Archive for Roman

The Venus of Quinipily, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Castle, Fountain, Gardens, Landscape, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2015 by mysearchformagic

Nestling in a quiet valley in the middle of rural Brittany can be found the romantic ruins of the chateau of Quinipily, an ancient fortress now reduced to just a few sturdy walls and terraces. Today the remains of the castle have been transformed into pretty gardens which are open to visitors throughout the year.

The colourful gardens of Quinipily, Brittany

The colourful gardens of Quinipily, Brittany

It’s not the flowers that attract visitors to this place, however, because it is far better known for its strange statue, a monumental figure of indefinite age now known as the Venus of Quinipily. The 2.2 metre tall Venus stands at the centre of the terraced garden, staring out at the surrounding landscape from her position atop a huge fountain.

The Venus of Quinipily, Brittany

The Venus of Quinipily, Brittany

Until the seventeenth century both the Venus and the huge stone trough that is now situated below her stood in the Breton village of Bieuzy-les-Eaux, on the site of an ancient Gaulish city. Also known by the villagers as Ar Groareg Houar (the Iron Lady) and Groah Hoart (The Old Guardian), the statue was worshipped by the locals, who believed it to have magical curative powers. Pregnant women would visit the Venus, and later bathe in the trough (which can apparently hold up to 3600 litres of water) after giving birth. It was also thought that the figure could help boost fertility, and it is said that some couple indulged in some rather naughty practises beneath the statue. Finally the bishop of nearby Vannes decided to bring an end to such pagan rituals, and in 1661 he had the Venus thrown into the river. Before long, the locals fished her out, and resumed their old religious rites.

The huge stone water trough at Quinipily

The huge stone water trough at Quinipily

In 1670 the statue was attacked and thrown once again into the watery depths. At this point local gentleman Pierre de Lannion stepped in to save the Venus, and shipped her off to his castle at Quinipily, where she has stood ever since. He faced opposition from the Duke of Rohan, who claimed ownership of the statue, but after a long legal battle Lannion won the case and was allowed to keep her.

The monumental form of the Venus of Quinipily

The monumental form of the Venus of Quinipily

The true age and purpose of the Venus of Quinipily have stirred up debate for centuries. Some have suggested that she may be a representation of Isis first erected by Romans who had settled in the region. Another theory is that she is in fact a Gallic goddess, or perhaps Roman mother goddess Cybele. Some sceptics have proposed that this statue is not ancient at all, but a later copy made when the original statue was destroyed in the seventeenth century.

After such a checkered past, the Venus must relieved to have finally found a safe home in the beautiful gardens of Quinipily. Here she is surrounded by huge old trees which have grown up amongst the fragments of castle wall, and althought the spring which fed her fountain has now dried up, the former ponds and cascades are now a mass of foliage and flowers, a bit wild and overgrown, but wonderfully atmospheric. I said earlier that she attracts visitors to Quinipily, but on the day that I visited there was noone else around, and I was able to enjoy the magical ambience of this intriguing place in peace and quiet, a unique experience in an unforgettable place.

The overgrown ponds in the gardens at Quinipily

The overgrown ponds in the gardens at Quinipily

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The Ancient Quarry and Chapel of Locuon, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Church, History, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , on September 3, 2014 by mysearchformagic

The village of Locuon is, like many in Brittany, a pretty sleepy place. At first glance it might even seems rather ordinary, although its 16th-century church dedicated to Saint-Yon is pretty enough. But lurking behind the church, down a steep, tree-lined path, at the foot of a long flight of stone stairs, sits something much more magical.

The path down into the ancient quarry of Locuon

The path down into the ancient quarry of Locuon

The huge dip which can be found behind the church of Saint-Yon is not a natural valley, but in fact the rare remains of a Gallo-Roman quarry. Carved out over centuries, this quarry supplied stone for the nearby town of Carhaix. After the departure of the Romans the quarry became a place of holy pilgrimage, and a chapel was constructed in the 16th Century. Now it is a wonderfully atmospheric spot, peaceful and far removed from the outside world.

The chapel of Notre-Dame de la Fosse in the ancient quarry of Locuon

The chapel of Notre-Dame de la Fosse in the ancient quarry of Locuon

The quarry is a great place to explore, with lots of strange and intriguing gems hidden in its ferny nooks and crannies. At the foot of the steep flight of steps which lead into it, for example, you will see an ancient goddess sculpture, the outlines of her hands wrapped round her headless torso just visible below a thick coat of lichen.

The goddess sculpture at the foot of the stairs into the ancient quarry in Locuon

The goddess sculpture at the foot of the stairs into the ancient quarry in Locuon

Further down in the depths of the quarry lies a holy well, which trickles out of a carved niche in the cliff face, along a gully and into a murky pool.

