Google trikes go inside ancient sites

Google Street View continues to add new sites to their already impressive list of historical locations you can explore online. Now that they use tricycles as well as cars to travel the world photographing what they see, they can follow paths that cars cannot, like for instance the inside of the Colosseum.

As of yesterday, Google Maps offers tricycle-captured Street Views of some of the most historically significant sites in Italy and France, with the promise of more to come. The Official Google Blog reports:

In few clicks you can navigate through centuries of history. Start at the birthplace of Rome, the Palatine Hill, where the mythical founders of the city, Romulus and Remus were found and saved by a she-wolf, and where the most ancient buildings of the city are located. Follow the Appian Way, a little path that became one of the most strategically important roads of ancient Rome. After the long walk, experience the splendor of Imperial Rome at the Thermae (Baths) of Diocletian—ancient wellness and cultural centers with 33 acres of pools, gymnasiums and public libraries.

After wandering around Rome, you can fast forward in time to witness the celebrated architectural wonders of the Italian Renaissance, including Giotto’s Campanile (bell tower) and Brunelleschi’s Cupola (dome) in Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. While in Florence don’t miss the opportunity to walk through Ponte Vecchio and shop at the famous artisan jewel stores built on top of it!

I checked (of course), and the pictures of the shop windows aren’t high res enough to drool over the details of the jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio. It’s still a fantastic stroll, as is the walk around the Piazza di San Giovanni, the square where you can see the Duomo of Florence in front of you, then turn around and see the Baptistry of San Giovanni behind you with the copies of its three sets of intricately carved bronze doors, the south doors by Andrea Pisano, the north and east doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti. The east doors are the famous “Gates of Paradise,” so dubbed by none other than Michelangelo. (The ones you see in place now are reproductions. The originals were removed for preservation purposes in 1990 and are now in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.)

In France, you can visit the Palace of Fontainebleau, one of the largest and most beautiful of France’s royal châteaux.

Also, if it’s been a while since you checked Street View’s gallery of UNESCO sites, they’ve added seven new ones all from Japan, including the Tenryuji temple and Himeji-jo castle.

I leave you with a stroll down the Via Appia Antica, which you will doubtless recognize from about a thousand movies if you haven’t seen it in person yet, and which is one of the most unreservedly magical picnic spots in the universe.

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Aaand he’s back

Zahi Hawass was reappointed Minister of Antiquities today. Interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf had agreed to demands from ministry employees that Antiquities remain separate from the Culture Ministry. Faced with an aimless department with a power vacuum at the top, continuing thefts at archaeological sites generating a great deal of concern and UNESCO attention, plus a world-famous archaeological power player on the loose, he asked Hawass to return. He, of course, accepted.

Mr. Hawass, who has never been accused of being humble, said on Wednesday that he did not ask to come back, but that there was no one else who could do the job. “I cannot live without antiquities, and antiquities cannot live without me,” he said.

Pardon my rolling eyes. Anyway, he returns to the mess he left, and then some. Ministry inventories of the damage and theft from museums and ancient sites released two weeks ago of the losses from the Cairo Museum and the Tel El-Faraein storehouse found 81 artifacts missing, including four gilded statues of Tutankhamun.

A UNESCO delegate visited Egypt last week to see for himself the situation on the ground and to produce a thorough list of what’s gone missing so it can be published worldwide in an attempt to preempt stolen artifacts from turning up in antique stores and auctions. Some officials were made uneasy by the visit, thinking it smacked a little too much of foreigners coming to Egypt to show the hapless natives how to manage their cultural patrimony. Others were glad to have UNESCO’s help.

From both perspectives, Hawass’ return is an advantage. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s what spurred his reappointment.

“What we need now is the quick appointment of an antiquities leader,” Abdel Maqsoud [director of the central administration for antiquities in Alexandria and Lower Egypt] pointed out. To date, he says, no one knows who will meet with the UNESCO delegate. “It could be an archaeological team from the ministry of antiquities affairs or the Prime Minister Essam Sharaf or both – nobody knows yet,” confirmed Abdel Maqsoud.

