Pyramid of Cestius Restored, More or Less

Back in 2011 we first heard of a Japanese businessman’s plans to fund the restoration of the Pyramid of Cestius. The work is apparently done (perhaps just the first phase? It does seem like more work is coming). An item from AFP via Channel News Asia:

A Japanese businessman whose donation helped restore an ancient Roman pyramid said it was a way of thanking Italy for his success, as he toured the monument with Italy’s culture minister on Tuesday.

Dressed in an impeccable white suit, the wavy-haired fashion importer Yuzo Yagi admired the work due to be completed within months thanks to his two-million euro (US$2.7 million) gift.

“It’s an act of gratitude. Our company has grown thanks to Italy,” he told AFP at a ceremony on the site — three years after the agreement with Rome authorities was signed.

Asked about the duration, he quipped: “When Italians give a time for finishing, it is never in time. But the first phase is being finished five months ahead of schedule.”

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said he hoped the project would encourage more private donations for restorations — especially from Italian businesses which can now get major tax breaks.

“This should serve as an example,” Franceschini said.

When Yagi was taken to the frescoed funeral chamber inside the pyramid that once housed the remains of the wealthy Roman it was built for, he appeared puzzled.

“Where is the treasure?” he asked restorers, who quickly explained that Roman tradition at the time shunned ostentatious displays of wealth but that a search was underway for a possible hidden second chamber.

“So there was no treasure in Roman pyramids!” he exclaimed.

Outside, he joked with workers cleaning up the pyramid’s Carrara marble blocks saying: “Is that really white?”

The 36-metre high pyramid was built in 18-12 BC for Gaius Cestius and stands at the centre of a busy road junction. It was built following Rome’s conquest of Egypt, which started off a trend for ancient Egyptian style.

“This is an amazing construction. It has really stood the test of time,” said Giuseppina Fazio, a senior restorer, pointing to some World War II bomb and bullet scars visible from scaffolding on the 2,000-year-old monument.

I’m curious whether there really is a search for a “hidden second chamber” …

Additional coverage:

 

Cats in the Largo Argentina ~ Two Sides

You have, no doubt, already heard that Roman officials plan to get rid of those (in)famous cats wandering around the Roman Forumish area … if not, here’s typical coverage from the Telegraph:

For as long as anyone can remember, cats have roamed the marble columns of the ancient site in Rome where Julius Caesar was murdered by Marcus Brutus and his band of senators.

Now, though, the felines of the Largo Argentina archaeological site have fallen victim to a conspiracy themselves. Rome’s modern-day rulers have declared them a health hazard.

Both the cats and the staff at the informal sanctuary that looks after them have been given their marching orders, despite the animals becoming a popular tourist attraction in their own right.

City heritage officials say that the sanctuary, which lies just on a pedestal just a few yards from where Caesar was hacked down, must close because it is unhygienic, was built without proper planning permission and compromises one of Italy’s most important archaeological sites.

“How was it possible that these cat lovers were able to construct their refuge on an ancient monument?” asked Andrea Carandini, a former president of the national cultural heritage council.

But the volunteers who run the refuge, a tiny, cave-like space packed with cats of every colour and pattern, have vowed to fight the eviction order. They said they provide a vital service for the city, taking in strays, sterilising them, and giving them food and medicine.

The cats – there are currently 250 of them – have free run of the adjoining remains and can be seen lounging in the sun on broken bits of marble, padding along fallen pillars and sleeping curled up on the corrugated iron roofs which protect the monuments from rain.

“Without us here the cats would be begging for food on the pavements and getting run over by trams and buses on the streets – it would be a disaster,” said Lia Dequel, one of the founders of the refuge.

The volunteers also denied that they had built the facility illegally, saying the space they took over 19 years ago had been dirty, damp and abandoned. The site itself was discovered in the 1920s after falling into decay at the end of the Roman Empire and lying buried for centuries.

“From what the authorities are saying, you would think we were occupying the Parthenon,” said Silvia Viviani, co-founder of the refuge. “I’m a Roman and I’m very proud of our ancient heritage but we are not damaging anything here.” The refuge attracts tens of thousands of tourists a year, who descend the metal steps leading down from street level to stroke the cats and buy cat-related t-shirts, fridge magnets and other souvenirs, the money from which helps keep the place going.

“It’s a fantastic place,” said Cristina Lazzaroni, who was visiting from Milan. “I cannot see that it is damaging the ruins. Romans have always lived with cats. These people are doing good work.”

However, the issue has now even been taken up by parliament, with a senator from the centre-left Democratic Party declaring last week that it was “unthinkable” that ancient Roman ruins should be treated in such a way

Valerio Massimo Manfredi, an archaeologist, insisted the cats should be transferred elsewhere. “This is an extraordinarily important area that dates from the Roman Republican era and is where Julius Caesar was murdered,” he said.

If you’re on the cats’ side — and given that you’re reading this on the Internet and are a Classicist, there’s a high probabilit you just might be — Ian Tompkins sent in a link to the Torre Argentina Roman Cat Sanctuary website, which has ongoing updates and other facilities of interest.

Documentary of the Day: Seven Wonders of Ancient Rome (2004)

As always, not sure how long this one will stay up:

Seven Wonders of Ancient Rome (IMDB)

This documentary is not bad/pretty good and looks at the Circus Maximus, Trajan’s Forum and Market, Aqueducts, the Baths of Caracalla, Roman Roads, the Pantheon, and the Colosseum. When it is just talking about the buildings and their construction, it is very good, but in obvious places it tends towards sensationalism and seems obsessed with the idea that assorted emperors were doing these things to mend tarnished reputations with the people. There is an obsession, it seems, with ‘impressive statistics’, the sources of which are unclear to me. It also is kind of ‘blurry’ chronologically at times.

