Tag Archives: Romans

Le Pont du Gard, a gift from Rome

Built by the Romans in the first century AD, Le Pont du Gard is one of the world’s most remarkable bridges. It is also one of the great masterpieces of Roman architecture and engineering.

Le Pont du Gard
Le Pont du Gard

Le Pont Du Gard originally formed part of a 50 kilometres aqueduct which ran from Uzès, across the River Gardon, to Nimes. Until 9th century the aqueduct carried some 200 litres of water a day into the town, for the fountains, baths and sanitation systems that formed an essential part of contemporary Roman life. The bridge also served as thoroughfare across the river.

From a distance the bridge is an impressive sight. 50 metres high with two tiers of arches, its balance, symmetry and sheer might are awe inspiring. Up close, it is even more impressive. The bridge is made of massive stone blocks, hewn probably in off-site quarries and hauled into place. Each block is marked with the (now worn) Roman numerals that enabled those ancient engineers to fit them together, like pieces of a jigsaw, to make the marvel that is Le Pont Du Gard.

Le Pont Du Gard is no longer used as a bridge and its top tier is no longer accessible. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and is now one of France’s most visited tourist attractions.

The Musée du Pont Du Gard explains how the aqueduct functioned, the genius of Roman engineering, the importance of water in Roman culture and the Roman legacy, in terms of sanitation and water, to modern times. It is amazing!

A brief history of Manchester, from Roman to Mediaeval times

The Roman invasion, the Danish marauders, the Saxon settlers, the Norman Conquest, the Industrial Revolution, the World War 2 blitz and the IRA bombing, Manchester has endured and survived them all, rebuilding and reinventing itself for over almost two thousand years, to become the vibrant modern metropolis that it is today. Its streets and its architecture tell its long and fascinating story.

Manchester Cathedral
Manchester Cathedral

Manchester’s first century AD Roman past can be mainly seen in the reconstructions of walls, stables, barracks, granary and gardens at North Gate, although excavations have uncovered defensive ditches and Salford’s Camp Street marks the site where the first tents were pitched.

The only relic of Saxon times is the Angel Stone, which is mentioned in the Doomesday Book and was the foundation stone for the Church of St Mary, built at the end of Deansgate in the 8th century. The Danes 9th century legacy is found only fragments of language like “gat”, Danish for “street” found in today’s Millsgate and busy, commercial Deansgate.

The Norman Conquest and settlement of 1066 has left more behind it. The historic area of Castlefield, where the Norman town was established, still remains as a vibrant and picturesque part of the new city.

In the lands surrounding Manchester, Norman manors and castles still stand. The names of those early Norman settlers are prominent in the establishment of early Manchester, like Thomas de Gresley, whose son was granted the Great Manchester Charter, in 1301. It was De Gresley’s medieval successors who built the 15th century Hanging Bridge, founded the Chetham’s Music School library and established the Collegiate Church, in 1421. The Arch and the west wall of the Mediaeval Collegiate Church still stand within the tower of the present Manchester Cathedral.

 

Obuda

Just along the Danube from Buda, lies Obuda. The oldest and most culturally diverse of Budapest’s three townships, its history dates back to the Stone Age and its settlers range from Romans to Germans.

View of Obuda from Margaret Island
View of Obuda from Margaret Island

The first settlement here, the town of Ak-Ink, meaning ample water, was apparently Celtic. By 89 AD it had become a military base for 6000 Roman soldiers. In 107AD the Roman Emperor Trajan established the civilian town of Acquincum, meaning abundant in water, as the capital of Pannonia. While Ak-Ink appears to have vanished with out trace, there is a great deal left of Acquincum. The ruins of a large public bath, the Thermae Maiores still lie under the flyover to the Arpad Bridge. Nearby is the huge 131 by 107 metre military amphitheatre which rivaled Rome’s Colisseum. Excavations during the 1950s and 60s uncovered the 2 room Roman Hercules Villa with mosaics depicting the Hercules myth and the Dionysus saga. The Acquincum Museum houses courtyards, baths, a marketplace, sarcophagi, sculptures, tools, jewels, glassware and wall-paintings.

