London’s Mysterious Mithraic Temple

Today we have a guest blogger, Alexandra Cipriani Pettitt, who is well-known and highly regarded as a Trip Advisor reviewer. So far Alexandra has written sixty seven T. A. reviews which have earned her the awards of “Attraction Expert Level 14” and almost 7,000 points!

All Alexandra’s reviews are of particular interest, especially for visitors to London, and she writes with style and knowledge. This is her latest review on a particularly unusual London attraction which she visited in 2018.

Alexandra has given us plenty more information about Mithraism of which I was unaware when I wrote on the London Mithraic temple in my post addressed to an Italian audience at https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2017/12/23/il-dio-mitra-a-londra/

PS You may also know Alexandra as my wife!

Mithraic Mysteries was a religion on the god Mithras.

A rival of early Christianity Mithraism was subsequently suppressed and often Mithraic Temples are found below church crypts such as Santa Prisca Rome.

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It was mainly an orally transmitted cult although there are some written references to the practices in early literature. Worshippers of Mithras were mainly military, minor merchants, customs officials and bureaucratic officials; thus it was mainly a  male cult but some women, it seems, were involved with Mithraic groups.

One can admire a most endearing copy of the sculptural head of Mithras wearing a Phrygian hat.

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Mithras was born from a rock as a bas relief testifies from the Baths of Diocletian. So Mithras slaughters a sacred white bull and then shares a banquet with the god Sol (the sun). This, again, can be seen in cult icons which were portable and double sided reliefs with, on one side, the depiction of the Tauroctony (slaughter of the bull) and, on the reverse side, the banquet scene of Mithras and Sol feasting on the bull.

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The Mithraic Festival was held on 26th June the then Summer Solstice which coincided with the feasts of Roman clubs or collegia. Indeed, this cult held initiation ceremonies consisting of seven grades which were connected to the Planets and at each grade the initiates were placed under the protection of different planetary gods and called Syndexioi “those united by the handshake”. They prayed three times daily to the sun and Sunday was sacred.

As you enter the now ground floor you view a wall of Roman debris or artefacts found in the archaeological dig some everyday items of Londinium explanations are given throughout on an interactive mobile device as well as by guides.

You then go to a mezzanine level to discover Mithras and the Mithraic cult.

Finally you descend into the lower level of the site, seven metres below the modern pavement level.

At this point of the visit you can actually experience a revocation of the reconstructed Temple of Mithras a kind of son and lumière. As the lights dim special effects recreate the Roman Temple of Mithras – a most convincing experience. We might even have expected to see Ulpius Silvanus, the original founder, appear amongst the seven columns.

These Temples were, indeed, built underground. They were windowless and very distinctive and known as Mithraea or Mithraeum. Rome was the cult centre and the Mithraea were found in Roman Africa Roman Britain as well as Roman Syria.

The visit also includes the Bloomberg SPACE gallery as you enter. At present there is an extraordinary tromp d’oeil wallpaper exhibition inspired by Wren-aissance visions of London:

The whole Mithraean experience is situated in the European headquarters of Bloomberg close to Cannon Street Station.

Date of experience: October 2018

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g186338-d13139701-r644429627-London_Mithraeum-London_England.html#

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The World’s First Shopping Mall?

Shopping malls or, as they are known in Italy, ‘centri commerciali’ are often accused of closing down the individual shops which traditionally dominated our high streets. With their car-parks, protection from inclement weather, their one-stop shopping possibilities and their faciities such as bars, restaurants and movie theatres it is small wonder that the ‘centri commerciali’ have taken so much trade away from old-style street-lining shops. I’ve discussed the very serious problem that is afflicting Bagni di Lucca’s shop-keepers in my post at https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2018/10/04/whats-eating-bagni-di-lucca/ .

Let’s not blame America for the rapid proliferation of shopping centres in Europe and Italy. London’s Brent Cross, Westfield and Dartford’s Bluewater all have European origins. Bluewater’s architecture, in particular, I found stunning enough to merit a poem :

BLUEWATER

Blue water lap me under zodiac’s dome,

enring me within the sphere of my sign

encompass eyes below crests of whitest cliffs;

inside your silvered pavilions cover

my being with bright tellurian riches,

join me in dances on coralline floors,

interpret inscriptions on the vast frieze

raising hearts to thoughts greater than they know,

breathe the argentine trellis of roses,

run your fingers down deep eastern forests

while pacific pines shade estuary suns;

make me forget this is just another

bloody shopping mall, stuck in a quarry

and I cannot pay off my MasterCard…

(Bluewater Shopping Centre, Dartford Kent)

Before the modern malls there were the Victorian covered markets. No visit to London would be complete without a window-shopping stroll down Burlington arcade

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or Leadenhall market, and there’s nothing to beat Milan’s extraordinary example of architectural eclecticism, its stunning Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II, otherwise known as the ‘Salotto’, or salon, of Milanese society. Here is the galleria on my visit to it in 2009.

