Oracle of History

Guiding you through the ages

Her-Story Heroes: Joan of Arc

If you are a reader of my blog, you know that my last post made a promise to shine light on more female stories since our history is so often written and starring men.

I am a woman of my word.

To start out this series, I decided to begin with an old favorite: Joan of Arc

As someone who grew up in France, Joan of Arc was always introduced as a strong female role model. It doesn’t hurt that France is a catholic country and she was a martyr for the faith as well.

But what’s real and what’s religious folk tales? It’s difficult to say since most of our written sources from the middle ages comes from the Church and not many regular folks could read or write at the time (don’t even get me started on women!).

Here’s what we know:

Brought up in a very religious Catholic household, Joan started hearing voices at the age of 13. She claimed that it was God and Saints giving her the mission to save France from its enemies at all cost. This meant installing the future Charles VII as King.

She also was thought to have special powers because she had convinced a local magistrate to nullify an arranged marriage.

In May 1428, she made her way to Vaucouleurs, the stronghold of Charles, and convinced him in a private meeting that she was the one to save France. She apparently revealed information only someone who was conversing with God would know.

In the meantime, she had amassed a huge amount of followers as news of her quest made the rounds. This is when she famously cut off her hair and wore mens clothes.

city sky france flag

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In 1429, she goes to Orléans with an army and defeats the Anglo-Burgundian troops, putting Charles VII on the throne. Bolstered by her success, she then pushes to Paris, but fails to take control of the city. She was finally captured in Compiégne when she was thrown from her horse.

Thus started her downfall! She was tried for such things as heresy, witchcraft, and “dressing like a man.” She ended up signing a declaration saying that she made up God talking to her and that she would stop this heretic behavior.  She ended up defying this declaration by continuing to wear men’s clothes in prison. Some historians suspect this was to prevent being assaulted by the guards. This decision ultimately led to her being burnt at the stake.

What a world, huh? I wonder what those people would make of gender neutral clothing today…

So what’s the truth? 

Some historians have attributed her visions to an undiagnosed form of schizophrenia. In her trial, she cited seeing things, hearing voices, and bright lights following her around. Others have thought that she may have contracted bovine tuberculosis, which can cause seizures and dementia, from drinking unpasteurized milk and tending cattle as a young girl.

We can debate for hours whether or not God actually spoke to her, but what we can agree on is that she was a pioneer, especially as a female. As a peasant girl it seems even more unlikely.

Women were more likely to die in childbirth than in the battlefield in the middle ages. Funnily enough, there’s evidence to suggest that Joan never actually fought on the battlefield. She was more of a mascot, meant to boost morale. She did get hurt twice, but that was most likely because she was a target. She was also known for having a temper!

Either way, there’s enough evidence to suggest that she was a real person and an impressive one at that. Mental health issues aside, she died at the age of 19, having made someone King of France. What did you accomplish at that age?

As a bonus, here’s the video that inspired me to write this post:

Thoughts on Women in History

In the U.K., 2018 has been a year of celebration for women. Why might you ask? Well, 2018 is the centenary since women were granted the right to vote in the U.K.

As a side note, it is important to preface that not all women were granted the right to vote at this time, it was mostly wealthy (and let’s face it – white) women, but it was a major step towards universal suffrage.

suffragettes-womens-rights-feminism-good-housekeeping__large

Now with all these events happening to celebrate this momentous occasion. I started thinking about women in history and how our perception is really dictated by how books, movies, and TV shows depict them.

I came to this realisation while watching the Netflix Original Series, The Alienist. One of the main characters – Sara Howard, played by Dakota Fanning, is the first woman to be hired by the police department in late 19th century New York. She is an heiress who went to university and has managed to get a job as a secretary for the police commissioner – who just so happens to be Theodore Roosevelt (future President of the United States!).

Although the show isn’t really about her, she allows the plot to address several issues of sexism and misogyny that would have been present during that period. She is unmarried, childless, and makes her job a priority. This alienates (ha!) her from her peers and makes her vulnerable in a male dominated world. The American Suffragettes even make a cameo!

