In this week’s episode of Two Friends Talk History, I have the great privilege of interviewing heritage heroes, Makis and Hettie Metaxas from Poros, Kefalonia; two very dear people I met in 2008 while excavating at the ancient necropolis of Pronnoi as an undergraduate. Makis served many years as mayor of Poros, in southeastern Kefalonia, and the mayor of Kefalonia, and continues his passion for monument preservation as the President of the Prehistoric Studies of Kefalonia Society – the perfect role for the man who discovered of the famed Tzannata tholos tomb over thirty years ago.
Henriëtte Metaxas-Putman Cramer, is equally passionate about the conservation and heritage promotion of the island, and even wrote the go-to Travel Guide (now in 8 languages!) for visiting Kefalonia, has worked across many types of media promoting the island and its archaeological sites. After living and working in Poros for several decades, she saw a need to create a guide to the island which brought the richer details of her experience to light for visitors.
Speaking over Zoom this spring, we caught up after ten years since meeting on excavation in the necropolis of ancient Pronnoi. We discussed the exciting discovery of the largest known tholos tomb in the Ionian sea, the responsibility of heritage preservation and conservation, and their hopes for the future. For our full discussion you can listen here:
Making news on June 11, 2021, after many years or public outreach, fundraising and conservation advocacy, the Metaxas’ and their colleagues celebrated the news that the Greek government confirmed the scheme to build a gabled, protective roof and access for the archaeological site around the tholos tomb. The roof and maintenance will be funded by the Prehistoric Studies of Kefalonia Society according to Stavros P. Travlos, the Deputy Regional Governor of Kefalonia and Ithaca. This welcome news means the much needed conservation work will finally happen for the monument, and bring with it considered infrastructure of tourists to safely visit the site. This work will also raise awareness of Kefalonia’s place Bronze Age Mediterranean history, through it’s position as one of the nodes in the network of regional kingdoms for the period.
What is the Tzannata Tomb? In the Mycenean period, elites burried their dead in large beehive shpaed tombs. The Tzannata tholos tomb measures 6.8 m in diameter to a maximum heigh of nearly 4m, making it the largest known tomb to date in the Ionian Sea. Inside the tholos – uniquely – were the burials underground, over generations, stacked on top of one another and from DNA testing, believed to be a related kin group.
It is believed that this monument’s erection was linked to an emergence of a powerful local elite in southern Kefalonia, in the Mycenaean period, that used shared burial practices of the mainland. With the discovery of this tholos tomb some thirty years ago, it opened up many questions about the orientation of powers among the island’s elite, it has remained of interest to the local community and international researchers alike, hoping to answer questions about the Bronze Age centres of power in the Mediterranean and how Kefalonia and Ithaka fit into the landscape of Mycenaean palace culture in the period.
For more information you can follow Hettie and Makis on Facebook groups Discover Kefalonia and Ithaki and their website Homeric Ithaca. They are regularly updating their pages with new and wonderful things going on in Kefalonia, highlighting a truly magical island.
In this week’s podcast on exploring plagues in the late Medieval period with Dr Alex Lee, “The Bianchi Plague Processions of 1399”, she offered an exciting perspective on religious expressions in response to plague. Alex provided details about the historical context and the religious symbolism to help explain the reasons why Italian communities dealing with the huge impacts of the plague of 1399-1400, gathered together in groups and processed from city to city across Tuscany and how their local governments work out the logistics to facilitate these religious expressions and maintain order.
Thinking about plagues from the ancient world and their impacts is something I’ve considered a lot since starting a podcast. After choosing a variety of topics and individuals to discuss, it has surprised me how frequently I’ve seen connections back to the Antonine Plague. There were many types of cures and prayers used in antiquity to deal with plague, which Liam and I discussed in our first episode, “Plagues and Pandemics“, looking at the Antonine Plague of the 2nd century CE and the cult of Glycon from Abōnóteichos (later Ionopolis), in Asia Minor. This mystery-healing cult gained prominence due to its ritual healing prescriptions and the charismatic leadership of Alexander Abōnóteichos.
Alexander mixed various traditions into his cult: he said a snake would be born of an egg in the foundations of the temple of Asclepius in Abōnóteichos, and then when it spoke, the voice and prophecy would be directly from the god. He would interpret the Harry Potter-style parcel-tongue utterances and give out cures for healing, political advice, oracles and more. For many centuries before, snake cults were intimately associated with the healing gods from Apollo, Asclepius and Hygiea, to Isis and Serapis! This new popular religious cult gave its founder influence within the ranks of the elite of Roman provincial administrators, his daughter even married the governor of the Roman province of Asia.
As the outbreak of plague swept the Roman Empire around 160 CE , desperate people sought all types of cures and protective charms; those included visits to Glycon, whose interpreters issued a little prayer: “shorn Phoebus, keep away the cloud of plague” which people have been found in the archaeological record carrying on their person (in burial) and inscribed on doorways. Christian writers in the period were incredibly sceptical and condemned Alexander and his cult as charlatans. One unexpected outcome of the religious prescriptions to the plague was that it made those who had the magic words on their person, or above their house door, more confident and less likely to stay away from crowds or those with illness, since they believed they were under the protection of Apollo through Glycon. Thus, according to Christian writers, his adherent’s were the most likely to die and also prove their case that their god was the right one.