During the Middle Ages, after Bela IV had moved his court to the west bank of the Danube in the wake of the Mongol invasions, Obuda became the site of the Palace of the Hungarian Queens and a thriving community grew up around it. Little remains of the mediaeval town except for the old Convent on Kiskorona Utca. Most of it was swept away in the 15th century Turkish invasion or fell into decay during the occupation.

The Turks, however, left not only their trademark Turkish Baths, but a legacy of Hunagrian rose gardens. The Kirraly Baths, at FoUtca, overlooking the Danube, were built in 1556. It is crowned by four green domes with the tallest topped by a golden crescent. Inside, four flights of steps lead up to an octagonal pool. Near the Buda bridgehead, the Dervish, known as the “Father of Roses”, who introduced the flowers to Hungary, lies in his tomb, surrounded by a bed of roses.

During the 17th century, after the Hapsburg conquest, an influx of German settlers restored life to Obuda and by the 18th century, it had become a thriving centre again. The buildings in picturesque Fo Ter date back to this time, like the Town Hall and baroque Zichy Castle, commissioned in the mid 18th century by Count Nicholas Zichy.  Grand bourgeois mansions point to an affluent citizens and a luxurious lifestyle. Jewish settlers, banished from the royal lands of Buda and Pest moved into Obuda. They had been invited by Count Zichy to service the commercial interests of the community as moneylenders, merchants and traders. The splendid classical Jewish Synagogue was built at this time to serve their prosperous community.

Although its history is long and rooted in ancient times, twenty first century Obuda is symbolized by the starkly beautiful, modern Imre Vargos sculpture, The Women with Umbrella, which stands in Szentlelek Square.  Obuda still centres on quaint, pretty, old world Fo Ter. The Town Hall still functions but the Zichy Castle is home to a museum. The Synagogue is now a TV studio, its congregation decimated by the Holocaust. The Roman ruins and the Turkish Kirraly Baths attract hosts of visitors. Locals frequent Uj Sipos Fish Restaurant, famed throughout Budapest for its Hungarian fisherman’s soup. Every summer young people pour in for the Sziget Festival on Hajogyan Isalnd just offshore. The outer circle of the little town is dominated by plain-faced Russian high rise housing and Hungary’s largest ever housing estate is a work in progress

Mykonos, Part 12, ancient history

According to an ancient legend, the island of Mykonos was formed from a rock thrown by Poseidon, god of the sea, during a battle with some giants. Poseidon was victorious and the vanquished giants were finally  laid to rest. Rocky outcrops around the island mark their graves.

The graves of the giants, Mykonos
The graves of the giants, Mykonos

The island took its name from Mykonos, son of Anios who was also the grandson of the god Apollo and the nymph Rhoe.

The discovery of Neolithic settlement in Mavrospalia places the first humans on Mykonos in 3000BC.

In the 11th century BC, the Ionians settled here, leaving coins stamped with their favourite deity, Dionysos, god of wine and celebrations, so it seems entirely fitting that it is should evolve into one of the world’s most popular party places.

Around 500BC, Mykonos was embroiled in the historic battle of Salamis between Persia and Greece. Mykonos fought on the Persian side. Why? Because they felt slighted by the fact that the name of Mykonos was not mentioned in the thanksgiving tripod presented to the Delphic Oracle by the rest of the Greek States. When Persia was defeated, Mykonos became a colony of the state of Athens. Its citizens were forced to pay heavy taxes and endured a long period of hardship.

The island’s fortunes of Mykonos changed when Alexander the Great swept into Greece in 336 BC. Mykonos grew rich exporting grain, agricultural products and high quality clay to support and sustain his campaign to conquer the world.

In 146 BC the Romans marched into Greece. They constructed cities and ports and Mykonos, a valuable outpost in the Mediterranean, grew truly wealthy.