A Height Above The Rest in Africa…

Federico Garcia Lorca once said ‘There is nothing more poetic and terrible than the skyscraper’s battle with the heavens that cover them’. It thus appears that man’s constant and consistent thirst to aid the ‘metal monster’ is certain to blot out the sky from the ground.

A show of might, in days long past, would have been wars fought on battlegrounds; with mighty displays of ammunition and combat tactics. But, in the world of today, supremacy is firmly stamped with rather convincing showcases of economic might and ideology.

The artificial rooftop of the globe, at first, may have been the famed pyramids on the Egyptian deserts, but this scope was swiftly replaced with both religiously and politically significant structures, such as churches and monuments.

The Washington monument for instance, cemented America’s significance to the world, towering over all other nations since its completion, for well close to a century before the European cathedrals, with their gothic and romanesque architecture, took the mantle of height.

Through the decades, the world’s superpowers, or those countries that sought their podium in the global arena, designed towers which subsequently matched their international position. North America, for instance, had a firm grip on Planet Earth, with her skyscrapers which majestically rose out of her prominent cities: Washington, Chicago and New York. To this day, and well into the future if predictions are anything to go by, the citizens of these bastions of glory, will delight in being residents of the world’s greatest cities.

The ‘Heavens’ on Earth

The roll of honour for the tallest structure on Earth, goes to the hungriest city of them all, Dubai, with its over 2700 foot Burj Khalifa, which convincingly towers over the rest of the globe from deep within the United Arab Emirates deserts. Here’s the video to prove it:

It’s dizzying to even mention this, but the Royal family of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, have approved construction of an EVEN TALLER building than the Burj Khalifa, in Jeddah called the Kingdom Tower. Initially designed to stand at a height of about 1.6 kilometers into the sky, it was scaled down to 1000 meters, majorly because the geography of the area would not allow the unrealistic height.

The Kindom Tower (left) in Comparison to other projects and the Burj Khalifa (right)

The ‘King’ of the African Skies

It is then apparent, by silent consensus, that the greatest countries on continents across the globe, are also home to the very tallest.

In Europe for example, the British capital, London, now boasts the Shard building, elevated to a grand height of over 1,000 feet: it is the tallest of them all on the continent. Designed by Architect Renzo Piano, the marvel was opened well before this leading global city hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics, the greatest spectator sport on earth.

Towering above them all in Asia is the 1,667 ft Taipei 101 tower in Taiwan, though South Korean is fervently working on completing what is set to become the continent’s tallest  building, the Lotte Super Tower 123 (I have no idea what the obsession with numbers is) which should be opened in 2014.

Designed by Kohn Pedderson Fox, the tower will comprise a hotel, shops, apartments and offices, not only being owned by those who commissioned it be built, the Lotte Group, but also signifying South Korea’s aggressive economy and its desire to be marked as one of the leading nations on Earth.

The Carlton Centre, Johannesburg. Currently the Tallest building on the African continent

The King of Africa’s skies is, rather predictably, located in the capital city of the continent’s leading economy, South Africa, but it doesn’t even make it to the list of top 100 tallest buildings on the globe (shy of about 50 metres even).

The Carlton Center in downtown Johannesburg stands at 732 feet but is poised to surrender its title to an ambitious project dubbed Centurion Symbio-City which is underway in the country’s administrative capital Tshwane (formerly Pretoria).

Centurion Symbio – City

If and when complete, Centurion will enter the league of the top 20 tallest on Earth, standing at a whopping 110 stories which is just ahead of the Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois US but shy of the Petronas Towers in the Malaysian Capital, Kuala Lumpur.

East Africa’s Tallest Mammoth

The New Central Bank Tower (also known as Times Tower) happens to be the tallest structure in Eastern and Central Africa and is served by 10 elevators, comprising a 38-storey office tower, a 7-storey banking complex and an 11-split storey car park. The estimated total area covered is 60,000m2, all in reinforced concrete construction. This iconic building at the heart of the region’s financial and communication hub was designed by Architect James Njuguna Gitoho of Triad Architects for the Central Bank of Kenya and was completed in May 2000.

The building was designed to resist earthquakes and to repel all forms of forced entry into it’s main vaults, which of course was important to the Central Bank of Kenya, which commissioned its construction. Foundations for this mammon comprise 2 deep basements sitting on a reinforced concrete raft varying in thickness from 0.9m to 3.0m.

A key feature of the design, according to Times Tower’s structural engineers Howard Humphreys (K) Ltd, was to assess the seismicity of the area and to generate loading data to enable a computerized time-history analysis. This resulted in a safe yet economical seismic design that bore the Kenyan landmark.

Times Tower

Interesting to note is that Times Tower would not hold this prestigious title had plans by the Moi regime bore fruit in 1989 to construct the continent’s then tallest structure, a 60-storey headquarters at the heart of Uhuru Park to house the Kenya Times newspaper. This was in addition to KANU’s KICC, which at 28 storeys high, was the tallest structure in the region at the time.

