Where all roads meet

Well, maybe not ‘all’ but 7, in any case.

From the area map at the bus stop.

This is Bavay, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of northern France, close to the France-Belgium border. A sleepy little village that isn’t really on the way to or from anywhere. But 2000 years ago, Bavay was on the way to loads of places.

Bavay, or Bagacum in the 1st century CE, was the tribal capital or civitas of the powerful Nervii tribe.  Seven major routes passed through Bagacum so it grew into an important site for trading, administration, law courts and the military. Its situation on the road from Boulogne (Roman Gesoriacum) to Cologne (Roman Colonia  Agrippinensis) made it a key stopping off point between the Roman provinces of Germania and Britannia.

The site was known about in the eighteenth century as chance finds and unofficial digs turned up many Roman objects, but the site was really uncovered due to heavy bombing during WW2. The post-war excavations revealed a huge Gallo-Roman forum basilica, the largest outside Italy, measuring 200m by 120m.

In the Claudian period, the town flourished and grew rapidly, with the construction of civic buildings like the forum, the basilica, public bathhouses fed by aqueducts and temples being built and beautified. The town was an important centre for the production of pottery goods and traded in, in particular, bronze-working, and was a key staging post during the conquest of Britain.

I’d been wanting to get to Bavay for a little while and had pondered making my way over there when I was staying in Belgium last year, but it’s a faff to get to on public transport and a lot of routes take absolutely hours to get there. It’s not a natural stopping off point on the way to or from anywhere in particular so this time I decided that I’d just make it the be all and end all of a visit. The easiest route was London > Lille, Lille > Valenciennes, Valenciennes > Bavay, so, timetables checked, I was off.

By the time I got to Bavay it was pouring with rain, and I’d left my umbrella in London. Oh well. There’s a museum to visit at the site, so I started there, hoping that the rain would ease off a bit.

(cue museum break)

By the time I left the museum not only had it stopped raining, but it was scorching hot; cracking flags! My stroll around the site was, therefore, a slow and lazy one. A lot of the better preserved sections seem to have been buried in the building of the later ramparts, hence the excellent state of preservation.

At one end of the site there are the remains of a cryptoporticus; a covered storage area below ground level.

Much of the site has been turfed over but here and there, there are still little patches of the Roman paving. There’s even the odd wheel-rut.

The fortunes and function of the city began to changes in the third-century, when it served as a post for regional defence, and around the turn of the fourth century, the ramparts and city walls were constructed.

Getting to Bavay without a car was a bit of a schlep but it was worth it, as it’s a really interesting site with a great museum. As I had to pass through Valenciennes and Lille to get there, I made a point of visiting a few other places on the way, including the Musee des Beaux Art, Valenciennes and Lille Cathedral, so all in all this made for a great little trip.

Roman walls in car parks. This is actually a ‘thing’.

In 2012, archaeology in car parks hit the headlines. The perfect mix of the prosaic and the sensational; the ancient and modern, seemed to excite the interest of people who usually had no interest at all in archaeology. Of course, you throw in a king and an ‘odd feeling’ and that gets the tabloids going. But I am a Romanist and we don’t do kings. We do, however, do car parks.

On my wanderings I have found myself in many a car park, squeezing between Vauxhall Astras and Ford Focuses, tramping about the place to look at…what? Walls. There’s loads of them. So many that I’ve decided that ‘Roman walls in car parks’ is an actual ‘thing’. So here are a few.

York (Eboracum).

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Ok, that doesn’t look like much but York was an extremely important and powerful city in the Roman period. Founded by the soldiers of the ninth legion in 71CE;  the seat of Roman power under Septimius Severus’ from 208-11 (and the site of his death in 211), the capital of Britannia Inferior under Caracalla; the location for Constantine’s accession to the purple in 306.

This is all big stuff. Seriously.

It’s ok. Those bits of wall in the car park aren’t the only surviving Roman walls. There are some quite impressive sections still surviving to full height. With bastions.

