldest European settlements in North America and the only fortified city north of Mexico whose walls still exist. While many of the major cities in Latin America date from the 16th century, among cities in Canada and the U.S., few were created earlier than Quebec City.

The population of the settlement remained small for decades. In 1629 it was captured by English privateers, led by David Kirke, during the Anglo-French War. Samuel de Champlain argued that the English seizing of the lands was illegal as the war had already ended, and worked to have the lands returned to France. As part of the ongoing negotiations of their exit from the Anglo-French War, in 1632 the English king, Charles I, agreed to return the lands in exchange for Louis XIII paying his wife’s dowry. These terms were signed into law with the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The lands in Quebec and Acadia were returned to the French Company of One Hundred Associates.

In 1665, there were 550 people in 70 houses living in the city. One-quarter of the people were members of religious orders: secular priests, Jesuits, Ursulines nuns and the order running the local hospital, Hotel-Dieu. Quebec was the headquarters of many raids against New England during the four French and Indian Wars. In 1690 the city was attacked by the English, but was successfully defended. In the last of the conflicts, the French and Indian War (Seven Years’ War), Quebec was captured by the British in 1759 and held until the end of the war in 1763. In that time many battles and sieges took place: the Battle of Beauport, a French victory (31 July 1759); the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, in which British troops under general James Wolfe defeated the French General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm on 13 September 1759 and shortly thereafter took the city after a short siege. A French counter-attack saw a French victory at the Battle of Sainte-Foy (28 April 1760) but the subsequent second Siege of Quebec the following month however was the final British victory. France ceded New France, including Quebec City, to Britain in 1763.

At the end of French rule in 1763, forests, villages, fields and pastures surrounded the town of 8,000 inhabitants. The town distinguished itself by its monumental architecture, fortifications, and affluent homes of masonry and shacks in the suburbs of Saint-Jean and Saint-Roch. Despite its urbanity and its status as capital, Quebec City remained a small colonial city with close ties to its rural surroundings. Nearby inhabitants traded their farm surpluses and firewood for imported goods from France at the two city markets.

I have covered some aspects of Quebecois cuisine, including poutine, here: https://www.bookofdaystales.com/edwards-v-canada/

Here, then, is a wonderful video showing the recipe for a tourtière, a classic French Canadian meat pie, typically made with three meats, pork, veal, and beef, with the addition of potatoes and other vegetables and heavily spiced. The chef speaks Quebec French which adds its own flavor.

Oct 272017

The oldest document referring to the settlement of “Aemstelredamme” (‘dam on the river Amstel’), what is now Amsterdam, is dated on this date in 1275 CE. According to this document the inhabitants of the village were, exempted from paying a bridge toll in the County of Holland by order of Count Floris V. Some people now take this to be something like the date of the founding of Amsterdam: it is not. The origins of the city lie at least in the 12th century, when fishermen living along the banks of the River Amstel built a bridge across the waterway near the Ij, which at the time was a large saltwater inlet. Wooden locks under the bridge served as a dam protecting the village from the rising waters of the Ij, which often flooded the early settlement. The mouth of the river Amstel, where the Damrak is now, formed a natural harbor, which became important for trading-exchange from the larger koggeships into the smaller ships that sailed the merchandise deeper into the hinterland.

But settlements on this location are considerably older according to recent archeological evidence. During the construction of the Metro “Noord-Zuid lijn” between 2005 and 2012 archeologists discovered, 30 meters below street level, pole-axes, a stone hammer and some pottery, all dating from the Neolithic era. This means that Amsterdam or its predecessor was occupied from about 2600 BCE onwards although not necessarily continuously.

In 1204, the inhabitants of Kennemer invaded the first aggrem Aemestel, the castle at the Amstel dike, thus resulting in the destruction of the house of Gijsbrecht van Aemstel, who, by name of the Bishop of Utrecht, ruled the area. This event was later used by the Dutch poet Joost van den Vondel to write a historical play, the Gijsbrecht van Aemstel, which since then has been staged every first week of the new year. A hundred years later (1304), his descendent, Gijsbrecht van Aemstel VI, tried to claim his alleged rights over the Amsterdam regions, but ended up with his family banished to Flanders.

A more important year in the history of Amsterdam was 1275. While Aemstelland fell under the administrative jurisdiction of the Prince-bishop’s Sticht Utrecht, Count Floris V of Holland -the hindland of Aemstelland, granted traders, sailors and fishermen exemption from tolls. This document, dated October 27, 1275, is the oldest recorded usage of the name “Aemstelredamme” – Amsterdam. This meant the inhabitants from the vicinity of Aemstelredamme acquired a right to travel freely through the County of Holland without having to pay tolls at bridges, locks and dams. This was the very start of the later richness of the young evolving city: by not having to pay tolls, traders could sell merchandise, shipped to Aemstelredamme harbor from everywhere (Scandinavia, Denmark, Germany), at  more competitive prices in Amsterdam and the hinterland. After the murder of Count Floris V in 1296, Amstelland again belonged to the Sticht. By 1327, the name had developed into Aemsterdam.

In 1306, Gwijde van Henegouwen, bishop of Utrecht, gave Amsterdam city rights. After his death (1317), Count Willem III inherited the Aemstelland, whereby Amsterdam fell under the County of Holland.

In 1323, Willem III established a toll on the trade of beer from Hamburg. The contacts laid through the beer trade formed the basis for subsequent trade with cities of the Hanseatic league in the Baltic Sea, from where during the 14th and 15th centuries the Amsterdammers increasingly acquired grain and timber. In 1342, Count Willem IV awarded the city “Groot Privilege”, which greatly strengthened the position of the city. During the 15th century, Amsterdam became the granary of the northern low countries and the most important trading city in Holland.

According to legend, on 16 March 1345, the miracle of Amsterdam occurred and Amsterdam became an important pilgrimage town. The Miracle of the Host was a Eucharistic miracle which involved a dying man vomiting upon being given the Holy Sacrament and last rites. The Host was then, due to liturgical regulations, put in the fire, but miraculously remained intact and could be retrieved from the ashes the following day. This miracle was quickly recognized by the municipality of Amsterdam and the bishop of Utrecht, and a large pilgrimage chapel, the Heilige Stede (“Holy Site”) was built where the house had stood, and the Heiligeweg (“Holy Way”) as the major pilgrimage route to it.

Subsequently a Stille Omgang (“Silent Walk” or circumambulation) was performed annually to commemorate the event. The Stille Omgang fell out of an individual practice during the 17th century as a result of the Protestant Reformation, but was revived in 1881, imitating the medieval procession for the Miracle. During the 1950’s up to 90,000 Catholics, from all over the Netherlands, walked the Silent Walk, but nowadays usually about 5,000 people take part in it, following Mass in one of Amsterdam’s churches.

Two great fires swept through the city in 1421 and 1452. After the second, when three-quarters of the city were destroyed, Emperor Charles decreed that new houses were to be built from stone. Few wooden buildings remain from this period, a notable example being the Houten Huis (Wooden House) at the Begijnhof.

The period 1585-1672 is generally thought of as Amsterdam’s Golden Age. Ships from the city sailed to North America, Indonesia, Brazil and Africa and formed the basis of a worldwide trading network. Amsterdam’s merchants financed expeditions to the four corners of the world and they acquired the overseas possessions which formed the seeds of the later Dutch colonies. Rembrandt painted in this century, and the city expanded greatly around its canals during this time. Amsterdam was the most important point for the transshipment of goods in Europe and it was the leading financial center of the world until it was taken over by London.

Dutch cooking benefited from the far-flung colonies, notable Indonesia, much as English cooking was enhanced by the Indian raj. However, I don’t consider chicken tikka masala to be an English dish despite its popularity, nor would I label bami goreng as Dutch even though you’ll find it on most lists of “classic Dutch cuisine.” To be fair, Indonesian recipes have been popular in the Netherlands for centuries, and the Dutch East India Company was responsible for a huge influx of spices into Europe from the 17th century onwards. Nevertheless, I’m purist enough to want to keep Indonesian cooking and Dutch cooking distinct, inasmuch as one can.  Therefore, I am going to turn to hachee – a traditional Dutch beef and onion stew of venerable pedigree – as my recipe du jour. Its “secret” is in the fact that it is precisely half and half beef and onions (and the spice blend, of course).



2 lbs stewing beef, cubed
3 tbsp butter
2 lbs onions, peeled and chopped
¼ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups (approx) beef stock
3 bay leaves
8 cloves
8 juniper berries
8 black peppercorns
2 tbsp red wine vinegar (plus extra)
salt and freshly ground black pepper


Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with a lid over medium-high heat.

Pat the beef as dry as you can with paper towels, and then brown it on all sides working in batches. Transfer the browned cubes to a plate with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the onions to the pot, plus a little more butter if needed, and cook until thoroughly golden but not deep brown. This step takes much longer than the standard recipes tell you. It may take 30 minutes or longer, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon.

When the onions are caramelized, add the flour and stir to combine. Add the beef back to the pot and just cover with beef stock. Add the seasonings and red wine vinegar.

Bring the stew to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low, cover, and simmer for 2½ hours. Check to make sure that the beef is in shreds at this point. Then uncover and simmer for another 30 minutes to thicken the sauce. Check the seasonings adding more red wine vinegar to taste if you wish.

Hachee is always served with mashed potatoes and sometimes braised red cabbage (with apples).

Dec 282016


On this date in 1836 South Australia was officially proclaimed as a new British colony near The Old Gum Tree in what is now the suburb of Glenelg North. The event is commemorated in South Australia as Proclamation Day. I grew up in Gawler, South Australia so today has something of a resonance for me. I’ve not returned since 1965 but around this time of year I sense the urge to visit once again and get a little nostalgic. Proclamation Day used to be a public holiday, but it was never important for my family because we were on school summer holidays anyway. Still, the founding of South Australia is an important event, rarely noted in the histories (not even in my own history classes), because it was overshadowed by the eastern colonies and cities – Sydney, Melbourne, New South Wales, etc. – and the eastern explorers.


