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Archive for the ‘World Edition’ Category

Exploring Canada with ProQuest Resources

Rainbow Bridge
View from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada Photo by: Prayinto via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

On July 1st, Canadians will celebrate Canada Day (known in French as Fête du Canada),  which commemorates the union of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada in 1867. This year marks the country’s 150th anniversary of the Confederation.

In honor of this upcoming holiday, here are five ProQuest products you can use to explore Canadian culture, history, and modern issues in preparation for the holiday:

1) CultureGrams World Edition

Explore fun facts and get a native’s perspective on daily life in Canada by exploring the CultureGrams’ Canada country report.

Image via CultureGrams World Edition: Canada

2) CultureGrams Canadian Provinces Edition   

Want more detailed information about each of Canada’s thirteen provinces? Check out CultureGrams Canadian Provinces Edition for maps, flags, recipes, and more.

Image via the CultureGrams Provinces Edition

3) eLibrary Canada

Browse Canadian publications in both English and French. elibrary Canada includes a number of French newspaper and journal publications to support Canada’s official bilingualism policy. Titles include L’actualite, Infirmiere Canadienne and Agence France Presse.

Image via eLibrary Canada homepage

4) eLibrary Canada Curriculum Edition

Designed for both novice and advanced researchers, eLibrary Canada Curriculum Edition features more than 3,000 Canadian, U.S., and international titles, including newspapers, magazines, books, maps, audio/video titles, transcripts, weblinks, and pictures.

Image via eLibrary Canada CE homepage

5) SIRS Discoverer

Visit SIRS Discoverer and find info on all things Canada including current events, pro/con leading issues, animal facts, images, books, and much more. This database is searchable by grade level and Lexile range. Search articles and read up on Canadian authors such as Lucy Maud Montgomery, creator of the Anne of Green Gables books, and Farley Mowat, best known for his book Never Cry Wolf. Other famous Canadians include scientists Irene Ayako Uchido and Ralph Steinman, who made great advancements in the field of biology and Canadian comedians John Candy, Mike Meyers, and Jim Carrey.

Image of Lucy Maud Montgomery via Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]

 

 

 

12 Summer Solstice Celebrations Around the World

Today, June 21, is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The Summer Solstice is celebrated around the world and presents a wonderful opportunity for students to learn about world culture because celebrations often incorporate history, folklore, food, clothing, and music.

What Is the Summer Solstice? 

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Summer Solstice occurs between June 20 and June 22, depending on the year. Also known as the June Solstice, this is the time of year when the sun reaches its northernmost point from the equator. It is the longest day of the year and considered the beginning of summer. After the solstice, the days start getting shorter, the nights longer.

In ancient times, the Summer Solstice was used to establish calendars and to plan farming cycles. Throughout history, the solstice has been a day of celebration to mark the change of seasons and celebrate the beginning of summer.

12 Summer Solstice Celebrations Around the World

Have your students explore the world through learning about these 12 Summer Solstice celebrations:

Copenhagen, Denmark
Danes celebrate Sankt Hans Aften, also known as St. John’s Eve, during the Summer Solstice. This is a mix of pagan tradition and the celebration of the birth of John the Baptist. On St. John’s Eve, Danes meet with family and friends to have dinner. Then they light a bonfire and throw a straw effigy of a witch on the fire before singing Holger Drachmann’s Midsommervise (1885). The tradition of the bonfire started due to a myth that there was a special power on this night as the witches flew on their broomsticks on their way to Bloksbjerg. The bonfires were lit to keep the evil forces away.

Krakow, Poland
In the city of Krakow, Poles celebrate the midsummer tradition of Wianki. “Wianki” means “wreaths” in English. The holiday originates from the pagan Summer Solstice tradition of floating handmade wreaths down the river. Women wear garlands to celebrate midsummer. Crafts, food, and fireworks are enjoyed as part of the festivities. There is also a Fete de la Musique (Festival of Music) with many performances by artists of various genres of music.

Menorca, Spain
The Festival of St. John combines the Summer Solstice with the birth of Saint John the Baptist. The festivities last a few days and involve bonfires, fireworks, music, and dancing. People drink and celebrate and slap the backsides of large black horses with riders that go up and down the streets. At night people throw sackfuls of hazelnuts at each other as a sign of love.