But let us go further back in time and enter a shopping mall that was built almost two thousand years ago and which still has its shops intact, though now no longer a functioning ‘Centro Commerciale’ but a magnificent example of Imperial Roman architecture at its most imposing.

Trajan’s semi-circular market is just part of the grandest of all the imperial fora. Funny things may have happened on the way to the old Roman forum but, with the passing away of republican Rome and the heralding of the age of the imperial city, the old forum became, frankly, too small.

(The original Roman Forum)

Successive emperors build new fora, not only to add to public meeting spaces but to mark their place in history, Of these the most distinctive are those of Caesar, Augustus, Nerva and, most superlative and extensive of all, Trajan’s Forum, designed by Apollodorus of Damascus around 100 A.D. and celebrating the emperor’s conquest of Dacia, modern day Romania,

In its glory days the forum looked something like this:

The complex comprised a public square, a basilica, a temple to the deified emperor, the famous column with spiralling reliefs of the conquest of the Dacians and the world’s first ‘Centro Commerciale’ or shopping mall.

The market museum (opened in 2007 and beautifully set out) gives one of the best ideas of what everyday life in imperial Rome must have been like. Trajan’s mall would have made a welcome change from the narrow canyon-like streets that characterised most of ancient Rome and exist to this day:

The new market would also have provided easier access for the delivery of goods and foodstuffs.

There’s so much to take one’s breath away here: from marble floors, to amazing concrete and brick vaulting, the library and a balcony from which one can enjoy some of the best views of Rome. All I missed were the ancient Roman themselves and the multifarious smells of market goods. What a wonderful place to, at the very least, have held a Christmas market. After all, this beautiful shopping mall was built during the birth of a new religion, Christianity.

But let my photos show something of the atmosphere of this Roman ‘Brent-Cross’ shopping centre:

 

Who knows? On-line shopping could clearly make even the shopping mall a relic of the past, After all, why even bother to lift yourself from the comfort of your armchair when you can peruse all your big shops and compare prices at the drop of a digit.

Meanwhile……

 

Merry Christmas – Buon Natale!

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My Nine and a Half (So Far) Visits to Rome

If Italy is written in my heart then Rome is inscribed in my soul. They say all roads lead to Rome and certainly all roads in my life lead there. Rome, for me, led to an awakening at a critical age in my existence, an awakening which shall never be erased from my consciousness as long as I live.

***

My first visit to Rome was as an eight-year old in the company of my Italian grandparents. They impressed upon me the sacred nature of the Campidoglio; I was overwhelmed by the Colosseum, so much larger does it seem to a little lad than when one grows up. I have vague recollections of Saint Peter’s Rome but many other visual memories have faded. Later, I thought I might have been too young to have appreciated Rome at that age but I was assured that I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to the eternal city.

***

My second visit to Rome was at the age of fourteen. My mother (born in Milan, Rome University student and  naturalised British through her marriage with my English father) had arranged for me to stay with a family who lived in Rome but were  spending their summer in their seaside apartment at Ostia. Most days I would board the train at Ostia and alight at stazione Ostiense with a Blue Guide and tackle different parts of the city to visit. In January of that year I’d broken my leg in an accident on ice at school. The bone had not set properly, had to be re-broken and re-set, this time with a metal rod which was never removed. During my month at King’s College hospital I’d received visits from my class mates and, what with getting books from them and listening to the hospital radio, my being was opened up to the extraordinary world of music, painting and architecture.  A present of Bannister Fletcher’s ‘Architecture on the comparative method’ from a doctor friend was my constant reading and I was mesmerised by the plans of Imperial Roman forums, the great gothic cathedrals, through renaissance palaces to the start of the modern age of buildings.

 

 

So, for this second visit to Rome, which lasted weeks rather than days, I was rather better prepared than my first. Indeed, never, in any subsequent visit to Rome have I seen so much and walked so extensively. I remember calling in on a convent on the Appian Way when my several blisters had burst and having my feet bandaged by a nun. Another time I was offered peaches and Frascati wine as a lunch snack in a friary near the catacombs under San Lorenzo fuori le mura – and returned to Ostia and my host, who was amused by my first somewhat tipsy state. At the baths of Caracalla, so beloved by Shelley and where he was inspired to write his greatest work ‘Prometheus Unbound’, I witnessed my first opera, ‘Aida’ complete (naturally) with elephants. No photos but several guide books from this visit.

