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Luke: Stonehenge and Bath

March 9, 2011

Stonehenge_416I ventured out west once again last month and arrived at Salisbury Plain to see Stonehenge, a World Heritage Site. The monument seems to have been constructed in several phases over about a thousand years. The oldest part is not much more than a circular ditch and is 5000 years old. The large stones inside this original ditch that make Stonehenge famous were originally arranged in such a way that you could tell what month of the year it was by observing which archway the sunlight from the sunrise passed through. Summer solstice is the most popular day for visiting Stonehenge. A few stones have been repositioned to their original places since excavation began 150 years ago. The stone came from Wales, so how on earth did it get all the way to Salisbury Plain? Well, it was probably floated up the River Avon, but they still had to be moved on land the rest of the way. The best clue we have to how Stonehenge was actually erected comes from the fact that a good portion of each stone is underground, much like teeth fitting into gums. Why is Stonehenge a ruin today? Giant stones like this shouldn’t just fall over by themselves. I think the answer that makes the most sense is that the Romans vandalised it 2000 years ago to spite local religions and to assert their dominance. It may have been used by Druids for religious purposes in Roman times long after it was built, and these Druids stirred up trouble against Rome. I have included concept art of what Stonehenge originally looked like as well as a photo of it from 1877 before reconstruction. The last couple pictures are burial mounds called barrows, as well as the “Heelstone,” which is labelled on the concept drawing. They also put two stones in front of the entrance, so I can proudly say that I have touched a part of Stonehenge.

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Dsc00619Next, I continued on to Bath, where the entire city is a World Heritage Site. It is noted for, among other things, which, don’t worry, will be discussed here, its Georgian architecture. Every single building in the entire city is made from Bath Stone, a local light-brown limestone quarried only a few miles away. You feel as if stepping into a time machine when entering the city. Jane Austen lived here, moving with her family when she was about 25. She, however, hated her time in bath when she considered her brothers off at university while she had to tag along with her family since she was a woman. Her novel Northanger Abbey is set in Bath. Bath is also home to two spots called the Circus and the Crescent, a circular road and half-circle block of high-end residences. Big Hollywood actors own real estate on the Circus or Crescent, so I do mean high-end. Bath is also home to the famous Roman Baths, which are 2000 years old and sit on the city’s natural hot springs. The baths were accidentally rediscovered 200 years ago, and the Roman statues and columns around the main pool are Victorian, not Roman. You can see clearly on the first picture where the original Roman work ends and where the newer Victorian begins. Also at the Roman baths was a Roman temple to the goddess Minerva, who was combined with the existing local goddess Sulis. The artwork on the temple was actually brightly painted, and so was the art that lined the Parthenon, some of which you can see in the British Museum. It all looks uncoloured today, but forensic analysis has discovered pigments. I visited Bath Abbey to end my stay in Bath. It is not called a cathedral because there is no bishop’s seat there. All the churches have priests, but not all have a higher-ranking bishop. Here are my pictures from Bath, and then I’ll move on to discuss my time at the British Museum, which I have so far overlooked on this blog.

Dsc00622 Dsc00635 Dsc00646 Dsc00654 Dsc00655 Dsc00657 The British Museum focuses on ancient artifacts, such as from the Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans. Highlights are the Rosetta Stone, which had Egyptian Hieroglyphics next to the Greek translation, allowing the glyphs to be read and understood for the first time. Some glyphs stand for sounds, and some for symbols. Before the Rosetta Stone, no one could figure out which was which and what they meant. I also saw Assyrian carvings depicting the capture of the city of Lachish, part of the kingdom of Judah under King Hezekiah. This period in history is described vividly in the Bible, and it was exciting to see a parallel account. I also saw lots of Greek and Roman pottery and sculpture, as well as a piece of the Great Sphinx in Egypt (the one with the broken nose). Finally, I saw some of the friezes taken from the Parthenon in Athens. They were originally brightly coloured, and they once lined the Parthenon around the tops of its columns. Dsc00195 Dsc00198
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