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Posts tagged ‘Archeology’

From Napoli to Capri, Part 2: Pompeii

Pompeii: It’s a story which almost everybody knows, an eruption of such violent magnitude that it has fascinated writers, artists, poets and film-makers throughout the ages, making it a volcanic event more famous than any other. But the reason why Pompeii is so famous is not because of the eruption that destroyed a city in AD79, but because of the ghost of the city that was left behind. For beneath the ashes, the pumice and the multiple strata of volcanic material emerges the perfect footprint of a true Roman town, that gives us a compelling glimpse into the world of ancient Rome, its town planning, society and its people.

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Today’s Pompeii is deeply romantic. The remnants of this ancient world, cast in semi-dereliction but clinging onto mere glimpses of its fully resplendent past, are tinged with the melancholia of the romantic imagination, as weeds and wildflowers grown amongst rubble and the remains of once grand palaces and temples. It all feels rather like a idyllic pastiche from an 18th century imagined landscape… one half expects a giggling maid to sweep into the scene on a flower-strung swing tied onto a nearby tree, her rococo dress shimmering in the setting sun.

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Yet beneath the beauty of decay lies a far sadder truth – the reality of Pompeii’s end. Time is healer, but we should not forget how the people of Pompeii met their end: in an agony of excruciating burning and suffocation as the scalding gases of a pyroclastic surge swept through the town literally boiling people to death. It would have been a truly horrific way to die. Reminders of this cruel ending are all around in Pompeii: figures cast from plaster and created from the vacuum left in layers of volcanic ash as bodies have withered away demonstrate people contorted in pain, their hands rolled into tight fists as their bodies flex against the searing heat and agony, lovers clinging to one another, parents embracing their child in a final embrace.

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It was this tragic demise, and reminders of Pompeii’s daily life in the form of takeaway food bars, piles of bottles, jewellery, brothels, theatres and houses, which filled my mind as we visited Pompeii one very hot afternoon last June. True, I was fascinated by this ancient Roman world which we had so easily and transformatively stepped into. But I was also struck by the great tragedy which this vast archaeological site represents, and by the great irony that without the scale and extent of that vast eruption and its tragic consequences, we would never have had the opportunity to so totally immerse ourselves in a rare slice of the ancient world. For that alone we must be happy.

These are some of my photos from our day, in Pompeii.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Provence Odyssey | Saint-Rémy: Day 6 – The Grandeur of Ancient Glanum

You join us in the Provençal village of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, a picturesque little town, at one time home to none other than Vincent Van Gogh, whose insatiable appetite for Provence’s mighty colour palate was more than satisfied by the staggering beauty of these undulating landscapes, peppered with olive trees and cypresses, with fields of golden wheat and others with lavender, and stood in the midst of them all, the towering limestone massif of Les Alpilles, a 24-km chain of mountains between the Rhone and Durance rivers.

Yet while the mighty majesty of the Alpilles mountain range towering above the horizon has the power to hold tourists and artists alike in its all-conquering grip, there is something else set amongst the foothills of this great imposing mountain range which has the power to inspire awe-struck admiration in equal measure: this time a structure built not by nature, but by man, but a structure so ancient and yet still so classically magnificent in all its detail and grandeur that it appears to have defied nature itself. For as it turned out, Van Gogh is far from being Saint-Rémy’s only attraction: For a mere stroll along from Saint Paul de Mausole, where Van Gogh was an inpatient for a year between 1889-1890, are the incredible ancient remains of the Roman town of Glanum, an archeological site which is so comprehensive that it is a rival to Pompeii; an ancient monument so beautiful that it glows like a precious crystal in the midst of the limestone hulk of the Alpilles around it, the vast mountains into which this ancient Roman town appeared to integrate so seamlessly as though nature herself had intended it.

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The gateway to the Glanum remains is pretty startling: a triumphal arch built during the reign of Augustus and the Mausoleum of the Julii, said to be one of the most perfectly intact mausoleums remaining from ancient Rome. Both monuments are brilliant in their complexity and incredibly intact – and yet these imposing structures stand innocuously by the main road from Saint-Rémy to Les Baux, with no cordons, no tickets and no guards. The result is a superb opportunity to interact with the indomitable grandeur of Roman architecture, and to do so quite freely with neither impediment nor cost. And yet it worries me – for how long can these incredible structures remain in their current excellent state of preservation, when they are so unguarded from harm?

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While this magnificent arch, which once formed the Northern entrance to the town of Glanum, was free to see, the remains of the town were not – but such was to be expected from an archeological museum almost as vast as the great remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum. And what they may have lacked in Pompeian decoration, they surely made up for in scale, in the variety of buildings discovered and on view, and in the magnificent setting of this town which, carved literally into the steep sides of the Alpilles must surely be strong competition for Pompeii’s Vesuvius-backdrop.

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Glanum, which today includes monuments aplenty, half-preserved temples, the remains of public baths, the roman forum, and several houses, was built in 27 BC but abandoned in 260 AD when it was overrun and destroyed by the Alamanni. Subsequent floods and weather conditions meant that the abandoned ruins of the town gradually became covered with sediment and mud, and there it lay, undiscovered, until excavations began to rediscover the town in 1921. Now it is one of Provence’s most visited sites, and one can see why. The scale of the find is pretty unique, and the ability to scale the steepsided valley of the Alpilles and see the town from above, with the modern Saint-Rémy in the distance is particularly special.

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We adored Glanum, and for us it provided a much unexpected cultural delight on the outskirts of a little town already proving to be so abundant in sensual delights for the earnest visitor. A hearty slice of history in an area so exuding charm; a man-made ancient monument which so artfully augments the beauty of its celestial natural surroundings.

DSC03591 DSC03612 DSC03644All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.