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***

Years passed before I returned to Rome a third time and then, rather like Goethe’s second visit, (his’ Italian Journey’ describing his first visit remains one of my favourite books) I found disappointment in the city. It was winter and I remember eating in a trattoria by Saint Peter’s square but never actually wanting to enter into the great basilica itself. The façade was near, closing the wonderful key-hole shaped Bernini colonnade but my feet refused to climb the stairs into the centre of western Christianity. It was a strange time in my life when I’d decided to escape from the comfortable world of academia and become a labourer in England, working on a motorway building project. No pictures, again, from this visit.

***

When did I visit Rome, for the fourth time? It was in 2006 when I decided I would base myself in our little house in Longoio. It was an organised coach trip to see a Manet exhibition at the Vittoriale and where I also managed to see another on eighteenth century Roman art at the palazzo Venezia. I remember a strong, cold wind blowing all the time, a view from a little park where children were playing football in sight of the Colosseum, a walk past the Theatre of Marcellus and the placing of my hand in the Bocca della Verità, or mouth of truth. Fortunately my hand was not bitten off!

 

 

***

The fifth time was in 2008 in the company of an old uni friend who had bought a house in Anticoli Corrado, a village famed for the beauty of its women who are used as painters’ models.  This was a great walking tour starting from the Piazza del Popolo going down the Corso and then stepping up to the Janiculum past Bramante’s tenpietto and walking the length of the hill which offers the finest views of Rome. Spot the Pantheon, Trastevere, the Anglican church and Keats’ house below?

 

 

***

The sixth visit took place in 2011 when my wife and I met up with ex-school-mates and their wives. We joined them at the Piazza dell’Esedra after taking in a very comprehensive view of the national museum in the baths of Diocletian.

 

 

***

Should I include a fleeting visit changing trains on my way to Rome airport to catch a plane to Vietnam? My post on that is at:

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/a-solution-to-miserable-weather/

***

Then in 2014 our local choir of Ghivizzano was invited to sing in Saint Peters. Details of this seventh visit are described in my posts at

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/our-choir-sings-at-romes-and-the-worlds-greatest-church/

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/from-peter-to-paul-2/

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/two-kinds-of-song/

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/remembering-goethe-tasso-and-anita-in-rome/

***

Last year the choir of my old Cambridge College, King’s, sang in Saint Peter’s and, of course, I was there for my eighth visit. (See my posts at

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2017/09/19/caput-mundi/

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2017/10/05/towards-romes-santa-maria-maggiore/

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2017/10/15/kings-college-choir-arrive-at-saint-peters-basilica/

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/castling-in-rome/

***

This year I could not miss yet again meeting up with another ex-school-mate, now living in the USA with his American wife and whose visits to Italy and Europe I had avidly been following on facebook.

Some posts of this latest visit are at:

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2018/12/16/12978/

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2018/12/19/13067/

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2018/12/20/terminal-infection-for-the-greatest-city-in-the-world/

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2018/12/22/the-worlds-first-shopping-mall/

That makes nine visits (and a half?) so far to Rome, each one quite different from the other. But as they say ‘Roma, una vita non basta’. (A lifetime is not enough to visit Rome). I would undoubtedly add that I’d need nine lifetimes to visit Rome rather than nine visits but then I do not have the advantage of being a cat.

 

Terminal Infection for the Greatest City in the World

Exiting from Rome’s Stazione Termini – itself one of Rome’s iconic buildings and the mis-en-scene of Vittorio de Sica’s heartrending 1953 film ‘Stazione Termini’, AKA in a bad US cut version as ‘Indiscretions of an American wife’, starring Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift –

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one enters the city’s largest square the Piazza dei Cinquecento (incidentally, named cinquecento, ‘500’, in memory of the Italian soldiers who died in the 1887 battle of Dogali against the Ethiopian empire. I would have preferred Piazza Termini or even Terme….imperialism is somewhat out of fashion now!)

(Battle of Dogali – Italy’s late bid for an Empire…)

The square has, beyond the seemingly interminable bus stands, the ruins of the greatest Roman baths of the city, Diocletian’s, which date back to 300 AD.

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(From Bannister Fletcher’s plan of the baths)

These baths, besides comprising the Michelangelo-designed Santa Maria degli Angeli, contain the main part of Rome’s (and perhaps the world’s) finest museum of classical antiquities.

The National Roman Museum was founded in 1889 with the intention of being one of the main “Centres of historical and artistic culture of re-united Italy”.

The museum has been reorganized into four separate divisions, each in a different location:

These are:

  • The National Museum of Rome in Diocletian’s baths (visited in 2011).
  • The Palazzo Altemps (which I visited in 2017)
  • The Palazzo Massimo (visited in 2011 and again this year)
  • The Crypta Balbi (not yet visited).

