from the world's big
Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.
- J.R.R. Tolkien hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
- But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
- These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
Mental decolonisation<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM0OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDU4Mjg3N30.pKS1PLxKYeJ6WDPAcleg7NCxzDn7Pddcg9rSJaul6no/img.png?width=980" id="56ee5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1d2ba98946accd12f7e0070c8d10154d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Menu page for Arda.ir, the website of the Persian Tolkien Society." />
Menu page for Arda.ir, the website of the Persian Tolkien Society.
Image: Arda.ir<p>Where on earth was Middle-earth? Based on a few hints by Tolkien himself, we've always sort-of assumed that his stories of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" were centered on Europe, but so long ago that the shape of the coasts and the land has changed. </p><p>But perhaps that's too easy and too Eurocentric an assumption; perhaps, like so many other things these days, Tolkien's fantasy realm too is in dire need of mental decolonisation.</p><p>And here's an excellent occasion: an Iranian Tolkienologist has found intriguing hints that the writer based some of Middle-earth's topography on mountains, rivers, and islands located in and near present-day Pakistan. </p><p>As mentioned in a previous article – recently reposted on the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/VeryStrangeMaps" target="_blank">Strange Maps Facebook page</a> on the occasion of the death of Ian Holm – Tolkien admitted that "The Shire is based on rural England, and not on any other country in the world," and that "the action of the story takes place in the North-West of 'Middle-earth', equivalent in latitude to the coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean."<br></p>
Non-European topography<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ4MzcyMX0.891LPW42L78fdrwUhXdgOab7cbhs3YOqZK4ukIQx-Rw/img.png?width=980" id="6741c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2b50c57cb3b8a3a1cc8a4696c89ad954" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Tian-shan, the Himalayas, and the Pamirs" />
If you look at it like that, yes: that does resemble Mordor...
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>Extrapolating from the location of the Shire in Middle-earth and from other clues dropped by Tolkien, geophysics and geology professor Peter Bird matched the geography of Middle-earth with that of Europe (more about that in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/121-where-on-earth-was-middle-earth?utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR0ZFYK1EXrf4J3B3X5_U4hSAgidgBs24ZNTYV9QEFbz2qI34OA_DpZsn70#Echobox=1592583835" target="_blank">aforementioned article</a>).</p><p>However, seeing Middle-earth as a mere palimpsest for present-day Europe is to place an undue limit on the imagination of its creator. As Tolkien also said about the shape of his world: "[It] was devised 'dramatically' rather than geologically or paleontologically."</p><p>In other words, certain parts of Middle-earth may very well have been inspired by other places than European ones. It is telling that it took a non-European connoisseur of Tolkien's topography to find some examples. <br></p>
"Seen that map before"<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1MS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTQ3Njc3NH0.azDO1_NWm9q9FwMpmqBOV2troOX0ajAXS4lP2bLstJI/img.png?width=980" id="1b193" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="21c3d38b14503ba8edac18c0ef1cceb0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Indus river" />
The Indus river is a prominent geographical feature of Pakistan. Its course is similar to that of the Anduin, the Great River of Middle-earth.
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>In an article published on <a href="https://arda.ir/" target="_blank">Arda.ir</a>, the web page for the Persian Tolkien Society, Mohammad Reza Kamali writes that during several years of cartographic study, "I found that maybe there are real lands [that] could have inspired Professor Tolkien, and some of them are not in Europe."</p><p>Around 2012, Kamali's eye stopped when it came across a Google Map of Central Asia that showed the mountain chain of the Himalayas, the peaks of the Pamirs bunched together in an almost circular area, and the huge, flat oval of the Takla Makan desert, bounded to the north by the Tian-Shan mountains. </p><p>"I had seen that map before," he writes. "This is of course Mordor, the land of Sauron and the dark powers of Middle-earth, where Frodo and Sam destroy the One Ring." </p><p>In <a href="http://lotrproject.com/map" target="_blank">Tolkien's world</a>, the Himalayas transform into Ephel Duath, the Mountains of Shadow; and the Tian Shan into Ered Lithui, the Ash Mountains. And the circle-shaped Pamirs "are the same shape and in exactly the same corner as the Udûn of Mordor, where Frodo and Sam originally tried getting into Mordor, via the Black Gate."<br></p>
Similar shapes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDQyODMzNX0.KHrY7rDCNNaKKJQz-xn431APM2TqxGPCaMsqNvBe1xA/img.jpg?width=980" id="7a9fa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e87f1af97902201abc042640255606b2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Marine Corps helicopter flying over Tarbela Dam" />
A US Marine Corps helicopter flying over the Tarbela Dam on the Indus river in Pakistan. At its center: a former river island which may have been the inspiration for Cair Andros, a ship-shaped island in Middle-earth's Anduin river.