This was an ill-timed and ill-placed project by all means, as Kenya was ‘enjoying’ and annual economic decline of -0.9% between the years 1980 – 1989. British architects had already designed the blueprints for the tower which would be built of concrete and sheathed in imported glass, aluminum and steel. It would have definitely put the ‘Green City in the Sun’ on the world map for at least a decade to come. All this would have cost the tax payer in excess of $200 million (adjustments over time on the currency changes apply on top of this).

The One Nairobi

There had been speculation from 2010 to 2011 about the British-owned international development company, Dubai-based the First Group, working on Africa’s tallest building, the One Nairobi, which would have stood at over 70 stories high (though the Centurion has far overshadowed this), but plans are believed to have been shelved, at least for time being, as investors are approached.

The One Nairobi would have been located in the Upper Hill area of Kenya’s capital and and undoubtedly boosted the country’s profile. The First Group are working on the One Kempinski Abuja which is meant to be ‘the epitome of high end living’ in Nigeria’s brand new capital city.

The Skies Ahead

It is therefore pertinent for Africa’s lions to literally RISE up to the occasion of vertical splendour in the race for the tip of the horizon. While struggling for economical advancement is critical to any country’s future, displaying this new-found status could also be instrumental to self-assertion and progress.

Though with the relatively tiny nation of Qatar planning to complete at least 300 new skyscrapers by the time it hosts the 2022 FIFA World Cup, where does that leave the African continent in the race?

Interesting to Note

Yemen had its very own ‘skyscraper city’ in the 2nd Century. Known as Shibam, each of the buildings were built from mud and rose on average to a height of about 8 stories each, mainly to protect the citizens from the desert raiders.

The Yemen ‘Skyscraper City’ of Shibam

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Luxury Has a New Address

There’s no denying that there is the established luxury syndicate in any part of the globe, be it New York or Hong Kong, even right here in our beautiful green city in the sun, Nairobi. There may be three social classes: the recurrently poor, the sprawling middle class and the wealthy… but to the rich there are four classes: the servants (the poor), the pretenders (middle class), the detestable ‘new money’ who feel they have achieved this position of power and will stick there, as well as ‘old money’ from a long line of the elite.

I wasn’t much surprised then when I found out that plush and upmarket neighbourhoods such as Muthaiga don’t just let anyone into their back yard: you have to be from a long line of wealthy Kenyan citizens, in other words ‘old money’. As a result, it’s like we’re playing a new kind of colonial game. A resurgence of segregation not based on race this time, but on possession. Never in modern Earth’s history has materialism controlled human desire to such extraordinary extent.

I was recently reading an article about the 1971 Iranian Monarchy celebrations that took place over a period of roughly two weeks. Basically, the Persian monarchy was celebrating its 2,500th year of existence, right from the time of King Cyrus the Great’s rule, and was meant to demonstrate Iran’s long history and the extent of contemporary advancements the ’empire’ had achieved under the time of the then Shah of Iran, Mohammad Razah Pahlavi.

Aerial view of the Tent of Persepolis

The preparations for this historic event took well over a decade, as a remote city, Persepolis, was identified to host the modern milestone mainly because of security issues that would make it easier to monitor. The infrastructure of the city had to be extensively improved, including the upgrading of nearby Shiraz Airport and an additional highway for the anticipated number of high profile guests. The support staff and press were based in Shiraz as only the invited guests and dignitaries would be staying in Persepolis.

The Tent City of Persepolis (Photo: David Dorren)

The Iranian government flew in plants from France, and even hired the exquisite Parisian restaurant, Maxim’s to cater for the entire event (Maxim had to shut down its operations in the French capital for the duration of the celebrations). The Imperial household had elaborate uniforms designed for them as well and 250 custom made red Mercedes benz sedans purchased to ferry guests to and from the airport at Shiraz.

The venue of the Tent City of Persepolis was set on over 160 acres of land: luxury tented apartments adorned in the finest of gold and linen, all designed in a star shape around a graand fountain at the centre of the lay out. The inspiration for this was the 16th century Field of the Cloth of Gold that bore the Anglo-French treaty of 1514. In total, 600 guests, including a long list of Eurpoean royals and African presidents, dined for over 5 hours, making it a Guinness World record for the longest and most lavish official banquet in modern history.

The Persepolis Banquet

If you were wondering where the notion ‘the party of the century’ came from…well there’s your answer. There has never been such an extensively lavish and grand gathering, to date. President Jomo Kenyatta, Queen Elizabeth II and President Richard Nixon did not attend though, because of ‘security concerns’ though I would rather much bet it would have been Israeli influences and reservations.

Nairobi has its fair share of opulence when it comes to fine dining and accommodation. We have the ‘old money’ hotels that include the likes of what is now the Sarova Stanley, the Fairmont Norfolk and the Nairobi Serena, as well as the ‘new money’ creme that harbours the Sankara and the Tribe Hotel. It’s no secret that the middle class is growing, and the rich are getting richer, and with the city being a diplomatic and celebrity haven, we’re likely to see more ‘high end’ focussed offings taking shape.

