I saw the beautiful Standard of Ur, seen above, when we visited the British Museum last summer. It is about 4,500 years old and was probably constructed in the form of a hollow wooden box with scenes of war and peace represented on each side through elaborately inlaid mosaics of Lapis Lazuli and shell. The standard of Ur shows the first unambiguous depictions of chariots in war. There has been some debate on whether a Sumerian chariot was actually used in combat. Many scholars believe that it was merely a “battle taxi”, used to convey a commander to a strategic part of the battlefield where he could lead his troops, in the same way that a modern general uses a jeep or helicopter to reach the front lines. Some scholars also believe the chariots were used to carry noblemen to the battle, where they would dismount and then fight on foot. The Standard of Ur along with the Vulture stele are the first depictions of war in history. The Standard of Ur dispels any question that chariots were used directly in combat. They were likely heavy and slow to start but undoubtedly were truly intimidating in combat, with an ability to scatter the enemy lines.
I recently visited the British Museum and found some beautiful pieces and the history accompanying them that I found very interesting. I am also providing a bit of background regarding the location of the tomb in which these artifacts were discovered. Pu-abi (Akkadian: “Word of my father”), also called Shubad due to a misinterpretation by Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, was an important person in the Sumerian city of Ur, during the First Dynasty of Ur (ca. 2600 BCE). Commonly labeled as a “queen”, her status is somewhat in dispute. Several cylinder seals in her tomb identify her by the title “nin” or “eresh”, a Sumerian word which can denote a queen or a priestess. The fact that Pu-abi, herself a Semitic Akkadian, was an important figure among Sumerians, indicates a high degree of cultural exchange and influence between the ancient Sumerians and their Semitic neighbors.
After dinner at Oxo tower we decided to walk along the South Bank up to Big Ben and the Parliment building. The idea of a public park/pedestrian area grew out of Patrick Abercrombie's 1943-4 County of London Plan which proposed that much of the land along the river should be converted from industry to Public Buildings, Business and Public Open Space. The 1951 Festival of Britain led to the first section of the walk, running east from Westminster Bridge. A more extensive walkway was conceived as part of the 1977 Jubliee Walkway, to mark the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977. The walk was completed with the opening of London Bridge City in 1990. In 1996, the Queen's Walk became part of the Thames Path national trail through London. With the opening of the London Eye and the Millennium Bridge (connecting Tate Modern to St Paul's Cathedral) the volume of pedestrian traffic on the Queen's Walk increased dramatically.
It was a cloudy day in London, but we decided to visit the Tower of London since we had never visited. When William the Conquerer invaded England he built a fortress in the middle of London. It is not clear exactly when work started on the Conqueror’s White Tower or precisely when it was finished but the first phase of building work was certainly underway in the 1070s. By 1100 the White Tower was complete. Nothing quite like it had ever been seen in England before. The building was immense, at 36m x 32.5m (118 x 106ft) across, and on the south side where the ground is lowest, 27.5m (90ft) tall; the Tower dominated the skyline for miles around. A series of separate building campaigns ensured that by about 1350, the Tower was transformed into the formidable fortress we see today. These building works started in the reign of Richard the Lionheart (1189-99), John (1199-1216) who often stayed at the Tower and was probably the first king to keep lions and other exotic animals there. John’s son Henry III (1216-72) and his son King Edward I (1272-1307) added a massive curtain wall on the north, east and western sides, reinforced by nine new towers and surrounded by a moat flooded by the Flemish engineer John Le Fossur (the ditch-digger) to which was added a second wall by King Edward I. The tradition of whitewashing the White Tower (from which it derives its name) began in 1240.