Image: Paul Duncan (USMC), public domain<p>Mulling over these similarities, Kamali became convinced that Tolkien's map work was heavily inspired by Asia. Looking further, he found more evidence. Consider Anduin, the Great River of Middle-earth, in whose waters the One Ring was lost for more than two thousand years. </p><p>On Tolkien's map, the Anduin bends toward the sea in a shape similar to that of another great river: the Indus, which runs the length of Pakistan. Like the Anduin, it flows to the west of a major mountain chain. A prominent feature of the Anduin is the river island of Cair Andros, just north of Osgiliath. Its name means 'Ship of Long Foam', a reference to its long and narrow shape, and the sharpness of its rocks, which split the waters of the Anduin like a prow. <br></p><p>Kamali is not entirely sure, but proposes that Tolkien may have been inspired by a similar-shaped island in the Indus. Now integrated into the Tarbela Dam, which was inaugurated in 1976, it would still have been a separate island in the 1930s and '40s, when Tolkien dreamed up his map.</p>
Kutch as Tolfalas Island<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1NC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTU5NjcyNn0.869W8iiowQb9_T3laFKOUe5o5UMXuMlSITb1VxRlC2g/img.png?width=980" id="9c49e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="548bafc6042cc7515e07f77657aa161c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Kutch" />
During the rainy season, the coastal region of Kutch, near the mouth of the Indus, turns into an island that resembles Tolfalas Island, near the mouth of the Anduin.
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>Turning our eyes to the mouth of the Anduin and Indus, we see another pair of islands, and Kamali is more certain about the real one having inspired the fictional one. The fictional one is Tolfalas Island, the largest island in Belfalas Bay. <br></p><p>At first glance, it doesn't seem to have a real-life counterpart near where the Indus joins the Arabian Sea. But take a look at the coastal part of the Indian state of Gujarat. It is known as <em>Kutch</em>, a name which apparently refers to its alternately wet and dry states. In the rainy season, the shallow wetlands flood and Kutch becomes an island – the biggest island in the Gulf of Kutch, and not too dissimilar to Tolfalas Island. </p>
General knowledge<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDIwODkyOH0.aInJedv3tiQo1LmW-M6D5LV699oeWNltxeYcVKWwtF0/img.jpg?width=980" id="9bc6e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="01d97d3941f9ba732b4df35c3aedd977" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="British Indian Empire 1909 Imperial Gazetteer of India" />
1909 map showing British India in pink (direct British control) and yellow (princely states). Circled: Kutch, clearly recognisable as an island.
Image: Edinburgh Geographical Institute; J. G. Bartholomew and Sons, public domain<p>But are these similarities really more than coincidences? Why would Tolkien, who was based in Oxford and steeped in English lore and Germanic mythology, turn to the Indian subcontinent for topographical inspiration? Perhaps because cartographic knowledge of that part of the world was far more general in Britain then than it is now. Until the late 1940s, the countries we know today as India and Pakistan were part of the British Empire. Detailed maps of the region would have been standard fare for British atlases. </p><p>Kamali is convinced that the topographical features on Tolkien's map of Middle-earth are not mere fantasy, but derive from actual places in our world, and were 'riddled' onto the map. In that case, we may look forward to more discoveries of Tolkien's real-world inspiration. <br></p>
From Frodingham to Frodo<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NzgzMzE2OH0.uMd43VxS9WQSWr1Z0IQ-UxIhBYkERhxTU7hoPvNachk/img.jpg?width=980" id="05037" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ff9aace7fc7c111df3639a276cedf63c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Photograph of J. R. R. Tolkien in army uniform" />
J.R.R. Tolkien in 1916, when he was 24. Around that time, he was stationed near the village of Frodingham, which may have given him the inspiration for the name of the main protagonist in Lord of the Rings.