While I was watching her subplot, I came to realise that we don’t really know 100% how women actually lived throughout history. Sure, we have documents and pictures, but most account of daily lives were written by men. This is a common theme due to more men getting educated and having the resources to publish material.

The most prevalent writer of history, the Catholic Church, has a definite spin on the events of history and women’s place in it.

So how do we rectify this? More research needs to be made, of course, but also bringing the stories of women into the media. Real women who take their rightful place in history. Not just as the wives and daughters of men, but their own realised personas. It’s funny how entertainment echoes this problem.

I’d like to participate and help with this problem by telling stories about the women in history, but I don’t know where to start. This is where you come in. Let me know who your favourite women are in history!

History Is Written By The Victors

Have you ever wondered what our world history would look like from the loser’s perspective?

I often wonder what our interpretation of the world would look like now if history had turned out a little differently.

Alternative history TV shows are not new. The Man in the High Castle is the most recent example, with an alternate world where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan win World War 2. Although the concept is not new, there are many aspects of our world history today that has been directly shaped by who has told the story.

Have you ever noticed that the most commonly used world map has Europe at the centre?

This is due to European colonisation and subsequent dominance.

pexels-photo-592753.jpeg

All Roads Lead to Rome

What’s more, is that a lot of our understanding of world history comes from the writing of mostly western elites. The Ancient Romans are particular perpetrators of this. My favourite example of this is The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, which is a scandalous account of the lives of Rome’s 12 Emperors (starting with Julius Caesar and ending with Domitian).

Ironically, this is where we get most of our most famous Roman Emperor stories:

  • Caligula making his horse a senator
  • Nero playing the lute while Rome burned
  • Domitian’s tyrannical rule

Although it is an amazing source material it’s important to remember that Suetonius was personal secretary to the Emperor Hadrian and had worked for Trajan before that.  This would have been decades after most of these emperors had died and they were probably written with an agenda.

And yet its content is often cited as true fact. Would it have been written differently under Caligula or even Constantine, the last Roman Emperor of the west?

18rome

All credit goes to Twisted Cartoons

Telling a Story

You can also see it in movies and textbooks when a certain re-telling of a historical event can be interpreted in different ways. As an American living abroad, it’s always strange to see what what other countries call the American Revolution.

Here’s an interesting article about how other countries learn about the American Revolution in school if you’re interested.

World War 2 also has a hotly contested narrative. Each country involved tends to tell the outcome differently. A great example of this on the TV show, The Americans (which I LOVE, by the way). There’s a scene between in Episode 5 of Season 6 where the daughter, Paige, is told what World War 2 was like from the perspective of the Soviets. A different image entirely from red, white, and blue patriotic narrative that is often told in the U.S.

wold-war-2-ends

Similarly, I’m sure that schools in Japan tell a much more sobering story on the outcome of the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945 than above.

Alternative history or not, it’s always interesting to think about what might have been!

Bonus video:

Painting Through Time

I’ve always been fascinated by paintings. Sometimes it feels like a portal into another world or time period. From an academic stand point, it makes sense, especially if they are paintings from a time when there were no photographs. It’s important to remember, however, that these paintings are what these people want us to see.

Can you imagine someone 100 years from now, judging our society from the memes we leave behind on the internet? Perish the thought!

sub-buzz-6687-1496401769-8

Go support the artist on Tumblr here

That being said, paintings can be an amazing source of knowledge about a time period. It gives us a visual reference of how they want to be portrayed. Here, I will list some of my favourite paintings and the historical importance behind it.

Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula, 1641, by Claude 

N-0030-00-000050-wpu

Seaport with Embarkation of Saint Ursula, 1641 by Claude. Downloaded from the National Gallery website for non-commercial purposes. 

As someone who has studied the conversion of the Roman Empire from Paganism to Christianity, I love the retelling of Saintly stories. Religion is a very common theme in paintings, especially Christian stories in a Western world that relied on it for many of its values and morality.

