The London Mithraeum at 12 Walbrook was brought to our notice by one of the volunteer Friends of the City Churches at St Mary Abchurch. We had never heard of it but are glad now that we have. Strictly speaking, although entry is free, you do need to book in advance. Even though we hadn’t heard of it many others obviously had. There must have been a lull so the receptionist allowed us to come in, gave us the booklet and advised us of the procedure.
At the weekend staying with friends near Gateshead it was suggested that we visit Corbridge on the Saturday. I’d heard of Corbridge’s Roman connections but wasn’t quite sure what was there nor how extensive the and well-preserved they would be. I was to find out. We parked in the free car park on the opposite side of the river from the village and Roman site; spent some time in some of the multitude of small shops – including gifts and cards, kitchenwares and books; ate lunch in an excellent deli then walked to the former Roman Town about half a mile away. It was a beautiful day crisp and sunny but very very cold.
As we boarded the number 7 bus opposite San Marco we appreciated that it was good to sit down for a while. The journey up to Fiesole takes about half an hour. And all was quiet when we got there. We chose to visit Fiesole on the Wednesday because that was the only day that didn’t threaten rain although it often looked very likely. We got off the bus in the main square and noticed a considerable drop in temperature. We soon found a little bakery where we chose a savoury pastry each followed by some little sweet cakes and tea. Refreshed we then began our tour of Fiesole.
The Piazza Mino da Fiesole Continue reading
A walk along the Appian Way was something I’d read about in my Quiet Rome book and in other guides so I’d added it to my ‘to-do’ list for when I was next in Rome. I studied various ways to approach the way and in the end booked the excursion ‘Catacombs and Roman Countryside Group’ with Enjoy Rome. I’ve written about the Catacombs and Aqueduct visits already. Now its the turn of The Appian Way. You’ll have noticed already that it was a rainy day but nevertheless we did manage a brief walk for a few hundred metres and now, maybe on a future visit, I feel confident to take public transport and do a further walk like the 90-Minute one described in the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guide.
Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella
We were a small group of 15 and the half-day excursion included travel by minibus from the ER offices near Termini Station and back. From the Catacombs we bumped and jostled (I don’t recommend doing this by car!) along the Way and finally parked opposite the Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella on the Third Mile Section.
A wet Appian Way
From here we took to the wet cobbles of the road which had been built to link Rome with Brindisi in southeast Italy. The road is named after Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman censor who began and completed the first section as a military road to the south in 312 BC. It is a Roman standard 4 metres wide surfaced with ancient basalt flagstones and flanked on either side by private villas (many built upon the original Roman foundations), cypress trees and pines. Needless to say the basalt cobbles were rather slippery when wet.
Villa along the Way
The Bar Caffe del Appia Antica
Refreshment stops along the Way are few and far between but this cafe hires out bikes in summer and is (apparently) near the bus stop for the 660 which would take you to Metro Station San Giovanni – but don’t take my word for it!!
St Nicholas Church on The Appian Way
After the excursion I took the Metro to the Piazza del Popolo, crossed it in the rain and took shelter at Canova to eat a five cheese lunch and watch the dripping brollies go by!
Piazza Del Popolo
Five Cheeses and What looks like Jelly but tastes like Hot Mustard!
Wednesday last week dawned bright and sunny and I knew this was the day to visit the UNESCO listed Hadrian’s Villa another vast area of building remains. Although extensive today it’s thought to have been even more so originally.
My notes here are mostly taken from the little map guide I bought. On arrival you follow a wide path up to a few modern buildings; one of which houses a model of the site as it might have looked to Hadrian. Publius Aelius Hadrianus was born in 76AD, probably in Italica (Seville). In 117AD on the death of Trajan he succeeded him at the head of the empire. He differed from previous emperors in that he tried to define the borders of the empire rather than fight to expand it. He was gifted with brilliant intelligence and a vast general knowledge but was not much liked by his contemporaries, as he was unpredictable and inconstant in character. He died in Baia in 138AD. And yes, he is the emperor in honour of whom the Wall was named.
The Pecile Pool
Beyond the initial modern buildings you pass through an arch in a high Roman wall into the park itself. In front is the Pecile formerly a courtyard with a pool at the centre. Then the choice of which direction to choose is yours. I headed first to the Palace and outbuildings which included the Golden Square, the Hospitalia, the Heliocaminus Baths, the Maritime Theatre (currently closed) and the Greek and Latin Libraries.
