Mausoleum: The face behind the stone

artemisia_prepares_to_drink_the_ashes_of_her_husband_mausolusShe challenges Penelope, the loyal wife of Odysseus, for the role of faithful companion. Some ancient texts claim she drank the ashes of her cremated husband in tribute. In history, Artemisia is known for creating a palatial monument for her husband Mausolus, and establishing the name of mausoleum  to honour his name for eternity.

She was married to her brother, the time honoured tradition of keeping royal blood in the family. No history seems to remain about their children, but they were married at least twenty years. When Artemisia lost her brother in 351 B.C.E, she continued to build the regal tomb. She survived him by two years before she followed him to this palatial resting place.

It was grand;  overlooking the human engineered   harbour of Halicarnassus, it stood on a hilltop. The best Greek sculptors were brought to the Eastern outpost under the Persian Empire to carve a magnificent monument to Mausolus and Artemisia; this magnificent structure would command the name of mausoleum for the rest of history.
Surrounded by a courtyard, their mausoleum was a masterpiece that incorporated both ziggurat and pyramid with the craft of Grecian sculpture. Lions adorned the stairway and knights on horses guarded the gates. Wife and husband would stand elegant in their four horse chariot atop the pyramid roof adorning the marble statue, column rich architectural triumph. It could be seen as a temple on a man made mountaintop. Ironically the bodies of the patrons of the Mausoleum might have been buried beneath the imposing structure- only to be looted almost two-thousand years later.
A rebellion of Rhodes challenged Atemisia’s singular power. Her soldiers defeated the Rhodesian aggressors- outwitted by her navy. Taking the banner of the Rhodesian ships, her soldiers conquered Rhodes. She erected at least one statue in triumph to her success: a statue of Athena and one of her own likeness. After the Rhodesians gained their independence, the space around the statues was considered Abaton, or the space was in accessible.

Claimed as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world by Antipater of Sidon, it was written about by historical notables such as Pausanias, Strabo, Vitruvius, Satyrus, Phytheus, valerius Maximus and Pliny the Elder. Alexander the Great claimed the land as his own, being a nephew of Artemisia and Mausolus.
Artemisia’s face, is lost to history, but their love will ever live on in the name of Mausolus, or mausoleum- the building that will honour the resting place of the dead.

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Gateway to Another Time: Lascaux Cave Paintings

dedicaceePlaced in context of the time it was found, the discovery of the Lascaux Cave was overshadowed by a world in crisis. France has just fallen to Nazi rule three months earlier. Four boys, and a dog with the forward thinking name of ‘Robot,’ discovered the Lascaux Cave while on a search for mythical treasure. News of discovery of the cave spread. One of the boys, Jacques Marsal, pleaded with his parents to allow him to guard the cave entrance from vandals who might destroy the ancient site. They acquiesced, and he spent the rest of his life as the chief guide of the cave.
lascaux_taureau_marie_madeleineIt is not the oldest cave found. The Metropolitan Museum of Art dates the art at around 15, 000 BCE. Roucadour Cave art is estimated to be 24, 000 BCE. Perhaps the Lascaux cave is a beacon for the immigration of a group- or simply an indication that the tradition of cave art was alive and well in prehistory. It is believed to be the best example of Paleolithic cave art. There are approximately 2000 paintings within the cave, and most of them are pictures of animals. Many are pictures of horses and stags. Paintings of animals have been superimposed over older renderings, communicating that artistic quality was less important than the placement and symbolic significance.

a99dddccf717d9ad1440b40daf9e1a7d1There are many interpretations of these paintings: from communicating an understanding of the stars to images based on hallucinations. It is interesting to note that while a regular diet at this time would consist of reindeer, there were no representations of this animal. The cave itself would not have been used for shelter, but possibly a gathering place. Most of the paintings are found in hard to reach locations in the cave, encouraging the belief that they were made as part of a magical ceremony- possibly to increase the chances of success in the hunt. It has been suggested that these caves were chosen based on their ability to be illuminated during the winter solstice (Newgrange might be a descendant of this ritual). Some of the paintings would have needed a form of scaffolding to paint their size, increasing the impressiveness of their creation.

