WoW’s Dalaran Cupola Library vs. Real Round Libraries

I was browsing my WoW screencaps for something entirely different when my eye fell on two shots from the Dalaran inscription trainer’s place. (This is in the Legion version of Dalaran.) Both are actually from inside the book-filled cupola: the first looks up towards the impossibly high ceiling, the second down towards the trainers’ room floor.

WoW Dalaran Inscription Tr Book Dome2 Sm

WoW Dalaran Inscription Tr Book Dome Sm

Neat, right? Well, I wondered whether anyone’s actually done anything similar for real and hit the Internet. And I found some!

Stockholm Public Library in Stockholm, Sweden

The functionalist stadsbibliotek was designed by Gunnar Asplund and opened in 1928.

Flickr Marcus Hansson Stockholm Public Library

 

Round Reading Room in the Maughan Library, King’s College London in London, UK

The Round Reading Room of Maughan Library, the main university library of King’s College London, can be found on the Strand Campus.

Wikimedia Kings College London Maughan Lib Round Reading Room Sm

 

Picton Reading Room in Liverpool, UK

The Picton Reading Room, completed in 1879, is now part of the Liverpool Central Library.

Flickr Terry Kearney Liverpool Central Library Picton Reading Room

 

A home in Toronto, Ontario

Designed by Katherine Newman and Peter Cebulak, this two-level library is in a private residence in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Architectural Digest Toronto Ontario Home

 

The Octagon Room, Islamic Studies Library at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The library is situated in the neo-Gothic Morrice Hall building that previously housed the Presbyterian College of Montreal from 1871 to 1961.

McGill Islamic Studies Library Klaus Fiedler Sm

 

None of them are exactly the same as the game library cupola, of course: apart from the the scale of the rooms, the scale and direction of the bookcases might differ. But apparently it isn’t terribly far-fetched to make a round multi-storey library and pack it chock-full. 😀

Images: Stockholm Public Library by Marcus Hansson on Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Round Reading Room of Maughan Library by Colin via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0). Picton Reading Room by Terry Kearney on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0). Toronto home by Tony Soluri via Architectural Digest. Islamic Studies Library at McGill by Klaus Fiedler, McGill Library.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

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Imagining a Minoan Home

Imagining the mundane details of daily life in past cultures can be difficult. Everyday things like houses, clothing, and daily routines tend not to be well-represented in textual or archaeological sources because they were so ordinary that no one thought to write about them or take care to preserve them. Yet these are exactly the sorts of everyday details that can be most useful when looking to the past for inspiration for worldbuilding. To try to understand what daily life looked like in the past, we often rely on chance finds and careful reading of sources that weren’t intended as guides to the mundane.

For example, we have only a limited idea of what an ancient Minoan house may have looked like. The Minoan civilization flourished on Crete and some of the southern islands of the Aegean Sea in the first half of the second millennium BCE, at its height between roughly 2100 and 1400 BCE. Minoan palaces have been thoroughly excavated at sites such as Knossos and Phaistos, but what about the homes of ordinary people?

We have a few valuable sources of evidence. One is this pottery house model found at Archanes, on Crete. This model shows many features that must have been part of everyday Minoan architecture: solid lower-story walls and a breezy columned upper story, windows barred with slats, a projecting balcony, and perhaps a small walled garden. (The entry door is on the other side of the model; the upper story is modern reconstruction.)

House model, photograph by Zde via Wikimedia (Archanes, currently Archaeological Museum, Heraklion; c. 1700 BCE; pottery)

To get a sense of how houses like this fit together to make up a village, we can look to the site of Akrotiri, a Minoan settlement on the island of Thera (now called Santorini) that was buried in a volcanic eruption sometime around the late 1600s BCE. Despite the destructive effects of the eruption, excavation at the site has found a tightly-built settlement of multi-story houses connected by streets and drainage channels.

Photograph of Akrotiri excavation by F. Eveleens via Wikimedia

 

More evidence comes from a fresco that was preserved on the wall of a house at Akrotiri, depicting a panoramic view of the island. This segment shows the town. While the image is a little hard to interpret, we can clearly see a densely-built settlement with houses made of regularly cut stone sitting on many levels. These houses display many of the same features as the Archanes house: low doorways, porticoed porches, windows covered by slats, and people looking out from balconies or rooftops.

