Sunday, January 13, 2013

Lemon Cake and Pi

I am researching English architecture from 1600 to 1830, and so this began as a post about Christopher Wren's feats of Baroque splendor.

The older and more educated I become I realize (and perhaps you have figured this out too) the problem with understanding almost everything in life, is that nothing makes sense until one understands what came before.

As Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer sang in The Sound of Music, "Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could."

Baroque architecture reflected the emotional, political, artistic, ecumenical and technoligical leanings of its time, but it was also a product of literally everything that came before it.  

So the quest to understand Baroque architecture led me to the question, "What came before that?"  And then, what came before that?  

And before That?  And before That...?

And I found myself in ancient Egypt, 3000 years before Christ.

Burning Ina Garten's Lemon Yogurt Cake in the process.

Which probably never happened to Sir Christopher, but hopefully it will be okay once I glaze it.  

So.  Architectural history.  Who cares?  For me, and perhaps for you too, caring begins with wondering.  Hmmm....

For example, if one were to get out and about, and should find oneself standing, for example, in St. Peter's Square in Rome, it might occur to one after a moment or two that there is a rather large pointy object in the center.  Which might lead one to wonder what it is and how it got there.  

So, if you like, pour a cup of coffee and we'll see if we can make sense of the small topic of the history of architecture.  

  Our story begins, more or less, in 4000 BC in Sumer.  (Don't they always...)

Here between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in current day southern Iraq, humans ceased foraging and began to practice year-round agriculture.  

This may have encouraged them to stop wandering around quite so much, and led to settlements.   

The development of written language and a rudimentary math for trading and accounting followed, and I imagine, the first idea of home.  As an aside, it is also the beginning of todays environmental problems. 

Charles Mann writes in National Geographic, "Humans shifted from seeing themselves as a part of the natural world, to seeking mastery over it.  When foragers started settling down in villages, they unavoidably created a divide between the human realm- a fixed huddle of homes  with hundreds of residents- and the dangerous land beyond the campfire, populated with lethal beasts.  Hmm.

Upper and lower Egypt were united, copper was first used by humans and by 3000 BC, the wheel, the plow, the yoke, the nail, and hieroglyphic writing had been invented.  

The Egyptian Building at the University of Virginia completed in 1845, is considered one of the finest surviving Egyptian-revival style buildings in the nation

The great pyramid at Giza, near Cairo, Egypt, was begun around 2900 BC.  

An engineering marvel, it was (as far as we know) the largest pyramid ever built and incorporates about 2.3 million stone blocks weighing from 2.5 to 15 tons each.  

National Geographic says that the workers set a block every two and a half minutes.  

There is an interesting article written by Nabil Swelim at the Bradshaw Foundationhere, which discusses the civil engineering problems that had to be solved before the first block was laid- choosing and leveling the building site, orienting the structure, quarrying and sourcing the building materials, transportation and other logistical issues, and safety considerations such as the annual overflow of the Nile and flash floods.    

The pyramids directly relate to Baroque architecture because they illustrate that Egyptians had begun to figure out quite a lot of engineering and math.

By 1650 BC humans knew how to find vertical and horizontal, manipulate rational numbers to some extent, how to bisect an angle, how to construct similar polygons of certain ratios, and that a triangle with sides 3:4:5 is a right triangle.

Christopher Wren was able to build the great dome at St. Paul's because at some point the Egyptians also figured out that the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter is a constant.  

Hooray for pi! And my lemon cake turned out fine.  More to follow...

P.S. We're spending about half of our time over at Pinterest now, so please be sure to visit us there!

From our library:


Photos:  1. Interior view of the dome at St. Paul's cathedral, London 2. The Von Trapp family house from the Sound of Music 3. Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music 4. Interior of the chapel at Versailles 5. 6. The Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece 7. Lemon Cake 8. Pyramids at Giza, Egypt 9. 10. St. Peter's Square, Rome 11. 12.13. Mariette Himes Gomez Versailles 19.  1845, The Egyptian Building designed by Thomas Sommerville Stewart at the University of Virginia  20. Sphinx at Giza, Egypt photographed by Kenneth Garrett 21. Painting of St. Peter's Square by Viviano Codazzi 1630 Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain 22. Washington Monument, Washington D.C. USA 23. Diane Von Furstenburg design via 24. Temple at Luxor, Egypt photgraphed by Taylor S. Kennedy 25. Sectional view of St. Paul's cathedral dome 26. Lemon Cake


  1. O.K....I feel like I took a college course in just 15 minutes! All kidding aside, a terrific post where I actually learned something. The work that you put into it is incredible. It left me hungry for more ...knowledge and cake....k

    1. Hi Kathy, thanks! Nothing like distilling 4000 years of history into a few paragraphs! N.G.

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to research all of this, and the cake looks marvelous!
    Enjoyed this post tremendously.
    Happy Sunday.

    1. Hi Teresa, Thanks! The lemon cake was good, when I get a minute I'll post how I adapted the recipe. Hope you had a good weekend! N.G.

  3. Such an interesting post. I love the history of architecture and have never felt so connected to it as the moment I stood on the Acropolis in Athens. I felt like I was at the source of a river of information. Yummy looking cake, too. I think a series of lectures of this sort with tea and lemon cake would be very well attended.
    All best,

    1. Wouldn't that be nice? I'd come to a lecture for cake... :) What did you think of the Acropolis museum?

  4. What a wonderful post, I pored over every single word and photo over coffee this morning. You have a very lovely blog, by the way.

    Greetings and a late Happy New Year from a country girl in Middleburg, VA.

    1. Hi Briana, so glad you stopped in!!! Thanks!

  5. How interesting. I love Christopher Wren and will have to do some research've planted a seed! Thank you and Happy New Year.

    1. Karen, if we're anything alike when it comes to history you'll be pulled in for sure! :) N.G.

  6. Missed you guys. Thanks for another stunning and informative post :)

    ps - your cake didn't look burnt even before you glazed it.

  7. Hi Serena! Lol, Oh, we're always around, we have both been working on various projects (you know how that goes!) and I've been fascinated with developing the J & G point of view on Pinterest lately. I can see the blog becoming more essays and dialogue- more verbal, and letting Pinterest tell the rest of the story. Some days I just want to look at pictures, hold the commentary please, and some days I want to do more reading- I love that there are two formats to fit my mood and time. Your blog, btw, is just amazing! It always has been, but it's hard to pull myself away these days!

  8. So glad you're back!Thanks for another great post.

  9. Wow, this is pretty interesting. Inspiring, as well. Thanks for sharing such inspiring experience with us. Great blog, congrats.!


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