The foundation story of the Bianchi movement has a few sources, but one is the the ‘tre pani’ story, discussed in greater depth here on Dr Lee’s website, taken from the account of Luca Dominici, a chronicler from Pisotia. In the story, a labourer is working minding his own business when an elite looking fellow (Jesus) shows up and asks for food which the labourer does not have. Miraculously, Jesus has him open his jacket to find- lo! bread! Jesus then asks the labourer (witness) to moisten the bread with water, which again, is not available but with some cajoling, the man go out looking for a fountain which was previously not there, to find a white-robed woman (the Virgin Mary) trying to convince him to not dip the bread. The labourer is ping-ponged between the two for a bit then ultimately does dip the bread, which spreads the pestilence. It seems like entrapment since the poor man didn’t know who they were and was just following hospitality norms but hey ho. The plague is released, but why? Effectively, the pestilences that humanity faced in this period were because Jesus was angry about the high levels of sinning, so decided to destroy mankind. Seems fair.
To remedy this pestilence, the Virgin suggests a white-robed procession for nine days between cities, walking barefoot, not sleeping within walled towns, singing laude, and fasting from meats and nice things 6 days a week and only water and bread on Sunday. Though as Dr Lee investigated, there were many food rules for each community and could be some significant variance as to what was not allowed and what was freely given to those on procession.
The communities of Tuscany had survived successive periods of plague, and those wishing to organise Bianchi processions could rely on existing infrastructure and guidance from civic officials and religious leaders to facilitate these processions. What was striking about discussing this medieval plague is the way the community came together and supported one another throughout this societal crisis to really inclusive worship. As we discuss, it had elevated performative aspects which were quite proscriptive and, as Dr Lee argues, likely no small degree of peer pressure to participate.
Do check out the episode for many more exciting details, and to find out more, I strongly encourage interested readers/listeners to read Dr Alex Lee’s forthcoming book, “The Bianchi of 1399 in Central Italy: Making Devotion Local“, and visit her website Bianchi 1399.wordpress.com! You can also get in touch via Twitter @AlexRALee.
For anyone who has had to go to Mykonos on their way to Delos, I’m sorry. Mykonos in the modern period has been blessed with Instagrammable vistas, from its white-painted walls with brightly coloured doors, to the overpriced meals, it is every social media influencer’s dream. However, when one is traveling to the nearby island of Delos, a brief stay in the tourist labyrinth awaits.
Thankfully my time in Mykonos, while conducting field work, was brief. To ensure we would be able to catch a ferry crossing to Delos, we planned a day and a half in this little seaside area. With ferry tickets and a frappe in hand, my colleague and travel buddy Ms King and I, set off to the sacred island of Delos!
Legendary birthplace of the ancient world’s deadliest twins, Apollo and Artemis, the island was a sacred site well into antiquity. A historically important trade hub for merchants crossing the Aegean, Delos was a crucial point for the exchange of ideas, art, goods and slaves. The island of Delos itself drew many cults from across the ancient world. Of particular interest to me were the several temples to Serapis and Isis located fairly high up the hill. These newcomers to Delos were part of the expanding religious landscape of the island in the Hellenistic period.
Delos’ sanctity was ensured during the Peloponnesian wars when under oracular guidance the island was required to divest itself of the dead. That is quite uncommon. As is the case now, communities are very connected to their dead. Disturbing graves and reburying the remains on another island seems extreme. Under the guidance of the Delphic Oracle, and just like Disneyland, all of your prayers could be answered; but you couldn’t die or give birth on Delos any longer.
Various leagues were created and centered here to deal with military and political threats, the Delian league during the Persian Wars, and the Nesiotic League during the wars of the Successors of Alexander the Great. It is at this point, during the 3rd century BCE that the island was in the hands of the Ptolemaic Empire and the influence of the Alexandrian kingdom, and its gods was most pronounced on the island.
With more temples to Egyptian gods in one city anywhere outside of Egypt, save Rome, Delos is an interesting location to try to understand the ways in which religious integration occurs and the role in which the urban landscape is a factor.
In 167/166 BCE Delos’ political fortunes changed with the growing influence and meddling in the Aegean of Rome, the island was handed over to the Athenians, who expelled the Delians. As a Roman free port, Delos benefited from the Italian aggression towards competitor cities, until an enemy of Rome sought to disrupt the Republic’s income by sacking the little holy island full of people making money from slaves. The Mithradatic Wars had two waves of destruction in Delos, coming to a head in 69 BCE.
No longer the safest outpost for ensuring Rome’s transportation of slaves and non-human trade goods, Rome made the southern Italian city of Puteoli the new port-de-jour. With that decline and depopulation Delos turned into a relic.
The temples of Isis and Serapis in Delos are built across several phases and interestingly took different forms while they thrived. One associating itself with a more ‘authentically’ Egyptian-style, and another with a more Hellenic-Alexandrian form, they co-existed though not always in perfect harmony.
It was a perfect day to explore this incredible UNESCO World Heritage site, and as I continue with my research, it is always an enriching experience to go to these spectacular sites with my research questions in mind. After a decade passing since my last time here, much remained the same, but due to increased interest in the cults of the Egyptian gods and their relationships with Hellenic and Italic deities, the deities I study tend to get highlighted! The archaeology museum was equally worth the trip to see, with excellent mosaics and gorgeous statues.
This spring, my friend and fellow St. Andrews colleague, Dr Briana King, and I traveled to Greece for fieldwork in our studies. With intersecting interests, Briana and I were able to plan a truly spectacular trip and gain new insights into our own research questions as well as each other’s work. Through careful budgeting and receiving funding through several pathways, we were fortunate to achieve quite a lot in two weeks. We began our fieldwork in Cyprus, to investigate the earliest sanctuary site of Aphrodite!
