Book Preview: Cartography and how it shapes the world. Part Two

The first part of this post covered cartography more generally and my more general books. You can read it here. This post is going to look at three of my more specific books on cartography and what they show us about the story of maps.

In the last post I looked at Theatre of the World, History of the World Map by Map, Visions of the World and The Map Book. In this post, I’m going to examine The Writer’s Map, Metropolis: Mapping the city and The Art of Cartographics, each of which have a different perspective on the world of cartography. I’m going to begin with The Art of Cartographics, because it is the most general and leads on well from the books discussed in the last post.

The Art of Cartographics is a fascinating look at modern mapping and the many different ways that are used to make maps, not just of place and landscape. This isn’t a book that looks at Google Maps (see my previous post of that discussion). This book includes maps of everything from literary London, transport systems in Russia, world maps, a map of the global market for cacao. These are by and large physical maps, created in everything from a concrete wall, pins and stress balls. There’s folded maps, maps that unfold to make shapes, maps shaped from tree branches and maps that come together to make a person’s face. These maps are made from paper, lights, stamps, stone and even honeycomb. The book explores the multiplicity of ways we express our world and our knowledge through cartography. Basically it’s a fascinating book, that is well worth having a copy of.

Sadly though, I can’t write about every map in the book. So I am going to focus on three. One is a world map made entirely of honeycomb, two is a literary map of London and three is the map of the NASA jet propulsion laboratory. Between the three of them they represent a good cross section of the types of maps included in the book. A non geographically accurate (but recognisable) map rendered in a non conventional material, a conventional material map of a concept over-laid geographically, and map that is a useful navigational aid, but also tells a completely seperate story.

I’ll start with the honeycomb map. As you can see above, it is a world map created by honeycomb. It is the work of artist Ren Ri, in a collaboration with bees. It is an artwork in its own right, much like many of the earlier maps, which were created as visual masterpieces as much as they were intended to be useful. This map is very recognisable as a world map, though it is a slightly different perspective to the Mercator projection that most people are familiar with. What I love about it, is how much of a collaboration the work is. Ren Ri created his work by carefully clearing part of the beehive and placing relief maps in. The bees then moved back in and laid their honeycomb over the top. The work of the bees makes the map almost appear topographical, to me it looks incredibly tactile as well.

The second map from Art of Cartographics I want to discuss is the literary London map

This map represents central London with characters from the pages of books that are set there. London is such an old city, with such a strong literary tradition that 250 novels were drawn from to create this map. Each character has been plotted into the approximate area they lived or worked within their fictional world. As well as being a mine of fascinating literary information, this map also succeeds in being roughly geographically accurate. It is a wonderful representation of the many different concepts that can be expressed in map form. It also harks back to older forms of mapping such as the medieval mappa mundi, which aimed to present a view of the world rather than one of geographical accuracy. Like past maps it draws on tradition, in this case literary rather than cartographical.

The third map I wanted to consider, is firmly rooted in the present. You can’t get much more forward looking that the Nasa Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).

This double sided map was given to all employees at the 76th birthday party and is still given to all new employees and interns at orientation. JPL is so large that even employees need GPS to find their way around sometimes, and the buildings are not blessed with sequential numbering. This map is intended not only to be a useful navigation guide, but it also tells the story of JPL and provide several different walking tours depending on what you want to see, and which part of the story you want to discover. So it serves as both a navigational aide and as a depiction of JPL’s narrative, as well as being an art work in its own right. In many ways it is a combination of all the characteristics of the first two maps discussed. Additionally, despite being so modern, it still holds to many traditions of cartography, especially the pictorial depiction of creatures that inhabit the physical space, or mythological space of JPL. There is a real sense of ‘here be dragons’ (a concept used for unknown territory) and in the tradition of peopling maps with fantastical creatures.

These three maps are only a taste of The Art of Cartographics, there’s many truly incredible and fantastical maps in its pages. It illustrates the many fascinating ways maps can be used to express the human experience and gives hope that cartography is not lost in the past.

Continuing with maps in the real world is Metropolis: Mapping the city by Jeremy Black. Black covers a lot of ground chronologically, starting with incredibly early civilisations like the city of Nippur in Mesopotamia. In c.1250BCE it was depicted on a stone tablet when irrigation canals were built. The writing on the map is cuneiform.

What is truly incredible about this map, is how recognisable it is as a map of a city, even though it is only a fragment and is thousands of years old. This is a map that was clearly intended to be useful. Nippur was found on the Euphrates in what is now Iraq and it was a religious centre for most of its existence. Originally it was dedicated to Enlil, by the time it was abandonded in around 800CE it was a Christian city. The map is depicting the Euphrates on the far left, emerging from it up the very top is a canal that continues into the city. You can also see the city walls and a moat. It is truly remarkable how readable the map is even after all this time.

Black continues on through other very early city maps, through medieval maps of major cities like Jerusalem, London and Cathay (most of which tend to be very pictorial), on to grand Renaissance cities, with appropriately grand maps. He then examines, new world maps as the Europeans began to spread out across the world, through the epic imperial maps of the 1700s to the 1800s, the maps of innovation in the 1800s to 1900s, the global maps of 1900s and 2000s and concludes with the future possibilities of mapping cities.

What is clear in Black’s depiction of millennia of city mapping is how much a city’s identity can be caught up in its maps. This is never more true than in some of the, arguably, most powerful cities; the Renaissance city states. An example is the Carta Della Catena, a map of Florence from the 15th century. Unfortunately the image you can see below is a 19th century copy because the original was lost in a Berlin museum in World War II.

What this map illustrates is not only Florence at the height of its powers, but a period of transition in cartography. The map is still pictorial and in a sense representative rather than geographically realistic (that’s the artist in the bottom right) as you would expect from a medieval map. However, there is the real beginnings of realism as we’d understand it in a modern sense. It also illustrates the layout of Florence very recognisably and shows quite clearly just how important the city was.

Black’s book is a really interesting exploration of mapping cities, and much like Art of Cartographics, it is not too Western focussed. It draws on city maps from all over the world. It’s certainly worth reading.

I wanted to finish off my exploration of mapping and the books on mapping that I own, with something a little different. While all the previous books have been very much rooted in real world cartography, The Writer’s Map edited by Huw Lewis-Jones is a look at maps of fictional worlds. Lewis-Jones edits a book of chapters both by writers who have had maps of their worlds created and by those who created the maps. What is most fascinating about this book is how grounded in real world cartographic history these fictional maps are. I received this book for Christmas and spent two days sitting on the deck doing not much else but reading it. It is truly absorbing. I’d love to be able to explore every map discussed with such genuine enthusiasm, but that would defeat the purpose of this post (just buy the book). So I’ll focus on three very different but classic fictional maps. Middle Earth, Hundred Acre Wood and The Marauder’s Map.

Most people these days are probably most familiar with the maps created for the movies, but I wanted to use the map from 1970 by Pauline Baynes. I chose this map because Tolkien gave her detailed instructions, including the colour and size of the different ships and where different creatures should appear. It is also, arguably, the progenitor of fantasy mapping. The maps of Middle Earth are very much steeped in the history of mapping and they are not dis-similar to many of the epic world maps discussed in part one. In The Writer’s Map the Middle Earth chapter is written by Daniel Reeve who was one of the map makers from the films. He drew on Baynes’ original map as well as mapping traditions and created maps that appear in the movies, but also as the background for the publicity materials. Reeves discusses the processes in making the maps, as well as sneaking the outline of Wellington harbour and his home town as the Gulf of Lune into a Fellowship of the Ring map. He also looks a at why we make maps and what they show us. The maps in Lord of the Rings have become the visual mainstays for the immensely complex fantasy world Tolkien created.