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There is also Roman wall in other British car parks. Here in London (Londinium), you have to go underground. Under the aptly-named London Wall is the London Wall Car Park and if you go along to the motorcycle bays (around Bay 52), you can find… the London wall.

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I like this because you can see the construction methods clearly, the inner core made from rubble with tile courses for stabilization, faced with nicely worked  stones on the exterior, all on a beautifully chamfered  plinth.

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Nearby, hidden behind a nondescript door by the side of the ramp down to the bit of the London Wall Car Park that’s under the Museum of London…

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This is what remains of the west gate of the fort and it’s associated guardroom, which stood in the north-west corner of Londinium. Built in about 120CE, the fort predates the city wall and was utilized to form the north-western corner of the enclosed city when the wall was built  in the third-century.

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This isn’t always accessible but the Museum does do regular tours/talks so look out on their website for those.

And here’s Colchester (Camulodunum).

In Colchester you can see a mixture of original and recreated Roman wall. Here’s a bit of the recreated.

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Basically you can just see what the Roman wall looked like when it was pretty new, and you can, again, see the way that the wall is built using courses of stone blocks with layers of terracotta tile for stabilization.

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Round the corner is a decent stretch of the real thing.

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It’s looking a bit less pristine but then, it is pushing 2000 years old. The city was fortified with walls when it was rebuilt after its destruction during the Boudiccan revolt of 60/61.

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The walls were built fairly rapidly and utilised whatever building material they could find. Within the wall structure you can see bits and bobs, like this piece of roof tile (tegula), some of which show signs of burning.

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Again, there are other, pretty extensive, Roman walls surviving in the city. And they are easy to follow round, taking in some of the city gates on the way

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I’ve observed that this is not just a British thing.

Arlon (Orolaunum)

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Further afield, in the Belgian city of Arlon, is this magnificent section of wall, complete with a bastion.

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The foundations were built using old bits of worked stone, inscriptions and tomb stones, and it’s possible to still see some of those in-situ.

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An earlier blog post has a few more pictures of the delights of Roman Arlon and some more of the many many carved stone monuments found there.

Paris (Lutetia)

There is a rather sorry little section of the Roman city wall in Paris. The door here was locked so I could only see it through the glass but it’s not that impressive in any case. Still, here it is.

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It’s in the stairwell of an underground carpark on Boulevard Saint-Michel.

As far as I’m aware, that’s about it for the Roman city wall of Paris but I discovered that there are some other Roman walls in a car park in Paris. The brilliant Crypt Archeologique at Notre Dame is one of the best places to see the remains of Roman Paris (see also the amphitheatre, the ‘arènes de Lutèce’; and the great big bathhouse at Musee Cluny). I had thought that Crypt Archeologique was just next to the Notre Dame carpark…

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…but a display about the discovery of the remains shows that the site is actually inside the carpark, albeit separated from the vehicles, so I’m claiming this one too.

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The crypt contains, among other things, Roman houses, a bathhouse, a bit of a bridge abutment and part of a quay on  the River Seine.

Nimes (Colonia Nemausus )

Nimes is another city where it is possible to follow the circuit of the old Roman walls, happening upon gateways, decent sections of standing wall and sorry little scraps along the way.

Here’s one of the sorry little scraps.

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On the Rue Armand-Barbès, just by the side of the pavement, are these hardly-noticeable remains of the city wall.  It’s a bit more obvious when you look at the run of the wall that leads into the nearby car park.

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It’s not much to look at but it’s just a small element of the, quite extensive, remains of Roman Nimes and so, for a Romanist like me, worth looking out for on my way round town.

Angers (Juliomagus Andecavorum)

In Angers, in terms of Roman remains, there is, frankly, not much. In the Roman period there were the usual houses, bath-houses, bridges and temples, including a Temple of Mithras. All of this has been built over,  plundered for later building work, and swept away for the construction of the castle and later ramparts.