las10Hollowed out bones were found in the cave, and have some of the pigments used within the shaft. These were evidently used to blow paint onto the wall. The colours that were used on the walls, and in other cave art paintings, are predominantly brown, red, black, white and violet. All of these colours were available to Paleolithic people through iron oxide, calcite, and charcoal. Iron oxide can be mined, and comes in a range of colours: yellow, red, purple and brown ochre. Some historians suggest that the painters at Lascaux might have traveled 25 miles to obtain these precious minerals. The colours were ground up, possibly using bones from the animals they hunted as a pestle, and a hollow in the cave floor being the mortar. The liquid base could be a range of possibilities from blood or urine to animal fat.
magd_rekDue to human interaction with the cave, the art is in grave danger. Mold, fungus, lichen and crystals threaten the priceless art. A replica cave was created for tourists only 200 meters from the original; an interesting alternative when faced with a curious financially vibrant public.


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The Mystery of Books

My mother hated cleaning, so from a very early age our agreement was that if I took responsibility of housekeeper, she would read to me.  For about ten years, our arrangement exposed me to many classics. The size of our apartment meant that I could work anywhere and still hear her read. Many a day I spent washing the laundry, cleaning the dishes, and moping the floor to Pickwick Papers, Wuthering Heights or Anne of Green Gables (to name just a few).

Through the stories I was transformed.  I could be the main character, their landscape seemed almost palpable.  For ten years, I felt as though I had lived many lives and travelled through history.

One book that was of particular note I have never forgotten.  It is a story about a building in Suffolk England, and the lives lived for almost two millennia within and around this place.   It is about how time changes a location, and about how our lives are part of a bigger story than our own brief existence can comprehend.  I think this book was the first book that solidified my love of history; written by Norah Lofts, the book is called, A Wayside Tavern.

It starts with Roman soldiers and the exodus of Rome from Britain.   They find one building that might have been a tavern in which to rest for the night on their trek to a port town. Their leader Marius, is forced to stay behind after a wound that renders him lame.  What results is the discovery of a girl left behind through sickness, by the people desperate to avoid the chaos within the country that the Roman withdrawal creates.  Marius’ and Gilda are the progenitors of a line within this tavern that will witness the growth of Christianity, Reformation, Industrial Revolution, the First and Second World War. It is a tale about time, place and our identity in the world; also delving into the creation of myth and legend.

Like a pleasant memory of a childhood playground, I always dreamed one day I would re visit the book to see if it had that same allure it held so many years ago.  I am visiting England for the summer- the homeland of my father, as well as the focus so much of my family’s history.  It is the canvas for many of the stories and history I learned as both an adult and a child. It is the country of Norah Lofts novel.

I was overjoyed when I found, The Wayside Tavern, Online for sale (no less joyful to have found that my memory didn’t fail me in remembering the title); doubly overjoyed when it arrived in the mail.   A used copy, it was with a large sense of irony that I opened the cover page to find that it was sent from England. It was my intent to take it back to its homeland and read it while on holiday; enamored with the idea of reading this much loved book in the country in which it was based.

I am now finished this five hundred plus page book.  The story still held me in thrall, and enforces my love of history.  Being in England allows me to see what Lofts used as a central piece for her story; the character-rich buildings that make this beautiful land and the people who call it home.

The book had a deeper richness with the memory of that familiar voice, now long gone, so many years ago that first read it to me.  Perhaps one day, if my daughter will allow, I will share it with her.

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The Beauty of Colour: Vermilion

I credit Richard II for my most recent research project.  If he hadn’t been wearing a cloak painted with Vermilion kneeling before the Lapis Lazuli enrobed Madonna, in the famous Wilton diptych, I would never have started my exploration.  I have always been fascinated with art; the ability to create an inspirational piece through one’s imagination is magic in itself. When you combine this with the historic challenges of finding, mixing and ensuring the resilience of the paints used, it is amazing that so many artistic pieces survive the centuries to share their stories.

