Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


24.9.08
  Distant Views

Of course, I used the high vantage points on the mountain peaks of the Harzburg and the Ilsestein to take some photos, and despite the somewhat hazy atmosphere of early autumn, a number of them turned out fine.


View from the Harzburg towards the Brocken - the mist-veiled mountain in the background - in the morning sun. The Brocken (1142 m) is the highest mountain in the Harz and the central meeting place of German witches on Walpurgis Night. The place is a bit too touristy for my taste so I haven't been to the top yet. During the time of the German division the Brocken was Russian military zone and not accessible from either West or East.


Another view from the Harzburg. Fall has arrived in the Harz already, with crisp mornings, mists rising from the vales, the first brown leaves dancing in the breeze, and a lower sun tinting the trees golden like a last greeting of summer. A farewell.


On the other side of the Harzburg, the view goes towards the Norddeutsche Tiefebne, a mostly flat area that stretches all the way from the Harz to the Baltic Sea. In the distance, though beyond view, lies Braunschweig, the main seat of Heinrich the Lion; and further to the north-east Magdeburg and Berlin. The town at the foot of the mountain is Bad Harzburg, a popular spa town.


This one is less spectacular but pretty. The stones to the right are not a natural formation this time, but the remains of a curtain wall. The photo was taken at Stapelburg Castle, one of the smaller fortresses in the Harz. I got a few pics of what is left of the main hall and the trenches, so I'll leave a more detailed description to another post.


Another view from the Paternoster cliffs on the Ilsestein mountain. The blueish shadow to the left is the Brocken again - you can't miss that big boy from most of the Harz's high vantage points. The entire area is a National Park today.
 


21.9.08
  Some Castles, Lots of Landscape, and a Church or Two

Not a bad booty for two days. Actually, it's indeed two Romanesque churches, and two and a half castles (there has been one on the Ilsestein cliff but almost nothing is left).

Let's begin with the Harzburg, already mentioned a few times on this blog. At the zenith of its power Harzburg Castle could have competed with the Norman castles in size despite being a typical German hilltop castle, but not much has been preserved besides part of the curtain walls, the well house and a few foundations and trenches. One tower and the bridge have been reconstructed.

Harzburg, part of the outer curtain wall

The well house has been repaired and a roof added to protect the structure. If King Heinrich IV indeed fled that way as legend has it, he must have been very courageous or very desperate, or maybe both. It doesn't look like a way I'd like to take - it goes down pretty deep and it's dark and wet. More Harzburg photos can be found here.

Harzburg, the well house

This tour involved even more wandring than the one in July albeit in cooler weather, and my feet hurt a bit tonight. The better hiking trails in the National Park Harz are either needle covered wood ground with roots and boulders strewn in, or pebbles. The bad parts look like this. (The handholds are necessary because a misstep would send you down a 150 metres shortcut to the valley.)

Path at the Ilsestein

But the views are worth it, once you managed to get up there from the valley. Well, it's good for the blood circulation and burns some of that rich dinner from the day before. Harz hiking tours are not for whimps, though I think a bunch of doughty dwarves with Old Norse names and the odd Ranger would do fine, especially since the Harz is rich in mines as well.

View from Paternoster cliffs near the Ilsestein

Where there are mountains and granite cliffs, there are also lush green valleys with trees and swift running brooks. Not that the paths along the rivers are any easier to walk, though, sometimes they get very close to the water, with a granite wall on the other side and only some 50 cm to stick to. I love me my trusty walking stick.

Ilse river

But it was fun, and two Benedictine monastery churches added a whiff of culture. I've visited both the churches in Drübeck and Ilsenburg shortly after the reunion, and I was glad to see the churches have been renovated and some of the outhouses restored. There is still a lot of repair to be done, though, forty years of neglect left a helluva work behind.

Drübeck monastery church (Klosterkirche)

I did not see any dwarves, alas, nor the Princess Ilse or the Raubritter clan (knights prone to highway robbery) from the Ilsestein. I'm glad though I didn't meet Heinrich IV; I'm sure he was in a very bad mood after the Saxons kicked him out of the Harzburg. What I did see was the Saxon god Krodo and a demon plot squirrel.

My father said he'd seen a witch - the Harz with the Brocken is witch country, after all - but I love him nevertheless. *grin*
 


18.9.08
  Goslar

Goslar in the northern Harz is another foundation of Heinrich I, and like Quedlinburg, it's part of the UNESCO World Heritage. I think Heinrich would like that if he came back today. I bet he'd also visit the idiots responsible for deconstructing most of the cathedral in the 19th century; and they would not like that. Those Heinrichs and Ottos had quite some temper.