A group in Britain led by Edward Gibbon Wakefield was looking to start a colony based on free settlement rather than convict labor. Wakefield suggested that instead of granting free land to settlers as had happened in other colonies, the land should be sold. The money from land purchases would be used solely to transport laborers to the colony free of charge; they would be responsible people and skilled workers rather than paupers and convicts. Land prices needed to be high enough so that workers who saved to buy land of their own remained in the workforce long enough to avoid a labor shortage.

In 1830 Charles Sturt explored the Murray River and was impressed with what he briefly saw while passing through Lake Alexandrina, later writing:

Hurried ….as my view of it was, my eye never fell on a country of more promising aspect, or more favourable position, than that which occupies the space between the lake (Lake Alexandrina) and the ranges of the St Vincent Gulf, and, continuing northerly from Mount Barker stretches away, without any visible boundary.

Captain Collet Barker, sent by New South Wales Governor Ralph Darling, conducted a more thorough survey of the area in 1831, as recommended by Sturt. After swimming the mouth of the Murray River, Barker was killed by aboriginees who may have been suspicious of him because of contact with sealers and escaped convicts in the region. Despite this, his more detailed survey led Sturt to conclude in his 1833 report:

It would appear that a spot has at last been found upon the south coast of New Holland to which the colonists might venture with every prospect of success ….All who have ever landed upon the eastern shore of the St. Vincent’s Gulf agree as to the richness of its soil and the abundance of its pastures.

In 1834 the South Australian Association, with the aid of such figures as George Grote, William Molesworth and the Duke of Wellington persuaded British Parliament to pass the South Australia Colonisation Act 1834. The Act stated that 802,511 square kilometers would be allotted to the colony and to be convict-free. The plan for the colony to be the ideal embodiment of the best qualities of British society, that is, no religious discrimination or unemployment. The province and its capital were named prior to settlement. The Act further specified that it was to be self-sufficient; £20,000 surety had to be created and £35,000 worth of land had to be sold in the new colony before any settlement was permitted. These conditions were fulfilled by the close of 1835.

While New South Wales, Tasmania and (although not initially) Western Australia were established as convict settlements, the founders of South Australia had a vision for a colony with political and religious freedoms, together with opportunities for wealth through business and pastoral investments. The South Australia Act  reflected these desires and included a promise of representative government when the population reached 50,000 people. South Australia thus became the only colony authorized by an Act of Parliament, and which was intended to be developed at no cost to the British government. Transportation of convicts was forbidden, and ‘poor Emigrants,’ assisted by an Emigration Fund, were required to bring their families with them. Significantly, the Letters Patent enabling the South Australia Act included a guarantee of the rights of ‘any Aboriginal Natives’ and their descendants to lands they ‘now actually occupied or enjoyed.’ These noble intentions were not fulfilled of course.


The western and eastern boundaries of the colony were set at 132° and 141° East of Greenwich, and to the north at the Tropic of Capricorn, (23° 26′ South). The western and eastern boundary points were chosen as they marked the extent of coastline first surveyed by Matthew Flinders in 1802.


In 1836, the John Pirie and the Duke of York of the South Australia Land Company set sail for South Australia to establish the first settlement on Kangaroo Island. Royal Navy Rear-Admiral John Hindmarsh was selected to be South Australia’s first governor. The first settlers and officials set sail in early 1836. A total of nine ships consisting of 636 people set sail from London for South Australia. The ships in the fleet included the Cygnet (carrying Colonel William Light’s surveyors), Africaine, Tam O’Shanter, Rapid, and HMS Buffalo (carrying Hindmarsh). After an eight-month voyage around the world, most of the ships took supplies and settlers to Kangaroo Island. They landed at Kingscote to await official decisions on the location and administration of the new colony.

Surveyor Colonel William Light was given two months to locate the most advantageous location for the main colony. He was required to find a site with a harbor, arable land, fresh water, ready internal and external communications, building materials and drainage. Light rejected potential locations for the new main settlement, including Kangaroo Island, Port Lincoln, and Encounter Bay. Light decided that the Adelaide plains were the best location for settlement. Most of the settlers were moved from Kangaroo Island to Holdfast Bay with Governor Hindmarsh arriving on 28 December 1836 to proclaim the province of South Australia.


The date 28 December as a public holiday in South Australia was modified to the first otherwise working day after the Christmas Day public holiday (i.e. usually 26 December). Formal ceremonies involving the most senior current officials and politicians, followed by public celebrations, continue to be held at the still-extant Old Gum Tree at Glenelg on 28 December.

A Christmas bombe is an entirely suitable treat for this day. When I lived in South Australia my mum used to make a full roast dinner for Christmas followed by Christmas pudding, all of which would make the kitchen (where we ate), an absolute furnace. But for my mum tradition was tradition even though it sometimes topped out at 100°F(38°C) and we had no air conditioning; not even a fan. Even so it would have been unthinkable for her to deviate from her British traditions.


When I was raising a family in New York I usually made a traditional British Christmas dinner, but ice cream at Christmas was actually a Victorian favorite, especially chestnut ice cream — https://www.bookofdaystales.com/w-s-gilbert/ — so sometimes I made a bombe. You can make your own ice cream for this, or use store bought. You’ll need a large mould.  I used to use a flat-bottomed metal bowl, the same one I used to boil my puddings.


Over the years I made two different kinds of bombes. My original attempts were simply tri-colored bombes. All you need is ice cream of three nicely contrasting colors. Butter the mould well and line it with plastic wrap. Soften one ice cream so that it spreads easily. Then coat the base of the mould with it. Set up the ice cream in the mould in the freezer for several hours. Soften the next color of ice cream, then remove the mould from the freezer, spread the second ice cream inside the first leaving a hollow in the center, and return the mould to the freezer. When the second ice cream has set up, soften the last ice cream. Then fill the hollow with the third flavor, smooth off the bottom, and let the whole set up. To serve, have a basin of warm water handy. Dip the mould in the warm water to release the bombe. Turn it out on a plate, remove the plastic wrap, and serve sliced. If you want you can give guests a fruit syrup. It depends on the flavors of the ice cream.


If you are adventurous you can make mincemeat ice cream with brandied cherries. This takes all of Advent to prepare. First, around 6 weeks before Christmas, fill a large mason jar with pitted bitter cherries and pour good quality brandy over them. Seal the jar and set aside. Every day or so invert the jar so that it spends half the time on its base and half on its lid. Make the bombe 2 or 3 days ahead of time. I always made my own vanilla ice cream and mincemeat for this recipe but you can use store bought if you want. My vanilla ice cream recipe is here, https://www.bookofdaystales.com/helen-keller/ and my mincemeat recipe is here https://www.bookofdaystales.com/first-sunday-advent/

Soften the vanilla ice cream and mix it well with mincemeat. The proportions are entirely up to you but I would not overdo the mincemeat. Butter a mould and line it with plastic wrap. Fill the mould with the ice cream and mincemeat mix, and let it set up overnight. To serve, unmould the ice cream on to a serving platter, and spoon the brandied cherries with some of the flavored brandy over the top.

Dec 022016


Leipzig University (Universität Leipzig)was founded on this date in 1409 by Frederick I, Elector of Saxony and his brother William II, Margrave of Meissen. Since its inception, the university has engaged in teaching and research for over 600 years without interruption (although there were a few glitches at the end of WWII because the buildings were all bombed). Famous alumni include Leibniz, Goethe, Ranke, Nietzsche, and Wagner. The university was modeled on the University of Prague, from which the German-speaking faculty members withdrew to Leipzig after the Jan Hus crisis and the Decree of Kutná Hora — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decree_of_Kutn%C3%A1_Hora . The Alma mater Lipsiensis opened in 1409, after it had been officially endorsed by Pope Alexander V in his Bull of Acknowledgment on (September 9 of that year). Its first rector was Johann von Münsterberg. From its foundation, the Paulinerkirche served as the university church. After the Reformation, the church and the monastery buildings were donated to the university in 1544.


Like many European universities of the time, the university of Leipzig was originally structured into colleges (Collegia) responsible for accommodation of students (and some lecturers), and collegiate teaching. Among the colleges of Leipzig were the Small College, the Large College, the Red College (also known as the New College), the College of our Lady and, the Pauliner-College. The college structure was eventually abandoned and today only the names survive.


During the first centuries, the university grew slowly and was a rather regional institution. Today, following major expansion in the 19th century, many aspects of the history of the University can only be found in its Art Collection. Practically no trace is left of the early university’s original buildings, as they were continually being rebuilt in more modern styles and on a grander scale. The oldest college buildings were located in the south-western part of the medieval city, between the Schlossgasse and the Petersstraße, where the city council had allocated buildings for the use of graduates even before the official founding of the university. Later expanded to the “Kleines Fürstenkolleg”, these buildings housed the Faculty of Law from 1508 onwards (first called the “Petrinum” and referred to as the “Juridicum” since 1881). The main university center, however, was situated on the eastern rim of the medieval city, in the “Latin Quarter” between the city wall (now the Goethestraße) and the Ritterstraße. The complex of buildings became the seat of the Faculty of Arts (artes liberales). The new center included the “Großes Fürstenkolleg” complete with dormitories (“Bursen”), a large heated lecture hall (“Vaporarium”), which also served as an assembly hall (“Nationenstube”).


