Pantheon of Rome. The Egyptian challenge


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The Pantheon, Rome. At its front sixteen Corinthian columns ‘made in Egypt’ and transported hundreds of miles to Rome, ancient Rome …

The original Pantheon of Rome was built 27-25 BC by the consul Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. According to Roman mythology it stands on the spot, where Romulus was carried away by an eagle after he died. The original building was however destroyed by fire in 80 AD. It was the emperor Hadrian, who reconstructed the Pantheon in 118-125 AD giving it a new design. Historians say, he was so obsessed with the new interior design that he punished by death the principle architect after a dispute over some technicalities.

After the reconstruction, only the original portico with sixteen Corinthian columns was preserved. As a tribute to  the consul Agrippa an inscription was added at the top saying: M.AGRIPPA.L.F.COS.TERTIUM.FECIT, otherwise: “M[arcus] Agrippa L[ucii] f[ilius] co[n]s[ul] tertium fecit”. It means: “Marcus Agrippa son of Lucius consul for the 3rd time built this”.

The massive Corinthian columns supporting the portico are each 12 m tall and 1.5 m in diameter. The column shafts are of granite monoliths that were excavated from two Egyptian quarries. The eight original light grey columns of the front row came from the imperial quarry at Mons Claudianus. The pink column shafts (called pink Aswan) of the middle and back rows came from the Assuan region. They were first dragged many kilometers from the quarries to the Nile river on wooden sledges. Afterwards they were floated by barge down the river when the water level was high enough during the spring floods. Finally they were brought by ship from Egypt to the Roman port of Ostia and further pulled up the Tiber river to Rome on barges. Quite a challenge having in mind that each of the columns weights around sixty tonnes.

As you may however notice on the photo, not all columns in the front row are light grey. In the Middle Ages the left side of the portico was damaged. Three columns had to be replaced. Another challenge. Finally, one replacement came from Villa of Domitian at Castel Gandolfo (its remains belong today to the Papal estate) in 1626 AD. The other two came from the Baths of Nero (Rome, no longer existent) in 1666 AD.

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The historic city of Bruges


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A couple months ago while on business in Brussels I decided to make a short trip to Bruges located North-West of the European capital in a couple kilometers distance from the English Channel. I visited this city once and remembered it as full of medieval architecture and many water channels. That time I did not enjoy it much as it was quite heavily raining the whole day. This time weather was just fine. So, I spent around four or five hours walking the streets of the historical medieval city of Bruges.

The area is told to be the biggest medieval city area preserved in Europe. First, it is to the fact that Bruges was one of the leading commercial centres in medieval Europe. Some historians even say that for some period the most important one. The city was simply very reach, or at least many of its inhabitants either locals or foreign ones were very affluent people. (The inequalities led once or twice to social unrest and political interventions). Secondly, because besides a few smaller events, the city was neither devastated by a bigger fire nor leveled to the ground by warfare.

In general, it is true. But some additional explanation is needed here. The city was thriving in the early Middle Ages thanks to the tidal inlet that connected it with the sea. Its economic existence was however endangered as in the late XI and early XII century a gradual silting caused the city to lose its direct access to the sea. A storm in 1134 re-established the access through a natural channel. For years, Bruges was a thriving harbour connecting merchants from the North (England, Scandinavia), West (through Hanzeatic League) and South (Italian merchant cities, Spain, Portugal). Merchant or trading usances developed by the city authorities and the merchant guilds became the very basis of the modern exchange trading (>>>).

Around 1500 slitting closed the channel for good. The city lost its position and many affluent inhabitants to nearby Antwerp. A decline that lasted for almost four hundred years begun. Like other affluent cities of Northern Europe, Bruges was looted in times of the religious wars in the XVI century, French Revolution and Napoleonic wars in the late XVII and XIX centuries (>>>). Much furniture, stained glass, paintings and tapestries were destroyed or in later years sold to art dealers or antiquaries, who resold them internationally.

Bruges has the style of its own, and the buildings are for sure historical ones. However, early medieval Bruges besides some brick Gothic architecture was mainly a wooden city. Bruges, we can admire today, has in most parts brick facades with characteristic step gabbling. Only few wooden structures are preserved. Thus, in the years between Middle Ages and the present day the city was reconstructed. The wooden facades were replaced as they had been susceptible of fire. The interior construction of many houses is however still of the past ages. The medieval origins of the city are mostly well preserved in its street pattern, with main roads leading towards the important public squares and the network of canals once used for the mercantile traffic. Most buildings have retained the original parcels of land.

The actual revival of Bruges was a direct consequence of damage, and thievery that plagued the city in the XVIII and XIX centuries. The local community as well as many immigrants from England fought to stop the practice and engaged to revitalise the city. There is no sign of the revolutionary damage today. In fact, the city is very well taken care of. The ‘conservation movement’ prevented also conversion of the city style into more modern look as it happened for example in Brussels. Bruges seems also to have missed the XIX century industrial revolution. The old/modern facades are described as of Neo-Gothic style that is  specific for Bruges. The modern additions of XIX and XX centuries fit well the overall picture.

So, the historical city of Bruges is not that originally medieval as it is often claimed, but still it is one of the most interesting historical cities in Europe.

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Tsukiji Fish Market


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Japanese like fish, fresh raw fish. In Japan there are also many processed fish products. It is common knowledge.

But even being well acquainted with modern logistics processes at first I did not understand how it works – the Tsukiji Fish Market, the biggest wholesale fish market in the world. Located in Japan not far from the most elegant parts of Tokyo. The place is extremely different from the adjacent quarters. There are plans to relocate it. But it could be difficult as the wholesale area is really very big, fully sheltered, with many traders inside, and it is surrounded by many retail shops, fish stands and restaurants. It opens in the early morning, and closes in the late morning hours, as the fish is dispatched to restaurants that would use it the same day.

We got there almost at its close, but there were still many people processing fish and other sea produce. Below some photo impressions.

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