With a long history reaching back into the Neolithic period, Cyprus has seen waves of cultural and political change throughout its recorded history. Annexed in 295/4 BCE by the Ptolemy I Soter (the founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty), it remained within their dynastic control for 250 years. Though Cyprus still retained semi-autonomous government with the Boule (council), Demos (popular assembly) and the Gerousia (council of ancient Boomers). This continued until it was annexed by Rome in 58 BCE during the dynastic struggles between Cleopatra VII and her siblings, and settled into Roman hands following the civil war with Octavian and Antony. Cyprus would fall into the hands of several other powers over the next two thousand years (the Arab caliphate, the French and Venetians and the Ottomans), until today where it currently remains divided by Greece and the occupied portion under Turkey.
Cyprus’ place-names have popped into my studies for years came from this island. Unsurprisingly, due to the proximity to Egypt (a straight line to Alexandria) and the political fortunes of Cyprus, there was several connection-points with the Egyptian gods which I hope to explore further in my research.
The goddess of many names: the sanctuary of Aphrodite
Starting in Cyprus was very important to Briana’s research: Paleopafos is the OG Aphrodite cult site where she was worshiped in the form of a black stone (below left). The Sanctuary of Aphrodite, barely visible on the archaeological site, requires some imagination to envisage what it could have been like. Set atop a higher elevation, the site would have commanded an impressive presence on the landscape and awarded visitors with a stunning view out to the sea.
A rose by any other name…
While Hesiod called Aphrodite ‘Cyprus-born’ around the 8th c. BCE, the goddess was not called that in Cypus until the 4th c. BCE. The significance of place-names for her identity can be seen in inscriptions where is called ‘the Golgian or Paphian’ from her sanctuaries at Golgoi and Pafos. A city’s prestige could be significantly enhanced by a notable sanctuary or cult site. You can see below some interesting details about the places or priorities associated with the goddess of Cyprus.
“Kyprogenes- Cyprus born goddess; Potnia Kyprou – the mistress of Cyprus Akraia – the goddess of promontories; Pontia, Einalia – the marine goddess Ourania – the heavenly goddess; Pandemos- goddess of all Egcheios – the goddes with the spear; Kourotrophos – the goddess patron of infants “
Figurines found across the island, and spread to other Mediterranean cities, show ongoing development in the iconography of the Great Goddess of Cyprus. Theories range about their uses, whether they are images of early forms of Aphrodite, her priestesses, companions for the dead or talismans for fertility or the afterlife.
She certainly glowed up though.
As Aphrodite’s form changes over time, you get gorgeous examples like the Aphrodite from Soloi (right) which has that sexy contrapposto!
For scholars and history nerds, these places are important and aren’t normally on a tourists’ itinerary. Cyprus is known for its beaches, boardwalks and boating which we briefly explored. Though this isn’t my topic of expertise, it was really cool to experience it with someone who has a passion for Aphrodite scholarship, like mine for Isis!
With Google taking on a merry-go-round of routes through the hills and ostrich farms, we eventually arrived at Nicosia to visit the archaeological museum. It had a substantial collection of beautiful things
With the archaeological site of Salamis inconveniently closed, we checked out a few other interesting locations in Cyprus! A brief walk along the promenade along the sunny boardwalk in Limassol.
What surprised me about Paphos is that it was like a tiny hot British town plunked in the middle of the Mediterranean. Walking around, the signs were in English and I didn’t hear an ounce of Greek being spoken. The archaeological site was worth a wander, but if I was looking for Greek culture and a trip away from the UK, it was eerily like being back in Britain.
Neopaphos & the Tombs of the Kings
Some unexpected surprises along the way included the rental car with no working headlights and the incredible discovery of a late-night delivery of the best souvlaki and Greek salad of my life. With a lot of terrain covered over a weekend, there is still a lot left to explore there and worthy of a solid return trip.
The close of a new decade is an inevitably reflective time. The last time the decade turned, I was in my twenties finishing my undergraduate degrees in Vancouver. It feels like a memoir’s worth of writing could barely sum up the last ten years, so I will stick to just one year. 2019 was possibly the most had some of the biggest highs and lows I have gone through in my academic and personal life. Perhaps it is fitting then that at the end of this decade, it was time to go through another life-changing gauntlet of challenges and opportunities.
Travel and Fieldwork
It was a big year for fieldwork. Luckily, that is my reason-d’être for travel. I discovered a few years ago that travelling with a question in your mind makes the whole experience richer and satisfying when you can answer those questions. When I started researching Isis and the Egyptian cults, it became quite consuming and fortunately for me, dispersed throughout most of the Roman Empire. This has been a blessing in most cases, and this year, with one of my dearest friends, we were able to combine forces and research topics to do fieldwork together across much of Greece.
Germany! Mainz and Frankfurt
In January, I popped over to Germany for a weekend to go check out the temple of Isis in Mainz. This site was excavated during the building of a shopping mall, which sits on top of it. A shared temple with Magna Mater, this city had some really great archaeological museums and things to explore. I used to travel alone a lot more, and scooting off for a few days on my own was a lot of fun.
My recent post about Padua highlighted some of the things that made it a delicious visit to one of my favourite countries, but for me, one really lovely part of the trip was getting to spend time around the kitchen table with the family of a dear friend. I miss that part of family life a lot as an ex-pat. I love spending time with the families of friends, feeling the warmth of their love and bonds of family, even doing normal things like grocery shopping and having a cup of tea.
Greece and Cyprus
Travelling together for a few weeks was a blast and we covered a lot of ground. Laying down groundwork for a future co-publication, hopefully, we learned a lot about each other’s research and where it intersects! Greece is a country that formed mythical impressions in our minds from studying these places over so many years, and getting the opportunity to drive to many sites here together was a dream come true.
With some careful planning and Jedi-level budgeting, Briana and I crushed it: Nicosia, Paphos, Palaepafos, Limassol, Mykonos, Delos, Thessalonike, Philippi, Amphipolis, Vergina, Dion, Volos, Nemea, Mycenae, Corinth, Athens, Epidaurus, Pella, Marathon, Nafplio, Sounion and Eleusis!
