Tag Archives: Roman Empire

On This Day – Hadrian’s Wall in Northumbria

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

Relatively recently, on 30th June 2018 I was at Hadrian’s Wall in Northumbria.

Hadrian’s Wall was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, begun in AD 122 in the reign of the emperor Hadrian and was the northern limit of the Roman Empire immediately north of which were the lands of the northern Ancient Britons, people so frightening that even the normally fearless Romans wouldn’t take them on.

Hadrians Wall

Read the full Story…

Postcard From Pula, Croatia

Pula Croatia 1

I have visited the city of Pula twice, the first time in 2007 and then again in 2011.

Here are some pictures…

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

 

Read The Full Story Here…

Northumberland, Hadrian’s Wall and The Tree of The Year

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For our few days in the caravan at Whitley Bay we didn’t do a great deal that was different from our weekend there the previous year, this time we were entertaining family, but one thing that we did do was to visit Hadrian’s Wall.

Although a lot of people think that the Roman Emperor’s Wall marks the border between England and Scotland it never has and never will because it runs a conveniently short distance between Wallsend near the River Tyne in Newcastle and the Solway Firth in Cumbria. When it came down to military expediency the Romans didn’t concern themselves too much about geography.  The wall is entirely within England and although it is close to Scotland in the west at its eastern end the wall is fully seventy miles south of the River Tweed.

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian’s Wall was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, begun in AD 122 in the reign of the emperor Hadrian and was the northern limit of the Roman Empire, immediately north of which were the lands of the northern Ancient Britons, people so frightening that even the Romans wouldn’t take them on.

It was a very pleasant day for our visit and the sun was shining but I guess this would have been quite a bleak place two thousand years ago.  I imagine a legionnaire waiting for details of his posting and hoping to go Spain or France to the warm inviting beaches of the Mediterranean Sea and  bit of sunshine would have been bitterly disappointed to discover that he was going to the bitter cold north of England to help build a massive stone wall.

Clayton_painting

At a length of almost seventy-five miles long it is the largest remaining construction anywhere in the old Roman world and it was started and finished in just about six years which is an impressive rate of progress compared to how long it takes to get anything built these days.

Seventy-five miles sounds like a lot of wall but by way of comparison the Great Wall of China is over thirteen-thousand miles long, Donald Trump’s Mexico wall is approximately two-thousand miles and even in England Offa’s Dyke running between England and Wales was one hundred and fifty miles long stretching from the River Mersey in the North to the River Severn in the South.  The Maginot Line in France (a sort of underground wall) was nine hundred and fifty miles long but ultimately completely useless because the French didn’t get to finish it and in 1940 the German Panzer divisions simply went around it on their way to Paris.

The Romans were more clued up than the French it seems and the wall goes all the way from coast to coast.  They didn’t leave a gap at one end that the Barbarians could conveniently use to get past.

Hadrians Wall

Hadrian’s Wall was built almost completely of stone with a small castle every mile to act as a watchtower and a large garrison fort every five miles which was manned by a cohort of troops numbering as many as eight-hundred.  A cohort is considered to be the equivalent of a modern battalion.

It is possible to visit quite a lot of these old fortress sites and each one claims to be the biggest and the best but we chose Housesteads (maybe called Vercovicium in Roman times, no one really knows) simply because it is owned by the National Trust and being National Trust members we get to go visit for free, well, not really free but you know what I mean.

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I didn’t really know what to expect of the wall, when I was a boy I wondered why the Northern Barbarians didn’t just get some ladders and climb over it when no one was looking but here at Housesteads I got to appreciate the massive scale of the thing.  The wall was built on a natural hard granite rock escarpment called Whin Sill which rises dramatically and vertically out of the ground.  If this wasn’t enough, on the northern side the wall comprised a ditch, then the wall, a military road an earth rampart and then another ditch with adjoining mounds.  No Welcome Mats and if anyone was going to get over this wall it was going to take a lot more than a ladder let me tell you!

Once its construction was finished, it is thought to have been covered in plaster and then whitewashed, its shining surface reflected the sunlight and was visible for miles around, an extravagant expression of Roman military might and the border of the Empire.

Robin Hood Tree

So we visited the small museum, watched a short video presentation and then wandered around the site and the excavations and then walked the short distance to Sycamore Gap which is a point in the escarpment where glaciers in the Ice Age carved a path through the rock.  The place is significant because here grows a sycamore tree which is said to be the most photographed tree in England and was voted English Tree of the Year in 2016.

