Dan travels the globe to explore how different cultures have created architecture inspired by our mortality. In the Czech Republic, he reveals the macabre tale of a chapel decorated with human bones. Even more shocking is the Yaxha Mayan pyramids in Guatemala, sites of brutal human sacrifice.
In Egypt, Dan explores how pharaohs ensured the passage of their spirit to the afterworld through elaborate mortuary temples. He visits Europe’s greatest cemetery in Genoa, Staglieno, home to a spectacular collection of beautiful and erotic memorial statues. And finally, Dan comes face-to-face with death itself in Varanasi in India, a sacred Hindu town where people come to die.
Some of the world’s greatest architecture has been forged in the face of adversity, terror and war. Dan explores buildings shaped and threatened by disaster.
He risks his life to visit the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan, a monument to peace and tolerance in the midst of a war zone. He goes to Dresden, the great German baroque city that was almost obliterated during World War II, but where a heroic reconstruction project is taking place. San Francisco is preparing for a cataclysmic earthquake – what role can architecture play in saving lives? And venturing into ancient history, Dan reveals the tragic tale of Palmyra in Syria, a great city laid to waste by the Roman Empire
He visits Brasilia, an ideal city built by communists, which is now the preserve of the super-rich. In the Middle East he travels to Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, to unravel the secrets of its longevity.
The Rockefeller Centre in New York is one of the city’s most famous skyscrapers – but how did a building borne from the American Depression become a ‘city within a city’? And Dan explores Dharavi in Mumbai, the biggest slum in India – a functioning home to millions, but now under threat of demolition.
Dan tells the story of Ceausescu’s Palace in Romania, a colossal palace built by the 20th century’s last communist dictator. He then travels to the Middle East to see Marqab Castle in Syria, constructed by the Crusaders to vanquish Muslims.
In New Orleans Dan explores an imposing plantation house which is in stark contrast to the slave cabins that it sits next to, and explores the living legacy of slavery. He also tells the history of the Topkapi Harem in Istanbul, a place where women too were slaves – but where they could also give birth to the country’s next emperor. And finally, he visits Astana in Kazakhstan, one of the newest capital cities of the 21st century.
In Yemen he reveals an ancient city of skyscrapers made of mud – Shibam. Originally named after its ruler King Shibam, the city is now nicknamed ‘the Manhattan of the desert’ due to its astonishing skyline. And in the Dominican Republic, Dan visits Santo Domingo where Spanish invaders dreamed of creating the first grid-style city on the American continent – a model for every modern American city that would follow.
In the hidden kingdom of Bhutan in the Himalayas, Dan experiences the dream of a king to live in the past – so that modern buildings are indistinguishable from those built 500 years before. And he explores how dreams can turn to nightmare in Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, where society dreamt of reforming criminals into decent men, only to find their techniques made them mad.
In the final episode, Dan explores how architecture gives us pleasure – both to its creators and to the people who enjoy the buildings today.
In India, Dan visits one of the world’s greatest and most luxurious hotels, the Taj in Mumbai. Like a palace sitting at the ocean’s edge, the hotel is a vision from the age of the great maharajahs and the British raj, a spectacular fusion of east and west. And in Germany, Dan goes to the Schloss Neuschwanstein, a fantasy castle created by one of history’s most outrageous monarchs, King Ludwig II. Even today it is the stuff of fantasy for the many millions of visitors who reach its heights in the Bavarian mountains.
Moving to Italy, Dan celebrates the hedonism and excess of ancient Pompeii – visiting the oldest brothel in the world. He then heads for Brazil and the Amazon basin to find opera at the heart of the rainforest – the opera house at Manaus. Built on the back of the rubber trade, the pleasure it brings is a painful mix for the people of the region.
And finally Dan explores the Villa Barbaro, one of the world’s most beautiful country houses where pleasure was deemed to be created by perfect architecture and perfect architecture was arrived at by mathematical proportion – designed by the world’s greatest architect, Andrea Palladio.