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Architectural details

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I enjoy picking out and photographing the small (and sometimes not so small) details of buildings. Indeed, I can find myself omitting to photograph the building as a whole as it’s often the details that capture my imagination. Wherever I travel I find building details that intrigue me.

Let’s explore!

Riga

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Art Nouveau in Riga

Art Nouveau, or Jugendstil as it is also known, was an art and architecture movement of the late 19th to early 20th centuries, at its height 1890–1910. This was an art form that crossed genres, from architecture to interior design to jewellery to textiles, and more. It proposed that art should be a way of life, and that everyday items could be beautiful too. It was inspired by nature – flowers, animals, natural forms. I love the way that its shapes flow organically, and the combination of fluidity of design with the rigidity of stone makes buildings in this style particularly appealing to me.

And Riga is the place to see them! It is famous for its large number of well-preserved (or more often, well-restored) Art Nouveau buildings. These are dotted across the city, but there is a particular concentration of them in one area on and around Elizabetes and Alberta streets.

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Art Nouveau in Riga - 4a Strēlnieku iela

This is one of the most dramatic and dazzling buildings in the district, 4a Strēlnieku iela. It dates from 1905 and is one of many by perhaps the best-known architect of Riga’s Art Nouveau period, Mikhail Eisenstein (father of the famous film director Sergei Eisenstein). Eisenstein’s main concept was that even the smallest thing could be beautiful. I loved the Wedgewood-blue and white colour scheme of this building, and the over-the-top ornamentation with snakes and even robot-like creatures.

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Art Nouveau in Riga - Elizabetes Street

These are two of my favourite images from Riga. On the left, a detail of one of the most famous Art Nouveau buildings in the city, 10b Elizabetes Street, (again by Mikhail Eisenstein). It dates from 1903 and is extremely colourful, adorned with a rich mix of masks, peacocks, sculptural elements and geometrical figures.

And on the right, a detail of no 33 in the same street, yet again the work of Mikhail Eisenstein. In this, Eisenstein made use of elements of almost every historical architectural style that he could think of, from Roman design through the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and on to Classicism. There are decorative masks, stylised plants and geometric forms galore, and all set off, when I was there, by some beautiful purple flowers planted on the balconies.

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Art Nouveau in Riga - 13 Alberta iela

This is 13 Alberta iela, another of Eisenstein’s designs and one influenced by his distress at the news of the defeat of Russian fleet in the Russian-Japanese war in 1904. The façade is dominated by two large masks of screaming women (this is one of them) and above these are structures in the shape of upended cones which support the bay windows on the attic floor.

I'll finish this brief look at some of the Art Nouveau glories of Riga with a selection of a few more details:

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Art Nouveau in Riga

Vienna

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On Tuchlauben, Vienna

For architecture from the same era Vienna is also a delight (and for other reasons too, including food and drink!) The city is rich in architectural details from many eras in fact; the city offers Gothic, Baroque, Art Nouveau and modern in abundance, although it is probably the Baroque for which it is best known.

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In Vienna

Not being an expert, I am not always able to be sure of the period from which a building dates, especially when so many of them have been reconstructed or redeveloped over the years, but in Vienna it is the flourishes of Baroque and the more recent flamboyance of much of Art Nouveau that continually catches my eye.

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The building above and right is on Tuchlauben, an elegant street that leads north west from Stephansplatz. These are caryatids, defined by Wikipedia as ‘a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head’. I love to see them and to photograph them as they are usually so elegant and beautiful. I especially like the way that here the caryatid is in a contrasting stone to the rest of the building.

The male equivalent of a caryatid is a telamon. This one (left) is on the Verwaltungsgerichtshofs, on the Judenplatz, which gets its name because it was at the centre of Jewish life in Vienna in medieval times. The Jews lived in a ghetto of just 70 houses, their backs turned to surrounding streets to form a wall, and in the centre was this large square.

