Saturday, January 5, 2008

Can I continue it?

Historical Background

Ancient Cities

Neoclassical artifacts discovered in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that humans have inhabited the Himalayan region since pre-historic times, however, little is known about the people and lifestyle of that era. Therefore we can say the history of Kathmandu Valley began with the beginning of the first century AD.

The Licchivi Period (third - seventh century AD)

The Licchivi dynasty, which began in the third century, is considered to be the first significant dynasty in Kathmandu Valley. These Licchivi people entered Nepal through North India and were greatly influenced by Indian art and architecture. They established Deopatan (the present Pashupatinath temple complex) as their capital city and erected several temples and villages around Kathmandu.

Licchivi people were very fine craftsmen. They worked primarily on stone carving and painting, which became very popular during that time. Some of their fine sculpture can still be found around the city temples. One of the examples of their greatest sculpture can be seen at Budhanilkantha Temple at the northern outskirt of Kathmandu.

Sculpture of Budhanilkantha

We can even find a number of fine woodcarvings and wood structures dating back to this period; these demonstrate that the Licchivis had excellent wood craftsmanship. Kasthamandapa, meaning the wooden house, was originally built during this period. This structure is considered as the oldest known wooden building found in Nepal. The name of the city-Kathmandu-the place where Kasthamandapa still stands was named after this great structure.
Even though the Licchivies made a great contribution in the development of sculpture and woodcarving, they did not contribute much to the architectural history of Nepal. After the Licchivi period many other small kingdoms rose and fell without leaving much historical and architectural significance to the place until the Mallas invaded and started ruling from around the end of twelfth century. Therefore we can say the architectural history of the valley began only around thirteenth century AD after the Mallas came into power.

The Malla Period (thirteenth- eighteenth century AD)

The rulers of the Malla period were Burmo-Mongolian in origin and were very orthodox Hindus. They proclaimed themselves as Lord "Vishnu" and built several temples and palaces around the city dedicated to themselves.
Mallas ruled the valley for about 550 years and this period of Kathmandu Valley is also called “the golden period” in history because of the extraordinary building and developing activities that took place in art and architecture during this time. Almost all of the awesome ancient pagodas, temples and palaces that we see in the skyline of Kathmandu today date back to this period. Little consideration was given to the public housing but many common baths, rest houses (called sattals) and market areas were built for public purposes.

Mallas at first ruled the valley as a single kingdom for a few centuries, but due to various political reasons it was later divided into three small kingdoms known as Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan. Kings of these kingdoms started building their separate huge palaces and tall temples to show off their strength. This rivalry had a very positive impact to the art and architecture of the place. Considering the small area of the valley, the development in art and architecture was spectacular. Most of these palaces and temples still exist and they are UNESCO world heritage sites. These three ancient cities are the most closely clustered world heritage sites found anywhere in the world.

Basantapur Tower at the Palace of Kathmandu

The pagoda - tiered roofing - was the most dominant architectural feature of this period. It is believed that pagoda architecture was first practice here long before Malla period but it was during the Malla period that pagoda architecture flourished. The proportion of the tiers in the pagoda roofing, the finest woodcarving work, the height of the plinth and its effect on the surrounding proved to be the great architectural concepts and craftsmanship of these people.

These Burmo-Mongolian people dominated the Valley until the end of the end of eighteenth century. They were called the Newars and they were very fine craftsmen. They were most popular in woodcarving and metallurgical work. To this day, the most admired art and architecture in Nepal is built by the Newars. Newars have also developed unique residential housing called ‘Newar Houses.’ They located a number of houses around a big courtyard called a ‘chowk’, which was used as the common space to all these houses around it. Elaborately carved windows and doors and very low ceiling heights-proportionate exactly to human scale-are the unique characteristics of Newar houses.

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