A Merry Christmas to everyone in the Twelve Mile Circle who is celebrating today. A Happy Holiday or well wishes to everyone else as well. Every once in awhile the 12MC publishing schedule falls on Christmas day. A Christmas theme felt appropriate even with a diminished audience. Ironically, most people with enough time to read today probably don’t celebrate Christmas. Nonetheless I’m going to stick with it and plow forward anyway.
For sure, Christmas Island needed to appear first on the list (map). Amazingly, even though the island fell not too distant from heavily-populated Java, Christmas Island remained unknown until the 17th Century. Various mariners spotted it during that time although it remained without a permanent name until 1643. Captain William Mynors of the English East India Company sailed within eyesight on Christmas day that year. Not being terribly original, Captain Mynors called it Christmas Island and the name stuck. Nobody set foot on the island for another several decades. A permanent population didn’t arrive until the 1880’s. Now Christmas Island belongs to Australia as a territory with around two thousand residents.
I’d always been fascinated by its incredible red crab migration. The wet season begins near the end of October. Then tens of millions of crabs leave their burrows in the forest and make their way to the shoreline to spawn in alignment with the cycles of the moon. Afterwards they return to the forest and life goes on. These waves of roving crabs cover every patch of available earth as they approach their destination. Officials literally shut down roads during peak periods to prevent tragedy to the local crab population. It’s supposed to be an amazing spectacle and a big tourism draw. I’d love to see it in person someday.
Nobody really knew how Christmas Common (map) near Watlington, England got its name. Theories pointed to "a 1643 Christmas Day truce between combatants in the English Civil War, local holly tree coppices, or the Christmas family, which had local connections." People seemed to be guessing.
Christmas Common sat within the Chiltern Hills, a picturesque chalk escarpment designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by Natural England. This entire area recently experienced the successful reintroduction of Red Kites, a bird of prey, in the 1990’s.
Red kites were driven to extinction in England by human persecution by the end of the nineteenth century. A small population survived in Wales, but there was little chance of these birds repopulating their original areas. Between 1989 and 1994, kites from Spain were imported and released into the Chilterns by the RSPB and English Nature (now Natural England). Red kites started breeding in the Chilterns in 1992 and now there could be over 1,000 breeding pairs in the area.
A local entrepreneur also capitalized on Christmas Common by opening a Christmas tree farm, the Tree Barn. The farm included about a hundred acres of Nordmann Fir, Norway Spruce and other varieties. It claimed to provide the Christmas tree for 10 Downing Street for several years. I corroborated that with a quick search of the Intertubes. The Tree Barn supplied a Rocky Mountain fir native to Arizona for 2015. Unfortunately it did not win the contest in 2016.
The United States featured several Christmas towns. I selected one in Florida. Each year a steady stream of people travel to this little hamlet to get their Christmas cards stamped at the local post office. It added a little touch of merriment, I supposed.
The Christmas name traced back to events long before the town existed. The United States staged a series of military actions against the native Seminoles, driving them farther south by force and by treaty. The Seminole chieftain Osceola resisted these incursions, sparking what would become the Second Seminole War. In response, the U.S. Army constructed a series of forts within the disputed area to protect its settlers. One of these rose in eastern Orange County in 1837, a simple log stockade designed as a supply depot. Construction began on Christmas day and it became Fort Christmas as a result (map). The Army abandoned it a few months later when the Seminoles left the area.
The town took its name from the remote outpost that once stood there.
Lake County, Oregon included a community called Christmas Valley, situated in a valley of the same name near Christmas Lake (map). They all got their names from the same source, a local pioneer named Peter Christman.
So it would seem that Peter’s Creek and nearby Christman Lake were named after Major Peter Christman. Sometime between 1873 and 1877 people started calling Christman lake "Christmas." It is yet to be discovered exactly how the "s" came to replace the "n", but maps bearing the name "Christmas Lake" would go into the hands of every homesteader that would come to the valley.
The Christmas Valley community developed after the Second World War. It repeated the earlier mangling of the surname.