Today the square has a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, the work of the English artist Rachel Whiteread. But back to the Verwaltungsgerichtshofs. This houses the Austrian Administrative Court of Justice and was formerly the Bohemian Court Chancellery. It is very ornate with female figures above the entrances representing the cardinal virtues of moderation, wisdom, justice and bravery, and a telamon either side of each. High above an angel blows a trumpet, flanked by more figures.

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An address in stone, Vienna

Here is something a bit different. These little animals in the past served as addresses for a population who might not all be literate. I found this one somewhere in the streets between Stubentor U-Bahn station and the Scwedenplatz – you will have to keep your eyes open for this or similar creatures when you visit Vienna.

Let’s finish our time in this beautiful city with a few photos of one of my favourite buildings to photograph there, the Hofburg Palace, or more specifically its Michaelertrakt – the 19th century St Michael Wing, named after the church it faces. The graceful curve of this building is broken by a grand archway, either side of which a series of sculptural groups tell the story of the labours of Hercules (the work of Italian sculptor Lorenzo Mattielli). The structure is surmounted by a striking central green dome 50 metres high, two smaller ones ornament the ends, there are eagles, trumpeting angels, statuesque figures and coats of arms – and the whole is fabulously Viennese!

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Hofburg Palace, Vienna

Italy

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In the old town, Ancona

The warm colours of Italian houses feature in many photos, including my own, but the details of letter-boxes, signs, carvings of saints etc., are to my eye equally picture-worthy. Here’s a selection:

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In the old town, Ancona

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Palazzo Fava da San Domenico, Bologna

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Bologna house details

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Building detail, Serra San Quirico
- a lovely small village in Marche

As a Roman Catholic country, Italy has many small shrines to the Virgin Mary on the walls of houses:

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House in Monopoli

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In Sorrento

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In Manarola in the Cinque Terre

Elsewhere in Europe

Here is just a random selection of little details captured in a variety of places:

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Above a door in the Hors-Château area of Liège, Belgium

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And above another Belgian door, this time in Ghent

This is becoming a theme!

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Above a door in Krakow

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And in Faro, Portugal

And while we’re in Portugal, we have to include some street signs, made from beautiful azulejos, the traditional glazed ceramic tiles:

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Still in Faro

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In Cascais

Uzbekistan

Let's leave Europe and explore further afield (further for me, that is). If I had to pick out my favourite countries for this sort of detail-spotting, Uzbekistan would be high on the list (along with India, but that is covered extensively in my other blogs).

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Detail of the Emir Zade Mausoleum at the Shah-i-Zinda

The well-restored (some would say possibly too well-restored) ancient buildings of Samarkand are covered in the intricate tile mosaics typical of this style of Islamic architecture, with blue the dominant colour. As one of our travelling companions, Els, exclaimed at the Shah-i-Zinda, it was indeed at times ‘too much for my eyes!’

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Dome of the Shadi Mulk Aka Mausoleum, Shah-i-Zinda

The Shah-i-Zinda is the holiest site in Samarkand. According to legend, the prophet Elijah led Kussam-ibn-Abbas, first cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, to the Afrosiab hill north east of Samarkand's current location. The legend tells how Kussam came to bring Islam to this Zoroastrian area, and was attacked and beheaded for his trouble. It was believed that despite this he continued to live, and indeed is alive still in an underground palace on this site, which now bears his name; ‘Shah-i-Zinda’ means ‘the Living King’.

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The Gur Emir – detail of dome

The Gur Emir is the mausoleum of Tamerlaine. Wherever you go in Uzbekistan you’ll find it impossible to avoid hearing that name. It seems every nation needs its heroes, and when the Soviets left the country and their heroic statues of Lenin and Marx were pulled down, it was Tamerlaine who took their places on plinths around the country and who came to symbolise for Uzbeks their new-found independence and freedom. Observers from outside might question his credentials as a hero – this is after all a man who, in attempting to conquer the world, left an estimated 17 million people dead in his wake. But in Samarkand in particular he left the legacy of great peace, prosperity and splendour. Naturally then his mausoleum is of a scale to impress.

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The Gur Emir – interior detail

An unnamed poet is said to have exclaimed on seeing it, ‘Should the sky disappear, the dome will replace it’, and you can sort of see what he meant.

