Wood pipes from Roman aqueduct found in Lyon

An archaeological survey in advance of real estate development in the Point du Jour area of Lyon has unearthed double wooden pipes from the ancient Roman Yzeron aqueduct. The excavation in the 5th arrondissement, Lyon’s westernmost neighborhood where the Roman city of Lugdunum was founded in 43 B.C., revealed the remains of two parallel pipes installed at the bottom of a ditch more than nine feet deep and more than 13 feet wide at its opening. The wooden pipes were broken by modern construction, but the surviving sections add up to a total length of 80 feet.

The conduits were made from large oak trunks. The trunks were hollowed out creating a trapezoidal void six inches in diameter. This would have allowed a large volume of water to pass through. The pipes were installed on a slight slope from west to east into the city. They were encased in clay to make them as watertight as possible. Once the pipes were installed, the ditch was backfilled to pack them in safely.

Archaeologists found a coin from the Augustan era in the backfill, and radiocarbon and dendrochronological dating of samples taken from the pipes all confirm that the conduits were installed at the beginning of the 1st century. The date, west-east orientation and the route the pipes take identify then as part of the Yzeron aqueduct.

The aqueduct carried water from a basin of the Yzeron river about 12 miles southwest to the ancient city of Lugdunum, modern-day Lyon. Begun around 9 B.C. in the reign of Augustus, it was the second of four aqueducts built by the Romans to supply Lyon’s water needs. The Point du Jour pipes may have been a provisional route into the city, or a diversion off the main canal or even a test run/prototype.

Whatever their purpose, the conduits didn’t serve long. A massive masonry stack nine feet square with more than five feet of its height extant was built in the filling of the ditch right smack on top of the double wooden pipes, destroying them. Archaeologists believe the masonry pile is the base of a pile of the Brévenne aqueduct whose remains have been found on both sides of the excavation. The Brévenne piers were built in this area in the middle of the 1st century.

Antiquarium of Pompeii reopens

The Antiquarium of Pompeii reopened today after an extensive refurbishment and decades of closure. You’d think a site like Pompeii which under normal global circumstances draws millions of visitors would have a permanent museum to house the thousands of artifacts unearthed there and the fragile plaster casts of Vesuvius’ victims, but   it hasn’t since the Antiquarium closed after the earthquake that devastated Naples in 1980, and even that iteration of it was hobbled because Allied bombing destroyed a whole gallery in 1943. After 36 years, the Antiquarium opened again in 2016 but only for a few temporary exhibitions.

The museum was launched in 1873 by Giuseppe Fiorelli, Pompeii’s pioneering director of works who was the first to cast the cavities in the ash left behind after the victims’ bodies decomposed. Amedeo Maiuri, director of works for almost four decades (1924-1961), expanded the Antiquarium early in his tenure.

The renovated museum harkens back to Maiuri’s concept for it. He was the first to dig below the Vesuvian layer to explore Pompeii’s pre-79 A.D. history, and the new exhibitions are arranged sequentially to tell the full story of the city, from its earliest antecedents during the archaic period (7th-6th century B.C.) to its tragic demise. The 11 galleries are divided into six sections — Before Rome, Rome vs. Pompeii, Pompeii is Problematic, All Italy, Starting from Scratch and the Last Day.

Artifacts on display include little-known objects dating to the Samnite era (4th century B.C.) and iconic discoveries like the frescoes from the House of the Golden Bracelet, the treasure of silverware discovered in the country villa in Moregine a third of a mile south of Pompeii and the triclinium from the House of Menander. Some of the newest finds are also exhibited, like the collection of amulets from the House with a Garden and the most recent plaster casts of victims, two human and one equine found in the villa of Civita Giuliana.

The re-opening of the museum after so many decades of travail is “a sign of great hope during a very difficult moment,” Pompeii’s long time director, Massimo Osanna, said. He was referring to the harsh blow that the pandemic’s travel restrictions have dealt to tourism, one of Italy’s biggest revenue sources.

On display in the last room of the museum are poignant casts made from the remains of some of Pompeii’s residents who tried to flee but were overcome by blasts of volcanic gases or battered by a rain of lava stones ejected by Vesuvius.

“I find particularly touching the last room, the one dedicated to the eruption, and where on display are the objects deformed by the heat of the eruption, the casts of the victims, the casts of the animals,” Osanna said. “Really, one touches with one’s hand the incredible drama that the 79 A.D. eruption was.”

The redesigned museum will now be the first stop for visitors to the Archaeological Park of Pompeii.

Rome in 3D

History in 3D lives up to its name. The virtual recreations of ancient temples, cities, palaces and fortresses are vividly rendered in granular detail with realistic lighting effects and animated fly-ins. They’ve built models of everything from Sevastopol in 1914 to the flooding of Titanic’s grand staircase to Corinth in the 2nd century.

Four years ago, their most ambitious project, a reconstruction of Rome’s city center as it was in 320 A.D. Rome in 3D, made its debut on their YouTube channel. They had already been working on it for years and had enough of it ready to make a riveting trailer, a few tantalizing minutes of what promised to be the most comprehensive virtual recreation of ancient Rome ever made. The aim was to integrate it into a game engine, building a fully realized city based on the latest, most accurate information to provide an immersive experience of walking its streets.