So what is left?

Apart from some artefacts, now in the local museum, there is only this stretch of wall on Rue Toussaint.

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It’s a chunky stretch of wall made mostly of petit appareil but also looks like it has been altered, built on and up against, and knocked through so that it contains elements of Roman and later construction. It’s actually by the side of a road but there are designated parking spaces all along this stretch, so I’m calling it a car park.

A few kilometres away, there’s more.

Tours (Civitas Turonum)

Enclosing the carpark behind the Studio Cinema on Rur des Ursulines is this stretch of the Roman city wall.

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The wall has clearly been built from reused material with a mixture of petit and grand appareil

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There’s another stretch in the Jardin de St Pierre le Puellier. This area has actually been set out as a public garden with signage about the walls and the bastion.

Cologne (Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium)

And, lastly, I was just in Cologne, a city with some quite decent stretches of its city wall still standing, on my latest car park-related jolly. So here it is, the Roman wall of Cologne, in a car park.

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And another car parky-bit.

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These are in an underground car park right underneath the Cathedral. The remains of the north gate of the city have been reconstructed up at ground level but down here we can see the in-situ remains. This being a rather historical car park, there’s also a medieval well!

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And down the road is another section of the wall bordering another car park.

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Ok, this doesn’t look very Roman, does it? But, trust me, it is. The Roman wall core has subsequently been faced with brick so it all looks much later but, at its core this is still in-situ Roman wall. You can see this better at the exposed end of the wall.

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In the making of this post I gatecrashed a tour being run by one of the Curators of The Museum of London. He raised an interesting point about how the decision to preserve the particular bit of wall we were looking was taken. As a car park is, essentially, a big empty space, I started to wonder about the discussions that preceded the decision to preserve or not preserve, and how that discussion might differ if it was, say, a row of houses rather than a big empty space that was being built. How many chunks of Roman wall have been swept away, demolished to make way for new homes and shops? Probably loads. Maybe it’s easier to argue for the preservation of ancient monuments in car parks specifically because a car park is big empty space. That might explain why there are so many bits of Roman wall in car parks.

And so I rest my case. Roman walls in car parks are clearly a ‘thing’. The evidence speaks for itself.

Oh, and if you’re planning to seek out random archaeology in random places people will, inevitably, wonder why on earth you’re taking photos of a crappy bit of old wall in a car park, so be prepared for funny looks.

2016 – annus horribilis

Where to start with 2016.

What an absolute shower. Brexit, Trump, our heroes dropping like flies, Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. This is all, all awful.

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Which is why I’m not going to write another word about any of it and focus on all the cool things about 2016.

2015 ended like this…

And 2016 started like this…

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I spent the New Year in Jordan, at Petra and also a few other places like Madaba and Amman, over the course of a week or so. This was pretty cool, although it was quite cold and there was something going on at Petra which meant that the army was called out. This was, initially, slightly alarming, but it was all fine and I was able to spend some quality time looking at archaeology and cats. Two of my favourite things.

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By the end of January, I’d handed in my notice at work and was looking forward to some freedom. As I had to work quite a long notice period, freedom had to wait, but at least it was on the horizon.

If it’s Tuesday, this must be…

I’ve been travelling a fair bit this year, mostly, but not exclusively, in northern Europe and mostly chasing Romans, so here’s a little round-up (with links where I’ve already blogged my travels).

At Easter I popped off to Morocco for a bit. Friends had warned me to be careful because some people have had negative experiences, especially in Tangier, getting a lot of hassle from pushy touts and over-eager shopkeepers. I had no problems at all (except for one grumpy taxi driver). No, I had a great time visiting some of the Roman sites in northern Morocco, including Volubilis

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Lixus

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Chellah

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and Tamouda.

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I think that most people don’t really think of Morocco as a Roman area and, it’s true, the Romans only really settled the north, away from the main tourist areas of Fez, Marrakesh and the desert. Still, Romans were what I wanted and Romans were what I got.