Imperial Palatine Castle (Kaiserpfalz)

Fortunately, the attitude towards the past changed before someone could destroy the Imperial Palatine Castle as well. The 11th century building is the largest and best conserved saecular piece of architecture of the time in Germany. The palatine castle in Goslar was the most important one of the Salian dynasty, and Goslar the place of several meetings of the nobles of the realm, the so called Reichtstag. Heinrich IV granted the town status of a royal fief (Reichsunmittelbarkeit) which means the town answered directly to him with no interference from anyone else in the feudal hierarchy. That was going to be the reason for a lot of trouble between Friedrich Barbarossa and Duke Henrich the Lion who both wanted the town and the silver. Friedrich won, and Goslar remained a royal fief.

Town Hall

The burghers benefitted from the rich silver mines in the Rammelsberg mountain, and the town thrived. We got another fine example of a Medieaval (late Gothic, to be exact) town hall, more half timbered buildings and also ones covered with slate tiles to prevent the rain from soaking the walls, a typical Harz feature - slate is found there. Goslar joined the Hansa League, and only as late as the 16th century lost its independence and fell to the House of Welfen, successors of Heinrich the Lion.

Mediaeval Goslar in a tin figure panorama (Tin Figure Museum)
Several of the houses still exist today

An interesting building is the 12th century hospice Grosses Heiliges Kreuz. It offered shelter to the infirm, the poor and orphans, but was also frequented by pilgrims who would find a meal and a bed there. Part of it is still in use as Old Peoples' Home, and one row of the small rooms established in 1650 is occupied by shops for craftsmen today - you can buy handmade wooden toys, glassware, dolls, and lots of other not very useful but pretty things.

12th century hospice, outside view

Two brooks running through Goslar powered a number of mills in former times. One has been preserved and today houses the Tin Figure Museum which displays a collection of historical tin figures and a number of scenes 'reenacted' in tin, like battles and other historical events, but also a Mediaeval market and other more peaceful endeavours. The owner is really enthusistic about his hobby and showed me some particularly fine examples outside the glass vitrines.

Thumb screws in the Late Medieaval Museum

Another interesting little museum hides in the Zwinger, the largest surviving tower of the town fortifications. It's a collection of late Mediaeval stuff, mostly weapons and torture instruments and you can actually touch the exhibits. It was a lot of fun.

On another note: I'll be off for 2-3 days hunting for more interesting photos of the Harz. Among the places on my list is the Harzburg that played such an important role in the life of Heinrich IV. At some point he was besieged by a bunch of Saxon nobles and escaped through the castle well and a secret vault. Sounds like plotbunny material.
 


17.9.08
  Quedlinburg

Quedlinburg, part of the World Heritage, is a town at the eastern fringe of the Harz mountains. It is first mentioned as location - villa quae dicitur Quitilingaburg - of one of the many palatine castles spread across Germany, in a charte by Heinrich I (the Fowler), dating from 922.

I'm going to call the German kings Heinrich to distinguish them from the Henrys running around in British history since both got the same numbers. Most of them got pretty dysfunctional families and as well. Some things never change. ;)

View from the balcony of the Canoness Palace on the Schlossberg

Heinrich I was later entombed in Quedlinburg. His widow Queen Mathilde obtained a grant from his son and successor Otto I to establish a canoness chapter which she led for 30 years. Otto I visited Quedlinburg several times to celebrate Easter. In 941, he barely escaped an assassination attempt by his younger brother Heinrich. See what I mean about dysfunctional families?

View towards the Canoness Palace on the Schlossberg

The next one to have problems was Otto III. When his father, conveniently also named Otto and numbered II, died in 983, Otto III (sometimes called The Child because those numbers get boring) was only three years old. His uncle Heinrich The Quarrelsome (how's that for a nickname?) wanted to be king himself and kidnapped the boy. He really should have known better because by that he pissed off two powerful women, Otto's mother Theophanou, a Byzantine princess, and his grandmother Adelheid. The ladies rallied a number of great nobles who had quarrels with Heinrich the Quarrelsome and who maybe also were loyal to the House of the Ottones, and within two years managed to force Heinrich to swear fealty to Otto (Still the Child) in Quedlinburg.