At the time of the trailer’s debut in March 2016, the project was scheduled to be completed in a few months. In June, a second trailer with new buildings (mainly the Capitoline temples), debuted.

Almost two years passed before the next trailer, a walk-through of the Colosseum, was posted.

The entire ancient city of Rome, it seems, proved to a very, VERY big bite, and while History in 3D was determined to chew it, the jaws would have to grind for much longer than expected. In the meantime, they released pieces of the whole to give a glimpse into their work. Trajan’s column in all its original polychrome glory is a straight masterpiece. Even setting aside that it’s only part of an infinitely greater whole, on its own it represents years of research and modelling.

Last month, History in 3D released their latest Rome in 3D video. They assured followers that the project was still ongoing, that they had encountered challenges and obstacles but were surmounting them and coming back better than ever, deploying new technological tools to redesign buildings and objects. The new trailer showcases the Forum, the beating heart of Roman society, and it is a huge leap forward in quality.  (This blog entry describes what you’re seeing as you stroll/fly through downtown Rome.)

There’s no specific timeline for the completion of the project, but fingers crossed, they expect a walk-through app will be ready for release in a few months. Trajan’s Column will get an app of its own so it can be explored scene by scene in all its spiral glory. This is something I have dreamed about, because it’s shocking to me that there is basically no high-resolution photography online detailing Trajan’s Column whose reliefs are so densely populated and complex that naked-eye view can never satisfy.

Follow History in 3D on YouTube and Facebook to stay apprised of all exciting developments.

Shipwreck neckerchief covered in Masonic symbols

A neckerchief found inside a 19th century shipwreck at Muriwai Beach, West Auckland, New Zealand, has been restored and found to be replete with Masonic symbols. The neckerchief was discovered in the bilges of the wreck of the Daring, a New Zealand-built two-masted schooner that was dashed on the shore in an 1865 storm.

Built in 1863 in Mangawhai, the Daring is New Zealand’s oldest ship (six years older than the Cutty Sark) and is almost completely intact. It was made of local native woods using techniques not used anywhere else and is of invaluable significance as a unique survival of 19th century New Zealand shipbuilding.

The remains of the 55-foot schooner was exposed by shifting sands on May 27, 2018, and souvenir hunters had had their way with it even though public access to the beach is prohibited because it is part of military air weapons range. Within two days of its discovery, the ship was cordoned off for its protection and archaeologists surveyed it. Seven months, reams of paperwork, 24/7 security, several heavy trucks and one million dollars later, the wreck was raised and moved to a more secure location for stabilization.

Artifacts recovered from the wreck include a pair of pristine leather shoe, coins, clay pipes, a cup, wine bottle caps, a partial leather belt with buckle, parts of a straw hat, comb and one wadded up grey ball that turned out to be the neckerchief. Cleaned of the muck and dried out, the textile revealed itself to be made of pure silk and festooned with Masonic symbolism in cloud-like medallions against a crimson background.

Masonic symbolism overlaps significantly with religious — Jewish and Christian — iconography as its rituals and imagery were heavily influenced by Kabbalistic mysticism as well as the Hermetic Christian tradition. Those types of images are rife on the neckerchief.

There’s a seven-branched candlestick, each candle alight. In Freemasonry, the menorah represents the mysticism of the number seven, the spiritual energy that radiates from the center of the world east to west, north to south, zenith to nadir. At ceremonies it is lit in a spiral clockwise from the outside in (1-7-2-6-3-5-center candle) or the reverse (counterclockwise from the center candle out) to charge the energies of the lodge brothers.

Another Jewish symbol, the hexagram aka Star of David, formed from two superimposed triangles, is intertwined with a third triangle to create a nine-pointed star, a symbol of 4th Degree Scottish Rite. And while it looks like a Greek temple, Solomon’s Temple makes an appearance too, identifiable from its checkerboard floor and the initials J and B, for Jachin and Boaz, the name of two pillars at the Temple’s entrance, flanking it. Above it is the Blazing Masonic Star, symbolizing the zenith of the Mason’s journey. Underneath it is a laurel branch, symbol of peace.

The most well-known symbol of Freemasonry, the Square and Compasses. The G at the center, a reference to the unpronounceable name of God, is in this example encased in a six-pointed star. It invoked the protection of the Almighty against all evil spirits.

On the Christian side of things is a rose and cross, reference to Rose Croix, a nickname for Scottish Rite Freemasony in England and Wales. The pelican in its piety, a popular medieval motif symbolizing Christ’s sacrifice, is faded but clearly identifiable from the long curved neck of the bird as it pierces its own breast to feed its young in the nest. A lamb lying on a book with seven seals dangling off its top cover. This is the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of Christ, sits atop the Book of Revelation which is adorned with the Seven Seals that only Christ can break at the end of the world.

