Tag Archives: Archaeology

Postcard From The USA – Mesa Verde National Park

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Mesa Verde National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features numerous ruins of homes and villages built by the ancient Pueblo people. It is best known for several spectacular cliff dwellings which are structures built within caves and under outcroppings in cliffs, including the Cliff Palace, which is thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America.

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Entrance Tickets – The Fortress of Kos

Fortress of Kos

I was finding it all quite different from my first visit to Kos so we went first to the castle of the Knights of St John because I felt sure that a seven hundred year old medieval castle couldn’t have changed so very much in thirty years. The castle was once surrounded by a moat with one entrance over a stone bridge and it was over this bridge that we entered the grey castle walls with its stout towers and impregnable defences and went inside to the ruins of this once great defensive bastion.

Read the full story…

Kos Fortress Visitor Leaflet

Travels in Spain, The Roman City of Segóbriga

Segobriga Spain 01

“I saw the great gold plains, the arid and mystical distances, where the sun rose up like a butcher each morning and left curtains of blood each night.”  Laurie Lee – ‘As I walked out one Sunny Morning

After seeing all that there was to see in the quiet town of Belmonte, we needed something to do for the afternoon so after consulting the guide book and the information available at the hotel reception we decided to drive to the Roman ruins at Segóbriga about thirty miles away.

I wasn’t especially optimistic that there would be a great deal to see there so I drove deliberately slowly and stopped often for photo opportunities of the fields with their attractive contours and delightful pastel hues.  Along the way we looked for somewhere to eat and passed through a couple of villages but as it turned out there was little chance of food and drink because we concluded that the people that lived there probably think that Belmonte is exciting.

Along the way we left the road to follow a track to the Castle of Almenara but it was in a state of extreme disrepair, awaiting restoration and closed to visitors so we returned to the road and carried on.  Within a few minutes we spotted the signs to Segóbriga and as we turned into the historic site we were immediately astonished by the size of the place because it turned out that this is the most important Roman archaeological site in all of Central Spain.

Amazing! And I had never even heard of it.

Segobriga x 9

There was a café on site where we had an overpriced bocadillo and a small beer before moving on to the entrance where a Spanish lady seemed genuinely pleased to see visitors from England in early March and gave us some precise and clear instructions to make sure we enjoyed our visit to the full.  First of all there was a little film about the Romans in Spain and then a considerable walk to get to the main site and the excavations.

Segóbriga was a textbook designed Roman city – there was a theatre, a five thousand seat amphitheatre, a chariot racetrack  a basilica, a temple, public baths, a cistern and a complex system of sewers, everything in fact that you would expect to find in an important city of Rome.

It was wonderful to walk around the old streets, wander through the corridors of the amphitheatre, sit in the seats of the theatre and imagine that in this very place there were gladiators in its arena, actors in its theatre, emperor worshippers in the temples, Roman Legionnaires swaggering through the streets, magistrates in magnificent purple togas parading around importantly, and slaves of course in rags to do all of the dirty work.

Segobriga x 3

Segóbriga was a mining town and the mines brought great wealth and made some of the local families very rich but they weren’t mining for precious metals or for fuel but for a very specialised commodity.  What they wanted was plaster, or rather gypsum, which in its crystal state (selenite) is transparent and these rocks could be split into fine sheets to make windows in an age before the Romans had begun to manufacture and use glass.

In ancient Rome buildings had wind eyes, which were square or rectangular holes in walls to let in light and air but without glass panes.  To let in the light had the disadvantage of letting in the weather as well so probably most of the time people kept those windows blocked with a curtain or a shutter.  The idea to use the sheets of crystal gypsum for window panes came around the turn of the millennium when an architect imported some from Spain and used them as skylights to light the public baths in Rome. This caught on quickly and the rich started doing the same for their houses and villas and in time it was used as wind eye glass and the very best quality gypsum came from right here in Segóbriga.

Because we had to wait so long for uncooperative people to move so that we could take the perfect uncluttered photographs it took almost three hours to explore the site and then to visit the museum and it was a long walk round so what had started out as a planned easy day had turned out instead to be very full and very tiring.

We drove back to Belmonte in the early evening and after a rest and a glass of wine did the same things as the previous night and went to the hotel down the street, where the friendly barman insisted on showing us the downstairs cellar bar and invited us back later and we thanked him for that but what we didn’t tell him was that it didn’t open until way past our bed time, and then we ate again in the hotel restaurant and had a third good traditional style Spanish evening meal.

This was our last night in Belmonte and as we packed our bags so that we could make an early start in the morning we reflected on what had been three excellent days in Castilla-La Mancha and we looked forward to a short drive in the morning to the town of Almagro.