Image: public domain<p>Here's one example of Tolkienography—if that's what we can call the effect of actual geography on this particular writer's imagination—which I gleaned myself, some years ago in East Yorkshire. A local historian told me that Tolkien had been stationed in the area during the First World War, and had apparently stored away some local place names for later use. The name Frodo, he said, derived from a town where he had attended a few dances – Frodingham, a village across the Humber in northern Lincolnshire, not far from Scunthorpe (<em>Scunto</em>? We dodged a bullet there). </p><p>Whether that story is entirely true or not is beside the point. As fantasy fans know, any grail quest is ultimately about the quest, not the grail. In fact, to quote Mr Kamali, the treasure is important only because it's well hidden, "by a clever professor who enjoys riddles."</p><p><em>Unless otherwise indicated, illustrations are from Mr Kamali's <a href="https://arda.ir/the-tale-of-the-annotated-map-and-tolkien-hidden-riddles/?fbclid=IwAR3RmtU0ZdyzQGlK-iCsUjho4LA2W279fwO9dt8vv90FX2IeO3zrfMuMToU" target="_blank">article</a> on <a href="https://arda.ir/" target="_blank">Arda.ir</a>, reproduced with kind permission. </em><br></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1036</strong></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a><em>.</em></p>
The European Union is debating over two lists of nations from which it will accept travelers starting July 1.
- The EU has slowed the spread of COVID-19 in most regions, while cases in the U.S. continue to grow.
- The U.S. is reportedly excluded from both lists of "accepted nations," but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested the U.S. may reach an agreement with European officials.
- A ban on American travel would surely have political consequences for the Trump administration.
Europe is divided on whether films should have subtitles or different audio tracks.
- The boom of international content is fueling the rise of dubbing, or 're-voicing' the movie or series in another language.
- As old as the 'talkies', dubbing and subtitling won out over a competing technique known as 'multiple language versions'.
- As this map shows, Europe is deeply divided between subbing and dubbing – and between different kinds of dubbing.
Which version of 'The Woods'?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0fdf149c7a41b4589ff4233fb525e212"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/4RlU1A_AJx4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>How do you like your foreign-language movies and series: subbed or dubbed? International content is booming on streaming services. So even for English-speaking audiences, long used to their language ruling screens both silver and small, it's an increasingly relevant question.<br></p><p>And one without a definitive answer: both subtitling and dubbing (a.k.a. 're-voicing') have inherent drawbacks. Watching something 'in foreign' means the subtitles subtract from the work's visual integrity; but choose the version dubbed into your own lingo, and you may feel short-changed in the authenticity department.</p><p>Nevertheless, most people have a clear preference one way or the other. Like Harlan Coben, whose 2007 thriller "The Woods" was adapted into a Polish-language Netflix series – and then subbed and dubbed back into English. He recently <a href="https://twitter.com/HarlanCoben/status/12714429766..." target="_blank">tweeted</a>: <em>"Netflix gives you the choice to watch The Woods dubbed or subtitled. I urge you to use subtitles, (but) you do you. Rock on." </em></p><p><a href="https://twitter.com/HarlanCoben/status/1271442976678588417" target="_blank"></a>Coben later <a href="https://twitter.com/HarlanCoben/status/12719074382..." target="_blank">replied</a> to a fan (who said they were watching the subtitled version): <em>"Yes. This is the best way to watch a show or movie – original language setting with your language in subtitles (but) if you want to watch with English dubbing, hey, cool, I'm not in the judging business."</em><br><br>Coben's opinion chimes with that of the 'arthouse' audience, which prefers to sample foreign fare in the original language with subtitles, for authenticity's sake. They're vocal about their preference, but recent data suggests they're the minority. As many as 36 percent of Netflix subscribers in the U.S. watched Spanish smash hit "Money Heist" ("Casa de papel" in the original) in the dubbed version. Only a few percent watched it with subtitles. </p><p>Moreover, there is evidence that good dubs increase audience engagement, and that viewers – American ones at least – are more likely to finish the dubbed version of an episodic drama than the subbed one. </p><p>The arthouse crowd might be unable to support the loss of the near-immersive quality of subtitling, but the obvious reason for the popularity of dubbing is practical: it's easier to use as 'wallpaper'. Just try to do the ironing while keeping up with "The Woods" in Polish with subtitles.<br></p>
