Slovakia’s ice church draws visitors closer to heavens

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A tourist visits a Tatra Ice Temple at Hrebienok, High Tatras mountains resort in eastern Slovakia on February 27, 2019. (AFP)
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A nun visits a Tatra Ice Temple at Hrebienok, High Tatras mountains resort in eastern Slovakia on February 27, 2019. (AFP)
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A tourist visits a Tatra Ice Temple at Hrebienok, High Tatras mountains resort in eastern Slovakia on February 27, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 11 March 2019
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Slovakia’s ice church draws visitors closer to heavens

  • A team of 16 sculptors from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Wales and the United States worked 12 hours a day for a month to create this year’s ice temple

HREBIENOK, Slovakia: A young nun breathes deeply as she peers up at a statue of an angel bathed in softly colored light streaming through a church, and as she exhales, you can see her breath.
Instead of wood or bricks and mortar, this chilly house of worship perched among the snowy peaks of Slovakia’s High Tatra Mountains has been built from massive crystal-clear blocks of ice.
At 1,285 meters (4,200 feet) above sea level, the ice replica of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome is higher than any of Slovakia’s 4,158 churches, more than half of them Roman Catholic.
Although it has not been consecrated, another visitor, Zlatica Janakova from southern Slovakia, says it feels like a real church.
“It’s so good for your soul; it provides you with tranquillity,” she whispers.
“All of nature is inside and around this temple,” she adds, gazing at the surrounding alpine vistas.
Englishman Martin, who declined to give his surname, describes it as a “beautiful, religious place, so peaceful and calm.”
Since 2013, ice sculptors have flocked to the Slovak Tatra mountain hamlet of Hrebienok every winter to build a Tatra Ice Temple, or scaled-down replica of a famous church using only crystal-clear ice blocks.
This year, it’s an 11-meter (36-foot) tall version of the 16th-century Vatican basilica, complete with the imposing two half-circle wings of Bernini’s colonnade.
A quarter of a million tourists last year took the short funicular ride up the mountain to see the ice replica of Barcelona’s soaring and intricate Sagrada Familia.

A team of 16 sculptors from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Wales and the United States worked 12 hours a day for a month to create this year’s ice temple.
On Sundays, the venue vibrates with the sounds of sacred music concerts.
“I’m glad to see people crossing themselves and praying inside,” says Slovak chief sculptor Adam Bakos.
The interior boasts sculptures modelled on the works of Italian masters side-by-side with those of chamois, marmots and other wildlife native to the High Tatras.
“I gave them a free hand with the decoration, so each artist added their signature style to the sculptures,” Bakos said.
Slovak-Greek artist Achilleas Sdoukos designed and produced stained-glass decorations incorporated into the temple’s icy walls.
The building material, namely 1,880 ice blocks weighing a total of 225 tons, was imported from neighboring Poland.
“We tried different suppliers, from the Netherlands, England, Norway and Hungary, but Polish ice seemed to have the highest quality, it really looks like glass if kept cold enough,” says Rastislav Kromka, technical director of the Tatra Ice Temple.

With an unusually warm winter threatening to melt details on their sculpture, Bakos and his team covered it with a geodesic dome, measuring 25 meters in diameter.
They also installed refrigeration units to ensure a bone-chilling minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) to keep the ice solid.
“Cold wind was blowing in our faces from the AC (air conditioning) all day long.
“It was like a chopper ride in January.
“Once we were done, I didn’t even want to open the freezer at home anymore,” he jokes.
More than 15 carpenters helped sculptors with the demanding task of stacking the ice blocks, each weighing 125 kilogrammes (275 pounds).
“It took us more time to stack the blocks than to carve them,” Bakos said.
“Ice is also an extremely fragile material, you must be very gentle with it or details tend to fall off. We used only water to glue the pieces together,” he said.