Leipzig’s most famous food specialty is Leipiziger Allerlei (Leipzig All Things), an originally vegetable dish which is sometimes now also served as a side dish. During the 19th and 20th centuries it gained widespread renown and underwent many modifications, but the history of Leipziger Allerlei” is not entirely clear. One legend, probably false, has it that the dish was originally developed as a ruse to protect the rich residents of the city from tax collectors and beggars in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. These visitors would be served a vegetable dish only to demonstrate that there was no money in the household to buy meat. However, there exists a 1745 recipe for the dish, well before Napoleonic times, but there may still be some truth to the legend.


These days, versions of “Leipziger Allerlei” can be found in the freezer section of just about any German supermarket but these are pretty pallid offerings. According to the traditional recipe, the ingredients should include morel mushrooms, crayfish tails, and bread dumplings in addition to the assortment of baby vegetables – carrots, kohlrabi, asparagus and cauliflower. Authentic fresh Leipziger Allerlei is served in June, at the start of the asparagus season, when the closed season for crayfish is over and the other vegetables are ready for harvest.

Today some of the ingredients are considered delicacies in Germany, especially the crayfish, because in 1876 a disease, accidentally introduced from North America, decimated the German population and they are now very rare locally. Nowadays, dried morels are usually used in place of the original fresh Lorchel (Gyromitra esculenta) which can cause severe poisoning or be fatal if not cooked properly. Outside of Scandinavia you are unlikely to find fresh Lorchel. The basic vegetable mixture itself consists traditionally of white asparagus, peas, carrots and cauliflower. Originally all the vegetables were individually cooked to preserve their own taste. With a stove with four burners, however, this is hardly possible, especially as bread dumplings and sauce alone require two burners. Krebsbutter is butter flavored with crab shells that can be made at home, but Germans normally buy it. Leipziger Allerlei is a festive dish, that takes time and effort, but is suitable for celebrating the founding of Leipzig University. Here is a traditional recipe:


Leipziger Allerlei


20 freshly cooked crayfish
25 g dried morels
200 g fresh white bread in slices, crusts removed
200 ml whole milk
2 eggs
salt and pepper
150 g of butter
180 g fresh peas
400 g cauliflower, cut in florets
12 small, thin carrots, peeled
12 stalks white asparagus, tough stems removed
30 g flour
1 tbsp Krebsbutter
200 ml of cream
2-4 tbsp dry white wine
fresh chervil


Twist off the tails of the crayfish and reserve. Use the bodies for garnish.

Pour warm water over the morels to cover in a bowl.

Chop the white bread in a food processor with the milk.

Separate the eggs. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks.

Whip 50 g of butter until smooth. Add the egg yolks to the butter and mix. Add the egg whites, yolks and butter to the white bread mix, season with salt to taste, mix thoroughly, cover, and chill.

Poach each vegetable in a separate pot. Remove with a slotted spoon when al dente and keep warm. Reserve the cooking  liquids. Mix them and reserve 250 ml.

Form about 20 dumplings from the dumpling dough with moistened hands. Boil in 2 liters of boiling salt water for 8 minutes.

Remove the morels from the water. Squeeze them vigorously and reserve 75 ml of the water.

Make the sauce by creaming 80 g butter with the flour and krebsbutter. Mix the vegetable stock, morel water, and the cream in a small pan. Bring to a slow boil and add the butter-flour mixture, small pieces at a time, stirring all the time. Add the white wine, season with salt and pepper to taste, then simmer for about 2 minutes until thickened.

Heat the crayfish tails and morels in the remaining butter.

Remove the dumplings from the water with a slotted spoon and place them on a preheated plate.  Place the vegetables around the dumplings and pour the morels and crayfish over the vegetables. Pour the sauce over the dumplings and garnish with chopped chervil.

Jul 302016


According to well certified documents, the city of Baghdad was founded on this date in 762.  The founding of Baghdad was a milestone in the history of urban design and a landmark in cultural history. A city was born that would quickly become the cultural lodestar of the Old World. It horrifies me to think what the name Baghdad conjures up nowadays – war, famine, pestilence, horror. For me as a boy it was (and is still) the city of 1,001 Nights, of magic lamps and flying carpets. It was a center of learning that scholars gravitated towards. It was a great jewel that was much more magnificent than anything Westerners could conceive, let alone build. Yet now ignorant Westerners (which I hope is not the majority) look down on large swathes of the Middle East, cast aspersions on their culture, and drop bombs on their people. I’m not saying that living under a caliph in the 8th century was a picnic.  But would you rather live in Baghdad under a caliph, or in Europe under the warmongering, illiterate Charlemagne whose greatest educational triumph was being able to write a capital “C” (his initial) on his thumbnail when he was an old man?


After the fall of the Umayyads, the first Muslim dynasty, the victorious Abbasid rulers wanted their own capital to rule from. Choosing a site north of the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon (and also just north of where ancient Babylon once stood), the caliph Al-Mansur commissioned the construction of Baghdad. Once Al-Mansur had chosen the site, he supervised the design. He had workers trace the plans of his round city on the ground in lines of cinders. The perfect circle was a tribute to the geometric teachings of Euclid, whom he had studied and admired. He then walked through this ground-level plan, indicated his approval and ordered cotton balls soaked in naphtha (liquid petroleum) to be placed along the outlines and set alight to mark the position of the massively fortified double outer walls.


On 30 July 762, after the royal astrologers had declared this the most auspicious date for building work to begin, Mansur offered up a prayer to Allah, laid the ceremonial first brick and ordered the assembled workers to get to work. The scale of this great urban project is one of the most distinctive aspects of the history of Baghdad. With a circumference of four miles, the massive brick walls rising up from the banks of the Tigris were the defining signature of Mansur’s Round City. According to 11th-century scholar Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi whose History of Baghdad is our chief source – each course consisted of 162,000 bricks for the first third of the wall’s height, 150,000 for the second third and 140,000 for the final section, bonded together with bundles of reeds. The outer wall was 80ft high, crowned with battlements and flanked by bastions. A deep moat ringed the outer wall perimeter.

The workforce itself was enormous. Thousands of architects and engineers, legal experts, surveyors and carpenters, blacksmiths, and laborers were recruited from across the Abbasid empire. First they surveyed, measured and excavated the foundations. Then, using the sun-baked and kiln-fired bricks that had always been the main building material on the river-flooded Mesopotamian plains in the absence of stone quarries (think the Tower of Babel), they raised the fortress-like city walls brick by brick. This was by far the greatest construction project in the Islamic world, with as many as 100,000 workers involved. The circular design was supposedly innovative (according to Al-Khatib), although there is archeological evidence of other, earlier circular cities. Four equidistant gates pierced the outer walls where straight roads led to the center of the city. The Kufa Gate to the south-west and the Basra Gate to the south-east both opened on to the Sarat canal – a key part of the network of waterways that drained the waters of the Euphrates into the Tigris and made this site so attractive.


The city’s growth was helped by its excellent location, based on at least two factors: it had control over strategic military and trading routes along the Tigris and had abundant water in a dry climate. There were water supplies on both the north and south ends of the city, allowing all households to have a plentiful supply: most uncommon for any city at this time.

Baghdad eclipsed Ctesiphon, the capital of the Persian Empire, which was located some 30 km (19 mi) to the southeast. Today, all that remains of Ctesiphon is the shrine town of Salman Pak, just to the south of Greater Baghdad. Ctesiphon itself had replaced and absorbed Seleucia, the first capital of the Seleucid Empire. Seleucia had earlier replaced the city of Babylon.

The bricks used to make the city were 18 inches (460 mm) on all four sides. Marble was also used to make buildings throughout the city, and marble steps led down to the river’s edge. The city consisted of two large semicircles about 19 km (12 mi) in diameter. The city was designed as a circle about 2 km (1.2 mi) in diameter, leading it to be known as the “Round City”. The original design shows as single ring of residential and commercial structures along the inside of the city walls, but the final construction added another ring inside the first. Within the city there were many parks, gardens, villas, and promenades. In the center of the city lay the mosque, as well as headquarters for guards. This style of urban planning contrasted with Ancient Greek and Roman urban planning, in which cities were designed as squares or rectangles with streets intersecting each other at right angles.


The four surrounding walls of Baghdad were named Kufa, Basra, Khurasan, and Syria; named because their gates pointed in the directions of these destinations. The distance between these gates was a little less than 2.4 km (1.5 mi). Each gate had double doors that were made of iron; the doors were so heavy it took several men to open and close them.  The walls were 30 m high, and included merlons, a solid part of an embattled parapet usually pierced by embrasures. In fact there was a double outer wall surrounded by a moat.

In the middle of Baghdad, in the central square was the Golden Gate Palace. The Palace was the residence of the caliph and his family. In the central part of the building was a green dome that was 39 m high. Surrounding the palace was an esplanade, a waterside building, in which only the caliph could come riding on horseback. In addition, the palace was near other mansions and officers’ residences. Near the Gate of Syria a building served as the home for the guards. It was made of brick and marble. The palace governor lived in the back part of the building and the commander of the guards in the front.


Within a generation of its founding, Baghdad became a hub of learning and commerce. The House of Wisdom was an establishment dedicated to the translation of Greek, Middle Persian and Syriac works. Scholars headed to Baghdad from all over the Abbasid Caliphate, facilitating the introduction of Persian, Greek and Indian science into the Arabic and Islamic world at that time. Baghdad was likely the largest city in the world from shortly after its foundation until the 930s, when it was rivaled by Córdoba. Several estimates suggest that the city contained over a million inhabitants at its peak.


