Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Roman Mosaics of Cirencester


The making of mosaic patterns is often associated with the Romans although the earliest known examples pre-date them to 3000BC.  Associated with many cultures, mosaic artists still flourish today, an unbroken tradition of five thousand years.


The Hunting Dogs mosaic: head of Oceanus  2nd century AD

In Britain, one of the finest collections of early mosaics can be found in the Cotswold town of Cirencester, situated 93 miles west of London.  With a population of 18000, it is one of the larger hubs in the Cotswolds yet has maintained a lot of its old charm for there are still many independent shops as well as the usual High Street chain stores.

History oozes from the very fabric of Cirencester: home to the the oldest agricultural college (Royal Agricultural College) in the English speaking world, founded in 1845; it is also home to the oldest polo club in England (Cirencester Park Polo Club) which was founded in 1894.  The charter for the market, still held twice weekly, was first mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086.


The Hunting Dogs mosaic:  Sea Leopard   3rd century AD

However, when the words Cirencester and history are linked together it is the Romans that predominate for their town, Corinium - now modern day Cirencester - was the second most important city in Britain.  Corinium lay at the centre of their great road network where Akeman Street,  Ermine Street and the Fosse Way all meet, still busy roads today.  There are still the remains of a number of  their villas in the region that are possible to explore.

The great Roman ampitheatre here was also the second largest in the country with tiered wooden seating for eight thousand spectators.  Today, all that remains are a series of banks and ditches, still impressive and well worth visiting.


The Seasons mosaic:  2nd century AD   Actaeon being attacked by his own hunting dogs

If there is not a huge amount to see of the original splendour of the ampitheatre, you will not be disappointed by a trip to the town's Corinium Museum which has recently been extended and refurbished making it one of the best museums in the country.  The museum holds over one and a half million artefacts but the most impressive of all of their exhibits have to be the Roman mosaics.


 The Seasons mosaic: 2nd century AD

The Seasons  is one of the most impressive mosaics in Britain, discovered in Cirencester in 1849, with pictures of goddesses depicting spring, summer and autumn.  Winter is missing.  In the museum the floor has been laid in an area reproducing a room in a Roman villa.


Detail from the Hare mosaic, 4th century AD

The hare is frequently used in Celtic art and fables but was rarely used by the Romans, making this central motif of the mosaic floor unique.  If you click on the photo above to enlarge it, you will see that there have been shards of green glass laid into the hare's back.


Detail from the Hare mosaic, 4th century AD




The Hare mosaic, 4th century AD

The museum does not just hold Roman aretfacts, it also covers finds from pre-history as well as more recent times such as Saxon brooches and a large hoard of coins dating back to the English civil war, subjects of a later post.  The Cirencester is really worth making the effort to visit - you can find out more details by visiting their website, here.




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Monday, 17 September 2012

At the Warwickshire Hunt Team Chase


Horses play an important part of our everyday lives and with my partner having spent a lifetime involved with riding for both pleasure and competitively, it is not surprising that so many of our friends are 'horsey' too.

I took up riding rather late in life compared to most and although I'm a competent rider, I've never been tempted to do anything that remotely involves winning a rosette.  I value my life too much.  However, if I thought I could skip the rosettes part and go straight into winning big prize money, I might just give it a try...

Over the years I've had my share of falls - this is a good thing for it means that I can recount them at every available opportunity.  Horse fall stories are rather like fisherman's tales - it isn't just the fish that get larger with every telling, so do the fences, gates and hedges where I met my comeuppance.  The story, for example, where I managed to fall off twice jumping a set of rails: the first time I got back on the horse and tried to jump them again  - only to land head first in the biggest pile of cow shit for 30 miles. No embellishments there but actually (and don't tell anyone) the rails were really quite low.  I probably could have jumped them even if I hadn't been on a horse.  The most irritating fall story of them all is the time I jumped a hedge to find rather a drop on the landing side. The horse stopped on landing and I sailed straight on, managing to do a double somersault before landing on my feet looking at the other riders jumping towards me.  Irritating because although accurately told no-one, apart from the few that witnessed it, believe it.



One way of ensuring numerous falls and a good way to stack up a whole wad of stories for future dinner parties is to take part in team chasing.  This is, for the uninitiated, where a team of usually four riders jump a cross country course at a hell-for-leather pace against the clock.  The time of the third rider to complete the course is the one that counts.  My partner has done this on numerous occasions but these days we are both happy to watch.


A good friend of ours who is a very successful saddler sponsored one of the classes at the Warwickshire Hunt Team Chase two Sunday's ago and we were invited to join him and his partner for lunch.  I'm afraid to admit that like most events that include food and drink, I spent more time inside the marquee than on the actual course itself.


These sorts of occasions, rather like any other horse events, are very sociable for it is where a widely scattered country population can come together and meet up with old friends and neighbours and exchange news.  As I sat at the table pondering upon this and how traditional it is - for country gatherings haven't really changed that much over the years - I also wondered if this was a worldwide  phenomena or whether it was yet another example of British eccentricty.  At that moment I noticed one of the guests was sitting at the table astride a pony  so I decided it must be the latter.  Ok, so the guest and the pony were very small but does that really matter?  Of course not, we wouldn't have cared if it had been a 17 hands stallion (well, we might just, I suppose).


Once lunch was over it was time for the prize giving.  The team in pink,, who came second, were riding to raise money for Breast Cancer Awareness.



 
 

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