The story of Saint Ursula is interesting because there is no confirmation of her even having lived. Unlike many male saints, there isn’t a collection of written work that we can point to as proof that she existed. The legend is based on an inscription at the Church of Saint Ursula in Cologne. What is even more interesting is that her martyrdom was taken out of the General Roman Calendar after it was revised in 1969. Maybe because it couldn’t be verified?

The story goes that the British Princess Ursula left to join her future husband, a pagan governor in Gaul (now modern-day France). She came across the channel with 11,000 virginal handmaidens, but before she married she decided to conduct a pilgrimage to Rome by traveling across Europe. According to legend, she met her untimely death in Cologne where the Huns, who were not known for the Christian charity, beheaded her along with all her handmaidens. The Church of Saint Ursula is supposedly located where some of these beheadings happened.

The painting fascinates me because, Claude, the artist, would have painting this over a thousand years later. It shows that not only the legend was thought valid, but it must have been part of the stories of martyrdom told in Church at the time. The painting itself is laced for foreboding since anyone familiar with the story will know that Ursula and her handmaidens would meet an unfavourable end.

Picture Gallery with View of Ancient Rome, 1757, by Giovanni Paolo Panini

DT1418

This painting was commissioned by Count Étienne François de Choiseul, the Ambassador of the French King Louis XV to Rome.  It is one of four paintings, meant to show the glory and beauty of Rome. The other paintings show St Pete’s Basilica as well as views of “Modern Rome” (well, modern for the 1750s).

I like this one because it shows the value that people put on the ancient monuments, even then. It makes me wonder if the history of Rome would have been harder to uncover if it hadn’t been for society’s obsession with the Ancients. The painting also shows how little these ancient monuments have changed since this was painting. A testament to historical preservation and priorities.

It’s also a testament to the artist who not only had to paint an art gallery, but had to create many smaller pieces of artwork in great detail. The longer you stare at it, the more is revealed.

A Regatta on the Grand Canal, about 1740, by Canaletto

N-4454-00-000040-wpu

Canaletto was famous for his paintings of Venice, mostly sweeping tableaus of life in the city. One of the great events of Venetian life was (and still is!) the Carnival, but did you know that there is also a regatta that starts the festivities? This painting shows us just that.

It’s part of a series of twelve paintings about the Grand Canal, the Carnival being a very popular subject for painters. This painting showcases a race with colourful banners demonstrating people’s support for a particular team – not much different than how we show support for sports teams today. It also gives us a glimpse of what Carnival might have been like all those years ago. The Carnival regatta has been an institution since 1315. I wonder what it was like the first time they raced?

I particularly love this painting because it brings the Grand Canal to life, showing a colourful and joyous moment in Venice. It makes you want to jump right through the frame and join the celebration. On a personal note, one of my life goals is to be in Venice for Carnival and this certainly gives me the itch to travel.


Bonus Painting 

After looking at these paintings, I can’t help but think how strange it must have been to live in a different country and only know the world through paintings. What happened when they heard about a big international event? Maybe they said something like this….

art-memes-paintings.jpg

I Saw the Assassin’s Creed Movie and Survived…

To say I was disappointed by this movie would be an understatement – not that I had high hopes anyway.

I have been a fan of the video games since I first played it on my housemate’s game console. As a history nerd, being able to run around Renaissance Rome or Crusade era Jerusalem was really appealing. That’s why is seems counter-intuitive to spend the majority of the movie outside of the historical setting. 

As any player of the game knows, no-one wants to leave the Animus. 

If I’m being honest though, if I had managed to get Michael Fassbender, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, AND Marion Cotillard to join the movie, I would have given them as much screen time as possible too. So I can’t really fault the creatives behind it.

assassins-creed-movie1

What bothered me the most, however, was that they turned an epic adventure with an immersive story into a Sci-Fi thriller with no context. Thus leaving most viewers, who are not familiar with the games, confused.

