Wednesday, 29 January 2014


On Sunday I spent the day in Bath. We first went into the Roman Baths which cost about £13 per person, the entrance is on Abbey Church Yard so it's easy to visit both the Abbey and the Baths and the Abbey itself costs £2.50 to enter.

As you walk in to the building the queue area is this late 19th century concert hall by J M Brydon. The whole room is in Neo-Classical style. Once you pay you walk around the service desk to collect your audio guide that is included in the price. I don't really use them usually but on this occasion you really shouldn't avoid using them. The guides correspond with numbers displayed around the complex and have commentaries from the curator of the site and also has a few from the writer Bill Bryson - he's funny and you should definitely listen to his ones !  

When you walk through the hall you come out into a hall way with a view of the baths that are behind and infront of you. Walk through the only area open to the public and you come to the museum. 

This is apparently one of the most important things in the museums collection. This is a pediment that is about 2000 years old and served as the temple front from the ancient temple that formed part of the massive baths complex in what was known as Aquae Sulis. The temple doesn't exist now but thanks to the little model of the town that they have you get a good idea of where the temple would have been in relation to the baths. Another thing that was amaziiiiing was that they project onto the stone of the pediment a picture of how it would have looked originally - with the missing bits filled in and the colour that it would have been - before it rotates back to no image so you can see what has remained. 

As you walk through the rooms, the arrangement is done by each area that made up the complex and then further divided by categories like religion and their general lifestyle. I can't really do it justice but they make the tiniest most random objects (like a cooking pan) seem interesting when usually elsewhere they get nothing more than a glance. This pictured above is an amazingly well preserved mosaic floor. The only other one I've seen like this, albeit on a massive scale, is in St Albans. 

I liked this carving because the belly of the figure has a Gorgon's head on it. I can't remember who the figure is but I'd guess at Minerva - the Roman goddess of wisdom and defense - which would mean she's protecting the town from evils such as the Gorgons. Another reason Minerva was important to the people of Aquae Sulis is because she was their patron saint of sorts. When the Romans arrived the Celts had already established a holy site there dedicated to their god Sulis. The Romans associated Sulis with Miverva hence the full name: Aquae Sulis Minerva. Their temple was dedicated to her which brings us back to the pediment from earlier.... The head appears to be a Gorgon albeit male (they explain to you there is still a lot of speculation about that). 

Things like these are always my favourite, it's weird to think that 2000 years ago women wore jewelry and used pins like we do. They also survived all this time which is so amazing considering some of  my jewelry barely lasts a year. They found all of these things during excavation of the baths so having been under the ground for years probably helped preserve them.

This is so beautiful!! The Roman invasion is sometimes considered to have been quite violent and intrusive. However, with things like this we can see how tolerant they were of other cultures and how they absorbed some of it too. The close up of the swirly motifs on the clasp are quite noticeably influenced by Gaelic decoration.

These were so cool and unfortunately my camera doesn't do them justice yet again. These are letters thrown into the baths. I can't remember the material but obviously it wasn't paper. If you look closely enough in person you can actually see the inscription on a few ! Nevertheless each and every one have had a translation put in English on the bottom. They are all quite ill wishing and ask for revenge. One particular one is brilliant because they say that the writing is a bit odd so they reckon the person who wrote it was dyslexic. It may be really stupid of me but I've never thought about things like that before.... Romans could be dyslexic ?!

This is at the end of the museum and even on a quiet day like a Sunday in January this still had a crowd around it. I can't remember the actual word for it but as you can probably tell it's some kind of draining facility. Unchanged from Roman times! 

A Mason's mark !

A beautiful little gem, they have a whole display of them. They found them in the drains so think that the water from the baths made the adhesive wear on rings and they'd fall off.

Original paving 

This is the Great Bath, both women and men could enter together and it was nicely paved with LEAD ! The baths are now below normal street level and the entire structure around it above the level of the column bases are newer additions. Albeit newer they still have a Grade I listed status.

Once the Roman Empire began to dissolve in the 4th century they were being attacked on every frontier. One of these borders that buckled under pressure was Hadrian's wall. England was then overrun by a number of tribes but most notably the Anglo-Saxons. This tribe originated in what is now Germany, hence our weird little language that is an amalgamation of Latin and German. What happened next for the baths was that they simply fell into disrepair through lack of use. Fast forward to the 12th century and the only natural occurring hot springs in Britain were rediscovered. This lead to John of Tours building a curative bath around the springs that are pictured above. Look at the steam coming off of the water! The whole area is from that century however the hard work at the base of the bath is still Roman. 

Around the baths you see stacks of bricks and the guide will tell you that these were how the Romans heated their floors. There is a similar example in St Albans beneath the mosaic floor - but this was for domestic use not public like a Bath. 

Unfortunately my pictures of all of he other baths are really dark. Around the perimeter of the Great Bath there lies a Natatio ( swimming bath ), a Frigaderium ( cold room ), a Tepidarium ( warm room ), a Caldarium ( hot room ) and a changing room which I can't remember the Latin name for. 

