Viking execution pit – 51 beheaded victim

viking-execution-pitThe mass burial took place at a time when the English were battling Viking invaders, say archaeologists who are now trying to verify the identity of the slain.

The dead are thought to have been war captives, possibly Vikings, whose heads were hacked off with swords or axes, according to excavation leader David Score of Oxford Archaeology, an archaeological-services company.

Announced in June, the pit discovery took place during an archaeological survey prior to road construction near the seaside town of Weymouth

Many of the skeletons have deep cut marks to the skull and jaw as well as the neck. “The majority seem to have taken multiple blows,” Score said.

The bodies show few signs of other trauma, suggesting the men were alive when beheaded.

One victim appears to have raised an arm in self-defense: “The hand appears to have had its fingers sliced through,” Score noted.

The heads were neatly piled to one side of the pit, perhaps as a victory display, the team suggests.

Unusually, no trace of clothing has been found, indicating the men were buried naked.

Even if their weapons and valuables had been taken “we should have found bone buttons and things like that, but to date we’ve got absolutely nothing,” Score said.

“They look like a healthy, robust, very strong, very masculine group of young males,” he added. “It’s your classic sort of warrior.”

The burial has been radiocarbon-dated between A.D. 890 and 1034.

During this time England was split between Anglo-Saxons, in the south and west, and Danish settlers, in the north and east.

The Anglo-Saxons were Germanic peoples who colonized England beginning in the 400s; founded the country on the island of Great Britain; and gave rise to the English language. Around the time of the mass burial, the Celts were still largely in control of the non-English regions of Great Britain: Scotland and Wales.

“You’ve got Danish and Saxon armies fighting backwards and forwards across England,” Score said.

The early English also faced the threat of longship-sailing Vikings, Scandinavian seafarers who pillaged coastal regions.

“It’s not just the odd ship” attacking, Score said. For example, “there’s a documented account of 94 longships attacking London at one point, and then they work their way down the coast.”

The team hopes chemical analysis of the buried men’s teeth will show whether they grew up in Britain or Scandinavia. (Related: “Vikings Filed Their Teeth, Skeleton Study Shows.”)

Wear and tear on the bones could also help reveal whether the executed were Viking oarsmen, since “strong physical exertion in a particular direction does affect the bones,” Score said.

“It might be possible to say they are overdeveloped in their upper body and arm strength … people who are doing a lot of heavy rowing.”

Anglo-Saxon Slayers, Viking Victims

The burial’s prominent location on a hilltop hints that a local group carried out the killings, Score said.

“Locations like this are classic sites for executions in late Saxon and medieval times,” he added.

Vikings, he said, had a different M.O.

“If you’re a Viking raider, you’re much more likely to leave people where you killed them in the town or on the beach,” he said.

Kim Siddorn, author of Viking Weapons and Warfare, suspects the executed men were indeed Vikings.

“I would say this was a Viking raiding party which had been trapped,” he said.

“They had left their ship, walked inland, ran into an unusually well-organized body of Saxons, and were probably forced to surrender.”

There was little to differentiate Vikings and early English warriors on the battlefield, said Siddorn, founder of Regia Anglorum, a historical-reenactment society.

“You would find it very difficult to tell the difference between a Viking and a Saxon if they stood in front of you in war gear,” he said

Both used spears as their primary weapons, with swords and axes as backups, Siddorn added.

But Vikings had surprise and, in some cases, numbers on their side.

“Whilst the Vikings were no better than the Saxons at fighting, they did come by the shipload,” he said.

“During the height of the Viking raids, it’s reasonable to say it was unsafe to live anywhere within 20 miles [32 kilometers] of the coast.”



BAUHAUS – World’s biggest Bauhaus retrospective in Berlin

exhibition flyerThe legendary German art school, the Bauhaus, has influenced almost a century worth of art, design and architecture. This week the largest ever Bauhaus retrospective opened in Berlin. The show includes everything from design classics to fine art to students’ party pictures and birthday cards.

Most venerable institutions usually wait until their 100th anniversary before making a big fuss of themselves. But not Germany’s Bauhaus school of art and design. The grand Bauhaus retrospective “Modell Bauhaus,” which starts this week at the Martin Gropius museum in Berlin, is being mounted 90 years after the institution’s founding.

Still, maybe it’s not surprising that the various Bauhaus archives couldn’t wait another 10 years. The famous school — or schools, as there have been several iterations — of design, that launched a thousand facets of minimal, modern style as well as the adage “less is more,” has always been a bit contrary.

Herbert Bayer 1924When the school was first founded by architect Walter Gropius in 1919, it was considered something of a radical experiment in that it brought students of art, architecture, craft and all facets of design together under one roof. Later on, there was a distinct socialist thread running through the school’s output; they wanted to marry good looks with functionality, beauty with mass production and, basically, just make nice things for everyone rather than just a chosen, wealthy few.

gropiusAs it turns out, there’s a good reason for holding the largest Bauhaus exhibition ever this year. “It is because this is also the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall,” says one of the exhibition’s curators, Klaus Weber, of the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin. Weber explains that there are three archives for Bauhaus memorabilia and documentation around Germany, one in each city where one of the schools was located: Berlin, Dessau and Weimar. “The three institutions used to cooperate even before 1989 — but it was a little bit complicated,” Weber admits. “So if it German reunification had not happened, then the three institutions would never have been able to work together like this.”