(And those of us who are familiar even more confused…)   

There was a wealth of material available within the AC universe that they could have chosen from. Why the Spanish Inquisition? And why the weird Kanye West music?! They could have chosen a similar time period without necessarily using the original main characters. It would have been a nice way to give a nod to the games without making it a straight copy.

ss_02-colliseum-full_164617

Personally I would have loved to see it set in Renaissance Rome, but that is just my personal preference… 

We must all face the reality though that this movie would never have pleased everybody. So all I can say is that I survived seeing it and I think I’ll just stick to the games.

Bonus video 

An Ode to Social Media and Museums

As a lover of history and culture, I have never understood those who are completely bored with museums. For the past year, I have been in this educational bubble with like-minded people who are interested in the same things as me. Now that my Masters degree is over, I am faced with the reality that not everyone I meet may be interested in the state of the illicit antiquities trade or the cultural appropriation of a particular genre of shadow puppetry.

Thus I am faced, once again, with the question of why so many people are not interested in Museums? Am I no longer hip?!

The key is to make people excited about going to museums. Social media may be the answer! As we are getting more and more permanently attached to our devices, social media has not only been a vehicle for museums to use, but also a way for the visitor to drive their own visitor experience.

This blog post will illustrate two different ways that, I personally think, are successful uses of social media by museums and individuals:

The Art of the Selfie

The selfie is now a part of our every day vernacular, but would you ever expect to see it used in the signage of a major museum?

No, you wouldn’t.

This is why I was genuinely surprised on a visit to the Grand Palais in Paris, back in 2014, where they encouraged visitors to take selfies with the ancient statues in an exhibit on the Emperor Augustus and Ancient Rome.

10504848_10152500462938529_2502922536443960198_o

My attempt at joining in on the hashtag “moiempereur.”

This sort of social media encouragement was their valiant effort to make a “boring” topic more engaging. In fact, as you see above, I was so encouraged that I made my own addition to the flurry of Instagram pictures from the exhibit (note the bunny ear shadow).

The great thing about this method is that it can appeal to everyone, including the surly teenagers dragged to the museum by their parents. It made me wonder why there were not more museums trying to do this. It seems like the perfect blend of advertisement and engagement.

1397079_10152011184688529_1318243393_o

On the other end of the spectrum, this is the Louvre Museum’s attempt to stop flash photos.

Snapchating at the Museum 

The lack of organization use may be because social media is not seen as a useful tool for direct engagement since many museums have their own apps available to download. Museum social media is often carefully regulated and does not include the spontaneity that normally accompanies its use.

The normalisation of social media has therefore lead to the rise of the Art History Snapchat, a great activity for any museum goer where you take a photo of an art work and write a observational caption that is completely out of context. See below for examples.

Next time you are in a museum, try it! It is actually very fun and a creative outlet. It also has the bonus effect of advertising the museum in question. It may even encourage individuals to go seek out these artworks. Nothing can be more thrilling than finding a popular meme in a museum.

josephcollection

This guy is actually in the Louvre Museum – happy hunting! 

For this reason, it may be useful for museums to incorporate this sort of interaction into their digital portfolio. Organisations like Museum Hack are a prime example of how it could work. The success of Pokemon Go also proves that using an app does not necessarily mean becoming a shut in. In fact, the Canal River Trust in London has been promoting the use of Pokemon Go by encouraging people to share their Poke Trail while they are walking along Regent’s Canal.

It all brings into question where we need to draw the line between something that is innovative and when it becomes a hindrance. The ban of the selfie stick from most museums for safety reasons is but one example of this issue. Although it does not stop celebrities, such as Beyonce, for making museum selfies look cool.

So what do you think? Are you a fan of social media in museums? Can Beyonce change your mind?