The Romans would throw coins and other things into the baths to make requests from the Gods. Today they let you do the same. This is the water and it is sparkly because of all the coins ! 

This is supposedly the oldest colonnade in England which confuses me because the arches are clearly quite new. Perhaps it is base and shaft that are Roman.

This was the entrance to the complex after the 16th century redevelopment for the King and Queen. Most of the building however dates from the 18th century and is designed by John Wood the Elder and Younger. 

After the Baths we went into the Abbey next door. The church site itself has existed since the Roman times but used as a church since the 7th century. Most of what we see today is due to recent preservation and restoration work in the 19th century by Sir George Gillbert Scott. The original building work here was done part in the 12th century and later in the 16th century. Unlike elsewhere in Europe, we did not necessarily rebuild in the Renaissance style every time. We were a bit stubborn. This is perhaps because of Henry VIII and his contempt for Catholic Europe - the birthplace of the Renaissance. However his daughter Elizabeth I did much to repair what her family had done and began to embrace the style somewhat. In this instance though, she ordered for its restoration and not a rebuild. This is done in Perpendicular Gothic from the 12th century which is most easily recognised by the verticality of the windows. However the flying buttresses  and pinnacles were added in the 18th century.

How cute 👼 this very literal design of assention to heaven supposedly came to the architect in a dream.

The interior is less decorative than it would have been prior the reformation and the iconoclasm that ensued. 

Fan vaulting, a very late Gothic style whereby ribbed vaulting is applied but with masses of decorative ribs that are unnecessary for the structure. This would have been done in the 12th century but what we see today is the 18th century restoration of the original design. 

Go to Bath and see these, I can't do it justice ✨

The First Spanish Republic, the Monarchy, the Second Republic, the Civil War, Dictatorship and the Constitution.

All of my posts are for my history of art courses so I thought I'd do a small post on what I've been doing in Spanish. Obviously we do a lot on language and grammar but we also do a section on Spanish life and history.

Spain today is a constitutional monarchy, much like England. They have a Monarch, Juan Carlos, and a government. What makes us different though is that Elizabeth II had been queen for nearly 30 years before Spain even became a constitutional monarchy. Another difference is that Spain actually have a written constitution like in America whereas we do not.

In 1873 the queen Isabel II exiled and named Armadeo de Saboya the king of Spain but with a provisional government at his side. This was the first republic that lasted from 1873 to 1874.

By 1874 Alfonso VII, the son of Isabel II, restored the monarchy. There was a lot of opposition, anarchy and a problem in the distribution of equality and wealth. This tension only got worse when in 1893 the remaining colonies of Spain were embarrassingly lost.

Once his son, Alfonso VIII came to the throne there was still a lot of anarchy and to try and calm the situation he asked Primo de Rivera to come and start a Military Dictatorship from 1923-30.

Rivera didn't carry out his duties very well and thus by 1931 he abdicated and the second republic was born. There was a constitution written up and a lot of reforms. You could get divorced, the death penalty no longer in use and women could even open up bank accounts. The right thought the reforms were inadequate while the conservative left felt they were excessive.

In 1936 the Popular Front was established as the new government, made from a coalition of the right headed by Manuel Azana. However at the same time there was a military uprising with a number of leftist generals, of which Franco was one.

While Spain entered a Civil War against the leftists and the republic, the western powers issued a decree of 'no intervention'. While the official stance was no intervention that did not stop the International Brigade forming - a group of volunteers made up from 50 different countries. The only country to openly help Spain was Russia while Italy and Germany helped Franco, for example the bombing of Guernica in 1937.

The republic fell on the first of April 1939. General Franco was named head of state, and the head of the National Movement. Liberties and civil rights were taken away and the death penalty re-established. The church and army became the pillars of society.

After WWII Franco was penalised for helping Hitler and thus was the establishment of Autarky - whereby Spain did not buy or sell out of Spain. However by 1953 Franco tried to repair the international relations that he had destroyed and signs a treaty with the US and in 1955 joined the UN. In 1959 he tried to develop the industrial and commercial sectors and began to loosen some restrictions of trade and even decentralised some industry.

In 1969 he named Juan Carlos as his successor. In 1975 amid lots of clandestine opposition he died. Juan Carlos became the head of state and re-established the monarchy and signed the Spanish constitution in 1978.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Wells Cathedral

A beautiful medieval cathedral that I visited today in the smallest city in the country, Wells. The site that it stands on has supposedly always been a place of worship since at least the 8th century but it wasn't until the 12th century that construction began on the cathedral that stands there today. The city has been granted city status because of the cathedral - but as a city with a population of 11000 in the 2001 census you can't imagine it ever being a large place so you'd similarly wonder why it ever was chosen as a place for a cathedral. The reason for this is that the area was part of the diocese of both Wells and Bath along with another place close by. Thus, quite a large area to cover. The place was quite structurally unsound since day one and by the 14th century or so the west side of the cathedral began to sink. The way that the architect tried to resolve this was by inserting a pair of scissor arches; which allowed them to then build a clerestory. The place is absolutely gorgeous with decorative ribbed vaulting throughout but fairly plain because of it having been whitewashed in the reformation. It also has the oldest clockface in the country too - which has a quirky little army bloke kicking his feet when the clock strikes the hour. The clock, that is pictured below, also has the exact minute and the phase of the moon ! 