Read my piece on Princes and (mostly) European palaces

It is also predicted that by just 2014, East and Central Africa’s financial and communication hub will see its bed space more than double, with international hotel brands, the Chinese and a plethora of local and international investors displaying their might. I’ve heard but rumours of Sheraton, Marriot and Hyatt even prospecting how and when they would set up shop in what is the Safari Capital of the World. And with news that Nairobi’s luxury property is a hot topic on a global scale, the only hinderance to this becoming a ‘wealthy and elite’ jungle is… time.

One of the avenues I think is most underutilised in Kenya is the fact that we are the only ‘Third World Country’ with a United Nations agency headquarters. According to the recently released Wealth Report though, experts were asked where they saw the world in the year 2050. A general agreement was that dominant global cities would be overtaken in importance and precedence by a group of cities networked.

Of course then in such a scenario, at the top of the list was Washington/New York/Chicago, followed by Hong Kong/Shanghai/Beijing. In the first scenario, the consensus was that the three cities would geopolitically become more important than the whole of the United States by then, also attributing this to the fact that when the Chinese premier Jintao visited, he not only went to the American capital, but also stopped by Chicago. The second scenario doesn’t need much convincing, as China’s global role perpetually continues to be ingrained.

The merger of the ‘Diplomats’ Geneva/Vienna/Nairobi

A series of groupings followed, including Berlin/Frankfurt, Istanbul/Ankara, Sao Paolo/Rio/Brasilia and Cairo/Beirut. The interesting addition was the mega connection that is Geneva/Vienna/Nairobi which Prof. Saskia Sassen, the writer of the section of the report, said was a critical mass generated by a combination of institutions devoted to social questions and justice for the powerless. She said the cities may have been long overshadowed by global finance and mega-militaries but they would emerge as critical actors in the global arena.

No wonder hotels like the Tribe, pride themselves as being at the heart of the city’s diplomatic street. Popular travel and leisure magazine show ‘Jet Set Extra’ was recently in the country to ‘experience Africa’ and here’s the brief clip and interview with the Hotel’s General Manager, Mark Somen.

Jetset Extra Visits Nairobi’s Tribe Hotel from Jetset Extra on Vimeo.

Is it surprising that Wikipedia defines ‘jet set’ as: a journalistic term used to describe an international social group of wealthy people.

Great cities like New York and London were built on the sweat of a dedicated generation that forged together with a general purpose of making their city the best…not for others, but for themselves.

Nairobi: The Hottest Luxury Property on Earth

The Nairobi Skyline at Night

If you thought the hottest (luxury) properties on the planet currently are found in either Dubai, Miami, Paris or London then think again.

Global real estate magnate Knight Frank, released their latest global markets and properties wrap up report, the Prime International Residential Index, on the 28th of March 2012, and on it they featured the world’s property hotspots: where prices had jumped significantly through the previous year.

At the top of the list, would you believe it, were our very own Kenyan capital, Nairobi (25% positive growth) and the Kenyan coast in second place (20% positive growth). Kenya beat giants Miami, London, Bali and even the Chinese capital, Beijing.

PIRI Index Graph by Knight Frank

But what does this mean you may ask: just that the world really is becoming a global village and Kenya isn’t far behind being the millionaires playground. With the Italians secondarily colonizing towns like Malindi and Lamu, and the British still in a romantic affair with the central Kenyan highlands, the Chinese aren’t far behind as they infiltrate our fair land with development projects.

The fact that we may also be potentially oil wealthy as of last month may cause the region to feature more prominently in the next report.

Read the full Knight Frank Prime International Property Index

Do you think your city is hot property? What do you think that will mean for the property markets in Kenya…

A Nightingale New Year (Part One)

There are two things I most definitely can’t live without today; my laptop and internet on the go. Therefore you can imagine my devastation when the  phone I so cherished for over 3 years was stolen barely three weeks ago, and with it effectively slaughtering my on-line presence out of home and office, much like you would that turkey or chicken over Christmas. Nonetheless, this didn’t deter the 2011 holiday season from being nothing less than magical, all thanks to three sterling ingredients: my twitter family, @kenya_tweets and @nightingaleMSA.

By now you’re probably wondering what made this past festive season so sensational for me… Well, let me begin at the alpha… Over a light chat at @thenailab, my long time buddie @amasy tilted his laptop toward me and showed me this twitter competition that was going on, about #KOTxmas, @kenya_tweets and @nightingaleMSA. Now, Kenya Tweets is the foremost and arguably most comprehensive website that acts as a database and research tool for all Kenyans on Twitter (popularly known as #KOT). They recently re-branded their website and decided to do it in a unique way, by giving a lucky #KOT, alongside a plus one of your choice, a  stay-expense paid chance to usher in 2012 at the luxurious Nightingale apartments at the North Coast of Mombasa over the night of 31st Dec 2011.