Among the notable features of Baghdad during this period were its exceptional libraries. Many of the Abbasid caliphs were patrons of learning and enjoyed collecting both ancient and contemporary literature. Although some of the princes of the previous Umayyad dynasty had begun to gather and translate Greek scientific literature, the Abbasids were the first to foster Greek learning on a large scale. Many of these libraries were private collections intended only for the use of the owners and their immediate friends, but the libraries of the caliphs and other officials soon took on a public or a semi-public character. Four great libraries were established in Baghdad during this period. The earliest was that of the famous Al Mamun, who was caliph from 813 to 833. Another was established by Sabur Ibn Ardashir in 991 or 993 for the scholars who frequented his academy. Unfortunately, this second library was plundered and burned by the Seljuks only seventy years after it was established. This was a good example of the sort of library built up out of the needs and interests of a literary society. The last two were examples of madrasa or theological college libraries. The Nizamiyah was founded by the Persian Nizam al Mulk, who was vizier of two early Seljuk sultans. It continued to operate even after the coming of the Mongols in 1258. The Mustansiriyah madrasa, which owned an exceedingly rich library, was founded by Al Mustansir, the second to last Abbasid caliph, who died in 1242. This would prove to be the last great library built by the caliphs of Baghdad.

The death struggle between the Islamic empires of the East and the Christian empires of the West waged on in earnest for several centuries, with the Jews caught in the middle. I wonder when the great cultures of the peoples of the books of Abraham will learn to live in harmony. Not in my lifetime, I fear.

Getting at what exactly Persians ate in the 8th century is next to impossible, although we can hazard a guess. Iranian food today has ancient roots, obviously, but it is an eclectic mix. Curiously, our old pal Apicius and his De re coquinaria might come to our aid. This is a 5th century Roman cookbook of course, but it does contain a few recipes which he calls “Parthian” – i.e. Persian. Here’s Parthian lamb:

Haedun sive agnum particum: Mittes in furnum. Teres piper, rutam, cepam, satureiam, damascena enucleata, laseris midicum, vinum, liquamen et oleum. Fervens collitur in disco, ex aceto sumitur. (Apicius 3.6.5)

True to form this is not much to go on, but it’s a start. Basically it tells you to put a whole lamb in an oven and make a sauce with pepper, rue, onion, savory, pitted prunes, asafetida, wine, liquamen, and oil.


I don’t have the ingredients to experiment with this recipe right now, nor the guests to serve it to – a whole roast lamb feeds a bunch. I’d more than likely use a leg of lamb anyway, but you’re still talking about 4 – 6. What’s more, it’s stinking hot and humid right now in Mantua, so I’m not about to roast anything. The sauce seems to be a classic Eastern blend of sour, sweet, bitter, spicy, and salty, so I will give it a try at some point. Getting the proportions right for modern taste buds is going to be a challenge.

Apr 162016


Salta (now in NW Argentina) was founded on this date in 1582 by the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Lerma, who intended the settlement to be an outpost between Lima and Buenos Aires. De Lerma was named Governor of Tucumán, (in present Argentina) in 1577 by Spanish King Philip II. Described by historians as a man of violence, de Lerma had problems with several people from the area, including fellow countrymen. Among those he persecuted were the spokesman of a Catholic bishop. He also disliked Francisco Salcedo who built a church in Santiago del Estero. Many of de Lerma’s opponents ended up in jail or being killed. Salcedo fled to another city, but he was returned to Tucumán by de Lerma’s men after his location was discovered. In Tucumán, Salcedo was tried and jailed. A number of Salcedo’s supporters were killed.


In April 1582, de Lerma founded the city of Salta, next to the Arenales River. He foresaw Salta as an economic center, since the Spanish government had opened seaports in Santiago de Chile, Callao, and Buenos Aires. Salta’s situation between the Viceroyalty of Peru and Buenos Aires, according to de Lerma, would be an advantage for the city, because he believed that Madrid’s government would re-route their shipments through Salta. He named the city Ciudad de San Felipe y Santiago del Lerma en el valle de Salta, which was subsequently shortened to Salta. De Lerma befriended Indians who populated the area, believing they could be of help to him, especially with their labor. He also attracted Spaniards to the area.

After he established the city, however, de Lerma had to face many new rivals and problems. More conquerors arrived in Salta and tried to seize the city, causing multiple feuds. The city went through many periods of disease, and it had been erected in an area with frequent tremors. In 1584, de Lerma was arrested and sentenced to jail in Salta. He appealed, and returned to Spain to take his case to the supreme court, but his appeal was rejected and he was sent to a Spanish jail. While it is known he died in jail, the year in which he died is not known.

Historian Paul Goussac wrote that “de Lerma’s administration was nothing but a series of criminal attempts.” Salta-born historian Armando Bazan describes de Lerma “as malign as a disease.”  Well, I think all of the conquistadores were as malign as a disease, but Lerma was apparently more like pneumonia whereas the others were simply a bad case of ‘flu.


During the war of independence, the city became a commercial and military strategic point between Perú and the Argentine cities. Between 1816 and 1821, the city was led by local military leader General Martín Miguel de Güemes, who, under the command of General José de San Martín, defended the city and surrounding area from Spanish forces coming from further north. Salta emerged from the War of Independence politically in disarray and financially bankrupt, a condition that lingered throughout much of the 19th century. However, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the arrival of Italian, Spanish and Arab immigrants, particularly Syrians and Lebanese, revived trade and agriculture all over the area while further enhancing the city’s multicultural flavor.


Salta is one of my favorite destinations in Argentina, and I have many friends there. I’m debating living there when I return to Argentina. It is situated in the Lerma Valley, 1,152 metres (3780 feet) above sea level, at the foothills of the Andes mountains. The weather is warm and dry, with annual averages of 756 mm (30”) of rainfall and an average temperature of 16.4 °C (20.4 °C in summer, 10.8 °C in winter). January and February are the months with greatest rainfall. During the spring, Salta is occasionally plagued by severe, week-long dust storms.


Nicknamed Salta la Linda (“Salta the beautiful”), it has become a major tourist destination due to its old, colonial architecture, friendliness, excellent weather and natural scenery of the valleys westward. Attractions in the city proper include the 18th century Cabildo, the neo-classical style Cathedral, and the 9 de julio central square along with San Bernardo hill and its surroundings. The city’s museums exhibit a wide range of artifacts and art work from the native civilizations that flourished in the area (Salta is located in the southernmost region of what was the Inca empire, belonging to the Collasuyu, one of the four areas the empire was divided into until the Spanish conquest), as well as from the 16th century Spanish conquest and the colonial and post-colonial periods. Salta is also the starting point of the “Train to the Clouds” (Tren a las nubes), and on the way to the red soils of Cafayate.

The general region of Salta is regarded as the one most influenced by native Indians, and its foods are closely linked to the Andean-Incan tradition. When preparing regional dishes, potatoes and corn are common, along with quinoa, peppers, squashes and tomatoes. The most celebrated dishes are humita and tamal, in which the corn husk is stuffed with a corn filling and seasonings or meat. The popular Argentine dish, locro, also comes from this region. Arguably, however, the empanadas from Salta are the best in Argentina.

Empanadas salteñas are distinctive in that the meat for the filling is chopped, not ground, and is mixed with potatoes and hard boiled eggs (among other things). In Argentina I buy the pastry discs for the empanadas readymade, but you can easily make them yourself if you have the time. Argentinos are divided about spices. In Buenos Aires all hot spices are avoided, but in Salta a little heat is all right. Your choice.


Empanadas Salteñas


500g pastry dough (see https://www.bookofdaystales.com/9-de-julio/ )

egg yolk, beaten (for brushing the tops of the empanadas)

1kg beef
500g onion
300g potatoes
3 hardboiled eggs
250g spring onion
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp red chilli powder (optional)
1 tbsp paprika
olive oil


Boil the potatoes until they are al dente. Do not overcook them.

Finely chop the meat, onion, and potatoes. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and fry the meat until golden brown. Add the onion, potatoes, cumin, chilli (if used) and paprika, and enough water from the potatoes to cover the mixture. Cover and cook until the meat is tender. Add salt to taste. Leave to cool, then add the chop the egg and spring onion, and add to the mixture.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Shape the dough into circles approximately 13cm in diameter. Add a heap of filling into the centre of each disc. Wet the edges with water. Fold the disc in half, then seal the edges with a fork or finish the empanadas with the repulgue fold (pictured). Brush the tops with beaten egg yolk and bake for 25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.  Serve hot from the oven.

Yield: about 36

Jan 152016


The British Museum first opened to the public on this date in 1759 in Montagu House in Bloomsbury, on the site of the current museum building. It is a museum dedicated to human history, art, and culture. Its permanent collection, numbering about 8 million works, is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence and originates from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present.

The museum’s expansion over two and a half centuries was largely a result of an expanding British colonial footprint and has resulted in the creation of several branch institutions, the first being the British Museum (Natural History) in South Kensington in 1881. In 1997, the British Library (previously centered on the Round Reading Room and known as the British Museum Library) moved to a new site. The museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and as with all other national museums in the United Kingdom it charges no admission fee, except for loan exhibitions.


Although today principally a museum of cultural objects and antiquities, the British Museum was founded as a “universal museum”. Its foundations lie in the will of the Irish-born British physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753). During the course of his lifetime Sloane gathered an enviable collection of curiosities and, not wishing to see his collection broken up after death, he bequeathed it to King George II, for the nation.

At that time, Sloane’s collection consisted of around 71,000 objects of all kinds including around 40,000 printed books, 7,000 manuscripts, extensive natural history specimens including 337 volumes of dried plants, prints and drawings including those by Albrecht Dürer and antiquities from Sudan, Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Ancient Near and Far East and the Americas. On 7 June 1753, King George II gave his formal assent to the Act of Parliament which established the British Museum. The British Museum Act 1753 also added two other libraries to the Sloane collection, namely the Cottonian Library, assembled by Sir Robert Cotton, dated back to Elizabethan times, and the Harleian library, the collection of the Earls of Oxford. They were joined in 1757 by the Royal Library, assembled by various British monarchs. Together these four “foundation collections” included many of the most treasured books now in the British Library including the Lindisfarne Gospels and the sole surviving copy of Beowulf.