Mount Olympus, Greece
For 2,500 years, people have been ascending Mount Olympus in Greece on the Summer Solstice. The Summer Solstice is the first of the year according to some Greek Calendars. This trek is considered a mythical pilgrimage where participants walk amidst the “home of the gods.”

New York, New York
In Times Square, the Summer Solstice melds with International Yoga Day for a special Solstice in Times Square event. Termed “Mind Over Madness Yoga,” thousands of yogis with their mats descend on Times Square for meditation and stretching throughout the day. The event was created as a way to draw energy from the sun to reenergize participants through stillness. It is also a counterpoint to the winter event of New Year’s Eve.

Porto, Portugal
Thousands gather in Porto for the Sao Joao Festival to celebrate Saint John the Baptist’s birthday and also to mark the Summer Solstice. The festival lasts over one month but has its pinnacle on the Summer Solstice. The streets are filled with people, music, parties, and food and drink and decorated with St. John’s balloons made of multi-colored paper. Churches are also decorated. People hit passers-by on the head with soft squeaky plastic hammers. At midnight there is a fireworks display along the Douro River to honor the sun.

Riga, Latvia
Jani Day is the year’s most festive holiday. Held on the Summer Solstice, it marks the beginning of the summer’s “white nights,” when the sun sets for only a few hours. Food is prepared weeks in advance. Businesses close for two days. Huge bonfires are lit, and revelers attend parties, dances, and concerts. They sing songs and many stay up all night.

Reykjavik, Iceland
The Secret Solstice Festival. This is a music festival where bands entertain for 72 hours straight. For the fourth year in a row, concerts and parties take place in interesting locations including an ice cave, volcano crater, glacier, and a lagoon heated by volcanic fires.

Santa Barbara, California, United States
The Summer Solstice Parade began in 1974 as a birthday celebration for Michael Gonzales, a popular artist and mime. Since then it has expanded to include a music festival and is now the largest arts event in the area, drawing over 100,000 spectators. There is a large parade with floats, puppets, and fantastic costumes. The festival in Almeda Park has music, food, arts, crafts, and a drum circle.

Stockholm, Sweden
Swedes’ celebration of the Summer Solstice is a national holiday called Midsommar (Midsummer). Celebrations are held in late June (usually around the 20th) when the summer days are much longer than the nights. Most people try to celebrate outdoors in the countryside, where festivities include traditional music, dancing around the maypole, and barbecues and picnics of fresh potatoes, herring, salmon, and strawberries.

Tirol, Austria
Tirol marks the Summer Solstice in town and villages throughout Tirol. After sunset, torches and bonfires are lit on mountaintops all around the country. These fires are a sight to behold illuminating the mountains and creating a beautiful, mystical effect.

Wiltshire, England
Yearly on the Summer Solstice, people gather at Stonehenge to catch the sunrise above the stones. Stonehenge is a prehistorical monument that has associations as an ancient burial ground, astrological observatory, and a general sacred site. On the morning of the Summer Solstice, thousands gather dressed in flowers, glitter, and Druid costumes to gaze at the sun, dance, and drum. If you stand at just the right place, you will see the sun rise above the Heel Stone.

Point your students to CultureGrams for more information on the holiday and seasonal traditions of the countries of the world.
Don’t have CultureGrams? Free trials are available.

Ramadan Traditions around the World

A boy reads from his Qur’an at a mosque in Mogadishu, Somalia, during the holy month of Ramadan. [Photo by Ilyas A. Abukar via Flickr]

Last Friday, May 26, was the beginning of Ramadan, a holy month during which many Muslims worldwide fast from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan is holy because it is believed to be the month in which the Qur’an (Koran) was revealed to the prophet Muhammed. It is a time of faith, reflection, peace, and charity, during which Muslims visit the mosque, abstain from physical excesses, and spend time with family and friends. Food is eaten before sunrise, and then after fasting during the daylight hours, Muslims break their fast with iftar, the fast-breaking meal. The fast is commonly broken by eating dates, and then an evening meal is eaten with family and friends. Food is also given to the poor.

Ramadan is celebrated in countries around the world. Check out these Ramadan traditions explained in our CultureGrams reports!