Chaplin's "Easy Street" (1917) with live piano (2012)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0f9e6300a5ef2ef367f79daeab754276"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K1p-FRhfPfQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>One major argument for subtitles – besides the 'arthouse' one, that is: it's about 10 times cheaper than dubbing with a full voice cast, not to mention a lot faster. But that seems to be a consideration of the past. The aforementioned boom in international content is generating economies of scale that favor dubbing. Netflix alone works with 165 dubbing studios around the world. </p><p><span></span>The rise of dubbing is symptomatic of the internationalisation of global viewing culture, long dominated by Anglophone productions. What's happening is in fact a re-globalisation. The silent movie ecosystem, which held sway until the late 1920s, was remarkably cosmopolitan. Re-purposing a silent movie for another language market was easy: just translate the title cards, and hey presto – another audience served. By 1927, your typical Hollywood film had its intertitles translated into as many as 36 languages.</p><p><span></span>When the 'talkies' came in, the movie industry stumbled headlong into something it had not yet experienced: a language barrier the size of the Tower of Babel. A spoken movie could reach only one language group. How to reach all those others? Subtitling and dubbing were used from the beginning, but for a few years in the early 1930s, it seemed a third solution would win out: multiple language versions, or MLVs. </p><p>Here's how that went: A movie studio would hire foreign-language directors and actors to re-shoot the same film, taking turns scene by scene. In 1930, for example, William C. de Mille's movie "The Doctor's Secret," originally in English, was simultaneously shot in Spanish, French, Italian, Swedish, Polish, Czech, and Hungarian as well. <br></p>
Dubbed in French, but with an American accent<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="938f0103d0c422df9285cdd21b5a27fc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vK78xIEMJBs?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Some stars were too famous to be replaced, and had to re-shoot the MLVs themselves, learning their lines in another language. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy's own French-language efforts became so familiar to audiences in France, that when they were eventually replaced with French voice-over artists, these had to keep the American accents of the original actors. </p><p><span></span>MLVs were cumbersome and costly, and by the mid-1930s, they had turned out to be an evolutionary dead end. Dubbing and subtitling started to take over and the industry never looked back. MLVs were occasionally revived though, even as late as 1979, when Werner Herzog shot German and English versions of the same vampire movie, using the same cast: "Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht" and "Nosferatu the Vampyre," respectively. </p><p><span></span>In a world dominated by Hollywood, dubbing established itself as the preferred translation method in France, Italy, Germany and Spain. These are Europe's four biggest non-English-speaking markets, so dubbing – more labor-intensive and up to 10 times more expensive than subbing – made more economic sense there than in smaller markets.</p><p><span></span>Subtitling became the go-to solution for most of those smaller markets: Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Portugal, the Balkans. </p><p>Yet some other smaller markets, the Czech and Hungarian ones to name two, also preferred dubbing. That's because economy wasn't the only factor. Cultural pride also played a part. France had always considered its culture and language a bit above the vulgar English tongue, for example. Another factor: politics. Dubbing was an attractive way to censor foreign imports, especially for the fascist regimes in Germany, Italy, and Spain.<br></p>
The Terminator, in German: "Ich komme wieder"<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7e6b185ee9f33ca8d0f1dfd9eda7a76f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/93IYGIzIPRY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Once set, national preferences remained fairly stable after World War II, when the import of mainly English-language movies boomed across Western Europe. Today, Italy even has the <em>Gran Premio Internazionale del Doppiagio</em>, an annual Oscars-like ceremony for excellence in dubbing. </p><p><span></span>In bigger dubbing markets like Germany, voice actors became celebrities in their own right. Recently-retired German voice actor Thomas Danneberg dubbed around 1,500 movies into German, including Arnold Schwarzenegger's entire oeuvre (whose Austrian accent would have disqualified him from doing his own dubbing in High German). </p><p><span></span>Mr. Danneberg dubbed a great number of actors, which could be an issue when several appeared in the same movie. When Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone appeared together in "The Expendables" (2010), Danneberg made sure to say the lines of both at a slightly different pitch. </p><p>In Eastern Europe, meanwhile, another alternative gained prominence, called voice-over translation (VOT). Unlike with dubbing, where the original soundtrack is replaced, VOT adds the translated dialogue over the original, which remains audible. It's a technique familiar to Western audiences from documentaries or news reports, not for fiction. <br></p>
Subbing and dubbing map of Europe<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQxMTc1NS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDE1MzI4OX0.K3W6_k5mB_oKFxpO0sQNZKe-JxN4fxnHN_g4UGdyIAk/img.png?width=980" id="ea3e7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c7249346ace7c79d05dac24a368acd68" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
In red: dubbing markets. Dark blue: subtitles, please. Yellow: voice-over translation. In green: markets using dubs from another language (i.e. Czech for Slovakia, Russian for Belarus). Light blue: Belgium, where the Dutch-speaking north prefers subbing, the French-speaking south subbing.