On a much less epic scale, but of equal importance, is Winnie The Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood, as drawn by Christopher Robin with help by Ernest Shepard in the 1920s. It was inspired by the real Ashdown Forest and, while simple, perfectly encapsulates Pooh’s world and the world of a child. It gives the world of the book a physical presence. You can see all the important geographical features of the story including: Pooh’s trap for Heffalumps, big stones and rox, Eeyore’s Gloomy Place (which is rather boggy and sad) and of course the directions for the North Pole. The map is in some ways like the city maps I discussed earlier, it depicts the totality of a world, not necessarily with geographical accuracy, but showing what is important to the creator and those it is created for. From the perspective of the Winnie the Pooh stories this map shows its heart. Shepard also did the maps for the Wind in the Willows and along with Hundred Acre Wood, they went on to create a tradition that can be found in many Western children’s books.

The Marauder’s Map from Harry Potter is a tricky one to show, as part of its appeal is the way in which it depicts people moving around Hogwarts, but it is such a crucial part of the books that I couldn’t leave it out. The Writer’s Map also has a fascinating chapter by Miraphora Mina, one of the creators of the Marauder’s Map in the films. She’s one of the creative team who worked on the Potter films and is now working on Fantastic Beasts. Mina knew that the Marauder’s Map had to be special; logical and bewildering at the same time. They made it from scratch, everything hand cut and folded, glued and written. In many senses it was like the early maps, only for a school inhabited by wizards. She made more than twenty maps to be used in the film, and their physicality blurred the line between fantasy and the real. Although these props can’t really show people moving around on them, in creating a map it made a world physical, there in ink and paper. This is true for all fictional maps. They bring their fantastical world into the real. You can trace the Lonely Mountains with a finger, follow the borders of Tortall, understand how the Island of Berk fits with its surrounding geography or see the route taken by the Swallows and Amazons. Fictional cartography gives real world substance to the fantastical, partly because of the long and understood history of cartography.

Maps, whether fictional or real, make a mark on how we see our world. Daniel Reeve sums it up beautifully right at the end of his chapter on Middle Earth. Maps are “inevitable” because “we feel a need to make a mark where we are, where we’ve been and where we imagine ourselves going.”

References:

Honey Map Image: https://www.boredpanda.com/bees-honeycomb-beeswax-sculptures-ri-ren/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic

https://www.pearllam.com/exhibition/ren-ri-yuansu-projects/

Literary London Image: https://literarylondonartprints.co.uk/Literary-Central-London-Map

JPL image: https://www.lukedjohnson.com/nasa

Nippur Map: https://www.bookofjoe.com/2008/04/nippur-babyloni.html

Florence Image: https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/la-veduta-della-catena-florence-and-its-monuments/JAIiVU6eaWEIJQ

https://www.facarospauls.com/apps/florence-art-and-culture/4215/pianta-della-catena

Middle Earth image: https://blogs.loc.gov/loc/files/2016/10/LOTRMapBaynes0000.jpg

Hundred Acre Wood image: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-44306069

Marauder’s Map image: https://harrypotter.fandom.com/wiki/Marauder%27s_Map

Books: The Writer’s Map: An atlas of imaginary lands edited by Huw Lewis-Jones ISBN: 978055519509

Metropolis: Mapping the city by Jeremy Black ISBN:9781844862207

The Art of Cartographics: Designing the modern map ISBN:9781741175615

Book Preview: Cartography and how it shapes the world. Part One.

Maps show a lot about the way we view the world, whether it is a modern map (even Google Maps) or a 14th century mappa mundi. Maps are not always intended to be accurate geographical depictions of landscape, to be used only for navigation. Of course that is the purpose of some maps, but some are symbolic and all maps illuminate (through what they include and what they don’t, how they are made and who commissioned them) the society in which they were created.

This is not going to be a typical post from me, covering a building, person, area or place. This post is going to examine (briefly) maps and what they can show us about the world, beyond geographical features. It is based around several books on cartography that I already owned as well as some new books on maps and mapping that were released at the end of last year, which I was lucky to be given for Christmas. With these additions my collection of books on maps and mapping is large enough to have a section in my library. In this post I’m going to focus on the general cartography books and part 2 will examine the more specific volumes.

So what sorts of books am I talking about? I currently own a variety and I have written about one before when I first started this blog. The Map Book was my first acquisition on cartography and helped to introduce me to the sheer beauty of maps.

You can see my book selection (including The Map Book) below.

Each of these books outlines something slightly different about cartography. Theatre of the World is the most comprehensive from a western perspective, though it is the least visual.

It is written by Thomas Reinerstsen Berg in Norwegian and I read the translated English copy. In fascinating detail it traces the very beginnings of map making (maps carved in stone) through to digital map making and Google Maps.

In this epic journey Reinerstsen Berg takes you through the classical cartography including the work of Aristotle and Plato and Claudius Ptolemy. Around the year 150 CE Ptolemy was working in the Library of Alexandria, drawing on older sources (Roman and Greek) and as many recent observations as he could to create a depiction of the world. He was drawing on sources that have long since been lost – many in the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. His work survived the destruction, mainly through copies, and was rediscovered in the 14th century and helped to shape later ideas about maps and mapping.

Reinerstsen Berg continues through medieval cartography some of which was less focussed on geographical depictions and more on the holy view of the world. An excellent example is the Hereford Mappa Mundi from 1300.

It depicts Jerusalem as the centre of the world, which for medieval christians it was, along with hundreds of towns, figures, animals and mythological sites. It is an illustration of the view of the world, rather than the world itself. It is also really lovely.

Reinerstsen Berg continues through time, highlighting the importance of the first atlas created in 1570 by Abraham Ortelius of Antwerp- it was called Theatre of the World. It was the conclusion of decades of work collecting the best maps he could find from geographers and cartographers across the known world. He redrew the maps himself for consistency and put them together in an atlas declaiming the importance of cartography for history and, in Reinerstsen Berg’s words, “for the first time, those who could afford it were now able to purchase the whole world, bound within a book” (127).

Reinerstsen Berg concludes with digital mapping and Google Maps and Google earth, which for the first time in the history of mapping have the capacity to create maps that show our world down to the tiniest detail. The problem with Google Maps is the same problem that has haunted all cartography; who controls the information included. Google Maps has the 70% market share of digital mapping and it fundamentally shapes how many people physically view the world in which we live. It is a free service, because businesses can pay to have their businesses displayed and it can collect information about users. The monetary nature of mapping and information provision goes right back to the early cartographers, maps are created (usually) at least partly to make money. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is one worth keeping in mind. Reinerstsen Berg’s book is extensive and really interesting. I only had two complaints. The first is that it is extremely Western civilisation focussed. He makes very clear at the start that he is writing about mapping from the point of view of his part of the world; Scandinavia. It does mean that there is lot more about Scandinavia that you would normally find in a general mapping history, which is actually really interesting. So as he is upfront about it, I have less of an issue. My main concern is the images. There are many beautiful and illuminating images of maps, but most are not in the section in which they are discussed, I found this quite dislocating.