Morocco
During Ramadan, Moroccans awake before dawn to share a light breakfast, and some people begin with prayer in the mosque. Children attend a shortened day of school, and work hours are altered to accommodate the missing lunchtime and to allow people to rest in the afternoon. In some neighborhoods, young men organize daytime soccer matches to show off their agility even while fasting.

The fast ends each day at sundown, when participants break their fast by eating dates and drinking some water or milk, followed by a traditional soup called harira. Special breads and sweets are also served. Select prayers are offered each evening in the mosque, so that the entire Qur’an is recited by the end of the month. The streets fill with people after these prayers, and people enjoy staying up late to visit with each other.

Ramadan treats in a Morocco market [via the CultureGrams Photo Gallery]

Ramadan treats in a Morocco market [via the CultureGrams Photo Gallery]

Brunei
During Ramadan, government employees have a short workday of six hours, and all entertainment and sport activities are suspended. Each evening, Muslims are encouraged to attend prayers at the mosque. Non-Muslims are encouraged not to eat, drink, or smoke in public. While everyone is encouraged to avoid wearing clothing that reveals arms or feet, it is especially emphasized during Ramadan.

Iraq
Before dawn during Ramadan, families wake up and eat a meal called suhur, their main meal before fasting for the day. In most neighborhoods, a man is designated as a caller that goes through the streets banging on a drum and shouting for people to wake up, eat, and pray. On the last day of Ramadan, the drummer will go around to people’s houses and collect tips and treats. In the evenings, family and friends gather to celebrate and eat. During Ramadan, most government offices and businesses work shorter hours. In the middle of the month of Ramadan, children celebrate Qarqe’an Majina by going door to door and asking neighbors for treats.

Oman
At night during Ramadan, families break the fast with traditional meals, prepared by the women of the family, of rice served with beef, mutton, chicken, or fish; a wide variety of pastries are also served. Ramadan is a time for praying and reading the Qur’an. In some parts of Oman, people gather in a mosque to complete their reading of the Qur’an as a sign that Ramadan is about to end. Most civic centers and women’s associations hold Qur’an recitation nights, where prizes are given to those who are able to recite the most scriptures from memory without making mistakes.

Tweet us @CultureGrams to share your own Ramadan traditions! Or learn more about Ramadan traditions from CultureGrams Kids and World edition reports! You can also explore our Photo Gallery for images of Ramadan around the world.

Teaching Activity: Tracing the Effects of Slavery

Frear’s Silk Dept (circa 1882), via Wikimedia Commons

This activity comes from the CultureGrams Teaching Activities PDF, which features more than 70 activities to help teachers make the most of our country, state, and province reports.

Grade level: 9–12

Objective: Students will understand the geographical scope of the slave trade. They will be able to trace some of the lingering socioeconomic and cultural effects of slavery across the world. See the Teaching Activites PDF for Common Core and other national curriculum standards met by this activity.

Time requirement

Preparation: 30 minutes

Monument of the Four Moors, Livorno, Italy, via Wikimedia Commons

In-class: 50 minutes, less if students read selections at home

Materials

CultureGrams World Edition

Helpful maps from UNESCO

Understanding Slavery Initiative (timelines, maps, paintings, and images of artifacts)

Instructions

  1. Explain to the students how, besides being a general atrocity and a personal tragedy for the millions of Africans who were sold as slaves, the African slave trade has had a major effect on the history of the world. Slavery has influenced the historical development and current cultural and socioeconomic conditions of many nations: African nations from which individuals were captured and nations in the Americas to which Africans were brought as
  2. Divide the class in half to form two groups. Have each group read from these selections in class or at home:
Group One Group Two
United States (History) Angola (History)
Antigua and Barbuda (History, Arts, Holidays) Botswana (Religion)
Barbados (History, Language, Arts) Malawi (History)
Haiti (History, Population) Mozambique (History)
St. Lucia (History, Population, Holidays) Senegal (History)
St. Kitts and Nevis (History, Flag description) Sierra Leone (History, Population, Religion)
St. Vincent and the Grenadines (History, Holidays)
  1. Ask the students in Group Two to discuss the circumstances surrounding the African side of the slave trade, in addition to any long-lasting effects it has had on populations or
  2. Ask the students in Group One to discuss the history and cultural impact of slavery in those countries. What did it take to end slavery? What types of economies were created as a result of the slave trade? How did it influence the arts and languages of the Americas?
  3. Have each group prepare a short presentation to share their findings with the other group.
  4. As a class, analyze the Country and Development Data for all of the countries. Which statistics might slavery have influenced and how?