Oh, I just love the idea that a country that is England has a Tree of the Year competition.  It is astonishing that with such busy lives and so many distractions people actually take time out to vote in a Tree of the Year poll.  What next? A weed of the year perhaps.

There is more to this tree however.  It is also referred to as the Robin Hood Tree, not because it has anything to do with Sherwood Forest and the Major Oak but because a scene from the movie ‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’ was filmed there, the one where he first comes across the villain Guy of Gisborne.

Major Oak

The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest (above) was voted Tree of the Year in 2014.  The latest Tree of the Year (2017) is the Gilwell Oak in Epping Forest which has connections with the Boy Scouts and the founder of the movement Robert Baden-Powell.  He adopted the towering oak as a symbol for the growth of the scouting movement world-wide.

So, now we have been to Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, The Maginot Line in France, The Great Wall of China, back to England and Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire and Epping Forest in Essex and once we were through with our visit to Housesteads we returned to the caravan in Whitley Bay.

Northumberland Seaside Painting

Click on an image to scroll through the pictures…

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.

segobriga-A

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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 – Ephesus, Turkey

turkey-ephesus

I am not a great one for ruins.  Generally it requires an enormous outlay of imagination and patience for scant reward but the site at Ephesus is so rich that I can walk on 2000 year old flagstones with recognisable buildings on either side…” – Michael Palin – ‘Pole to Pole’

Historically inspired by the visit to the Temple of Apollo at Didyma we were looking forward now to our bus trip to Ephesus and to Heirapolis (Pamukkale) to visit more ancient Hellenistic and Roman sites.

The bus was to collect us at eight o’clock so we woke early and after a modest breakfast made our way down to the appointed rendezvous point outside the apartment and then being the first to be collected began the tedious job of picking up our fellow travellers.

The problem with bus trips is that you cannot choose your travelling companions – it is a game of chance!  I imagined that we would be accompanied on this trip by middle aged historians in crumpled linen suits and battered panama hats, ladies in pencil-pleat skirts, archaeologists carrying trowels and leather bound notebooks and the entire cast of a Merchant Ivory film but at the first pick up we were joined by a Geordie and a noisy Lithuanian family and then horror of horrors by a misbehaving bunch of women who looked as though they should really be going to a market rather than one of the World’s finest archaeological sites.

You can call me a snob if you like but I couldn’t for the life of me understand why they were going on this trip.

It got worse.  It turned out that they were a darts team from Dagenham.  We were on a bus with an octet of middle aged women with inappropriate tattoos and piercings who were loud and embarrassing and behaved like escapees from a medical research centre.   I was horrified – we were going to spend two days with these people and as the journey started I looked out of the window and tried to block it from my mind.  I would rather have been travelling with a bus load of people suffering from an incurable tropical disease!

Ephesus Turkey

It took around about an hour to reach Ephesus and we passed through interesting countryside of agriculture, forests, villages, medieval castles and ancient temples but mostly through acres and acres of cotton fields which started at the side of the road and disappeared towards the horizon on all sides.  There was an awful lot of cotton out there and it turns out that Turkey is actually one of top world producers even though the product is of inferior quality to that of Egypt for example.

Eventually we arrived at Ephesus and ran the wallet robbing gauntlet of the hawkers and the unofficial guide book sellers and after a short break made our way inside the excavation site. It was busy of course but I expected that because this is one of the most visited tourist attraction sites in all of Turkey and we competed with bus tours and cruise ship day trippers from Kusadasi as we elbowed our way through the entrance and into the beginning of the tour.

Temple of Diana at Ephesus

We started at the top of the excavations and over the next two hours made our way down the ancient streets to the lowest point of the city which in previous times was the harbour which was difficult to imagine today because Ephesus is now a considerable distance from the shore of the Mediterranean.

We passed through hundreds of years of history, Greek theatres, Roman baths, ancient houses and even the public latrines and made slow progress towards the finest building on the whole site, the library of Celsus, which archaeologists have discovered doubled up bizarrely as a brothel!

TURKEY - Ephesus - The Library of Celsus

Ephesus was once one of the most important cities in Asia Minor, a natural trading crossroads between east and west and for a while enjoyed a status second only to Rome.  There is a lot of reconstruction of course but I am not averse to a bit of sympathetic reconstruction because without it it is difficult to imagine what it might have looked like.

