Understanding their art, religion, societies and their legacy

Note from the lecturer: All these lectures were prepared to be presented in one hour sessions. These lectures are also ideal for “Study Days” in which the lecturer will develop a series of presentations on a specific culture. They are also prepared as part of an itinerary in the case of an art society or members of an art society wishing to travel to the sites.

  1. Pre Columbian-Civilisations: Why Study the Cultural History Of The Ancient Americas?

The subject of pre-contact Americas is unknown to many people. The Americas were one of the most isolated continents compared to Eurasia. Only Australia could compete in its isolation. This is precisely what makes the Americas an interesting subject to study, because that isolation makes the New World the perfect place to study the parallelisms in the evolution of societies. The earliest remnants of human activity so far have been found at Monteverde, Chile and are believed to be around 14,000 BCE. The first evidence of agricultural practices in South America dates back to ca.  6,500 BCE, when potatoes, peppers and beans began to be cultivated in the Amazon Basin.


  • OLMEC: The Makers of Mysterious Colossal Stone Heads.

The Olmec were the first major civilisation in Mexico. Their heartland lies in the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco. The colossal heads and thrones were found mainly in this wet area. They flourished during Mesoamerica’s Formative period, dating roughly from as early as 1500 BCE to about 400 BCE. The name “Olmec” means “rubber people” in Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztec. The term “rubber people” refers to the ancient practice, of extracting latex from “Castilla elastica”, a rubber tree in the area. The juice of Ipomoea alba, was then mixed with this latex to create rubber as early as 1600 BCE.

  • MAYA: Children of the Corn. (An introduction to the Mayan civilisation)

The Maya were one of the ancient world’s most fascinating, prolific and mysterious civilisations. The Maya occupied Central America, including the southern parts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The earliest evidence of this culture is found in the South of Guatemala. They flourished along the Usumacinta River and throughout the Petén. The Maya had a well-established social order. Their monarchy was hereditary and absolute. The monarch was very close to the spiritual leader who was often consulted regarding important matters. The Maya developed a complex religion. The king was considered a divine being, representing their pantheon on earth. He was the one calling for blood sacrifices. We know about Maya’s myth of Creation because it is described in written in two sacred books: “Popol Vuh” and “Chilam Balam  of Chumayel”. Maya language was written by using hieroglyphs.

  • MAYA: Bonampak Murals “the Sistine Chapel of the Americas”

Bonampak (650 CE-850 CE) is a Classic Maya site in Mexico. Its architecture is simple with one minor exception: its murals. The discovery of these painted walls caused a huge controversy among Mayan experts since the murals clearly depicted war, torture and bloody rituals. Prior to then, scholars had firmly believed the Maya were a peace-loving people, only dedicated to contemplating the sky in order to create their calendars. Bonampak murals represent a vivid portrait of Classic Maya life. For many years it was thought that BONAMPAK meant “painted walls” but in 2006, Dr. David Stuart deciphered Bonampak’s glyphs and re-named the place “Hill of the Vultures”.

  • MAYA: Ceramics – The Mayan World in Clay

Ceramics were used to depict scenes from Maya mythology, historical events and domestic life. During the Classic Maya period, ceramics were polychrome. Decorated pottery was used as diplomatic gifts between cities. Vessels were also exchanged at feasts and sacred ceremonies.  Jaina Island feature at least 20,000 burials of which only 1,000 have been properly excavated. Grave offerings consisted of slate ware, pottery and figurines. The finest late Classic figurines, from Jaina Island were made from molds and then individualized by handmade additions. Hollow figurines normally have a clay pellet inside producing a rattle-like sound when it is shaken. Ball players were often represented. They are regarded as “the finest figurines produced throughout the Americas”.

  • MAYA: Writing and Sacred Books. Sacred Mayan astrology and astronomy.

In Maya culture there was no linguistic distinction between words painting, drawing and writing. All modern Mayan languages are derived from Proto-Mayan, a language spoken at least 5,000 years ago. Mayan languages were written in the hieroglyphic script whose use was particularly widespread during the Classic period of Maya civilization (c. 250–900 CE).  The Maya had one of the most visually striking writing systems in the world. The Maya employed ideograms or glyphs to create an incalculable number of books. They are known as the MAYAN CODICES. Priests were the only people who could write a sacred book. Paper was in use and was very common in Maya times. It was made from the inner bark of the fig tree (Ficus) called KOPO in Mayan, and today known as AMATE paper. In their books we can appreciate the scientific development of this amazing civilisation.