Carving of slave caravan, alternate, Lake Malawi Museum ,by Tim Cowley via Wikimedia Commons

Extension activity

For background information, read the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) report on modern-day slavery (summary of facts below).

  • Almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour – 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys.
  • Almost 19 million victims are exploited by private individuals or enterprises and over 2 million by the state or rebel groups.
  • Of those exploited by individuals or enterprises, 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation.
  • Forced labour in the private economy generates US$ 150 billion in illegal profits per year.
  • Domestic work, agriculture, construction, manufacturing and entertainment are among the sectors most concerned.
  • Migrant workers and indigenous people are particularly vulnerable to forced labour.

Explain to the class that slavery still exists and briefly discuss the various forms it takes (i.e. child and bonded laborers, sex slaves, domestic servants, agricultural workers, etc.). For homework, instruct students to look up a current event dealing with a form of modern-day slavery, then do a write-up that summarizes the event and analyzes the laws and circumstances that result in continued slavery; they might also compare the effects of modern-day slavery with those of the African slave trade.

In this article, students can put a face to modern descendants of the African slave trade and hear their perspectives.

CultureGrams’ Teaching Activities: One Religion, Many Practices

Looking for new ways to incorporate CultureGrams into the classroom? Look no further than CultureGrams’ collection of over 75 teaching activities! This collection of educationally engaging activities is organized by grade level and activity type. Each activity also includes a national curriculum standard correlation.  If you don’t have access to CultureGrams, enjoy this free teaching activity today and sign up for a free trial of the product to access more.

One Religion, Many Practices

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Standards for Social Studies

 Culture

  • Standard C [Middle Grades]: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity, so that the learner can explain and give examples of how language, literature, the arts, architecture, other artifacts, traditions, beliefs, values, and behaviors contribute to the development and transmission of culture.
  • Standard E [Middle Grades]: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity, so that the learner can articulate the implications of cultural diversity, as well as cohesion, within and across groups.

Developed by the National Council for the Social Studies

Standards for Geography Human Systems

  • Standard 10: The geographically informed person knows and understands the characteristics, distributions, and complexity of Earth’s cultural mosaics.

Developed by the National Council for Geographic Education

Grade level:

6–8

Objective:

Students will compare the practice of a single religion across multiple countries and interviews.

Time requirement:

Preparation: 10 minutes

In-class: 1 hour and 30 minutes, two different days

Materials:

CultureGrams World Edition

CultureGrams Online Edition—Interviews

Instructions:

1. Have students read three interviews with people who practice the same religion. The interviews featured below represent the perspectives of three Muslims from Kuwait, Mali, and Syria. Students can also find religion excerpts about Catholicism (Javier: Bolivia, Trina: Costa Rica, and Petrosse: Mozambique) and Buddhism (Sai: Cambodia, Dawa: Nepal, and Chhun: Cambodia) just to name a few.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. What differences do students notice in the way the interviewees practice their religion? Differences may be found in how often a person attends worship services, how important they consider religion in their life, ways they worship, and holidays they celebrate.

3. Now have students read the Religion section of each interviewee’s country in the World Edition report. What do these sections say about the religion? How does the information in the report compare to the information in the interviewees’ answers? How does the practice of the religion vary between countries?

4. Have students write a short essay on their observations about the ways a single religion varies in different areas and between individual observers of that religion. They may also speculate on why this could be.

Try out CultureGrams’ Teaching activities in your classroom and let us know what you think by tweeting us @CultureGrams.

May Day

Renaissance fair-goers dance the maypole in New York. (Credit: Photo by KenL via Wikimedia)

Happy May Day!

May Day is a holiday with ancient pagan origins that marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. Traditional European celebrations, some of which continue today, include dancing and weaving ribbons around a maypole (United Kingdom), carnival-style festivities (Finland), the giving of lilies (France), bonfires (Germany, Ireland, and others), special feasts (Italy), flower wreaths (Greece), the making of clay pots for baking bread (Bulgaria), washing the face with morning dew (Romania), and the singing of popular songs (Spain).