The British Museum was the first of a new kind of museum: a national museum, belonging to neither the church nor the king, freely open to the public and aiming to collect EVERYTHING – very British !! Sloane’s collection, while including a vast miscellany of objects, tended to reflect his scientific interests. The addition of the Cotton and Harley manuscripts introduced a literary and antiquarian element and meant that the British Museum now became both national museum and library.


The body of trustees decided on a converted 17th-century mansion, Montagu House, as a location for the museum, which it bought from the Montagu family for £20,000. The Trustees rejected Buckingham House, on the site now occupied by Buckingham Palace, on the grounds of cost and the unsuitability of its location. With the acquisition of Montagu House the first exhibition galleries and reading room for scholars opened on 15 January 1759. In 1757 King George II gave the Old Royal Library and with it the right to a copy of every book published in the country, thereby ensuring that the Museum’s library would expand indefinitely. During the few years after its foundation the British Museum received several further gifts, including the Thomason Collection of Civil War Tracts and David Garrick’s library of 1,000 printed plays. The predominance of natural history, books and manuscripts began to lessen when in 1772 the Museum acquired for £8,400 its first significant antiquities in Sir William Hamilton’s collection of Greek vases.


From 1778 a display of objects from the South Seas brought back from the round-the-world voyages of Captain James Cook and the travels of other explorers fascinated visitors with a glimpse of previously unknown lands. The bequest of a collection of books, engraved gems, coins, prints and drawings by Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode in 1800 did much to raise the museum’s reputation; but Montagu House became increasingly crowded and decrepit and it was apparent that it would be unable to cope with further expansion.


The museum’s first notable addition towards its collection of antiquities, since its foundation, was by Sir William Hamilton (1730–1803), British Ambassador to Naples, who sold his collection of Greek and Roman artifacts to the museum in 1784 together with a number of other antiquities and natural history specimens. A list of donations to the Museum, dated 31 January 1784 refers to the Hamilton bequest of a “Colossal Foot of an Apollo in Marble,” one of two antiquities of Hamilton’s collection drawn for him by Francesco Progenie, a pupil of Pietro Fabris, who also contributed a number of drawings of Mount Vesuvius sent by Hamilton to the Royal Society in London.


Ever since that time the museum has grown and grown to the point that it is one of the largest collections of antiquities in the world with ever-expanding facilities. I have very mixed feelings about the whole affair. On the whole, I’m not too troubled by art collections. I’d rather have works of art on display for the general public than tucked away in private homes. As far as I am concerned, art should be available to all. Cultural artifacts are a different matter. Here I have two concerns. First, when I see functional objects on display, I am troubled. They have been pulled out of context. How would you feel if someone raided your kitchen and put all your pots and pans in an exhibit? Yes, I understand that the British Museum’s exhibits are OLD. So what? They are still devoid of CONTEXT. Take American quilts as a prime example. I’ve been to one or two museum exhibits of quilts in my time. There are all these beautiful objects hung on walls. They were not made to be hung on walls; they were designed for beds. So . . . if you must exhibit them, put them on beds where you can see them as they were meant to be seen.


Second, the British Museum stands, in my humble opinion, as a testament to British colonialism, which I find despicable. Discoverers and colonists journeyed the world taking what they valued and, if it was portable, bringing it back home as “treasure” (never mind the fact that many of the lands they traveled to they decided to “keep,” even though they were already owned by other people). It is a point of general controversy whether museums should be allowed to possess artifacts taken from other countries, and the British Museum is a notable target for criticism. The Elgin Marbles, Benin Bronzes and the Rosetta Stone are among the most disputed objects in its collections, and organizations have been formed demanding the return of these artifacts to their native countries of Greece, Nigeria and Egypt respectively. The Parthenon marbles claimed by Greece were also designated by UNESCO among others for restitution. From 1801 to 1812, Elgin’s agents took about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as sculptures from the Propylaea and Erechtheum.

bm1 bm12 bm11 bm10

In recent years, controversies pertaining to reparation of looted artifacts taken from the Old Summer Palace in China during the Anglo-French invasion in 1860 have also begun to surface. The ransacking and destruction of Chinese palaces in the 19th century has lead to deep resentment in China. The British Museum has been asked repeatedly since 2009 to open their collections for examination by a team of Chinese investigators as a part of an international mission to document lost national treasures.

There have been fears that the United Kingdom may be asked to return various treasures. Most controversial are:

The Elgin Marbles – claimed by Greece and backed by UNESCO, among others, for restitution.

The Benin Bronzes – claimed by Nigeria.

The Ethiopian Tabots – claimed by Ethiopia.

Achaemenid empire gold and silver artifacts from the Oxus Treasure – claimed by Tajikistan.

The Rosetta Stone – claimed by Egypt.

Over 24,000 scrolls, manuscripts, paintings, scriptures, and relics from the Mogao Caves, including the Diamond Sutra – claimed by the People’s Republic of China.

The Anahit goddess statue – claimed by Armenia.

The British Museum has refused to return these artifacts, stating that the “restitutionist premise, that whatever was made in a country must return to an original geographical site, would empty both the British Museum and the other great museums of the world.”  And ???? The Museum has also argued that the British Museum Act of 1963 legally prevents any object from leaving its collection once it has entered it. Nevertheless, it has returned items such as the Tasmanian Ashes (human remains) after a 20-year-long battle with Australia. The British Museum continues to assert that it is an appropriate custodian and has an inalienable right to its disputed artifacts under British law. Very convenient. This is typical colonial thinking – “I took it, so it is mine. And to prove it I passed a law asserting it is mine.”

The whole issue is complicated, of course. There is a good argument to be made that some artifacts were fairly purchased. No dispute on my part. But, many were not. It’s also true that some of the Chinese antiquities, for example, might have been destroyed if they were in Chinese hands during the Cultural Revolution. Here things get murky. There have been many instances in the recent past of the destruction of antiquities by religious and political zealots. Would they have been better off in the hands of paternalistic, but outsider, conservators? There’s no easy answer here, although many Westerners think there is. To the dubious claim, “I stole it, so it is mine,” can be added “I can take care of it better than you can.” There’s also, “I took it because you were not using it at the time.” I tend to favor giving things back to their rightful owners.


Given the scope of the collections in the British Museum it’s hard to settle on ONE recipe from one time period. So, I have decided to be a bit randomly quirky (no surprise !!) The Deipnosophistae professes to be an account given by an individual named Athenaeus to his friend Timocrates of a banquet held at the house of Larensius (Λαρήνσιος; in Latin: Larensis), a wealthy book-collector and patron of the arts. It is thus a dialogue within a dialogue, after the manner of Plato, but the conversation extends to enormous length. The topics for discussion generally arise from the course of the dinner itself, but extend to literary and historical matters of every description, including abstruse points of grammar. The guests supposedly quote from memory. The actual sources of the material preserved in the Deipnosophistae remain obscure, but much of it probably comes second-hand from early scholars.

The twenty-four named guests include individuals called Galen and Ulpian, but they are all probably fictitious personages, and the majority take no part in the conversation. If the character Ulpian is identical with the famous Roman jurist, the Deipnosophistae may have been written after his death in 223 CE; but the jurist was murdered by the Praetorian Guard, whereas Ulpian in Athenaeus dies a natural death. A nearly complete version of the text is preserved in only one manuscript. Here’s an extract from Book IX in translation:

Lachares stripped Athene naked, who caused him no inconvenience; but I will now strip you who are inconveniencing me, said Aemilianus, unless you show me what you have got with you. And he said at last, rather unwillingly, I call this dish the Dish of Roses. And it is prepared in such a way, that you may not only have the ornament of a garland on your head, but also in yourself, and so feast your whole body with a luxurious banquet. Having pounded a quantity of the most fragrant roses in a mortar, I put in the brains of birds and pigs boiled and thoroughly cleansed of all the sinews, and also the yolks of eggs, and with them oil, and pickle-juice, and pepper, and wine. And having pounded all these things carefully together, I put them into a new dish, applying a gentle and steady fire to them. And while saying this, he uncovered the dish, and diffused such a sweet perfume over the whole party, that one of the guests present said with great truth [quoting Homer]:

The winds perfumed the balmy gale convey

Through heaven, through earth, and all the aerial way;

So excessive was the fragrance which was diffused from the roses.


I don’t know if you’d want to make this dish. It seems very simple. Grind up pig’s (and bird’s) brains with egg yolk, oil, vinegar, wine, and pepper, plus essence of rose petals. Then bake in a moderate oven. You’d get a kind of soft meatloaf with a pungent rose aroma. I’m not averse to such a dish in principle; I have cooked brains many times. My mum used to make fried lamb’s brains on toast once in a while when I was a kid for a quick Saturday evening meal. They’re a bit like grey scrambled eggs. Nowadays I prefer to mix the brains with some other meat to firm up the texture, because I’m not a huge fan of squishy things. On the other hand, this dish is reminiscent of eggs and brains which was at one time popular in Portugal, Germany, and the Philippines (and diasporic ethnic communities in the American Mid-West). Add a dose of rosewater and a little wine, and I’d say you’d have a fair replica of the Roman original.