Image: MapChart, reproduced with kind permission<p>In Polish and Russian, 'lektors' are a cheap and culturally accepted way to translate foreign movies. In Russia, these are known as Gavrilov translations, after one of the three most prolific voice artists doing these single-voice translations. Each had their specialty. While Andrey Gavrilov went for action movies, Aleksey Mikhalyov gravitated towards comedy and drama, and Leonid Volodarsky is best remembered for his dubbing of "Star Wars." The tradition is continued by a new generation of Gavrllov translators.<br></p><p>But for how long? Because dubbing is improving at a terrific speed. In the near future, the technology behind 'deep fakes' will help produce dubs that perfectly synchronise the 'flaps' (dub-speak for mouth movements) with the words voiced over, while 'voice cloning' will be used to adjust the voice of the re-recording artist to that of the original actor.</p><p>It may convince the Eastern European markets to abandon VOT – which is the poor cousin of dubbing anyway. But it's less certain that it will dislodge subbing from markets where it's become ingrained, and frequently mentioned as a reason for relatively high levels of English proficiency. So it may be a while yet before the Terminator says "I'll be back" in Swedish. <br></p><p><br></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1035</strong></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.</p>
And after these 10 surprising maps, the Alpine republic will never look the same again.
- Austria has an almost-exclave, connected to the motherland via a single dot on a mountaintop.
- Habsburgs were so fancy, they were buried in three different locations across Vienna.
- These and other absurd and obscure facts about Austria are the subject of a highly entertaining Twitter account.
Picture-perfect: Schloss Schönbühel. But there's more to Austria than just being pretty.
Image: Uaoei1, CC BY-SA 4.0<p>Unless you're into skiing, double monarchies or "The Sound of Music," you probably don't give Austria much thought. Yet everybody's second-favorite Alpine republic is a locus of many weird and wonderful facts. </p><p>If you don't believe us, check out these infographics produced by <a href="https://twitter.com/austrianmaps" target="_blank">@austrianmaps</a>. Here are ten things you'll now never again be able to un-know about Austria.<br></p>
Stuck in the middle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4OTk0OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjAwMTk0OH0.zQyX2AV59YuG38FmSBq8KF7QfZHUcIT7hIOPsPK4Uq8/img.png?width=980" id="ed9a1" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="02ed7f315f4383ded54afc243c5e0562" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image: Austrian Maps<p>Austria is far from anywhere. Or, comfortably in the middle of everywhere. Which of these two truths rings truer depends on the elasticity of your travel wants (or needs). As this map shows, the Austrian capital Vienna (that's that circular thingy in the top right-hand corner) is almost perfectly equidistant between the two megacities book-ending Europe in the northwest and southeast. </p><p>Other maps show Austria just as snugly halfway between Madrid and Moscow (if you're into city trips); and Ibiza and Crimea (if you're more of a beach person). </p>
Moderately interesting<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4OTk1MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxODg1MzEyOH0.1Fkxjq1Xjo03vffQFIwR4ZuthLtkJcut7yTSzbTsSUg/img.png?width=980" id="80847" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2f84e68e162dc474793a3369ce6a4863" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image: Austrian Maps<p>In its mission statement on Twitter, Austrian Maps promises "maps of Austria from moderately interesting to plain terrible." In order to set the bar at the appropriate height, we get Austria's version of the '<a href="https://www.pinterest.cl/pin/712131759817053793/" target="_blank">Indiana/Outdiana</a>' map.</p><p>Don't let this put you off, though: Innsbruck is a lovely city (go check out the Golden Roof, completed in 1500) and close to the Alps (take the funicular <em>Hungerburgbahn</em> from the city centre straight up into the mountains).</p>
Left to right hand traffic<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4OTk1Mi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5ODQ5MTc5OX0.3JScqN8YQPG8eBxk8wLLr9yN5xmEJuOE6FeipBk1uPI/img.png?width=980" id="c5023" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3a32ddf8db048567dd046761f66cc3c0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image: Austrian Maps<p>A few centuries ago, which side of the road you drove on was political. That's because Napoleon, the great equaliser, introduced right-hand traffic wherever he went. Which may explain why his arch enemies, the Brits, so obstinately clung to the other side of the road. The Austrians weren't too keen on him either, so when he left, they went back to… chaos: right-hand traffic here, left-hand traffic there. </p><ul><li>In 1915, Austria-Hungary generalised left-hand traffic, but protests led to the reintroduction of right-hand traffic in Vorarlberg in 1921. Which was not that much of a bother, because at the time, this state was only connected to the rest of Austria via two mountain passes.