Once I’d done with work and was free (FREE!!) I was off to Paris.

While there, I visited the last resting place of millions of humans (Les Catacombes de Paris) and hundreds of animals (Le Cimetière des Chiens). It’s rather telling that it was only the latter of these that reduced me to a sobbing wreck.

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Then up to Northumberland to meet up with some digging pals; Tim and Laura, AKA Lord and Lady Trowelsworthy; Pete; Pierre; Scott; Jeff…the gang.

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It’s not often that I get a welcoming committee and a banner!

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And then down to Marseille for a week of sun, ships and … Romans 😀

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And now I must mention ATP.

In the spring, ATP was holding two festivals at a holiday camp in north Wales. I wasn’t going to go because I find the whole holiday camp schtick a bit trying, but a number of friends were at the first of the two. These festivals didn’t exactly go as planned (cue: divers alarums) and the fall out left a rather bitter taste in many mouths.

There had been another ATP festival due to take place in Iceland  at the end of June, which I was going to. To be honest, I was already well prepared for this to go pear-shaped and, as I’d been able to book flights and accommodation for good prices, I had already decided that Iceland was on, whatever happened with ATP. Obviously, as it turned out, ATP went west but I still went north, and had a great time.

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Boats, beaches, puffins, architecture, spelunking, and football 😀

And even…Romans!!

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Seriously, these are the only four Roman coins in Iceland.

In August, I spent some time in Belgium, again looking for Romans. Based in Liege, I made several trips to sites in the surrounding area.

Heerlan

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Tongeren

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Arlon

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and in Liege itself

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At the end, I popped over to Berlin for a few days (the flight from Brussels was £9! £9!!) and hit the museums and hot-spots like a total tourist.

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I was actually back in Berlin again in November, as my friend Katherine was going over and that seemed like a great excuse to join her.

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Levitation France was on in Angers in September, so I went over for that and…Romans (obviously).

Starting off in Nantes

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Then moving on to Angers for the festival with side visits to Jublains

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Le Mans

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and Tours

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Life is good

The dark dreary wintery end of January was brightened up with groovy lights at Lumiere London.

Summer saw a visit to excavations at the Curtain Theatre in Shoreditch

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And I started working on a research project for the Petrie Museum. This is the museum of Egyptian archaeology at UCL and the project was looking at archaeology in the middle east during, and around, the First World War.

Summer also saw me doing a bit of digging with Hendon & District Archaeological Society at a site in north London.

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The society has been investigating Clitterhouse Farm for a while and my friend Roger suggested that I come along for a bit of a dig. We had a lot of fun and found 6 courses of a wall that wasn’t supposed to be there!

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September started off with a horrendous dental nightmare (root canal is hell) which I managed to get sorted, eventually. To cheer me up, the Dice People, John, Guy and me, went on a jolly to Richborough Roman Fort.

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The Dice People also became Lamp People as we spent a few days at the Archive (LAARC) seeking out all the Roman pottery lamps for the next Volunteers’ project. We found some cracking lamps, some of them complete.

London also commemorated the 350th anniversary of The Great Fire of London, by building a huge model of the City on a barge on the Thames and torching it!

This was actually ridiculously exciting.

Luck was on my side when I entered a draw for tickets to attend a lecture by Stephen Hawking at Imperial College. The lecture was on recent developments in the science of black holes. Apparently, 25,000 people applied for tickets so this was a bit of a coup for me.

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Now, I’m a scientific ignoramus so most of the sciencey stuff went whizzing way over my head but Prof Hawking is actually quite an accessible speaker. He tries to make it comprehensible even to thickies like me so the opportunity to attend one of his lectures was a treat.

Also, he’s on Big Bang.