On his part, Zahi Hawass, former minister of antiquity affairs said that he was requested by the assistant director general for culture, Franceso Bandarin to meet the UNESCO delegate. Hawass said that he will discuss with the delegate the recent status of Egypt’s antiquities and the amount of break-ins and loss, as well as the means to restituate [sic] such objects in the case they were smuggled out of the country.

He made clear that on several other occasions he rejected offers from UNESCO and other international organisations help to protect Egypt’s antiquities, calling the interference of any foreign country in the protection of Egypt’s heritage “antiquities colonisation.”

A top official in the ministry who requests anonymity told Ahram Online that Hawass cannot meet UNESCO delegate officially as he is no longer the antiquities minister, although he can meet the delegate as a professional archaeological expert in order to provide suggestions, the same as the former general director of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Gaballa Ali Gaballa or any other archaeological expert.

That was Monday, March 21st. A week and a half later and here we are.

Victorian beetle-wing dress restored wing by wing

A Victorian stage costume made in 1888 using 1,000 iridescent jewel beetle wings is back on display after two years of meticulous restoration. The dress was created for famed Shakespearean actress Ellen Terry’s portrayal of Lady Macbeth and was immortalized by American painter John Singer Sargent in an 1889 portrait now in London’s Tate Gallery.

Terry loved the dress and it was so iconic a look that she wore it throughout her lifetime at personal appearances and performances even after her retirement. After she died in 1928, the Beetle Wing dress was put on display at the Ellen Terry Memorial Museum, a museum founded by her heirs at Terry’s beloved Smallhythe Place, a 16th century half-timber house she had purchased in 1899 and lived in until her death. Her daughter Edith Craig donated the house and Terry’s collection of theatrical memorabilia to the National Trust in 1939 who kept the Beetle Wing dress as the centerpiece of the home’s costume exhibition.

After 120 years of near-continuous use and display, the hand-crocheted fabric with its individually sewn-on beetle wings was in extremely precarious condition.

The conservation team conducted a thorough scientific investigation, which included microscopic analysis of 70 tiny thread samples taken from the repaired seams. The results were then combined with evidence of deterioration and wear which were compared alongside the Sargent painting and contemporary photographs of Terry in the unaltered dress.

The conservators then went on to separate, repair and reunite pieces of the original dress from what is believed to be an amalgamation of two costumes, probably originally very similar in construction. This second costume was possibly a spare costume for the understudy or just a slightly different version for another scene in the play.

Conservation was complicated by the unusual construction of the dress which is hand crocheted and knitted from Bohemian yarn, described by the designer Alice Comyns-Carr as being, “a twist of soft green silk and blue tinsel”. Conservators supported the now weak and stretching dress on a custom dyed nylon net after painstakingly repairing all the holes in the crochet using a re-crochet technique. They also focussed [sic] on restoring the original length and fullness to the elaborate sleeves.

The Smallhythe Place curators had collected the original beetle wings as they fell off the dress over the decades. The conservators were thus able to re-attach many of the original wings as well as replacing any broken ones that could not be repaired. (Yes, they actually repaired individual beetle wings by pasting them to tiny pieces of tissue.)

The dress is now on display, posed with arms raised as in John Singer Sargent’s portrait. The pose was not one she actually struck in the performance. It was Sargent’s idea, and its dramatic posture reveals the sweeping sleeves and draping of the dress itself.

Small English church finds original King James Bible

St. Laurence Church, Hilmarton, WiltshireSt. Laurence Church in Hilmarton, a charming little 12th century Norman parish church, has had a large old Bible on a shelf behind the pews since the mid-19th century. A note next to it claimed that it was from the second of two original printings of the King James Bible done in 1611, but nobody really expected it to be true.