We were in London to go to see the Wallace collection and decided to go to dinner at Oxo Tower. The building was originally constructed as a power station for the Post Office, built towards the end of the 19th century. It was subsequently acquired by the Liebig Extract of Meat Company, manufacturers of Oxo beef stock cubes, for conversion into a cold store. Coin Street Community Builders (CSCB) is a social enterprise and development trust which seeks to make London's South Bank a better place in which to live, to work and to visit. Since 1984 CSCB has transformed a largely derelict 13 acre site into a thriving mixed use neighborhood. They did the renovation for Oxo Tower with Liftschutz Davidson to include housing, a restaurant, shops and exhibition space. This is the restaurant that the scene was shot in “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”. The biggest differences between the brasserie at the western end and the restaurant at the other (separated by a chic, sleek cocktail bar) are in noise levels, seat-softness and spaciousness.
Sekhmet, the Lion-Headed Goddess of War
He was the sort of man
who wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Many flies are now alive
while he is not.
He was not my patron.
He preferred full granaries, I battle.
My roar meant slaughter.
Yet here we are together
in the same museum.
That’s not what I see, though, the fitful
crowds of staring children
learning the lesson of multi-
cultural obliteration, sic transit
and so on.
I see the temple where I was born
or built, where I held power.
I see the desert beyond,
where the hot conical tombs, that look
from a distance, frankly, like dunces’ hats,
hide my jokes: the dried-out flesh
and bones, the wooden boats
in which the dead sail endlessly
in no direction.
What did you expect from gods
with animal heads?
Though come to think of it
the ones made later, who were fully human
were not such good news either.
Favour me and give me riches,
destroy my enemies.
That seems to be the gist.
Oh yes: And save me from death.
In return we’re given blood
and bread, flowers and prayer,
and lip service.
Maybe there’s something in all of this
I missed. But if it’s selfless
love you’re looking for,
you’ve got the wrong goddess.
I just sit where I’m put, composed
of stone and wishful thinking:
that the deity who kills for pleasure
will also heal,
that in the midst of your nightmare,
the final one, a kind lion
will come with bandages in her mouth
and the soft body of a woman,
and lick you clean of fever,
and pick your soul up gently by the nape of the neck
and caress you into darkness and paradise.
The Rosetta Stone is a very famous historical artifact, almost everyone has heard of it and most people know it has something to do with language. It is a black basalt slab that provided scholars with their first key to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. Prior to this point Egyptian hieroglyphics were considered to be a pictorial form of writing without a real grammar and the Egyptians were considered by the English to be a backward people. Using the Rosetta Stone as a dictionary, scholars were able to translate other inscriptions and manuscripts written in hieroglyphics opening up three thousand years of remarkable Egyptian history. The stone was discovered in 1799 near el-Rashid, known as Rosetta in Egypt, by a French engineer of Napoleon's army, Captain François-Xavier Bouchard, built into the wall of an ancient Arab fort (Fort St Julien) which he'd been assigned to tear down.
This cuneiform map of the Babylonian world is an archeological treasure on a par with the Rosetta Stone and the code of Hammurabi. The Babylonian World Map, also known as Imago Mundi is usually dated to the 6th century BCE and is the one of the oldest known world maps and certainly the most famous. We saw this when we were at the British Museum for the Olympics and I thought I would do some posts on famous ancient maps. An inscription on the Babylonian World Map indicates that it was a copy of a previous map and the locations featured on the map indicate that the original could not have been created earlier than the 9th century BCE. The back of the tablet is covered with cuneiform mainly describing Seven Islands or regions which are depicted in the form of equal triangles rising beyond the circle of the Earthly Ocean.
A 500-year-old jousting grounds that is now home to the Queen’s household cavalry, Horse Guards Parade was established by Henry VIII and traveled by Charles I on his final night in 1649, a half-century after William Shakespeare wrote, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” On the clock tower that stands well behind the sand, a black spot at 2 o’clock marks the time that Charles I was fatally dethroned.
We took the “Chunnel” from Paris to London this morning, about a 2 1/2 hour trip. It's still amazing to me that they built a tunnel under the English channel. We were greeted by the Olympic rings and some very nice ladies in the Pancras station that explained how to use the subway to pick up our tickets. On leaving the station for some fresh air, we were immediately struck by how different London looks compared to Paris. Almost all the buildings are brick, including the train station. Lots of two decker buses and security with guns. There are banners and billboards everywhere heralding the arrival of the Olympics.