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Door detail,
Bibi Khanum Mosque

Bibi Khanum was Tamerlaine’s great work, his attempt to build a mosque larger and more splendid than the Muslim world had ever seen. But his ambitions here overstretched the capabilities of his craftsmen, and the mosque was doomed almost from the start, though not from want of effort. He employed the very best slaves and workers, imported 95 elephants from India to haul the wagons and, when he judged the portal too low, had it pulled down and ordered it to be rebuilt. He himself superintended the work, coming to the site each day in his litter, and arranging for meat to be thrown down to the men digging the foundations rather than have them stop working for a moment. The result was a mosque of never-before seen proportions. But this splendour wasn’t to last. Almost from the first day it was in use, the mosque began to crumble, putting worshippers in peril. No one seems to know for certain why this was – maybe the building was simply too ambitious for the technologies of the day. Whatever the reason, this is one ancient structure that has so far defied the attempts of modern builders to restore it properly – and I found it all the more compelling for that very reason!

I will no doubt write more about Uzbekistan in some future blog here, but for now here are just a few more photos from our time there:

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In Khiva - the Khuna Ark, and the Juma Mosque

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In the Applied Arts Museum, Tashkent

Antigua Guatemala

I could clearly go on a long while with this blog entry, but will finish with just one more place where I found lots of photogenic details, among the earthquake-devastated churches of Antigua Guatemala. This was the country’s third capital. It was founded in 1543 when an eruption of the Vulcan Agua (Water Volcano) destroyed the second capital in the valley of Almononga. In 1566 the city received the name of ‘Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala’ (Very Noble and Very Loyal City of Santiago of the Caballeros of Guatemala), or Santiago de Guatemala for short. Despite the ravages of several earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the city was the capital and economic centre of the whole Kingdom of Guatemala (today’s southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.). But in 1773 came the most destructive of all the earthquakes, the Santa Marta, and much of the city’s political and religious infrastructure was destroyed. A proposal was drawn up to move the capital for a third time, and despite some opposition, in 1775, a royal letter was written to order the foundation of a new capital. Left largely in ruins this city might perhaps have crumbled away completely, but enough fabric and people remained to keep it alive. Today’s Santiago de Guatemala, Antigua, is a National Monument and it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. At its heart is an almost perfect grid of streets and avenues, each of them a gem, lined with picturesque houses (many single-storey because of the constant threat from the forces of nature) and dotted with the skeletons of those ruined colonial churches.

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Iglesia de Santa Clara, Antigua Guatemala

The convent of Santa Clara was founded in 1699 for a small group of six nuns who moved here from Mexico. With support from the city’s wealthier citizens they constructed a church and convent buildings between 1703 and 1705, but these were destroyed in the earthquake of 1717. The remains standing today are those of a new church and convent started in 1723 and finished in 1734 – and destroyed in 1773.

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Ruins, Catedral de Santiago, Antigua Guatemala

Antigua’s cathedral might well stand as a metaphor for the city itself: built, destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed again, and finally rebuilt for a third time but on much less grand a scale. Now the ruins of its former grandeur lie in the shadows of today’s more modest structure.

I hope this blog has given you a sense of why I love to look for the details of buildings and, as I said at the start, often focus (literally!) on these at the expense of the whole.

Posted by ToonSarah 06:18 Tagged art buildings architecture ruins colour austria italy poland guatemala romania belgium details photography portugal switzerland latvia uzbekistan Comments (13)

Doors and windows

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I enjoy photographing all sorts of architectural details (more may appear later in this blog) but there is something especially interesting about doors and windows. In a plain building, they are often the most decorative feature, and always they invite you to wonder about what lies within.

I have visited a number of European cities or even entire countries whose windows and/or doors have drawn me to photograph them in significant numbers. Let’s start with some of my favourites.