Other assorted symbols include crossed Masonic gavels, emblematic of the authority of the Master in every Lodge, a Masonic handshake, a cockerel, symbol of Mercury, the key transformational catalyst in alchemical reactions and a Masonic metaphor for the initiate’s transformation from base human to enlightened Mason, and a shield with the initials A.L.G.D.G.A.D.L., which stands for À la Gloire du Grand Architecte de L’Univers (to the Glory of the Grand Architect of the Universe).

The ship will become the centerpiece of a new building at the Mangawhai Museum, close to where the Daring was built in 1863. The artifacts found inside it will also be part of the exhibition.

A final denoument for Mucha’s Slav Epic?

Alphonse Mucha’s Slav Epic, a series of 20 monumental paintings depicting important events in Slavic history, may finally get the dedicated permanent exhibition space the artist wanted almost a century after the works were completed. When we last we saw our Slavic heroes in 2012, the series has just been put on display at the Veletrzni Palace in Prague over the protests of art lovers and the Mucha family.

Mucha gave the series to the city of Prague on condition that it build a pavilion for their display. This was no small matter as canvases are enormous — 26 feet wide by 20 feet high — and World War II, Communist disapproval, chronic lack of funds and chronic legal wrangling with the Mucha family, the permanent Slav Epic gallery never materialized.

After being rolled up in storage for decades, the paintings went back on public display for the first time since Mucha’s 1939 death at the castle of Moravský Krumlov in southern Moravia in 1963. They remained there until 2012 when Prague flexed its muscles. The Veletrzni Palace was the only place with enough wall space to accommodate the monumental works, but the poorly controlled fluctuations of temperature and humidity made it a dangerously inadequate space for canvases that had suffered so much already. The fact that the palace had also been used during the war to hold Jews before they were deported to concentration camps was no deterrent to Prague officials, but it sure pissed off the Muchas, especially as several family members had been among those imprisoned in Veletrzni Palace.

As far as Alphonse’s grandson John was concerned, Prague would not own the Slav Epic until they built the pavilion as per Mucha’s condition. Until then, the series was better off at Moravský Krumlov. Prague’s argument was that they owned the works free and clear because the legal donor was not the artist, but rather the sponsor who paid for them, American plumbing supplies magnate Charles Crane, and Crane had made no requirement as to the display space.

The Mucha family and the foundation they founded took the dispute to the law. Possession being nine tenths of it, nothing changed on the ground until it got worse. In 2016, Prague announced that all 20 canvases would go a two-year tour of Asia. This would have been the first time they left what is now the Czech Republic. That meant more rolling of the massive paintings, more transportation in precarious conditions of fluctuating temperature, moisture and pressure.

John Mucha filed suit yet again to keep the fragile egg tempera-on-canvas works in the Czech Republic, but the courts failed to stop the tour. It went on as planned. When the Slav Epic finally returned home in 2019, Prague announced that the paintings would return to Moravský Krumlov until the city had an appropriate facility for the series.

Now the epic saga about an epic saga may finally come to a conclusion: an innovative multi-use development in Wenceslas Square in the heart of historic Prague has offered the city a custom-designed gallery to be the new home of the Slav Epic. The developer will pay all expenses for construction of the exhibition space in its Savarin project which would be complete within five years.

“Over the years, we have heard many ideas about where to install the Slav Epic. Prague has been looking for its home for almost 100 years now and we are convinced that the Savarin Palace fulfils my grandfather’s wish, on which he conditioned his gift to Prague. Thomas Heatherwick presented to us and also consulted the vision of exhibiting the twenty canvases of the Slav Epic, and I am convinced that my grandfather would be proud of such a presentation of his masterpiece. As I have already said several times, the moment the issue of the Slav Epic’s home in Prague is clarified, I will withdraw the lawsuit with the city, because the will of my grandfather will be fulfilled,” says John Mucha, grandson of painter Alfons Mucha.

The new exhibit tailored to the Slav Epic in the Savarin project would offer an exceptional and globally unique exhibition space in the city centre. At the same time, it will not burden its surroundings with a greater movement of people, as the exhibit would be entered from the inner courtyard and accessibility for visitors will be also made easier by the newly created interconnection to the underground station with a direct entry into the spaces of the Savarin project. The exhibit over an area of 3,500 m2 would be entered through the newly created gardens and the listed building of the historical riding school, which will be the centrepiece of the whole Savarin project.

The exhibition space of the epic and of the life’s work of Alfons Mucha will be 10 metres high, which will enable the presentation of the Slav Epic in a uniform visual view according to the original intention of Alfons Mucha. Then it will all be enhanced by the entry hall into the gallery, technical facilities, a shop with souvenirs related to Alfons Mucha and a space for the gathering of groups for guided tours. The whole area of the exhibit shall be conceived as the life path of Alfons Mucha and how this path led to the creation of the Slav Epic.

Here’s a cool thing. The Mucha Foundation commissioned a virtual reality version of the Slav Epic. Digital artists at Nexus Studios create a virtual experience in which the viewers see the monumental works in an ideal gallery and to step inside the first painting in the cycle, The Slavs In Their Original Homeland, and explore its environment. It is compatible with VIVE Pro headsets and is free for download here.