The palazzo Massimo is conveniently placed near the Stazione Termini and on the morning of my departure from Rome I was able to visit it in the company of my two friends, John and Carol.

The palazzo itself is a massive nineteenth-century neo-Renaissance style building with great views over the ‘cinquecento’ square,

 

 

It is most suitable for housing one of the most important ancient art collections in the world: sculptures, frescoes, mosaics, coins and goldsmiths’ works document the evolution of Roman artistic culture.

Here is the plan of the Museo di Palazzo Massimo:

 

 

 

We wisely started on the second floor where frescoes, stuccoes and mosaics document the decoration of prestigious Roman residences. Here I was particularly struck by the evocative frescoes of the pomegranate gardens of the Emperor Augustus’s wife, Livia Drusilla’s villa, here recomposed from its original location at Prima Porta, and the Farnesina villa.

 

 

Isn’t it easy for any ornithologist or botanist to recognize the life in these pictures, even after two thousand years? Spot the hoopoe (Upupa in Italian).

 

 

The mosaics and intarsia are equally astounding.

 

 

Suddenly I felt a déjà vue. Of course, I have been here before! It was in 2011, with my wife Sandra on a visit to meet school friends John Wagstaff and Martin Cardwell at Piazza dell’Esedra.. Such is the richness of the Imperial city however, that I saw these wonders with new eyes.

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(Me and old school-mates with consorts at fountain in piazza dell’Esedra, 2011)

The first floor is dedicated to the development of sculpture and portraiture. Here is the girl from Anzio and Roman copies of celebrated Greek statues: the discus thrower, the crouching Aphrodite:

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Surely Bagni di Lucca’s own bather is inspired by her.

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(Statue in foyer of Bagni di Lucca’s town hall)

Then there’s the discus thrower, and the gender-bending sleeping hermaphrodite.

 

 

I was particularly taken by the bronze sculptures which are all that remain of Caligula’s ceremonial ships dredged from the lake of Nemi in 1930’s after centuries of futile effort in recovering them.

 

 

Sadly, the hulks were the victims of the last war. The description in the museum states they were destroyed by arson in 1944. My HM government pamphlet on destruction of monuments in Italy in WW2 issued in 1945 states that they were set alight in a revenge attack by retreating German troops. A more recent report describes the situation thus:

At that time, Allied forces were pursuing the retreating German army northward through the Alban Hills toward Rome. On May 28, a German artillery post was established within 400 feet (120 m) of the museum … An official report filed in Rome later that year described the tragedy as a wilful act on the part of the German soldiers. A German editorial blamed the destruction on American artillery fire. The true story of what happened that night will probably never be known

What will also never be known is what happened to ‘Project Diana’ of 2004 to rebuild these ships in their original size (sufficient drawings exist for this to be achievable – the Nemi museum now only houses copies built to one fifth the original size). Anyway, let us be grateful that at least these impressive bronze pieces have survived from what must have been hugely impressive galleys. But if only they’d waited to dredge them after that war!

Also to wonder at on this floor is the Portonaccio sarcophagus: a virtuoso piece of sculpture describing battles fought by one of Marcus Aurelius’ generals.

 

 

Isn’t the lighting in this museum superb!

The ground floor houses stunning original Greek sculpture found in Rome: the Boxer, the Hellenistic Prince and the Niobe from the Sallustian gardens, and culminating in the statue of the emperor Augustus, Pontiff Maximum.

 

 

Time was now no longer on my side and, besides, there is only so much one can take in, even if it is the finest Roman collection of Roman antiquities in the world.

A surprisingly good lunch was followed by a heart-felt goodbye to my dear friends

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and a hasty departure to catch my train to Pisa and thence to Bagni di Lucca, homeward bound to Longoio.

 

 

It was a journey of a little over six hours on the coast railway which always gives splendid views and is somewhat cheaper than going on the TAV to Florence (which actually doesn’t cut the journey time very much especially when one considers it takes longer to get from Bagni di Lucca to Florence than from Florence to Rome!)

Goodbye beautiful Eternal City. See you soon again!

 

PS As I approached Lucca I thought of the words of the magnificent ‘Inno a Roma’ composed by that city’s most famous son, Giacomo Puccini. Here it is conducted by my friend Andrea Colombini in Vienna’s Musikverein. (yes we were there!!!!!). See words below with my translation,

PPS Here are my return train tickets:

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In case you didn’t work it out, it cost me £22.59 to travel 237 miles without any rubbish pre-booking – just on the spot.  Check that out with a typical UK train fare….

 

 

Inno a Roma

Roma divina, a te sul Campidoglio
dove eterno verdeggia il sacro alloro,
a te, nostra fortezza e nostro orgoglio,
ascende il coro.

