Germany: Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

Germany: Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

Berlin is notable for its greenery (only one-third of its area is built up) and East Berlin for its old historical center with the Royal Palace and museums. Kurfürstendamm (Ku’damm), with its Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church is the main thoroughfare of West Berlin, lined with luxury hotels, shops, cafes and cinemas. Behind the church is the Zoo (Tiergarten).

Of the few surviving old buildings, the most notable are Charlottenburg Castle, the 18th century Brandenburg Gate, the reconstructed Reichstag and the Rathaus, seat of the Senate, where the Liberty Bell is rung at noon. Important museums include the Egyptian Museum with the famous bust of Nefertiti; Museum Dahlem with 13 -16th century paintings including famous Rembrandts and Vermeers, the Berlin Museum where the collection depicts the development of the city and the New National Gallery designed by Mies van der Rohe.

The Olympic Stadium constructed for the 1936 games, holds 100,000 people. In the western suburbs are the forest and lake areas of the Grünewald and the Havel inlets which open out into the Wannsee, crowded with bathers in summer. Excursion parties go to Frederick the Great’s Palace of Sanssouci in the East zone with its great art treasures and to the ancient Palace of the Crown Prince, Cecilienhof where the Four-Power Aggreement was signed in 1945.

Partheon Temple in Athens, Greece

Partheon Temple in Athens, Greece

The Parthenon is a temple in the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their protector. Its construction began in 447 BCE and was completed in 438 BCE, although decorations of the Parthenon continued until 432 BCE. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered to be the culmination of the development of the Doric order. Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art.

The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece and of Athenian democracy and one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments. The Greek Ministry of Culture is currently carrying out a programme of selective restoration and reconstruction to ensure the stability of the partially ruined structure.

Rome: The Roman Forum

Rome: The Roman Forum

‘I need no ivory temple for my delight,’ wrote Propertius in Augustus’ day, ‘enough that I can see the Roman Forum.’ Here, from immemorial times, had been the meeting place of a civilization that was always positive. This Forum, so quiet in its ruins now, was filled with activity from the dawn of recorded history. Around its edges butchers, fruit-sellers, and money-lenders had their stands; in its centre were held public meetings and religious ceremonies closely bound up with the city’s practical life. If the past haunts the Forum, it is a past filled with less sinister figures than those which linger in the shadows of the Palatine above.

Nowhere in Rome has more human drama been crowded into so little space. Here, according to tradition, the men of Romulus had snatched as brides the maidens of the Sabine tribes. Here, too, was set the tragic, stirring tale of the centurion Virginius, and his daughter, Virginia, whom he stabbed with a knife from a nearby butcher’s shop to save her from a tyrant’s claim.

Here legend placed the ancient story of Marcus Curtius’ leap into the unfathomable gulf yawning below the Capitol. Here Antony showed the Romans the body of the murdered Caesar and read them his will. Here, too, roused to fury by this sight and by the dead Caesar’s generosity, the people burned his body in their most honoured spot as a final tribute to his memory. And along the Forum’s Sacred Way, from the Arch of Titus up the Capitol hill, passed the triumphal processions of emperors and generals, returning victorious from the wars.

The Forum’s activities probably took place at first entirely in the open air. Later shops and temples were built and the great basilicas along the edges, which combined halls for courts and assemblies with space for shops. Throngs too large for these basilicas were addressed from the rostra, special platforms built for this purpose, or from the steps of the Forum’s temples. The Senate met in these temples, as well as in others throughout Rome, but its special home was in the Forum, in the Senate House, consecrated to Victory.

Julius Caesar, city planner as well as warrior and statesman, gave the Forum the general shape it preserves today. One of the most arresting spots in its whole area is the altar before the temple dedicated there by the Senate to mark the place where his body was burned in 44 B.C.

As power grew more and more concentrated in the hands of the emperors and their officials, public activities in the Forum became less important. But the place remained as unique in Roman memory as when Cicero had called it ‘the Forum in which all justice is preserved’. The emperors built larger and more elaborate forums for business and amusement, but this remained ‘the Forum’ or ‘the Forum of the Romans’, by virtue of its age and associations.

As Christianity gradually conquered paganism, the temples of the Forum were closed by imperial edicts, though these edicts were disregarded from time to time. For a while some of the temples were safeguarded as public monuments or kept for various uses. But the Gothic wars of the sixth century so drained the city’s resources that it would have been impossible to keep the old buildings in good repair, even had any considerable group wanted to preserve the remnants of paganism. The temples which survived did so largely because they were transformed into churches or because they were too massive to be pulled down easily for building material. The earthquake of 847, which damaged the Colosseum, probably hastened their destruction.

During the centuries of slow decay and active pillage, the ground-level of the Forum rose with the debris of fallen structures and the washing down of earth and ruin from the surrounding hills, until traffic was almost completely blocked, and papal processions had to find other ways than the old triumphal road. The few remaining columns of the ancient temples were buried, sometimes half their height; the crumbling ruins were robbed of stone and brick to be burnt for lime or re-used in humbler buildings.