An Exhibition for Berlin and New York

Additionally the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, which has had connections to the Bauhaus schools since 1929, has also contributed around 25 objects from its own Bauhaus collection; and an edited version of the exhibition will be shown at MoMA in early November.

Heinrich Siegfried BormannThis unprecedented cooperation has resulted in one of the most important exhibitions of Bauhaus output ever, filling 18 rooms, or about half of the floor space in the large Martin Gropius museum. There are around 1,000 objects on display — ranging from the instantly recognizable archetypes of designer furnishings like the Wassily chair to artworks by the likes of Wassily Kandinski and Paul Klee, who both taught at the Bauhaus, to typography, weaving and publishing.

Wassily Chair 1926The exhibition is carefully arranged in a series of ever diminishing, cleverly color-coded (according to a Bauhaus-formulated color chart) circles that take visitors from the Weimar school founded in 1919 right through to the Berlin school, which was closed by the Nazis in April 1933. In the center of the spiral, there is an open space featuring contemporary artist Christine Hill’s work: “DIY Bauhaus – Build your own Bauhaus!” The Berlin-based American’s work uses the Bauhaus slogan “Necessities for people, not luxuries” as a starting point and asks about the point of art and design if there isn’t some social commentary involved.

Along the way, you’ll see the ceramic teapots that led to the Bauhaus’ first date with mass production and industry, Walter Gropius’ 44th birthday card, signed with kisses from his students, architectural models that are some of the first examples of Modernism and the freakish, flickering “Light Space Modulator” sculpture by László Moholy-Nagy, as well as rooms lined with mirrors and furnishings reflecting the serene, minimalist aesthetic of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who led the last Bauhaus school in Berlin. The exhibition is also filled with oodles of the finest chair and lamps.

The Upside of Getting Shut Down by the Nazis

Wassily KandinskyIn its Berlin incarnation, “Modell Bauhaus” deserves at least a two to four hour visit. And at the end of the exhibition, the curators have enlarged a collage by one of the Bauhaus’ few Japanese students, Iwao Yamawaki, who came to Germany in 1930. The collage, which was only ever published in Japan, depicts the Nazis closing down the famous school while bewildered students look on. But, according to Weber, this closure wasn’t completely terrible. “Some say that if the Nazis had not shut the Bauhaus down, then it might never have become so well known,” Weber muses. “Because the majority of important teachers left, a lot went to America, and they took the Bauhaus’ message with them.”

Interestingly though, of all the things that the Bauhaus students and teachers made, or inspired, there is one simple photo that is perhaps most poignant. It’s a headshot of one the school’s most important designers, Marianne Brandt, who became the head of the metal workshop in 1928. In the picture she poses in a strange outfit, what looks like the rim of a tin dinner plate strapped around her head, and a heavy silver choker around her neck. Turns out that it was indeed the rim of a tin plate: Brandt was dressed up for one of the Bauhaus’ legendary themed parties.

Light Space Modulator by sculptor László Moholy-NagyIn this case, it was called the Metallic Party — the name was changed from the Church Bells, Doorbells and Other Bells Party, apparently in order to keep the noise down. Guests turned up dressed in everything from frying pans to foil and entered the party, held in Dessau in 1929, by sliding down a large chute into one of the specially decorated rooms. At the time a newspaper reported that “everything was glitter wherever one turned. The rooms … had been decorated with the greatest variety of forms placed together all over the walls, shinily metallic and fairy like … in addition, music, bells, tinkling cymbals everywhere, in every room, in the stairways wherever one went.” It sounds wild — but one shouldn’t forget that while the arty Bauhaus students were playing, they were also merging theater and art, inventing and designing modern classics out of gas pipes so party guests could sit down.

What Weber hopes that visitors will get from this exhibition: “I hope that, whatever else they get, visitors are inspired by the openness that was at the Bauhaus, by the creative openness and the spiritual openness,” he concludes. “That, and the freedom that they had to experiment,” he adds. “I think that is the most important thing of all.”



Gold artefacts from the Hellenistic period discovered in Ohrid (Macedonia)

ohrid lake

20 July 2009 | This Saturday, archeologists in Ohrid unearthed exceptionally valuable finds dating to the fifth century BC.

On the road between the Upper Gate and the St. Bogorodica Perivlepta Church were discoevered 17 tombs from the Hellenistic Period, Pasko Kuzman, head of the Macedonian Department for Cultural Heritage told the Dnevnik daily newspaper.

In one of the tombs was buried a 15-year-old girl, which most likely belonged to the nobility.

“There is something here which, from a scientific point of view, is more important even than the golden mask [discovered in Ohrid earlier], since the personality buried in this tomb had a golden object in the shape of eye glasses, a rhomboid-shaped golden plate on the mouth and a golden plate with a sun with 16 rays in the area of the heart,” Kuzman stated.