Problems aside, Theatre of the World is an eye opening book.

The other two most general books are The Map Book (which I have written about before) and Visions of the World. Both are beautiful books which take an overall and very visual look at maps. The both make a chronological and thematic examination of maps throughout time. They both take a much more worldwide and less euro-centric look than Theatre of the World and they are both much more focussed on the beauty of the maps themselves. They cover everything from Indian mapping to mapping in mosaic in Jordan in 565 CE. The map below was created during the reign of Emperor Justinian.

In 1884 a mosaic map was discovered on the floor of the old church in Madaba. It is somewhat fragmented (the largest surviving portion is 10.5m by 5m) but originally it would have covered the entire width of the nave and depicted the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan river and Syria and parts of Egypt. The fragment you can see above is Jerusalem. The detail is incredible showing trees, fish, towns, animals and even the ferry to Jordan. It illustrates how the christians in Byzantium would have seen the Holy Land as it began to develop.

The Madaba Map is just one of treasures throughout both books. They also cover the detail of maps, looking not just at broad geographic maps, but maps of specific towns and areas. Both books make clear how political map making can be- often depending on who was doing the mapping and who was paying them to map. They are visual delights, with an immense amount of detail.

The final book I’m going to discuss in this post is History of the World by Map. This book is quite different to my other general sources. History of the World covers a general history of world through the rise and fall of civilisations across the world, but while it uses maps to do it, the book creates its own maps to explain the movement of civilisations. In its existence it shows just how useful maps can be and what they can illustrate beyond general geography. History of the World is also very impressive in its scope: covering indigenous Australians, imperial china, Africa, Polynesians, Mansa Musa and much more besides. it provide a fascinating window in which to compare what was happening in the same time in totally different parts of the world, both when they affected each-other and when they didn’t. Western centric histories tend to give the impression that the centre of the world was Europe and not much else was happening anywhere else. History of World gives an easily accessible depiction of how interconnected and vast the world has always been, as well as how much was happening beyond the narrow confines of Europe.

Part 2 will continue the story of cartography and my cartography collection, by considering the remainder of the books which all focus on more specific elements of cartography.

References:

The Map Book: edited by Peter Barber ISBN: 9780297843726

Theatre of the World: The maps that made history. By Thomas Reinertsen Berg ISBN: 9781473688629

Visions of the World: A history of maps by Jeremy Black. ISBN: 1840008342

https://archive.org/details/theatrumorbister00orte/page/n4

https://www.themappamundi.co.uk/index.php

Photos:

The pictures of the books are mine.

The Hereford Mappa Mundi is creative commons licensed.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Hereford_Mappa_Mundi#/media/File:Hereford-Karte.jpg

as is the Madaba Map

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3d/Madaba_Jerusalem_Mosaic.jpg

Hammershus

Hammershus is the largest castle in Northern Europe and stands on a cliff 74 metres above sea level on Bornholm, a small but important island in the Baltic Sea.

Bornholm (you can see it and some of the common landscapes above) is off the coast of Sweden, but belongs to Denmark. It stands on important trade routes and there have been Iron Age, Roman, early Christian and Viking artefacts found on the island. It was a Viking centre, but it remained independent until the 10th century when it was controlled by Sweden. It then went back and forth between a few different powers (including Denmark) over the following centuries. It ultimately came to Denmark permanently in 1660. It’s a popular summer destination for Copenhageners and has significant medieval remains, including some astounding round churches and the topic of today’s post; Hammershus Castle.

While there were other structures on the site before, the Hammershus you see today was finished in the late 13th century and has been a site of domination and strife almost since its beginning. It commands an almost unassailable position, standing on a 74 metre high escarpment facing directly into the sea. The land route is steep and winding, making attack very difficult. The inner castle was also protected by a ring wall and three walled defence areas. Two more towers were added in the 16th century and north and south of the castle two lakes were damned to create even more defences.

Hammershus was most likely built by Jens Grand who was Archbishop of Lund. In the late 13th century there was a power struggle between Danish Royalty and The Church and it was probably as a statement of Church power that Jens Grand built Hammershus. The castle went back and forward between the Church and the nobility, mainly being used to impose authority on the island and its people and protect the control of the trade routes. The castle came into the hands of Hanseatic League- a powerful alliance of market towns- in the early 16th century. They expanded Hammershus, using local forced labor and financing it with high taxes, leading to ultimately unsuccessful rebellion. Hammershus remained an active fortress until the end of the 17th century, when most of the island’s defences were moved to Ronne (the capital). The castle was abandoned in 1743 and the locals were allowed to claim stone from it for their own uses, until Hammershus was put on the National Historic register in 1882.

The castle itself has some really interesting features as well. My favourite is probably the bridge

The bridge spans a 6 metre ravine and is supported by two stone piers. It is one of the best preserved medieval fortified bridges in Denmark, certainly one of the best I’ve seen anywhere. In the 15th century there would have been a wooden drawbridge spanning the final section of the ravine, which would have been guarded from the bridge guard house.

Another interesting feature is the main castle gate. This provided entry into the grounds of the castle. Originally it would have been a square tower, but a rampart wall was added in the 17th century

Just through the main gate is the remains of the storage house. It would have been used to hold the material collected as tax. This wouldn’t usually have been money, it was two stories so that grain and the like could be stored in the upper levels and the underneath could be used for live tribute, like oxen.

The key component of the oldest section of the castle is the Manteltarnet (Martel Tower), what in an English castle would have been known as the keep. When it was built Hammershus would have consisted of this keep and a ring wall. The gate to the entrance of the keep would originally have had a portcullis and the tower would have had three stories. You can see where the floors would have been from the holes in the walls. You can also see what is most likely some of the original ring wall in the photos. The keep was eventually replaced with a private residence for the lord of the castle.

It was also in this keep that Leonora Christina, the daughter of King Christian IV of Denmark, was imprisoned in 1660 with her husband Corfitz Ulfeldt for his collaboration with Sweden. They attempted to escape in the middle of the night by tying bed sheets together, or using a rope depending on what account you believe, and climbing down the tower, Ulfeldt was so unwell that he had to lowered. Unfortunately the escape was short lived as they were recaptured almost immediately. The eventually ransomed themselves by handing over most of their property, but were later changed with treason again. Ulfeldt managed to evade capture but Leonora Christina was captured in Dover when she was seeking help from Charles II. She was held without charge in the Blue Tower of Copenhagen castle for 22 years. While she was imprisoned she wrote her autobiography which was published posthumously.

Escapes aside, Hammershus is very much an amalgam, it was added to extensively in the 16th century, and you can see the marks of the years on the stone, the oldest parts are built of granite and the newer of the smaller style tile bricks.

Hammershus is a fascinating castle with a chequered past. This post was not intended to cover all of its complex history, but to underscore the highlights and give some insight into the largest castle in Northern Europe. It stands as a brutal testament to the extent of church authority in its heyday and the importance of Bornholm as an essential point in the Baltic trade routes. It is certainly worth visiting, as is Bornholm: I hope to cover Bornholm’s other magnificent medieval feature the round churches in a later post.