 Salve, Dea Roma! Ti sfavilla in fronte
il sol che nasce sulla nuova Storia.
Fulgida in arme, all’ultimo orizzonte,
sta la Vittoria.

 Sole che sorgi libero e giocondo,
sul Colle nostro i tuoi cavalli doma:
tu non vedrai nessuna cosa al mondo
maggior di Roma.

 Per tutto il cielo è un volo di bandiere
e la pace del mondo oggi è latina.
Il tricolore canta sul cantiere,
su l’officina.

 Madre di messi e di lanosi armenti;
d’opere schiette e di pensose scuole,
tornano alle tue case i reggimenti
e sorge il sole.

 Sole che sorgi libero e giocondo…

 

(My translation:

Hymn to Rome

Divine Rome, our choir’s voices soar towards you

on the Capitoline hill

where the sacred laurel is eternally green;

our choir rises to you, our fortress and our pride,

 

Hail, Goddess Rome! the sun, born in a new chapter of history,

shines before you.

Victory strides

resplendent in arms, upon the new horizon,

.

The sun, rising free and jubilantly,

tames the horses on our hill:

you will not see anything in the world

greater than Rome.

 

Throughout the sky flags are flying

and today the world’s peace is Latinate.

The tricolour flag sings on the construction site

and on the factory.

 

Mother of harvests and woolly flocks,

of honest work and diligent schools,

our regiments return to your homes

and the sun rises.

 

A sun that rises free and joyous …)

 

PS The basement of Palazzo Massimo displays a large numismatic collection and the sceptres of the Imperial Insignia, in addition to the jewels coming from sumptuous funerary furnishings such as that of the girl from Grottarossa. Another reason to return and see what jewels the girl was wearing when she died so young…

 

 

 

 

Beware the Ides of March.

The friend I met up with in my recent visit to Rome described the city most accurately as a palimpsest. In case you are not sure what a palimpsest is, the word derives from Greek,  Palin ‘again’ psēstos ‘rubbed smooth’ and refers to a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on rubbed out earlier writing.

The word is now also applied to something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form; a large number of Rome’s historic buildings are built upon or modified from previous structures.

Notable examples include the Roman theatre of Marcellus which became the fortress palace of the Orsini family and still remains in private hands.

(Walking past the Teatro di Marcello on my recent visit to Rome)

Similarly, baroque churches are built upon Romanesque structures which in turn arise from early Christian buildings which often have been modified from Roman temples.

A typical example is the minor basilica of San Clemente which has no less than four layers:

  • The current mediaeval twelfth century church
  • The fourth century basilica converted from a Roman nobleman’s house
  • Those parts of the nobleman’s house which had been converted in a Mithraeum
  • The foundations of the house built upon a republican era villa destroyed in the famous fire accompanied by Nero on his fiddle (a fiddle on history if there ever was one as violins had not yet been invented).

In a similar fashion a contemporary art gallery two doors away from where I stayed in Rome in the Via Chiavàri (the street of the key cutters and locksmiths – be careful of the accent – it’s not to be confused with the seaside city of Chiàvari near where I stayed in a teacher exchange in 1995. It’s also important not to mispronounce the word as chiavàre, slang for ‘to screw’ and with the two similar meanings in English i.e. ‘to swindle’ and ‘to have sexual intercourse’).

MUSIA is a new space for contemporary art conceived by collector and entrepreneur Ovidio Jacorossi.

Ovidio-Jacorossi-photo-R.-De-Antonis

MUSIA was inaugurated last year and contains a thousand square metres of gallery space with multifunctional uses – everything from the visual arts to food and wine. The space was restructured by architect Carlo Iacoponi who used Rome’s palimpsest stratification of architectural elements from different periods – from the Roman age to the Renaissance – to considerable effect.

There’s one room dedicated to the Jacorossi Collection of twentieth century Roman art.

There’s another for the exhibition and sale of works of art, photography and graphics, design objects and applied arts. Among these are works by Paola Gandolfi, ceramic jewels by Rita Miranda and creations by designer Alessandra Calvani.

There’s the kitchen – with chef Ben Hirst – and with food and wine sourced from the surrounding Lazio region.

For me, however, the most extraordinary part of MUSIA and one which brilliantly displays the multi-stratification of Rome is the striking space of the Sale Pompeo, located within the ruins of the ancient Roman Theatre of Pompey. It was in this room that I experienced an engrossing installation drama themed on the murder of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March – that fateful event which took place on the 15th of March 44 BC and one which has been imprinted on my mind ever since I read Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ in the first form of my secondary school, Dulwich College…..incidentally in the same class as the school mate I’d come to meet in Rome!

Within rooms of bare brick, breathing history and an atmosphere that immediately evokes ancient Roman times, the drama of Caesar’s murder develops.