With so many beautiful locations, and fascinating material culture, I will definitely be posting some cool snaps and historical tidbits about these places in 2020.
Italy: Roadtripping and the Aeclanum Excavation
For the first time since I started going to Italy to try and learn new skills (excavating or public archaeology), I had the good fortune of jointly renting a car with several friends for the duration of our time there. Liberating and exhilarating would be the best summary of that experience. We were able to finally see some of the surrounding areas of Passo di Mirabella, which are incredibly beautiful. I am so grateful for the time I was able to spend with these ladies trying incredible foods, splashing around in creeks, going to ruins and museums and feeling a bit like a kid again!
Launching a graphic novella in Italy!
Vita Romana: at the baths of a Aeclanum was launched this summer in Passo di Mirabella. It was a labour of love that I am super proud of. Completing a project like this was exciting, and working with Ambra Ghiringhelli and Josef Souček- two creative and talented scholars- was so rewarding! With Vita Romana we learned a lot of things about a collaborative creative process, and it would be really cool to work on other stories about Roman daily life!
For the first year in my life, making art was a significant component of my earnings. I still make silly fun things ( #ImSorryChris ) for myself, but between small commissions, selling posters, paintings in Mariachi, and my public archaeology work this was my most successful year as an artist!
Our west coast wedding
One fateful day in the summer of 2017 I proposed to my husband, over a beer in front of the Pantheon in Rome. After a week on holiday of trying to find the perfect moment and location, everything went wrong. Comically wrong. After a cringe-worthy number of failed attempts, the end result was after a week of nearly asking Chris to marry me, I just went for it with a spontaneous and slightly rambling proposal.
Two years later we had our big day in Vancouver, surrounded by friends and family in a gorgeous location, we tied the knot. As a testament to how ridiculous I am and how accommodating my husband is, I insisted on sneaking in all sorts of archaeology and classics-themed elements into the wedding.
We were touched and grateful to have family members and friends from all over the world who joined us for the wedding. My new family, from the UK, got to explore the province I love so much.
With hot and sunny weather August weather, the guests were subjected to volcanic heat during the ceremony! It was a truly happy day, and absolutely impossible without the support of my mom, sisters (Alex and Anaise), father and my tribe of women warriors, mothers and friends. It felt like all these hearts and minds got me to where I am today, pursuing the things that I am most passionate about, married to a wonderful, brilliant man who enriches my life while I chase my dreams.
Following the wedding, there was no rest for the wicked with escape rooms to solve, babies to cuddle and some wee excursions to spend some time with my family. In a exciting opportunity to come to the Sunshine Coast by a private sea plane! We were over the moon to be invited to this beautiful area and hang with my super lovely aunts and uncles. Spending time with friends and loved ones this summer was so restorative and the best part of the whole time in Canada.
Upon our triumphant return to the United Kingdom, we had the ultimate penthouse wedding reception with our incredible community of friends, coleagues and family. It was marvellous.
Manchester & Liverpool
Drawing this year to a close, we decided that connecting with some of our friends who made their way up to celebrate at our reception would be the best way to spend some free time (lol, free time) this winter. We had a magic weekend in Manchester with some beloved friends and colleagues I met in 2013 during our Masters! Manchester is unarguably one of the coolest cities in the UK. It’s got the architectural edge and multi-culturalism that reminds me of Vancouver. With a quick afternoon trip to Liverpool to do some research, we got to cross that city off the list as well. It is always such a pleasure spending time with our pals in Manchester.
As a little treat for ourselves, Chris and I wanted to spend a week in Belgium. Having visited about two years ago to the day, we were stoked to stay with our lovely friends and colleagues in Leuven. The talented Dr Close (Hellenistic History Instagram) and her lovely partner Stijn.
New Year, Who Dis?
It’s hard to believe all of these things happened within the last 12 months alongside school, work, project work at Aeclanum and so on. Like a last grasp at the hectic-life that used to signal to me that I was working hard enough, if I was too busy to blink, surely it meant I was working as hard as possible. Working hard, but perhaps, not working smart. This year was a kind of awakening. For many years I believed I had some sort of super-human ability to multi-task and problem-solve, whatever else was going on in my life, I could get it done. Whatever ‘it’ was. I would just sleep less, or socialize less, or work during other work…the mind boggles how all this made sense. What I discovered, rather late, was that this balancing act wasn’t balanced at all. It was a very typical high-achiever’s cocktail for burnout. Even projects and activities that gave me great pleasure, if they were not my thesis, then it had to go. Coinciding with moving house, this fall was all about starting anew and positively.
This year I am trying something new and sustainable: in life, in art and school, I will pare everything down to a focused and balanced year ahead.
In fair Padua, where we lay our scene…My Shakespeare may be a bit dusty, but that is definitely maybe how that goes, right? There were certainly enough ‘Juliette windows’ to make you think you might be stepping into a Shakespearean play!
Until recently, Padua was an elusive northern Italian city in the Veneto on my list of places to visit, but I’d never quite made it up there. With very limited experience in northern Italy, I planned to surprise my husband for his birthday with a weekend in Padua. We packed our bags and hopped a flight with a friend and colleague, Dr Lucia Michielin, to stay a few days in her hometown and experience the city, the mountains, and her family’s gastronomic traditions.
Padua is radiant, serving you sunshine with arcaded walkways and boutique shops for days. The history of Padua is etched into the very walls of the shopping areas! Markers of older commercial activities, as pointed out by our knowledgeable local hostess, created in a few different shapes to suit several types of common products to make sure no one was getting ripped off.