In the United States, people used to commonly give May Baskets, baskets of flowers and sometimes goodies that were left on the doorsteps of friends and love interests. Though this tradition had mostly died away by the mid-20th century, it persists in some areas of the country. Read more about this fun tradition here and perhaps consider encouraging your students to revive this simple celebration of spring.

Dancing the maypole is another tradition that has gradually become less common in the United States. It involves a sometimes intricate choreography performed while dancers hold ribbons and move in a circle, weaving them around a central pole.

In modern times, May Day has been associated as much with labor as with spring, if not more. Since 1886, the first of May has been designated International Workers’ Day, or Labor Day in many countries.

See how workers are making their voices heard throughout the world today in this slideshow.

Are you doing anything to observe May Day? Let us know!

A Taste of Morocco: Recipe from CultureGrams

One of the best (and definitely the most delicious) ways to experience a new culture is by sampling the local cuisine! On a recent trip to Morocco, I seized every opportunity I had during my short stay to experience the many sights, smells, and flavors of Fez. My first stop was at a little restaurant where I was served a little bowl of spiced heaven, called harira. Many people have heard of Morocco’s famous chicken tagine and couscous but harira, a traditional Moroccan soup made from lamb, lentils, and chickpeas, is equally authentic and delectable.

With over 1,000 recipes from around the world, CultureGrams makes it possible for users to experience a new culture in their very own kitchens. Feeling adventurous as well as hungry? Try out this authentic Moroccan Harira recipe from CultureGrams and bon appétit! Or as they say in Morocco, Sahten! (صحتين), which literally means “two healths.”

Harira is the traditional meal eaten to break the fast during Ramadan; it usually is served with dates, figs, and special sweets called chabakiya. Photo by Jenni Boyle

 

Harira

Ingredients
Broth:
1 pound lamb, cut in small pieces
1 small onion, minced
1 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight (or from a can)
2 pounds canned crushed tomatoes
2 quarts water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
6 to 7 strands saffron (soaked in a few tablespoons of hot water)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon pepper
2/3 teaspoon ginger
1 cube bouillon (optional)
Salt

Other ingredients:
1/3 cup lentils
1/2 lemon
1/4 cup rice
1/4 cup broken up angel hair pasta
1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
Salt
3 tablespoons flour
1 egg

Directions
1. Cook the lentils in salted water. When done, drain them and squeeze the lemon over them. Set aside.
2. Cook all of the broth ingredients in a soup pot over low heat for 50 to 60 minutes, or enough time to cook the meat and the chickpeas.
3. Add the rice, pasta, cilantro, and salt. Allow to simmer another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Mix the flour with a little water to form a paste and then add this to the soup a little bit at a time; stir constantly to avoid lumps.
5. Add the lentils and let cook for another 5 minutes. Harira should be creamy but not thick. If it is thick, add water and cook for a few more minutes; if it is too thin, thicken with more flour-and-water paste.
6. Some break an egg into the soup during the last 5 minutes of cooking and mix it well to keep it liquid.
7. Serve in bowls with lemon wedges on the side for those who want to add it to their soup.

Have you ever tried making a recipe from CultureGrams? Tweet us @CultureGrams and lets us know how it turned out.

Identifying Patterns: Why Do Some Flags Look Similar?

Flag map of the world

Flag map of the world [via Wikimedia Commons]

If you look at any image gallery of the flags of the world (such as the one provided by CultureGrams), you’ll notice that while there are a wide variety of colors and symbols on the flags, there are also some obvious similarities, especially among flags from the same region. These similarities in flag design often reflect a common cultural, political, or religious heritage among the countries with those flags.

Help Students Understand 6 Common Patterns and Themes in World Flags
Use the CultureGrams Flag Gallery to get students started exploring similarities among the flags of the world. Can your students spot any patterns or themes in world flags? What do they think the reasons are for those similarities? (Tip: If students need help understanding the meaning behind the colors and symbols of world flags, check out the helpful explanation on each CultureGrams World and Kids country landing page.)