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Suddenly a storm takes away the golden light, wind moves the curtains on which a cold and livid night falls. light returns, but the atmosphere has changed. Beyond the curtains, one notices the gestures of a conspiracy, and soon fear spreads everywhere. Caesar, now defenceless, falls under the blows of merciless daggers. “Et tu Brute?”

A world ends and dissolves in the flames at the end of an epoch. Only the lyre continues to sound the endless and ageless story.

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Time for a meal in a characteristic Roman trattoria after all this bloody history on the spot where it happened; a little lucullan banquet with such convivial company!

(Recognize the ‘saltimbocca alla Romana and Roscioli’s bakery?’)

The MUSIA gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday from 12 am to 11 pm and on from Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm.

Happy Cats in Rome

Where would Rome be without its cats? Ancient fallen columns and pediments would not be the same without  the eternal city’s felines sunning themselves among the ruins of imperial temples and fora. Yet there was a move by the authorities not too long ago to cull moggies as it was thought that they lowered the tone of the city!

Fortunately, there are many more cat lovers than cat loathers and protests took place. Volunteers came forwards to help protect the eternal city’s felines, inoculate them against FIV, feed , clean, sterilize them to keep their numbers under control, re-house and find them suitable adoptions. (It’s even possible to distance-adopt a Roman cat!).

One of the most characteristic places to enjoy Roman cats is among the ancient ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina. This is an area in the heart of the city which was part of a major slum clearance project in the 1920’s. By chance,  (as usually happens in Rome if anyone starts digging – most famously tunnelling that new metro line…) ancient temples were uncovered belonging to pre-imperial Rome together with part of Pompey’s theatre which, you may remember, was where Julius Caesar was murdered by Brutus, Cassius and their conspirators.

Stray cats were glad to have found a new open space through the generosity of archaeologists and began convening there in such large numbers than in 1929 volunteers decided to set up a cat-shelter.

It’s been often touch and go for the shelter’s survival. Happily, when I visited it on my recent visit to Rome I found it to be a thriving and cheerful place.

I think I would like to be a Roman cat in my next incarnation! Imagine getting free board and lodging among the splendid classical ruins of perhaps the world’s most beautiful city and receiving all the love I needed from devoted volunteers and generous visitors, one of whom will always be remembered for she was none other than that greatest of Italian actors, Anna Magnani who always visited Largo Argentina to feed her beloved cats between film shots.

PS If you can’t be in Rome do at least visit the cat sanctuary web site at https://www.gattidiroma.net/web/en/  

Even if you are not a cat-lover the site has lots of invaluable historical and archaeological information.

 

 

Did Lord Byron Vandalise Our Prato Fiorito?

Rock carving is a worldwide phenomenon.  It can range from shallow incisions to the sculpting of entire temples and even animals from the rock, as we found in Mahabalipuram during our trip to Tamilnadu last year.

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In Italy there are many sites where rock carvings have been discovered. The Val Camonica in Brescia province, for example, contains the largest number in the world of such carvings: over 140,000 have been found so far!  I have not yet visited the area but a trail has been laid out for people to find the most significant of these carvings, or petroglyphs as they are more accurately termed.

arte-rupestre-660x330It’s not an easy thing to date the petroglyphs but, on the evidence of Stone Age flints and bones, some of them must have been carved thousands of years ago.

More recently petroglyphs have been discovered on our own Val di Lima’s Monte Limano and last year some amazing finds were made on the rocky slopes of Monte Prato Fiorito known as ‘le ravi’.

On Saturday 16 June, at the Sala Rosa of the Circolo dei Forestieri in Bagni di Lucca, I attended a fascinating conference on the new finds given by Giancarlo Sani who has already written two books on the subject and is an eminent researcher of petroglyphs. The conference was illustrated with photographs by David Bonaventuri, well known for his sports and nature pictures.

Thousands of carved signs and symbols have been discovered. They can be divided into three groups: symbolic carvings, most importantly the circle of life or the sun, pictographic signs such as face silhouettes, and names and dates.

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The important thing about these signs is that they reveal something of the world of shepherds who were plentiful on the mountain slopes within living memory (there are still a few left, Erica, for example). They were people whose life was spent largely in solitude with their flocks but  who were also determined to leave some record of their presence, of their religious beliefs and, for many of them, of their ability to write their names and dates.

Clearly the symbolic signs are the oldest and quite a few of them were vandalised in a later age when Christianity saw them as symbols of pagan cults. The signs with names and dates are rather later and the oldest of these has a date placing it in the seventeenth century.

Astonishingly one of the names appears to spell ‘Byron’ and bears a surprising similarity to the romantic poet’s signature.