Piazza delle Erbe was a bustling residential area in pre-Roman era, then with intensification of urbanization, this area took the form of the piazza it is now by the 10th century CE. Within Piazza delle Erbe, the market is elegant and layered from the outside, and on the inside there are all sorts of traditional food items sold. The butcher and cheese mongers were mouth-watering.
Roman & Early Renaissance Padua
The archaeology museum of Padua had some Roman finds that I hadn’t come across before: a stargate- I mean, “well”! Obviously, we took silly pictures inside it.
Remains of an amphitheater are found in the city center near the Scrovegni Chapel and the Eremitani Museum of archaeology and art. Well worth a visit, though there was nothing pertinent to my research there, the banter is always fun when walking around an archaeology museum with a colleague.
Coming to Padua, we were most excited about visiting the Scrovegni Chapel with the famous fresco paintings by Giotto. Having studied this chapel in art school, I was really keen to see it in real life. Painted by Giotto and his workshop over the course of nearly two years, the chapel was consecrated in 1305.
The pictures don’t do it justice; the blues are electric and packed with detail. The vibrancy and realism for this period innovative, well in advance of when we would typically expect this type of work in the Renaissance. Giotto preceded them by 200 years!
From a heritage management perspective, the way they regulated tourism and its impact was clever. Taking small groups in at a time, allowing the temperature to acclimatize through a series of waiting rooms, visitors can explore but also preserve a fragile painted environment. It was a real privilege to see this chapel, and their conservation programme will keep it vibrant for years to come.
A drive to the mountains
Calazo di Cadore
After a day in town wandering and feasting, our hosts took us on a drive to their familial mountain home. The drive up was full of twists and turns, and the crisp air with gorgeous views was lit!
Scooting around Lago di Centro Cadore along the narrow walls of the dam I clutched at my pearls, it was beautiful and harrowing. I was grateful to not be the driver on this occasion! Whilst sauntering around the quiet and picturesque town center, we passed by the home of the famous painter Titian. Famous for the use of electric blues in paintings, extending the colour to subjects beyond the decoration of the Virgin Mary’s robes, one got the sense of how much this stunning blue was part and parcel of experiencing this area. The sky, the mountains and lakes were all so vibrant.
Within this packed daytrip, we saw gorgeous mountains, walked around a park and had a gorgeous rustic little sammich with tasty local meats! I could spend a season tucked away in one of these historic cabin homes enjoying the view. As a girl from British Columbia, the mountains are always calling me, and these mountains did not disappoint.
Within a 72-hour period, we sampled a significant array of incredible culinary delights. It seemed impolite to take photos at the dinner table, but I can assure you, each meal was like a delightful sampling of many dishes.
In my attempt to broaden my horizons in the kitchen and decrease general consumerism, I’ve taken to buying foodstuffs as culinary souvenirs. I am excitedly trying my hand at these dishes, and slowly learning about the ethos of Italian cooking. While I will NEVER give up my afternoon cappuccino no matter how many taboos that crosses, I am willing to abide by SOME culinary rules when the results are delicious.
Our generous hosts took me to local farmer’s market, butchers and grocers showing me which ingredients to use to try and replicate the dishes they cooked. It was the most magnificent bounty I have ever seen; the blessings of Fortuna were upon us. The greens, artichokes, creme caramel, fresh cheeses and meats were probably the best souvenirs I have ever brought home.
Once we were back in Edinburgh, I wanted to try my hand at a wee dish that our lovely hosts made one evening. Parma ham wrapped radicchio and local soft cheese.
The flavours of the fresh produce were fantastic, and being a heathen, I even played with other types of meat to wrap the radicchio and cheese.
Many of our trips take us to locations where we have friends and colleagues, which offers such a rich and interesting way of experiencing a place. Spending a weekend with the Michielin family made me fall in love with Padua and get a little more culinary confidence!
Change in life, travel and work are always inspiring to me. With this excavation season, there were several developments in the programme which have already opened many doors. Pushing ourselves towards new skills and challenges, the team that came back together this year is working harder than ever to support the students and in our research. The 2018 dig season at Passo di Mirabella kicked off several weeks ago and for returning students and staff, and after an intense first year in my PhD, it was a pretty great feeling to get back to the site. With a few of us in different positions this year and including a new field project manager (Allison Kidd), and myself moving into project managing off-site alongside the Public Archaeology coordinating. The organizational flow appears to be working well already! The ethos of this excavation is generally oriented away from hierarchies but having people in place to provide additional support in a few key areas has made a big difference!
Getting back to work
The expansion of the programme offers a broad array of activities, and this year we have even more students coming for specialist training in pottery, osteology, epigraphy and, of course, longer-term excavation training. Public Archaeology appears to still be a bit of a mystery to students, but maybe one day I’ll have my own little troop to work with, but until then, I am always grateful for the occasional drop-in helping with drawing, activity planning and brainstorming. My youngest volunteer was arguably the most focused and enthusiastic public archaeologist yet! New teams of students and supervisors are working hard, but also trying to share their experiences via social media. Posting about their experiences on Facebook, Instagram and through personal blogs, students are engaging with the work from a digital perspective while keeping it interesting for their audiences!