“The two objects that were placed on the eyes and the mouth mean the dead person was masked. This kind of combination of masking was unique on the Balkans. Until now, separate golden plates were discovered, especially in the Aegean, but this kind of combination was unknown until now,” the archaeologist explained.

The other valuable artefacts discovered on Saturday include a 40-centimetre-long golden belt, amphorae-shaped golden pendants for a necklace, bronze and silver gloves and golden object with a conical shape which are quite rare for this part of the world.

Also found were objects from amber, a material which – as Kuzman explained, was not found in these lands but was transported from the Baltic area when there was a strong trade connection between North ad South.

“We should be proud of this priceless treasure being discovered [in Macedonia] and thankful to all the archaeologists who have invested all their energy and knowledge,” Macedonian Minister of Culture Elizabeta Kanchevska-Milevska told the publication.

golden-masks-of-trebenisteThe state and the Ministry will continue working with the same speed and intensity towards the protection of cultural heritage and the exploration of a large number of sites, Kanchevska-Milevska added.

Ohrid is the leader in Macedonia in terms of the golden ornaments discovered in the area, numbering 450 objects so far, Kuzman stated. This, according to him, has to do with the city’s location, near the ancient Via Egnatia road which connected Rome to Byzantium (later Constantinople, now Istanbul).

Excavations at the site, according to the publication, will continue in the fall and an exhibition of all the golden artefacts discovered so far will be organised by the end of the year.


Via Aurelia – the Roman Empire’s lost highway

Bruno-Tassan-milepost-near-PelissanneAt first glance, it didn’t appear that impressive: a worn limestone pillar, six feet high and two feet wide, standing slightly askew beside a country road near the village of Pélissanne in southern France. “A lot of people pass by without knowing what it is,” Bruno Tassan, 61, was saying, as he tugged aside dense weeds that had grown over the column since he last inspected it. Tassan was showing me a milliaire, or milestone, one of hundreds planted along the highways of Gaul at the time of the Roman Empire. The inscription had worn away ages ago, but Tassan, a documentary filmmaker and amateur archaeologist, was well versed in the artifact’s history. This particular stone, set in place in 3 B.C. during the reign of Augustus, was once a perfect cylinder, set along the nearly 50 miles between Aquae Sextiae (Aix-en-Provence) and Arelate (Arles). “It’s one of the last standing,” Tassan said.

In 12 B.C., Augustus, at the height of his power, commanded his legions to build a highway that would traverse the province of Gallia Narbonensis, or southern Gaul, the last of whose unruly tribes had only recently been subdued. Over the next ten years, surveyors, engineers and construction crews carried off one of antiquity’s greatest feats: grading and paving a road from the mountains above the Mediterranean near modern Nice to the Rhone River, 180 miles distant. For nearly four centuries, the Via Aurelia served as the region’s principal artery, over which armored legions, chari­oteers, couriers, traders, government officials and countless others passed. It was the Interstate 95 of its time, complete with rest stops and chariot service stations every 12 to 20 miles—a crucial part of a 62,000-mile road network that extended from the Iberian Peninsula to Asia Minor. Along this paved and finely graded route, Rome maintained its control over far-flung provinces, developed commerce, and disseminated its culture and architecture. But as the empire began its long decline—Rome would fall in the fifth century A.D.—the Via Aurelia began to disintegrate. In contrast, the Via Domitia, an even older Roman route, constructed around 122 B.C. in neighboring Languedoc-Rousillon, has been well preserved, thanks to the intervention of local governments and private interests.

segment-of-Via-Aurelia-between-Frejus-and-CannesTassan and a handful of fellow enthusiasts have appointed themselves custodians of the Via Aurelia. During the past few years, he has matched pre-medieval maps to 21st-century aerial photographs, located broken bits of ancient macadam and tried to protect a handful of 2,000-year-old stone walls, sarcophagi, aqueducts, bridges and road markers that point to the engineering sophistication, as well as the reach, of ancient Rome. He has created a Web site devoted to the Via Aurelia, conducted tours for growing numbers of Gaulophiles and hopes to make a documentary about the road.

Tassan has also sought to solve some of the lingering questions about the highway, including how the Romans managed to transport milestones, weighing an average of 4,400 pounds, from rock quarries to road-building sites, often a dozen or so miles away. The Roman legal code in place at the time forbade chariots from carrying loads heavier than 1,082 pounds, the maximum that the vehicles’ wooden axles could safely support. “Did they carry them on foot? Did they get a special exemption?” Tassan wondered aloud, as he scrutinized the worn Pélissanne pillar. “It remains,” he says, “a mystery.”