Iceland

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For the most part Iceland is memorable for its landscapes rather than its architecture, but both in Reykjavik and elsewhere I found its colourful corrugated metal houses very photogenic:

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Riga

The capital of Latvia is best known, architecturally, for its glorious Art Nouveau buildings (which will surely feature sooner or later in my blogs here). But to the south of the old town lies another district that I found equally captivating photographically-speaking, Latgale, more usually known as Maskavas forštate or the Moscow District. This is a traditional working-class area with a mixed population (Russian, Latvian, Jewish and more). The architecture is a mix of faded Art Nouveau grandeur and traditional 19th-century wooden homes that seem quite rural in character and a little out of place so close to a city centre. Here there are few tourists, but a photo around every corner and a rough-edged picturesqueness if you take the time to search it out.

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Tallinn

In Tallinn it was not windows but doors that caught my eye, and my lens. As I walked around the oldest parts of the city, both the lower and upper towns, I was struck by the large number of beautiful wooden doors on the old buildings, and took lots of photos:

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Portugal

A Virtual Tourist Euromeeting (read more about what that is here: You can kill a website but you can't kill friendships) brought me to Portugal’s Algarve. I don’t generally do “sun, sea and sand” holidays but in addition to the usual excellent company of VT friends I also found here plenty of history and some beautiful old buildings in the heart of Faro and even touristy Albufeira. I was especially struck here by the many old wooden doors with filigree metal inlays covering their windows. These seem to be part of a clever design – behind the metalwork are shutters that can be opened to let cool air into the house without any loss of security.

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Doors in Albufeira

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Doors in Faro

The doors often also have the traditional hand-shaped door knockers known as the Hand of Fatima or Mãos de Fátima in Portuguese:

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Door knockers in Faro

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And in Silves

These are more prevalent in Muslim countries on the whole, but very common here too – possibly due to the old Moorish influence which pervades other aspects of the architecture. There are various stories about them, for example that they protect the house from evil. I also read that where there are two knockers on a door one is male and one female, and that visitors would be expected to use the one appropriate to their own gender. As each had a different sound the women of the household would know whether or not they could open the door.

Sibiu

Another Virtual Tourist meeting brought me to Sibiu in Romania, where many of the roof tops have these distinctive small windows often referred to as the “eyes of Sibiu”:

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Eyes of Sibiu

But there were other windows, and doors too, that caught my eye:

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Italy

One of my favourite regions of Italy is Marche, with its ancient stone village atop the rolling hills. Here are a few photos from there:

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Offagna

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Corinaldo

New Mexico

Further afield, the adobe architecture of New Mexico really appealed to me, and the insertion of often brightly painted wooden window or door frames in the earthen walls makes for interesting contrasts:

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Window in Cimarron, NM

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In Santa Fe

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Ranchos de Taos

Morocco

Whether ornate Islamic architecture or more humble homes, there are plenty of photogenic window and doors to be found in Marrakesh and elsewhere in Morocco. The following photos were taken on two visits to Marrakesh:

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Window and door details, Marrakesh

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Window and door detail, Musee Tiskiwin, Marrakesh

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Cell windows in the Medersa Ali Bin Youssef, Marrakesh

Cuenca

Cuenca is known in Ecuador for the attractiveness of its old doors, both on major buildings such as churches but also, as in these photos, on regular houses:

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Doors in Cuenca

Japan

While for the most part Japan is a modern country, you can still find plenty of example of its traditional architecture, with paper screen walls and the calm geometrical simplicity of its doors and windows, as here in the old merchant houses of Takayama:

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Yoshijima-ke, Takayama

During the Edo period Takayama was largely a merchant, rather than a samurai, town, and its architecture reflects that fact. The streets of the old town are lined with houses of a style that accommodated both family and business life. The light inside these houses was beautiful, and the contrast of the heavy dark beams, the lighter lacquered wood used for door frames, pillars etc., and the translucent paper screens was captivating:

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Old merchant houses in Takayama

And let’s finish with a selection from elsewhere in the world:

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Door, Bibi Khanum Mosque, Samarkand

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Windows in Greenwich Village, NYC

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Entrance to the Sobierski Palace, Lviv

Posted by ToonSarah 11:17 Tagged buildings japan italy houses doors windows romania morocco photography iceland ecuador Comments (5)

Markets

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Another of my favourite subjects for photography is a local market – the more colourful and livelier the better. There are two main attractions for me as a photographer – the variety of often unfamiliar produce on display, and the local people who shop or sell in these markets. I will feature ‘People’ as a theme in a later blog entry for sure, but some are certain to find their way into these market photos too!