Akrotiri fresco, photograph by Dirk Herdemerten via Wikimedia (Akrotiri; c. 1700 BCE; fresco)

Akrotiri fresco, photograph by Dirk Herdemerten via Wikimedia (Akrotiri; c. 1700 BCE; fresco)

When we put all these different sources together, we can begin to imagine everyday life in a Minoan house: the shady lower floor and the breezy upper floor, the slivers of sunlight coming in through the window grilles, the gurgle of water running by in the drain channel right outside, and the endless chatter of the neighbors on their overhanging balcony. For creating any sort of pre-modern culture in a warm, dry setting like the Mediterranean, it’s not a bad start.

History for Writers is a weekly feature which looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

A Washington State Hobbit Hole

Kristie Wolfe built a Hobbit hole in the mountains of central Washington state. And what great work it is—the attention to detail is superb!

Zillow Kristie Wolfe Hobbit Hole View

The house hole has a bedroom, a small living room, and a bathroom with a large wooden oval jacuzzi. As befits a Hobbit hole, the structure is mostly underground and has a round door.

Zillow Kristie Wolfe Hobbit Hole Entry

The small yard is edged by a stick-and-branch fence woven by Wolfe’s landscaper sister.

Zillow Kristie Wolfe Hobbit Hole Yard

There are loads of thought-out details like the floors made of wooden disks of various sizes and a beautiful metal door decoration/knob. But where is the kitchen? Wolfe explains in this video:

A Hobbit House You Can Stay In by Zillow

In case you can’t access the video, she says she’s planning a total of three holes, and since it’s not very practical for each to have its own kitchen, she wants to build a bigger shared one in the style of an English pub.

Read the article at Zillow for more details and photos.

I can understand that you can’t always overcome restrictions, but I still think a kitchen is vital, VITAL, in a Hobbit home. On the other hand, an indoor bathroom is often omitted in favor of an outhouse when building in a challenging location, so full marks to Wolfe for including a full bath.

Also check out a Scottish Hobbit hole I blogged about earlier—which do you prefer and why?

In Here is an occasional feature highlighting geeky spaces created by our fellow geeks all over the world.

Spot-on Hobbit-Style House in Scotland

Reddit user KahlumG shared photos of an amazing Hobbit-style house built by their uncle outside of Tomich, Scotland.

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Look completely like it could be from Bree, right?

The inside looks as appropriate as the outside.

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Hobbit House3 eaQp2fD

And—and I almost can’t believe it, it’s so perfect—the house has an outbuilding with its own water wheel!

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Kudos! Visit the imgur gallery for many more photos.

Images: kahlum1986 on imgur

Edited to correct an inaccuracy and a typo.

In Here is an occasional feature highlighting geeky spaces created by our fellow geeks all over the world.


History Doesn’t Look Historical

It’s an unavoidable fact that when we look at historical artifacts, we’re looking at things that are many years old, sometimes centuries or millennia. Physical objects, even those made of enduring materials like metal or stone, are changed by the processes of time. Exposure to light, moisture, changing temperatures, air pollution, wind, water, and other effects works changes on artifacts that can range from subtle to drastic. Our sense of what history looks like is shaped by things that no longer look like what they were when they were first being made, admired, and used by people in their daily lives.

Take, for example, the sculptures and architecture of ancient Greece. Our perception of ancient Greek art is shaped by the white marble statues and temples that remain today, but the originals were not white. We know from ancient descriptions and a few pieces with surviving traces of paint that the stone buildings and sculptures of ancient Greece were brightly colored.

Examples like this statue of a woman, with traces of paint on her dress, suggest what such a statue might have originally looked like.

Statue of a woman (kore), photograph by Nemracc via Wikimedia (Keratea, Greece, currently Pergamon Museum, Berlin; 580-560 BCE; marble)

Evidence like this makes it possible to attempt to reconstruct what statues of this type looked like when first created. The two reconstructions on the right here offer two possible interpretations of what the original, on the left, may have looked like when it was new.

Statue of a woman (kore) and two reconstructions, composite of photographs by Marsyas, via Wikimedia (original: Acropolis, Athens; c. 530 BCE; marble; reconstructions: Acropolis Museum, Athens)

The striking colors of the past are not just a phenomenon of ancient Greece. At Stirling Castle, in Scotland, a recent restoration project has brought back the original rich yellow color of the walls of the medieval great hall, which was determined from traces of ochre mixed with the remains of the lime wash applied to the stone. You can see the striking contrast between the restored great hall in the background and the bare stone of the buildings in front.