References:

Site visit 2018

https://www.britannica.com/place/Bornholm

https://bornholm.info/en/hammershus/

https://nordicwomensliterature.net/writers/leonora-christina-ulfeldt/

The photos are all mine.

Reykholt

IMG_0934

Built heritage in Iceland of any serious age is few and far between. Despite it being a very old country.  Reykholt is an unassuming site, but it was the home of Snorri Sturlson arguably one of the most important Icelanders to have ever lived. The real history of Iceland, Iceland’s castle’s and cathedrals so to speak, is the sagas. Snorri was the man who wrote many of them down (among other accomplishments). His home has rightly been preserved.

Snorri was born in 1179, he was an aristocrat in a time before Iceland had a king and before changes to law were written down. Between 1262 and 1264 Iceland handed itself over to Norway following a period of extreme unrest. After this law was codified, but during Snorri’s time- he was killed at Reykholt on the 23rd of September 1241- a law speaker recited all  changes to the laws at the law rock at Þingvellir. This recitation occurred during the meeting of the parliament known as the Alpingi each summer. The law speaker also interpreted the law. The Alpingi was a meeting of all the different chieftains to come to agreements on a wide variety of issues. You can see Þingvellir and an approximation of where the law rock was in the images below.

Þingvellir  itself is absolutely fascinating and I will be writing a post about it at a later date.

But to return to Snorri. He was the law speaker at Þingvellir from 1215-1218 and 1222-1231. He was  an immensely influential chieftain in Iceland, spending time in Norway with King Hakon Hakonson and becoming embroiled in affairs there as well.  He also owned a lot of land in Iceland, collecting the revenues from over 100 farms and holding 11 chieftainships, covering roughly a quarter of Iceland . While he was undoubtedly influential in his own time, what has made Snorri important to the history of Iceland is his role in the sagas. He recorded many of the sagas, not just the mythic ones but the stories of the life of Icelanders. Much of what we know about this period descends from his work. It is arguable whether he wrote them all himself, but if he didn’t they were probably written at Reykholt under his direction. One of the most important is the Edda, which is the source of most knowledge about Norse mythology. Snorri wrote down the pagan tales of Nordic poetry and culture, possibly in part to save them as new types of romantic and ‘courtly’ verse was making their way in from the rest of Europe. While Snorri’s writing may not have been incredibly influential in his own time, there is no doubt that it has come to be the main source for this period and much of what the history of early Iceland is based on.

Snorri certainly didn’t live a pure and noble life. He brought much of his trouble on himself through his machinations and arrogance. He was also power hungry and helped to contribute to the unrest that resulted in Iceland handing itself over to Norway. He definitely made an impact though.

Snorri died in September 1241 when Gissur Thorvaldsson, an old enemy of Snorri’s who had been married to one of Snorri’s daughters, had a letter from the King of Norway instructing Gissur to return Snorri to Norway (Snorri had left against the King’s orders in 1239) or to kill him. Gissur rode with 70 men to Reykholt. Snorri heard them approaching from where he was asleep and ran to the small house where the priest Arnbjorn was staying. He hid in the cellar. The priest gave him up in fear of his life and the men went down into the cellar. Snorri was alone and unarmed, an old man of 62. Simon, one of Gissur’s lieutenants, gave the order to kill and according to a contemporary account Snorri tried to order them to stop, saying “you will not strike” Simon replied “kill him now” Snorri insisted, drawing on all his authority, “you will not strike”.

It didn’t work. Snorri was struck the death blow by Arni beiskur and several other men continued to stab him. It was a sad end for a man who shaped the past and the future of Iceland for better and for worse.  Snorri’s life is much more complicated and interesting than I could possibly summarise here, see my references at the bottom of this piece if you want to learn more. 

You can see his (non contemporary) statue at Reykholt below.

The site of Reykholt itself is a difficult one in some ways. There are no contemporary buildings left, but the modern and 19th century buildings for the most part pay homage well enough to the original purpose. 

There are original features, but  most are archaeological remains, you can see some below.

The most interesting original feature is Snorralung (Snorri’s pool). The Book of Settlements shows that there was definitely a hot water pool being used on or near the site in the 10th century. When Snorri lived at Reykholt the site had become an active farm and church. The Sturlunga Saga, which was written after Snorri’s death by one of his nephews, depicts Snorri sitting in the pool talking with friends. You can see the pool in the photo below.

The pool is fed from the near by Skrifla hot spring via a conduit. It is built of hewn stones of geyserite slabs, the same that paved some of the surrounding medieval buildings. It is 4m in diameter and nearly a metre deep. The surrounds of the pool are not original, nor is the small roofed door you can see just above the pool. The roofed door and the turf around are in place to protect the remains of a passage that connected the original medieval buildings to the pool. It is in no way meant to replicate what the passage would have looked like, or how it would have been used. The pool was one of the earlier archaeological remains listed in Iceland in 1817. 

Reykholt is not a site that has been isolated and preserved as a ruin, there is a hotel and conference center and it has been an active religious site for much of its history.  It has also had a high school built on it and was a working farm into the 20th century, both of which have sadly destroyed some of the archaeology.

There is, however, an excellent cultural center explaining Snorri’s life and a library (which was sadly closed while I was there). In Snorri’s time it would have been a busy medieval farm very much in keeping with others of its type throughout medieval Europe. There has been extensive archaeological excavation at Reykholt. The farm on the current site was established around 1000 CE. The earliest buildings would  have been long houses. There was another slightly later separate structure  which was probably a church, though it has a sunken section which is very unusual for churches in Iceland. These buildings would have been wooden. 

There were a number of new buildings by the medieval period in which Snorri would have been living in Reykholt. There was most likely a dwelling called a stofa, which is a type of Norwegian timber house set on stone foundations. A stofa in Reykholt is mentioned in the Sturlunga Saga, but the specific building that might have been this structure has never been definitively identified.

The saga lists the source of the wood for the dwellings as a harbour in the north of Iceland. As the only other semi reliable source of wood in Iceland was driftwood, and Reykholt held the driftwood rights only on the western peninsula in the time period, the wood must have come from Norway . Driftwood in Iceland was a much sought after commodity as Iceland was largely deforested and because it was impregnated with saltwater so it withstood Iceland’s weather. Siberian trees like pine, fir and larch are brought to Iceland on the Arctic Ocean currents and more exotic woods like mahogany come on the Gulf Stream. When driftwood rights belonged to a particular person they cut their driftwood mark onto it when it was on the beach. This meant that they retained that right even if the driftwood went back out to sea and  was carried around to another beach. You can see some marked driftwood in the photo below.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1405.jpg

But to return to Reykholt. The stofa was described as having a litlastofa attached to it, which might have been the private room for the master. If this was the layout, it was most likely from litlastofa that the passage to Snorri’s pool ran. The total length of the passageway is more than 30 m and the entrance was possibly behind a hidden door. There was also  a spiral staircase leading down to it (very rare in Iceland). It may have been intended as a secret way in and out of the house,  it may have been a status symbol, or it may have just been a way for the owner of the house (possibly Snorri) to access the pool without having to go out in the weather.

