Focus on Archaeology

Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro, otherwise known as El Morro — Cuba. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Quartet of Havana fortresses

Havana’s long, rich history stretches back to the time of Christopher Columbus. 2019 will mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of this city on the island of Cuba in the Caribbean. Because of its strategic location, it is not surprisingly a city especially rich in fortresses. Four of them stand within sight of each other on either side of the bay leading into Havana Harbor.

Why so many fortresses? In 1511, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar...

San Cristóbal Cathedral as seen from the Palacio de los Condes de Casa Bayona — Plaza de la Catedral. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Old Havana, on the Caribbean island of Cuba, is a city made for walking. Many of the streets are pedestrian-only, closed off to vehicles except for people-powered pedicabs. The streets in this oldest part of the city are crowded with locals, who live and work here, as well as with tourists. 

Walking is by far the best way to experience a city, to notice the details that make it unique and to feel its day-to-day pulse. This is especially true for Old Havana.


Totem poles at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, North Vancouver. Photo by Julie Skurdenis

Totem poles are the monumental masterpieces of the Pacific Northwest. They are scattered over an area that includes the province of British Columbia in western Canada along with Washington and Oregon states in the northwestern corner of the continental United States plus southeastern Alaska. 

Erected by a people who had lived there for thousands of years and whom Canadians call “First Nations,” these totem poles are objects of great beauty —...

Wall of antiquities near the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta — Torcello island, Venetian Lagoon, Italy. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

On almost every one of my many trips to Venice, Italy, over the years, I have been drawn to the small island of Torcello. Situated in the Venetian Lagoon about 6 miles northeast of Venice, Torcello acts like a magnet. The more crowded Venice becomes, the more I am drawn to Torcello. 

On my latest trip to Venice, for five weeks in September-October 2016, I needed Torcello more than ever. Though I love Venice — as does my husband, Paul — at some point midway...

Interior of Scola Tedesca, one of Ghetto’s still-existing five historic synagogues — Venice, Italy. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

2016 marked the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Ghetto in Venice, the first ghetto in the world. In March 1516, Venetian Doge Leonardo Loredan decreed that “Jews must all live together… in the Ghetto of San Girolamo…” which is in Cannaregio, one of the six sestieri, or sections, into which Venice is divided. 

The Ghetto was then an abandoned foundry area where metal had once been cast. In the Venetian dialect, ghètar means “to cast...

Èglise Sainte-Famille stands proudly with three bell towers — Île d’Orléans, eastern Canada. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Seventy-three years before Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Québec in eastern Canada, another Frenchman, Jacques Cartier, sailed up the St. Lawrence River in 1535. 

Along his river route lay a large island in the middle of the river. Seeing the abundance of vines and wild grapes on the island, he named it Île de Bacchus (Island of Bacchus) for the Roman god of wine. Soon after, the name was changed to Île d’Orléans in honor of the Duke of Orléans, son of the (then)...

An Inuit carving on display in the Museum of Civilization in Québec’s Lower Town. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Québec, capital of New France

Long before Samuel de Champlain founded Québec in 1608, Native Americans inhabited the area that was destined to become France’s toehold in the New World and, eventually, capital of New France. Among others, Algonquin, Huron and Iroquois lived in this area of eastern Canada beside the St. Lawrence since at least 5000 BC. 

When Jacques Cartier arrived three-quarters of a century before Champlain, an Iroquois village occupied the site. By...

Detail of a mosaic in the Corridor of the Great Hunt — Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Villa Romana del Casale

The Romans weren’t the first to invade, conquer or settle Sicily. Preceding them were tribal groups originally from mainland Italy or other parts of the Mediterranean: the Sicans, Elymians and Sicels. 

The Greeks and the Phoenician-Carthaginians followed, both during the eighth century BC. They thrived, built cities, traded, fought each other and were both ultimately defeated by the Romans, who arrived in Sicily in the mid-third century,...