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2016 was also the year that I, rather unexpectedly, became a great-aunt when my nephew and his girlfriend popped out a surprise baby. None of this was planned of course but, hey ho, these things happen. I’m delighted to report that all is well and his name is Roman…ROMAN!! 😀 😀

Music makes me lose control

There has been no Loop in 2016. This is a source of great sorrow to me and the implosion of ATP caused me to assume that there would be no more in the future. I’m pleased to say that there is now the promise of more Soundhead action in 2017, so I live in hope.

Nevertheless, I have been to some cracking gigs this year and here’s a little round-up of some of the best.

Cavern of Anti-Matter at The Moth Club, Patterns in Brighton, Dingwalls (for my birthday), and at Liverpool psych Fest. I like Cavern of Anti-Matter. The band features Tim Gane and Joe Dilworth of Stereolab  fame and sounds pretty well as you’d expect them to sound. This is a good thing. Plenty of bounce, groovy drums and some cool squelchy electro- synths. Nice.

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The Vacant Lots at the Shacklewell Arms, the Prince Albert in Brighton and The Moth Club. The Vacant Lots are definitely too cool for school, but Jared really should be more careful. He actually ended up in stitches (at Homerton Hospital) after the Shacklewell Arms gig.

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My focus in the first quarter of the year was to drag myself to the end of my notice period and escape work with my sanity, and I was helped along by two cracking, and very loud gigs by The Heads.

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I also got to see The Coathangers at The Moth Club and Follakzoid, playing at the Raw Power Festival. I was also treated to a brilliant gig by Sonic Boom with a new find (for me) in support; Happy Meals.

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And Sonic also played at Levitation France, and with Etienne Jaumet (of Zombie Zombie)  at a gig with James Holden at St. Luke’s.

There have also been lots of very good gigs by (in no particular order) Camera, Michael Rother, Damo Suzuki, Xaviers, Silver Apples, Minny Pops and Ulrika Spacek. Girl Band, Big Naturals, Spiritualized, Spectres, K-X-P, Anthroprophh, Zombie Zombie, Traams, and Tomaga.

And a spooky Christmas gig from Low.

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However, the latter part of the year has undoubtedly been owned by Teenage Fanclub.

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I’d had to miss the Teenage Fanclub gig in Islington in September because of the aforementioned dental issue and the resulting facial deformity (seriously, it was baaaad 😦 ) but I was recovered sufficiently to see the Fannies at Rough Trade the following week, with Dave and Adam.

That album I’m holding was their first new album for 6 years and I have been crushing on it, HARD, ever since the second listen (the second listen, mind).

To support the new album, the Fannies had embarked on a pretty extensive tour, first in the US/Canada then the UK. Initially, I only had a ticket for the Cambridge gig but that would just not do, and I was fortunate enough to bag a ticket for the London gig just a couple of days before the gig.

Good move 😀 I haven’t seen TFC in ages but seeing them again filled me with all the same good feelings of old.

After the fun of the London and Cambridge gigs I was eager for more so, having a pal up in Scotland who I knew was going to the Barrowland gig, I set about investigating the possibility of getting up to Glasgow without being utterly ridiculous. This worked out pretty well (despite the initial hiccup of my train being cancelled!!) and I was able to go to a top night out in the East End with Simon, Andy, Rob and Donna. I wished that I could have stayed for the second night (at the ABC O2) but, really, there are limits and I had to get back for the cats.

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So,  2016 has been, nationally and internationally, as dodgy as flip, but, personally, I’ve had a blast. Clearly, I’ve had a pretty self-indulgent year so I’m ending it working some shifts at a Crisis centre. I haven’t done this in a couple of years because I’ve been out of the country but now I’m back in my usual chair with the sewing team. We do repairs and alterations for guests, on items that need a bit of TLC; clothing, bags and rucksacks, sleeping bags, that sort of thing.

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It’s fun and we always have  a good time but housing insecurity and rough sleeping are on the increase and, clearly, it would be far better if this wasn’t necessary at all. It can feel a bit overwhelming and I certainly can’t fix anyone’s problems. I can, however, fix the seam on their trousers, or the zip on their bag, so that’s what I’m doing.