Such was the Forum’s state in the first years of the fifteenth century, when interest in antiquity was reviving with the early Renaissance. Some time before 1431 Poggio Bracciolini the humanist, wrote wistfully: ‘The Roman Forum, the most celebrated place in the city, where the people assembled and laws were made, and the nearby Comitium, where magistrates were chosen, are now deserted through the malignance of Fortune. The one is given over to swine and cattle; the other is enclosed as a vegetable garden.’

In 1536 the Forum was partially cleared to provide a triumphal way for the Hapsburg Emperor, Charles V, in celebration of his victory over the Turks in Tunisia the year before. Unfortunately, the preparation of this triumphal road gave a fresh impetus to the plundering of the ruins, against which Raphael had already protested. After this clearing, the Forum, once more passable for traffic, was drawn again into the active life of Rome. When the excavators of the sixteenth century had finished their search for antiques, quiet settled once more about the Forum, but it was no longer a quiet of death. The lowing of cattle and the shouts of drovers now filled the air, for the Forum was again used as a market.

Indeed, its classic name was almost forgotten and it was known then, and for long afterward, as the Campo Vaccino, or Cow Pasture, from the animals herded and sold there. Its very site, questioned by Ligorio in the sixteenth century, long remained a subject of antiquarian argument. Fortunately there were always men of plain common sense who, refusing to be drawn into fine-spun argument, kept to the old site while accepting the new name, and said with the seventeenth-century Englishman, John Raymond: ‘The Campo Vaccino was heretofore the Forum Romanum.’

The eighteenth century saw a revival of interest in antiquity unequalled since the early Renaissance, which stimulated the desire for scholarly excavations. Late in the century such excavations were begun in the Forum, and for a hundred and fifty years its ruins were laid bare, down even to graves of the eighth century B.C. or earlier, below its ancient paving stones. During the last century and a half more has been learned of the Forum’s buildings than was known during the thousand years before; yet even today scholars feel certain of less than many a Roman boy of ancient times.

Throughout the centuries three groups of columns and one lone shaft have been landmarks of the Forum. Most of these, at the western end, close below the Capitol, mark the sites of the temples of Saturn and of Vespasian. The eight grey and red granite columns of the portico of Saturn’s temple stand almost at right angles to the Senator’s Palace. This was one of the Forum’s oldest temples, although the columns which stand today are late.

An inscription above them states that the temple was restored by vote of the Senate after a fire, probably that of A.D. 284, which swept the Forum. The Senate had a special interest in this temple, where the steep Clivus Capitolinus wound up the Capitol, for it had its treasury here. The writer of the Mirabilia had these facts clearly in mind when he referred to the ‘public Treasury, that was the temple of Saturn’, beside the ‘Triumphal Arch, whence was the ascent into the Capitol’. Later generations which had lost the tradition called it by many names, such as the ‘Temple of Concord’ and the ‘Temple of Fortune.’

Close by the Temple of Saturn stand the three corner columns of the Temple of Vespasian. Called for centuries ‘Temple of Jupiter Tonans’, this temple’s columns, with their sharp flutings, their rich Corinthian capitals, and their elaborately carved frieze above, were the delight of artists. Titus and Domitian built the temple late in the first century A.D. and dedicated it to Vespasian, their father. Titus died and was deified before it was completed; he may have shared the dedication.

The anonymous monk of the eighth century who copied the inscriptions preserved at Einsiedeln left the clue which finally solved the temple’s identity. Much more of the temple was evidently standing then, for the inscription stated clearly that the building had been dedicated to Vespasian and restored by the emperors Severus and Caracalla.

Between Vespasian’s temple and the Arch of Severus rises the Column of Phocas which has stood erect ever since it was set up in A.D. 608, the last monument erected in the Forum in what might still be considered ancient times. Its identity was completely lost until the excavations of the early nineteenth century uncovered its base with a dedication to ‘… our lord, Phocas, the eternal emperor’. It was a sign of the fallen fortunes of Rome that the citizens set up no new column to honour this upstart Byzantine Emperor of the East, but one carved long before and put to a new use.

By one of the world’s pleasant ironies this column is best known throughout the English-speaking world through two lines of poetry far from accurate. Its base had been uncovered and the inscription read in 1813; Charlotte Eaton referred to its identity in 1817 as common knowledge among visitors. But Byron, who was in Rome the same year as Mrs. Eaton, was not noted for close attention to specific facts; even when he knew them, he often preferred the suggestion of mystery. The sober facts are cold beside his apostrophe:

‘Tully was not so eloquent as thou,
Thou nameless column with the buried base!’

The third group of columns is midway between the Capitol and the Arch of Titus. These three parallel fluted shafts of the Temple of Castor which appear in the foreground of Marten van Heemskerck’s drawing, in that of Claude Lorrain, and in Canaletto’s painting, are perhaps the most outstanding of the three groups. They rise in comparative isolation near the end of the old Republican Forum, and the richness of their Corinthian capitals and carved entablature has made them, like the three of Vespasian’s temple, a favourite subject for artists. These columns do not belong to the first temple there, or even to the one Cicero called ‘that famous and glorious memorial of the past… which stands where the nation may see it daily’.