After considering the issue I think I agree with Henry Miller who (writing about Knossos on the island of Crete) wrote in the ‘Colossus of Rhodes“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…”

The guided tour through Ephesus was concluded by a visit to the Greek Theatre, which was later used as a Roman gladiator fighting venue and then we were out of the southern gate and heading back to the bus.  I could have spent longer at the site but our itinerary was determined by the restrictions of the tour bus timetable and it whisked us off now for an instantly forgettable lunch, which would have been alright in an emergency but not out of choice, at a tourist dining treadmill.

Temple of Apollo Didyma

Lunch over we now drove to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, although you would have to have a very good imagination to be able to understand how wonderful it was but could do no better than rely on the description by Antipater of Sidon, a Greek poet of the 2nd century BC:

“I have gazed on the walls of impregnable Babylon and on the Zeus by the banks of the Alpheus, I have seen the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Helios, the lofty pyramids, and the gigantic tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, the others were placed in the shade, for the sun himself has never looked upon its equal outside Olympus”

So it must have looked quite magnificent I imagine but except for one solitary column there is nothing there today and it turns out that if you want to see more, guess where you have to go, yes, the British Museum.  This was a staggering disappointment, it really needed some Arthur Miller approved reconstruction and interpretation and I for one was glad when it was all over and we were back on the bus and we could continue the drive to Pamukkale about three hours away to the east.

Ephesus Turkey

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Related Posts:

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

Verona

The Greek and Roman Ruins at Empuria, Catalonia

The Palace of Knossos in Crete

Athens and Ancient Greece

The Acropolis Museum in Athens

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Travels in Spain – The Aqueduct, Cathedral and Alcázar of Segovia

Segovia

“Here were churches, castles, and medieval walls standing sharp in the evening light, but all dwarfed by that extraordinary phenomenon of masonry, the Roman aqueduct, which overshadowed the whole…’The Aqueduct’, said the farmer, pointing with his whip, in case by chance I had failed to notice it.” Laurie Lee

The approach to Segovia was truly wonderful and still some way out we could see a golden city, a thousand metres above sea level, on a convenient rocky outcrop rising majestically from the plain with a spectacular snow-capped mountain backdrop and the Cathedral and the Alcázar reaching dramatically into the blue sky.

I was determined not to repeat the parking difficulties of Ávila but this plan went spectacularly wrong after I drove through the stone gates into the old city and tried to find a way to the Plaza Mayor.  Guessing a route is never a great idea! We made a couple of circuits stopping here and there to consult an inadequate map and then by chance arrived at the main square where our path was blocked by one of those steel retractable bollards and my dramatic entrance and squeal of brakes raised the eyebrows of some nearby pedestrians.

Some men in a bar directed me to another entrance and this had a bollard in the down position and an intercom to request permission to enter.  There was no answer and I was nervous about driving across it in case it raised up without warning and the CCTV cameras would catch the moment and I would forever be shown on television repeats of the Spanish equivalent of ‘Caught on Camera’. 

I could sense that a bus driver behind was getting impatient so I had to go and I revved the engine and popped the clutch, spun the wheels and dashed across as quickly as I could.  Nothing happened – the bollard stayed down of course.  The bus driver smirked.

P3230654

We were staying at the Sercotel Infanta Isabel and we had one of the best rooms on the second floor with a perfect view of the Plaza Mayor lined with cafés and bars and with the Cathedral directly opposite looking like an elaborate birthday cake.

As it went dark it was nice to sit and watch the square melting away from afternoon into evening with plenty of sociable activity.  There were lots of Segovians walking out in families and we joined them in the busy streets and looked for somewhere to eat.  We walked further than planned and ended up at the Aqueduct, which we were really saving until tomorrow so finding ourselves at the bottom of the town we walked back and by my choice found a little restaurant that turned out to be quite disappointing.

After that I had the restaurant selection responsibility removed from my list of duties but as I had failed quite badly tonight I didn’t argue about that at all.

After breakfast the next day we walked out into the sociable main square and followed a street adjacent to the Cathedral and walked in the direction of the Alcázar, which, I am told is the most visited castle in Spain.