Since this year marks the 400th anniversary of the original King James printing, the parish council finally decided to research their Bible. They took it to an expert, the Rev. David Smith at the Museum of the Book in London, and he immediately recognized it as one of approximately 200 remaining original King James Bibles.

Smith identified it thanks to a printing error – a place in the Gospel of Matthew that should say Jesus entered the Garden of Gethsemane and spoke to his disciples instead says that Judas, who betrayed Jesus to the Romans, entered the garden.

That the St. Laurence Bible had that error, but not another one in the Book of Ruth, enabled Smith to pinpoint exactly when the book had been printed, Procter explained.

The first printed edition had a misprint in Ruth 3:15 reading “he went into the city,” instead of the proper “she went into the city.” Because of this misprint, the first and second 1611 editions are known as the “He” and “She” Bibles. That makes the St. Laurence one a “She” Bible.

When the King James version was first printed, 100 years before it was even called the King James Bible, it was called simply the Authorized Version and it was published in large folios for distribution to Church of England pulpits. These were never intended for private home perusal.

Since the St. Laurence parish church had been up and running for 500 or so years by then, it’s eminently possible that this is the Authorized Version they received in 1611. All we know about its direct history is that it was re-discovered the first time in 1857 by St. Laurence vicar the Reverend Francis Fisher. He recognized its historical importance and cleaned it up.

Unfortunately, he also mutilated it by trimming the pages so they would fit his hand-carved oak cover. Because of the trimming and the missing first four chapters of Genesis, this almost complete Bible is officially considered a fragment.

The parish will be getting a glass case to display the Bible in a more secure environment.

Roman spa in Turkey submerged under dam waters

2000-year-old Roman bridge almost submergedThe 1,800-year-old Roman spa complex of Allianoi in Izmir Province, Turkey is already halfway submerged under the dammed waters of the Ilya River. Flooding began on December 31st, 2010. By the end of February, Allianoi was already under an estimated 61 million cubic meters of water. You can see a desperately sad slideshow of the rising waters here.

Despite the best efforts of historical preservation activists, the government refused to budge from its plan to make a reservoir out of one of the best preserved ancient spas — still a functional hot spring — in the world. According to the Bergama Chamber of Agriculture, the dam will double the agricultural value of the area, irrigating 44,000 acres of hard farmland and helping 6,000 local families.

The Turkish government also claims the sand they covered the Roman structures in will preserve the site so they can just dig it back up again once the dam reaches the end of its lifespan (30-50 years), but according to Ahmet Yaras, the head archaeologist of the Allianoi dig, even if the immense pressure from the weight of the water and silt don’t damage the site, and even if the dam isn’t just rebuilt, the notion that anyone will just happily dig down through the 50 feet of silt that will be left behind after the water drains is no more than a fantasy.

Meanwhile, the hemorrhage of young people leaving the area for greener pastures isn’t likely to be staunched by the new reservoir.

“Irrigation is crucial for the agriculture of the region,” said Gorenc. “Eventually the salaries of the villagers will rise and migration to the big cities will decrease.”

But some in the village of Pasakoy, which lies nearest to the dam, believe it will not halt the current migration pattern, which has already turned many Anatolian villages into virtual ghost towns. “There aren’t people who want to farm the land,” said Pasakoy Mayor Adnan Celik, who has lost most of his own fields to the reservoir.

“The young people emigrate from the village and their parents and grandparents are too old to farm. The tourism from ruins would have kept them here,” Celik contended.

Colonnaded atrium with mosaic floor as the water encroachesThe economic potential of the ruins has never been fully explored. The ruins were only discovered in 1998 when archaeologists excavated the area in preparation for the construction of the dam. They found the complex in exceptional condition, complete with thermal baths, streets, insulae, covered passages, courtyards, colonnades and huge swaths of undamaged mosaics. They also found a hospital that was very likely used by famed 2nd century doctor Galen, the father of pharmacy and author of medical books that were held as the gold standard of medicine in Europe and the near East until Andreas Vesalius in the 16th century.