Some of the best markets I have visited have been in Africa.

Senegal

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Every Wednesday there is a large market in the village of Ngueniene, which draws people from miles around - to buy or to sell, but also, it seemed to me, to meet and gossip. A visit here is a popular outing for tourists, but still they are hugely outnumbered by the locals and it is a totally authentic experience. In fact there are two markets - one for animals and one for everything else - and I mean everything!

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In the general market, Ngueniene

You have to be a little discreet if you want to get photos of the locals here. Most people don't mind you photographing the goods on sale, and some of the men were happy to be in my photos, but on the whole the women preferred not to be photographed. If they asked me not to, I put the camera down, but I have to admit to shooting a few of these pictures "from the hip"!

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There were exceptions to the 'no photo' rule, as you can see

After spending some time in the main market we moved on to the animal market on the other side of the village, travelling between the two on a traditional horse cart. Here there is a much narrower range of goods on offer – goats, sheep, cows, donkeys and horses. Until very recently, our guide told us, all business was done here by exchange - two goats for one sheep, five sheep for one cow and so on. Nowadays people are more likely to use cash, but some trading still goes on.

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The animal market

While the men we saw were obviously here to sell, it also seemed to me to be a great excuse for them to catch up with friends as there was a lot of standing around chatting going on. I found that they were more relaxed and generally seemed less bothered by my camera than in the busy main market.

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Animal traders, Ngueniene

Gambia

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Serekunda market

Serekunda Market is the largest in The Gambia – a mad melee of sellers, shoppers and a few tourists that pack the streets of this small town every day.

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The market takes place all day and every day. Few Gambian homes have freezers, and with frequent power cuts the fridge cannot be relied on to keep food fresh, so the women (and it is still always the women) shop daily for fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, fish etc. The place was so packed it was hard to make progress at times, especially with the occasional car or bush taxi trying to squeeze through the crowds and the many porters with their wheelbarrows (all licensed by the government, with "number plates" to prove it).

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Tomatoes, palm oil and okra among the goods on sale

Marrakesh

The souks of Marrakesh are perhaps the most photographed markets of all. Unlike in sub-Saharan Africa, I’ve found it much harder here to include local people in my photos as they are really not happy to see a tourist camera pointed in their direction, but if you’re discreet then it can be done:

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In the Northern Medina

North of the Djemaa el-Fna the narrow souks weave and intersect in the most confusing (to the visitor) of manners. Locals outnumber tourists here, even though this is the Marrakesh that everyone comes to see. Donkey carts and mopeds add to the confusion and at times it is difficult to even find the space in which to stand and take a photo! The goods on display are so distinctive and vividly coloured that they form my favourite subject-matter here:

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In Latin American countries too we have been to some wonderful markets. Here is a selection of photos from that part of the world:

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Market day in Petzun, Guatemala

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Bananas for sale, Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala

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Bananas sellers, Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala

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Pisac market stall, Peru

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Pisac, Peru

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Mercado Central, Santiago, Chile

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Roast pig, Otavalo Market, Ecuador

But you don’t have to leave Europe to find colourful markets. Let me finish with a selection of images from several European cities:

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In Riga's Central Market

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Local market in Tallinn

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In Sibiu's produce market

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Melons for sale in Bologna's Mercato delle Erbe

If you've enjoyed this page you'll find lots more of my market photos in my blog entries about Jaipur, Otavalo, Pujili and Munnar, among others.

Posted by ToonSarah 06:38 Tagged people food india peru market bologna fruit chile guatemala romania morocco photography riga vegetables tallinn ecuador marrakesh gambia senegal Comments (8)

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