Being the opportunist that I am, everyone should be come to think of it, I got to mobilizing the fantastic followers I have on twitter, pleading with them to vote for me. All one had to do was muster up the most nominations by simply getting as many tweeps as possible to nominate you, including the terms #KOTxmas and @nightingaleMSA which is the twitter handle for the apartments. I must say it was a cut-throat close to three week affair which near to its culmination had @amina_baby, @maloba, @hotlivia and myself fighting for the prize.

You have to realize at this point I had to maximize my on-line time for the nominations hunt, which would explain why I was offline from the evening of Thursday the 29th to Friday around noon. Friday morning I got up to a call from my boy @bobbysyoks ecstatically telling me that I had definitively won the contest at that @kenya_tweets was frantically looking for me. Shortly after, surely enough, I got that ‘winning’ call and rushed for the @ihub where I was going to finish up some reports and do some work anyway. Logging in to twitter I pleasantly found this, among hundreds of other mentions and congratulatory tweets:

The 'winning' tweet...

I replied all the necessary DMs  and ‘virtual paperwork’ (non-existent really) and 31st found me, and my mother, on our way to the coast for this experience. Now, I hadn’t been to the coast in two years and I was expectedly exited to be back. Modern Coast touched down in Mwembe Mombasa in the evening, and stepping out of the bus proved to be rather welcomingly hot and humid affair. We had a whiff of some roadside mshikaki and didn’t mind having a taste whilst we waited for the escort  organized by @nightingaleMSA to pick us up from the drop-off. It was however particularly interesting to see numerous Nairobians, some of who I knew, resplendent in nothing more than their undies, vests et all, parading the intricate network of narrow streets that characterise the tourist haven that is the coastal capital.

Mombasa is a totally different mind set from the capital city. Things here seem to happen on a perpetually leisure go-slow and there is definitely something in the air that dangerously encourages wanton spending. Its an intoxicatingly deadly mix that is carelessly unavoidable but incessantly necessary to keep pace with the ‘coastal lifestyle’ that so many Kenyans have come to ritually accept. As I made all these observations, the kind sir, Jackson, came to pick us up, heading down past Bamburi’s Haller Park and the consequently traffic prone Nakumatt Nyali area. The traffic we witnessed here was messy, mostly holiday lovers and concert-goers making haste to the merry.

The dusty maroon gates that Jackson hooted on did not prepare me for the beauty that is Nightingale Apartments. We glided in and beauty simply took my breath away.

The invitingly lit pool was the first thing I saw as we checked in

The lovely and lit 2.9m deep pool seemed to seductively beckon me to sample it, being a competitive and free-time swimmer for most of my life, as a makuti bar and restaurant area gave the compound a feeling of authenticity. I could see some of the patrons sauntering with satisfied visages throughout the minimalistic but expansive area, from the pool area to the apartment blocks which were to the  right. The receptionist, Waithera, welcomingly smiled and ushered us into the waiting lounge as we checked ourselves in, all the while the Director, Catherine Sell, took her time to get to know both ‘mama twitter’ and myself. By now you know the name she had christened me during the entire stay.

The 'traditional' restaurant area next to the pool

Our apartment was situated in Block B, with a quaint balcony that overlooked an expansive area leading upto the beach, though the primary horizon happened to be the pool which I couldn’t wait to dive into. Inside the quarters was a pleasantly furnished granite-laced space. To my right was a simple yet fully equipment-stocked kitchenette, and the main area of the living room had tastefully upholstered sisal couches and a conveniently placed television set with what I call all the DSTV essentials, Supersport 3 and 7, Mnet and the local channels.

View from the balcony of the apartment

The bedroom was affectionately prepared with white light cotton sheets, drawer and cabinet space, a mirror and a more than genrous back view of the area which is undergoing development. I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I dropped my luggage and took it all in … This was going to be a truly non-forgettable holiday…

Africa and its Parliaments

These are the seats of national assemblies across the world; the buildings that host individual legislatures and which countries pride themselves in both architectural and symbolical grandeur. Usually located at the heart of capital cities, these (usually) forbidding and intimidatingly large structures can be spotted from a wide area within the central business district and while reservedly open to the public, they are mostly heavily secured and restricted. Let’s have a look at the parliaments of some of Africa’s leading economies.

The Republic of Botswana

Mostly a flat country and grossly covered by the Kalahari desert, Botswana overcame being one of Africa’s poorest countries at independence in 1966 to boasting one of the world’s fastest growing economies, with a GDP per capita of over $14,000.  The economy is mostly supported by a well advanced banking system and the mineral industry that contributes at least 40% of government revenue. Transparency International also crowned Botswana recently as the least corrupt country on the continent.

Parliament at Gaborone

The seat of the government used to be in Mafeking, South Africa, but after 1965, was moved by the British to present day Gaborone, which happens to be located near the border with their southern neighbour. The city is also the seat of the government and where its parliament is located. The country also boasts a highly representative government, with the President as Head of State and Government and a vibrant multi party system. Interestingly, the Parliament elects the President directly and has a total of 61 seats!