Aug 302015


On this date in 1835 Melbourne was first settled by free colonists from Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania). It is the capital and most populous city in the Australian state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia and Oceania. The name “Melbourne” refers to the area of urban agglomeration (as well as a census statistical division) spanning 9,900 km2 (3,800 sq mi), which comprises the broader metropolitan area, as well as being the common name for its city centre. The metropolis is located on the large natural bay of Port Phillip and expands into the hinterlands toward the Dandenong and Macedon mountain ranges, Mornington Peninsula, and Yarra Valley. Melbourne consists of 31 municipalities. It has a population of 4,442,918 as of 2014. It was incorporated as a Crown settlement in 1837. It was named “Melbourne” by the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Richard Bourke, in honor of the British Prime Minister of the day, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne. It was officially declared a city by Queen Victoria in 1847, after which it became the capital of the newly founded colony of Victoria in 1851. During the gold rush of the 1850s, it was transformed into one of the world’s largest and wealthiest cities. After the federation of Australia in 1901, it served as the nation’s interim seat of government until 1927. Now Melbourne rates highly in education, entertainment, health care, research and development, tourism and sport, making it the world’s most livable city—for the fifth year in a row in 2015, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Before the arrival of European settlers, the area was occupied by indigenous peoples for an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 years. At the time of European settlement, it was inhabited by under 20,000 hunter-gatherers from three indigenous groups: the Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung and Wathaurong.The area was an important meeting place for different groups because it had plentiful water and food.


The first European settlement in Victoria was established by Colonel David Collins in October 1803, at Sullivan Bay, near present-day Sorrento, but this settlement was relocated to what is now Hobart, in Tasmania, in February 1804, due to a perceived lack of resources. It would be 30 years before another settlement was attempted.

In May and June 1835, the area which is now central and northern Melbourne was explored by John Batman, a leading member of the Port Phillip Association in Van Diemen’s Land (now known as Tasmania), who claimed to have negotiated a purchase of 600,000 acres (2,400 km2) with eight Wurundjeri elders. Batman selected a site on the northern bank of the Yarra River, declaring that “this will be the place for a village”. Batman then returned to Launceston in Tasmania. In early August 1835 a different group of settlers, including John Pascoe Fawkner, left Launceston on the ship Enterprize. Fawkner was forced to disembark at Georgetown, Tasmania, because of outstanding debts. The remainder of the party continued and arrived at the mouth of the Yarra River on 15 August 1835. On 30 August 1835 the party disembarked and established a settlement at the site of the current Melbourne Immigration Museum. Batman and his group arrived on 2 September 1835 and the two groups ultimately agreed to share the settlement.


Between 1836 and 1842, Victorian Aboriginal groups were largely dispossessed of their land. By January 1844, there were said to be 675 Aborigines resident in squalid camps in Melbourne. The British Colonial Office appointed five Aboriginal Protectors for the Aborigines of Victoria, in 1839, however their work was nullified by a land policy that favored squatters to take possession of Aboriginal lands. By 1845, fewer than 240 wealthy Europeans held all the pastoral licenses then issued in Victoria and became a powerful political and economic force in Victoria for generations to come.Melbourne was declared a city by letters patent of Queen Victoria, issued on 25 June 1847. On 1 July 1851, the Port Phillip District became the separate Colony of Victoria, with Melbourne as its capital.


The discovery of gold in Victoria in mid 1851 led to the Victorian gold rush, and Melbourne, which served as the major port and provided most services for the region, experienced rapid growth. Within months, the city’s population had increased by nearly three-quarters, from 25,000 to 40,000 inhabitants. Thereafter, growth was exponential and by 1865, Melbourne had overtaken Sydney as Australia’s most populous city.

An influx of interstate and overseas migrants, particularly Irish, German and Chinese, saw the development of slums including a temporary “tent city” established on the southern banks of the Yarra. Chinese migrants founded the Melbourne Chinatown in 1851, which remains the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the Western World. In the aftermath of the Eureka Rebellion, mass public support for the plight of the miners in Melbourne resulted in major political changes to the colony. With the wealth brought on by the gold rush following closely on the heels of the establishment of Victoria as a separate colony and the subsequent need for public buildings, a program of grand civic construction soon began. The 1850s and 1860s saw the commencement of Parliament House, the Treasury Building, the Old Melbourne Gaol, Victoria Barracks, the State Library, University, General Post Office, Customs House, the Melbourne Town Hall, St Patrick’s cathedral, though many remained uncompleted for decades, with some still not finished.


The layout of the inner suburbs on a largely one-mile grid pattern, cut through by wide radial boulevards, and string of gardens surrounding the central city was largely established in the 1850s and 1860s. These areas were rapidly filled from the mid 1850s by the ubiquitous terrace house, as well as detached houses and some grand mansions in large grounds, while some of the major roads developed as shopping streets. Melbourne quickly became a major finance centre, home to several banks, the Royal Mint, and Australia’s first stock exchange in 1861.In 1855 the Melbourne Cricket Club secured possession of its now famous ground, the MCG. Members of the Melbourne Football Club codified Australian rules football in 1859, and Yarra rowing clubs and “regattas” became popular about the same time. In 1861 the Melbourne Cup was first run.

With the gold rush largely over by 1860, Melbourne continued to grow on the back of continuing gold mining, as the major port for exporting the agricultural products of Victoria, especially wool, and a developing manufacturing sector protected by high tariffs. An extensive radial railway network centered on


The decade of the 1880s was one of extraordinary growth, when consumer confidence, easy access to credit, and steep increases in the price of land, led to an enormous amount of construction. This ‘land boom’ was followed by a severe economic crash in the early 1890s which lasted until the end of the century. During the boom, Melbourne had become the richest city in the world, and the largest after London in the British Empire.

The decade began with the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880, held in the large purpose-built Exhibition Building. In 1880 a telephone exchange was established and in the same year the foundations of St Paul’s, were laid; in 1881 electric light was installed in the Eastern Market, and in the following year a generating station capable of supplying 2,000 incandescent lamps was in operation.[40] In 1885 the first line of the Melbourne cable tramway system was built, becoming one of the worlds most extensive systems by 1890.


In 1888, the Exhibition Building hosted a second event even larger than the first, the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition, spurring construction of numerous hotels including the 500 room Federal Hotel, The Palace Hotel in Bourke Street (both since demolished), and the doubling in size of the Grand (Windsor).

A brash boosterism that had typified Melbourne during this time ended in the early 1890s with a severe depression of the city’s economy, sending the local finance and property industries into a period of chaos during which 16 small “land banks” and building societies collapsed, and 133 limited companies went into liquidation. The Melbourne financial crisis was a contributing factor in the Australian economic depression of the 1890s and the Australian banking crisis of 1893. The effects of the depression on the city were profound, with virtually no new construction until the late 1890s.


At the time of Australia’s federation on 1 January 1901, Melbourne became the seat of government of the federation. The first federal parliament was convened on 9 May 1901 in the Royal Exhibition Building, subsequently moving to the Victorian Parliament House where it was located until 1927, when it was moved to Canberra. The Governor-General of Australia resided at Government House in Melbourne until 1930 and many major national institutions remained in Melbourne well into the twentieth century.


Now Melbourne is a big sprawling modern city that stands in quite marked contrast to Sydney on the east coast. It doesn’t have the Harbor Bridge or Opera House which are as well known globally as Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower, but personally I prefer Melbourne to Sydney for a visit. Most especially it is a great foodie city, with every imaginable cuisine under the sun available. To celebrate Melbourne I’m going to give you a classic Aussie meat pie and Lamingtons. Meat pies are a staple in Australia. A meat pie was my normal school lunch delivered daily by a local bakery. These were the simplest imaginable – minced beef in gravy wrapped in pastry. They’re individual pies so you can hold them in your hand. The ones I ate were swimming in gravy so you typically ate the top crust first, because if you didn’t when you bit into them, gravy would squirt all over you. Here’s a good video:

Lamingtons are the mainstay of church suppers. All you need is a picture and a general description. You take cubes of sponge cake or pound cake, spread chocolate icing over all the faces, and then roll them in desiccated coconut. To be extra fancy you can slice them in half and put jam or whipped cream in the middle. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.


Apr 212015


Bangkok, capital of Thailand, was founded on this date in 1782. The history of the city dates at least to the early 15th century, when it was under the rule of the kingdom of Ayutthaya. Due to its strategic location near the mouth of the Chao Phraya River, the town gradually increased in importance, and after the fall of Ayutthaya, King Taksin established his new capital of Thonburi there, on the river’s western bank. King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke, who succeeded Taksin, moved the capital to the eastern bank in 1782, to which the city dates its foundation under its current Thai name, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon. Bangkok has since undergone tremendous changes, growing rapidly, especially in the second half of the 20th century, to become the most important city in Thailand. It was the center of Siam’s modernization in the late 19th century, subjected to Allied bombing during the Second World War, and has long been the modern nation’s central political stage, with numerous uprisings and coups d’état having taken place on its streets throughout the years.


It is not known exactly when the area which is now Bangkok was first settled. It probably originated as a small farming and trading community, located in a meander of the Chao Phraya River within the region of Ayutthaya’s influence. The town had become an important customs outpost by as early as the 15th century; the title of its customs official is given as Nai Phra Khanon Thonburi in a document from the reign of Ayutthayan king Chao Sam Phraya (1424–48). The name also appears in the 1805 revised code of laws known as the Law of Three Seals.


At the time, the Chao Phraya flowed through what is now Bangkok Noi and Bangkok Yai Canals, forming a large loop in which the town was situated. In the reign of King Chairacha (either in 1538 or 1542), a waterway was excavated, bypassing the loop and easing navigation for ships sailing up to Ayutthaya. The flow of the river has since changed to follow the new waterway, dividing the town and making the western part an island. This geographical feature may have given the town the name Bang Ko (บางเกาะ), meaning island village, which later became Bangkok. Another theory regarding the origin of the name speculates that it is shortened from Bang Makok, makok being the name of Spondias pinnata, a plant bearing olive-like fruit. This is supported by the fact that Wat Arun, a historic temple in the area, used to be named Wat Makok. Specific mention of the town was first made in the royal chronicles from the reign of King Maha Chakkraphat (1548–68), giving its name as Thonburi Si Mahasamut. Bangkok was probably a colloquial name, albeit one widely adopted by foreign visitors.

