King Decebalus (Video)

The Story of St Mark’s Mosaics (Video)

Discover the primary story told in the 12th century mosaics that decorate Venice’s St Mark’s Basilica. Approach Guides founder, David Raezer, walks through the most important images from the church’s mosaic domes, pointing out key features, figures and symbols.

Cast Iron Architecture in SoHo and TriBeCa (Video)

Explore the cast iron architecture of New York’s SoHo and Tribeca with Approach Guides founder, Jennifer Raezer. The increased strength of the cast iron medium yielded an entirely new architectural aesthetic in these late 19th century store and loft buildings.

Borobudur: Relief Scenes from the Life of the Buddha (Video)

Borobudur, a massive 9th century Buddhist temple in Java, Indonesia, holds some of the best reliefs in the Buddhist world, recounting events in the life of the Buddha. Approach Guides’ founder David Raezer offers a tour of the eight best reliefs. This video is produced as part of our Insights Series in conjunction our guidebook on the subject “The Temples of Java: Borobudur and Prambanan

Eastern Influences on St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy (Video)

In this episode of our Insights series, Jennifer Raezer, Approach Guides founder, explores the eastern influences that shaped the art and architecture of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy, highlighting the church’s domes, floorplan, and mosaics, which were influenced by Venice’s interaction with the Byzantine (Constantinople/Istanbul) and Fatimid (Cairo) empires.

Taj Mahal Architecture: Origins in Humayun’s Tomb (Video)

Humayun’s Tomb was built by the Islamic Mughal dynasty in Delhi from 1562-71, 85 years before the Taj Mahal. By comparing the two structures, you will see how the Mughals refined and perfected their original design to create their masterpiece: the Taj Mahal. Approach Guides’ founder David Raezer explores the how the design similarities between the first tomb built by the Mughal dynasty in India, Humayun’s Tomb, and their masterpiece, the Taj Mahal. It is produced as part of our Insights Series in conjunction our guidebook on the subject “Highlights of India: Delhi & Agra.”

Taj Mahal Architecture: Origins in Humayun’s Tomb

Comparison: Humayun's Tomb and the Taj Mahal

Comparison: Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal

Facade Comparison

Similarities in the architecture of Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal

Let’s begin by looking at the similarities between the architecture of Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal. Both have large, rectangular pistaq entrances the tops of which break above the rest of the facade. They frame pointed-arch iwan niches. You can see this pistaq-iwan niche combination repeated on both facades. There’s a clear prototype for this arrangement in the earlier Timurid Madrasa of Ulegh Beg, which was built between 1417-1420 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Timurid Madrasa of Ulegh Beg. Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Timurid Madrasa of Ulegh Beg. Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Additionally, both Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal have large bulbous domes that rise above the tomb at the center, they feature Hindu-inspired chhatri pavilions, and they have chamfered corners that give the impression of depth. Finally, they sit on elevated platforms, symbolic of their importance.

Differences between the architecture of Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal

This is where things get interesting! The Taj has Quranic inscriptions that communicate a clear narrative to the visitor. In the video, we zoom in so we can see them more clearly. They convey an apocalyptic message focused on judgement and the potential for salvation. Another difference is the color scheme. In Humayun’s Tomb, white marble is used exclusively to highlight key features, while at the Taj, entire tomb is white. The facade of Humayun’s Tomb undulates, with octagonal wings that flank the entrance projecting forward. These projections are eliminated at the Taj. Finally, the dome changes form. You can see how the Taj’s dome is more elevated and significantly more bulbous.

Layout Comparison

Both tombs employ what is called a nine-fold plan, in which eight rooms surround a central chamber. The tomb sits at the absolute center. In both the rooms are octagonal. The octagon represents a middle state between a circle (symbolic of the divine world) and square (symbolic of a human world) and is used to designate sacred areas. As for differences, Humayun’s tomb encourages visitors to move outward from the center, while the Taj encourages a rotation around the central tomb.

Comparing the flow of movement: Humayun's Tomb and the Taj Mahal

Comparing the flow of movement: Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal

And finally, to illustrate the most important point, we have overlaid the floor plans on the elevations. You can see that the Taj is significantly more balanced. It is a perfect cube with a 1:1 ratio between plan and elevation.

Comparison of the floorplans and elevation of Humayun's Tomb and the Taj Mahal

Comparison of the floorplans and elevation of Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal

London Architecture: Wren’s Churches (Video)

Following the Great Fire of 1666, King Charles II of England appointed Christopher Wren as chief architect in charge of rebuilding the city. In this Insights series video, Approach Guides’ founder Jennifer Raezer introduces Christopher Wren, offers insight into his distinctive style that defined London architecture during the early 18th century and points out her favorite London churches.

This video was created in conjunction with our travel guidebook to London.