I kept running into places that compared themselves to Venice as I uncovered canal superlatives. Literally dozens of places described themselves that way. It made things easy for Twelve Mile Circle too. I could select whatever examples I wanted today because I couldn’t possibly cover them all. That seemed like an excellent opportunity to create some push-pins in lower density areas of the 12MC Complete Index Map. Right, India?
Realizing all these claimants existed, of course only one true Venice prevailed amongst the poseurs, the deservedly famous one in Italy (map). It seemed like an odd location for a city, scattered along a string of islands in a marshy lagoon at the mouth of a couple of rivers. The founders selected this unlikely site intentionally. The marsh offered refuge to Christians fleeing southward away from Germanic tribes as the Roman Empire crumbled. Their city grew over the centuries. Eventually it became an important economic hub and a naval power. Venice only had so much land however, and an overabundance of water, leading to the beautiful canals that visitors treasure today.
I decided to completely side-step the ongoing geopolitical situation of the Kashmir conflict. The focus remained on a city with an alleged resemblance to Venice contained within its larger borders. Srinagar (map) came under Indian control and that seemed alright for my purposes. The city claimed to be a "Kashmiri Venice" or even more boldly the "Venice of the East." At least a dozen other places also proclaimed themselves to be the true Venice of the East. I didn’t know how to rank them although I felt secure that Srinagar should be considered at least the Kashmiri Venice. That felt safe.
Srinagar fell within the Jammu and Kashmir state at the very northern tip of India. Jammu and Kashmir itself included an interesting geo-oddity. It had both a summer and a winter capital. Srinagar served as the capital during the warmer months and then it jumped to Jammu for the winter. I couldn’t figure why or how that worked. It seemed strange to move the capital nearly 300 kilometres (180 miles) twice a year. And I’ve complained about moving the hands of a clock twice a year. That little tangent had nothing to do with canals in Srinagar so I supposed I need to get back on track.
The Jhelum River ran through Srinagar on its way to the Indus River. A series of canals, both current and historical, prevented flooding and regulated water levels. They also connected two large bodies of water, Dal Lake and Anchar Lake, as well as several smaller ones. The city became known for its majestic waterside Mughal architecture, its wonderful parks and its iconic houseboats. All of those conditions underlied its claim.
Venice of the Netherlands
Giethoorn in the Overijssel province of the Netherlands also featured a network of interlaced canals and an abundance of water.
It is so peaceful, so different and has such simple beauty that it hardly seems real – gently gliding along small canals past old but pretty thatched-roof farmhouses… Giethoorn is at the centre of Overijssel’s canal system. Indeed, the little village is so dependent on its waterways, many of the houses cannot be reached by road. When the postman delivers the mail he travels by punt.
Giethoorn made some pretty bold claims too. Some called Giethoorn (map) the "Venice of the Netherlands" and others extended it even farther to "Venice of the North." I think the fine folks in Amsterdam might question either claim although that hardly seemed to stop little Giethoorn from drawing its line in the sand.
It looked like something out of a fairy tale. Were there any trolls under those bridges?
Florida featured an entire city of Venice although nobody called it the "Venice of America," or even the "Venice of Florida." It got its name in the 1880’s and even the city itself admitted that a couple of early settlers simply picked the name. Venice didn’t have any more or any fewer canals than other coastal cities in Florida. A completely different Florida location claimed to be the Venice of America; Fort Lauderdale (map). The city featured "65 miles of interconnected canals" spanned by 52 separate bridges. Cruises and water taxis delighted many tourists who flocked there.
A Special Note
The nation of Venezuela might be the most significant Venetian namesake. Most sources agreed that Amerigo Vespucci, navigator for the Alonso de Ojeda expedition of 1499 bestowed the name. Supposedly he noticed stilt houses built upon Lake Maracaibo that reminded him of the Italian City so he named it Veneziola ("Little Venice"). This became Venezuela when filtered through Spanish. Amerigo fared even better however, with a little corner of the world known as America named in his honor.
