Rome: mostly churches actually

So this is the Pantheon. It was built as a Roman temple in the 2nd century, replacing an earlier building.

In 609, the Byzantine emperor Phocas gave the building to Pope Boniface IV, who converted it into a Christian church and consecrated it to St. Mary and the Martyrs on 13 May 609: “Another Pope, Boniface, asked the same [Emperor Phocas, in Constantinople] to order that in the old temple called the Pantheon, after the pagan filth was removed, a church should be made, to the holy virgin Mary and all the martyrs, so that the commemoration of the saints would take place henceforth where not gods but demons were formerly worshipped.”

Inside I found it rather underwhelming. It’s just another church. I mean, it’s nice enough but I’m glad I didn’t have to pay or queue to get in.

Read more



This is Herculaneum. Before being covered in ash and lava, it was a resort town, of about 5000 people. Smaller than Pompeii and only a small amount has been excavated. This site you could easily visit in 2-3 hours. (For that and what I mention below, some people prefer visiting here to Pompeii.)

As you enter the ruins, you cross a bridge with this view.

Read more

Pompeii: the public buildings

Back in 62 CE (AD), Pompeii was struck by a major earthquake. They were still repairing damage from this seventeen years later Vesuvius erupted and buried the city. Apparently, many of the public buildings had not yet been repaired. (Also, as a random fact because I only found this out the other day, in 89 BCE, Pompeii was besieged by Romans.)

So, let’s start with the the Forum, the heart of any good Roman city. It was a public square surrounded by markets, government buildings and the major temples. You can see some remains of the colonnade that ran along the sides.

At one end is the main temple, Temple of Jupiter or Capitolium (dedicated to the trio of Jupiter, Kuno & MInera). One of the buildings that wasn’t repaired after the earthquake. (Such an innocent looking mountain in the background.)

Read more

Pompeii: streets and houses

Pompeii is a large site. It was home to about 20,000 people and I about 2/3 of that has been excavated. Not all of the excavated area is open to the public but the Park still covers a large part of the city. The website recommends a minimum of 2-3 hours to visit the site. Now I know it says minimum but that suggests you can get around most of the area in 2-3 hours. I had five days there. One was washed out and another I visited Herculaneum, although I dropped into Pompeii for the last couple of hours of the day. So, that was three days of 3-4 hours each, and I managed to get to everything I wanted to see but not the whole site. Big place. But it was a city, and like any city it was mostly houses and shops.

A typical street small shops along the sides, open to the street, and the houses are in behind.

There are also water fountains and stones for crossing the road (you can see some behind the fountain).

Read more

Paris: Day 3 A lot of walking

Today’s walk requires going to the other side of the Seine, and crossing Île de la Cité.

Île de la Cité is an island in the river Seine in the center of Paris. In the 4th century, it was the site of the fortress of the Roman governor. In 508, Clovis I, the first King of the Franks, established his palace on the island. In the 12th century, it became an important religious center, the home of Notre-Dame cathedral, and the royal chapel of Sainte-Chapelle, as well as the city’s first hospital, the Hôtel-Dieu. It is also the site of the city’s oldest surviving bridge, the Pont Neuf. With the departure of the French kings to the Louvre Palace, and then to the Palace of Versailles, the island became France’s judicial centre. In 1302, it hosted the first meeting of the Parliament of Paris and was later the site of the trials of aristocrats during the French Revolution.

Read more

Over the border: Caerleon

This is Caerleon, a Welsh town just over the river from Bristol.

Back in the Roman days, there were three larger/permanent fortresses, at Deva (Chester), Eboracum (York) and Isca (Caerleon). This is the fortress’s barracks.


The nearby amphitheature was unfortunately, due to the weather.

Back in town is the National Roman Legion Museum, a small museum with lots of artefacts related to Roman life with an emphasis on military.

Headstones and a coffin. The coffin has a bones and skull in it (as found).

Out the back they’ve recreated a Roman garden.

And then down the road is the fortress’s bath.

Roman baths have a series of bathing rooms in dfferent temperatures. Sometimes they also have a swimming pool, as here and at Bath.

They say this pool is bigger than the one at Bath.

This is the frigidarium, the cold room.

A Visit To Bath

This is Bath, the largest city in Somerset, with a population of about 100,000.

In Georgian times it was very popular as a spa town and a lot of its architecture dates from then.

Not this though. Bath Abbey was built in the late 15th/early 16th century, replacing a much larger Norman cathedral. This building is big, but apparently it would easily fit inside its predecessor. Also, I’m told it should be a priory church not an abbey, but Queen Elizabeth said it was an abbey and so it’s an abbey. It also has no earls buried in it. (I asked, which is why I found out about the priory church thing and also earls generally preferred to be buried on their own land.) There were 3829 other people buried under the floor though. (“Were” because the floor was recently replaced and any remains found were reburied in a nearby cemetery.)

Also, the tower has 212 steps. I know this because just inside the door is a piece of paper that says so. It also has a list warnings and a list of health conditions that if you suffer from you shouldn’t climb up the 212 steps, and next to that another piece of paper that you sign to say you’ve read and accept everything on the first piece of paper.

Read more

Three interesting things about York Minster

(I almost called this “You won’t believe what they found under York Minster.”)

Minster is Old English/Anglo-Saxon term, used for an important church, and cathedral is a new-fangled term the base for an archbishop.  A church can be either or, as with York Minster, both. It’s been built, (partially) destroyed and rebuilt many times since the 8th century, so I’m not going into that. (If you’re interested.) Instead, just three interesting things:

Interesting thing 1: The Minster is inhabited by teeny, tiny people. (Some are so small you might need to click on a picture to get a bigger version so you can see them.)

Read more

Going Roman at the Yorkshire Museum.

The Yorkshire Museum in York has a lot of Roman artefacts (for reasons mnetioned below). Like any sensible museum, they are displayed in different rooms with themes (e.g People of York) but I’ve just pulled out some interesting ones to share. Unfortunately, like any sensible museum, the lighting is low so my selection of objects is further reduced by the those that photagraphed reasonably well. Text is italics is from the panels accompanying the objects.

Catimandua was queen of an Iron Age tribe called the Brigantes. Her tribal territory, which extended across the northern Britain, formed a buffer zone for the Roman Empire with the Picts to the north in Scotland. Her position was threatened by an open revolt led by her husband Venutius. The imperial authorities were forced to intervene. The Ninth Legion was sent north from Lincoln to quell the revolt. They constructed a permanent fortress at the confluence of two rivers and prehistoric route way. This fortress became Eboracum.

This aerial photo shows the location of the fortress overlaid on modern York, to give an idea of the size. The red square on the right marks the location of the fortress, now under the central city area. The “You Are Here” at the very top is the museum. On the left side of the river was the (civilian) town. Just above that is now the railway station. If I remember correctly, it was the site of a cemetery.

Read more