There were a number of dwellings at Reykholt, but the other building of most significance was probably the stave church which was built sometime between the 12th and 14th centuries. It would have stood slightly separate from the other buildings on the site. Stave churches are a fascinating and really beautiful construction. You can see the 12th century Urnes Stave Church from Norway in the photo below and read about its history here

Hot steam as well as water was also channeled through to various points on the site, possibly based on a hypocaust system. This sort of sophisticated design, along with the number, size and specific utility of many of the buildings (most individual buildings in Iceland had multiple utilities) indicate the importance of Reykholt and its high status in Icelandic society. This status is born out by other sources like the sagas. 

Reykholt is still very much part of its landscape too. You can see the remains of the original medieval road and the valley has been re-forested in recent decades. Woods are unusual in Iceland so these are important, as well as being a cultural touchstone for Icelanders.  You can see both the road and the woods in the photo below. 

 

Reykholt also sits on top of a knoll with clear site lines in a very fertile valley. The landscape in Iceland is absolutely key. Many of the nearby sites that feature in the sagas can still be visited. This includes the Deildartunga, which was a nearby region the inheritance of which was much disputed. Ultimately this dispute led to Snorri being fostered by Jon Loftsson who shaped the direction of his life. 

You can see the hot spring at Deildartunga in the photos below. 

The hot springs are Europe’s largest with a flow rate of 180 litres per second. The other pertinent nearby feature is Hraunfossar, an incredible waterfall that flows off the Hallmundarhraun lava field. It is named after Hallmun who, according to the Grettis Saga lived in the area. The author of the Grettis Saga is unknown,  but it was written around the same time that Snorri was writing so it was part of the same tradition. You can see the waterfall in the photos below.

These two natural features illustrate just how epic Snorri’s landscape and Iceland in general was and is. It’s easy to see how people came to believe in trolls, giants and meddlesome gods living in this sort of environment. Thankfully  Snorri and his ilk’s determination has preserved these stories. 

References:

Edda by Snorri Sturlson translated by Anthony Faulkes ISBN: 9780460876162

The Buildings of Medieval Reykholt: The wider context edited by Gudrun Sveinbjarnardottir ISBN:9789935231574

Sagaland by Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason ISBN: 9780733338236

Site visit 2018

The photos are all mine

Urnes Stave Church in Norway

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Urnes Stave Church in Norway is probably the most remarkable medieval structure I have ever visited. It is aided in this status by the truly incredible surroundings.

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IMG_2139It is, however, its completeness as a 12th century wooden structure inside and out, and especially the carvings, which make it truly remarkable.

This is the first of what will be a series of posts on the history of Iceland, Denmark and Norway. I’m beginning with Urnes because of its uniqueness and because it is UNESCO World Heritage listed.

Urnes sits on eastern edge of the Luster Fjord. It was built around 1150. There had been churches on the site before, parts of which have been reused in the church you can see today. It is the oldest stave church in Norway and is so distinctive and so influential that its style has come to be known as Urnes Style when it is used in other buildings.

The name stave church comes from the large vertical load bearing posts which form the basis of the structure of the church. Essentially it is composed of a vertical rectangular frame. You can see a cross-section of Borgund stave church below, which gives you the idea of the interior structure necessary for a stave church (Borgund is a lot bigger than Urnes though)

IMG_2089There were once over 1000 stave churches in Norway, but now only 28 remain. Most were built between 1130 and 1350 though a few are later. The black death affected the construction of new buildings after the mid 14th century. The reason they survived, even though they are wooden, is because the wood is coated regularly in pitch to protect it from the weather (this is still done at Urnes). In the case of Urnes it has a stone foundation, which stops it rotting from the ground up. The previous church on the site was a post hole church, the holes have been found in archaeological investigations.

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Stave churches are not all the same, they are built along different lines and with different styles. For example you can see Ringebu Stave Church below

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Urnes is one of the smallest, but it is also the most lavishly decorated.

The carvings are truly incredible. They are an amalgam of Celtic, Viking and early Christian design. Some are extremely reminiscent visually of early illuminated manuscripts like the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells.

IMG_2105IMG_2106The carving above is the side door which is no longer used, but would most likely have originally been the main entrance. You can see a stylised lion in the carvings on the left. These carvings most likely come from the exterior of the earlier church and were reused in the current church. You can see the interior of the door below.

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Other exterior carvings from the earlier church include the post you can see below.

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The main entrance to the church is on the west end and you can see more medieval carving on the capitals and it is thought that the ironwork on the door might be original as well.

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When you look at the photos of the church from the front you will noticed that there is an odd flap open.

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This flap, along with some other panels, are usually closed to protect the delicate carvings beneath. I was lucky enough that when I visited it was open for a conference group and, while it is very weathered, it is still beautiful and thought to be medieval. IMG_2101

The timber the church is constructed of is largely pine with elements of hardwood. The turret on the church is not original, in 1702 it replaced an earlier one from 1680. The roof was also tiled at one point. The current shingles date to the 20th century when the church underwent careful restoration, when much of the protective cladding was also added.

IMG_2141IMG_2143Leaving aside the exterior of the church for the moment, the interior is just as if not more impressive.

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You can see that the floor in the nave is lower than the rest of the church, this was because there was an open space under the floor which was used for burials. It was discontinued in favour of the external cemetery in the 19th century at least partly because of the smell.

The ceiling is 17th century, originally it would have been open like the underside of a boat. The original windows would have been small and porthole like. As you can probably tell the interior has been changed quite a bit over the centuries, but there are still a lot of medieval elements. My favourites are the carved capitals on the columns which then rise up into romanesque wooden arches. These were quite possibly based on contemporary stone churches of the time and are certainly similar to stone churches I have seen in England and Ireland.

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Remarkably some of the medieval fittings have also survived: including the figure of Christ on the Cross with Mary and John which dates to the end of the 12th century

IMG_2113Along with a medieval bishop’s chairIMG_2125

A medieval candelabra

IMG_2126and the chandelier which hangs from the ceiling

IMG_2136The gallery you can see part of above the chandelier, and above the chancel in the earlier photo, was added later and sadly involved cutting some of the original columns and capitals.

The highly decorated altar and pulpit dates to the 1690s, the chancel was extended out in the early 1600s.

IMG_2127IMG_2131The paintings and figures you can see on the walls are also 17th century.

Originally there wouldn’t have been fixed pews, they were introduced after the reformation and the ones in Urnes are 17th century. The boxed pew you can see in the photo below was for women being brought into the church to be cleansed after childbirth.

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Urnes was probably built for the wealthy local Ornes family, but it was also a church used by the locals. It is an amalgam of styles as the needs of the church’s community changed. It is a testimony to the quality of construction that it is still standing today.

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In 1720 it was sold to local priest Christopher Munthe and it remained privately owned until the parish bought it in 1850. By 1881 it wasn’t needed any longer because the parish was reorganised and it was to given to the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments. The parish retained the burial rights in the churchyard and the right to hold services twice a year. This practice continues and Urnes is used by the local community for special occasions. In 1979 UNESCO included Urnes on its World Heritage Register

It met the three main criteria easily with UNESCO saying

Criterion (i): The Urnes Stave Church is an outstanding example of traditional Scandinavian wooden architecture. It brings together traces of Celtic art, Viking traditions and Romanesque spatial structures. The outstanding quality of the carved décor of Urnes is a unique artistic achievement.