The holy well deep in the ancient quarry of Locuon

The holy well deep in the ancient quarry of Locuon

Not far from the pool are some remnants of the ancient quarry in the form of a group of sculpted stones, carved from the rock face but later abandoned here. They are now almost hidden in under a layer of moist green moss.

Ancient carved stones in the quarry of Locuon

Ancient carved stones in the quarry of Locuon

The chapel itself, known as Notre-Dame de la Fosse, is tiny, and fits snuggly into a recess in the quarry side. Its interior is simple, shadowy and silent, but the exterior is more showy, and decorated with elaborate carved reliefs.

The chapel of Notre-Dame de la Fosse, Locuon

The chapel of Notre-Dame de la Fosse, Locuon

The most impressive carving on its exterior shows Saint Roch, famous for his miraculous ability to cure the plague. The fact that he is shown here may relate to the healing properties attributed to the holy well nearby.

The carving of Saint Roch on the exterior of the chapel of Notre-Dame de la Fosse, Locuon

The carving of Saint Roch on the exterior of the chapel of Notre-Dame de la Fosse, Locuon

The ancient quarry of Locuon is a special, unique place. This being Brittany, it is also an undiscovered gem, far from the tourist trail and largely ignored by visitors – I only discovered it thanks to some helpful advice for a local. Wandering around this shady quarry, it’s easy to forget about the modern world which lies not far away, and really lose yourself in the magic.

The Shell Grotto, Margate

Posted in Caves, History, Legend, Margate with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2013 by mysearchformagic

In 1838, workmen digging in the garden of the Belle Vue Cottage on the outskirts of Margate came across a stone slab which covered a narrow hole. On removing the slab they discovered that this hole led down to a tunnel. But this was no ordinary tunnel, for what they had found turned out to be the dome of what the Kentish Gazette described at the time as a ‘kind of Aladdin’s cave’. The complex of tunnels underneath the garden were lined with incredible shell decoration, the like of which had never been seen before. The mysterious Shell Grotto in Margate has been attracting visitors ever since, and indeed this strange attraction is still open to the public today.

The stairs down to the Shell Grotto, Margate

The stairs down to the Shell Grotto, Margate

A visit to the Margate Shell Grotto begins with the small museum at ground level, which gives some of the background to the discovery of the tunnels and the diverse theories that have emerged as to their origins. Next comes the really exciting part. The Grotto lies down a flight of stairs and at the end of a narrow rock-cut cave which descends into the darkness.

The rock-cut tunnel leading to the Shell Grotto, Margate

The rock-cut tunnel leading to the Shell Grotto, Margate

Once inside the grotto proper, every inch of the tunnel walls are decorated with elaborate symbols and patterns, a mosaic created from millions of tiny shells. The effect is breathtaking, particularly in the central roundel which is lit from above by an open dome. The amount of time and effort which went into building this grotto is immense; a similar but much smaller shell grotto created at Goodwood in West Sussex during the 1740s took seven years to build, and that has a floor space of only four square meters, while the shell mosaics in the Margate grotto cover seventy feet of tunnels. Even the task of collecting the many shells would have taken years, because although Margate lies on the coast, the nearest beach which could supply such large quantities of shells is located over six miles away.

Inside the Shell Grotto, Margate

Inside the Shell Grotto, Margate

What is even more strange about the Margate’s Shell Grotto is that noone knows when, why or by whom it was built. Many theories have been put forward over the last century and a half, ranging from the eccentric to the utterly unbelievable. Many have compared it to other 18th Century shell grottoes, but if it had been built during the 1700s then why would it have been blocked up and totally forgotten by the mid 19th Century? If it was an extravagant folly like the example at Goodwood, then why did noone know about it, and why would it be located on what was previously undistinguished farmland? The strange symbols and patterns used in the decoration of the grotto are largely unique, and give few clues to their age. Some have suggested that this is a Roman temple, some believe it to be related to a possible Phoenician trading post, while suggestions that it can be attributed to Minoans, Hindus or Mexicans seem entirely fanciful.

The central dome, Margate Shell Grotto

The central dome, Margate Shell Grotto

Attempts to carbon date the shells have proved fruitless, as the rudimentary lighting used in the grotto in the 19th Century has coated the shells in carbon deposits, and extensive restoration over the years means that analysing the mortar and shells is probably only going to confuse matters further. The map given to visitors attempts to interpret some of the symbols on the walls as a skeleton, an owl, a god and a goddess amongst many others, but the interpretations require a vivid imagination and are frankly rather subjective. It seems then that the Margate Shell grotto is destined to remain an intriguing, magical enigma for many years to come.