Bonus Image 

beyonce-louvre-a

Beyonce taking a Selfie in the Louvre Museum

Adventures in Florence

After a rather long hiatus from writing on this blog, I became inspired by a recent trip to Florence for a conference. The conference centred around the management of archaeological sites, which is incredibly appropriate for a city like Florence because the whole historic centre is actually listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Not only was the city incredibly beautiful with the Christmas lights, but there was a certain atmosphere about the place. I think my picture of the Ponte Vecchio can attest to that.

12313927_10153720864883529_4579968100429840205_n

Ponte Vecchio on our first day

I’m not sure what draws me to historical places. The idea that you are walking on the same well trodden ground as people hundreds of years ago is fascinating. As part of the conference, we were able to get free access to the famous museums. That was amazing, especially since we were all travelling on a student budget.

IMAG1475

First sighting of the David

Seeing Michelangelo’s David was definitely a highlight. Did you know it was made from one solid block of marble? Pretty awesome! It was particularly impressive to see it in the flesh again after a solid year of talking about it on social media for a previous employer. Time Traveler Tours & Tales successfully completed a kickstarter campaign in June to fund an app that will bring the story of Michelangelo’s David to life through an interactive tour of the city of Florence. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.

IMAG1494

Uffizi Gallery

No trip to Florence is really complete,  however,  without a visit to the Uffizi, the famous art gallery that houses some of the world’s most famous Renaissance and Medieval artwork. Although you might not recognize the names, you will definitely recognize the paintings. What struck me the most about the visit was actually the concerted effort to provide alternative interpretation of the artwork for blind patrons.  Accessibility is so important, especially in the art world. This made me incredibly hopeful for the arts of the future, which is why I find technology and museums so fascinating.

IMAG1501

Botticelli’s Venus and the blind friendly equivalent

It also made me realize that Italy is really a country of the senses. You are meant to experience it by taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound. It can be seen in the way it is often portrayed in popular media, emphasizing the way the food tastes, the breathtaking sights, and the sounds of the streets. I love that about the country, but for those who do not have use of all five senses, it may seem like they are missing out on something.

On a brighter note, we were able to spend our last evening taking in the sunset from the Piazzale Michelangelo, an amazing vantage point where you can see the entire city from above. Two of us even drank a little bottle of wine to truly celebrate the occasion (only 4 euros!).

IMAG1513

View from the Piazzale Michelangelo

It was a truly great 5 days for the networking opportunities, but also for discovering the city in the winter. It makes me want to go to previously visited cities and see them in all seasons. Every country does Christmas differently, for example. See below for a particularly festive shop window in Florence.

IMAG1435

This trip has reignited my wanderlust! Send help (and money)! It also has reinforced my love for heritage and the yearning to preserve it. I hope for a new year full of great experiences and exploring the world.

Happy New Year!

Ancient History Can Be A Killer

My guilty pleasure has always been historical fiction, but I also really like a good mystery/crime drama. So I was super excited when I first discovered historical mysteries!

Yes, you’ve read that right. Two of the very best of the entertainment genres mashed together. I’ll set the scene of the discovery for you. I was on holiday with my family, on a beach in the south of France. I am not a big fan of the beach since I am very pale with blonde hair and blue eyes. I would often bring reading material and hide under a huge umbrella. My dad, a huge history nerd like me, noticed my great love of the ancient roman world so he let me borrow his book – “Last Seen in Massilia” by Steven Saylor. For those of you who don’t know, Massilia was the Ancient Roman name of the town of Marseille in the south of France.

175px-Last_Seen_in_Massilia_cover

Thus an obsession was born! From the age of 16, I devoured any historical mysteries I could find set in the world of the Roman Empire and Republic. It was so much more engaging than your standard history book because it looked at the fabric of everyday life in the ancient world. You could feel the streets of the cities come to life and the characters of the books seemed real.

What was most surprising was that I was actually learning from these books. When I got to University and took my first survey course on the ancient world, I knew a lot more than my peers did. I had a head start because I loved these historical mysteries.