Inside the Gaborone Parliament

The Arab Republic of Egypt

The famed link between Africa and Asia, through its Sinai peninsula extension, Egypt is a major power not just in Africa, but in the Arab world. Most of the population is concentrated around the capital, Cairo, Alexandria and other cities across the very fertile Nile Valley. Egypt’s GDP per capita is over $218,000 and the backbones of the economy are tourism, agriculture, service and industry. The country has very rich history, dating back to 3000 BC, though more recently it became a Kingdom, in the early 1900s before becoming a republic in 1954.

The Parliament at Cairo

Egypt has been under Emergency rule since 1967, but the basic structure of the government is the President as head of state and a Prime Minister (though most of the power rested with the Head of State), and the military remains powerful. It is however still viewed as a multi-party democracy, with the country sub-divided into 21 governorates. Egypt’s parliament is in it’s capital city, Cairo; The building consists of a round hall with a dome covered in glass and botannical units within the space that are representative of what was in vogue at the time of its construction in the 1920s.

Inside the Egyptian Parliament

The Republic of Ghana

The word ‘Ghana’ means ‘Warrior King’. The republic was predominantly an Akan Kingdom before the British colonized most parts of it around 1874 and later gave her independence in 1957, the first Sub-Saharan African country to manage that. The GDP per capita of Ghana is over $18,000 and the economy is generally supported by gold and agriculture. Interestingly she was listed as the World’s Fastest growing Economy of 2011, with a predicted growth of 20% and the currency is strong, at an exchange rate of around 1.4 Ghanaian Cedi to the US Dollar.

Click here to read ‘Another African Tsunami’

The Parliament at Accra

After independence, Ghana was a parliamentary democracy but this changed to alternating military and civilian rule that bore the Fourth Republic after the new 1992 constitution that effectively divided power among the President, Parliament, State council and the independent judiciary. There are 10 administrative regions and the seat of Parliament is in the capital city of Accra. The Parliamentary Building is known as Job 600 and was built in the 1960s to host the first pan-African OAU conference. The main building is quite run down, and has been undergoing renovation for quite sometime now, but the main hall and the banquet room serve as the seat of the Legislature.

Inside the Ghana Parliament

The Republic of Kenya

World famous for its diverse wildlife and globally successful athletes, Kenya attained her independence in 1963 from the British after being occupied for half a century by her colonialists. Kenya’s climate is as diverse as her cultures; deserts, snow capped mountains, tropical forests, swamps, savannah grasslands and lakes. Her GDP per capita is the largest in East and Central Africa, over $32,000 and the economy, the largest non-mineral based on the continent, is generally supported by agriculture, service and tourism.

The Parliament at Nairobi

Following the adoption of a new constitution in 2010, the country is sub divided into 47 administrative regions known as counties. These will be governed by Governors, independent of the central government based in Nairobi, the capital city, and the seat of Parliament. Currently there are 222 Members of Parliament. The Houses of Parliament were constructed in the 1950s, with interesting ethnic and cultural designs embellished onto the main external walls; the main body of which seems to jut out and arch, as the entrance is a stylized arch with a star structure hanging over the modern themed gate. The gardens surrounding the building are wide and well manicured, but the interior should be undergoing some renovation, expansion and redesign.

Inside Kenya’s Parliament

The Kingdom of Morocco

This constitutional monarchy also primarily administers over Western Sahara. Morocco is relatively stable politically, the economy mainly relying on tourism and phosphates and she boasts a growth rate averaging 4% annually. The GDP per capita of Morocco is over $103,500 making her one of Africa’s more affluent societies, with beautiful cities that attract tourists, such as Rabat, Marrakech and Casablanca dotting the arid and semi-arid landscape. Morocco gained independence from France and Spain in

The Parliament at Rabat

The King of Morocco is the Head of State, controlling the military, but the Prime Minister is the head of government and the multi-party setup. There are also two parliamentary chambers and an independent judiciary. The country recently (July 2011) passed new constitutional reforms that are believed to be a step forward in the government of Morocco. The legislative bodies sit in the Parliament based in the capital, Rabat.

Inside the Moroccan Parliament

The Federal Republic of Nigeria

Named after the Niger river that meanders through her, Nigeria is the most populous country on the continent and the seventh largest in the world. In 1914 the Niger are was formally united and known as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, but the country gained her independence in 1960 from Britain. Her economy is one of the fastest growing on the planet, with a projected growth of 8% for 2011 and mainly based on the oil she possesses in abundance. The GDP per capita for the country is over $216,000.

The Parliament at Abuja

The government operates on a federal system much like that of the United States, with a Senate and House of Representatives, though the President retains all Executive power. The Parliament of Nigeria is in its capital city, Abuja, resplendent in the national colours of the country. Abuja was a custom-designed city, well planned away from the previous congested capital, Lagos, with large areas of Parks and recreational areas, some designed by architect Manfredi Nicoletti. There are 36 states and one Federal Capital territory.