Criterion (ii): The stave churches are representative of the highly developed tradition of wooden buildings that extended through the Western European cultural sphere during the Middle Ages. Urnes is one of the oldest of the Norwegian stave churches and an exceptional example of craftsmanship. It also reveals the development from earlier techniques and therefore contributes to the understanding of the development of this specific tradition.

Criterion (iii) : Urnes Stave Church is an ancient  wooden building and is outstanding due to the large-scale reuse of both decorative and constructive elements originating from a stave church built about one century earlier. It is an outstanding example of the use of wood to express the language of Romanesque stone architecture.

Urnes is truly astounding and for such a little church it certainly holds a lot of history.

 

References

Site visit 2018

Urnes Stave Church brochures

Urnes Stave Church Booklet

UNESCO Listing: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/58/

The photos are all mine.

Otway Redwoods

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In the middle of a pine plantation and native Australian forest, in the Otways, in Victoria is a truly remarkable stand of Sequoia sempervirens, known as Coast Redwoods (they’re native to California). The only access is a very muddy road that is little more than a logging track and when you are driving along it, chasing the last of the sun it can seem interminable. The trees, however, are worth it. They are truly majestic and there is a sense of calmness that permeates through to the ground.

The Otways are extensive dense Australian native forestIMG_0153IMG_0198IMG_0243IMG_0252The European settlers deforested much of it, using the fertile soil for farmland. The land however was difficult to access and the forests kept coming back, so much was eventually abandoned. There was also gold mining in the area and when these mines were closed the land was left scarred.

In the late 1800s it was decided that re-forestation for harvesting was the best option. A small patch of the Aire Valley was one of the areas chosen to test a variety of trees to determine which would grow best in the area.

The Forest Act of 1907 mandated a program to try a whole variety of trees, as timber was needed quickly for construction. The majority of the experiments across the state were in pine and native forest, but the small area of the Aire Valley was chosen to trial Coast Redwood. They were known to be a very slow growing, so it was only a small test area, but it stands today as a testament to the epic nature of the redwoods.

 

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These are very big trees.

These trees were planted in 1936 and in 2004, the last time they were officially assesed, the dominant tree height was 59.8 metres with an average diameter of 106.6 cm.

They continue to grow.

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IMG_2600These trees stand amongst the mighty native mountain ash, definitely rivalling them in height.

IMG_2627The redwoods have become part of the local landscape

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While some of the redwoods have been harvested, they never became viable commercial timber on a large scale. The pines just proved to be too fast growing and effective. This isn’t the only stand of experimental redwood in Victoria, but the others don’t survive in any quantity.

Both the Redwood and the next door mountain ash are contenders in the race for the tallest trees in the world. By 2084 it is thought that some of the redwoods will reach 115.5 m and there is currently no plans to harvest them. So barring bushfire or other natural disaster, they will probably have the chance to make this record breaking height.

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This is by no means the whole story of the redwoods, to find that get a copy of the excellent book The Redwoods of the Otway Ranges by Roger Smith. (It is available for loan from the PMI Victorian History Library, or you can buy it from the author). This post is intended as a snapshot, an introduction to a remarkable stand of trees.

References:

Site visit 2018

The Redwoods of the Otway Ranges by Roger Smith

Music in the short video is from Doctor Turtle

The photos are all mine.

On a side note there will be no posts from me in September. I’m away. But expect lots about the history of Scandinavia in the following months.

 

The Magna Carta

To write about the Magna Carta is to tread already very well trodden ground. For a document that had little immediate impact, its mythology has echoed down the centuries.

I am not intending to write anything ground breaking or revelatory about the Magna Carta. This post is going to draw together my experiences with people and sites that hold together the thread of the history of the Magna Carta and explore the outline and background of the document’s story.

My interest in the Magna Carta began in year eleven at high school. As an Australian I didn’t get much of a chance to write about medieval history within the curriculum, but in year eleven we got to chose our own research project and I picked the Magna Carta. It was the first time I got to seriously research the medieval period and I still remember the pride with which I produced my 2000 word report. It only covered the basics, but it was a first step on a path that in many ways has ultimately led to this blog.

I’ve always found the Magna Carta interesting, because despite the reality of its actual contents it has come to be a symbol of Western style democracy. The Magna Carta was sealed (not signed) on June 15th 1215. It didn’t come out of nowhere, it was based on other charters from both England and the continent, but its legacy has been peculiarly enduring. The Rights of Man from the French Revolution are based on it, as is the American Bill of Rights and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. It is held up as a bastion of freedom against tyranny. All of this, I discovered when I began to research as a seventeen year old, has very little basis in the reality of the document.

The Magna Carta contains 63 clauses. Covering everything from fish weirs in the Thames and the Medway, to how heirs should be handled, to how specific people are to be treated. The two clauses that give the Magna Carta its formidable reputation at 39 and 40.

(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

These are proud words, but at the time (like the rest of the Charter) they had little to no effect. Apart from any other reason the Charter was repealed by the Pope by September 1215 and the rebel barons were excommunicated. It wasn’t until the Magna Carta was reissued in 1217 and 1225, under Henry III,  and when it first came into the King’s Statute Books, in the reign of  Edward I in 1297, that it began to have any real impact. Even so you only have to look at the rest of English history (the War of the Roses and  the Tudors for example) to show much effect it had on the power of kings to summarily imprison their subjects.

The Magna Carta was by the Barons for the Barons. It is an excellent reflection of what was concerning the nobility in 1215. It is worth remembering that none of the the clauses are given more importance than any other: fish weirs are just as important as not delaying justice. The Magna Carta was extracted from John under duress in an attempt to shore up their own authority. It was never intended to be catch all for every person and it is important to remember that it is a document born of war.

The conflict between King John and his barons was not one that was singular to John. His brother and father before him had all dealt with rebellious barons. It was under John however that it all came to a head in a perfect storm. A lot, but not all, of which was John’s fault. He took the throne in 1199 and it began badly as there was dispute over whether the throne should have gone to Arthur Duke of Brittany, the son of John’s dead elder brother Geoffrey. This was mainly important on the continent as Arthur was seen as a French puppet by many of the English.

Many of John’s failings in kingship were personal. He was inconsistent and could be very vindictive. Additionally after he lost the majority of the Plantagenet lands on the continent he had time to focus squarely on England, which the barons didn’t appreciate. It also didn’t help that he succeeded in having the whole country placed under interdict because he wouldn’t accept the Pope’s candidate as Archbishop of Canterbury. He was essentially bad at managing people and extremely suspicious. Even taking into account chronicler’s bias most contemporary accounts are reasonably consistent on John’s failings.

This led to revolt and ultimately in the Barons offering Prince Louis of France the English throne.

The role of the king and his lordship over the Barons was the core of the revolt. In 1214 in Bury St Emdunds 25 barons swore on the altar of St Edmund that they would try to force King John to accept the charter of liberties of Henry I, which was the precursor to the Magna Carta. The rough spot and the commemorative plaque can be seen in the photos below.

Bury St Edmondsbury plaque 2bury plaque

Ultimately, with help from the French the barons backed John into a corner. The Magna Carta was agreed to by King John on June 15th 1215 at Runnymede. Runnymede was neutral ground as it is located half way between London (which had gone over to the barons) and John’s castle at Windsor. Also being a water meadow it was a naturally occurring in-between liminal space.