  • MAYA: Calakmul: The Lost city of the Mayas – Campeche – Mexico

The city played a key role in the history of this region for more than twelve centuries and is characterized by well-preserved structures providing a vivid picture of life in an ancient Maya capital. Until the beginning of the 21st century, Calakmul was covered by thick jungle. After recent excavations, we know that it was one of the largest and most powerful Mayan cities found in the lowlands. Its temples and palaces have revealed stucco friezes and mural paintings as well as burials of kings and other members of nobility, containing a rich variety of body ornaments including elaborate jade masks, ear spools and polychrome pottery vessels. The original Mayan name is Ox Te’ Tuun, (“Place of Three Stones”). The first dated inscription from Calakmul is from 431 CE found on a stela commemorating a Calakmul king. UNESCO declared Calakmul a world heritage site in 2014.

  • MAYA: Palenque, the jewel of the Chiapas Mountains – Mexico

Palenque is an incomparable achievement of Mayan art and it has been an object of interest for numerous travellers, explorers and archaeologists since the 18th century. It is a prime example of a Mayan sanctuary of the classical period and it was at its height between 500 CE and 700 CE, when its influence extended throughout the basin of the Usumacinta River. The elegance and craftsmanship of the buildings, as well as the lightness of the sculpted reliefs with their Mayan mythological themes, attest to the creative genius of the Maya civilisation.  After several centuries, ca. 500 CE, the city rose to be a powerful capital within a regional political unit. The ancient city was abandoned around the 9th century CE and thick jungle covered its temples and palaces.

  • MAYA: Tikal, the city ruled by women – Guatemala

Tikal, the city of more than three thousand temples was ruled by kings and queens. Set in the jungle canopy, the site consists of impressively tall temples and pyramids towering above the rain-forest. For centuries this city was completely covered by jungle. The name Tikal may be derived from ti ak’al in the Yucatec Maya relatively modern name meaning “at the waterhole“. Tikal has alternatively been interpreted as meaning “the place of the voices” in the Itza Maya language. Tikal dominated the Maya region politically, economically, and militarily from 500 BCE to 900 CE when it was abandoned. Filmmaker George Lucas used Tikal as a setting in his first Star Wars, Episode IV: “A New Hope”, released in 1977. UNESCO declared the National Park of Tikal a world heritage site in 1990.

  1.  MAYA: Copan – The Mayan Acropolis – Honduras

Copan, probably called Oxwitik by the Maya, was a powerful city ruling a vast kingdom within the southern Maya area. It flourished during the 7th century of our era and is representative today of what Athens was to the old world; the cradle of its civilisation. Copán was occupied for more 2,000 years, from the Early Pre-Classic period right through to the Post-Classic. After the establishment of the new kingdom of Copán, the city remained closely allied with Tikal. The great period of Copán, paralleling that of other major Mayan cities, occurred during the Classical period, between 300 CE and 900 CE. The ruined citadel and imposing public squares reveal the three main stages of development before the city was abandoned in the early 10th century. UNESCO declared Copan a world heritage site in 1980.

  1. THE ZAPOTEC – “People of the Clouds” – Monte Alban – Mexico

The earliest Zapotec settlement was SAN JOSE MOGOTE, founded around 1600 to 1400 BCE. Around 1150-800 BCE they were strongly influenced by the Olmec. It was abandoned around 500 BCE when the ceremonial centre of Monte Alban was founded at the beginning of the Zapotec reign over Oaxaca Valley. Monte Alban is the second largest ceremonial centre in Mesoamerica. Conventional archaeology cannot explain why this site was chosen: it is located upon a tall walled plateau, it has no water and never was lived in. There is no evidence either of it having been used for strategic or military purposes except for religious ceremonies. The Zapotec were pioneers in the use of agriculture and writing systems. They were also gifted ceramics artisans. They worshipped their ancestors and had human sacrifices, mostly during a drought. The site was abandoned as a functioning ceremonial centre during the 10th century CE.

  1. TEOTIHUACAN – “The city where the Gods were born” – Mexico

The ancient Teotihuacan is the most visited of all Mexico’s archaeological sites. Archaeological data shows that from 1 CE to 200 CE the site had monumental architecture and   rapidly became the largest ceremonial centre in Mesoamerica. It was a multi-ethnic city, with distinct quarters occupied by Zapotec, Maya and Totonac people. Obsidian was found by archaeologists all over the site: It was used not only for weapons and tools but also to create adornments and jewellery. Teotihuacan was well developed until its sudden collapse which happened around the 7th century. The decline of Teotihuacan has been correlated to lengthy droughts related to the climate changes of 535–536 CE. Recently, Teotihuacan has become the centre of controversy over a massive light and   sound   spectacle   installed for tourists.