The United Republic of Tanzania

Home to the roof of the continent, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania boasts stunning wildlife and beaches (especially those of the island of Zanzibar). With a GDP per capita of over $22,700, she is only second to Kenya in East and Central Africa in terms of economic muscle. Agriculture is the focal point of her economy, contributing to over half of the government’s revenue, but Tanzania is also rich in natural gas and some minerals.

The Parliament at Dodoma

Tanzania is a one-party state, the CCM, and the country’s government consists of the President and an elected Prime Minister who is the head of the National Assembly. The country is divided into 26 regions; 21 on the mainland and 5 on Zanzibar, and enjoys relative political stability to most of her neighbours. Between independence and 1996, Dar es Salaam was the seat of the government, but the capital is now Dodoma, where the houses of Parliament are located, though most government offices are still located at the Coast.

Inside the Tanzanian Parliament

The Republic of South Africa

By far the wealthiest and most advanced economy on the continent, South Africa’s GDP per capita is estimated at over $357,000, bolstered by mineral wealth (particularly gold), tourism, industry and services. The British successfully overcame the Boers in the Second Boer Wars of 1902 and she remained a colony until 1961 when in a white only referendum, the country became a republic and left the Commonwealth; the Queen ceased to be head of state. South Africa then struggled with apartheid up until the early 1990s, though the white minority enjoyed the highest standards of living in Africa.

The Parliament at Cape Town

The President of South Africa is the Head of State and of Government, and appoints a Deputy President and Ministers who form the Cabinet, then there is the National Assembly, made up of 400 members. There are 3 capitals; Pretoria (Tshwane) the seat of the Executive, Johannesburg the seat of the Judiciary and Cape Town the seat of the Legislature (Parliament). The original designer of the building was Charles Freeman, but he miscalculated the foundations and was replaced by Henry Greaves who oversaw it to its completion. The new House of Assembly was designed by Herbert Baker, the same man who designed modern day Nairobi School and Nairobi Primary School. The Houses of Parliament, Cape Town, boast Corinthian porticos and beauitful pavilions.

Inside the South African Parliament

(Guest Post) The Cathedrals…

This article has been prompted by my sharing of architectural interest with tweeps such as @natekev this blog’s Landlord, @dnahinga and @mafex_inc. Nate challenged me to guest blog on Cathedrals and I’m surely not one to pass up a challenge!

Christianity

Being a Christian [devoted or not is neither here nor anywhere] means I have visited my fair share of ‘Houses of God’. In Kenya we have some extremely opulent churches as well as some shacks….but I think that what matters most, as many would say, is the ‘use’ and not the ‘structure’.

When we talk about Architecture and Religion, it becomes impossible to discuss one without the other. They are intertwined or better still, become two sides of the same coin. By biblical proportions, the Egyptians designed some magnificent temples dedicated to gods such as Amun-Ra, Osiris and Hathor as well as extravagant residences for the Pharaohs who were deemed to be gods too; they lived in opulence in life as well as in death [the pyramids].

Solomon’s Temple

The earliest that we can talk of architectural masterpieces in temple buildings is when King David wanted to build God a Temple and his plan was put aside because Solomon his son was the one appointed to do so. When you read through the Bible and particularly on the temple that King Solomon was to build….the opulence and artistry required plus the materials to be utilized would simply leave one baffled. Here is an excerpt of 1 Kings 6 where the description is as vivid as can be:

1 Kings 6: 14-18 :

14 So Solomon built the temple and completed it. 15 He lined its interior walls with cedar boards, paneling them from the floor of the temple to the ceiling, and covered the floor of the temple with planks of juniper. 16 He partitioned off twenty cubits at the rear of the temple with cedar boards from floor to ceiling to form within the temple an inner sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. 17 The main hall in front of this room was forty cubits[i] long. 18 The inside of the temple was cedar, carved with gourds and open flowers. Everything was cedar; no stone was to be seen.

I believe it’s from that point that religion and architecture were joined together at the hip for eons to come…

Monolithic Structures

Cathedrals are behemoths….monolithic structures that are more attached to Christianity ( especially Catholicism) than any other form of ‘organized’ religion and the grandest of them all has to be the Seat of the Holy See, the Archbishop of Rome, and the Pope! St. Peters Basilica. It is made even more famous by the weekly Papal audiences, attended by thousands of faithful.

Built on the tomb of St. Peter, The superlatives describing this church are beyond me. It has been described as the “greatest of all churches in Christendom..” and with very good reason.

St. Peter’s Basilica.

Commissioned by Ivan The Terrible

Next we have St. Basil’s Cathedral which is the very icon of Moscow. Just the other day, St. Basil’s doodle ‘graced’ the Google homepage, as it celebrated its 450th anniversary! Clearly, cathedrals boasting 100yrs are pretty young in this trade.  The Basil Cathedral is officially and mouth-fully termed as “Cathedral of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat” and is situated rather majestically, at the famous Red Square in the Russian capital, Moscow. Commissioned by Ivan the Terrible after Kazan and Astrakhan were captured, the cathedral is under the Russian Orthodox.