Stirling Castle, photograph by dun_deagh via Flickr (Stirling, Scotland; c. 1500-1600; stone and lime wash)

Studying history requires an act of imagination. Just as we have to imagine ancient monuments are artifacts new and fresh, not as the worn-out relics we see today, we also have to imagine peoples of the past as vibrant, complicated, living societies, not the stilted, dry facts of textbooks. Fiction has a great value to the student of history, as it helps us imagine ourselves into the lives of people different from ourselves. Our history is always somebody else’s daily life.

History for Writers is a weekly feature which looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

The Oldest Active Library in the World

The library attached to al-Qarawiyyin mosque and university (alternate western spellings include Al Karaouin and Al Quaraouiyine, among others) in Fez, Morocco, is not just the oldest active library in the world, it’s also exceptionally beautiful.

TheNewArab al-Qarawiyyin Library Courtyard 479

Al-Qarawiyyin was founded in 859 by Fatima Al Fihri. The architecture of the university reflects various past styles and ruling dynasties. The decorated interiors include calligraphic designs on the walls, ceramic patterns on the floors, and wooden carvings on the ceilings.

TEDcom al-Qarawiyyin Main Reading Room aziza_chaouni_img_2096

From 2012 to 2016, the library was completely renovated. The restoration was lead by architect Aziza Chaouni. She describes the starting point for her project at TED.com:

“When I first visited, I was shocked at the state of the place.

“In rooms containing precious manuscripts dating back to the 7th century, the temperature and moisture were uncontrolled, and there were cracks in the ceiling. […]

“Throughout the years, the library underwent many rehabilitations, but it still suffered from major structural problems, a lack of insulation, and infrastructural deficiencies like a blocked drainage system, broken tiles, cracked wood beams, exposed electric wires, and so on.”

TEDcom al-Qarawiyyin Entrance Main Reading Room aziza_chaouni_img_2100

One of Chaouni’s leading principles was respect to its authenticity. Her restoration team preserved and salvaged what they could, but when it wasn’t possible, features and details were created from scratch. This included using local materials and construction systems, like furniture by local craftsmen who used native wood. Says Chaouni:

“There has to be a fine balance between keeping the original spaces, addressing the needs of current users, including students, researchers and visitors, and integrating new sustainable technologies — solar panels, water collection for garden irrigation, and so on.”

TheBigStory al-Qarawiyyin Fountain Samia Ezzarrouki 460x

Currently a part of Morocco’s state university system, the library is now open to the public in addition to historians and students.

(Incidentally, the university’s famous alumni include the 16th-century Andalusian adventurer known as Leo Africanus, whose book Description of Africa was considered the most authoritative source for northern Africa until the beginning of European exploration and expansion in the African continent.)

More photos at The New Arab, TED.com, The Big Story, Tor.com and BookRiot.

Images: Courtyard via TheNewArab; main reading room and entrance to main reading room by Aziza Chaouni via TED.com; fountain by Samia Errazzouki via The Big Story.

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

The Great Walls of China

The Great Wall is perhaps the most iconic piece of Chinese architecture and the best known outside of China. It is also widely misunderstood. Border walls like the Great Wall in China, Hadrian’s Wall in Britain, and the Great Wall of Gorgan in Persia do not function the same way as the walls of a city or fortress. These walls are less about keeping people out than they are about managing, observing, and sending a message to the people entering the country or already within it.

A view of the wall from near the eastern terminus, photograph by Jack Upland via Wikimedia
A view of the wall from near the eastern terminus, photograph by Jack Upland via Wikimedia

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Stave Churches

When we think of ancient architecture, we tend to think of stone and brick: the pyramids of Egypt, the amphitheatres of Rome, the Great Wall of China, the temples of the Aztecs and Maya. These are structures that have endured. We have many fewer models of wooden architecture from the distant past, even though wood—cheaper, lighter, and easier to work that stone or brick—was what most people built with in many parts of the world. Wooden buildings burn, rot, or just fall down if not maintained. Good examples of wooden buildings from more than a few centuries ago are very hard to find. One set of buildings that help fill that gap are the stave churches of Norway.

Heddal stave church, photograph by Micha L. Rieser via Wikimeida (Heddal, Norway; 13th c.)
Heddal stave church, photograph by Micha L. Rieser via Wikimeida (Heddal, Norway; 13th c.)