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The photos above are from the water meadows at Runnymede. Finding them was a bit of an ordeal. We got the train to the nearest station expecting there to be signs. This is a mistake I have made too many times before in relation to medieval sites. After getting sent in the wrong direction twice and accidentally dragging my mother through a swamp on her birthday we found the meadows (though we still missed the physical monument to the Magna Carta). I had very wet feet, but it was worth it. Apart from anything else it is a gorgeous example of an English water meadow. There are plaques in the town to some of the barons involved in the Magna Carta. You can see the one to William Marshal below.

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The Charter wasn’t an end though and as an attempt to abate civil war it was less than useful. It took King John’s death in 1216 to mark the beginning of the end of the conflict. He died, probably of dysentery, at Newark after losing his entire baggage train in the Wash (A tidal inlet in Norfolk and somewhere else I got my feet very wet walking to). You can see a copy of John’s effigy below (the original is in Worcester Cathedral) and a photo of the Wash as it looked in 2012, significant land has been reclaimed for farming.

King JohnThe wash2

John’s death did not mean the immediate end of the civil war. His son Henry III took the throne, but he was only nine and the formidable William Marshal was appointed Regent of England.

Henry III effigy

A copy of Henry III’s effigy (the original is in Westminster Abbey

Marshal

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William Marshal’s effigy in the Temple Church in London (arguably)

marshal the youngermarshal the younger closeWilliam Marshal the Younger’s effigy (arguably) in the Temple Church in London.

Marshal is a man I’ve written about a lot before (I wrote my honours thesis on him) and you can find out more about him here. Marshal was an elder statesman by the time he became Regent in 1216. He was probably in his very late 60s. He had stayed loyal to King John at personal cost, and his son William Marshal the Younger had fought on the Barons’ side. It has been argued that this family divide was intentional to make sure there was a Marshal foot in either camp. Regardless, with John dead, barons started coming back into the royal fold, including  eventually John’s half brother William Earl of Salisbury, who had jumped ship in the dying days of John’s reign. Ultimately more than 115 defected back, but it took some longer than others.

william longspeeThe effigy of William Earl of Salisbury in Salisbury Cathedral.

By the time John died Prince Louis was very much in England and not willing to give up his claim to the crown. Ultimately it took the Battle of Lincoln, which was so successful for the royalist forces that it was known at the Fair of Lincoln, winning the Battle of Sandwich (despite Louis’ ships being led by the pirate Eustace the Monk) and Marshal ultimately bribing the Prince to get him to go back to France. By the time Marshal died in May 1219 he left behind a, comparatively, stable England.

But where did all this turmoil leave the Magna Carta? Today there are four surviving copies of the original 1215 Magna Carta. One belongs to Lincoln Cathedral because Hugh of Wells the Bishop of Lincoln was present when the Magna Carta was sealed and made sure a copy was brought back to the cathedral

Lincoln cathedral

This copy is currently held in Lincoln Castle along with the 1217 Charter of the Forest which (in the name of Henry III, but under Marshal’s seal) was separated from the Magna Carta into its own individual document.

Lincoln castle2LincolnLincoln Castle.

Another copy is held at Salisbury Cathedral. It was probably brought by Elias Dereham, a priest of the Archbishop of Canterbury and has remained there ever since.

SalisburySalisbury Cathedral.

The final two copies are housed in the British Museum. One most likely originally came from Canterbury, the other is known as the ‘London Magna Carta’ and exactly how it ended up in London by the 17th century is unknown. Sadly the Canterbury copy is illegible. It did suffer some fire damage in 1731, but most of the damage was done in a failed attempt to restore the Charter in the 1830s. Sadly this copy is the only surviving 1215 copy that still has the original seal of King John attached, though it was severely melted in the 1731 fire.

british libraryBritish Library.

After the reign of Henry III the next key re-issue of the Magna Carta was by Edward I. In 1297 he issued (a revised version) officially into the English statutes. Interestingly enough I have actually seen one of the only surviving 1297 copies in Australia. It is held at Parliament House in Canberra. It is one of only four surviving copies and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. It was bought by Australia’s Chief Librarian for 12 500 pounds in 1951.parliament house canberra

Parliament House Canberra Australia.

Regardless of how little immediate effect the Magna Carta had, it is a document that has come to symbolise the core of Western Democracy. It has become mythology in its own right and its reality has got quite lost in the monumental legacy. A legacy that (right or wrong) Rudyard Kipling summed up best.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
What say the reeds at Runnymede?
The lissom reeds that give and take,
That bend so far, but never break,
They keep the sleepy Thames awake
With tales of John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Oh, hear the reeds at Runnymede:
‘You musn’t sell, delay, deny,
A freeman’s right or liberty.
It wakes the stubborn Englishry,
We saw ’em roused at Runnymede!

When through our ranks the Barons came,
With little thought of praise or blame,
But resolute to play the game,
They lumbered up to Runnymede;
And there they launched in solid line
The first attack on Right Divine,
The curt uncompromising “Sign!’
They settled John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Your rights were won at Runnymede!
No freeman shall be fined or bound,
Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
Except by lawful judgment found
And passed upon him by his peers.
Forget not, after all these years,
The Charter signed at Runnymede.’

And still when mob or Monarch lays
Too rude a hand on English ways,
The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
Across the reeds at Runnymede.
And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
Their warning down from Runnymede!

 

References:

Site visits in 2012, 2015 and 2017.

Magna Carta: Law, liberty, legacy by the British Library ISBN: 9780712357630

Blood Cries Afar: The forgotten invasion of England 1216 by Sean McGlynn ISBN: 9780752488318

https://www.bl.uk/magna-carta/articles/magna-carta-an-introduction

https://www.bl.uk/magna-carta/articles/magna-carta-english-translation

https://www.visitlincoln.com/magnacarta

https://magnacarta800th.com/events/st-edmundsbury/

https://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk/magna-carta

https://www.aph.gov.au/Visit_Parliament/Art/Top_5_Treasures/Magna_Carta

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-05/australia-magna-carta/6072830

http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/kipling.html

The photos are all mine.

Victorian History Quiz: Easy to Evil

This month I decided to do a quiz, as I haven’t done one for a while. I have also updated two old posts with some new photos and a video. The updated Tower Hill Cemeteries post can be found here and the updated Port Fairy and Cape Schanck can be found here

But to return to the quiz.

The rules are simple. There are sixteen questions in four categories: Easy, Medium, Hard, Evil. You will see a question then a photo clue, the answer is underneath the photo. Good luck and keep track of your score so you can see how you do at the end.

Have fun.

Easy

  1. What is the name of the capital of Victoria?

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A. Melbourne

 

2. Where was the best known book by Joan Lindsay set (hint it features a character called Miranda)

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A. Hanging Rock

 

3. What is the name of the main station in Melbourne? (this is very very easy if you look closely at the photo)

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A. Flinders Street Station.

 

4. What is the name of the island best known for its parade of little penguins

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A.Phillip Island

 

 

Medium

5. What was the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne built for?

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A. The 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition

 

 

6. Who was one of the founders of the State Library of Victoria, the the library of the University of Melbourne, the Supreme Court Library and was the judge who condemned Ned Kelly to death.