Experts on the era acknowledge that Tassan has made a unique contribution to ancient Gaulian scholarship. “Everyone knows about the Roman amphitheaters of Arles and Nîmes,” says Michel Martin, curator in chief of the library at the Museum of Arles and Ancient Provence. “But the Via Aurelia is a largely lost piece of Roman history. Bruno has done much to keep it alive and to protect the little that’s left.”

aqueducts-near-FontvieilleA series of military triumphs paved the way for construction of one of the greatest roads through the empire. During the second century B.C., the region that is now France was a no man’s land of warring tribes—a vast stretch of untamed territory lying between Rome and its colony of Hispania (present-day Spain and Portugal). In 125 B.C., citizens of the Greek colony of Massalia (Massillia in Latin), now Marseille, a port since 600 B.C., came under attack from the powerful Salyen tribe, a Celtic confederation whose holdings extended from the upper Rhone to the Alps. Marseille appealed to its nearest power, Rome, for help; in 123 B.C., Roman consul Caius Sextius Calvinus led a force of legionnaires to face the Celts, who were legendary for their ferocity. (“They cut off the heads of enemies slain in battle and attach them to the necks of their horses,” the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote of them in the first century B.C.) The Roman legion thrashed the tribe at the Celtic garrison of Entremont, a fortification set on a 1,200-foot-high plateau. The victorious Sextius Calvinus then founded the settlement of Aquae Sextiae on the site of nearby thermal baths, giving the Romans a firm foothold in southern Gaul.

Nearly 20 years later, a Teutonic horde stormed across the Rhine River intent upon seizing Aquae Sextiae. A small force of Roman soldiers lured the invaders toward the town; 3,000 troops then attacked the Teutons from behind, killing 90,000 and capturing 20,000. “By the conditions of the surrender [of the Teutons] three hundred of their married women were to be handed over to the Romans,” the Christian scholar Jerome wrote in the fifth century A.D. “When the Teuton matrons heard of this stipulation, they first begged the [Roman] consul that they might be set apart to minister in the temples of Ceres and Venus; and then when they failed to obtain their request and were removed by the [guards], they slew their little children and next morning were all found dead in each other’s arms, having strangled themselves in the night.”

Flavian-Bridge-Via-Aurelia-FranceAfter the slaughter of the Teutons, Rome consolidated its control over the region. In 62 B.C., the last southern tribe to rise against the empire was subjugated. Julius Caesar established a naval base at Fréjus and founded Arles as a settlement for retired veterans of his Sixth Legion, whom he had led to a series of bloody victories in Asia Minor. When Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C., his adopted son Octavian, later renamed Augustus, rose to power and made the development of Gallia Narbonensis, his province in southern Gaul, a priority.

One afternoon I drove through a series of long tunnels north of Nice to La Turbie, a medieval village hugging the hills 1,600 feet above the Mediterranean. Here, where the Alps jut sharply down to the sea, the Romans built a section of their new highway in 12 B.C. Surveyors, engineers and construction crews improved and linked paths that had existed since the time of the Greeks, cleaving passes through the mountains, introducing a sophisticated drainage system, erecting milestones and standardizing the road width to 15 feet—wide enough for two chariots to pass. It wound along the rugged coast to Fréjus, then cut across fertile plains to the Rhone. There, the thoroughfare merged with the Via Domitia, running west through the Spanish Pyrenees. When the two roads met—a convergence comparable to the 1869 linking of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads at Promontory Summit, Utah—Roman control over the Mediterranean basin was cemented.

La-Trophee-dAugustine-above-Monaco-and-the-Mediterranean-at-La-TurbieThe Romans commemorated the feat with a victory monument at La Turbie, placing, in 7 B.C., a statue of Augustus on a limestone cylinder surrounded by 24 Doric columns. This is what I had come to see: I hiked along a wooded footpath to a hilltop clearing, from which the 115-foot-high Tropaeum, or Trophy, of Augustus—still partially standing after two millennia—dominates the landscape. The emperor’s statue has disappeared, and only four of the marble columns that encircled the monument remain intact. One side of the great marble base features reliefs of winged deities flanking a Latin inscription that hails Augustus and the pacification of Gaul. Sheltering myself from a fierce wind, I gazed down the rocky coast of Italy; directly below, the hotels and villas of Monaco glittered at the edge of the turquoise sea. It seemed a fitting place to proclaim Rome’s glory.

monument-to-emperor-AugustusThe Via Julia Augusta, as the highway was initially called, greatly improved overland travel in the empire. Roman legions could shuttle long distances along it at an average speed of almost four miles per hour. Messengers could travel between Arles and Rome, a distance of about 550 miles, in a mere eight days. “The highway was a means for Rome to assert its power,” curator Martin told me. “Its real purpose was to move troops and public couriers at the fastest rate possible.” By the third century A.D., the highway was known as the Via Aurelia and regarded as an extension of the empire’s road from Rome to Pisa, commissioned in 241 B.C. by the censor Caius Aurelius Cotta.