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Of course, I’ll have to go back to work now. I’ve had my fun but, not being independently wealthy, I do actually have to earn a living (my friend thinks that I’ve won the lottery. I haven’t). Still, it was great while it lasted.

So goodbye 2016 and hello 2017. Love to you all from me, and from my own little Beastie Boys, Archie and Bertie.

Hidden Arlon

Secret places are the best. Even if they’re not really all that secret. Anything that takes just a little more effort to go beyond the ordinary is just better. It just is.

So, I find myself in Arlon, in the Luxemburg region of Belgian, hurrying to an appointment with a nice lady called Suzette, who is from the tourist office. Hurrying because the bus took ages and my legendarily terrible sense of direction has lead me round in circles trying to find the office. All’s well that ends well though, and having met Suzette, we set off to have a look at the ‘not really hidden but you need someone with the key’ history of Arlon.

The first of two sights on the ‘hidden’ list is one of the towers of the Roman city wall, known as Tour Jupiter. This was discovered when the owner of the house on the site was doing some works and stumbled across it. Excavations were carried out in 1948.

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It consists of part of the wall and tower built in the late third-century.

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The wall seems to have been built in response to incursions by hostile Germanic neighbours, and the tombs and funerary monuments of earlier townspeople were fair game as building material (as is so often the way). This has lead to the survival and recovery of many pieces of carved stonework, some of them very fine and in great condition. Many of the pieces have been removed to the local museum (more of which later) but some pieces proved impossible to remove without compromising the stability of the wall. This is where it gets really good.

I’m already underground, but in order to see a couple of the best bits, I had to go further, down the ladder to the level of the wall foundations and actually crawl into a small space under the wall (I can literally feel your envy right now 😀 ).

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The view under the wall. A bit wobbly as I had my mobile (with torch) in one hand and camera in the other, whilst trying to crawl under a wall!

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And here are two of the nicest carved pieces.

The ‘Neptune stone’ with the god in profile, with a billowing robe and his tell-tale trident.

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Medusa the Gorgon, here with long flowing locks as well as snakes.

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The second tower, Tour Jupiter, is, as so often seems to be the case these days, in a car park.

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During the construction of a new home for elderly residents in 2009, this section of wall with its tower was unearthed. The decision was taken to preserve it in-situ and it can be seen at any time through the glass doors.

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If you know someone with the key, you get a better view.

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Again, earlier Roman gravestones and altars have been co-opted as foundation stones. A little bit if ferreting turns up this carved hand, with, possible a face on the other face of the block.

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This Jupiter stone was also turned up in the foundations. Here, the god is depicted in the form of Jupiter Caelus, the sky god.

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This carving was originally painted, and there are still traces of a red pigment visible.

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After seeing the towers, Suzette showed my several other sites and features of Arlon but, for the purposes of this blog, I’m going to stick to Roman Arlon and skip forward to the town’s museum, The Archaeological Institute of Luxembourg.

The museum contains the single example of an inscription bearing the Roman name of the town, Orolaunum Vicus.

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This museum is also home to an impressive collection of the many stone altars and funerary monuments found in Arlon. Here is a small selection.

After the museum, I walked down to have a look at the remains of the 4th century bathhouse.

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This site is gated but  free to access, and has been the site for the Roman bathhouse, and for an early basilica in the 5th century, and was used as a cemetery site until the 19th century.

It’s quite overgrown but you can see some of the walls and there is an information board to help to make sense of the site.

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There is also a cover-building with the remains of the bathhouse.

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If you happen to be in Luxembourg (the country) or southern Belgium, Arlon is really well worth a visit. Contact the Tourist Office in advance about visiting the Roman Towers –  visite.arlon@gmail.com . They’re very helpful.

There is a very useful tourism website here: http://www.arlon-tourisme.be/uk_region.php?variable=arlon%7CRegion%7CArlon%7Cuk