Famous Roman ‘Tomb’ May Have Actually Been A Temple

Roman, CarmonaAt the Roman necropolis in Carmona, Spain, visitors are led to the popular “Elephant’s Tomb,” a large underground chamber that gets its name from a crude sculpture of an elephant found there.

Now archaeologists are saying it may not be a tomb at all, but rather a temple to one of the ancient world’s most mysterious religions. A team from the University of Pablo de Olavide, Seville, has analyzed the structure and says it was once a mithraeum, an underground temple for the god Mithras.

Mithraism centered on secret rites centered on the mystical slaying of a bull was one of the most popular faiths in the last years of paganism. Several mithraeums are scattered about Europe, including in London, Mérida, and along Hadrian’s Wall.

The archaeologists point out that its general shape, with a columned, three-chambered room leading to an area for altars, is the same as other mithraeums. They also found astronomical alignments. Sunlight would hit the center of the chamber during the equinoxes, and during the winter and summer solstices, the sun would light up the north and south walls respectively. As the sun shines through the window during the spring equinox, Taurus rises to the East and Scorpio hides to the West. The opposite occurred during the autumn equinox. Taurus and Scorpio figure prominently in the religion’s astrological symbolism, with the God Mithras slaying a bull as a scorpion stings the animal’s testicles.

It was only later that the temple was turned into a burial chamber, researchers say.

Carmona is less than 20 miles from Seville and is a popular day trip from there.
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[Top photo courtesy Daniel Villafruela. Bottom photo courtesy Henri de Boisgelin.]

Rome Suspends River Cruises Because Tiber Too Polluted

Visitors to Rome this year won’t be able to cruise along the Tiber River, which weaves through the city, because it has become “strewn with rubbish,” according to a representative of Rome Boats, the company that controls the river tours.

In an interview with AFP, Rome Boats’ Mauro Pica Villa said there would be no tours because the tour operators would be “ashamed” to show the Tiber in its current state. He described the embankments as “grey with pollution” and the trees that line the river as covered in plastic bags and other rubbish. The last time the Tiber was cleaned was in 2008, and the river suffers from bureaucratic idiosyncrasies that have shuffled the responsibility for its care away from the city government.

This is a good thing. Not the pollution – the tour cancelation. Though quite popular at their launch a decade ago, a Tiber tour is generally a terrible idea. Unlike on a cruise down the Seine in Paris, it’s difficult to appreciate much of Rome from the deeply set and narrow Tiber. The tour is a good way to see Rome’s bridges, but the remainder of it is spent gawking up at the ugly grim parapets that line the banks. Because the walls are so high (or the Tiber so low, really), you can’t see much of Rome this way.

Hopefully the Tiber gets cleaned up, but the best way to see Rome and its iconic river is still by foot along its banks.

[Photo credit: Flickr user The Wolf]

Tourists Outraged Over $84 Gelati In Rome

Getting scammed by quack taxi drivers or phony tour operators is one thing, but when a group of tourists were charged 64 euros ($84) for a few ice cream cones in Rome – well, that’s just sad.

The Eternal City has quite the reputation for con artists. Cafes and bars have been known to have special menus for English-speaking customers that double or even triple their prices. But the Antica Roma bar and gelateria, which is located close to the Spanish Steps, has allegedly sunk to a new low. According to the U.K.’s The Daily Telegraph, British tourist Roger Bannister and his family were “astonished” when the shop charged them 16 euros each ($21) for a round of ice cream cones.

A manager at the cafe confirmed the tourists were charged the outrageous prices, and told the news outlet their prices are posted and the gelati was “worth the money because they were large.” Officials in Rome told the Telegraph these types of scams are “shameful” and “such practices harmed the image of Italy.” Have you ever been victim to a travel scam like this, and if so, what did you do about it?

[Photo credit: blogger Libby Zay]

Dozens Arrested For Baggage Theft In Italy

Having an airline lose a piece of luggage is a relatively common – albeit frustrating – part of travel. But when just a few items repeatedly go missing out of a bags, there is a major call for concern. CNN is reporting that’s just what has allegedly been happening over and over again with baggage handlers working with Italian airline Alitalia, leading to dozens of arrests last Friday.

According to the news outlet, police made 49 arrests at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, plus another 37 at airports in Bari, Bologna, Milan Linate, Naples, Palermo and Verona. The arrests came after an 18-month investigation spurred by reports of missing items at the airport of the Italian city of Lamezia Terme. Police maintain the alleged thefts happened during the loading and unloading of baggage onto aircraft, and that they have surveillance footage of thefts taking place. During the investigation, Alitalia security personnel worked with police to catch the supposed thieves.

Our only advice to you, dear travelers, is to either leave valuables at home or keep them with you in the cabin whenever possible (so long as these items follow security rules, of course). You just never know what could happen.

[Photo credit: Flickr user sun dazed]

Roman London Uncovered In Massive Excavation

Roman London
Archaeologists from the Museum of London have uncovered three acres of Roman London, they announced in a press release.

The team was excavating ahead of construction of Bloomberg Place, in the heart of what used to be Londinium, the capital of the Roman province of Britannia. Over the course of six months, archaeologists picked their way through seven meters of soil to find some 10,000 artifacts dating from the very start of Roman occupation in the 40s A.D. to the end in the early fifth century.
Roman LondonRoman LondonThis painstaking work revealed whole streets of the ancient city with wooden buildings preserved up to shoulder height, prompting archaeologists to dub it the “Pompeii of the North.” The damp soil not only preserved the buildings, but also perishable artifacts such as the leather shoe and the basket shown here. The team also found a previously unexcavated section of the Temple of Mithras.

Other finds include phallic good luck pendants; a hundred writing tablets, some containing affectionate personal letters; and the bed of Walbrook, one of the “lost” rivers of London. There’s also this amber amulet in the shape of a gladiator’s helmet shown here.

Bloomberg Place will be Bloomberg’s European headquarters once it’s completed in 2016. A museum on site will exhibit the finds to the public.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has deep connections with London that were the subject of a recent feature in the New York Times.

[All images copyright Museum of London Archaeology]