Oftentimes out a great tragedy is born great beauty and such is the case for the City of London’s churches.

The Great Fire of London, 1666

On an early September morning in 1666, a fire that began in a bakery and Pudding Lane raged throughout the center in London. The fire destroyed everything in its path including St. Paul’s Cathedral and 87 parish churches. After the fire, Christopher Wren was appointed chief architect by King Charles II and was tasked with rebuilding what had been lost. It was a project that consumed him for the rest of his life, The fruits of his labor are on full view today — marvels of architecture wedged among modern city.

Wren’s Churches: Characteristics

As you explore Wren’s churches you will notice that although each church is unique in its architecture, there are some very consistent characteristics that carry through from church to church. The first thing you’ll notice is that his churches were designed to admit abundant natural light. He used clear glass windows with round tops, breaking from the standard stain glass windows have earlier Gothic churches. Given his preference for natural light Wren’s architectural decoration is conservative, favoring clean-lined stone colored walls and whitewash ceilings. Finally his church is typically have a square or rectangular plan tower on the west side. These towers often topped by an elaborate spire which is unique enough to differentiate the church from others in the city.

St. Mary Bow Tower - Christopher Wren

St Paul’s cathedral

Wren’s most famous works Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The two most defining features of this massive cathedral are its stunning facade and its enormous dome, which was very dear to Wren’s heart. The facade is defined by a two-story arrangement with two tiers of paired Corinthian columns. These columns form a pyramid topped by sharply angled triangular pediment which points towards the dome above. In addition the two towers on either side of the facade support Wren’s most advanced spire design.

Wren’s dome is a wonder of eighteenth-century engineering: at the time that’s completion there are only four downs in the world that were larger. When viewed from the inside you will see that the dome’s primary illumination is from the drums clear glass rectangular windows.

St. Paul's Dome - Christopher Wren

Wren’s City Parish Churches

St Bride

Among Christopher Wren’s other churches, there are several that stand out, including Saint Brides, which is easily identifiable by its wedding-cake-like spire. Consisting of five levels this is one Wren’s most iconic spires and is his tallest in the city. Once inside you’ll find a space that is both impressive and intimate. The church is filled with natural light and showcases some of the best preserved black and white marble flooring that was favored by Wren.

St. Brides Interior - Christopher Wren

St Stephen Walbrook

Another outstanding churches Saint Stephen Walbrook. This church likely held a very special place in Wren’s heart: it with his parish church. One of the most notable features of this church is its dome. In fact it was England’s first dome and most likely served as a prototype for St. Paul’s.

St. Stephen Walbrook Exterior - Christopher Wren

This church is generally regarded as being Wren’s most well-conceived architectural space. When you walk inside, you will see that light floods into the interior from numerous windows and the dome lantern. In addition, although it has a rectangular plan, you’ll notice that the interior communicates a highly centralized organization.

St Mary Aldermary

Another highlight church is Saint Mary Aldermary, which is unique for its Gothic aesthetic. Its tower is a masterpiece and one of Wren’s most formidable designs. Aanyone who knows Wren’s architecture is bound to be a little surprised when they see the interior of Saint Mary Aldermary. Upon entering, you notice the high ceiling which features plaster fan vaulting. Shallow saucer like domes run the length of the nave and fill the entire ceiling with elegant tracery.

St. Mary Aldermary Interior - Christopher Wren

Guidebook to Wren’s Churches

These churches represent just a small sample of Wren’s masterpieces and the great thing about these churches is that they are located in a very small area in the center of London and can be easily visited in just a few hours.

Guide to London: Wren’s Churches

The city ravaged by the Great Fire of 1666, Christopher Wren was tasked with rebuilding the city’s cultural nexus, St Paul’s and 51 city churches. We invite travelers to explore Wren’s legacy with our latest travel guide.

Sri Lanka: Dambulla Cave Temple (Video)

In this video, we take a walk through Sri Lanka’s magnificent Dambulla Cave Temple 2 (Cave of the Great King), which is filled with the country’s premier 18th century Kandy style sculptures and paintings.

Sri Lanka: Polonnaruwa Vatadage (Video)

Explore Sri Lanka’s 12th century Buddhist vatadage (covered stupa temple) in Polonnaruwa. This video of the Polonnaruwa Vatadage is produced in conjunction our guidebook on the subject “Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle: Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, and Dambulla.”

Wooden Chariot Builders in Puri, India (Video)

Enormous wooden structures resembling a Hindu temple on wheels are designed to carry images of a deity through the streets during major festivals. In the weeks leading up to the festival, a team of professional chariot builders are brought in to build these chariots from scratch. In this episode of Approach Guides’ On Location series, we take you behind the scenes to watch the fascinating process of chariot builders constructing a Hindu wooden chariot in Puri, India (Orissa).