Research and Public Archaeology
This year marks my third season with the project, and second in a Public Archaeology role. It is another ambitious year. I have been working on new activities which aim to bring the participants closer to the daily life of Ancient Romans. This year we have been able to jump ahead towards more sophisticated engagement materials, since we are able to build on the work from last year.Through regular social media updates, my work has been in part illustrating, but the overarching plan for the Open Day and further research is focused on asking questions relating to pedagogical approaches that will be answered via through educational posters and games during the Open Day. The data collected will be assessed in a follow-up project I am working on in the last fortnight of the excavation season. The games and learning materials bridge modern audiences (specifically children but also to encourage adults as well) wtih themes like international trade and community within the urban spaces of Aeclanum. Through a close collaboration between myself (project development and art direction) and the brilliant GIS and digital graphics team (Josef Soucek and Lucia Michillen), and our field directors, Dr. Ferdinando di Simone and Dr. Ben Russell, we are producing materials at a rapid pace entirely in-house, which is unique in my experience and really allows the Aeclanum project to break new ground in terms of outreach. By linking our outreach materials to new research we are undertaking on the site annually and adapting our creative materials to reflect the developments in these research questions, we can integrate students with related research and skills into the work we are doing.
The Open Day is a few weeks away still, but at the rate the students are excavating, we are certain to have an even clearer image of the stratigraphic processes in the trenches, and what this seasons’ research will be able to elucidate before the end of the season.
If you are going to be visiting Paris with the expectation that you are going to visit the most romantic city on earth, then this is not the list for you. I am just going to assume you will walk along the Champs–Élysées, check out the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, so you won’t find those things here. After half a dozen visits to this incredible city, there are some things I think are always worth a look, a re-visit, others to skip. A short trip to Paris can be incredible and dare I say, even relaxing, if you plan to take in sites in between promenades, and cheeky drinks along the Siene and let the ambience take over.
How to MuseumThere is a fine art to going to see art. Nothing makes you unhappier faster than being hangry, sore and tired and shuffling around a palace full of art – much of which looks basically the same. As someone who travels to see museums and archaeological sites exclusively, I double down when I travel alone and see as much as possible, but if there is another human with me, I (grudgingly) stick to a one large museum a day rule. As tempting as it is to visit a few together to save time, it diminishes your ability to appreciate and enjoy them. Breaking up the visits means you won’t literally run through rooms of incredible art just to sit down. I know there are only so many paintings of the crucifixion you can take in on any one visit. Don’t make seeing this stuff a performance of penance.
1. The LouvreI know what you are thinking; OBVIOUSLY you will be going to the Louvre. However, you will never see everything in the louvre, so don’t try. Rather, pick two themes that interest you; Greco-Roman statues and Near Eastern pre-historic art? Tapestries and Medieval painting? Sure, you may not see every highlight, but by focusing on things you are interested in versus what you ‘should’ be seeing, you will likely enjoy it more.
Pro tip: visit the Louvre in the evenings if you can since it is significantly less busy then, and you have the Venus di Milo all to yourself rather than struggling to find a spot in between tour groups. Wednesdays and Fridays the museum is open until 10pm/ closed on Tuesdays.
2. Musée d’Orsay/ Musée Orangerie For relatively more modern pieces of art, the impressionist painting collection of d’Orsay and Orangerie are worth the visit. If you’ve ever been curious to see the ‘L’Origine du monde’ (Origin of the World), now is your chance! If you are lucky enough, there might be some performance art happening there during your visit! Both buildings are gorgeous, and worthwhile for a visit. Places for good eats: Eric Kayser Artisan Boulanger & Cafe de la Nouvelle Marie
3. Place de la Concorde For me, nothing says going to Paris like staring at some Aegyptiaca. The big attractive Obelisk of Luxor and ornate fountains symmetrically placed at the center of Place de la Concorde, with Egyptian-styled decoration throughout the square is an interesting throwback to France’s imperial days. The site of execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, among many others. Surrounding crowds of jeering revolutionairies cramming into this space – briefly named ‘Place de la Révolution‘ during this period- is a viceral mental image of social and political upheaval to conjure.
4. Musée de Cluny (Musée national du Moyen Age) The museum de Cluny is full of art and artefacts from the Middle Ages, as you would expect from the name, but part of the treasure of this place is the building itself, built atop a Roman bath which you can see in the basement, the higgledy-piggledy building features of the exterior are sort of charming.
5. PantheonThe Pantheon feels as far away from its Roman predecessor as one could find; a monument to the civic spirit and fraternity of the famous French individuals. Once a church, a ruined abbey of Saint Genevieve, re-created by Louis XV in the mid-1700s. Interred within the Pantheon are the remains of Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Rousseau among others. There is something quite unique about such a ornate resting place for writers, philosophers and poets – secular heroes seldomly receive this type of hagiographic treatment.This area is great for wandering and grabbing a coffee and these sites are only 4 minutes walk from the Musée de Cluny. If nothing else, there is a famous macaron shop nearby which is worth the visit. Sweet treats near the Pantheon: Sebastien Degardin (Patisserie de la Pantheon) and La Macaron Laduree Paris.
6. Montmartre and Sacré-CœurThe stairs leading up to Sacré-Cœur and the Montmartre are the devil. It is a beast to get up to the top, but don’t cheat and take the funicular. It’s good for you and will build character.The neighbourhood around the basilica is lovely and winding, with a large number of cafés and restaurants priced to keep the likes of me away. Atmospherically, it’s a an area with a relaxed vibe. There is often music floating around by street performers, interesting architecture and artisans with a plethora of stalls selling their paintings/prints. Stopping in at a café with a decent view, this is one of my favourite areas to sketch urban life scenes.
7. Versailles Jumping on the a few metros and RER train out of town, visiting the Palace of Versailles is a pretty solid day trip. Built up from a swamp around his family’s hunting lodge, Louis XIV captured all of France’s nobility in his guilded cage of Versailles. Through elaborate specatcles to entertain them whilst there, and incredibly pedantic and restrictive court etiquette, Louis was gaslighting the French aristorcacy until they competed with eachother to help him put on his pants or use the toilet, as a sign of his favour.
