Great writers. Great novels. Celebrations of nature and commemorations of war. Movie world glamour and national independence. The anniversaries taking place in 2016 form an eclectic group.
Read on to find out a little more about the extraordinary people, places and events that have helped shape history.
100 years of the National Park Service, USA
These days we’ve become used to the idea of protecting our most beautiful natural environments, but just a hundred years ago the principle was less developed. After a piecemeal approach in the 19th century, spearheaded by iconic figures such as John Muir, the US federal government decided in 1916 to create an independent body to oversee the country’s most precious landscapes and monuments. The National Park Service (NPS, nps.gov) was born and today continues to look after and promote the 59 parks under its control.
400 years since Shakespeare died, England
The greatest and best-known writer in the English language, William Shakespeare, is commonly said to have died on 23 April in 1616. Actor, playwright and poet, his talents placed him at the centre of the extraordinary golden age of literature that flourished in England in the late 1500s/early 1600s. During a relatively short life (he died in his early 50s) his output was impressive – about 38 plays (the number is disputed), 154 sonnets and innumerable quotable quotes – leaving a legacy that is as popular today as it was 400 years ago.
80 years since start of the Spanish Civil War, Spain
When the Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936 it was immediately recognised as a struggle that reflected the political divisions across the whole of Europe at the time. A group of generals, led by future dictator Franco and backed by right-wing factions, revolted against the newly elected left-wing government, beginning a bitter struggle that lasted almost three years and ended in a fascist victory. The aerial bombings and mass civilian casualties of the Spanish Civil War presaged the horrors of WWII which began just months after the fighting in Spain finished.
50 years after the floods, Florence, Italy
For centuries Florence has been known as a centre of art and culture with world-famous museums and monuments. For two days in November 1966, however, it was known for a devastating flood that left over a hundred people dead and thousands of works of art damaged. Water levels in the River Arno started rising after days of heavy rain until on 3 November it burst its banks and inundated the city, rising up to 6.7m in places. The devastation was huge and work still goes on today repairing some of the damage done.
50 years of independence for Botswana
In the history of post-colonial Africa, Botswana is a success story. The transition from British-controlled Bechuanaland to independent Botswana in September 1966 was done peacefully, and in the half-century since then the country has remained a stable democracy in a continent often plagued by political insecurity. The country’s diversity of landscapes (Kalahari Desert, Okavango Delta) and rich wildlife (the Big Five can all be seen here) have made it a prime destination for travellers who want to enjoy the full African experience.
Frankenstein was born 200 years ago, Switzerland
When bad weather ruins your vacation what do you do? If you’re Mary Shelley you dream up the idea for one of the most enduring horror stories ever written, Frankenstein. When she and a group of friends, including Lord Byron, were holed up in Villa Diodati in Switzerland during the terrible summer of 1816, they challenged each other to come up with the best tale of terror. Shelley invented the story of Frankenstein (the name of the doctor, not the monster) and the creature he brings to life, and a legend was born.
The Cannes Film Festival turns 70, France
For glitz and glamour no other film festival has the appeal of Cannes (festival-cannes.fr/en). A popular holiday destination for wealthy British and American travellers since the late 19th century, the fortunes of this chic French resort became irreversibly linked with the movie world in 1946 when the first festival was held. Ever since, directors, actors, screenwriters and anyone in the film world have hoped to be asked to show their work at the invite-only event in May each year.
350 years since the Great Fire of London, England
The Great Fire of London began in a bakery (though at the time everything from Catholics to the greed of London’s citizens were blamed) and was one of the biggest disasters but also greatest opportunities in the city’s history. It destroyed the old St Paul’s Cathedral and around 13,200 homes and killed at least six people (though it’s thought more might have died and been burnt beyond recognition). Yet out of this catastrophe grew a modern city, built of non-flammable brick and stone rather than wood, a city that would never again be visited by the plague and would soon be the heart of a globe-spanning empire.
75 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor, USA
When World War II began in 1939, the prospect of joining yet another bloody conflict was an unpopular one in the US. But on 7 December 1941, Japanese forces launched a surprise attack on the US Pacific Fleet, anchored in the Hawaiian port of Pearl Harbor, and by the end of that ‘date which will live in infamy’, as President Roosevelt called it, thousands of Americans, both military personnel and civilians, were dead and the country was ready to join the fight.
Centenary of the Easter Rising, Dublin, Ireland
1916 saw the political struggle for independence in Ireland turn violent. On Easter Monday Irish Republicans took control of strategic locations across Dublin and, from their headquarters at the city’s General Post Office, proclaimed an independent Ireland, hoping to end British rule. Taken by surprise, the British soon responded with overwhelming force and within six days it was all over, leaving hundreds dead, including many civilians, and large areas of the city destroyed. Dubliners’ fury was initially aimed at the rebels who were jeered as they were arrested, but when Britain, struggling in World War I, began to execute those involved in the rising for treason, opinion changed, creating an unstoppable momentum that led to independence within a few years.