Roman London Uncovered In Massive Excavation

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.
This 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]

A Look Inside The David Bowie Exhibition At London’s Victoria & Albert Museum

David Bowie is a pop star. David Bowie is a designer. David Bowie is an actor. David Bowie is a painter.

David Bowie is a lot of things, which is why it’s appropriate that his retrospective at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is titled “David Bowie Is.”

The museum gained unprecedented access to the David Bowie archive to select five decades of mementos like this striped bodysuit designed for the 1973 Aladdin Sane tour. There are plenty more of Bowie’s crazy costumes on display, as well as photos, video, handwritten lyrics and original album art. Many of the pieces are by Bowie himself, showing off his range of artistic talents. More than 300 items make up the exhibition and it’s the largest of its kind ever shown in public.

The exhibition traces Bowie’s evolution as an artist and his collaborations on various projects. Video screens show some of his music videos and excerpts from films such as “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”

There is also a series of special events related to the exhibition, including lectures and a chance for kids to design their own album cover.

“David Bowie Is” runs until August 11.

[Image © Sukita/The David Bowie Archive 2012]


Victoria & Albert Museum Showcases Treasures From Royal Courts

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has just opened a new exhibition about the development of trade and official relations between Russia and the United Kingdom.

“Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars” brings together more than 150 objects for a look at the interaction between both courts from the accession of Henry VIII in 1509. He and later Tudor monarchs were eager to expand contacts with Russia to tap into the lucrative fur trade, selling English wool and luxury items in return. The artifacts show how the courts affected one another through the reigns of two English dynasties.

Timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the founding of the dynasty of the Romanovs, the exhibition focuses on gifts and cultural exchanges between the two royal courts instead of the rather humble trade that financed them. Included are Shakespeare’s first folio, a little-seen portrait of Elizabeth I, Henry VIII’s suit of processional armor and royal jewelry.

The exhibition also includes objects loaned from Russian institutions, such as this odd silver basin showing a dolphin from 1635. It’s part of a collection of English and French silver given to the Tsars by the British royal family. Examples of this kind of silver are rare in England because most of it was melted down to finance the English Civil War. What’s interesting about this basin is the way the dolphin is portrayed – more like those seen in Greek and Roman art than what dolphins look like in reality. It appears the silversmith had a Classical education but not much contact with the sea!

%Gallery-180975%There’s also quite a bit about the Muscovy Company, an English firm given a monopoly on trading rights with Russia from 1555 until 1698. The company’s captains made a fortune trading with Russia and even tried to open a route to China by sailing north of Siberia. The so-called Northeast Passage was as bad of an idea as it sounds and many sailors froze to death in the attempt.

The Northeast Passage remained a dream until 1878, when the Finnish explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld sailed the Vega from Europe to Japan via Siberia. Sadly for him, the Suez Canal had opened nine years before and there already was a shorter route to China.

“Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars” runs until July 14.

[Photo courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London]

Royal Institution In London Looking To Sell Its Historic Home

The Royal Institution of Great Britain, one of London’s great scientific landmarks, may soon be moving.

The BBC reports that it’s putting its historic Mayfair property on the market with an asking price of £60 million ($96 million). The Royal Institution was founded in 1799 to promote scientific study and education. It hosts numerous lectures, a video channel, and there’s a museum dedicated to Faraday on site.

Michael Faraday’s 19th century experiments, many of which took place in the institution’s building, led to the practical use of electricity.

The institution has been in financial difficulty for several years and hoped to turn itself around with a major remodel. Unfortunately, the cost of doing that was not matched by new income and donations.

One scientist I spoke to who has lectured at the Royal Institution says that this announcement may be a cry for help to get more donations. I hope she’s correct. I wouldn’t want to lose such an important landmark in the middle of my favorite city.

[Photo courtesy Mike Peel]

Five overlooked attractions in London

London is full of great places to see. No matter what your interests are, this city has something for you. In fact it has so much there are some incredible attractions that are overlooked by the majority of visitors. Here are five you might want to visit.

Kew Bridge Steam Museum
The Kew Bridge Pumping Station, built in 1838, once supplied water and power to London through massive steam engines. The British were early masters of turning water into power by heating it into steam. This unusual museum shows how it was done, as well as the immense variety of machines built to power the Industrial Revolution. Only selected machines still work, and only on weekends, when they puff away as if they’re still powering the Empire. There are special days when additional machines are started up. They’re all quite loud with massive moving parts, making them popular with kids. Check out the schedule here.

The Wapping Project
This is a unique art space in London and a personal favorite. Set in a converted power station like the Tate Modern, it differs from that more famous art space in that the curators left most of the machinery intact. This lends the building a ghostly atmosphere and a postindustrial charm. A succession of top artists have done a great job adapting their work to the surroundings. There’s also a good restaurant onsite. Check out their webpage here.

Jewel Tower
This stone tower is one of the few surviving parts of the medieval palace of Westminster and dates to around 1365. Outside you can still see part of the original moat. The ground floor is the best preserved, with an original vaulted ceiling and sculpted bosses. Originally the clerk’s office, it’s now a cafe and gift shop. The first floor contains an informative history of Parliament that’s helpful to read before visiting the Houses of Parliament across the street. The second floor covers the history of Jewel Tower, beginning with its construction by Edward II to hold his personal wealth. The Crown Jewels were, and still are, held in the Tower of London since they’re the property of the kingdom. The website is here.

Richmond Park
Get away from the city without leaving it! This park has 2,500 acres of hills, meadows, woodland gardens, and ponds. Swans, mallards, 650 roaming deer, cycle and jogging paths, and ancient oaks all combine to make it my favorite park in London. It has been a reserved area since medieval times and is now an official National Nature Reserve. It’s not all countryside–you’ll also find cafes, playgrounds, and a golf course. Check out the website here. Also check out our article on other quiet spots in London.

The British Dental Association Dental Museum
Ah yes, the good old days. . .when cavities meant a trip to the marketplace where a guy with a grimy pair of pliers who hadn’t washed his hands in three months yanked out the rotting stump with nothing but brute force and a good swig of rum (usually for him, victims had to supply their own). Displays show early drills, toothbrushes, and the dentures of royalty. You can learn more at their website. Want some more pain? Check out our article on London’s surgery museums.

Do you have a favorite overlooked attraction in London? Tell us about it in the comments section!