No, no, no, this post is not about doped-up hippies at a love-in, we’re going straight for the hard stuff. This is basically just going to be an excuse to drool over beautiful stonework. This might be sculpture, or building stone, worked natural outcrops, gorgeous stone chosen for it’s loveliness, whatever. It’s stone and it’s loved.
I just have to start with my own love, Chemtou, ancient Simittus. Yes, I know, I’ve blogged about it before but I just love it. I’ve been twice and need to go again.
What made the stone from this marble quarry so beloved of the Romans was its colour. Or should I say colours (plural). We’ve all heard of Carrara marble, the Romans’ favourite white marble, but Simmitus provided the yellows, the golds, the reds, even some green and black marble too.
Ancient authors and later antiquarians raved over this lovely stone. In is early nineteenth-century work**, William Lempriere said,
“The marble of Numidia, as it is described by ancient authors, was of the finest contexture, and used upon the most sumptuous occasions. Solinus calls it “eximium marmor” and Suetonium mentions a column of it that was erected to Julius Caesar, with this inscription, Patri Patriae. The colour was yellow, with red or purple spots or streaks.”
This is that marble in its natural state.
In the quarry are some unfinished, abandoned columns. These may have been left because the stone had faults in it, or it was developing cracks.
Coloured marbles were transported from here to Rome to be used in the Pantheon and other public and private buildings, but here, from Cyrene in eastern Libya, are some smaller examples of what becomes of these kinds of marbles.
Cut into pieces and fitted together to make patterned floors, this technique is called opus sectile.
Here, from the villa Dar Buc Ammera near Lepcis Magna, the opus sectile is combined with mosaic to create this beautiful floor panel.
One of the key uses of all this lovely stone was for the construction, of public and private buildings. This could be pretty utilitarian but we often see stone beautifully worked. In western Libya, these intricately carved columns grace the basilica at Sabratha (left) and the Severan Basilica at Lepcis (right).
But there are also plain columns made from beautiful stone. These enormous cipollino marble columns are on the beach at Lepcis, having been moved from the Hadrianic Baths for transport to Europe in the 17th century.
Many of these columns were used in the building of the Palace of Versailles, but these ones were abandoned on the beach.
And, made from the same green and white marble, in situ but incomplete, at Bulla Regia in Tunisia,
Looking too at the column capitals, we can see the intricate working, but these are Roman with a distinct twist. A number of the corinthian column capitals in the Severan Basilica (and other buildings) at Lepcis incorporate a positively Egyptian lotus design. This may reflect the strong influence of Egypt across North Africa, with significant trade routes bringing cultural influences, as well as goods, further west.
And just one very nice touch incorporated into the same building.
Among these tilework courses are cantharus and pine cone designs made from blocks of marble. Nice.
Next, statuary, and North Africa has some beautiful examples of portrait busts and full height statues carved from pristine white marble, although they were often painted in lifelike colours. This bevy is from El Djem, Tunisia, and although statues are often quite idealised, these can tell us so much about clothing and ways of wearing various kinds of robes and wraps.
And gods and kings…well, Emperors.
Unsurprisingly, the Libyan Emperor Septimius Severus features heavily, but there are also have lots of Hadrian and Claudius, as well as lots of others.
And for the dead? Here is part of the necropolis at Cyrene.
This is an enormous necropolis, reflecting the size and longevity of the city, and there are many many rock-cut tombs and sarcophagi in the hills near the city. Some of the burials are in simple sarcophagi, but some of the tombs, cut directly into the hillside, are quite elaborate. They drew on temple design and included inscriptions and decorative elements.
Unfortunately this necropolis is at severe risk from developers at the moment.
And now for something completely different.
Ok. I think we’d better leave it there. We’re all stoned enough.
**A Tour from Gibraltar to Tangier, Sallee, Mogodore, Santa Cruz, Tarudant: And Thence Over Mount Atlas, to Morocco: Including a Particular Account of the Royal Harem, &c, William Lempriere