The Allure Of Ancient Tangier

Tangier
The whole Mediterranean rim has a rich history. The Minoans, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and many others explored and settled these rocky coasts and islands. Tangier, just outside the Strait of Gibraltar and looking out onto the Atlantic Ocean, was considered the furthest point west by many civilizations. To the north, ancient travelers could see the Iberian Peninsula. South lay the coast of Africa, explored by some civilizations and unknown to others, and to the west stretched the seemingly endless expanse of the ocean.

Tangier became an important port early on. The Phoenicians built a trading post here in the middle of the first millennium B.C. and it was later taken over by the Carthaginians. At that time it was called Tingis, after a Berber goddess. Little is left from those days as the ancient city has been buried under many layers of later occupation.

The Casbah Museum in Tangier has a few artifacts from that time, and an easy walk to the western outskirts will take you to the plateau of Mershan and the necropolis of Al Hafa. Here, on an exposed rock with a sweeping view of the strait and the port, the Carthaginians, and later the Romans, buried their dead. You can see a couple of the lead caskets in the Casbah Museum.

All that’s left here are the graves cut into the rock, many of them now filled with rainwater and reflecting the blue sky above. Even those uninterested in archaeology will enjoy the walk through the quiet, prosperous suburb and the fine vista from the plateau. The dead got the best seafront view in Tangier.

%Gallery-175701%The value of traveling to another famous ancient landmark, the Grotto of Hercules, is more debatable. It was here that Hercules was said to have rested after his labors. This cave opens onto the Atlantic Ocean and the waves splash on the rock, swirling in and out and spraying the large number of foreign and Moroccan tourists who come here. Niches carved into the cave’s interior at some unrecorded time are now used by salesmen to hawk trinkets. Yes, this place is one big tourist trap, although an attractive one.

We had been told that the nearby Roman ruins of Cotta were open to the public but when we got there two soldiers and a cop told us politely yet firmly that this land was owned by the king and we couldn’t enter. They were very apologetic and somewhat confused as to why we thought the ruins were open. They’d been closed for five years.

A longer day trip can take you to the Roman city of Volubilis, five hours away between Fez and Rabat. One of its prized possessions, however, is housed in the Casbah Museum. A sumptuous mosaic from the town house of some wealthy Roman is now the centerpiece of the museum. Called “The Voyage of Venus,” it shows the sexy goddess sailing through the salty spray with her nymphs.

If you’re pressed for time I’d say hit the Casbah Museum first, try to go to Al Hafa if the weather is good, and skip the Grotto of Hercules.

Don’t miss our other posts on Tangier! Coming up next: St. Andrew’s in Tangier: A Church With Muslim Art!

[Top image by Almudena Alonso-Herrero. Bottom image by Sean McLachlan]

Tangier

Tourist Trinkets From The Roman Empire

Roman Empire
The Roman Empire is remarkably familiar to the modern eye. It had highways, indoor plumbing, religious tolerance, and even fashion violations such as wearing socks with sandals. It’s like a primitive version of our own culture, with more similarities than differences.

And now it turns out they had tourist trinkets too.

A press release from Hadrian’s Wall Trust announces that a new book examines what may be the earliest known tourist mementos in the world. “The First Souvenirs: Enamelled Vessels from Hadrian’s Wall” is published by the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society. It looks at three artifacts dating to shortly after the Hadrian’s Wall was built in 122 A.D. Three enameled pans bear the names of forts on the western portion of the wall. Some archaeologists believe these were mementos for visitors to the empire’s latest symbol of power and prestige.

Roman EmpireEditor David Breeze says, “Remarkably it seems that Hadrian’s Wall was a tourist attraction soon after it was built. None of the pans were found on the Wall, but in southern England and France. As souvenirs they may have had no other function, though it has been suggested that they might have been used for wine drinking by veterans of the Roman army.”

Souvenirs for Roman tourists have also been found at other popular destinations such as Athens, Ephesus, and Alexandria. With the best transportation network in the ancient world and a large monied class, the Roman Empire could support a tourist industry.

Hadrian’s Wall stretched across northern England 84 miles from the Roman fort of Segedunum in the city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne to Bowness-on-Solway, on Solway Firth., the traditional boundary of Scotland and England, and for two centuries the northernmost border of the Roman Empire.

For more information about the wall and its history, check out my series on hiking Hadrian’s Wall.

[All photos courtesy Tullie House Museum, Carlisle]

Roman Empire

Padlocks Of Love Removed From Bridge In Rome

RomeOfficials in Rome have removed the so-called “padlocks of love” from the famous Ponte Milvio, the BBC reports. This is the latest phase of an ongoing struggle between the city and romantic couples that we’ve been reporting on since 2007.

It all started when Italian novelist Frederico Moccia wrote “I Want You,” in which a couple put a bicycle lock around the bridge’s lamppost and tossed the key into the Tiber as a symbol of their undying love. It soon became a fad and the locks became so heavy they actually broke the lamppost. After that people started putting locks all over the bridge.

The bridge was built over the Tiber River in 115 B.C. and was the site of the famous Battle of Milvian Bridge, in which the Emperor Constantine defeated his rival Maxentius to take over Rome, a move that was the beginning of the end of paganism.

Officials say rust from the locks is damaging the historic bridge. Putting a lock on the bridge carries a 50 euro ($51) fine. This is the second time the city has removed the locks. It probably won’t be the last.

Putting locks on landmarks has become a trend in other spots as well. Near where I live in Santander, northern Spain, couples do this on a railing by a cliff overlooking the sea. Is there a similar custom in your local area? Tell us in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Roman Cavalry Helmet To Be Star Attraction At Royal Academy Exhibition

Roman
A new exhibition at the Royal Academy in London will feature one of Britain’s most stunning archaeological discoveries of the past few years.

Back in 2010, a metal detectorist found this brass helmet in a field in Cumbria, northern England. It dates from the first to third centuries A.D. and is one of a few rare ornate cavalry helmets dating to the Roman period. These helmets were worn for tournaments and parades rather than battle.

Now it will be part of “Bronze,” an exhibition of works made of bronze or brass from the prehistoric period to the present day. More than 150 works from Africa, Asia, and Europe are organized into themes such as the human figure, animals, groups, objects, reliefs, heads and busts, and gods. Examples come from such widely different cultures as ancient Greece, Etruria, Benin, Renaissance Italy, and modern Europe.

To learn more about these helmets, check out this page on Roman parade helmets and this page on more standard-issue Roman cavalry helmets.

Bronze runs from September 15 to December 9.

[Photo courtesy Daniel Pett]

The Leaning Colosseum Of Rome

Colosseum
Rome’s iconic Colosseum is beginning to tilt, the Guardian newspaper reports.

The stadium where gladiators used to hack away at one another to cheering crowds has developed a distinct slant, with one side being 40 centimeters (15.7 inches) lower than the other. Archaeologists have been studying the tilt for a year and have confirmed that it is real and could pose a threat to the monument’s stability. They theorize that the concrete base on which the Colosseum rests may be cracked.

Currently, experts are figuring out what rescue plan, if any, they will suggest to their cash-strapped government.

It’s been a bad couple of years for Italy’s monuments. Despite an expensive restoration, the Colosseum has been crumbling, although not as much as disaster-ridden Pompeii. That ancient city has seen a couple of walls and buildings collapse entirely.

Hopefully a solution will be found to save these ancient Roman ruins without burdening Italy with even more debt.

[Photo courtesy sneakerdog via Flickr]