But beginning around A.D. 235, the Via Aurelia fell on hard times. After centuries of political stability, a series of military coups roiled the empire. Roman divisions began turning on one another, the value of currency plummeted, urban renewal ceased and towns and entire districts were abandoned. The empire revived briefly under Diocletian (A.D. 284-305) and Constantine (A.D. 306-37). But in 406, the Rhine froze over and barbarians spilled into Gaul. By the 470s, Arles had surrendered to the Visigoths, opening the whole of Provence to barbarian control. Over the next millennium, roads, bridges, aqueducts and other public works commissioned by Augustus and his successors disintegrated, and the precise route of the Via Aurelia was lost.

map-of-Via-AureliaIt remained largely forgotten until 1508, when Konrad Peutinger, a book collector from Augsburg, in Bavaria, acquired a 22-foot-long medieval scroll portraying a map of the world, from the Atlantic to the mouth of the Ganges, as it existed during the Roman Empire. The map’s origins were obscure: a 13th-century monk from Colmar had apparently copied it from a Roman source, possibly a fourth-century A.D. map, or an even older one drawn by Agrippa, aide-de-camp to Augustus, at the dawn of Roman dominance. Whatever its origins, the Table of Peutinger, as it became known—with detailed topography, a rendering of the entire Roman road network, and 550 illustrations of rest stops, Roman amphitheaters and other features along the routes—was widely published. It has offered archaeologists an incomparable opportunity to track down lost vestiges of the Roman world. During the 1960s, in the Italian town of Torre Annunziata, near Pompeii, researchers used the Table of Peutinger to locate and excavate a sumptuous villa from the first century B.C.

Museum-of-Arles-and-Ancient-ProvenceI first met Bruno Tassan on a sunny afternoon in June at an outdoor café in Salon-de-Provence, a medieval town 24 miles west of Aix. Burly and suntanned, with a shock of white hair, Tassan grew up in a village near Grenoble. He spent 25 years working as a graphic designer before retiring last summer to pursue a lifelong fascination with ancient Gaul. “When I was 17, my mother gave me a copy of The Civilization of Rome [by French historian Pierre Grimal], and from that point I was hooked,” he said. In 1998 he began working on a documentary about another historic route, the ancient Christian pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, where the remains of St. James, one of Jesus’ Apostles, are said to be buried. To research the project, he set off on a 900-mile journey by foot across southern France and the Pyrenees, following the Roman road network. “I traversed three regions, and in two of them, the Roman road was in good shape,” he told me. “The Via Domitia, which crosses two French départements, and the Via Acquitana, which joins Bordeaux and Astorga in Spain, were both well marked and preserved.” This was not the case, however, he would learn, for the Via Aurelia.

What was going on, says curator Martin, was a process of urbanization and development around the Côte d’Azur that largely bypassed Languedoc-Rousillon, site of the Via Domitia. “Here you’ve got more roads being built, more auto routes, and, of course, more destruction,” Martin says. “The vestiges of ancient Gaul just aren’t as valued as they should be.” As development accelerated, more and more of the road was fragmented into sections, stretches of it paved over or subsumed by housing tracts and factories. Rediscovering the surviving traces of the Roman route has been a matter of deduction, legwork and tapping into the historical memory.

Saint-Chamas-Provence-FranceAfter finishing our espressos, Tassan and I set out by car to inspect remains of the Via Aurelia that he had identified around the town of Salon-de-Provence. We crossed beneath an expressway, traversed an irrigation canal, bounced through fields of grapes, then turned down a narrow dirt road—actually a piece of antiquity—that cut a straight line between an olive orchard and a row of fenced-off villas.

Tassan peered through a barrier of cypress trees into a private garden, pointing out 20-foot-high ruins of a stone wall—what was left of a 2,000-year-old rest house where Via Aurelia travelers could water their horses, repair their chariots and lodge for the night. “Some rest houses had prostitutes as well,” Tassan said. “Everything you could want for your journey.” (The Table of Peutinger, which functioned as a kind of Michelin Guide of its time, graded guesthouses according to three classifications, basic, moderate and luxury, using a different illustration for each; the cushiest was represented by a rectangular villa with a pool in the middle.) Two guard dogs barked furiously at us, hurling themselves against a fence. Tassan admired the inn’s ruins for another few seconds, then said, “Bien, let’s get out of here.”

We continued toward the village of Saint-Chamas, turning off the main road from time to time to pick up short stretches of the Via Aurelia—dirt paths, a row of ancient and cracked paving stones, narrow asphalted strips through vineyards. Approaching Saint-Chamas, we came across the ancient road’s second-best-preserved vestige—after the Trophy of Augustus: Flavian’s Bridge, marked by elegant arches at either end, spanning the Touloubre River. “This is a real treasure,” Tassan said. Each arch, built from blocks of tawny limestone, rose about 20 feet high; atop a delicately carved pilaster stood sculptures of two crouching lions. (In 1944, a speeding U.S. Army truck accidentally rammed into one of the arches and knocked it down; American construction teams reassembled it and built a new bridge a few yards downriver.) Tassan pulled out a tape measure, knelt and measured the distance between grooves on the bridge’s stone surface. “One point forty-two meters [4.5 feet],” he announced with satisfaction—the standard width of a Roman chariot axle.

first-century-AD-arenaThe next day, I found Tassan in a blue mood. We had spent the morning touring a construction site near Marseille, where workers, oblivious to the damage they were inflicting, had been laying an oil pipeline across the Via Aurelia’s original stones. Now we stood on a hilltop near the medieval village of Mouriès, not far from Arles, looking for traces of the ancient road. Though he was certain it had descended from this crest, he couldn’t find a hint of it, not even after a dozen scouting expeditions. “I met an 80-year-old man who told me that when he was small, there was a road that ran through the olive fields here, and he said, ‘that was the Via Aurelia.’ But it doesn’t exist anymore.” It was an all too familiar story. “All these vestiges are in danger of disappearing,” Tassan said as we drove down the slope. “Of course, modernization is obligatory, but there should be some effort made to preserve what’s left. Why can’t it be like the Via Domitia? The milestones were saved, plaques were put up. Here, I’m afraid it’s all going.”