  1. CHICHEN ITZA: The city were the Toltec and the Maya ruled at the same time.

The Toltecs called themselves the “people from Tollan”. Toltec mythology points out that they were descendants of Teotihuacan. The Toltec dominated the area centred in Tula from 800 CE to 1200 CE. Toltec means “artisan” in Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Mexica. Around 950, the Toltecs moved to the Yucatan Peninsula. The culture born in Yucatan, is known as the “Toltec-Maya” culture. They were transmitters of Teotihuacan’s cosmovision, including religion, architecture and social structure. The Toltecs expanded the cult of Quetzalcoatl the “Sovereign Feathered Serpent” or Dragon by creating a cosmogony and a mythology around it. Chichén Itzá  means  “Mouth of the  Well of the Itzaes”.  The Sacred Cenote, was dedicated to Chac, the Maya God of rain and lightning.  Around 1200, after a 300 years reign, their dominance over the region faded. The Aztecs considered themselves descendants of the “mythical” Toltecs.

  1. THE AZTEC: An introduction to the most complex urban culture of the Americas. Mexico

The Aztecs probably originated as a nomadic tribe in northern Mexico, and arrived into Mesoamerica around the beginning of the 13th. century. The Aztecs were also known as the Tenochca from which the name for their capital city, Tenochtitlan, was derived. They are also known as  the Mexica from which the name of the entire country of Mexico is derived. By the 15th. century The Aztecs had developed an intricate social, political, religious  and commercial federation that brought many of the region’s city-states under their control. Their capital city, Tenochtitlan, was founded on June 8th. 1325. At its height, the city had more than 200,000 inhabitants, and was the most densely populated city ever to exist in Mesoamerica. In 1521, Spanish  conquistadors  led  by  Hernan  Cortes  overthrew the Aztecs by force and captured their capital Tenochtitlan, bringing an end to Mesoamerica’s last great civilisation

  1. AZTEC: Tenochtitlan, the Venice of the Americas

Tenochtitlan, located  on  an  island  near  the western shore of Lake Texcoco in central Mexico, was the capital city and religious centre of the Aztec civilisation. It was founded in 1325 CE. With over 200,000 residents, Tenochtitlan was certainly the most populous city in the Americas. It had a grid of canals carrying fresh running water to palaces, temples and houses. The city had four huge market places where food and luxury goods such as jade, chocolate, vanilla, and jaguar pelts could be purchased. It  remained  the  most important Aztec centre until its destruction at the hands of the conquering Spanish led by Hernan Cortés in 1521 CE. Spanish  chroniclers  of  the  16th  century CE, recorded  in great detail the buildings and works of art that had once made Tenochtitlan one of the greatest cities in Mesoamerica.

  1. QUETZALCOATL: the feathered dragon and Aztec symbolism in religious art.

When the Spaniards arrived, the Aztecs were polytheists. One and the same god could have many facets. Religion was a federal issue and spiritual development was a must for every citizen. We know about their gods and their beliefs due to Aztec codices and Spanish chronicles. Aztec religion was a revival of the Maya and Toltec pantheons. In this lecture, we shall study the iconography and attributes of each Aztec god and goddess and how they were intertwined.  They were created with human characteristics identical to the Greek Gods and goddesses. They were created to deal with the supernatural and to protect the natural world by changing the original chaos to a more reliable cosmos. The Europeans were amazed by the place divinity had in ancient Mexico.

Photo by Mike van Schoonderwalt on

                                                                         MARIA CHESTER



Understanding their art, religion, societies and their legacy

Note from the lecturer: All these lectures were prepared to be presented in at least two sessions( 50 minutes each) in which the first session will be dedicated to a general review to the chosen civilisation and the second session to the subject itself (art, ceramics, architecture of a specific culture). These lectures are ideal for “Study Days” in which the lecturer will develop a series of presentations on a specific culture. They are also prepared as part of an itinerary in case of the art society or members of the art society wish to travel to the sites.

  1. Pre Columbian-Civilisations: Why Study the Cultural History of The Ancient Americas?

The pre-contact Americas is an unknown subject for many people. The Americas were one of the most isolated continents compared to Eurasia. Only Australia could compete in its isolation. This is precisely what makes the Americas an interesting place to study, because that isolation makes the New World the perfect place to study the parallelisms in the evolution of societies. The earliest remnants of human activity are found, so far, at Monteverde, Chile and are believed to be around 14,000 BCE. The first evidence of agricultural practices in South America dates back to ca.  6,500 BCE, when potatoes, peppers and beans began to be cultivated in the Amazon Basin.