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More posts about Roman Ruins:

Spartacus the Gladiator

Rome

The Roman City of Pompeii

The Roman City of Herculaneum

The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

The Aqueduct of Segovia

The Roman Buildings at Mérida

Diocletian’s Palace at Split

The Roman Buildings at Arles

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Entrance Tickets – The Fortress of Kos

Fortress of Kos

I was finding it all quite different from my first visit to Kos so we went first to the castle of the Knights of St John because I felt sure that a seven hundred year old medieval castle couldn’t have changed so very much in thirty years. The castle was once surrounded by a moat with one entrance over a stone bridge and it was over this bridge that we entered the grey castle walls with its stout towers and impregnable defences and went inside to the ruins of this once great defensive bastion.

Read the full story…

Kos Fortress Visitor Leaflet

Elgin Marbles Quiz Answers

Disputed Museum Exhibits

Just to close things off:

One correct answer…

1. Winged Victory, in possession of the French and claimed by the Greeks
2. Rosetta Sonte, in possession of the British and claimed by the Egyptians
3. Samsat Stele, in possession of the British and claimed by the Turks
4. Bust of Nefertiti, in possession of the Germans and claimed by the Egyptians
5. Venus de Milo, in posession of the French and claimed by the Germans

It is a good site, pop across and have a look…

One final piece of trivia; the Samsat Stele is claimed by Turkey, the hole in the middle of it is because sometime in the past someone made alterations to use it as a vine press.  No wonder the British Museum thinks they should continue to look after it!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone But Not Forgotten – The Elgin Marbles (1) and a Quiz

 Parthenon Acropolis Athens Greece

‘Dull is the eye that will not weep to see                                                                             Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed                                                     By British hands, which it had best behoved                                                                      To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.                                                                     Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,                                                       And once again thy hapless bosom gored,                                                                         And snatch’d thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!‘                            Lord Byron

The Elgin Marbles debate/controversy reared its ugly head again when it was reported that the British Museum is going to loan a piece to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg in Russia.  Howls of anguish and cries of foul have broken out in Athens who say this action is the equivalent of poking  the Greeks in the eye with a very sharp stick!

In 1817 the British Museum took possession of the Elgin Marbles but the Greeks have built a museum especially for them.  Unlike any other museum in the world the Acropolis Museum in Athens is one has been designed to exhibit something it does not own and cannot yet exhibit but hopes that it will be the catalyst for the permanent return of the disputed artefacts.  The top floor is designed to provide a full 360º panoramic of the building and how the sculptures would have looked when they were originally commissioned and sculptured in the fifth century BC.

The gloves are off and the battle is now on between the new state-of-the-art Acropolis Museum and the more traditional British Museum for the right to exhibit them.

The Museum was originally planned to be completed in 2004 to accompany the return of the Olympic Games to their spiritual Athenian home but construction setbacks and various outbreaks of controversy along the way have meant that it did not finally open to the expectant public until June 2009.

After four years of visiting Athens on the way to the Greek islands I finally managed to see the new Acropolis Museum in September 2009.  I purchased tickets on line a week or so before for just €1 (prices rose to €5 in 2010, so it was a bargain) and arrived at my allotted time of ten o’clock.  I had feared that the place would be crowded and uncomfortable but this was not the case at all and without the lines of visitors that I had anticipated it was easy to cruise effortlessly past the ticket desks and into the museum.

I had a gigantic sense of anticipation because I have visited the old inadequate museum at the top of the Acropolis a couple of times before in 2000 and 2006 and I have been genuinely looking forward to seeing this magnificent replacement.  I have to say that anticipation was mixed with trepidation because having followed the saga of the open wound debate about the Elgin Marbles (or the Parthenon Sculptures, depending on your point of view) I genuinely wondered how I was going to feel.

The British Museum argues that London is a better place to make them available to the public because with 6.7 million visitors in 2013 it is the second most visited museum in the World after the Louvre in Paris.  This is a powerful argument and one they can probably rely on for many years to come because in the same year the Acropolis Museum attracted only 1.4 million visitors which puts it way down the most visited list at about sixtieth.

Outside the museum and also in the cavernous entrance hall there are glass floors with sub-level views of the excavations that were discovered during the construction of the building and contributed to the delays and then there is a steady incline through a timeline of seven centuries of  ancient history and impressive well set out displays along a generously wide gallery that provides sufficient space for everyone to stop and enjoy the exhibits without feeling hurried or under pressure to rush.