Vermilion, I was to discover, has a long and very interesting history.

The colour Vermilion is made from the mineral cinnabar. This ore also contains mercury which is a toxin to the human body. If ingested or inhaled it can kill or corrupt the victim, if held in the palm of a hand the heat could release the mercury- a dangerous beauty indeed. Vermillion is a derivation of Latin vermiculus, or worm (most will correctly connect vermin or vermicelli with the Latin word), wrongly connected with another dye that could be made from an insect  Kermes vermilio.   Kermes, or as we know it today as Crimson.  Our crimson is synthetically produced, no worms were harmed in the making of it.

There are very few mines for cinnabar, but the luck of the global community, it was spread out fairly.  Each continent received their own supply. Vermilion can be found in many of the world’s most established civilizations: Chinese, Indian, European, and Mayan.

Red is universally seen as a symbol of longevity and nobility; the colour of blood- life itself.  The power of the upper class is based on their ability to pay for this hard to find- dangerous to handle resource.

Possibly used in human art since 25, 000, Vermilion has an exciting history.

The Romans got their supply of cinnabar possibly from the Almaden mine in Spain, which even today has the largest supply of mercury in the world. Spain has mined cinnabar from around 5300 BCE. Pliny the Elder in his Natural History mentions, vermilion or minium- even today there is a confusion with led.

While Pliny does not know the origin of the ritual, he believes it to be religious in nature; the head of the statue of Jupiter on the Capitolinus Hill in Greece was covered with Vermilion, a symbol of honour for a military leader.  The Roman people would follow this tradition to honour every general who brought their country victory through battle, by adorning their head in vermilion; symbolizing blood of their enemies or miraculous life in the face of death.

Toxic to inhale, the workers in the mines were poor or enemies of the Empire.  Life would be short after one began working in the mines. Pliny explains that workers in the mines wore a loose bladder skin over their heads to minimize the toxins they inhale.

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, it covered the city of Pompeii in Volcanic pumice and ash. Pliny the Elder was one among the thousands who lost their lives in the natural disaster. Uncovered from the sixteenth century to the present day, are the three dimensional lives of the people.  The rich residents had their dining halls adorned in cinnabar.  One example is the Villa of the Mysteries in which the dining hall is covered with what looks to be a woman going through a religious rite- possibly marriage.

Cinnabar was used in the Mayan culture; famous for their blood lust, and the connection to life and death. Lord Pacal, the longest living ruler of Mesoamerican history, died in 683 CE. He was regally buried in the Temple of Inscriptions, in Palenque, with jade adornments and Cinnabar sprinkled throughout his tomb and painted on his sarcophagus. Dating from the same time is the ‘Red Queen;’ a noble woman, richly adorned for the afterlife, and covered in cinnabar.  Some sources say she might be his Queen.  Cinnabar was also used for incense; the transmutability of the mineral turning into mercury would highlight the change from life to death and the mystery of the world.

According to some scholars, the use of vermilion was introduced to the 11th and 12th centuries, but the tradition of Sindoor Dana has been honoured for over 5000 years.  Sindoor Dana is still practised by Hindu’s in India and around the world; the groom places a line of vermilion (and turmeric and lime) down the front parting of his bride’s hairline.  A woman who wears this is ensures her husbands protection by the Goddess Parvati. The wearing of Sindoor is found in the Mahabharata. This communicates the life of a couple’s new union, and ensures the husband’s health. It is believed it stimulates the chakras on the forehead and the crown. The bride will apply this every day for the rest of her marriage.  It is taken off by an older woman when the woman becomes a widow. It is believed the Sindoor will calm the bride, give her clear thought and ensure sexual energy; this is why it is forbidden for widows.

Having just touched the surface of the life history of this amazing colour, I hope to learn more in the future.