Visiting the ice temple is free. It is funded by the Tatra tourism organization, the transport and construction ministry and other partners.
Only cold air and water are used to maintain the ice church.
“It is not only that visitors touch the walls of the temple, they also breathe out warm air and come in sipping hot tea,” Kromka said.
When winter is over, the ice structure is smashed to pieces, the cooling system switched off and the ice carried outside to melt on the ground.
Open annually from November until late April, the ice temple is also becoming a hotspot for destination weddings.
“Here... we are perhaps the closest to our spiritual selves and our respective religions,” says Veronika Littvova, head of tourism for the High Tatra region, much of which is pristine and protected national parkland.
She is also convinced that ice temple weddings lead to long, lucky unions.
“Thanks to that huge amount of ice, I believe that marriages entered into here will be preserved and last forever.”


Game of Thrones reaches its end, with one or two shocks left

Updated 20 May 2019
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Game of Thrones reaches its end, with one or two shocks left

  • The last episode of the medieval fantasy based on the novels of George R.R. Martin ran roughly an hour and 20 minutes
  • The series had become the cornerstone of HBO’s primetime offerings, but its final season was also its most divisive

Warning: This story contains spoilers for the final episode of “Game of Thrones.”
After eight seasons and 73 episodes, HBO’s long-running smash series, “Game of Thrones,” wrapped up on Sunday, with one more shocking demise and an unlikely character named as king.
The last episode of the medieval fantasy based on the novels of George R.R. Martin ran roughly an hour and 20 minutes to conclude the storyline of more than a dozen characters and intertwining plots.
The fierce competition for the fictional Iron Throne — the seat for the show’s ruler, made of hundreds of swords — ended with a death and an unexpected choice to rule the fictional kingdom of Westeros.
The series had become the cornerstone of HBO’s primetime offerings, but its final season was also its most divisive, with both fans and critics finding specific plot twists, particularly the handling of one primary character, troubling.
HBO says the record-breaking final season drew 43 million viewers on average for each episode in the United States alone, an increase of 10 million over Season 7 in 2017.
Most notable in fans’ criticism was the malevolent turn by Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen, the “Dragon Queen,” who used her dragon to lay waste to the show’s fictional capital after her enemies had surrendered.
The move angered fans, as the episode, titled “The Bells,” now garners the weakest ratings of all episodes in the eight-season run on Rottentomatoes.com, which aggregates critics’ reviews.
Brutal acts by Clarke’s character in previous seasons were similar to those of other leaders, but many viewers saw the decision to kill tens of thousands of innocent people as too drastic, based on her previous actions.
The final episode features her death at the hands of Jon Snow, her lover (and nephew, among numerous incestuous relationships portrayed), played by Kit Harington, who kills her, fearing her tyranny merely mirrors that of predecessors.
Her last living dragon then burns the Iron Throne, melting it down with his fiery breath.
Without a ruler, numerous members of the show’s noble houses eventually make an unexpected choice of king, settling on Brandon Stark, played by Isaac Hempstead Wright.
In the premiere episode in 2011, Brandon was pushed from a high tower, crippling him, but awakening mystical powers that eventually allowed him to see the past and the future.
Some critics viewed the Sunday episode’s choice as odd, since Stark’s abilities implied he foresaw the events, including the deaths of thousands, that would leave him ruler.
“He’s got the whole history of Westeros stockpiled in his head, so how is he going to be able to concentrate on running a kingdom?” wrote Rebecca Patton on Bustle.com.
From its ragged beginnings — its original pilot was never aired, instead undergoing substantial re-shoots and recasting of several characters — the series became a cultural phenomenon.
Its budgets grew, with the last season’s cost running as high as $15 million per episode, Variety says. It also won numerous primetime television Emmy Awards, including three for “Best Drama.”
It became known for unexpected, nerve-wracking moments, including the first season’s death of Eddard Stark, the nobleman played by Sean Bean, highlighted in a marketing campaign, and Season 3’s “Red Wedding,” a massacre in fictional wars that author Martin based on medieval Scottish history.
HBO, owned by AT&T’s WarnerMedia, is already planning a prequel series, set thousands of years earlier, while creators Dan Weiss and David Benioff are scheduled to make the next series of “Star Wars” films.