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It will be remembered that Byron visited Bagni di Lucca as guest of John Webb, the then owner of the Villa Bonvisi, and loved walking around the surrounding hills. It is, therefore, quite possible that it was Lord George Gordon who ‘vandalised’ a part of the Prato Fiorito! After all, he also left his name on at least one Greek temple – at Sounion

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and also at the Chateau de Chillon where he wrote that haunting poem ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’  narrating the  imprisonment of a François Bonivard, a Genevois monk:

A book is promised on the petroglyphs of our Prato Fiorito and there will certainly be a lot more research by Sani and his devoted team. Who knows, more light could even be shed on the ancient witches Sabbaths that used to be held on this sacred mountain. In case you weren’t sure the Sabbaths or sabbats are still held by members of the Wiccan cult on the following dates

  • Yule, Winter Solstice: December 20, 21, 22, or 23
  • Brigid, Imbolc, Candlemas, Imbolg, or Brigid’s Day: February 1 or 2. …
  • Eostar, Spring Equinox, Ostara, or Oestarra: March 20, 21, 22, or 23. …
  • Beltane, May Eve, Beltaine, Bealtaine, or May Day: April 30 or May 1.

 

 

 

Una Palazzina Romana a Londra

Ci sono certi ruderi dell’età romana a Londra che si possono visitare soltanto col permesso speciale. Uno di questi è la magnifica casa di un ricco mercante che se la costruita sul lungo Tamigi. Annesse a questa casa, ci sono delle terme con un sistema d’ipocausto, con la quale la dimora era riscaldata dal sotto del pavimento.

Certo, qui non si parla di un’Ercolano, particolarmente perché di mosaici e pitture murale non ci sono tracce. E’ commovente, però, intuire che gli antichi romani, nel sovente lugubre clima delle isole britanniche, non volevano essere senza i loro confort mediterranei, e la presenza delle terme erano una di queste. (Più tardi, al tempo di Shakespeare, è raro se uno si faceva il bagno una volta l’anno – anche se diceva che non c’era bisogno di farlo!)

La casa l’abbiamo visitata tramite una scalinata che porta nel sottoterraneo di un ufficio davanti al vecchio mercato di pesci di Billingsgate – un sito appropriato poiché i romani amavano i pesci e la salsa fatta con codesti animali ittici. Chissà se il vecchio mercato di Billingsgate fu fondato dai romani?

L’entrata alla palazzina non è certo romantica come quelle a Pompei. Tuttavia la casa è grande quanto due campi da tennis e doveva essere veramente imponente. Qui potete vedere quello che rimane. E poi ci sono tante casse di reperti ancora da investigare.

Le ceramiche hanno mostrato che la casa fu eretta nel tardo secondo secolo e aveva un’ala nord e un’altra a est attorno a un cortile. Molto probabilmente c’era anche un’ala ovest ma nulla di ciò è sopravvissuto.

Nel terzo secolo è stato aggiunto un bagno nel cortile aperto nel mezzo del complesso. Aveva una stanza fredda, (frigidarium) una tiepida, (tepidarium) e una stanza calda (caldarium). L’intero complesso era in uso fino all’inizio del quinto secolo.

Diverse centinaia di monete della fine del quarto secolo sono state trovate negli scavi. Ciò è di particolare importanza giacché non si sa molto della fine della dominazione romana in Gran Bretagna e questa casa attesta un edificio di grandi dimensioni in uso fino all’inizio del quinto secolo. Tuttavia, la casa era probabilmente già in rovina entro l’anno 500. Una spilla anglosassone è stata trovata all’interno del materiale caduto dal tetto.

Che peccato! E pensare che si siano anche trovate delle anfore provenienti dalla Puglia e perfino dalla Palestina con olio vergine, un lusso che Londra si è solo permessa di avere con i suoi pasti negli ultimi trent’anni!

Le mie riflessioni su questa casa sono melancoliche. La vita quotidiana a Londinium era di un’alta civiltà che fu distrutta nelle così dette età oscure. Chissà se tra qualche millennio ci sarà qualche archeologo a riscoprire la strana cosiddetta ‘civiltà’ nella quale abitiamo ora? Chissà veramente…

Finisco con un’ impronta su una tegola della casa, al tempo ancora non cotta – quella di un gatto romano che ha deciso anche lui di fare parte della storia della grande città che è Londra:

 

Città di nubi:

un’ora nelle terme

li fa volar via!

 

 

Il Centro della City di Londra

Ci sono quattro ragioni principali per visitare la piazza del municipio della City of London.

La prima è di apprezzare il suo magnifico guildhall, il centro cerimoniale della City. La grande sala risale al quattrocento e possiede uno splendido soffitto ligneo. Attorno ci sono monumenti agli eroi inglesi. Di curiosità sono le statue dei giganti Gog e Magog che sono tradizionalmente stati fatti prigionieri da Bruto, il presunto fondatore di Londra. Ora, da prigionieri, sono diventati i portafortuna e guardiani di Londra. È in questo imponente salone che ricevetti la mia seconda laurea, dall’università della City di Londra.