The oldest bath complex on the site owing its name to the large circular room with a vaulted roof heated by the rays of the sun. In addition the floor was heated by the usual hot air system.
The Greek Library
Mosaic Floors in Hospitalia Cells
The Golden Square (so called because of the richness of the archaeological finds made there)
More or less in the middle of the site is the Triple Exedra Complex. According to the booklet this is nothing more than a grandiose entrance vestibule to the imperial residence.
The Triple Exedra
The Great Baths
The Formerly Luxurious Small Baths
Beyond this are the Great and Small Baths and finally at the far end of the site The Canopus. This was an attempt at a copy of the channel that led from Alexandria to Canopus, a town on the Nile delta. The long basin of water is Euripus and at the far end is The Serapeum where summer banquets were held.
The Canopus from the Belvedere
Finally I made my way to Rocca Bruna a belvedere with marvellous views over the surrounding countryside. Apparently, Hadrian had a great interest in astronomy and it is also thought that the tower could have been used as an astronomic observatory.
Rocca Bruna Tower
View towards Tivoli from the Tower
Mountain View From the Tower
The trip to The Protestant Cemetery took less time than I had envisaged and I’d booked the Appian Way walk so, as a friend had recommended seeing the Baths of Caracalla and they were just one Metro stop away, I decided to spend a couple of hours there, even though it started to drizzle with rain.
Aerial View of the Baths
Artist’s Impression of Caracalla
Now, Colchester may be full of Roman superlatives but, as you probably know, Rome knocks every other place that was part of the Roman Empire, into a cocked hat when it comes to remains. The Caracalla Baths are HUGE. The walls tower over you and the scale of everything was (and still is) vast.
These, the largest and best preserved thermal baths, were entirely built by Emperor Caracalla since AD212. Apparently 9,000 workers were employed daily for approximately five years to create a huge platform 337m x 328m. Water was brought to the bath house by aqueduct and the whole place was abandoned after the siege of Rome when the Goths destroyed the aqueduct and cut of the supply of water to the city.
Many of the decorations and works of art were removed from the site over the centuries. There is a particularly fine collection in the Vatican Museum since several popes were involved with excavations. Some mosaics remain roughly in situ but otherwise there are few artefacts remaining. There had been bronze statues in niches, fountains, marble floors and columns and painted frescoes.
Romans enjoyed board games and a tabula lusoria has been preserved here. Many such gaming boards were carved into floors and, as here, round the edges of pools. The game involved getting a walnut (or marble or knucklebone) into the holes.
The Natatio was a huge Olympic size swimming pool – the board game is alongside – is 50m x 22m and the walls are 20m high. It was not very deep and certainly not suitable for diving.
The Pool Today
Artist’s Impression of the Pool in its Heyday
The Gardens – Cypress Trees – at Caracalla
Following our visit to the Catacombs and walking along the Appian Way our Enjoy Rome Tour included a visit to the extensive remains of the Claudio Aqueduct. The aqueduct was one of several that supplied Roman Rome with its water.
The Claudio Aqueduct
The Parco degli Acquedotti is a public park about 8 kilometres from the city. It is part of the Appian Way Regional Park and is of approximately 15 ha. The park is named after the aqueducts that go through it. My guess is that it’s not easy to reach by public transport but I was glad to have seen it as I had no idea of its existence before.
Approaching the Aqueduct
Next up is a report of my visit to Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli where there is even more Roman water!
“The cemetery is an open space among ruins, covered in winter with violets and daisies. It might make one in love with death, to think one should be buried in so sweet a place”
Percy Bysshe Shelley: Adonais: an elegy on the death of John Keats (1821)
I checked the website carefully before leaving home and made extra sure that Saturday 14 March was not a holiday and so after taking the train from Tivoli to Rome I made my way to the cemetery. When you emerge from the Pyramide Metro Station you can’t miss the huge Pyramid to Gaius Cestius and the cemetery is right next door: but you risk life and limb when crossing the roads to get to it!