The route took us through narrow streets, past craft shops and churches and eventually brought us out at the north of the city on the top of a rocky outcrop that was the location of the fortress that was begun in the twelfth century and was subsequently occupied by a succession of Castilian monarchs from Alfonso X to Phillip II and Charles III.

Segovia and the Spanish tourist board would have us believe that the Alcázar was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland and Disney World but in truth there is no real evidence for this.

We purchased tickets to visit the Alcázar and paid a little extra to climb to the top of the Torre de Juan II (total price €6 each).  After visiting the state rooms and the armouries we ended our visit with a climb of three hundred and twenty steps up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower where we were rewarded for our efforts with fabulous views over the city and the surrounding countryside.

It had taken most of the morning to visit the Alcázar and after we were finished we walked back to the Plaza Mayor for a drink and tapas and selected a bar with tables in the sun and sat and enjoyed watching the residents of Segovia as they went about their business of the day in probably the same way that they have for a thousand years.  A walk around the square, a sit down, a chat, a walk around the square, a sit down, a chat and so on and so on.

Segovia Aqueduct

If the Alcázar isn’t enough for one city the Aqueduct is the most recognised and famous historical symbol of Segovia. It was built at the end of first to early second century AD by the Romans during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula to bring water from the Río Frío about eighteen kilometres away and requiring an elevated section in its final kilometre from the Sierra de Guadarrama to the walls of the old town.

This is supported by an engineering achievement of one hundred and sixty-six arches and one hundred and twenty pillars constructed on two levels. It is twenty eight metres high and constructed with over twenty thousand large, rough-hewn granite blocks, which are joined without mortar or clamps and have remained in place for two thousand years.

We liked the Aqueduct and looked all round it from every possible angle, it is one of those structures that make you appreciate just how brilliant the Romans were.  I never tire of visiting these ancient structures, I feel privileged to able to enjoy them and the sense of wonderment is never reduced no matter how many I see.

There was only one more thing to do in Segovia so after the refreshment break we went to the Cathedral to finish off the day.  The building was completed in 1577 and is regarded as the World’s last great Gothic Cathedral.  We paid the €3 and then entered what I suggest is quite possibly the coldest cathedral in Spain and probably all of Europe.

We were inappropriately dressed for sub-zero temperatures and although the cathedral was well worth the admission charge it was way too cold to enjoy it so we sprinted around the naves and the chapels with rather indecent haste and were glad to come about again into the sunshine with only seconds to go before hypothermia set in.

Segovia Spain

Turkey, Excursion to Ephesus

Ephesus Turkey

I am not a great one for ruins.  Generally it requires an enormous outlay of imagination and patience for scant reward but the site at Ephesus is so rich that I can walk on 2000 year old flagstones with recognisable buildings on either side…” – Michael Palin – ‘Pole to Pole’

Historically inspired by the visit to the Temple of Apollo at Didyma we were looking forward now to our bus trip to Ephesus and to Heirapolis (Pamukkale) to visit more ancient Hellenistic and Roman sites.

The bus was to collect us at eight o’clock so we woke early and after a small breakfast made our way down to the appointed rendezvous point outside the apartment and then being the first to be collected began the tedious job of picking up our fellow travellers.

The problem with bus trips is that you cannot choose your travelling companions – it is a game of chance!  I imagined that we would be accompanied on this trip by middle aged historians in crumpled linen suits and battered panama hats, archaeologists carrying trowels and leather bound notebooks and the entire cast of a Merchant Ivory film but at the first pick up we were joined by a Geordie and noisy Lithuanian family and then horror of horrors by a noisy bunch of women who looked as though they should really be going to a market rather than one of the World’s finest archaeological sites.  You can call me a snob if you like but I couldn’t for the life of me understand why they were going on this trip.

It got worse.  It turned out that they were a darts team from Dagenham.  We were on a bus with an octet of middle aged women with inappropriate tattoos and piercings who were loud and embarrassing and behaved like escapees from a medical research centre.   I was horrified – we were going to spend two days with these people and as the journey started I looked out of the window and tried to block it from my mind.  I would rather have been travelling with a bus load of people suffering from an incurable tropical disease!

It took around about an hour to reach Ephesus and we passed through interesting countryside of agriculture, forests, villages, medieval castles and ancient temples but mostly through acres and acres of cotton fields which started at the side of the road and disappeared towards the horizon on all sides.  There was an awful lot of cotton out there and it turns out that Turkey is actually one of top world producers even though the product is of inferior quality to that of Egypt for example.