Works Cited:,0978,001:36

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Chapter VII (Grandfather’s Journal continued 1916- age 16)

Col Bedell 001It was not half term but I secured the permission to go home for a week-end and Dick accepted my invitation to come along. Dad was now at Witley Camp and mother and Mrs. Wilkinson had a cottage in Milford, near the camp. Dick  and I started off after school Friday and got into Milford about 6:30 Mother had sent a taxi to meet us and soon we were sitting down to supper at Meadow Cottage. Suddenly smoke began  to drift in the door. Dick and I dashed through and found it was coming from upstairs. We hurried up and found that the smoke was coming from an oil-stove that had caught on fire in the oil.  We picked the thing up and hurried it out to the lawn.  When we came in, everyone began to laugh at us and on examining ourselves in the mirror we saw we were covered in black smoke. Very wicked looking men indeed!  Dick’s sweater was ruined but we decided it might have been a lot worse and treated it all as a joke.

Next morning Dick and I were up before sunrise and walked out to the camp to see the rising sun from a small hill nearby.  “The darkest hour is just before the dawn!” Nothing was to be seen except the top branches of a big elm-tree, outlined against the sky.  Slowly the darkness gave way reluctant to leave, but not daring to face the sun that would soon be here.  Already the clouds are tinged with a faint, delicate pink, and at the sight of this herald of the rising sun, the darkness gives way completely.

The mist lies softly, level and white in the valley, so opaque that only the tops of the trees can be seen and yet so thin and frail, that in a few moments more it will melt away in the splendour of the morning.

The clouds turn a pure rose colour and suddenly the eastern sky becomes one molten mass; the pure, intense blue of the upper sky forming a perfect background for the riot of golden, crimson, purple and scarlet colour.  The mist is disappearing already, eddying among the trees, swaying, dipping, in a perfect poetry of motion. Now we got a glimpse of the little lake, a perfect gem in a setting of majestic pines.

All the colouring of the sunrise is there in the water but the tints are mingled and the colours more delicate.  The opalescent fires of that unlucky gem are there, the flash of the diamond and the blue of the turquoise.  Fading into the distance the purple hills of Surrey form the background of the scene (perhaps one day I will see it as he writes it…100 years later xx) Such a perfect picture cannot last; the sun rises higher and higher,the colouring fades away, and a new day has been born.

After breakfast we went for another walk, ending up at noon, at the Officer’s Mess, Witley Camp, where Dad had invited us for dinner.  The time passed all to quickly and soon another day was gone.

We had to go back to Barnet on Sunday evening.  The train was a fast one and we pulled into Waterloo in good time.  The underground railway soon deposited us at Golder’s Green and we found ourselves waiting in the pouring rain for a bus.

The bus was crowded and I gazed around and wondered what they were all thinking about.  Where were they going? How did they live? Where they thinking of their sons in France?

An old man, stooped and crushed by sorrow, was sitting across the aisle.  Beside him was a woman, probably his wife.  She was smiling, but there were tears in her eyes.  What an effort that smile has cost!

A young girl, with a long letter in her hand, was sitting beside me.  She looked very sad and lonely but was tightly clinging to the treasured letter.  Was it from her lover in France?  Again I wondered.

In the corner I noticed a little mite of a girl.  Her eyes were red with weeping and I felt sure her father had been one of the many killed in our last drive against the Germans, fighting bravely for home and country.  An uncomfortable lump rose in my throat and I turned to the farther corner.  Once more I was reminded of the war. A soldier- boy in blue was sitting there.  He had one arm in a sling.and one leg missing, but nevertheless he was the merriest face  I had seen for many a day.  Beneath his merriment however, determination showed.  It could be seen on all their faces.  No matter what it cost, they would go through to the bitter end.

Suddenly I noticed that we were passing our destination and , rousing Dick, I made a frantic grab for the cord, but only succeeded in hitting the hat of a very dignified old lady sitting beside me.  The hat went sidewise and her dignity followed.  A moment later and we were walking through Barnet church passage in the rain; ten minutes later and I was sound asleep in bed.

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