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Fantasy Religions: Religious Sites

So, you’re creating a fantasy religion for a story or game. When your characters need to interact with their gods, where do they go—if anywhere at all? Down the street to the local temple? To the top of a windswept mountain? To a corner of their kitchen? Today we look at religious sites in historical cultures to inspire our imaginations.

We can start by looking at religion in today’s world. Look at the religious life of a modern western community and you will find some people attending their local church, synagogue, or mosque, some people praying quietly in their own homes, some feeling inspired by solitary walks in the woods, some debating points of theology over the internet, some participating in celebrations of religious holidays, and some not involved at all. Many people will do more than one of the above. No culture or religious tradition is monolithic, and this is just as true in the past as the present. The history of religious expression is one of incredible variety both across and within cultures.

In this variety, though, there are some patterns that recur in varying forms. People use different kinds of religious sites for different  needs. Many different traditions have used similar kinds of religious sites, and within any given tradition different sites are used for different purposes. Today we will look at four common types of religious site out of the wide variety of possibilities: assemblies, temples, household shrines, and natural spaces.

Assembly

The “assembly” type of religious space will be recognizable to anyone familiar with major variants of the modern monotheistic religions. It is a space where a community of believers gathers to perform collective rituals such as praying, singing hymns, hearing sermons, feasting, and witnessing or participating in ritual enactments.

Grand Mosque, Djenne, photograph by BluesyPete via Wikimedia
Grand Mosque, Djenne, photograph by BluesyPete via Wikimedia

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Great Zimbabwe

Aerial view of part of the Great Zimbabwe complex. Photograph by Janice Bell
Aerial view of part of the Great Zimbabwe complex, photograph by Janice Bell via Wikimedia

Great Zimbabwe is a ruined city in Zimbabwe (and in fact has given the modern country its name). Built over centuries beginning in the 9th century, the site was a center of power for the medieval Shona (or Kalanga) kingdom and part of the trade networks that spanned the Indian Ocean. It was abandoned in the 15th century and stands in ruins today, but even in its ruined state it is impressive.

Wall of the great enclosure. Photograph by Jens Klinzing.
Wall of the great enclosure, photograph by Jens Klinzing via Wikimedia

The remains of numerous stone enclosures spread over hundreds of hectares. At its height, Great Zimbabwe may have housed between 15,000 and 20,000 people. The surviving walls reach heights of five meters and are built of stone blocks assembled without mortar. Several different complexes occupy different positions ranging from hills to near the river. The significance of these different complexes remains unclear, but it may indicate that the center of settlement gradually moved over time, away from the more defensible hill sites to the more accessible valley sites, perhaps to better engage with the oceanic trade networks. Ivory and gold were Great Zimbabwe’s major international exports and trade goods from the Arabian peninsula and China have been found at the site.

Interior walkway showing the quality of the stonework. Uploaded by Vinz.
Interior walkway showing the quality of the stonework via Wikimedia

One noteworthy feature of the enclosures is their shape: neither rectangular nor circular but irregular curved shapes adapted to the forms of the landscape on which they sit.

In the colonial period, popular theories held that the site must have been built by ancient European or Asian colonizers. The biblical Queen of Sheba was often mentioned in connection with the site. Although archaeologists realized as early as the early twentieth century that Great Zimbabwe had been built by Africans, the colonial administration in what was then Rhodesia suppressed any such claim. The assertion that Africans were incapable of building such a complex site and needed European guidance to achieve any level of civilization was key to the justification of imperial domination. Colonial authorities could not tolerate any evidence that Africans were capable of creating sophisticated works of art and architecture on their own.

Part of the hill complex seen from the valley below. Photograph by Macvivo.
Part of the hill complex seen from the valley below, photograph by Macvivo via Wikimedia

Thoughts for writers

I have two reasons for sharing a little bit of Great Zimbabwe.

First, it is another example of architecture that does not depend on European examples. When doing our worldbuilding as writers, it is easy to fall back on the things that are familiar: European castles, Egyptian pyramids, Greek temples, and the other things we’ve seen before. Let yourself be inspired by the other amazing things people have built. I’d love to see a city inspired by Great Zimbabwe at its height turn up in a fantasy story, even one not set in an explicitly African-inspired world.

Second, this is another example of how politics can screw up good historical scholarship and so why you need to read broadly and get outside familiar frames of reference. Even today, while the Queen of Sheba is generally left out of it, claims that Great Zimbabwe was built by Arabs or Phoenicians still occasionally creep into popular histories.

History for Writers is a weekly feature which looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.