The Pantheon still amazes nearly 2,000 years on

Exploring the cities of Europe, you will find endless varieties of amazing architecture, from humble homes to unrivalled shows of extravagance.

On any trip abroad, I will usually discover a selection that I really admire, and I have begun writing about my favourite locations in this blog (Faris Mousa: Valencia San Sebastian )

My most recent adventure was a few days spent with my family in Rome, enjoying a city deeply rich in culture and history. And while there is much about the Italian capital to love and report back about, I think the Pantheon deserves a blog all of its own.
It’s not easy standing head and shoulders above all else in a city which was once the centre of the known world and still houses some of the most culturally significant locations of modern times, such as the Vatican.

But I have never before seen such a stunning example of human ambition, ingenuity and achievement.

Around the outside stand 24 columns, which weigh 80 tonnes each and had to be transported all the way from Egypt using a clever underwater system.

The enormous, 142 ft roof was constructed without any visible support or reinforcements. A 25 ft aperture at the top provided the building’s only light source, which would no doubt have been an even more incredible sight when all of its original treasures will still on display.

The Roman empire may not have lasted, but many of its ideas and innovations did.
Not only did they invent concrete, which remains one of the most versatile and durable construction materials, but the Pantheon’s dome is still the largest cast-concrete construction in the world.

Evidence, maybe, that nobody has done it better in the nearly 2,000 years since the Pantheon’s construction.

Homelessness is a growing problem and it’s our responsibility to help

The UK has a growing homeless problem and it’s a tragedy. It has been suggested that empty buildings and shops could be converted into homes for those who need them, and I think we need to start right away.

Working in property for almost a decade I’ve seen so often what an important role buildings play in everybody’s lives: whether it’s a secure home, a productive workplace or a football stadium, swimming pool or museum that helps us enjoy our time and bond with others.

Without a home to call their own, it’s far too difficult for an individual to succeed in any other aspect of their life. A home enables you to put down roots. It also helps you to become part of a local community – another crucial part of everyday life. A secure home is the first step to greater things.

I don’t understand how this country can have a growing number of people without a place to call home, at the same time as a growing number of empty properties. We should be opening our doors to people who need our help.

And it’s not just a problem for property owners to solve. I think we could all do more to help those in need.

Mental illness is one of the leading causes of both drug abuse and homelessness, and this has culminated in suicide becoming the leading cause of death among middle-aged men. 

There is not enough support and compassion for those who need it most. Not enough second chances available for those who desperately want one.

We need to start turning these empty and unused buildings into something which will benefit our society as a whole. And we all need to spend a little longer helping those around us.

Take a moment to think about the people in your own life. Could you make a life-changing difference with a simple gesture of kindness to somebody who is struggling?

Follow Faris Mousa’s Profile for more updates!

Valencia: A City Rich In Architecture

Following Manchester United affords me the opportunity to visit some fascinating places. Most recently that was Valencia, in Spain.

I was there at the historic Mestalla Stadium to witness my team just about qualify for the next round of the Champions League. But my favourite part of the trip was exploring the city and and enjoying its many and varied architectural treats.

The old

Valencia was first built by the Romans, and although you’ll need to visit a museum to see evidence of that, just by walking around the streets you’ll see a wealth of buildings dating back as early as the 14th century. There are many magnificent examples of the locals’ take on gothic.

The obvious focal point is the cathedral, and there are many other beautiful examples too, including a basilica just metres away and a pair of 15th century towers which have protected the city as recently as the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.

The central market, which has a magnificent ceiling, is one of the largest of its kind in Europe, and the nearby Silk Exchange is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

Compact by design, the centre itself can be taken in within a single day – with a wide choice of galleries and museums for anybody with a little more time to spare.

The new

Anybody who loves ingenuity and mixing form with function, as I do, will marvel at the Turia gardens.

Tired of the city flooding whenever the River Turia burst its banks, the city decided to reroute the river around the population and turn the now-dry riverbed into an attraction fit for both tourists and locals. It’s now a popular home to public art, sports facilities, flower gardens and, best of all, the City of Arts and Sciences.

A project costing almost one billion euros, it features extensive gardens, an IMAX cinema, an aquarium, a science museum and an opera house. But these are no ordinary buildings: architects Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela were tasked with creating something that will live long in the memory.

Photos show how original and inspiring the unique collection of buildings are, but I recommend walking among them to feel the full effect.

Antoni Gaudí

Valencia is not far along the coast from Barcelona, a city I have written about previously in this blog. And the influence of the noted and highly unusual architect Antoni Gaudí can be found in the city, too, not least in the magnificent Colon Market. So whether you’re a fan old architecture from eras past, new and inspiring takes on public works, or you like to sip a fine wine on the beach while watching the sun set (which was also part of my trip) I can recommend Valencia as a destination rich in experiences.

The Notre Dame fire was a tragedy and a cause for optimism

It was heart-breaking to turn on the news and see the Notre Dame cathedral burning, but in many ways what followed inspired hope and optimism.

The cathedral is the finest example of gothic architecture in the world. Nearly one thousand years since work began, and almost 700 years since the original construction was completed, it has been an iconic part of the Parisian landscape for generations. It’s not just one of France’s greatest buildings, but one of the world’s finest examples of architecture.

And that’s why it hurt to see it ravaged by fire. But this is not the first time the building has been damaged. It has been repaired and restored several times in its rich history, and it will be repaired once more.

The core structure of the building is still standing, which not only makes saving this building possible, but it’s strength and stability even in the face of this major fire is another awe-inspiring aspect of its centuries-old construction.

Experts are suggesting that restorations could take a decade or more to complete. That’s probably true. But the fact that there is so much enthusiasm about bringing the cathedral back – from politicians, from millionaires and billionaires, from the public around the world – is so positive. It proves that architecture plays an important role in our lives.

Beautiful buildings inspire people to make and do beautiful things.

The rebuilding of the cathedral will be a symbol for hope. It shows that we care about art, about public works and public spaces, and it shows that we can all come together to find recognise what a tragedy this event was, and then all determine together to put things right.

And when Notre Dame cathedral reopens in 10, or even 20 years, I’ll be there among the masses enjoying everything the revitalised building has to offer.