So I thought I would share with the world some of my favorite historical mystery series set in the world of ancient rome

Roma Sub Rosa Series by Steven Saylor 

4538960543_pre

This series follows the life of Gordianus. He is a finder, which is essentially a private detective for hire. The story spans from his beginnings as a young detective to his elderly years with his children (and grandchildren!). As with most historical fiction, he meets famous people like Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. And he curries favor by solving mysteries along the way. Definitely not PG though – kiddies beware!

Marcus Didius Falco and Flavia Albia Mysteries by Lindsey Davis 

972534

ides of april

The original series follows Marcus Didius Falco, an informer. He is an independent detective, but he is often asked to investigate things by the Emperor (and you can’t really say no to the Emperor). It is set during the reign of the Flavian dynasty, which means Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. What is so compelling about this series is that he is often sent to other parts of the Empire to solve mysteries. So you get to see the everyday life of romans in the provinces, which is not always common in this historical mystery genre. He is also a very sassy character and the writing has a lot of quick wit.

Lindsey Davis then recently started a new series, following the life of Falco’s adopted daughter Flavia Albia. An orphan, found in a brothel in Londinium, she follows in the footsteps of her adopted dad and becomes an informer in Rome. There are only a couple books out in this series, but I look forward to the rest!

Plinius Secundus Series by Bruce Macbain

Roman-Games-Low-Res-cover-184x276

This series follows Pliny the Younger, a lawyer, solving mysteries and bringing murderers to justice! Since the main character is an actual person who lived during that time, you’ll find that this series is more tame than the other two in terms of its artistic liberties. The story is fake though, so don’t be fooled by the real people!

SPQR Mysteries by John Maddox Roberts 

326846

Unlike many of the series I have mentioned before, this series is narrated by a Senator – Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger, to be specific. It is written as a flashback and it gives us an “in” with the lives of the rich in Rome as an equal. So it shows you a different perspective of Roman life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I think you should have enough reading material now to last you awhile. For those of you who are more interested in Ancient Egypt or Ancient Greece, I apologize. I know this is very one sided, but Ancient Rome was my first love.

Please feel free to add historical mysteries in other time periods that you think I should check out or add your own favorites!

Let’s share the love guys.

Is Historical Accuracy Worth The Price?

tumblr_njl1llcClr1qh2n4do1_400tumblr_njl1llcClr1qh2n4do2_400

What would you pay for a historically accurate movie or TV Show? This is a question constantly asked by people involved in the production of historical entertainment for the big and little screen. It often costs quite a lot of money to make sure that everything is period perfect and this may be why a lot of productions cut corners in this department. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the need to adapt a story for entertainment purposes and in some cases it does make the historical figures more interesting. Maybe it’ll even inspire people to look up the real historical facts.

But what if putting a little extra work actually makes a difference?

Case study 1 – HBO’s Rome

HBORome

A cult favorite, this TV show is often cited as a reasonably good representation of what Ancient Rome would have been like. Even one of my professors at university recommended it to us. Not for the plot though, but for the attention to detail in the show. You must, of course, keep your skeptical goggles on, but the sets and props are pretty spectacular.

Unfortunately, it had a very short life span, with only two seasons under its belt. A shame for those who love ancient rome and quality entertainment. The main reason for the shut down seemed to be cost, which seems not to be a problem now for HBO with shows such as Game of Thrones. Rumors have spread that if Rome had been as popular then more “attention” would have been given to the show. However, this becomes a chicken vs egg debate that has been run into the ground for years.

Case study 2 – Showtime’s The Borgias 

The-Borgias-2

The Borgias follows the “reign” of Rodrigo Borgia, a Spanish nobleman who rises through the ranks of the church to become Pope. We also see the lives of his children, estranged wife, and mistress in a decadent Renaissance Italy. Although nobody really knows what the Borgias were like, it does paint a pretty picture of the lives of Italy’s most notorious family. Let’s be honest here, it’s mostly costume and set porn, but it does reflect very much the time that we see in Boticelli paintings or the work of Nicolo Machiavelli (who was a big fan of Cesare Borgia, by the way). I can guarantee that they were able to do this with a substantial amount of investment. Is it historically accurate? Probably not, but at least it makes an effort to look like it. This is the same network that made The Tudors, after all.