Thomas Hardy wrote a poem entitled
“Rome at the Pyramid of Cestius Near the Graves of Shelley and Keats (1887)”
Who, then, was Cestius,
And what is he to me? –
Amid thick thoughts and memories multitudinous
One thought alone brings he.
I can recall no word
Of anything he did;
For me he is a man who died and was interred
To leave a pyramid
Whose purpose was exprest
Not with its first design,
Nor till, far down in Time, beside it found their rest
Two countrymen of mine.
Cestius in life, maybe,
Slew, breathed out threatening;
I know not. This I know: in death all silently
He does a kindlier thing,
In beckoning pilgrim feet
With marble finger high
To where, by shadowy wall and history-haunted street,
Those matchless singers lie . . .
–Say, then, he lived and died
That stones which bear his name
Should mark, through Time, where two immortal Shades abide;
It is an ample fame.
I was not disappointed. It’s truly an oasis of peace and tranquility. It’s divided into sections pre- and post- 1821; which is why Shelley’s ashes are not buried near Keats’s grave.
The Graves of Keats and Severn (and Severn’s son)
‘Here Lies One Whose Name Was Writ in Water’ [The only words Keats wished to be on his gravestone]
‘This Grave contains all that was mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET, who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his heart, at the Malicious Power of his enemies, desired these words to be Engraven on his Tomb Stone’ [Words added by his friends Joseph Severn and Charles Brown]
‘Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange’
From Shakespeare’s The Tempest [Shelley was drowned and only his ashes are buried here]
There is an especially good chapter about the cemetery in Peter Stanford’s “How to read a graveyard“.
There’s a small bookshop and information office (above) near the entrance and the English guide helped me to pinpoint the grave of a little-known Australian author whose books I enjoy : Martin Boyd.
His best-known book is “Lucinda Brayford” but I’ve enjoyed reading his Langton tetralogy lately :
The Langton tetralogy which, though not published as a series during his lifetime, is now referred to as a collective:
The Cardboard Crown (London, England: Cresset Press, 1952.)
A Difficult Young Man (London, England : Cresset Press, 1955.)
Outbreak of Love (London, England: John Murray, 1957.)
When Blackbirds Sing (London, England: Abelard-Schuman, 1962.)
Martin Boyd’s Headstone
Even though the Protestant Cemetery was high on my list this visit I also hoped to walk some of the famous Appian Way, the Roman road that connects Rome with Brindisi in southeast Italy. I read in my guidebooks how to get there and which were the best parts to see then noticed in small inset box this note : Enjoy Rome offers a 3-hour bus and walking tour of the Appia Antica … Call for tour times.
At the Catacombs
I discovered that the Enjoy Rome office is very near to Termini Station so I bought a ticket for the Tuesday 10am departure. The first stop of the excursion is at The Catacombs of San Callisto. We were able to descend into a maze of tunnels and see various types of burial chambers with and without mural decorations.
“Ancient Roman law forbade burials, regardless of religion, inside the city walls. San Callisto is one of the most famous of over 60 catacombs in the city area. There are multiple levels of 1900 year old hand-dug corridors, past a mind-boggling number of tomb niches. Christian-themed inscriptions and frescoes, often endearingly simplistic but carrying strong messages of faith, are everywhere in the catacombs.” [Adapted from Frommer’s Rome Day-By-Day] Several Popes were entombed here.
“The Crypt of St. Cecilia: the popular patron saint of music. Of a noble Roman family, she was martyred in the 3rd c. and entombed where the statue now lies. She was venerated in this crypt for at least five centuries. In 821 her relics were transferred to Trastevere, in the basilica dedicated to her.
The statue of St. Cecilia is a copy of the celebrated work sculptured by Stefano Maderno in 1599.
The crypt was all covered with mosaics and paintings (beginning of the IX Century). On the wall, near the statue, we see an ancient painting of St. Cecilia in an attitude of prayer; lower down, in a small niche, is a fresco representing Christ holding a Gospel. On the right side is the figure of St.Urban. On the wall of the shaft is the painting of three martyrs: Polycamus, Sebastian and Quirinus.” [Source]
No photography is allowed in the catacombs but I snapped a couple of postcards showing what it’s like down in the depths!
Back at the Cemetery the cats are looked after by volunteers and even have their own website.
Empty Basket – Where can they be?