While there are many patterns to be found in world flags, here’s a quick overview of six common themes:

  1. The Union Jack. The Union Jack is the name of the flag of the United Kingdom, and variations of the Union Jack appear on the flags of some countries and territories that were formerly (or are currently) associated with the United Kingdom. These include Australia, Fiji, Montserrat, New Zealand, Tuvalu, and Niue.
  2. A star and the color red. Many current communist countries include a star/s and the color red on their flags. The star/s typically represent ideas associated with communism or socialism, and the color red stands for revolution. Countries whose flags incorporate this symbolism include China, North Korea, and Vietnam.
  3. The star and crescent. The star and crescent became common during the Ottoman Empire and are now considered traditional symbols of Islam. Flags that use these symbols include those of Algeria, Azerbaijan, Comoros, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives (crescent only), Mauritania, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
  4. The Pan-Arab colors. The Pan-Arab colors are green, red, black, and white. These colors first came from the 1916 flag of the Arab Revolt. A subset of the Pan-Arab colors are the Arab Liberation colors (red, white, and black, with green less prominent), which came into use in the 1950s. Flags with Pan-Arab colors are those of Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, West Bank and Gaza, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Sudan.
  5. The Pan-African colors. There are two sets of Pan-African colors: (1) red, green, and gold, based on the Ethiopian flag, and (2) red, black, and green, based on the 1920 Pan-African flag. Countries may incorporate one or both sets of Pan-African colors into their flags. Not all countries that use the Pan-African colors in their flags are in Africa; some are countries elsewhere with strong African heritage. Flags with Pan-African colors include those of Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Benin, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Togo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, and Guyana.
  6. The Pan-Slavic colors. The Pan-Slavic colors are red, white, and blue. The colors were decided on at the 1848 Prague Slavic Congress and were based on the colors of the Russian flag. Countries whose flags use the Pan-Slavic colors are Croatia, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

What themes and patterns did your students find in the flags? Did they notice the six mentioned above? Did they find others? Let us know on Twitter how your students did by tweeting us at @CultureGrams!

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Passover 2017: Chag Sameach!

Jews Celebrating Passover. Lubok, XIXth century (image 1850), via Wikimedia Commons.

Jewish communities around the world are currently observing Passover (Pesach, in Hebrew)–one of the most important events in the Jewish calendar. So wish your Jewish friends chag sameach (happy festival)! Passover is a week-long celebration that takes place each year in early Spring, this year taking place between April 10-18th. It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from ancient Egypt and God’s sparing or “passing over” Jewish homes during the final plague in Egypt. According to the Biblical story, the Israelites had to leave Egypt in such a hurry that they didn’t have time to wait for their bread to rise, taking with them only unleavened bread. As a reminder of the Israelites’ exodus out of Egypt, Jews today refrain from eating anything containing leaven (chametz) during Passover, eating unleavened products such as matzah (a type of flatbread) instead. Jews also eat matzah with bitter herbs such as horseradish, in remembrance of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt. Learn about Passover traditions in the CultureGrams Israel report.

Test your knowledge of Judaism with this quiz

Virtual Sistine Chapel Tour

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Italy—in addition to the daily, ahem, twice-daily gelato runs—was actually not part of Italy at all. It was the sovereign state of Vatican City (or the Holy See). I have been interested in the world’s smallest independent nation since helping to create the World Edition CultureGrams report on it (we have a Kids report too!).

It did not disappoint. Located in the heart of bustling Rome, The Vatican feels like a different country once you’re inside its walls. It’s still very busy, of course, as one of the world’s top tourist destinations, but the presence of Swiss Guards (a small security force comprised of Catholic Swiss men), the magnitude of St. Peter’s Basilica, and the concentration of masterpieces in such a small area make the Vatican a truly unique place.

A Swiss Guard stands at his post. Photo by Aaron Thompson.

The culmination of any tourist’s visit to the Vatican is, of course, the Sistine Chapel. And though you’re allowed to take all the photos you want in the huge complex of museums you must (get to) pass through on the way to Michelangelo’s crowning work, once you enter the chapel you are greeted with several Italian guards booming out the words “No foto! No foto!”  I have to admit I didn’t fully comply with the rule, though no one yelled at me for looking down in a sea of people looking up.

The floor of the Sistine Chapel. Photo by Rachel Ligairi.

As cool as it was to see in person, you can actually get a much better view of it on an official virtual tour. In addition to being able to see the chapel completely empty (in person it’s shoulder-to-shoulder), you can zoom in on different pieces of the artwork or just contemplate it in silence, without anyone yelling at you.

And in case you thought I was kidding about the gelato . . .

Photo by Rachel Ligairi.

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