The Colosseum was a “marvel” of Rome

The Colosseum was a "marvel" of Rome

The Colosseum was a ‘marvel’ of Rome when it was new, almost nineteen hundred years ago, partly because of its size and partly because the circumstances under which it was built made it one of the world’s great ‘gallery plays’. ‘Here, where the far-seen Amphitheatre lifts its mass august,’ wrote Martial, ‘was Nero’s mere.’ Vespasian had drained the artificial lake in the gardens of Nero’s Golden House and begun upon its site this vast theatre for the games and spectacles dear to Roman hearts, which his son Titus was to finish.

Nero, last emperor of the line of Caesar and Augustus, had died by his own hand, hated by the people and the army and declared a public enemy by the Senate. Within a year, the Roman legions nominated three successors, also doomed to quick and violent deaths. Vespasian, the final candidate, was more fortunate. A popular general, who was waging a successful siege against Jerusalem when he was chosen emperor, he returned to Rome and set about the task of blotting out the evil memory of Nero.

A man of humble birth and shrewd common sense, without the legendary glamour of the Julian dynasty, he, together with Titus, succeeded in building up the prestige of the new imperial line, largely through a far-reaching programme of public works by which the people were given back as recreation centres much of the land which Nero had confiscated for his own pleasures. Suetonius echoed the popular response to this policy in a remark concerning Titus, probably written within half a century of that emperor’s death: ‘He took away nothing from any citizen. He respected others’ property, if anyone ever did… And yet he was second to none of his predecessors in munificence.’

The Colosseum was practically ready for use when Vespasian died in A.D. 79. Titus opened it, still unfinished, in A.D. 80, with magnificent gladiatorial games and naval contests for which the arena was flooded. It was completed by Domitian, Titus’ brother and successor, but had to be restored several times because of fires due to lightning.

Standing isolated beyond the Forum, in the low spot between the Palatine, Esquiline, and Caelian hills, this new amphitheatre was easily accessible from the heart of the ancient city, yet isolated enough to permit the easy movement of crowds. It could seat about forty-five thousand, and probably had standing room for about five thousand more in its upper gallery.

Its great oval shell was about one-third of a mile in circumference, its longer axis measuring about 617 feet, its shorter about 512. The long axis, whose entrances were used for processions, runs parallel with the Roman Forum, roughly southeast and northwest. The imperial seats were at the south side, facing along the shorter axis, to give a closer view of the spectacles. Immense awnings, handled by sailors from the imperial fleet, sheltered the spectators.

Though the exterior of the great building is impressive by reason of its severe and solid bulk, its outstanding feature was its perfect adaptation to the handling of large and potentially unruly crowds. Seventy-six of its eighty arcades were numbered; the tickets bore corresponding numbers, so that holders could find their way directly to their seats from the appropriate entrance without crowding the corridors. It was a structure to delight the practical Vespasian and the architectural engineers who had built it.

The Colosseum’s builders followed much the same principle as that employed in steel construction today, except that for the skeleton framework of piers and arches they used hard travertine stone. The outer walls are of the same stone; the inner ones are composed of several kinds of stone and concrete, with or without brick facings. Metal cramps reinforced the joining of the stones; the holes now so noticeable in the walls were made in the centuries following the decline of Rome by those who dug out these cramps for their metal or for the lead which was sometimes used with them.

The tradition that Christians by the thousands were martyred in the arena grew up in comparatively late times. Some may have suffered here during various persecutions, but, needless to say, not in those of Nero’s day, as the site was then the emperor’s lake. The last gladiatorial games were held in the Colosseum in A.D. 404; emperors from the time of Constantine had tried to stop them without success. The last recorded animal sports are mentioned in 523.

The ancient Romans called this building the Flavian Amphitheatre from the family of Flavius to which Vespasian and his sons, Titus and Domitian, belonged. The present name came into use some time during the early Middle Ages. The first-known mention of the amphitheatre as the Colosseum is in an eighth-century Latin work traditionally ascribed to the English monk and historian, Bede. The writer of this work quotes a current Saxon pilgrim’s proverb: Quandiu stabit Coliseus, stabit et Roma; quando cadet Coliseus, cadet et Roma; quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus, which today is best known through Byron’s translation in Childe Harold:

‘While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand;
When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall:
And when Rome falls–the world.’

Some have held that this proverb referred not to the amphitheatre but to the colossal bronze statue of Nero which stood nearby, remodelled by later emperors as a sun god. No one knows just when this colossus fell-the last known reference to it in ancient times was in A.D. 354 when it was mentioned as the ‘crowned colossus’ in connection with a spring festival of garland sellers along the Sacred Way.

It had probably disappeared by Bede’s time, for the eighth-century Einsiedeln Itinerary did not mention it, although its fame lingered throughout the Middle Ages. It seems more likely that such a proverb would grow up about an immense and enduring building than about a statue which was only one of several of its kind in Rome, and that the building was first called ‘colossal amphitheatre’ and then ‘colosseum’ because of its great size.