Despite that, there is a good list of talking heads:

My random notes as I watched:

Circus Maximus

– focus on Trajan and the spina (“the broken back of Rome’s enemies”)

– “newly discovered miracle building material” (!)

– assorted events

– 50 died every year (source?)

– charioteer celebrities, e.g. Scorpus, colours, and betting

Trajan’s Forum and Market … first the Forum

– Apollodorus the architect

– funded by the Dacian campaign

… then the Market

– construction methods (brick, rubble, concrete)

– corn dole on the 5th floor (source?)

Aquaducts

– 900 million litres of water to Rome a day

– Vitruvius, Frontinus

– 416 km network; purification tanks

– all about the arch and how it was made

Baths of Caracalla

– built to reverse a failing image

– soundbite from the psychiatrist declaring Caracalla a “genuine psychopath”

– a big list of statistics; not sure where they’re from

– strange shots of Pompeii frescoes under water when talking about mosaics in the baths

–  the hypocaust system

– what folks did there

Roads

– Appian Way

– 288,000 km network, eventually

– claim that 1/2 a km a day was being built at one time

– “core of Roman communication system” (but not explained)

– how road was built

Pantheon

– built by Hadrian (no mention of Agrippa!)

– Hadrian’s architectural obsession (including his villa)

– repeated mention that we don’t really know the Pantheon’s function

– five types of cement

– Hadrian and Apollodorus didn’t get along (executed)

Colosseum

– “the most infamous building in the world”

– Vespasian had to win back public support after Nero (?)

– usual stuff about building, seating, the awning

– V dies before completion; Titus’ opening games (usual)

– usual gladiatorial stuff; claim that 700,000 died there

Some good potential excerpts on Roman construction techniques, but not one which you’d probably show in its entirety to a class ..

Documentary of the Day: Secrets of the Gladiators

One of my summer projects is to get as many of these documentaries lurking in Youtube on rogueclassicism (and possibly in some form of revived AWOTV newsletter) … I’m not sure how long they’ll be available, so I’ll provide a bit of added value in the form of a semi-review. So here goes:

When Rome Ruled: Secrets of the Gladiators (IMDB)

This one is excellent and really is one of the better made-for-tv-documentaries on this subject; it does have the now-common reenactment sort of stuff, but it isn’t the main focus. There is much presentation of artifacts with scholarly, rather than sensational, explanations … the talking heads are very high quality folk:

Here’s my outline of sorts (with less detail as it goes on):

– the focus will be on opening of the Colosseum
– political/social setting of Vespasian’s and Titus’ time
– Colosseum engineering (including the geometry of the amphitheatre)
– image consciousness of the Flavians
– plenty of building stats; funded with spoils from Jerusalem

– the origins of gladiatorial bouts; Rome borrows from other cultures
– importance of games for politicians
– nice treatment of the naumachia question
– nice treatment of the awning question (and the recreation is how I actually imagined it)

– gladiator life (training, weapons, etc.)
– 1/6 chance of dying << whence that statistic?

– social groupings in the stadium
– “damnio ad bestios” << ouch!

– concludes with Martial’s ‘eyewitness account’ (a translation of the relevant section of de spectaculis)

** the above video abruptly ends, but it doesn’t sound like there was more than a sentence or two left.

Major Roman Canal from Portus!

The incipit of a very interesting item from the Telegraph:

Scholars discovered the 100-yard-wide (90-metre-wide) canal at Portus, the ancient maritime port through which goods from all over the Empire were shipped to Rome for more than 400 years.

The archaeologists, from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton and the British School at Rome, believe the canal connected Portus, on the coast at the mouth of the Tiber, with the nearby river port of Ostia, two miles away.

It would have enabled cargo to be transferred from big ocean-going ships to smaller river vessels and taken up the River Tiber to the docks and warehouses of the imperial capital.

Until now, it was thought that goods took a more circuitous overland route along a Roman road known as the Via Flavia.

“It’s absolutely massive,” said Simon Keay, the director of the three-year dig at Portus, the most comprehensive ever conducted at the site, which lies close to Rome’s Fiumicino airport, 20 miles west of the city.

“We know of other, contemporary canals which were 20-40 metres wide, and even that was big. But this was so big that there seems to have been an island in the middle of it, and there was a bridge that crossed it. It was unknown until now.”

The subterranean outline of the canal was found during a survey by Prof Martin Millett, of Cambridge University, using geophysical instruments which revealed magnetic anomalies underground.

The dig, which is being carried out in partnership with Italian archaeologists, is shedding light on the extraordinary trading network that the Romans developed throughout the Mediterranean basin, from Spain to Egypt and Asia Minor.

The archeologists have found evidence that trading links with North Africa in particular were far more extensive than previously believed. They have found hundreds of amphorae which were used to transport oil, wine and a pungent fermented fish sauce called garum, to which the Romans were particularly partial, from what is now modern Tunisia and Libya.

Huge quantities of wheat were also imported from what were then the Roman provinces of Africa and Egypt.

“What the recent work has shown is that there was a particular preference for large scale imports of wheat from North Africa from the late 2nd century AD right through to the 5th and maybe 6th centuries,” said Prof Keay.

[…]

via: ‘Biggest canal ever built by Romans’ discovered | Telegraph

90 metres wide! That’s huge! Where did the water come from to fill it?