</li><li>Following a general pact across Europe in 1927 to go with right-hand traffic, the rest of Austria switched back as well, but not immediately and not all at once, because the states couldn't agree on a unified timetable.</li><li>On 2 April 1930, the west of the country (up to the city of Lend) switched from left to right. Carinthia and Eastern Tyrol made the switch on 15 July 1935. </li><li>Following Austria's annexation by Nazi Germany, on 1 July 1938 the German traffic code came into effect, imposing right-hand traffic. </li><li>Except in Vienna and surrounding areas, where left-hand traffic remained in force until 19 September 1938. </li></ul>
Austria's pene-exclave<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4OTk1NC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNjI1MDg3MX0.oQaZ8YE6GsI6U2nspZbgr0GhKWDc1715Uw5skXTObvI/img.png?width=980" id="dfe57" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4c3ce109a6c47cf03b8825686f961b55" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image: Austrian Maps<p>Jungholz is an Austrian town, but it's surrounded on all sides by Germany. Does that make it an exclave? It would, if it didn't touch the rest of Austria at a single point – the summit of Mount Sorgschrofen, where four borderlines meet: two German, two Austrian. </p><p>Which means Jungholz is a pene-exclave (i.e. an 'almost-exclave', just like a peninsula is an 'almost-island'). Nevertheless, because it can only be reached via German territory, it is cut off from direct access to the rest of Austria, and thus is a 'practical exclave'. <br></p><p>Because of this, the town has been economically aligned with its Bavarian (and later German) neighbors, but those differences have been mostly subsumed within the European Union. It still maintains both a German and an Austrian post code, though. </p>
Ve meet again, Mr Bond!<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4OTk1NS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzU3MDg0MH0.j33GS0McUKr_bhH4lt5o3JsI5s9BfNEbUZgsl4dgQz4/img.png?width=980" id="2b0bf" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="128086d50f2e438147fc4856a411161a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image: Austrian Maps<p>If you're a picturesque enough country, James Bond will come race your city centers to bits, killing any number of Her Majesty's foes and scaring the locals witless. Austria is a particular favorite – visited by no less than four iterations of secret agent 007:</p><ul><li>George Lazenby ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service"),</li><li>Roger Moore ("The Spy Who Loved Me"),</li><li>Timothy Dalton ("The Living Daylights") and</li><li>Daniel Craig ("Spectre," "A Quantum of Solace"). </li></ul><p>And there's plenty more places to blow up in Austria, the map helpfully suggests. If we were scouting for locations for the next Bond (m/f), the <a href="https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/306526318382298647/" target="_blank">dam at Kaprun</a> and the <a href="https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/zwentendorf-nuclear-power-plant" target="_blank">nuclear plant at Zwentendorf</a> would be on the top of our list, too. <br></p>
World cities bigger than Austria<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4OTk1Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTM0MTQ0N30.xpoCeciaV_OS1b7t7gHEIAS7wqVXmI0xKOk31zGflRU/img.png?width=980" id="51253" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="113550118da7e7a535359e4a1768d4f0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image: Austrian Maps<p>Austria may be a proper country with a flag and a president and all the other trappings of modern statehood, but it's rather keenly aware of its own diminutiveness. That certainly has to do with the fact that it was once the senior partner in a much grander nation: the Austro-Hungarian Empire, one of Europe's major powers until its demise following World War I. <br></p><p>With a certain masochism (named after <a href="https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/13539/leopold-von-sacher-masoch.html" target="_blank">Leopold von Sacher-Masoch</a>, an Austrian), this map points out cities around the world – many not even capital cities – that have a larger population than Austria, which has 9 million inhabitants. </p>
Between the mountains and the fields<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4OTk1OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTAyNjU4NX0.ILSBHukj0tdC9yW5AbpADIAmt7F8oeZGiBxZRAnU1VU/img.png?width=980" id="fd87f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5031eb06b3a2eb27cad3befcfa8a982d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image: Austrian Maps<p>Austria's <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWKI7pn5uYE" target="_blank">national anthem</a> is the last melody written by Mozart before he died. That was the official story, but it turns out it's too good to be true: the masonic hymn was probably penned by one of Mozart's fellow lodgers. </p><p>The lyrics, of much later origin, describe Austria as "<em>Land der Berge, Land am Strome, Land der Äcker, Land der Dome</em>" ('Land of mountains, land by the river Donau, land of fields, land of cathedral domes'). <br></p><p>What does that cover? Quite a lot, as this map shows, but not all of Austria, not by far. But then, "land of bits in between" doesn't quite have that anthemic ring to it. </p>