Still, there are the pleasures of discovery and mysteries at every turn. After a few minutes, we stopped outside the rural village of Fontvieille, a few miles northeast of Arles. A double row of great stone arches—the remains of two aqueducts that once ran beside the Via Aurelia—marched in parallel lines through the arid brush. We followed them to the edge of a promontory; below us, golden fields of wheat extended in all directions; the scene looked as it must have at the height of the Roman Empire. Two thousand years ago, water ran down this hill via the aqueduct to a mill, where wheat was ground into flour, then transported along the Via Aurelia to feed the growing population of Gaul. The height of the arches was delicately calibrated to maintain an even flow and pressure—another example of Roman engineering skill.

“You can see that the two aqueducts were built side by side,” Tassan pointed out. “One fed the water mill just below, the other provided water to Arles. Now we’re going to see something unusual.” We followed the second aqueduct as it veered sharply to the right, away from the promontory, through an olive grove. Then, abruptly, it disappeared.

“What happened here?” I asked him.

He shrugged. “It could have been destroyed by the barbarians, to cut off the water supply to Arles,” he replied. “But that’s just a hypothesis. Nobody knows.”

Tassan stood pensively beside the last stone arch for a time. Then, he pulled out his tape measure, got back down on his hands and knees, and began examining one more set of chariot-wheel grooves on the ancient road.

Writen by Joshua Hammer


2009 New World Heritage Sites

The World Heritage Committee holding its 33rd session chaired by María Jesús San Segundo, the Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Spain to UNESCO, has inscribed two new natural sites and 11 cultural sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Since it also withdrew one site – from the List, Dresden Elbe Valley (Germany), the List now numbers a total of 890 properties.

The Committee also inscribed three sites on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger to help raise international support for their preservation. One site was removed from the Danger List.

During the session, which is scheduled to end on 30 June, three countries had their first World Heritage sites inscribed on UNESCO’s List of properties recognized as having outstanding universal value. They are, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and Kyrgyzstan.

Natural sites inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List:

wadden seaThe Wadden Sea (Germany / The Netherlands) comprises the Dutch Wadden Sea Conservation Area and the German Wadden Sea National Parks of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein. It is a large temperate, relatively flat coastal wetland environment, formed by the intricate interactions between physical and biological factors that have given rise to a multitude of transitional habitats with tidal channels, sandy shoals, sea-grass meadows, mussel beds, sandbars, mudflats, salt marshes, estuaries, beaches and dunes. The inscribed site represents over 66% of the whole Wadden Sea and is home to numerous plant and animal species, including marine mammals such as the harbour seal, grey seal and harbour porpoise. It is also a breeding and wintering area for up to 12 millions birds per annum and it supports more than 10 percent of 29 species. The site is one of the last remaining natural, large-scale, intertidal ecosystems where natural processes continue to function largely undisturbed.

Dolomites_cablecar_view_2009The Dolomites (Italy) comprise a mountain range in the northern Italian Alps, numbering 18 peaks which rise to above 3,000 metres and cover 141,903 ha. It features some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes anywhere, with vertical walls, sheer cliffs and a high density of narrow, deep and long valleys. A serial property of nine areas that present a diversity of spectacular landscapes of international significance for geomorphology marked by steeples, pinnacles and rock walls, the site also contains glacial landforms and karst systems. It is characterized by dynamic processes with frequent landslides, floods and avalanches. The property also features one of the best examples of the preservation of Mesozoic carbonate platform systems, with fossil records.

Cultural sites inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List:

stockleton houseStoclet House (Belgium). When banker and art collector Adolphe Stoclet commissioned this house from one of the leading architects of the Vienna Secession movement, Josef Hoffmann, in 1905, he imposed neither aesthetic nor financial restrictions on the project. The house and garden were completed in 1911 and their austere geometry marked a turning point in Art Nouveau, foreshadowing Art Deco and the Modern Movement in architecture. Stoclet House is one of the most accomplished and homogenous buildings of the Vienna Secession, and features works by Koloman Moser and Gustav Klimt, embodying the aspiration of creating a ‘total work of art’ (Gesamtkunstwerk). Bearing testimony to artistic renewal in European architecture, the house retains a high level of integrity, both externally and internally as it retains most of its original fixtures and furnishings.

The Ruins of Loropéni (Burkina Faso). The 11,130m2 property, the first to be inscribed in the country, with its imposing stone walls is the best preserved of ten fortresses in the Lobi area and is part of a larger group of 100 stone enclosures that bear testimony to the power of the trans-Saharan gold trade. Situated near the borders of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo, the ruins have recently been shown to be at least 1,000 years old. The settlement was occupied by the Lohron or Koulango peoples, who controlled the extraction and transformation of gold in the region when it reached its apogee from the 14th to the 17th century. Much mystery surrounds this site large parts of which have yet to be excavated. The settlement seems to have been abandoned during some periods during its long history. The property which was finally deserted in the early 19th century is expected to yield much more information.

