1. Magna Carta turns 800, England
The ‘Great Charter’ was signed by King John at the instigation of his unruly barons at Runnymede on the banks of the Thames in 1215. At the time it was simply an attempt to wrest power from an unpopular monarch and nobody present can have expected its legacy to have endured for eight centuries, but phrases such as ‘To no-one will we sell, to no-one deny or defer justice or right’ have become enshrined in the legal systems of Britain, the US and beyond, guaranteeing the document continuing fame and importance.
Details of events commemorating the anniversary can be found at magnacarta800th.com.
2. Battle of Waterloo, Belgium
The battle that finally put an end to French Emperor Napoleon’s career took place 200 years ago this year. It was on Sunday 18 June 1815 that the man who had dominated France and Europe for over a decade capitulated at Waterloo, in what is now Belgium. The British, under the Duke of Wellington, repeatedly held off French assaults until the Germans, under Blücher, arrived and chased the emperor and his troops from the field. Europe settled down to an unprecedented period of peace. Wellington was so popular at home he became prime minister. And Napoleon was exiled to St Helena where he died in 1821. The site of the battle can easily be visited from Brussels.
The website waterloo200.org has details of bicentennial events.
3. Anniversary of the world’s first restaurant, France
French cuisine, delicious as it may be, is not considered the healthiest these days, with its generous amounts of cheese and lashings of cream. But 250 years ago, when a Monsieur Boulanger opened the world’s first restaurant near the Louvre in Paris, his aim was to sell customers ‘restorative’ dishes to improve their health. The term ‘restaurant’ itself comes from the French ‘restorer’, to restore, and Boulanger’s business, on the rue Bailleul, drew the crowds with his soups and broths, starting a culinary trend that the rest of the world embraced wholeheartedly.
Paris isn’t exactly short of decent eating options. For top recommendations check out lonelyplanet.com/france/paris/restaurants.
4. Tallest building’s fifth birthday, UAE
In a world where new super-skyscrapers are being built on a daily basis, it’s a surprise that one building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, has held on to the tallest-building record for five years. Reaching a vertigo-inducing 830m, since opening in 2010, it’s seen off contenders for the title with ease. But its days in the number one spot are numbered, with another Saudi Arabian skyscraper, the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah (1007m) due for completion in 2019.
Plan your visit to the highest point of the manmade world by visiting burjkhalifa.ae.
5. Seventy years since first atomic bombs dropped, Japan
As WWII dragged on in the Pacific through 1945, the USA took the decision to use its recently developed atomic bombs to force Japanese capitulation. On 6 August the Enola Gay dropped the bomb nicknamed ‘Little Boy’ on Hiroshima. On 9 August a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. On 15 August the Japanese agreed to an unconditional surrender. Up to 250,000 people died in the two bombings, still the only use of atomic weapons in a war scenario. The two cities successfully rebuilt themselves but 70 years on haven’t forgotten the destruction they suffered.
6. Quarter of a century since Nelson Mandela freed, South Africa
After spending 18 years imprisoned on tiny Robben Island in Table Bay, just off the coast of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela walked to freedom on 11 February 1990, watched on television by millions of people around the world. After years of political unrest and increasing violence against the apartheid government in South Africa, his release was a massive step, coinciding with the legalisation of all political parties, including his own ANC party, and ultimately leading to the first fully democratic elections in the country four years later.
Today the island is open to visitors with the website robben-island.org.za providing information.
7. American Civil War ended 150 years ago, USA
After four years of conflict, the end of the American Civil War, which had split the country and killed around 750,000 soldiers and civilians, was finally in sight when General Lee surrendered his Confederate army on 9 April 1865 in Appomattox Court House. Lee’s act was just the first step in the end of the war, triggering a chain of similar surrenders across the south, most too late for the Union president, Lincoln, to see – he was assassinated five days after Lee’s surrender in Ford’s Theatre, Washington. It wasn’t until 23 June that the last Confederate general, Stand Watie, gave up.
8. The Lord of the Rings turns 60
Having taken him a painstaking 12 years to write, Tolkien’s epic fantasy, The Lord of the Rings, was finally published in full in October 1955, when the last volume, The Return of the King, was released. Urged by his publishers to produce a sequel to his hugely popular The Hobbit, Tolkien wrote what has become the second-biggest selling novel of all time, with over 150 million copies sold. The story of Frodo and his quest to destroy the all-powerful One Ring has been the inspiration for countless other fantasy novels and the source material for one of the most popular film franchises in movie history. New Zealand, where the movies were made, has attracted millions of tourists wanting to follow in Frodo’s large footsteps.
Check out newzealand.com/int/feature/lord-of-the-rings to plan your own trip to Middle-earth.
9. Cunard celebrates 175 years
It was back in 1840 that Samuel Cunard began operating the first scheduled UK–North America boat service, kick-starting the age of the ocean liner. The Britannia was the first ship to make the crossing, sailing from Liverpool on 4 July and arriving in Halifax, Canada, 12 days later. Facilities for the 115 passengers aboard included a ladies-only saloon, and the fare of 34 guineas covered ‘provisions and wine’. Charles Dickens didn’t enjoy his trip on the Britannia in 1842 but he was in a minority as Cunard’s and its rivals’ success throughout the rest of the century would show.
For more on the anniversary, or to book a place on the commemorative sailing, go to cunard.co.uk.
10. Eighty years of Aya Sofya museum, Turkey
Of course Aya Sofya is older than 80 but it was in February 1935 that Istanbul’s most popular sight and one of the world’s architectural masterpieces became a museum. It was Turkish leader Ataturk who, as part of his Westernising policies, changed the building’s purpose from religious to secular. From its construction in AD 537 until the Ottoman conquest of Byzantium in 1453, Aya Sofya had been a cathedral and centre of Greek Orthodox Christianity. It was then a mosque for the next four and a half centuries before opening as, arguably, the world’s most beautiful museum 80 years ago this year.
Head to ayasofyamuzesi.gov.tr/en for information on visiting the museum.