To be honest, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

P1000549

http://shellgrotto.co.uk/

The Glyptothek, Munich

Posted in Art, Germany, History, Museum with tags , , , , , on June 25, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Originally established in 1830 by Crown Prince Ludwig, later King Ludwig I of Bavaria, the Glyptothek in Munich houses one of the world’s greatest collections of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture.

The exterior of the building is starkly classical, and while the interior was once richly decorated with elaborate plasterwork and boldly coloured walls, it’s reconstruction following bomb damage in the Second World War has resulted in much more muted modern galleries. The interior walls are now bare brick, the domed ceilings are stripped of their decoration, and the resulting atmosphere is much more airy, calm and cool.

The the interior of the Glyptothek, Munich

The the interior of the Glyptothek, Munich

The Glyptothek is a bustling place, with a busy little cafe, a well-stocked bookshop and the usual stream of school groups trailing through its echoing rooms. However, during my visit earlier this year, I managed to snatch a few moments of magical solitude it these hallowed halls. Outside it was chilly, the ground covered in thick snow, but inside the museum I found a warm, peaceful haven.

I was especially taken with Room XI, which contains portrait busts and heads from the Roman period. To find myself in this bright, spacious gallery surrounded by so many illustrious faces, some well-known and instantly recognisable, some whose identity is now lost for ever, was a wonderful experience made even more special by the way that the sculptures are exhibited here, with row upon row of ancient eyes staring right back at me.

Roman portraits in Room XI of the Glyptothek, Munich

Roman portraits in Room XI of the Glyptothek, Munich

It’s an experience that I won’t forget in a hurry.

Portraits of Empress Julia Domna and Emperor Septimius Severus in the Glyptothek, Munich

Portraits of Empress Julia Domna and Emperor Septimius Severus in the Glyptothek, Munich

The Caves at Hanging Rocks, East Lothian

Posted in Caves, History with tags , , , , , on March 4, 2013 by mysearchformagic

The beaches and coastline of East Lothian are well known for their golden sands and lush golf courses. Less well known are the Hanging Rocks caves, which lie to the east of the town of Gullane. It may not look far on a map, but the walk is hard going, up and down rocky outcrops and high dunes, certainly not for the faint hearted.

The coast near Gullane, East Lothian

The coast near Gullane, East Lothian

One the way I spotted the ruins of St Patrick’s Chapel, thought do date from the 16th Century and probably once roofed in turf, now just a messy jumble of windswept stones.

The scant remains of St Patrick's Chapel, Gullane

The scant remains of St Patrick’s Chapel, Gullane

The bay which is bordered by the so called Hanging Rocks is beautiful, its long strip of yellow sands opening up onto fine views of the Firth of Forth and the craggy island of Fidra to the north east. The day I visited was cold and breezy, but the wide blue sky and bracing fresh air more than made up for the bitter chill.

The bay next to Hanging Rocks, East Lothian

The bay next to Hanging Rocks, East Lothian

The location of the caves themselves is not obvious; I had neglected to bring a map with me, and it was only when I spotted a thin line of footprints leading up through the bushes at the foot of the cliffs that I knew I had come to the right place. I followed the footprints up the steep, sandy slope, slipping and sliding my way towards the base of the rocks.

The westward cave is rather disappointing. Although it once may have been a sizeable cavern, recent erosion has caused the roof to collapse and slide down the slope. All that remains now is a shallow niche, its sides blackened with the soot from ancient fires.

The east cave at Hanging Rocks

The east cave at Hanging Rocks

I knew that a more impressive cave lay somewhere nearby, so I carefully picked my way back down the slope, and soon found another trail heading up an even steeper incline towards the east. At the top of this climb I found the second, much larger cave at Hanging Rocks.

This cavern is far more interesting, its depths hidden in dark shadows, cold water dripping from the low roof. A squat wall of indeterminate age covers half of the entrance, supporting a rather precarious rock outcrop. Archaeological investigations in the cave have uncovered evidence of human habitation dating back to the Iron Age, with Roman pottery, spearheads and a quern stone suggesting that this place has a long, if rather mysterious history. Nowadays it is damp, gloomy and far from homely, modern detritus suggesting more recent human (hopefully temporary!) occupancy.

Inside the east cave at Hanging Rocks

Inside the east cave at Hanging Rocks

I didn’t spend long inside, and it was almost a relief to get out of the claustrophobic space back into the bright wintry sunlight. There’s always something magical about caves, but this place has a strange atmosphere, dank and rather forbidding. Emerging through the small cavern mouth, I struggled further up the slope, thorny branches pulling at my clothes, and emerged from the bushes onto the sterile, perfectly clipped lawn of a golf course fairway. The spell cast by Hanging Rocks was well and truly broken.