Cidade Velha, Historic Centre of Ribeira Grande (Cape Verde). The town of Ribeira Grande, renamed Cidade Velha in the late 18th century, was the first European colonial outpost in the tropics. Located in the south of the island of Santiago, the town features some of the original street layout impressive remains including two churches, a royal fortress and Pillory Square with its ornate 16th-century marble pillar.

mount WutaiMount Wutai (China). With its five flat peaks, Mount Wutai is a sacred Buddhist mountain. The cultural landscape numbers 53 monasteries and includes the East Main Hall of Foguang Temple, the highest surviving timber Building of the Tang Dynasty with life size clay sculptures. It also features the Ming Dynasty Shuxiang Temple with a huge complex of 500 statues representing Buddhist stories woven into three dimensional pictures of mountains and water. Overall, the buildings on the site present a catalogue of the way Buddhist architecture developed and influenced palace building in China over more than one millennium. Mount Wutai, literally, the five terrace mountain, is the highest mountain in northern China and is remarkable for its morphology characterized by precipitous sides with five open treeless peaks. Temples have been built on the site since the 1st century AD to the early 20th century.

Shushtar IranShushtar, Historical Hydraulic System (Iran), a masterpiece of creative genius, can be traced back to Darius the Great in the 5th century B.C. It involved the creation of two main diversion canals on the river Kârun one of which, Gargar canal, is still in use providing water to the city of Shushtar via a series of tunnels that supply water to mills. It forms a spectacular cliff from which water cascades into a downstream basin. It then enters the plain situated south of the city where it has enabled the planting of orchards and farming over an area of 40,000 ha. known as Mianâb (Paradise). The property has an ensemble of remarkable sites including the Salâsel Castel, the operation centre of the entire hydraulic system, the tower where the water level is measured, damns, bridges, basins and mills. It bears witness to the know-how of the Elamites and Mesopotamians as well as more recent Nabatean expertise and Roman building influence.

Sulamain-Too Sacred Mountain (Kyrgyzstan) dominates the Fergana Valley and forms the backdrop to the city of Osh, at the crossroads of important routes on the Central Asian Silk Roads. For more than one and a half millennia, Sulamain was a beacon for travellers revered as a sacred mountain. Its five peaks and slopes contain numerous ancient places of worship and caves with petroglyphs as well as two largely reconstructed 16th-century mosques. One hundred and one sites with petroglyphs representing humans and animals as well as geometrical forms have been indexed in the property so far. The site numbers 17 places of worship, which are still in use, and many that are not. Dispersed around the mountain peaks they are connected by footpaths. The cult sites are believed to provide cures for barrenness, headaches, and back pain and give the blessing of longevity. Veneration for the mountain blends pre-Islamic and Islamic beliefs. The site is believed to represent the most complete example of a sacred mountain anywhere in Central Asia, worshipped over several millennia.

AnfiteatroCaralThe Sacred City of Caral-Supe (Peru). The 5000-year-old 626-hectare archaeological site of The Sacred City of Caral-Supe is situated on a dry desert terrace overlooking the green valley of the Supe river. It dates back to the Late Archaic Period of the Central Andes and is the oldest centre of civilization in the Americas. Exceptionally well-preserved, the site is impressive in terms of its design and the complexity of its architectural, especially its monumental stone and earthen platform mounts and sunken circular courts. One of 18 urban settlements situated in the same area, Caral features complex and monumental architecture, including six large pyramidal structures. A quipu (the knot system used in Andean civilizations to record information) found on the site testifies to the development and complexity of Caral society. The city’s plan and some of its components, including pyramidal structures and residence of the elite, show clear evidence of ceremonial functions, signifying a powerful religious ideology.

Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty The Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty (Republic of Korea) form a collection of 40 tombs scattered over 18 locations. Built over five centuries, from 1408 to 1966, the tombs honoured the memory of ancestors, showed respect for their achievements, asserted royal authority, protected ancestral spirits from evil and provided protection from vandalism. Spots of outstanding natural beauty were chosen for the tombs which typically have their back protected by a hill as they face south toward water and, ideally, layers of mountain ridges in the distance. Alongside the burial area, the royal tombs feature a ceremonial area and an entrance. In addition to the burial mounds, associated buildings that are an integral part of the tombs include a T-shaped wooden shrine, a shed for stele, a royal kitchen and a guards’ house, a red-spiked gate and the tomb keeper’s house. The grounds are adorned on the outside with a range of stone objects including figures of people and animals. The inscription of the Joseon Tombs completes the two earlier series of Korean Peninsula royal tombs inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List: the Gyeongju Historic Areas, Republic of Korea, and Complex of Koguryo Tombs, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

torre_de_herculesThe Tower of Hercules (Spain) has served as a lighthouse and landmark at the entrance of La Coruña harbour in north-western Spain since the late 1st century A.D. when the Romans built the Farum Brigantium. The Tower, built on a 57-metre-high rock, rises a further 55 meters. It is divided into three progressively smaller levels, the first of which corresponds to the Roman structure of the lighthouse. Immediately adjacent to the base of the Tower, is a small rectangular Roman building. The site also features a sculpture park, the Monte dos Bicos rock carvings from the Iron Age and a Muslim cemetery. The Roman foundations of the building were revealed in excavations conducted in the 1990s. Many legends from the Middle Ages to the 19th century surround the Tower of Hercules which is unique as it is the only lighthouse of Greco-Roman antiquity to have retained a measure of structural integrity and functional continuity.