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A. Sir Redmond Barry

 

7. Where in Melbourne can you find 12000 unknown bodies?

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A.Under Queen Victoria Market.

 

8. What attraction was once known as the sow and piglets?

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A. The Twelve Apostles.

 

 

 

Hard

9. When was the State Library of Victoria established?

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A.1854

 

10. What and where is the photo below?

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A. The ceiling of the ANZ gothic bank in Collins Street Melbourne

 

11. What is the structure below called and what was it used for?

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A. Coop’s Shot tower and creating lead shot.

 

 

12. When was the Shrine opened?

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A. 1934

 

 

Evil

13. What decade was the Scenic Railway at Luna Park opened and which company designed it?

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A. 1910s (1912) and it is designed by L A Thompson Scenic Railway Company of New York.

 

 

 

14. What is the name of the mansion built in what is now Somers for Frederick Grimwade in 1895?

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A. Coolart

 

 

15. Who is the cairn on Arthur’s Seat dedicated to and why?

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A. Matthew Flinders because he stood on the mount in 1802

 

16. Who designed the Forum Theatre

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A. John Eberson and Bohringer, Taylor & Johnson

 

So that is the end. How did you do?

1-4: Well you’ve got some basics down pat. Good start.

5-8: You know more than basics, well on your way.

9-12: Good work, beginning to build a wealth of obscure facts.

13-15: Incredible effort. You may know more about Victoria than is sensible 🙂

16: Are you sure you didn’t write the quiz?

 

The photos are all mine

 

Wurundjeri Earth Rings

The history of Indigenous Australians is a vitally important part of the history of Victoria and Australia. It is something that nowhere near enough Australians, and I include myself in this, know enough about. It is a truly ancient history dating back roughly 70 000 years, making Indigenous Australians pretty much the oldest continuing culture in the world. There are Indigenous sites across Australia, many of which are thousands of years old, and if these were in Europe they’d be celebrated and visited by millions, even in places where there isn’t a lot to actually see. In Australia, however, they can be very hard to find. I’ve lived in and around Melbourne my whole life and I work in the heritage field, but I’d never even heard of the earth rings just out of Sunbury until they were part of a National Trust Heritage Festival tour this year. I jumped at the chance to visit and find out more.

I’d like to pause here to say that I am aware that as a non Indigenous person writing Indigenous history can be problematic. This post is intended to encapsulate the possible history of the site as was explained by a Wurundjeri Elder on the tour, and I claim no more than that. The rings are just so fascinating that I want to make sure people know about them and to help ensure that Indigenous history is a part of the history of Victoria.

I’d also like to say that the rings don’t show up amazingly well in photos, but I’m hoping the pictures will at least give you an idea of what I’m talking about. You can certainly see them when you’re on the site.

The rings are earthwork formations and can be found just out of Sunbury, which is an hour or so outside of Melbourne. The landscape has been farmed since 1842, but is slowly being reclaimed, and is surrounded by the curve of Jackson’s Creek. The land is being looked after by the Wurundjeri Tribe Council, using a mix of traditional and modern methods. You can see some general photos of the land and wildlife below.

IMG_0763IMG_0762IMG_0768IMG_0767The current site is 13 hectares, but it might be expanding as negotiations are currently in train to give the land council more land as part of another development.

Some of the land was owned by Salesian College, which you can see in the distance below.

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The Wurundjeri Tribe Council has begun revegetating the land, planting roughly 3000 trees and other plants. They have also cleared an extraordinary amount of weeds, including a lot of box thorn. They are using burning to help rejuvenate the land to bring back the native grasses and plants. Currently pasture grasses dominate the site, as you can see above. The smoke helps to stimulate seeds beneath the ground and regular small burns make it easier for native bushes and grasses to come back as the pasture grasses don’t regrow as easily if they are burnt regularly. You can see what I believe is an everlasting daisy which has come up below.

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While there would have been some trees originally, like the ones below, this area would have been a significant grassland.

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The Wurundjeri Tribe Council land managers have also been trying to build up the quality of the soil by raking together the leaves etc and letting them catch silt after rain before planting.

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So, that is the overall site, but what about the rings themselves. Development actually plays a key part in the history of the rings. No one knew the rings were there until a development went up on the edge of the reserve in the 1970s and they were re-discovered.

They are definitely man made and probably date to at least a thousand years, but in the invasion of western settlers in the 1800s the local Indigenous population was so decimated that the oral history of the rings was lost. They were dug out by hand with digging sticks, with nothing brought in from outside

On the site that I visited there are three rings, though there are others in the area. Unfortunately no one knows exactly what the rings were used for, only one has been archaeologically investigated. The Wurundjeri don’t want these sacred sites dug up, even for archaeology. Rings in NSW are thought to have been burial places, but there is no evidence of this for the Sunbury rings.

The first of the rings is in the worst condition. It has been too open to the public interference, especially from motorbikes. There is also a bad rabbit problem and a recent lack of rain has caused problems as well (this extends to the whole site)

The first ring was the one that was rediscovered in the 1970s with the nearby development. Once this one was re-found it was realised what the other two just over the hill were as well. You can see the ring in the photo below.

 

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IMG_0754It has been fenced off now, but even this doesn’t always work as you can see from the drain in the photo below.

IMG_0758The ring was dug out from the middle and the earth was piled up around.

The second and third rings are in better condition and it was the second one that was excavated in the 1970s. When the ring was excavated it had a pile of stones in the middle, it was thought that there might be burials underneath. There wasn’t, and it is thought that the stones were removed when the ring was dug (there is a lot of rock in the local soil) and piled in the middle. You can see the remains of the stones in the photos below.IMG_0773

IMG_0775The third ring is a little father up the hill and is actually a double ring. There is a larger ring with a smaller ring inside it.

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While it is not, currently, possible to know exactly what the rings were used for it is hoped that it will be in the future. New information is being discovered in diaries and old documentation all the time as for the first time researchers (especially Indigenous ones) really begin to look. The current theory is that the rings might have been used for marriage. You can’t see the first ring from the second and visa-versa and the idea is that the men would have got prepared in one and the women in the other and they would have joined each other in the double ring and actually married there. There is a flat section on the double ring where someone could have officiated from.

IMG_0782While at the moment this is only a theory, it is one that seems to make sense. Hopefully more answers will be discovered.

I am not in the least superstitious, but the rings do have a certain atmosphere. The atmosphere is of a place that has been used for a purpose for a very very long time, a land that has been shaped by human hands for time out of mind. It reminded me a little of the Hill of Tara in Ireland, a site that dates back thousands of years (which is perfectly possible for the rings).  This site and others like it should be part of the education of every Victorian child the way Eureka and the gold rush is. Places like the Wurundjeri rings and Indigenous history  in general needs to become an integral part of the overt history of Victoria rather than the background or subvert history. Indigenous history needs to become part of the historical consciousness of Australia, as important (if not more important) than the First Fleet and the ANZAC legends. It should be celebrated that we have this incredible history stretching back for thousands and thousands of years, and if doing this means coming to terms with and acknowledging how close European invasion came to destroying it all (much of the time quite intentionally) then so much the better.

 

References: Site visit 2018.

https://www.wurundjeri.com.au/services/natural-resource-management/

The photos are all mine.