Eventually we arrived at Ephesus and ran the wallet robbing gauntlet of the hawkers and the unofficial guide book sellers and after a short break made our way inside the excavation site. It was busy of course but I expected that because this is one of the most visited tourist attraction sites in all of Turkey and we competed with bus tours and cruise ship day trippers from Kusadasi as we elbowed our way through the entrance and into the beginning of the tour.

Temple of Diana at Ephesus

We started at the top of the excavations and over the next two hours made our way down the ancient streets to the lowest point of the city which in ancient times was the harbour which was difficult to imagine today because Ephesus is now a considerable distance from the shore of the Mediterranean.

We passed through hundreds of years of history, Greek theatres, Roman baths, ancient houses and even the public latrines and made slow progress towards the finest building on the whole site, the library of Celsus, which archaeologists have discovered doubled up bizarrely as a brothel!

Ephesus was once one of the most important cities in Asia Minor, a natural trading crossroads between east and west and for a while enjoyed a status second only to Rome.  There is a lot of reconstruction of course but I am not averse to a bit of sympathetic reconstruction because without it it is difficult to imagine what it might have looked like.

After considering the issue I think I agree with Henry Miller who (writing about Knossos on the island of Crete) wrote in the ‘Colossus of Rhodes“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…”

The guided tour through Ephesus was concluded by a visit to the Greek Theatre, which was later used as a Roman gladiator fighting venue and then we were out of the southern gate and heading back to the bus.  I could have spent longer at the site but our itinerary was determined by the restrictions of the tour bus timetable and it whisked us off now for an instantly forgettable lunch, which would have been alright in an emergency but not out of choice, at a tourist dining treadmill.  Personally I would have preferred a packet of potato crisps!

Lunch over we now drove to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, although you would have to have a very good imagination to be able to understand how wonderful it was but could do no better than rely on the description by Antipater of Sidon, a Greek poet of the 2nd century BC:

“I have gazed on the walls of impregnable Babylon and on the Zeus by the banks of the Alpheus, I have seen the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Helios, the lofty pyramids, and the gigantic tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, the others were placed in the shade, for the sun himself has never looked upon its equal outside Olympus”

So it must have looked quite magnificent I imagine but except for one solitary column there is nothing there today and it turns out that if you want to see more, guess where you have to go, yes, the British Museum.  This was a staggering disappointment, it really needed some Arthur Miller approved reconstruction and interpretation and I for one was glad when it was all over and we were back on the bus and we could continue the drive to Pamukkale about three hours away to the east.

Ephesus Turkey

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Related Posts:

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

Verona

The Greek and Roman Ruins at Empuria, Catalonia

The Palace of Knossos in Crete

Athens and Ancient Greece

The Acropolis Museum in Athens

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Containers

Today we were planning to visit Split but as we were preparing to catch the ten o’clock bus the clouds began their relentless march inland and the heavens opened again and we watched as first Brač and then Split itself slipped from view under a thick grey shroud.

When it had slowed from a downpour to a drizzle I was sent to the shop down the road to get supplies in case we were forced to spend the day in the room, which at that point seemed like a distinct possibility.  At the shop I couldn’t remember which beer I preferred, was it Karlovačko, Ožujsko or Laško so I bought one of each so that I could try them all just to be sure.

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Split-Second Story

In 2009 I visited the Croatian City of Split for the second time…

Read the full story

Travels in Spain – Sigüenza, The Reconquista and The Plaza Mayor

Siguenza Central Spain

We had charming first-floor rooms with stone walls and wooden ceiling beams, terracotta floor tiles, small window terraces with iron balcony rails and splendid views over the town.  We had requested this particular room because we had stayed in it before and we liked the Brompi stove in the corner and as we moved in it was spitting fuel pellets and spewing flame even though this was absolutely not necessary as the temperature outside had by now nudged above 25°

Sigüenza is only a small town so we didn’t want to rush out and see it all straight away because we had plans to do that the next morning so instead we left the hotel and strolled casually to the centre past the imposing cathedral which seems surprisingly large for a small town but is a reminder that Sigüenza once enjoyed a great deal more importance and status than it does today.

