Ancient Megastructures

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC – Tuesday 19 May, 7.30pm

The Alhambra is the greatest example of Islamic military architecture in Europe. In 1238, the Moorish Sultan Muhammad I withdrew to Granada, in southern Spain, to create a bastion that would protect his family against Christian attack. It was here, against the backdrop of war and terror that Muhammad began a construction process that would span more than one and a half centuries and create one of the most beautiful palaces in the world. But just how did he construct such an impregnable fortress? How did he raise water from the river 100 metres below, to irrigate its gardens? And why is Greek geometry a crucial part of this Muslim masterpiece? See how ingenious engineering solutions and treacherous political betrayals gave birth to what is arguably the most perfect example of Moorish architecture in existence.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC – Tuesday 12 May, 7.30pm

When fiery Roman Emperor Justinian ordered the rebuilding of the great church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, he was bidding for nothing less than eternal glory, both for God and for himself. Exactly how the Romans conjured up the vast golden dome floating high above the ground has astounded architects for centuries. Modern science has only recently revealed the secret that allowed this colossal structure to survive almost 1500 years of turbulent history and earthquakes. Peel back the layers of this ancient megastructure to reveal its incredible engineering secrets, and the astonishing story of its construction.

NAIONAL GEOGRAPHIC – Tuesday 5 May, 7.30pm

Stuck between a rock and a hard place in the unforgiving deserts of Petra in modern day Jordan, the Nabataean dream of a glorious royal city must have seemed like little more than a very grand mirage. Standing at the crossroads of the ancient Near East, these wealthy traders would rely on human resourcefulness and courageous endeavour to turn engineering on its head and create one of the world’s most awe-inspiring monuments, the Khazneh. Uncover how the Nabataeans held back flash-floods to protect their greatest monument, and how clues hidden deep in the building reveal the great king whose vision created this masterpiece.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC – Tuesday 28 April, 8.30pm

Hidden deep in the impenetrable jungles of Cambodia, the mighty temple of Angkor Wat is a humbling representation of the Hindu universe. A usurper king who seizes the throne by murdering his great uncle, King Suryavarman II seeks to justify his absolute power over the enormous Khmer Empire with a towering monument to the Hindu god Vishnu. Angkor Wat will also serve as the new king’s personal mausoleum, and be his personal heaven for the afterlife. Suryavarman’s vision is one of staggering ambition. The largest of the five huge towers soars 65m into the sky, surrounded by a network of concentric courtyards, causeways and outbuildings, all guarded by an enormous 200 m wide moat. Experts estimate workers must cut and transport at least 300 blocks of sandstone weighing from three to fifteen tonnes every day to ensure the temple is completed in Suryavarman’s lifetime. Completed in a staggering thirty-five years, Angkor Wat remains one of the largest and most awe-inspiring religious monuments ever built.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC – Tuesday 21 April, 8.30pm

England 1666. A great fire engulfs the city of London, devastating everything in its path, including the magnificent Gothic cathedral of Old St Paul’s. Christopher Wren’s dream is to raise a new cathedral from the ashes, the centrepiece of a city set to rival the grandeur of ancient Rome. With a mathematician’s belief in the inherent superiority of Classical architecture, Wren wants to create England’s first Baroque cathedral, crowned by a great dome. But even before the first stone is laid, he faces unprecedented challenges. Through a mixture of defiance, cunning and engineering brilliance, Wren sets out to realise his vision. 36 years later, the Phoenix of St Paul’s rises from the ashes of the Great Fire to become an iconic London landmark.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC – Tuesday 14 April, 8.30pm

Machu Picchu. Built using techniques that surpass modern ones, the temples, altars and residences of Machu Picchu have resisted torrential rains and earth tremors since being abandoned by the Incas.