  • CARAL: The most ancient city of the Americas – PERU

Caral flourished between 2600 BCE and 1800 BCE. This enormous city was built at the same time as the pyramids in Egypt. Caral  is considered the most ancient city of the Americas. Caral civilisation was a complex pre-ceramic society that included as many as 30 major centres in central coastal Peru. Caral was inhabited from 2627 BCE to 2020 BCE. The  most  impressive  achievement  was its monumental architecture, including large earthwork platform mounds and sunken circular plazas. Caral  appears  to  be  the  model  for  the  urban design adopted by Andean civilisations that rose and fell over the span of four millennia. No trace of warfare has been found at Caral: no battlements, no  weapons, no  mutilated bodies. Around  1900 BCE  there was a climate change with intense earthquakes, heavy flooding and droughts transforming fertile valleys into dunes.

  • CHANKILLO: The first solar observatory in the Americas – PERU

Chankillo is an ancient monumental complex located in the Peruvian coastal desert 400 Km north of Lima. There we can find an enigmatic complex of construction: the hilltop fort, the nearby Thirteen Towers considered a solar  observatory, and residential and gathering areas. The central complex is formed by concentric rings of fortified walls. The culture that produced Chankillo is still unknown. In 2011, Archaeo-astronomers had a summit at the site. A British archaeo-astronomer, Professor Clive Ruggles along with Peruvian archaeologist Ivan Ghezzi published a book about Chankillo. The lack of rain could explain the vital need to follow a solar calendar  to  help  them  to  know  when  to  plant the crops. The conclusion for the moment is that this ceremonial complex was built 2,300 years  ago  and  was dedicated to astronomical activities.

  • VALDIVIA: The oldest ceramics in the Americas – ECUADOR

The Valdivia Culture is one of the oldest settled cultures recorded in the Americas. It thrived on the Santa Elena peninsula near the modern-day town of Valdivia, Ecuador between 3500 BCE and 1800 BCE. Valdivia roughly co-existed with the beginnings of the Caral civilization. The Valdivia culture is noted for being one of the first American cultures to produce large quantities of ceramics. Valdivia pottery initially was rough and practical, but over time it became splendid, delicate and   large. Valdivia was discovered by Emilio Estrada and excavated by Betty J. Meggers and Clifford Evans in the early 1960s. Based on comparison of pottery styles, their proposal was that there has been contact between Ecuador and Japan in ancient times. Specifically, they studied the similarities between the Valdivian pottery and the ancient Jōmon culture pottery on the island of Kyūshū, Japan.

  • CHAVIN DE HUANTAR: The first Andean civilisation – PERU

The first Andean culture was that of Chavin, from 1500 BCE to 300 BCE. Chavin controlled the central coast of Peru and the adjacent mountains. In Quechua, Chavin means “centre of centres”. The complex of buildings and temples was built between the desert coast to the west and the tropical Amazonian lowlands to the East. Its most important feature was a sunken circular shaped ceremonial plaza. It was a gathering place for worship, a sort of pilgrimage centre. The temples also have an intricate net of underground canals. and ventilation ducts.

They worshipped the feline, the puma. Gold jewellery, textiles, fine ceramics and sculptures were found by the archaeologists. Carbon dates goes back to at least 3000 BCE. In 1985, Chavín de Huántar was designated as part of the World Heritage by UNESCO.

  • TIWANAKU: The mysterious lost realm of the Aymara – BOLIVIA

Tiwanaku, near the shores of Lake Titicaca, was the centre of a powerful self- sustaining empire in the southern Central Andes. Tiwanaku was built in the barren highlands of Bolivia’s high plateau: its location between the lake and dry highlands provided key resources of fish, wild birds, plants, and herding grounds for llamas. From 500 BCE to 1000 CE Tiwanaku was a key ceremonial and pilgrimage centre. Tiwanaku used politics to create colonies, negotiate trade agreements  (making the other cultures rather dependent), and establish state cults.

Tiwanaku rectangular structures are orientated to the cardinal points. It was a royal centre built to inspire awe in its visitors. The whole complex was dressed with gold, textiles and bright colours. Since 2000, UNESCO declared Tiwanaku part of the world heritage. A drought caused the collapse of Tiwanaku civilization.