The question is, would they have made such an investment if the story itself wasn’t so exciting.  The premise of the show is that the Borgias are “the original crime family.” This implies violence, sex, and intrigue. Would any network want to invest in an historical drama that didn’t have these things?

My point is that history can be exciting and it would be a shame if it got completely lost in the glitz of hollywood entertainment. If only all studios and networks invested a little more effort in historical accuracy then all of us would be happy.

Bonus – Historically Accurate Disney Princesses from Buzzfeed

Will History Stand The Test Of Time?

Sometimes when I’m bored I look through my old photos. It often results in me being embarrassed due to poor fashion choices and/or weird camera angles. It also brings back memories. I was particularly amused when I was looking at my photos from my trip to Egypt…..

IMG_1085

 

 …….And I found this gem! The most interesting part to me was that no one was telling her off. Don’t get me wrong I completely understand that if a baby needs changing it needs to be done, but it was fascinating to see how nonplussed everyone was about it. 

This made me think. How attached are we to the preservation of ruins? 

Therefore I decided that it was best to look at the different ways we are preserving our heritage. 

I know that personally, I would be severely disappointed if we let them rot, but on the other hand it would be fun to run and frolic through the ruins freely. I guess you can’t have it both ways! 

Case study 1 

That being said, preservation has also been used as an excuse for European countries to keep priceless artefacts from their country of origin – *cough* England *cough*

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about let me enlighten you….You may have heard of the Parthenon in Athens. One of the most recognizable ruins in the world. 

 The_Parthenon_in_Athens

Well, a British Lord, Thomas Bruce 7th Earl of Elgin to be exact, removed most of the marble sculptures from the Parthenon, taking it back to be housed at the British Museum. They are now affectionately called the “Elgin Marbles” 

Now, I’m a big fan of the British Museum – I almost lived there when I was a student, but this started a feud that has been going on since the early 1800s. It’s almost comical how every year the Greek government asks for them back and every year the British government says no. 

The best is that the latest excuse was that Athens had no way to properly preserve the marbles. So what did Athens do? They built an Acropolis museum of course! Still no luck in returning them though. 

Case study 2 

On the other end of the spectrum you’ve got Egypt, suffering at the moment from political and religious upheaval. They have more ruins than anybody knows what to do with and no one is going to see them. Although, unlike the Greeks they have their most prized relic – the treasures of Tutankahmun – firmly on their own soil, in Cairo. 

tutcarterbw

When I was there I came across a man in the street who claimed to be a curator at the Egyptian Museum (he wasn’t) and have a PhD in Aromatherapy (he didn’t). So I listened skeptically as he ranted about the return of all the Egyptian artefacts, including the Obelisk in the Piazza del Popolo in Rome. 

To which my mother replied: “What about the Obelisk in Paris?” 

His response was of outrage : “No! That was a gift.”

To each their own I guess!

Case study 3 (and last I promise)

The more observant of you may have noticed that I know a lot about Paris. This is because I live there!

One of the most interesting example of historical preservation here is the Arènes de Lutèce (Arena of Lutecia).

Lutecia was the Roman town that Paris now sits on. The current name comes from the Parisi tribe that lived in the area before the Romans stepped in. Due to a massive architectural revamp campaign in the 1860s by Baron Haussmann most of the Roman remains were either destroyed or buried very deep.

arenes-de-lutece-1917 arenes-de-lutece

The arena is one of the true examples of preservation, but also of recycling urban space. It was once an arena meant for lavish entertainment in the Roman era.  Now it’s a public park. Kids play pickup games of football and groups of elderly men play pétanque throughout the year. I’ve even seen a man there walking his cat on a leash! 

This is all to say that there is no right answer when it comes to preservation, but let’s hope that we have enough common sense as a society to realize how important it is to keep our history alive! 

Post Navigation