Bangkok’s/Thonburi’s importance increased with the amount of Ayutthaya’s maritime trade. Dutch records noted that ships passing through Bangkok were required to declare the amount of their goods and number of passengers, as well as pay customs duties. Ships’ cannons would be confiscated and held there before they were allowed to proceed upriver to Ayutthaya. An early English language account is that of Adam Denton, who arrived aboard the Globe, an East India Company merchantman bearing a letter from King James I, which arrived in “the Road of Syam” (Pak Nam) on August 15, 1612, where the port officer of Bangkok attended to the ship. Denton’s account mentions that he and his companions journeyed “up the river some twenty miles to a town called Bancope, where we were well received, and further 100 miles to the city.”

Ayutthaya’s maritime trade was at its height during the reign of King Narai (1656–88). Recognition of the city’s strategic location guarding the water passage to Ayutthaya lead to expansion of the military presence there. A fort of Western design was constructed on the eastern side of the river around 1685–87 under the supervision of French engineer de la Mare, probably replacing an earlier structure, while plans to rebuild the fort on the western bank were also made. De la Mare had arrived with the French embassy of Chevalier de Chaumont, and was remaining in Siam along with Chevalier de Forbin, who had been appointed governor of Bangkok. The Bangkok garrison under Forbin consisted of Siamese, Portuguese and French reportedly totaling about one thousand men.

French control over the city was further consolidated when the French General Desfarges, who had arrived with the second French embassy in 1687, secured the king’s permission to establish troops there. This, however, lead to resentment among Siamese nobles, led by Phetracha, and ultimately resulting in the Siamese revolution of 1688, in which King Narai was overthrown and 40,000 Siamese troops besieged Bangkok’s eastern fort for four months before an agreement was reached and the French were allowed to retreat. The revolution resulted in Siam’s ties with the West being virtually severed, steering its trade towards China and Japan. The eastern fort was subsequently demolished on Phetracha’s orders.

Ayutthaya was razed by the Burmese in 1767. In the following months, multiple factions competed for control of the kingdom’s lands. Of these, Phraya Tak, governor of Tak and a general fighting in Ayutthaya’s defense prior to its fall, emerged as the strongest. After succeeding in reclaiming the cities of Ayutthaya and Bangkok, Phraya Tak declared himself king (popularly known as King Taksin) in 1768 and established Thonburi as his capital. Reasons given for this change include the totality of Ayutthaya’s destruction and Thonburi’s strategic location. Being a fortified town with a sizeable population meant that not much would need to be reconstructed. The existence of an old Chinese trading settlement on the eastern bank allowed Taksin to use his Chinese connections to import rice and revive trade.

King Taksin had the city area extended northwards to border the Bangkok Noi Canal. A moat was dug to protect the city’s western border, on which new city walls and fortifications were built. Moats and walls were also constructed on the eastern bank, encircling the city together with the canals on the western side. The king’s palace was built within the old city walls, including the temples of Wat Chaeng (Wat Arun) and Wat Thai Talat (Wat Molilokkayaram) within the palace grounds. Outlying orchards were re-landscaped for rice farming.

Much of Taksin’s reign was spent in military campaigns to consolidate the Thonburi Kingdom’s hold over Siamese lands. His kingdom, however, lasted only until 1782 when a coup was mounted against him, and the general Chao Phraya Chakri established himself as king, later to be known as Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke or Rama I.


Rama I re-established the capital on the more strategic eastern bank of the river called Rattanakosin Island, relocating the prior Chinese who had settled there to the area around Wat Sam Pluem and Wat Sampheng. (The area is now Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown.) Fortifications were rebuilt, and another series of moats was created, encircling the city in an area known as Rattanakosin Island.


The formal date of the city’s establishment is counted to the erection of the city pillar on 21 April 1782. (The year later marked the start of the Rattanakosin Era after calendar reforms by King Rama V in 1888.) Rama I named the new city Krung Rattanakosin In Ayothaya. This was later modified by King Nangklao to be: Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintha-ayutthaya. While settlements on both banks were commonly called Bangkok, both the Burney Treaty of 1826 and the Roberts Treaty of 1833 refer to the capital as the City of Sia-Yut’hia. King Mongkut (Rama IV) would later give the city its full ceremonial name:

Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphiman-Awatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit

Rama I modeled his city after the former capital of Ayutthaya, with the Grand Palace, Front Palace and royal temples by the river, next to the royal field (now Sanam Luang). Continuing outwards were the royal court of justice, royal stables and military prison. Government offices were located within the Grand Palace, while residences of nobles were concentrated south of the palace walls. Settlements spread outwards from the city centre.

The new capital is referred to in Thai sources as Rattanakosin, a name shared by the Siamese kingdom of this historical period. The name Krung Thep and Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, both shortened forms of the full ceremonial name, began to be used near the end of the 19th century. Foreigners, however, continued to refer to the city by the name Bangkok, which has seen continued use until this day.

Most of Rama I’s reign was also marked by continued military campaigns, though the Burmese threat gradually declined afterwards. His successors consistently saw to the renovation of old temples, palaces, and monuments in the city. New canals were also built, gradually expanding the fledgling city as areas available for agriculture increased and new transport networks were created.


At the time of the city’s foundation, most of the population lived by the river or the canals, often in floating houses on the water. Waterways served as the main method of transportation, and farming communities depended on them for irrigation. Outside the city walls, settlements sprawled along both river banks. Forced settlers, mostly captives of war, also formed several ethnic communities outside the city walls.

Large numbers of Chinese immigrants continued to settle in Bangkok, especially during the early 19th century. Such was their prominence that Europeans visiting in the 1820s estimated that they formed over half of the city population. The Chinese excelled in trade, and led the development of a market economy. The Chinese settlement at Sampheng had become a bustling market by 1835.

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By the mid-19th century, the West had become an increasingly powerful presence. Missionaries, envoys and merchants began re-visiting Bangkok and Siam, bringing with them both modern innovations and the threat of colonialism. King Mongkut (Rama IV, reigned 1851–68) — of King and I fame — was  open to Western ideas and knowledge, but was also forced to acknowledge their powers, with the signing of the Bowring Treaty in 1855. During his reign, industrialization began taking place in Bangkok, which saw the introduction of the steam engine, modern shipbuilding and the printing press. Influenced by the Western community, Charoen Krung Road, the city’s first paved street, was constructed in 1862–64. This was followed by Bamrung Mueang, Fueang Nakhon, Trong (now Rama IV) and Si Lom Roads. Land transport would later surpass the canals in importance, shifting people’s homes from floating dwellings toward permanent buildings. The limits of the city proper were also expanded during his reign, extending to the Phadung Krung Kasem Canal, dug in 1851.


King Mongkut’s son Chulalongkorn (r. 1868–1910) was set upon modernizing the country. He engaged in wide-ranging reforms, abolishing slavery, corvée (forced labor), and the feudal system, and creating a centralized bureaucracy and a professional army. The Western concept of nationhood was adopted, and national borders demarcated against British and French territories. Disputes with the French resulted in the Paknam Incident in 1893, when the French sent gunboats up the Chao Phraya to blockade Bangkok, resulting in Siam’s concession of territory to France.

With Chulalongkorn’s reforms, governance of the capital and the surrounding areas, established as Monthon Krung Thep Phra Mahanakhon, came under the Ministry of Urban Affairs (Nakhonban). During his reign many more canals and roads were built, expanding the urban reaches of the capital. Infrastructure was developed, with the introduction of railway and telegraph services between Bangkok and Samut Prakan and then expanding countrywide. Electricity was introduced, first to palaces and government offices, then to serve electric trams in the capital and later the general public. The King’s fascination with the West was reflected in the royal adoption of Western dress and fashions, but most noticeably in architecture. He commissioned the construction of the neoclassical Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall at the new Dusit Palace, which was linked to the historic city centre by the grand Ratchadamnoen Avenue, inspired by the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Examples of Western influence in architecture became visible throughout the city.

The 1833 Treaty of Amity and Commerce between Siam and the United States, however, refers to the city as “the Royal City of Sia-Yut’hia (commonly called Bangkok)”. Treaty author Edmund Roberts writes:

The spot on which the present capital stands, and the country in its vicinity, on both banks of the river for a considerable distance, were formerly, before the removal of the court to its present situation, called Bang-kok ; but since that time it has been named Sia yuthia, (pronounced See-ah you-tè-ah, and by the locals, Krung, that is, the capital); it is called by both names here, but never Bang-kok ; and they always correct foreigners when the latter make this mistake. The villages which occupy the right hand of the river, opposite to the capital, pass under the general name of Bang-kok.

Thai dishes are now known worldwide due to the proliferation of Thai restaurants. They are popular in the part of China where I live, Yunnan Province, because it borders on Thailand, and because one of the major ethnic minorities here, the Dai, are closely related to the Thai. There has been cultural exchange and migration between southern China and Thailand for centuries. I have been cooking Thai dishes for decades whenever I can get the proper ingredients. You can make substitutions but you won’t get the right tastes. Mostly I rely on prepared pastes and sauces, readily available in oriental markets – even in Buenos Aires in barrio chino. Modern cooks in Thailand use them a great deal nowadays for convenience.