  • PARACAS: The most splendid textiles of the Americas – PERU

Paracas civilisation developed here from 800 BCE and 100 BCE. Textiles and ceramics were recovered from burials, they are called “funerary mantles”, well preserved by the desert climate. Paracas textiles include many complex weaving techniques as well as elaborate plaiting and knotting. Paracas necropolis contained bodies sat in baskets and wrapped in large cotton textiles embroidered with camelid fibres. The Rockefeller Foundation contributed to preserve these splendid mantles. Paracas embroideries are considered the finest ever produced in the Americas: turbans, shoulder mantles, ponchos, feather tunics, leather capes, headbands and loincloths are remarkable works of art. Designs on textiles were achieved by painting, embroidering, sewing feathers of rare tropical birds  and also using 3D technique called “structural weaving”. Some textiles were painted. Peruvian weaving remains one of the finest traditions in the world.  

  • NAZCA: The mysterious lines of Nazca Plateau – PERU

Heavily influenced  by  the preceding Paracas culture, the Nazca produced beautiful crafts and technologies such as ceramics, textiles, and geoglyphs. The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert. On this barren desert there are etched hundreds of straight lines, geometric  shapes  and  images  of  mammals, birds  and  plants. The hundreds of individual figures range in complexity from simple lines to stylized  hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks, orcas,  and  lizards. Although some of the figures can be worked out from the surrounding foothills the  full  designs  cannot  be  truly  appreciated  unless  viewed  from the sky.

There are more than 800 uncannily straight lines, some running for many kilometres. Whale bones still can be found in the sands of the Nazca desert. UNESCO declared the area a world heritage in 1994.

  • THE MOCHE: The Sacred Rite of Sex – PERU

The Moche flourished on the north coast of Peru between 100 BCE and 800 CE. The Moche or Mochica elaborated new technologies in metallurgy, pottery and textile production. The Moche are distinguished by their pottery which has proven to be an invaluable source of knowledge about the daily life of this culture. According to Weismantel (2004, p.495) these vessels depict “lively little figures engaged in a … variety of acts involving hands, nipples, genitals, anus, mouth   and tongue”. Moche pottery depicts masturbation, fellatio and anal sex. Pregnancy and birth were also represented. Circumcised phalli were also represented. Many of the ceramics along with most idols were smashed. All the remaining vessels were hidden for centuries due to the Spanish Catholic Church criteria of they being something “shameful” and “pornographic”.

  1. MOCHE: The Lady of Cao: a sorcerer, a warrior and a ruler – PERU

In 2005, a mummified Moche woman was discovered at the Huaca Cao Viejo, on the outskirts of present-day city of Trujillo, Peru. The newly found funerary chamber had been sealed from both looters and   the elements   since   around 450 CE. The Lady of Cao lived and died 1,600 years ago among the Moche, a people ruled by fierce men. Yet this remarkably preserved woman was buried with not one but two golden staff, symbols of power. She was buried with a great deal of gold, textiles and other offerings. Her funerary bundle weighed 120 kg. One of the textiles wrapping the Lady of Cao was a continuous fabric of more than 70 meters long, encircling the body 48 times. A golden bowl covered the face of the mummy. She was accompanied by numerous necklaces, nose ornaments, and earrings finely  wrought in gold, gilded copper, and silver.

  1. LORD OF SIPAN; The Tutankhamen of the Americas – PERU

The Moche are particularly noted for their elaborately painted ceramics, gold work, monumental constructions (huacas) and irrigation systems. Both iconography and the finding of human skeletons in ritual contexts seem to indicate that human sacrifice played a significant part in Moche religious practices. Ten intact burials of the Moche elite were excavated, all of them with outstandingly rich of grave goods. The tomb of the Lord of Sipan is located in Chiclayo, in the northern coast of Peru. Construction of the adobe pyramid that yielded the renowned “Royal Tombs of Sipan” was begun during the 1st century CE. The Lord of Sipan was wearing a precious necklace with beads of gold and silver in the shape of peanuts representing the earth. The Sipan tombs are the richest archeological site ever found in the New World.

  1. LORD OF SICAN: A royal tomb uncovered – PERU

Sican culture succeeded Moche culture. They established religious centres with monumental temples. Poma was their cultural centre. Lords and governors had their own military forces to protect their kingdoms. Metallurgy is one of the Sican’s greatest legacies, lasting nearly 600 years. Sicán tombs are famous for the number of metals they contained. Funerary gold masks are large and belonged to high ranked individuals. In 1983, the hot current El Nino uncovered more than 20 tombs. The burial at the base of the pyramid or Huaca El Loro contains the remains of the group’s founding ancestor. The study of these grave goods such as ceramics, textiles, semi-precious stone beads and gold masks and jewellery opens a window to this fabulous and yet cruel civilisation, which disappeared after a major drought that occurred around 1020 CE.