Moving on to the second floor there are two galleries that I have to say I did not find so well set out and involved a rambling walk through a succession of exhibits that was not helped by the absence of a simple floor plan to help guide the visitor through and having finished with the second floor I then had to double back to get to the third and the Parthenon Gallery having skilfully avoided the café terrace and the inevitable shop on the way.

Parthenon Sculptures

After an hour passing through centuries of ancient Greece I finally arrived at the top floor Gallery, which is designed to eventually hold and display all of the Parthenon sculptures (or the Elgin Marbles, depending on your point of view) but for the time being has only about half of the originals and the rest are plaster casts made from the remaining treasures currently remaining in London.

It is truly impressive and with the Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon looming up dramatically outside I can only explain it rather inadequately as a very memorable experience.

Today, not only the Greek Government but most of the Greek people as well would rather like the sculptures back but have consistently turned down a British Museum offer to give the Marbles to the Acropolis Museum on a loan basis for just three months on a similar basis as the arrangement with the Hermitage.

The Culture Minister explained that: “The Government, as any other Greek Government would have done in its place, is obliged to turn down the offer.  This is because accepting it would legalise the snatching of the Marbles and the monument’s carving-up two hundred years ago.”

After due consideration I am inclined to agree with this and believe that the place for the sculptures are in Athens and not London but this is a very complex debate for archaeological scholars to resolve that cannot be rushed for the sake of wounded national pride and a few more years sorting it out is hardly going to matter.

To be continued…

Quiz Time:

Similar Elgin Marbles disputes over ownership of museum exhibits…

Disputed Museum Exhibits

In each case, What are they, Where are they and Who wants them back?

Have a go, it’s just a bit of armless fun!

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Renewal

Restoration and Renewal

I used to think that reinterpretation and restoration was rather a shame but am now persuaded by Henry Miller who wrote of the the reconstruction and interpretation of the Minoan Palace at Knossos on Crete:

“There has been much controversy about the aesthetics of Sir Arthur Evans’s work of restoration.  I find myself unable to come to any conclusion about it; I accepted it as a fact.  However Knossos may have looked in the past, however it may look in the future, this one which Evans has created is the only one I shall ever know.  I am grateful to him for what he did…” 

Substitute Italians for Arthur Evans and he could easily have been talking about the Acropolis at Lindos.

Read the full story…

Kos, Cruise Ships and Ancient Archaeological Sites

Costa Atlantica Cruise Ship at Kos Harbour Greece

Our plan today was to do some sightseeing in the city and so after a self prepared authentic  Greek breakfast on the balcony of the room we left the Hotel Santa Marina and walked again to the seafront and the road into the city.

Unfortunately today a massive cruise ship was moored up, ugly, monstrous and completely incongruous, dwarfing the city and the castle and spoiling the view of the harbour and the sea front, an eleven-deck eyesore soaring above the harbour and resembling a block of 1970s council flats, no style or charm, just a floating unattractive leviathan.

These loathsome giants spoil everywhere they visit; Santorini has become a crowded  nightmare, Dubrovnik is overwhelmed, Venice is sinking under the weight of tens of thousands of people.  I hate these cruise ships not least because I immediately knew that it would unleash hoards of cruisers swarming from the ship for a quick culture break in between continuous gluttony at the all day, all you can eat on board troughs.

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A Life in Ruins – Diocletian’s Palace, Split

After we arrived we walked along the recently improved pedestrian area next to the harbour with its rows of bars and cafes and immaculate gardens and lawns and then we retraced our steps from the previous visit and went back into Diocletian’s Palace.

Diocletian became Emperor or Rome in 284AD and set out to reorganise the huge Empire that had become unwieldy difficult to control.  His solution was to split the Empire in two between east and west to make it more manageable and after governing for twenty years he became the first Emperor to resign the position and he built the massive palace for his retirement after abdicating in 305 AD.  When it was built one of its four gates led directly to a quay side but the new promenade has separated the Palace from the sea and the entrance is now through the Palace basement and past a row of market stall vendors.

The palace was built as a massive structure, much like a Roman military fortress with walls two hundred metres long and twenty metres high, enclosing an area of thirty-eight thousand Square metres and it is one of the best preserved Roman palaces in existence because after the fall of the Romans it effectively became the city of Spalatum which eventually became Split and today it continues to host the old town even though there is some very recent unfortunate and rather inappropriate construction inside.

We sat for a while in the sunshine in the People’s Square just outside the Palace gates and planned the remainder of the day.  After a final visit to the Palace for blue sky photographs we left the city and returned to the car stopping at a Konzum supermartket on the way for supplies.

