What did the Romans…. (SOS)

… ever do for Catalonia?

Earlier in my posts about Barcelona I mentioned that the development of the city really began with the arrival of the Romans who developed a great port here and laid the foundations for the prosperous metropolis that was to spread inland.  So is this a city with Roman sites to rival those of Italy?  Well no.  It doesn’t come close as far as I could see on my visit.

In most conurbations the medieval city might be a good place to find evidence of Roman structures that had been developed and built upon, or perhaps incorporated into the city walls, yet in Barcelona this didn’t seem to be the case.  Now I’m no Mary Beard, so might well have overlooked some vital evidence, but in the Gothic Quarter there is medieval design aplenty but very little that pre-dates this.  I suspect Medieval Catalonians may well have been recycling enthusiasts.

In Plaça Nova, not far from the Cathedral lay a stretch of Roman masonry which was my first discovery.  Perhaps “stretch” is stretching a point.  There’s a single arch, though view it from the other side and you can see two.  Any Monty Python aficionado should recognise its purpose; the famous exchange from Life of Brian that answers the question “What have Romans given us?” results in a long list of achievements.  A list that begins with “an aqueduct”.  For those of us who take clean drinking water and sanitation for granted this might not seem much, but it’s transformative power made being part of the empire a more attractive option than simple subjugation._PW_1390

Behind the cathedral I found my second structure.  Along the narrow alleyway of Calle Paradis and down a few well-worn steps I found the Temple of Augustus; the very heart of the Roman City.  This structure wasn’t only dedicated to Rome’s first true emperor who had been elevated to the status of god, it was also the site of the Forum in the city so would have been impressive and imposing, and in a limited sort of way it still is.  Only a podium and four tall columns in the Corinthian style remain, but finding them “indoors” was quite a surprise.  The rest of the temple has gone and its surrounding gardens incorporated into the cathedral complex.

Reg:          All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?

Xerxes:     Brought peace!

The Romans may have done a lot, but over the centuries it seems that their beneficiaries were less than grateful._PW_1405


Easby to Love

Ask me to name the monastic houses that Henry VIII “dissolved” in the North East of England and my first response would be Rievaulx, Fountains, Mount Grace; the ruins that I visited as a schoolboy.  Give it a little more thought and I might venture Whitby, Tynemouth, Jervaulx, Monkwearmouth, Finchale and Lindisfarne.

I might say “there’s another north of York”, meaning Byland but as I’ve never been its name would escape me.

Show me the full list and I’d probably kick myself for omitting Hexham, Newcastle’s Blackfriars and Bolton Abbey, but then there’d be others that would produce a shrug because I’ve never heard of them.

_PW_9472I came across one of these recently on my way to Richmond (North Yorks).  Having passed a sign for Easby Abbey I remarked that I’d never heard of the place, prompting J to tell me that she was a regular visitor when she lived in the area.  On reaching Richmond and finding the car park full (it was the first sunny day in some time!) we decided to head to Easby and walk along the river from there, giving me the chance to see the abbey.

Like many of Henry’s victims there is ample evidence of damage and neglect, with carefully crafted masonry emerging from patches of rough and broken stone.  English Heritage must be well employed here preventing further collapse.

Henry’s decision was more than a statement of vengeance against Rome – he also benefitted from seizing the land and assets of the monasteries, so the contents of this 12th Century structure are mostly lost but for a notable exception.  A visit to Richmond Parish Church reveals a fine set of canopied choir stalls; furniture from the abbey that has found a new home.

_PW_9412Of course the trouble with visiting such a site in ignorance, especially when it isn’t your main reason for being out and about, is that you might miss something and I did.  The real gem here is the small church adjoining the abbey site.  St Agatha’s may not look much from the exterior but it may be even older than the abbey; a stone cross from the 8th or 9th century was found broken up and recycled as masonry within its walls, but the church also contains some beautiful medieval frescoes that lay protected for years under coats of whitewash.  And I missed them.

Ah well.  At least it gives me a reason to return to this beauty spot.