chaux-de-fondsLa Chaux-de-Fonds / Le Locle watchmaking town-planning (Switzerland) consists ofth century, after extensive fires, the towns owed their existence to this single industry. Their layout along an open-ended scheme of parallel strips on which residential housing and workshops are intermingled reflects the needs of the local watch-making culture that dates to the 17th century and is still alive today. The site presents outstanding examples of mono-industrial manufacturing-towns which are well preserved and still active. The urban planning of both towns has accommodated the transition from the artisanal production of a cottage industry to the more concentrated factory production of the late 19th and 20th centuries. The town of La Chaux-de-Fonds was described by Karl Marx as a “huge factory-town” in Das Kapital where he analyzed the division of labour in the watch-making industry of the Jura. two towns situated close to one another in a remote environment in the Swiss Jura mountains, on land ill-suited to farming. Their planning and buildings reflect watch-makers’ need of rational organization. Planned in the early 19

british aqueductPontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal (United Kingdom). Situated in north-eastern Wales, the 18-kilometre long Pontcysyllte Canal is a feat of civil engineering of the Industrial Revolution, completed in the early years of the 19th century. Covering a difficult geographical setting, the building of the canal required substantial, bold civil engineering solutions, especially as it was built without using locks. The aqueduct is a pioneering masterpiece of engineering and monumental metal architecture, conceived by the celebrated civil engineer Thomas Telford. The use of both cast and wrought iron in the aqueduct enabled the construction of arches that were light and d strong, producing an overall effect that is both monumental and elegant. The property is inscribed as a masterpiece of creative genius, and as a remarkable synthesis of expertise already acquired in Europe. It is also recognized as an innovative ensemble that inspired many projects all over the world.

Extensions added to World Heritage properties:

the great saltworksThe Great Saltworks of Salins-les-Bains (France), where brine has been extracted since the Middle Ages if not earlier, have been inscribed as an extension to Claude-Nicolas Ledoux’s Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans. The site is now to be known as From Great Saltworks of Salins-les-Bains to the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans, the production of open-pan salt. The extension features three buildings above ground: salt stores, the Amont well building and a former dwelling and is linked to the Royal Saltworks. The site bears testimony to the history of salt extraction in France.

Levoča (in Slovakia) was inscribed as an extension to Spišský Hrad and the extended site is now to be known as Levoča, Spišský and the Associated Cultural Monument. The historic town-centre of Levoča was founded in the 13th and 14th-centuries within fortifications. Most of the site has been preserved and it includes the 14th century church of St James with its ten alters of the 15th and 16th centuries, a remarkable collection of polychrome works in the Late Gothic style, including an 18.6-metre high alterpiece completed around 1510 by Master Paul.

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Philippines) is an extension to the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1993. The extension represents a threefold increase in the size of the original property.

Other changes to UNESCO’s World Heritage List:

For the second time in the history of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted by UNESCO in 1972, a site was removed from the World Heritage List when the Committee decided that Germany’s Dresden Elbe Valley could no longer retain its status as a World Heritage site of outstanding universal value. The decision was due to the construction underway of a four-lane bridge in the heart of the cultural landscape.

Improvements in the preservation of the Walled City of Baku with the Shirvanshah’s Palace and Maiden Tower (Azerbaijan) enabled the World Heritage Committee to remove the property from UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger. The site, which sustained damage during the earthquake of November 2000, was inscribed on the Danger List in 2003. Urban development, the absence of conservation policies and dubious restoration were also seen as problems. Improvements in management have, however, allowed Baku to secure the outstanding universal value for which it was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2000.

BelizeBelize Barrier Reef Reserve System (Belize) was put on the Danger List mainly because of the problem of mangrove cutting and excessive development in the property which was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1996 as the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, with offshore atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries. While requesting stricter control of development on the site, the Committee also requested the reinstatement of the moratorium on mangrove cutting on the site which expired in 2008.

Los Katios National Park (Colombia) was placed on the Danger List at the request of Colombia so as to help mobilize international support for the preservation of the property which is threatened by, notably, deforestation in areas inside and around the property due to the illegal extraction of timber. Inscribed in 1994 for its exceptional biological diversity, the site is also suffering from illegal fishing and hunting.

The Historical Monuments of Mtskheta (Georgia) was place on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of concerns over the preservation of these important edifices. The Committee asked Georgia to adopt an integrated management plan for the site and address problems related to the serious deterioration of the stonework and frescoes at the site. Other issues of concern include the management of land near the churches and loss of authenticity due to work carried out in the buildings inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1994.