  1. THE INCA: Children of the Sun – An introduction

The Incas organised an empire that represented the greatest political achievement of the Americas. The Inca Empire was called Tawantinsuyu in Quechua, meaning “The Empire of the Four  Suyus or Regions. The Incan Empire stretched for more than 5,920 km/3,700 miles along the entire length of the Andes. Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire. According to the legend, Cusco was founded by the first Inca, Manco Capac circa 1100 CE. In Quechua, ‘INCA’ defined only the emperor. The nobility calls themselves “capac-cuna”. The official language spoken was Quechua. It was imposed by Inca Pachacutec in 1438. The Inca technique of conquering was diplomacy first and marching over the enemy only when necessary. The Incas were warriors with a strong and powerful army. The Inca greeted each other by saying: “Ama Suwa – Ama Lulla – Ama Qella – Ama Hapla” meaning “Be Honest – Be Truthful – Be Productive – Be Loyal”

  1. THE INCA: Cusco Navel of the Incan Empire

The Incas controlled territory from Quito (Ecuador) to Santiago (Chile), making theirs the largest empire ever seen in the Americas and the largest in the world at that time. Qosqo, Cuzco or Cusco was the religious and administrative centre of the Inca Empire.  Cuzco began to take shape around 1200 CE and flourished between 1400 CE and 1534 CE. The city  was  re-built and expanded in the mid-15th century CE with Inca Pachacutec, known as ‘Reverser of the World’. Cuzco was built around four principal highways which led to the four quarters of the empire. It had a population of up to 150,000 at its peak and it was laid out in the shape of a puma. The capital had fine buildings and palaces, the richest of all being the sacred gold-covered and emerald-studded Coricancha complex which included a temple to the god Inti, the sun.

  1. THE INCA: The Sacred Valley of the Urubamba River

The most beautiful citadels of the whole Tawantinsuyu were built here: Pisaq, Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu.

The Sacred Valley contains fortresses and palaces used by the Inca emperor and his family as holiday retreats. The stone work is impeccable. The first stop for the Inca’s entourage would be at Sacsayhuaman built at 3,555 metres above sea level and ended at Machu Picchu, the finest Inca citadel built at the top of the mountain. The Spaniards used stones taken from Sacsayhuaman to build their churches and mansions in Cusco.

The road would take the Inca to Kenko, then Puka Pukara, Tampu Machay, Pisaq, Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu. Throughout the journey they would find Tampus, places built for humans and animals to rest, and drink fresh water. The Spanish conquistadors destroyed all these temples and fortresses. All but one: Machu Picchu.

  1. THE INCA: Machu Picchu, the lost Incan citadel

Machu Picchu is located North West of Cusco at 2,430 m above sea level. It was built by Inca Pachacutec the first Inca who went beyond the Cusco Valley. The citadel is surrounded by a deep precipice. It is 530 m long by 200 m wide and it has 172 buildings. Machu Picchu is divided into two large sectors: the agricultural and the urban sector. The first surrounds the second. The peak Wayna Picchu is considered a third sector. Machu Picchu had an Acllahuasi (House for the Chosen Women); an Intiwatana (Solar Temple); kallancas (barracks) for the warriors; baths; fountains; aqueducts; collqas(corn storage) and fertile terraces. The citadel was divided in hanan (upper) and hurin (lower) by the Incas. Machu Picchu had also areas reserved for craftsmen. A wall separated the sacred area from the residential area. Fountains had and still have fresh running water. They were called pacchas.

  1. CHACHAPOYAS: Warriors of the Clouds – PERU

Chachapoyas (800 CE-1470 CE) is the name given to an Andean civilisation located  in  the  Amazon  Rainforest  and  the eternal rival of the Incas. They fought from the Peruvian high forest in resistance to Inca expansion first and then to the Spanish invasion. Curiously, they were  white-skinned people and did not belong to any Amazonian ethnic affiliation. Around 800 CE, they built Kuelap, a massive fortress on top of the mountain with more than 400 buildings inside the thick stone walls. It was known as “the Machu Picchu of the North”. Its stone buildings are decorated with geometric patterns, cornices and friezes. They built mausoleums hanging from the cliffs with mummy bundles inside them. They also made sarcophagi which were placed in caves excavated at the highest point of precipices. Some of the cave walls are covered with paintings of warriors.