Having a ball<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4OTk2MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDc4MjI3OH0.DrjoS5zLWAaV_smV4VfKAcEuz5tQdwO1mtfPt2hDU1Q/img.png?width=980" id="c85d4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c87a0574912c6b98a003058da6bdaba5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image: Austrian Maps<p>They're not quite on any Unesco world heritage list just yet, but <a href="https://www.wien.info/en/music-stage-shows/dance/ball-season" target="_blank">Vienna's balls</a> really should be. If not because they're a spectacular, centuries-old tradition replete with elaborate dresses, genteel manners and shedloads of classical music, then because they are both completely out of place in the modern world – and a wonderful escape from it. </p><p>Each winter season, the Hofburg Palace, Vienna's <em>Rathaus</em> (City Hall), the Vienna State Opera and other locations across town are filled with so many dancing debutantes and scheming socialites that you may be forgiven to think the <em>Kaiser</em> is still sitting on his throne. </p><p>In all, Vienna counts around 400 annual balls, many hosted by professional guilds, like the academic association, the medical profession or even the real estate sector. As the map shows, even some states have their own ball: Upper and Lower Austria, Tyrol, Styria and Vorarlberg, and… Moscow. </p><p>Of course, Moscow is not an Austrian state. Although there are plenty of moneyed Muscovites who wouldn't mind. Not all of Russia's bling gravitates to London. There's plenty to go around, and some of it likes to dress up and dance. And when that happens, it's not that hard to imagine that it's 1815 again, Vienna is the world's largest congregation of diplomats (there to hammer out the Treaty of Vienna), and there's still a Tsar on the throne in Moscow. <br></p>
Egg-cellence in maps<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4OTk2Mi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDA3MjY2NX0.nPQRcHRPqbJNrtTzCDHJnY1snQR_4hPUTLX8i5L5IKk/img.png?width=980" id="2115b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f5c86b7eb560d92bd30472ffc5f2a689" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image: Austrian Maps<p>Q: How much fun can mapmakers have? A: As much as their imagination allows. Case in point: this Easter-themed map (hence the bleating lamb) comparing the egg-shapedness of Austria's various states.</p><p>Vienna is the state most overlapping with an egg of the same size (0.905), Elongated Burgenland (a.k.a. Austria's Chile) is the least egg-like state (0.521). </p><p>And what does this teach us? That it can be fun to follow the data, even if it leads you into a blind alley, where you get robbed of your seriousness. Sometimes, a good laugh is worth taking one on the chin. <br></p>
Not that kind of church organ<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4OTk2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTEzNDM4M30.XUkSbr-C9X56DR8nMXTUunObaB6TtTF8204XOqTIHUM/img.jpg?width=980" id="36125" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2323cae6e6979ad731e744a903c01270" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image: Austrian Maps<p>There are still emperors in Vienna, but they're all dead and buried. However, just going on the number of burial sites, you could think there are three times as many of the dead blighters as there actually were in real life. <br></p><p>That is because, lugubriously, emperors and other Habsburg royals were traditionally buried in three pieces: their bodies in the Capuchin Crypt, minus their hearts (which went to the Loreto Chapel) and also <em>sans</em> their inner organs (which were preserved – if that's the right word - at St Stephen's Cathedral). </p><p><br></p><p><em><span></span>All maps reproduced with kind permission. For more Austrian map madness, check out </em><a href="https://twitter.com/austrianmaps" target="_blank" style="">Austrian Maps</a><em> on Twitter.</em></p><p><em></em><strong>Strange Maps #1029</strong></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" style="">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.<br></p>
The discovery may change what we know about early humans in Europe.
- Newly found human remains in Bulgaria have pushed back the date of Homo sapiens arriving in Europe by thousands of years.
- The site was also littered with animal remains and stone tools.
- These humans were not part of the tool-making culture that replaced the Neanderthals, leaving the fate of the discovered group a mystery.