Occasionally Twelve Mile Circle likes to feature lesser known architectural styles in articles such as Rock Cut, Pueblo Deco, Egyptian Rivival and Octagons. I came across another one I found both fascinating and rare that I wanted to share: Moorish Revival. This design became modestly popular during the second half of the Nineteenth Century and the first half of the Twentieth Century. Europeans and North Americans looked nostalgically upon Middle Eastern themes and it reflected in their architecture too. Onion domes, horseshoe arches and ornate design elements came from the Moors, a medieval Islamic culture from North Africa and Spain. Architects found the style particularly suitable for theaters, synagogues and the temples of fraternal organizations. I selected a single example from each category.
Georgians always loved opera and long flocked to their magnificent theater in Tbilisi (map). The opera house first opened in 1851 at the beginning of the Moorish Revival although it underwent several stressful episodes during its history. It burned twice. It also survived Russian and Soviet occupations. It then nearly fell during Georgia’s 1991 civil war:
"One day a group of paramilitaries gunned down the front door, telling us they needed the opera for shelter," he remembers. "After the gunmen left we had no front door and a wall riddled with bullets. When we opened again after the fighting, I wanted to cover that wall in glass and put up a big sign saying: ‘This is not how you treat culture."
The opera house underwent an extensive multi-year renovation recently, reopening in January 2016.
I wondered why so many of the notable synagogues built in the 1800’s adopted Moorish Revival designs. The Museum of the Jewish People provided an explanation.
The style of these synagogues, inspired from the oriental architecture, especially Moorish, was intended to evocate the glorious past of the Jewish people in the land of Israel and in medieval Spain, while the size and location of the synagogues in the city centers expressed the newly acquired legal status and social respectability of the Jewish community.
The Great Synagogue of Stockholm (map) offered an excellent case study. The building held 900 people at a time when "the entire Jewish community of Stockholm had less than two thousands members." The year of its completion, 1870, also coincided with the lifting of the last legal restriction placed on Sweden’s Jews.
Masonic organizations — branches of the Freemasons — came in many different forms and affiliations. The Shriners offshoot began in the 1870’s in New York City. This happened during a height of fascination with Middle Eastern themes.
Billy Florence had been on tour in France, and had been invited to a party given by an Arabian diplomat. The exotic style, flavors and music of the Arabian-themed party inspired him to suggest this as a theme for the new fraternity. Walter Fleming, a devoted fraternity brother, built on Fleming’s ideas and used his knowledge of fraternal ritual to transform the Arabian theme into the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.).
They adopted Moorish trappings, most famously the red fezzes they wore on their heads. Their logo also featured a scimitar and crescent. Their fraternal meeting places became Neo-Moorish monuments they called temples. The Tripoli Shrine Temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin followed these principals upon its construction in 1928 (map). It attempted to emulate the Taj Mahal. Oddly while the Taj Mahal was Mughal not Moorish, I guess it was considered "close enough" to be lumped in with Neo-Moorish when adapted in the US.
If 12MC had to pick a place that went most completely overboard with Moorish Revival themes, I would respectfully bestow the title upon Opa-locka, Florida (map). Glenn Curtiss, its founder, had already been a successful aviation pioneer and entrepreneur. He then developed several towns in Florida during the latter part of his career.
Curtiss’s interests were not restricted just to vehicles of transportation. In 1921, he essentially left the aviation business and moved to Florida to become a highly-successful land developer. With friends, he developed the Florida cities of Hialeah, Miami Springs, and Opa-Locka. Opa-Locka was intended to be his crowning achievement, a planned community resembling something from the Arabian Nights.
Curtis built his Opa-locka dream world north of Miami. It even reflected his passion in street names such as Sinbad Avenue, Caliph Street, Ali Baba Avenue and Aladdin Street. Municipal buildings, shopping centers and residences alike adopted a Neo-Moorish style unrivaled anywhere outside of the Middle East. They were all thoroughly Americanized of course. Oddly the name of the town itself came from its earlier Native American inhabitants, from a Seminole phrase meaning "a big island covered with many trees and swamps."
The city fell into a long, steady decline after an adjacent Naval Air Station closed in the 1950’s. NPR reported in June 2016 that the state took control of Opa-locka’s finances and targeted city officials for corruption investigations. Many of its residents lived in poverty in those Arabian Nights houses. What a shame.