St. Basil’s Moscow.

The Seat of the Archbishop

Then we have Our Lady of Paris, famously known as Notre Dame de Paris.  It’s the Gothic Cathedral of the Catholic Archdiocese of Paris, the seat of the Paris’ Archbishop. It’s been said to hold the reliquary of the Crown of Thorns.  It also has the Organ, a common feature in all these Cathedrals. Its organ has 7,800 pipes, of which 900 are historical. The cathedral suffered extensive desecration during the French Revolution though it has since been restored to its ancient grandeur. There is also a treatise to its praise, titled Treatise on The Praise of Paris [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notre_Dame_de_Paris]

       

The Notre Dame Cathedral                                                                   The Iconic Notre Dame Organ

Renaissance Expression

When talking of cathedrals, we can’t avoid touching on The Sistine Chapel. It is among the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City’s Pope’s residence. The Sistine Chapel is more famous for its frescoes worked on by Rennaissance Artists like Michelangelo, Borticelli, Pietro and Sandro, commissioned by Pope Julius II. The frescoes cover the ceiling, Eastern, Southern and Northern walls.  It is also known to be the venue of the Conclave for the College of Cardinals when a new pope is to be installed.

The Sistine Chapel

The Duke and Duchess’ Wedding

We now land in England where we have the Westminster Abbey officially referred to as the Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster. The Abbey has become more prominently featured around since most recent ceremonies touching on the UK Royals have been held there; including the funeral service of the late Princess Diana as well as the wedding ceremony of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Under the Church of England, the Abbey holds the burial grounds of all monarchs of Britain and its realms.

The Westminster Abbey

Gothic Display

In Cologne, Germany, we have the Cologne Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This cathedral is a monument of Christianity, German Catholicism and most of all Gothic architecture.

The Cologne Cathedral

Guinness World Record

Moving to Ivory Coast, known more for its cocoa production and a President who stole an election; He refused to leave the seat and had to be dragged out of his bunker in a vest. Cote de Ivoire as it now known, is home to one of the largest cathedrals in the world, in the city of Yamoussoukro: The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro.  Built at a cost of $300M it mirrors St. Peter’s Basilica especially on the Dome and the plaza. The Guinness Book of World Records even terms it as the largest church on earth with an area of 30,000sqms (322,917 sq ft) and 158m (518 ft) high, though it holds much less people than St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace  – Yamoussoukro

Cultural Melting Pot

Next is Turkey, the cultural melting pot that lies between the Arabic South and the European North and joined by the Greeks and the Cypriots. The Hagia Sophia has quite a history… Originally an Eastern Orthodox Basilica under the Patriarchal of Constantinople for more than a 1000yrs, it later became a mosque after Constantinople (now Istanbul) fell to the Ottoman Turks for nearly 500yrs. Thereafter, the cathedral secularized to become  a museum.  Its massive dome, a hallmark of the Byzantine architecture, is it’s trademark.

Hagia Sophia

Revered by All

And then we have The Dome of The Rock. I know we are handling Cathedrals here,but we are also on architecture. The Dome located on Temple Mount in Jerusalem is considered a holy site to Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. It’s the only building of worship in the Middle East that all major religions deem to be holy! Again, like the Hagia Sophia, what is seen here are intricate external architectural designs that are more at home in the Middle East region. The same case applies to the dome and the arches.

The Dome of the Rock

We obviously can’t cover all the Cathedrals here, for they are many and their traits are as unique as they they are. But one thing is for sure, the architectural designs and works that go into creating one, are immense and lasting forever!

* I thank @mmnjug for taking the time to conjur up this post. You can follow him on twitter, quite a brilliant and well-versed guy. Tweet/comment what you think…

Of Princes and Palaces…

Dungeons, dragons, witches and wizards, charming princes, desperate damsels, fabulously wealthy Kings and Queens; the epic tales of royalty and fantasy abound and amaze. We’ve all been given a glimpse into the lives of what medieval monarchs went through, seen the mammoth castles and fortresses they called home (as depicted in ‘modern’ television series such as Game of Thrones, Camelot and Merlin) It is indeed a fascinating life that royalty lead, having to balance national duty with personal life and always maintaining the not less than perfect outward appearance. Royalty are revered and adored and the only way to be one was/is to be born one!

Ever since I was in Class Seven, I was an ardent fan of a guy world renowned, not in his own right or achievement, but by the simple fact that he was the Royal of one of the tiniest yet wealthiest nations on earth; Prince Albert of Monaco. As we all know, shy of two months ago, Britain’s Prince William wed relatively unknown Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, in a ceremony that was likened to that of Princess Diana and Prince Charles way back in the late eighties. Prince Albert of Monaco however, wed the former South African Olympic gold swimming champion (now Princess) Charlene (formerly Wittstock) just this past weekend, in a religious ceremony that was much less publicized by the media but was arguably more glamorous than that of the British Royals. For some snippets of just how lavish this affair was, you can have a look here:  http://on.fb.me/r23xVL

Now you have to understand, I have been obsessed with the European royals, their lives and their castles ever since I was young; I would imagine myself as the heir to the throne of Monaco or that of the equally if not wealthier Sultandom of Brunei on the Indonesian subcontinent.