There are so many architectural and decorative wonders in the palace; the public spaces like the Hall of Mirrors and each private room you amble through unveils small reminders of the period where Europe’s most influential art and fashions were being created in Versailles.
In addition to the historical interst of visiting Versailles, the grounds are exquist if you are partial to a manicured garden. Next-level landscaping. The fountains, which were unable to all be used at the same time in his life-time, now put on incredible water shows to classical music. The small cottage of Marie Antoinette in the gardens, the Hameau de la Reine, has lovely neo-Classical temples and picturesque views for some quiet contemplation and maybe some cake.
8. Musée d’Archéologie Nationale, Saint-Germain-en-LayA 40 minute ride on the RER, and you end up in the suburb of Saint-Germain-en-Lay, about 19 km west of Paris. There are nice gardens around the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye which house the archaeological collection, that offer a nice picnic space to nap post-Museum.
This is not a journey I would suggest if you have just a few days in Paris, or if you have never been before since there is so much to see and do in the city center. However, if you’ve seen the main sites and are looking for something different and a little quieter/less busy, this would be a worthwhile visit.
9. Spend as much time as possible picnicking and drinking wine along the Seine
I don’t know how much needs to be said on this, but most of the best moments I’ve shared in Paris, with friends or my fiance, have been taking some wine and picnic down to the Seine and hanging out in the sunset. As one of the busiest European tourist destinations, it can be hard to find places to just chill out and take in the majestic views (for free), but along the river you can have all those deep talks, relaxation and watercolour painting opportunities.
10.Make some art!
A small travel kit of water colours and watercolour brushes in tow, and you’ve got the makings for an art filled break. Even if you aren’t sure you are going to be a Renoir or Monet, a cheap and portable set of paints and watercolour pen can be the best companion on your trip. Unlike a photo, trying to make a small artistic rendering requires looking a little differently at the world around you, and a slower pace. Your mom will totally put your painting on her fridge.
Bars and nightlife
The Strasbourg St. Denis area is great for bars, chilling out till the wee hours with the unusual opportunity to hear French being spoken all around you. Nice space to unwind with decent food prices in this neighbourhood.
The Paris Pass
The Paris Pass is a great purchase; after a visit or two to the big museums, it will be evident that this little pink pass has paid for itself. Click here for a link.
There are many ways you can get into the city-center from the airport, but I tend to use the tested and true coach buses. It can be about €15.00 approximately. Click here for a link to a summary site on the transportation options.
Some nice spots to stay in town:
This AirB&B accomodation was an aboslute gem on a research trip last year, small but fully functional and very well situated. Just 10 minutes or so from the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, with many small bakeries, grocery stores and bars nearby.
Hostel Oops is a throwback to my backpacking days, but it’s cheap(ish) and really bloody cool inside as hostels go. Right in the Latin Quarter next to some movie theatres and other fun establishments. It need not be mixed accomodations with strangers, as they have some private rooms, but that’s not as much fun…until you are 25.
The last 12 months have been eventful, with a lot of life changing things on the horizon to be excited about. In a few short days, I will be heading off for a third (more lengthy) season in the Roman town of Aeclanum, (near modern Mirabella Eclano, Italy). The last year was incredibly formative for me, as I was privileged enough to work on developing materials with the site directors of Aeclanum from the University of Edinburgh and the Apolline Project for public outreach for the Open Day, as well as ongoing learning materials for children to engage with archaeology in schools.The opportunities to share this work are blooming into new areas for me professionally with a lot of creative directions to pursue.
My first dig
Ten years ago, before I knew what I wanted to with my life, I applied for the opportunity to work on a three-month salvage excavation in Poros, Kefalonia. This excavation was organised in collaboration with Simon Fraser University and the Ephorate in Kefalonia. One family in Poros, the Metaxas family, made an incredible impact on my time there. They were strong advocates for this dig, working with the local government to see that the archaeological site was excavated before it was robbed or destroyed once it became apparent that there were tombs located there.
It was a project born out of a local passion with an aim to start documenting and publishing the rich history of the area, which had been under occasional excavation for decades with very little making it into the public record. By the time of our arrival, there was evidence of looting, so speed was of the essence and the local archaeologists worked with a ragtag bunch of undergrads to excavate and document the human remains and small finds.
The scientific processes are the same for a salvage dig as a normal one, but the elements that are the focus of the excavation tend to be revealed and in peril, so acting quickly and documenting as much as possible is the priority. Our team worked on the excavation during the day and in the evenings would have classroom time and readings, even the odd Greek lessons. Even on the rainy days where the schedule entailed 8 hours of pottery washing, it was still brilliant to be part of.
The antiquity of the necropolis was evidenced through artefacts which represented multi-period usage on the site for burials, an ancient garbage dump (large amounts of broken pottery and animal bones), and fluted columns and architectural blocks from some unidentified building structure.
Excavation in Pronnoi
The excavation work was productive for getting the half-exposed burials out in time before the winter rains began to set in, though occasionally, flash rainstorms would flood the side of the mountain with us on it. The pithoi were interesting tomb-types that were repurposed from containers for bulk storage of grains or other items to a burial container. Once the ceramic vessel was broken up, a body was interred in a flexed or crouched position, and grave goods were added. The vessel was placed around them with fill, but could be accessed again, if another body was to be added to the burial at a later date.
The status of the publication of the finds from the dig is unknown to me, so to avoid getting in trouble, I have made a few artistic renderings of some of the standout artefacts:
Gorgon head, amber.
Corinthian, silver coin.
Lyre player, pottery sherd.