  1. THE UROS: The Wet people of Lake Titicaca – BOLIVIA

Titicaca Lake is over 170 km. long and lies almost 4,000 m above sea level. It is the world’s highest navigable lake and it is the cradle of several pre-Columbian cultures. The Uros are a pre-Incan culture who lived on 42 self-built floating islands in the Lake Titicaca, close to Puno, Bolivia. Today they call themselves THE WET PEOPLE. The Uros, the wet people, began then to herd for the Aymara and eventually mixed with them and had their children. Today they speak Aymara.  They live on floating islets built from “totora” (reed). The islets have to be rebuilt each six months. They depend on reeds for almost everything. They practice no agriculture. They sell totora canoes and mats and fresh reeds for animal forage to the “dry people”. Men are hunter-fishermen. Men and women do communal work. Protestant missionaries built floating schools and churches for the Uros.

Photo by amir Hashemi Marand on



These series of lectures are based on the book written by Charles Mann (Knopf, 2005) but with a twist because as an Art Historian I emphasise the artistic inclination of all the ancient civilisations of the Americas and have arranged this series of lectures in a way that shows the complexity, diversity and interconnectedness they had before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. We will be able to study North, Central and South American advanced cultures: their mythology, architecture, religion, art and society with constant updates as well as recent videos. The idea is to have a complete panorama of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus showing that the continent was well populated and that it had at least two centres of advanced civilisations: Mesoamerica and South America. (129 words)

  1. Introduction
    1. The Origins
    1. Ancient American Civilisations (Mesoamerica and South America)
    1. North America: Mississippian Cultures: Cahokia -Caddoan and Plaquemine.
    1. Amazonia
    1. Crops and Conclusions

In these series of lectures, we explore the changes that took place after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. This course is based on two books: The Columbian Exchange by Alfred W. Crosby (1972) and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles Mann (2011). The Columbian Exchange is considered today as the “first globalization” phenomenon in men history. Most vegetables and fruits we eat today came from the Americas: potatoes, tomatoes, sweet corn, squash, beans, cacao, vanilla, pineapple, peppers, chilli peppers were domesticated by the Inca or the Maya. The world ecosystems collided and nothing was the same again. Insects and disease also travelled with Columbus as well as cattle, horses and sheep. Indian societies were destroyed by disease not by swords. Smallpox, hepatitis, measles, pneumonia was unknown. Small pox travelled fast throughout the continent and to help the disease, the Spanish gave infected clothes to the locals. (150 words)

  • The Columbian Exchange
    • Homogenocene
    • New Genetics
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LA BELLE EPOQUE: Those Beautiful Years in Paris, the City of Light – FRANCE

  • La Belle Époque: An Introduction
  • Art Movements between 1900 and 1914
  • Fauvism
  • Cubism
  • Futurism
  • Marchesa Luisa Casati: the whimsical Italian lady
  • Proust: A look at his life and monumental “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu”
  • Les Ballets Russes: The dramatic relationship among Diaghilev and Nijinsky
  • Lumiere Brothers: The origins of cinema
  • The Glasgow School & Rennie Mackintosh


In this course we shall review all the art movements that were born in Europe. due to the Nazi concept of “degenerate art”, artists were forced to migrate mainly to North America where a whole new wave of movements will be born thanks to the presence of these great European artists.

  • 1901 – FAUVISM
  • 1907 – CUBISM
  • 1909 – FUTURISM
  • 1916 – DADAISM
  • 1917 – DE STIJL
  • 1919 – BAUHAUS
  • 1924 – SURREALISM


With the arrival of extreme right movements such as Fascism and Nazism many artists decided to emigrate mainly to New York and other cities in North América.

  • 1960 – FLUXUS
  • 1960 – OP ART
  • 1960 – MINIMAL ART
  • 1980 – POST MODERN ART
  • 2000 – WHAT IS ART?


In this course, we shall look at the social, cultural and intellectual world of inter-war Britain. The inter-war period was not just a time of crisis, but indeed a morbid age. Hubert Nicholson (Hull poet) wrote: “The Twenties were post-war and the Thirties were pre-war”. The 1920s were an age of dramatic social and political change. Hair and dresses were shorter, and women started to smoke, drink and drive motorcars. Selfridge and the Dolly Sisters are a symbol of the “roaring twenties”. New developments in technology after World War I improved the possibilities for travel, allowing for a greater ease of movement and cultural exchange. British artists both adopted and rejected artistic innovation in order to explore a new expression for the particular time in which they lived.

The impact of the WWI was as devastating for the arts as it was for society as a whole. (147 words)



We refer today as the Glasgow Boys to a group of young Scottish artists based in Glasgow. These group of artists did not follow any established rules and /or official exhibitions ( not completely true: many of them became members of the same RSA they despised in the past and some of them were chosen even President of it)

As well as the Impressionists in France, the Glasgow Boys liked to go out and about making sketches in watercolour and drawings in pencil which they will finish in their studios. Their paintings were colourful, naturalistic, following the work of their French colleagues and tutors.