We were staying at the Pink Inn again tonight and Iveska seemed pleased to see us.  Her rooms were immaculately clean and prepared with an obsessive fussiness but this was a charming place and one that I would be most happy to return to again.  All around there were big clouds but fortunately the Pink Inn was under a puddle of blue sky just perfect for sitting on the balcony and enjoying the views of the sea and the endless procession of boats and ships coming and going from the busy port of Split just a few kilometres away.

As the sun started to slide away the temperature began to drop so this was an opportunity for a final walk along the beach and the rocks and a more thorough inspection of the Hotel Meridian.  This was a seriously posh hotel and we drew a few looks of disapproval as we wandered around the lobbies and bars in our best island hopping grunge clothing.  I knew that we had gone too far when we arrived at the Casino with an entrance guarded by a doorman in an expensive suit and a glamorous hostess in a cocktail dress.  I casually enquired about opening hours and when I had got the answer we moved off quickly and returned to the beach.   I’m afraid that I’m not really all that impressed by five star hotels, they always seem so impersonal and pretentious and I was glad to get back to the charming little room at the Pink Inn.

Later we returned to the fish restaurant across the road that was busier tonight but there wasn’t a wedding in the function room to entertain us.  After another fine and inexpensive fish meal, the sixth in six nights, we returned to the balcony at the room and watched an impressive light show over the island of Brač courtesy of a massive electrical storm and we were pleased that we weren’t on the islands tonight.

A Life in Ruins – Rome, Emperors and Gladiators

Colosseum Rome

There are lots of things that I would like to see and I imagine the thrill of seeing the Pyramids, The Kremlin or the Great Wall of China for example would be heart stopping moments but when viewed for the first time the Colosseum ranks with these and others as a genuine draw dropping, knee buckling event.  I can remember that experience in 1976 but even now, on my fourth visit to Rome, it still produced a moment of wonderment and awe as we emerged from the narrow streets into the Piazza del Colosseo.

Two thousand years previously this had been the largest amphitheatre ever built in the Roman Empire and was capable of seating sixty-thousand spectators (some estimates say eighty thousand but most agree that this is unlikely) at gladiatorial combat events.  I am always stunned by the size and magnificence of the place and even though there are substantial parts of it now missing I find the scale of the place simply breathtaking.  We were going to make this our first place to visit and we were disappointed to see a long slow moving queue but we were quickly picked out as potential easy pickings by a girl selling guided tours which promised a speedy entrance and the services of an expert guide so we agreed to this and paid up. Suckers!

We had to wait now to be assigned a tour leader and it was just our luck to get a head-case!  Silvio was a theatrical extrovert with a dramatic style and with arms flailing and occasionally getting over excited and spitting into his beard he gave us an extravagant introduction to the construction of the magnificent building and the gladiatorial combats and the shows that were staged inside.  This was all really helpful background information but it did seem to drag on longer than expected and all around people began to get fidgety as individual patience tanks one by one began to run dry.

Finally it was time to push through the lines of waiting people  and within just a few minutes we were inside the underground passages below the auditorium where we followed the designated route up a flight of steps where it was interesting to imagine that these had been used previously by thousands of Romans attending the games and we now were following in their footsteps.  We emerged into the interior of the amphitheatre where once there were seats, now long since pillaged and removed for recycling in medieval building projects, and into the bright sunshine where we circumnavigated the arena stopping frequently to admire the views and to imagine what it might have been like to be at this very place two-thousand years ago or so in a noisy and unruly crowd being entertained by bloodthirsty and barbaric games.

Inside the Colosseum it is huge but there isn’t really a lot to see, no statues, no paintings, no exhibits, just an elliptical arena surrounded by ancient brick and concrete, so once a full circuit has been completed, although it feels as though you should stay longer, there is not a lot to hang around for.  This doesn’t mean that the visit experience is in any way disappointing or less wonderful just that it seems to me that there are two types of sightseeing, the first is where we go to admire the statues, the paintings and the exhibits and the second where the experience is simply about being there, in a place that has played such a pivotal role in world history and the development of civilisation and for me the Colosseum is one of the latter.

The day was getting hotter now and it was easy to understand why inside the arena the Roman crowds were protected by giant shades made of Egyptian cotton or why even today the most expensive seats at a bullfight are those in the shade and protected from the sun. We left the amphitheatre and bought some expensive food from a street stall and competed with everyone else to find some shade while we waited for Silvio to return at two o’clock to take us on the second part of the tour up to the Palatine Hill and into the Roman Forum.

Colosseum Rome

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Related Articles:

Spartacus the Gladiator

Rome

The Roman City of Pompeii

The Roman City of Herculaneum

The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

The Aqueduct of Segovia

The Roman Buildings at Mérida

The Roman Ruins at Segóbriga

Diocletian’s Palace at Split

The Roman Buildings at Arles

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