Two thousand years ago the Romans passed this way and built a fort on the highest point of the place they called Segontia.  It was built principally as a staging post on the important Roman road that ran from Mérida (Emerita Augusta) to Zaragoza (Caesar Augusta) making it the most important city between Toledo (Toletum) and Zaragoza and it was during the time of the Romans sometime in the fourth century that the city was declared a Bishopric capital which made it very important indeed.

After the withdrawal of the Legions the Roman city was systematically destroyed over the years by barbarian invaders from the north but was later re-established and rebuilt by the more civilised and enlightened Visigoths. In Siguenza as elsewhere they consolidated Catholicism and re-established the Bishopric, which provided stability and security for two centuries as the town re-established itself as one of the most important cities of central Spain.

During the early eighth century the Moors swept north out of Africa and conquered large areas of land in the peninsular and they reached as far as Sigüenza in the year 713 as the Muslims expanded from their established power base in Toledo.  After four hundred years of greatness, influence and peace the Moors didn’t consider the place to be quite so important as the Romans and the Visigoths and the city was gradually reduced in status to no more than a minor frontier town and fortress that soldiers would probably have dreaded getting a posting to.

During the years of the Muslim occupation the whole area became a military buffer zone ruled and controlled by Muslim military detachments in the castles of Atienza, Guadalajara, Castejón (now Jadraque), Hita, Sigüenza and Medinaceli.  The Moors had little use for this harsh land and the principal objective of occupation was to protect the great Muslim cities of Toledo and Cordoba from any threat of counter invasion from the north.

This was an occupation that lasted for almost four hundred years until the great wars of the Reconquista.

El Cid

The seven hundred year period between 722 and 1492 is called the Reconquest and the Spanish have organised their medieval history around the drama of this glorious event which over time has become a cherished feature of the self-image of the Spanish people and it has become embellished into a sort of organised Catholic national crusade to remove the Muslims from Iberia.

Interestingly the Muslim population of Spain is currently experiencing something of a resurgence.  In 1990 there were one hundred thousand Muslims in Spain but now there are over a million and many of the Moriscos of North Africa who were expelled in the sixteenth century after the reconquest are supporting a claim, based on heritage and blood-line, to be able to return.

Being a frontier town Sigüenza saw fierce fighting between Christians and Moors and during the campaigns of Alfonso VI (King of Leon and Castile) was recovered by the northern powers during their southerly advance as they conquered cities and towns of Castejón, Hita, Horche and Uceda  along the valley of the Rio Henares until they reached Guadalajara which legend says was besieged and recovered by  Alvar Fáñez de Minaya, one of the major heroes of the Reconquista.

Fully returned to Christianity in 1090 the town recovered its importance, a new castle was built as a fortress palace of the bishop of Sigüenza and the town played an influential part in the power struggles of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries retaining power and control right up to the end of the fifteenth century until the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the Catholic Monarchs, changed the political balance of power in Spain forever, the influence of the Bishops both here and in Toledo was dismantled and Sigüenza began another slow journey towards virtual obscurity.

It was difficult to imagine this today as we walked slowly around the walls of the Cathedral, pock-marked by gunfire during the Spanish Civil War, and made our inevitable way towards the Plaza Mayor and selected a table and chairs that were placed strategically in the sunshine and when the waiter arrived we ordered some beer and simply sat and soaked up the atmosphere.

The Plaza Mayor is the most important part of a Spanish town and I really cannot think of an equivalent in the United Kingdom where we have public squares of course but use them in an entirely different way.

This is the place where people meet, relax and enjoy themselves; it is generally flanked with shops and restaurants and usually has the town hall and the main church somewhere close by.  When we arrive somewhere new it is usually the first place we make for because sitting with a drink and complimentary tapas it is the best place to be to get a feeling for the town and its people and so just to make sure that could accurately capture that mood we had a second beer in the sunshine before leaving.

In the evening we returned to the town to the restaurant Le Meson which we had used before and were confident that there would be something on the menu that Sue and Christine would be able to enjoy.  The restaurant was closed but the staff cleared a table for us in the bar area and the first day ended with a dining success with food acceptable to everyone and a couple of juicy glasses of Rioja and by the end of the evening I was certain that Sigüenza was quickly becoming one of my favourite places in Spain and in the small town category  beginning to edge above Chinchon, Almagro and Belmonte.

Plaza Mayor Siguenza Spain