The French banker Albert Kahn was a financial genius whose high-risk investments made him one of the richest men in Europe by the turn of the century. A lifelong pacifist, Kahn became convinced that a new technology – color photography – could contribute to cross-cultural understanding and world peace. He invested heavily in his dream, sending photographers around the globe between 1909 and 1929 to create an “archive of the planet.”

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Between the pyramids (145 meters) and the Eiffel Tower (325 meters), mankind’s highest structures were Gothic cathedrals. The tallest were built in France, as cities like Amiens, Chartres, Paris and Rouen sought to outdo each other.

The cathedral of Beauvais, dedicated to St. Peter, was the world record holder. It took the prize with a vault of 48 meters and, eventually, a 152-meter tower. But one of the most daring feats in the history of architecture turned out to be a stone house of cards. Part of the vault collapsed and had to be resurrected. The tower, completed in 1567, came tumbling down six years later.

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The plays may have been more scandalous than the author’s sex life, but visitors still plant sexy kisses on his grave.


The Oscar Wilde centenary

Oscar Wilde, the 20th century’s most famous sexual dissident, has been dead 100 years to the day. From his deathbed in a seedy Paris hotel, he has seeped into our collective consciousness and become a contemporary celebrity almost as popular as Lady Di. More than just a gay martyr, Wilde was a subversive Superman willing to hazard everything. His lectures were camp performance art and his plays celebrated decadence, gender swapping and the “cult of the clitoris.” He seems to have been the First Modern Man to emerge from the moralizing slime of the Victorian age.

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