Wednesday, February 9, 2011

the wall

The history geek in me took over my body today and spent three hours tracing the ancient Roman wall of Londinium.  I love the word Londinium. It sounds like I made it up, but I didn't.  That's what the Romans called it.  They came here in 43 AD and stuck around until 400 AD or so, and they didn't even build a wall until around 200 AD.  Some say that they don't really know why the Romans decided that they needed to build a wall.  I think it must have been that they were Romans and Romans need to build massive things.

It was originally 20 feet high and 2 miles in length, and it did end up being useful to raise money since most of the gates were tolled gates.  Most of the wall is gone now, except for little bits, but it didn't get torn down until the 17th and 18th centuries, and a lot of it simply got absorbed into buildings, or used as foundation, and in most spots it's buried 15 feet under the road.  After the blitz in 1940 a lot of the west side of the wall became visible, and all of the awful rebuilding they did in the 1960s (Barbican...ugh) was done around the exposed wall.  I bet they just loved building super modern ugly buildings next to those ancient ruins.  I bet they thought it was a really powerful contrast.  It's kind of funny now that some of those areas seem to be falling themselves into a bit of a ruinous state.

It was a bit tricky to find all the parts of it.  I had to use a walking tour podcast that I didn't really care too much for because it took way too long to do, and a lot of times the guy just read off the plaques that were right in front of me.  But, now I know where to go to find the wall, and I hope I can show other people because it really is a neat thing to see.

Now, ruins trouble me a bit.  I remember when I first saw the Forum in Rome and hating it.  I couldn't see the point a bone yard in a beautiful vibrant living city.  I've since learned that the hot, empty boneyard of the Forum used to be a mosquito infested swamp with some grassy areas where cows lived.  And the horrid bare Colosseum was up until the late 19th century covered in hundreds of plants that weren't found any where else in Italy and had likely been transported there by all of the wild animals they brought from throughout the empire to slaughter.  It used to be a place where poets and lovers would wander and explore and bring picnics.  It's a shame those ruins don't have the same wildness to them anymore.

Another reason why ruins trouble me is because I think I always just took them for granted.  They were there in and of themselves.  I never thought of them actually becoming ruinous, or if I did it was in a romantic sort of decay.  It bothers me when I find out their actual histories.  Rome's Colosseum and Forum became stone quarries, the Parthenon was blown up by accident in the 17th century, the Roman wall in London was fully intact until the 19th century, when they decided to just tear it all down to make room for more buildings.

Although discovering these facts bothers me a little, in reality, I love that cities adapt, get rid of the things they don't need, recycle and reuse building materials.  That's a living city, and I think that's why I found the Forum in Rome so bothersome.  The bone yard, the sepulcher, is out of place there.

I'm glad I went out today to look at this. It is a fun walk, but my favorite part was not actually the wall. I promise to blog about that tomorrow.

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