At the end of the 19th century in Glasgow an art movement emerged and it was called “the Glasgow Style” (c.1895-1920). Many talented female artists were central to this movement including Margaret and Frances MacDonald, Jessie Newbery, Ann Macbeth and Jessie M. King. One of the most significant influences upon this group was the Glasgow School of Art which each of them attended and through which they came into contact with each other’s work. The other great influence was the Glasgow Society of Lady Artist’s Club. The first residential club in Scotland run by and for women. This society played a central role in Glasgow’s cultural life.

The so-called “Glasgow Style” refers primarily to avant-garde design. But there was also a movement in painting, known as the “Glasgow School”. The Glasgow Boys belong to the Glasgow School movement. These years – from 1880 to 1920 – also witnessed major art movements including Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and the “Modernists”. The role of women within these modernist movements has been largely neglected. What was the role of women in the development of the Glasgow School? Why they were visible in 1900 and invisible in the 21st century? Women were artists but they were systematically obliterated from the record. Creativity in the “major arts” was exclusively masculine. Women were only accepted as able to produce something in the field of “minor arts” also called “decorative arts”. There was the period of enlightenment both four women and by women which occurred at Glasgow School of art from about 1885 two 1920. 


Glasgow School of Art was the cradle of the Glasgow Style and the place where students like Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald met…the rest is history! Glasgow School of Art & Architecture directed by the incredible Francis Newbery, a man ahead of his time. Margaret and Frances Macdonald were students during the daytime while Rennie Mackintosh and Herbert MacNair – both working as architects during the day – attended evening classes at the same school. They started to show their work together and with other young students called themselves “The Immortals”. Maria will explain the heavy influence of Art Nouveau, Symbolism and Secessionism in the style of the Mackintoshes. It will be an exciting journey back to the end of the 19th century in Glasgow and how these artists had to endure extremely difficult situations and died in poverty.


Japonisme is a word we use in art history to describe the study of Japanese art and its influence on European

artists. In this presentation Maria will take us to nineteen century Japan, which was visited by several artists including Edward Hornel and George Henry who were highly impressed by the aesthetics, traditions, painting techniques and particularly advanced photography.  The influence of Japan as well as that of Africa is well known in artworks produced in France by Impressionists and Post-Impressionists who found inspiration in Japanese woodblock prints called Ukiyo-e (which translates as “pictures in the floating world”). The tension in the composition, the inclusion of letters, the treatment of landscape and human figures will become obvious in the work of highly regarded painters such as Monet and Degas. We shall review as deep as possible all these characteristics to finally reach a conclusion about the remote and unknown culture of Japan.


The term ‘Scottish Colourists’ refers to four painters, S. J. Peploe (1871—1935), J. D. Fergusson (1874—1961), G. L. Hunter (1877—1931) and F. C. B. Cadell (1871—1935). This collective designation, however, was not coined until the late 1940s, by which time three of the principal artists – all except Fergusson – were dead, and has only recently achieved widespread currency. The designation ‘Scottish Colourist’ is also misleading, suggesting an artistic unity of purpose and collectivism, which does not accurately describe the tenuous relationship between the artists or the heterogeneity of their collective output. The term in other words tends to obscure the wide variety of stylistic influences and approaches developed and employed by the artists. Regardless of what the collective appellation may suggest, the four artists were not a particularly close-knit group, neither did they work collaboratively towards a common goal. During their lifetimes the artists only exhibited together three times, and each of them developed individual methods, characteristic styles and divergent approaches to a wide variety of subject matter.

Photo by P C on

                                             MEXICAN MURALISM: PUBLIC ART, IDENTITY AND COLLECTIVE MEMORY

Mexican Muralism is an art movement which started in the 1920s as part of the political modernization of the country after the 1910 revolution”. In this lecture we will briefly go throughout Mexican politics in order to understand the creation of three great artists: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Clemente Orozco. Their murals were painted to send a strong message to the people, in order to reunify what we call today Mexico. Inevitably, we will study the roots of this monumental art which comes from their ancestors the Maya and the Aztecs. Maria will show you some of these fabulous frescoes from Bonampak, and Tetitla among others.

Photo by Genaro Servu00edn on


“This duo of eccentric artists, political activists and vibrant human beings will captivate the audience. Frida and Diego were both exceptional in so many ways! This will be a lecture about love, passion and art created by both of them in the first half of the 20th century”. As an art historian, my focus will be on their artworks but their creations are always linked to the political situation, health and their own relationship. This lecture is connected to the previous one about Mexican muralists.

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