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Whatever happened in 728 AD? What was so special that someone would make a nodeshell out of it? These thoughts rush through my head as my lightning-quick reflexes rocket me through the Portal of Google, and I enter a new world.

The world in 728

We start auspiciously, for what can be more fortune-inspiring than the completion of several houses of worship? 728 must have been a good year for building these things, for many of them are still, impressively, standing.

World's oldest living minaret

TUNISIA. In Kairouan, a great mosque is finished after four years of construction. The site, which 50 years earlier was empty desert, is ready to become a centre of power in the Muslim world. The minaret, created partly from bits of old Roman and Byzantine buildings, will become the oldest one standing in the world.

Strictly speaking, it's not really a minaret - those tall, thin things are a later invention in Islam. However, this square brick tower is where the muezzin stands to call the worshippers to prayer. The minaret later gets an extra two storeys, properly earning both name and fame.

The Lord has four faces

INDIA. Bappa Rawal, founder of the Merwal dynasty, wins a kingdom and celebrates by building a temple to his god, Eklingji. The 72-room temple, made out of white marble, is located 20 km outside Udaipur. The idol inside is black marble and has four faces. Some say Eklingji is an incarnation of Shiva while others say it represents Adinatji, the first saint of the Jains. Today, the temple is surrounded by a whole town of temples, counting 108 all in all, and is known across India as "that huge Jain temple".

As usual with the beginning of a dynasty, there are many contradictions. 728 AD is not beyond any doubt the year in which Bappa Rawal came to power, or the year in which he consecrated the temple. In fact, we don't even know exactly how he got his kingdom. Some say he won it in battle, others that he received it as dowry. But who cares? The Merwal dynasty is long gone, but the temple is still there.

Stone. Hand. Temple.

JAPAN. In the land of the rising sun, a Buddhist temple is completed in this year. As it is a three-storey pagoda made out of wood, its survival is particularly awe-inspiring. Ishite-ji, which means "stone and hand temple", received its name from a miracle, a boy born with a stone in his fist. It is the 51st temple on the Shikoku pilgrimage route, and the grounds hold several Japanese national treasures. Therefore, the temple is visited by a number of pilgrims and tourists every year.

A castle in the desert

SYRIA. A castle sees the light of day in Palmyra. It can be said to have been dedicated to peace and unity. Caliph Hisham wanted a place for enjoyment and relaxation, and Qasr El-Hir Ash-Sharqi will soon become a resting place for Umayyad nobles who go hunting in the surrounding area before retreating behind its walls. More importantly, the castle will serve as an imposing symbol of the ruling power and a gathering point to the scattered tribes of the area. The castle will be abandoned when the Mongols invade the area in the 12th century. Its ruins are today an attraction to tourists.

An emperor and his palace

CHINA. His power consolidated, Tang emperor Xuan Zong moves his administration to the Xingqing Palace, where he lived earlier as a crown prince. The palace subsequently becomes the feudal centre of China. After the emperor is deposed of in a violent rebellion, the centre of power removes from the palace. The abdicated emperor lives out his days there while the palace slowly decays.

Death of a ruler means growth of a kingdom

SOUTHERN CHINA. P'i-Lo-Ko, or Pilaoko, ruler of a smallish chieftaincy in today's southern China, brings six tribes together to form the kingdom of Nan Chao. Later, under the threat from Tibetan attackers, Pi-Lo-Ko will enter an alliance with the Chinese emperor Ming Li. Pi-Lo-Ko then voluntarily degrades himself from king of Nan Chao to prince of Yunnan, which is still the name of the province.

As a prince with Chinese backing, Pi-Lo-Ko successfully conquers several Tibetan settlements. The province will flourish for five centuries, until it is devastated by the Mongols in 1245. Nan Chao is where legends say the Thai people originated from.

Death of a king means end of an era

SOUTHERN INDIA. King Narasimha Varman II, also known as Rajasimha, of the Pallava kingdom in southern India, dies in this year. He will be remembered for having created several temples in Dravidian style, beautiful buildings that can still be admired. The king also encouraged other arts at his court, and along with the buildings, the works of the Sanskrit scholar Dandin survive to our day.

The king was the last great ruler of the Pallavas, however. The kingdom stopped growing in both culture and power. It experienced defeat before the Chalukyas in 740, and was fully defeated by the Cholas in the 9th century. Afterwards, the Pallavas would be nothing but a local tribal power. It was probably a more peaceful existence, but that doesn't make the history books.

A Pawn is Removed

ARABIA. The poet al-Farazdaq dies in this year (probably). The Arabian poet, whose full name was Tammam ibn Ghalib Abu Firas, is still appreciated in the Muslim world. Al-Farazdaq was an outspoken man who worked at the court of the Ummayad caliphs. He is famous for his religious poetry, and for a long poetic feud with Jarir ibn 'Atiyyah - they both seemed to take great delight in abusing each other in verse form.

In the West, al-Farazdaq is somewhat famous for having made the first literary mention of chess. It was in his will and last poem that he talked about Baidaq, the pawn.

Birth of the Pontifical State

ITALY. While the boot-shaped peninsula is overrun by Germanic tribes, the Catholic church begins to rise rather like a phoenix from the ashes. First, the barbarian Longobards show an un-barbaric side of themselves: Their king Liutprand respects the Pope's wishes not to conquer Rome, and instead offers him the town of Sutri. Pope Gregory II accepts the gift, and Sutri becomes the foundation stone in the mighty building that will become the Papal States.

The Saxon king Ina also shows deference to the Pope by founding a church and hospice in Rome, Santo Spirito di Sassia. The king donated a statue of the Virgin Mary to the church, which is still kept there. Just next to the Saxons' memorial, a later pope will found Rome's oldest hospital, which now houses the city's Historical Health Museum.

The Eastern branch of the Church experiences no great changes in 728, but two patriarchs die and are replaced. Sliwazkha of the Assyrian Church departs after 14 years in service, and Pethyon becomes the next patriarch. In Alexandria, Pope Tadros - Saint Theodorus - of the Coptic church draws his last breath, leaving the See of Saint Mark to Khail I.

The Fighting King

BRITAIN. The Annals of the Four Masters tell us that in this year, Flaithbheartach, the king of Ireland, fought two battles. One occurred in Magh Itha, where many members of the Clan of Eoghain were slain. In the second battle, Flaithbheartach brought a fleet from Dal Riada to Ireland, and in Inis hOinae he and his supporters fought even more enemies, and won: a countless number of the Ulidians, Cinel Eoghain, and Cianachta, were cut off, together with Conchubhar, son of Loichene, and Branchu, son of Bran; and a countless number of them was drowned in the Banna, after their having been defeated. The annals of the many names tell us that in the following year, Flaithbheartach, son of Loingseach, son of Aenghus, abdicates and retires to a monastery, where he will die shortly thereafter.

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