Friday, 24 January 2014

Gough's caves, Cheddar Gorge

I've spent the day today at a place called Cheddar in Somerset. They are probably most famous for the largest Gorge in England (or the UK can't remember) and cheddar cheese. My boyfriend and I were  a bit confused by the little village but further up along the road and past the village there is a more touristy place that makes up for what we saw before! Who knew that they had caves ? And not modest ones either they were INSANE. They were discovered about a century ago by a bloke with the surname Gough hence their name. 


A REAL skeleton from the Paleolithic period !!!! 13000 years old 

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Florence top 5

#5 Boboli Gardens
Beaut in the summer. These gardens belong to the Pitti Palace, the former residence of the Pitti family before the Medici's made it their summer house. Entry can be solely to the gardens or with entry to the Palace and galleries. Cutest place ever, but you need some good shoes if you want to make the most of it. Good value for money and literally a stones throw away from the Ponte Vecchio.


#4 San Miniato al Monte
A gorgeous Romanesque church right on top of a hill in Florence. Lovely views, and neighbours a grave yard which houses the massive tombs of rich Floretian families from back in the day (and now). It is a good place to go because of the views and because the church begins to show hints of the proto-renaissance style. Florence is obviously the center of the Renaissance but it's cool to see where the Renaissance came from in the first place! If you time it right, then you will be able to catch the monks singing too which is a scary but unique experience. The name supposedly derives from the name of a saint of whom had his decapitated head rolled up the hill to its final resting place.

#3 Santa Croce
Santa Croce translates into English as the 'Holy Cross'. It is a church dedicated to the Story of the True Cross - where Helena, the mother of the first Christian Emperor of Rome Constantine searches for the cross that Jesus was crucified on. The story is illustrated in Fresco in the main chapel opposite the main entrance. I am unsure of whether the conservation work is yet complete but it's worth a look. What is more, the tombs of Galileo and Michelangelo reside here too, alongside the dining room in the convent of the church with the Last Supper by Taddeo Gaddi. If you happen to be in Florence during the Christmas season there is a lovely German inspired Christmas market in the Piazza outside of it too.

#2 Palazzo Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio was the government house for the brief republic that thrived during the expulsion of the Medici. Needless to say, once they came back in the early 16th century they were not too pleased and held a public execution of the head of the republic (Savonarola) in the middle of the Piazza della Signoria to send the message that they are a force to be reckoned with. Moreover, for those who lurve a good old Dan Brown style conspiracy then the Hall of 500 inside of this building is where there is a supposedly lost Leonardo Da Vinci drawing. My lecturer out there was actually on a research team of whom had found evidence that there was Leonardo's very identifiable pigment behind the Vasari Fresco. Famously behind the Italian phrase 'cerca trova' - he who searches shall find. Outside is also a collection of sculptures both around the perimeters of the building and under the Loggia dei Lanzi. If you're rich as well then you should book the tour of the secret Medici pathway that runs from the Pitti Palace, through the Ponte Vecchio and ending at the Palazzo Vecchio. If you're not rich, like the most of us, then en route to the Pitti Palace you will come across a simple church to your left (if you're coming from the Ponte Vecchio), the entrance is free and once you enter, turn around and look up. The small window is part of the passage way, so that the people using the passage could admire the inside of the church. Once you've seen that, you'll be able to notice the path that the passage way takes: It weaves in and around already built buildings. And Robert Langdon went there.
P.S, if you like art and Florence then I 100% recommend Dan Brown's Inferno - I have never been so excited by a book before!!

#1 Gilded Doors of the Battisero di San Giovanni
It seems as if most people pay more attention to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in the Piazza del Duomo than they do the Baptistery. The doors though deserve more attention because a) they are beautiful and so intricately carved b) they single handedly represent the transition from proto-renaissance to renaissance better than any museum or gallery could and c) because Dan Brown's Robert Langdon hid in there! The doors have been shifted around a bit so that the doors that face the door of the Cathedral (east) are now the Doors of Paradise, when really they were not in the central position to begin with. It is only when they were completed that the patrons decided that Ghiberti's doors deserved to be where they are now. It was originally Pisano's design that resided in its place but has since been moved to the south side of the Baptistery. The first doors were finished in 1336 by Pisano, Ghiberti then completed the second set of doors by the 1420's and then after their success began the long journey to complete the spectacular Doors of Paradise. They deserve a visit, and more than a superficial glance. However, these doors have recently been duplicated and the originals stored in the cathedral museum behind the cathedral for preservation, which is fairly pricey to enter.