The medieval and grandiose palaces they reside in, the dazzling behemoths they are driven in and the unrivaled cuisine they enjoy. Who would want to pass up life as a Royal? In this post however, I will let you admire what some of the Princes of (mostly) European monarchies enjoy and the ‘delicacies’ that are the official Palaces of their Principalities.

Prince Harry of Wales and Buckingham Palace

Prince Harry

This Prince really needs no introduction. Harry has earned a reputation as a lovable rogue. Despite getting a D in Geography, he excelled in Sports at Eton College. At age 23, he was appointed by the Queen as Counsellor of State and has already embarked on fulfilling his royal duties. But beyond the headlines, he’s got a heart of gold and a passion for causes like Walking With the Wounded, a charity that benefits wounded veterans that is currently on a trek to the North Pole.

Originally designed as a large townhouse for the Duke of Buckingham around 1705, Architects John Nash and Edward Blore later extensively enlarged what is now Buckingham Palace to house British monarchs, the first of whom being Queen Victoria herself. This was of course way after King George III had acquired the property for his wife and during which the Palace was aptly named the ‘Queen’s House’.

Buckingham Palace (aerial view)

 

Andrea Pierre Casiraghi of Monaco and the Le Rocher Palace in Monaco

Andrea Pierre of Monaco

If Prince Albert of Monaco dies without having any legitimate children, then Andrea will adopt the name Grimaldi and be the next Prince. Casiraghi is one of a trio of Europe’s hottest young royals (along with brother Pierre and sister Charlotte). Second in line to the Monegasque throne, he lives mostly in New York and is fond of skateboarding.

Unlike most royals, though, he lacks official titles, since his late Italian father was a commoner, much like Kate Middleton (anyone he marries will have to be content with the family’s vast fortune). He is also actively involved in charity, such as with his mother’s AMADE Mondiale charity in and around the African continent.

Built in 1191 as a fortress and garrison, the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, on the Rocher Island, has an elegant facade, thanks to King Honore the 2nd who commissioned the Architect Jacques Catone to transform the Palace from the grim fortified nature it possessed to a more renaissance-looking structure. The main façade facing the square, the “front” of the palace, was given decorative embellishments which gave it a beautiful appearance by the end of the 18th Century.

Le Rocher Palace, Monaco

Prince Felix of Luxembourg and the Luxembourg Palace

Luxembourg Palace

Luxembourg Palace was built for the mother of King Louis Xlll of France, which would more than explain the elegant and almost femininely appealing facade of the Palace. It was thematically modelled on the Palazzo Pitti of sister city Florence in Italy. Most notably, from 29 July to 15 October 1946, the Luxembourg Palace was the site of the talks of Paris Peace Conference.

Prince Felix

One of the most intelligent royals on the planet, brainy billionaire Prince Felix is a 6-foot-tall jet-setter. He is the second son of the Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg. He is currently second in the line of succession. Said to be easygoing and flirty, he’s also surprisingly down to earth: Before recently moving to Rome for a master’s degree in Bioethics, he worked in the PR department of a sports marketing firm.

Prince Azim of Brunei and the Istana Nurul Iman

Prince Azim of Brunei

For those of you had no idea, Brunei is one of the wealthiest nations on Earth! With A-listers such as singer and songstress Mariah Carey a regular attendee of his social gatherings, it is no surprise that fun-loving Azim, fourth in line to the throne, is lavishly generous with his estimated $22 billion fortune, and regularly throws blowout bashes that grab “party of the year” headlines. He’s a lover of trinkets and baubles, too: One of his favorite childhood gifts from his father was a gold- and diamond-encrusted Game Boy.

The Istana Nurul Iman is both the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei and also the seat of the government. It was completed in 1984 at a total cost of $400 million. The name is derived from arabic and means Palace of the Light of Faith. Leandro Locsin was the principal Architect, basing its design on the Islamic and Malay influences within the Principality of Brunei.

The Istana Nurul Iman entrance

Prince Carl Phillip of Sweden and the Stockholm Palace

Prince Carl Phillip of Sweden

They say he is one of the ‘better looking’ of European Royals, Prince Carl of Sweden. He is the only son of King Carl XVI Gustav and Queen Silvia of Sweden. A wild child fond of clubbing and sports (from cross-country skiing to soccer), he’s been linked with a reality-show beauty since splitting with his girlfriend of a decade a couple of years ago. He currently studies at the Swedish University of Agricultural studies and also pursues his passion of graphic design in Stockholm.

The largest of all European royal palaces and entirely built of brick and sandstone sections, Stockholm Palace was predictably a fortress at first, to protect Lake Malaren. It happens to be the official offices of King Carl XVl Gustaf, though the family lives in Drottingholm Palace.

Stockholm Palace