A great hole has suddenly opened up in AUR’s library garden. A geo-radar survey by our adjunct professor, Dr. Matteo Barone, shows it’s not a sink-hole, but part of a large hollowed area below the modern terrace. Am I surprised? Not one bit, especially when late Republica/early Imperial amphorae sherds are hauled out by the Barnebites’ gardener. My best guess is that the hole is part of a crypto-porticus below a Roman terrace re-used in modern times – in the early 20th centur
A researcher for a film company has called me about the Vikings. The company want to make a series of drama-documentaries and the genial researcher had come across my book, Goodbye to the Vikings (2006). He owned up to not reading it before quizzing me! At once one was a little on guard. Sure enough, the telephone conversation revolved around the same ‘platter of simplistic culture history that has passed as common table fare in much popular archaeological prose’ (to quote my
I picked up Ben Pastor’s The Road to Ithaca (Bitter Lemon Press, 2015) idly thinking it was about Ithaca (because I have a fondness for the Ionian Islands). It’s not! It’s set on Crete in early June 1941 immediately after German parachutists captured the island. More to the point, much of the story pivots around archaeologists – British, German, Italian and Swiss. It is much more than a gripping thriller. Crete and its Minoan archaeology are the persuasive context of an inter
Ignoring the light, drifting snow, I climbed up to the Mittelberg fortress at 1,575m. that commands the Sesto/Sexten valley and looks westwards to the sheer peaks of the Tre Cime. Deep snow and swirling mist in the Dolomites this March brings back memories of the grim winter war between 1915-18 when Italy attempted to annexe the South Tyrol. The Mittelberg fort belongs to a time before the arms race took off. It was designed in 1884 as part of the Sexten barrier, just inside
Formulaic greetings launched the opening of this evocative, opulent exhibition in the British Museum about the painters, Ghika and John Craxton, and their great friend, the travel writer, Patrick Leigh Fermour. Their lifelong Grecian friendship was recalled and honoured. Theirs, as the title of the exhibition affirms, was a charmed life. Then came the unexpected celebration: a third speaker, a national treasure in the words of an old ambassador standing beside me. For seven o
Decline and fall, renaissances, wars, conflict pass over Italy like fleeting clouds because its global brand is a country of peerless places. It was always thus. When the 18th-century Wiltshire banker, Richard Colt Hoare lost his young wife, he sought redemption in Italy, visiting its ruins and places as diverse as the Tuscan isle of Elba and Isernia in Molise. Once back in southern England he attempted to re-create the spirit of this journey in the coombe close to his auster
Today Italy votes. As the country faces increasing impoverishment and profound uncertainty about the future, the choices hardly give me confidence. None of the candidates has the international experience needed to drive this country forwards. As an Italian ambassador said to me recently, “Italy is a Ferrari driven by a 12-year old”. Let’s hope he and I are proved wrong. Voting in Italy The sad decline made me think of a thought-provoking archaeological treat I had this week.