I am a big fan of Thai green curry and have always kept the paste on hand. It is not especially hot, but does have the four cardinal savors of Thailand: sweet, salty, sour and, hot. Green curry (kaeng khiao wan, literally sweet green curry) is a Central Thai variety of curry. The name “green” curry derives from the color of the dish, which comes from green chiles. The “sweet” in the Thai name (wan means “sweet”) refers to the particular color green itself and not to the taste of the curry. As this is a Thai curry based on coconut milk and fresh green chiles, the color comes out creamy mild green. Its ingredients are not exactly fixed. The curry is not necessarily sweeter than other Thai curries but, although the spiciness varies, it tends to be more pungent than the milder red curries.[3]

Apart from a main protein, traditionally fish, meat, or fish balls, the other mainingredients for the dish are coconut milk, green curry paste, palm sugar, and fish sauce. Vegetables such as Thai eggplant and sugar pea pods may be added. The consistency of its sauce varies with the amount of coconut milk used. Green curry paste is traditionally made by pounding in a mortar green chiles, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime peel, coriander root, red turmeric, roasted coriander and cumin seeds, white peppercorns, shrimp paste and salt.

The paste is fried in coconut cream until the oil is expressed to release the aromas in the paste. Once the curry paste is cooked, more coconut milk and the remaining ingredients are added along with a pinch of palm sugar and fish sauce. Finally, as garnishes, Thai basil, fresh kaffir lime leaves, sliced phrik chi fa (“sky-pointing chilies”, large mild chilies) are often used. For a more robust green curry, such as with seafood, julienned krachai (fingerroot/wild ginger/Chinese keys), white turmeric, and holy basil can be used as garnishes.

Green curry is typically eaten with rice as part of a wider range of dishes in a meal, or with round rice noodles known as khanom chin as a single dish. A thicker version of green curry made with, for instance, simmered beef, can also be served with roti, an Indian style flatbread that is similar to the roti canai in Malaysia.


Thai Green Curry


Curry Paste

1 green chile, chopped
¼ cup shallots, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger root, grated
1 stalk fresh lemongrass , minced
½ tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp Thai shrimp paste
1 (loose) cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems, chopped
½ tsp. ground white pepper
2½ Tbsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. lime juice
¼ can coconut milk


1 to 1½ lbs. (about 0.7 kg) boneless chicken thigh or breast, cut into chunks
¾ can coconut milk
4 kaffir lime leaves
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
handful fresh Thai basil
2 Tbsp. peanut oil


Place all the paste ingredients together in a food processor, and process to a paste. Set aside.

Prepare lime leaves by cutting the leaves away from either side of the stem. Discard central stem. Then cut the leaves into thin strips. Set aside.

Warm a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl around, then add the green curry paste. Stir-fry briefly to release the fragrance. (30 seconds to 1 minute), then add most of the remaining coconut milk, reserving 1 tablespoon per serving portion for later.

Add chicken, stirring to incorporate. When the curry sauce comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium or medium-low andimmer 5 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Stir occasionally. Add the strips of lime leaf, stirring well to incorporate. Simmer a few minutes more. Then check the flavorings to ensure a balance of salty, spicy, sweet and sour.

Serve with Thai jasmine rice on the side or roti. Top each portion with fresh Thai basil, then drizzle over a little coconut milk

Oct 192014


On this date in 1386 the first lecture was given at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (Heidelberg University, Ruperto Carola). This is now a major public research university located in Heidelberg in Baden-Württemberg. It is the oldest university in Germany and was the third university established in the Holy Roman Empire. Heidelberg has been a coeducational institution since 1899. Today the university consists of twelve faculties and offers degree programs at undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels in around 100 disciplines

Rupert I, Elector Palatine, established the university when Heidelberg was the capital of the Electoral Palatinate. Consequently, it served as a centre for theologians and law experts from throughout the Holy Roman Empire. Matriculation rates declined with the Thirty Years’ War, and the university did not overcome various fiscal and intellectual crises until the early 19th century. Subsequently, the institution once again became a hub for independent thinkers, and developed into a “stronghold of humanism” and a center of democratic thinking. At this time, Heidelberg served as a role model for the development of postgraduate schools at U.S. universities. However, the university lost many of its dissident professors and was marked an NSDAP (Nazi) university during the Nazi era (between 1933 and 1945). It later underwent an extensive denazification after World War II—Heidelberg serving as one of the main scenes of the left-wing student protests in Germany in the 1970’s.

The Great Schism of 1378 made it possible for Heidelberg, a relatively small city and capital of the Electorate of the Palatinate, to gain its own university. The Great Schism was initiated by the election of two popes after the death of Pope Gregory XI in the same year. One successor resided in Avignon (elected by the French) and the other in Rome (elected by the Italian cardinals). The German secular and spiritual leaders voiced their support for the successor in Rome, which had far-reaching consequences for the German students and teachers in Paris: they lost their stipends and had to leave.


Rupert I recognized the opportunity and initiated talks with the Curia, which ultimately led to a Papal Bull for foundation of a university. After having received on October 23, 1385 the permission from pope Urban VI to create a school of general studies (Latin: studium generale), the final decision to found the university was taken on June 26, 1386 at the behest of Rupert I. As specified in the papal charter, the university was modeled after the University of Paris and included four faculties: philosophy, theology, jurisprudence, and medicine.

On October 18, 1386, a special Pontifical High Mass was held in the Heiliggeistkirche to establish the university, and on October 19, 1386, the first lecture was given, making Heidelberg the oldest university in what is now Germany. In November 1386, Marsilius of Inghen was elected first rector of the university. The rector’s seal motto was semper apertus (always open).

The university grew quickly and in March 1390, 185 students were enrolled at the university. Between 1414 and 1418, theology and jurisprudence professors of the university took part in the Council of Constance and acted as counselors for Louis III, who attended this council as representatives of the emperor and chief magistrate of the realm. This resulted in establishing a good reputation for the university and its faculty.


The transition from scholastic to humanistic culture (centerpiece of Renaissance intellectual life) was effected by the chancellor and bishop Johann von Dalberg in the late 15th century. Humanism was represented at Heidelberg University particularly by the founder of the older German Humanistic School Rudolph Agricola, Conrad Celtes, Jakob Wimpfeling, and Johann Reuchlin. Æneas Silvius Piccolomini was chancellor of the university in his capacity as provost of Worms, and became an avid supporter of the university when he becam Pope Pius II. In 1482, Pope Sixtus IV permitted laymen and married men to be appointed to the faculty of medicine through a papal dispensation.

Martin Luther’s disputation at Heidelberg in April 1518 made a lasting impact, and his adherents among the masters and scholars soon became leading lights of the Reformation in Southwest Germany. When the Electorate of the Palatinate turned to the Reformed faith, Otto Henry, Elector Palatine, made the university a Calvinist institution. In 1563, the Heidelberg Catechism (still in use today) was created by members of the university’s divinity faculty. Subsequently the university attracted scholars from all over the continent and developed into a cultural and academic center. However, with the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War in 1618, the intellectual and fiscal health of the university declined. In 1622, the then world-famous Bibliotheca Palatina (the library of the university) was stolen from the University Cathedral and taken to Rome. The reconstruction efforts thereafter were stalled by the troops of King Louis XIV, who destroyed Heidelberg in 1693 almost completely.

As a consequence of the late Counter-Reformation, the university lost its Protestant character, and was controlled by Jesuits. In 1735, the Old University was constructed at University Square, then known as Domus Wilhelmina. Through the efforts of the Jesuits a preparatory seminary was established, the Seminarium ad Carolum Borromæum, whose pupils were also registered in the university. After the suppression of the Jesuit Order, most of the schools they had controlled passed into the hands of the French Congregation of Lazarists in 1773. They deteriorated from that time forward, and the university itself continued to lose in prestige until the reign of the last elector Charles Theodore, Elector Palatine, who established new chairs for all the faculties, founded scientific institutes such as the Electoral Academy of Science, and transferred the school of political economy from Kaiserslautern to Heidelberg.The financial affairs of the university, its receipts and expenditures, were put in order. At that time, the number of students varied from 300-400; in the jubilee year, 133 matriculated. As a consequence of the disturbances caused by the French Revolution, and particularly because of the Treaty of Lunéville, the university lost all its property on the left bank of the Rhine, so that its complete dissolution was expected.

This decline did not stop until 1803, when the university was reestablished as a state-owned institution by Karl Friedrich, Grand Duke of Baden, to whom the part of the Palatinate situated on the right bank of the Rhine was allotted. Since then, the university bears his name together with the name of Ruprecht I. Karl Friedrich divided the university into five faculties and placed himself at its head as rector, as did his successors. During this decade Romanticism flourished in Heidelberg with the appointments of Clemens Brentano, Achim von Arnim, Ludwig Tieck, Joseph Görres, and Joseph von Eichendorff, which led to a revival of interest in Medieval German literature, poetry and art.

Germany is, of course famous for its breads, especially rye bread. Heidelberg has its own twist on rye bread in that the dough has cocoa in it. It is wonderful for sandwiches, especially if you toast it first.


Heidelberg Rye Bread  


2 cups warm water
2 packets active dry yeast
1 tbsp. salt
¼ cup cocoa
2 cups rye flour, sifted
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
⅓ cup molasses
1 tbsp. caraway seeds
1 tbsp. shortening
I tbsp cornmeal


Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add molasses, rye flour, cocoa, and caraway seed. Beat until smooth. Add salt and shortening, and then add white flour gradually until the dough does not stick to the bowl.

Turn out on to a floured board and let rest for 10 minutes. Then knead until smooth and elastic.

Place the dough in greased bowl and let it rise until doubled in volume. When pressed with a finger it should spring back within a few seconds, but not too fast.

Punch the dough down and let it rise again in the same way.

Shape the dough into 2 oblong loaves, gently rolling it back and forth to taper the ends slightly.

Place the dough on a greased baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. When the dough begins to rise slash the top with a very sharp knife.

When almost doubled, bake the loaves at 375°F beside a small pan of water for 35 to 40 minutes.

Gently simmer 1 tablespoon of cornstarch in 1 cup of water until the mixture turns clear. After 15 minutes, brush the loaves with this glaze. Brush again 10 minutes before removing from oven and again when it is taken from the oven.