Nella piazzetta è stato allestito un giardinetto in memoria dei caduti nella prima guerra. I fogli di carta sono copie di lettere scritte dal fronte.

Qui poi c’è una mappa che dimostra quanta di Londra fu distrutta dalla furia nazista, se non bastasse una guerra europea il secolo scorso……

La seconda ragione è quella di visitare la galleria d’arte. Contiene dipinti dal seicento all’età moderna. Per me i quadri più belli della collezione sono quelli dell’ ottocento, fortunatamente non più disprezzati come una volta. Amanti del pre-raffaellismo troveranno qui un capolavoro di Dante Rossetti.

La terza è di esplorare i rimasti dell’anfiteatro romano che risale al 70 DC. Riscoperto solo nel 1988 la sua presentazione è molto immaginativa anche se ora i giochi gladiatori sono proibiti e non ci sono più i leoni a mangiare i cristiani. Aveva una capacità di sei mila spettatori e riflette la grandezza della città di Londinium. Il suo sistema di drenaggio (necessario quando si considera la pioggia e la forma di ciotola dell’edificio) conserva perfino il legno usato per i suoi canali di scolo.

La quarta ragione per visitare la piazzetta è di entrare nella Chiesa del municipio, Saint Lawrence Jewry di Wren. Questa è la Chiesa patronale della gilda della City. Restaurata dopo i bombardamenti nazisti presenta l’interno elegantemente sobrio e splendido. Si chiama ‘jewry’ perché è vicina al vecchio ghetto ebreo.

Da non perdere poi è il Lord Mayor’s show quando, ogni Novembre 10, il nuovo eletto Mayor fa parte di una grande processione nella sua carrozza dipinta dall’antenato di mia moglie, Giovanni Battista Cipriani.

 

Città di Londra;

protetta da giganti

petrificati.

 

Quando il Redentore Visito’ l’Inghilterra

Il centro della Sacralità in Inghilterra: qui, dove lo zio di Gesù, Giuseppe di Arimatea, portò il nipote nei suoi viaggi alle miniere di stagno della Cornovaglia per far commercio durante gli ‘anni perduti’ del Redentore dopo che il Cristo aveva lasciato la bottega del babbo falegname ma prima di iniziare la Sua missione tra gli uomini.

Qui, dove lo zio di Arimatea mostrò al Cristo il megalitico cerchio di pietre di Stonehenge, dove lo accompagnò a visitare i preti Druidi del Galles con la loro antica sapienza celtica.

Lo stesso Giuseppe di Arimatea che, deposto il corpo di Gesù dalla Croce, lo avvolse di una tela bianca con erbe e profumi e lo mise in una tomba appena scavata che doveva servire per sé stesso.

Lo stesso Giuseppe di Arimatea che, preso una spina dalla corona messa sulla testa del Salvatore in Croce, la portò nel paese dove era andato assieme col nipote e la pianto’ dove ora cresce la biflora crataegus monogyna, una specie di biancospino che fiorisce nelle tenebre dell’inverno, quando un fiore viene mandato per tradizione alla Regina, e di nuovo nella primavera.

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Qui, dove l’abbazia più grande, più bella e ricca della nazione fu fondata e ora resta in malinconiche rovine dopo la dissoluzione dei monasteri.

 

Qui, dove, in cima ad una collina antica come il tempo, una torre rimane della più vecchia chiesa esterna della Cristianità mentre i fedeli di Roma dovevano ancora rifugiarsi nelle catacombe.

 

Qui dove venne sepolto il re Artù e sua moglie Ginevra.

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Qui dove il poeta William Blake scrisse:

“E quei piedi nei tempi antichi
percorsero l’Inghilterra dai verdi monti?

E fu visto il sacro Agnello di Dio
sugli ameni pascoli d’Inghilterra?
E quel suo Volto Divino
splendere sulle nostre nuvolose colline?
E fu Gerusalemme costruita qui..?

Portatemi il mio arco d’oro ardente,
Portatemi le mie frecce di desiderio,
Portatemi la mia lancia: oh nuvole, apritevi!
Portatemi il mio carro di fuoco!
Non cessero’ la battaglia mentale
E né la spada mi dormirà in mano,
Finché non avremo costruito Gerusalemme
nella verde e piacevole terra d’Inghilterra.”

E qui, mentre un vento burrascoso ci circondava, sul monte mistico di Glastonbury Tor, abbiamo passato la vigilia del venerdì Santo.

 

La Sua presenza

si sente nel fruscio del vento:

fiore del tempo.