From atop the hill we excavated the necropolis, you could see across the valley with stunning views inland and out to the sea. Putting myself in someone’s sandals from 2,500 years ago and looking out across the same seas they did was a moving experience. Having studied Humanities texts and Art History prepared me in a large way for I was able to see how much more I need to understand before the study of Archaeology or Ancient History. Linking this site in my mind to the Homeric kings and events from the Iliad and Odyssey was only natural, since it was on our reading list, but the chronology of the material culture certainly aided the visualizing of the Bronze Age culture.
Searching for Bronze Age HeroesThe antiquity and long habitation of the region was visible in another area, Tzanata, 3 km east of Poros in the Eleios-Pronnoi municipal region, which had a preserved tholos tomb, or ‘beehive tomb’. This type of tomb has a dome-shaped chamber (like a beehive cut in half), an entrance passage (dromos) and a doorway (stomion) covered with 1-3 lintel blocks. These monumental structures would be buried underground, though accessible, as there could be multiple burials over long periods of time.
The nearby environs of Poros were home to a Bronze Age tholos tomb, which has been dated to around 1400 BCE. This tomb, excavated by Lazaros Kolonas in 1991, contained several sequential burials that could suggest a common lineage.
While significantly smaller than the most famous tholos tombs of Mycenae, it certainly showed comparable architectural features and represented elite participation in the monumental funerary building of the Bronze Age Mediterranean. Finds in the archaeological museum of Argostoli (temporarily closed) reveal golden grave goods from the Mycenaean cultural influence. Included in these finds were carved gemstones a seal that has been interpreted as ‘royal’ were discovered in the tomb. The proximity to Pylos, among other Bronze Age kingdoms of the area, provide parallels chronologically for local elites of Pronnoi having a similar kind of rule over the area by virtue of using similar funerary cultural practices. However, little is known of this site as the excavation reports remain (I believe) unpublished. If further work has been done on this site, it would open up a lot of interesting questions about the position of Kefalonia within Bronze Age trade and indeed, later into the Classical period.
Suffice it to say, my time spent in Poros, Kefalonia, was fundamental in shaping the direction of my studies and career plans. While I have not been back since 2008, the richness in history, the warmth of the community and beauty of the island is still deeply felt. I am making plans to return and investigate the current findings of the area and reunite with the incredible people who made it such a memorable experience for me.
“To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world”
– Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays”
The concept of ‘the flâneur‘ is an old one that has recently entered my mind as my PhD research is starting to intersect conceptually with my artistic experiences within ancient city spaces. As someone who feels that you need to walk a city to really experience it, I also believe to really see a city, it helps to sketch it; not the whole thing, and not just its monuments, but small details and elements. The 19th century French symbol of the flâneur is relatable to me for that reason.
For the flâneur, one interacts within urban spaces through engagement (in painting or writing) and observation, but still remains apart- both a performer and spectator. The lesser-known ‘flâneuse’ is the female chronicler of urban life in the 19th century, figures like Virgina Woolf, as discussed in this article, are part of the underespresented presence of female urban explorers. As a modern female explorer of ancient urban spaces, creating a space to discuss, share and engage with these ideas and locations in the public sphere is important to me.
Additionally, this concept resonates for me, as an archaeology student and artist, because it embodies more than a spirit of adventure and making art, but also a spirit of understanding and trying to piece together the urban landscapes that have developed and disappeared over time.
Since my first trip abroad, in 2002, the drive to sketch and take in everything that I could has formed an important part of appreciating a significantly bigger world than I knew. Sketches from my earlier books explored famous portraits and statues the likes of which I’d only ever seen in Art History courses.
This initial exposure provided me with access to masterpieces in galleries that were unlike the art I could see with any regularity in Canada. Sketching from paintings was a lot of fun and I felt so fortunate to see the images, but my first visit to archaeological sites in Greece and Italy really affected what I wanted to draw.
Visiting many sites in the Mediterranean over the last 10 years, I was able to sit and breathe in these ancient cities by focusing in on the shapes and forms of the stone, lines of sight, and views between one temple to the streets or the valleys below. My curiosity directed me to explore artifacts and material culture that were used to adorn Greek, Etruscan or Roman buildings and the individuals who navigated through them.
From Observer to Preformer
The most inspiring pieces of art in the world were at my fingertips (sketchbook and pen tip), but my shyness about drawing in front of strangers took a few years to overcome. Ironically, the simple act of drawing in public would lead to some of the most interesting encounters with fellow travellers, curious children and tour groups. I have found the quiet study of the place you are in, or artifacts in front of you, signals something unspoken to other people which is inviting.
Over time I developed my own sense of style. I could explore patterns and elements taken from brick designs, patterns of lace on Dutch merchant collars, hairstyles of Roman and Greek elite women, and not worry what the person hovering over my shoulder thought.
Much of what made this passion for drawing more appealing was the utility of having something free and enjoyable to do with the many hours you spend while traveling to get to the place you are going. Waiting to cross the sea on a ferry or idle at a train station on my way to a new city, provided me a good amount of time to reflect on my sketches.
This reflection began to take greater shape and purpose once I started to do postgraduate research. Having questions and a focus of study in my mind affects the way I approach the ancient city spaces around me. It focuses my vision, but also encourages me to think on the connections between the visual elements across the Mediterranean. You don’t need to travel all over the Mediterranean to realise there is a shared visual culture being used with an incredible exchange of ideas and styles at play, but it was helpful to visualize the scope.
It began to create a tapestry of experiences (passive and active) in my mind of ancient art and the interconnectedness of ancient communities that had risen and fallen many centuries ago. I remain inspired to learn more and document it in a way that is meaningful to me and hopefully others. By saving a small piece of my experiences in a sketch or painting, I am starting to develop ways in which these small illuminations of incredible places and artifacts can be used to share the benefits of the study of Archaeology and Ancient History.