Romanesque Chapter Church, view to the Imperial Lodge

In 994, Otto III granted his aunt's Chapter the right of market, mint and tolls and laid the foundation for the development of the town. The town experienced an economical rise in the following centuries and gained more independence from the Abbess of the Chapter, the nominal lord (or lady) of the town. In 1426, Quedlinburg joined the Hansa League.

The first time I learned about the chapter in Quedlinburg was in a YA book about Dorothea Christiane von Erxleben (1715 - 1762), the first woman to study medicine in Germany. The abbess at that time was her friend and patron, and the Renaissance palace where she lived looked pretty much like we can still see today.

The town hall

During that time, the burghers began to build those beautiful half timbered houses some of which have survived and been restored. The town fortifications fared less well, not all of the walls and towers are left. Walking through Quedlinburg shows its past as East-German town, besides a good number of renovated buildings there are still some corners in dire need of a makeover. As usual, money is the main problem.

The representative stone town hall was built in 1310; in 1616 a Renaissance portal was added, and there are later changes from the 19th century that affect mostly the interior.

Market place

The Quedlinburg Annals list 69 visits of kings and emperors from the 10th to 12th century when Quedlinburg was the palatine seat of the German kings during Easter. Another example of a dysfunctional family happened during the Synod of Quedlinburg 1105 where Heinrich V plotted with a bunch of Saxon nobles to dethrone his daddy Heinrich IV of Canossa fame (and on top of the Most Unpopular Persons lists in Saxony). Heinrich V made a lot of promises he was not going to keep the moment he became king and emperor. Serves the nobles right to be so naive.

A little story of the local history involves the Counts of Regenstein. There was a quarrel between one of them and the Bishop of Halberstadt about some territorial rights, and Quedlinburg gained brownie points - and a fine ransom - when it managed to take the Count of Regenstein captive.

A lane at the foot of the Schlossberg

Nothing is left of the palatine castle today, and the beautiful Romanesque chapter church had a scaffolding on the outside, so I only got some inside shots. Illegally, because there was a Photographing Verboten sign. I understand the charge of an extra fee for photographing, being asked to not use a flash, and not disturb church services, but I don't accept a ban just because people think they can. There were but five tourists inside, and I didn't use a flash, so I took Heinrich the Quarrelsome as example and shot a few pics when the guard woman didn't look. I had a much better experience in the palatine castle in Goslar; when I asked the supervision lady if I could take two or three shots to share with my American blog readers, she allowed it.
 


13.9.08
  New Finds in Hedemünden

In 2007, two additional camps have been discovered on the other side of the Werra (Visurgis) river. Those outposts were in sight distance of the main fort and connected to it by a system of Roman roads. Diggings will go on; among the finds already brought to light is a beautiful 29 cm long pugio and lots of sandal nails. The new discoveries prove a "considerable Roman presence at Hedemünden," says leading archaeologist Dr. Klaus Grote.

View over the Werra valley and hills from Hedemünden Fort

Another interesting find has been made in 2008: Another dagger and a fetter to secure prisoners, constructed to fix head and hands in the style of a Medieaval fiddle. It's a two part structure made of rounded iron; neck and wrists were put into the rings and then the fetter was closed with a bolt and secured with a padlock. The fetter is complete except for the padlock.

Chief archaeologist Klaus Grote with restored dagger and fetter
Photo copyright: Göttinger Tageblatt

If you take a close look you can see the rings are actually shaped like a snake winding around the bolt. You gotta love people who gave even shackles a stylish design.

No similar fetter has been found so far, albeit it is known that the Mediaeval fiddle type shackles are based on older models. But excavated Roman models so far are either irons rings with chains to be used on neck or ankle, and manacles. The Hedemünden fetter is the super-find of the year, lead archaeologist Klaus Grote said. It has come to light in one of the smaller camps surrounding Hedemünden fortress, near Oberode.

To the left: Another photo of Mr. Grote presenting the newest finds. Copyright: HNA online.

The fetter was found together with other pieces from Roman times in the same archaeological strata 35 cm under the surface. Besides parts of a horse harness, a tent peg and shards of an amphora, there were some coins dating 16-8 BC, a sure proof that the fetter is indeed Roman.

Fetter and dagger have been cleaned and restored by Helmut Biebler in Mühlhausen.

The legionary dagger or pugio has been found in the main camp. It was deposed under two large sandstone blocks surrounded by a ring of upright stones, a sign that it had not been lost but was placed there on purpose as building sacrifice. The stones sit on the place of a former timber building.

One of the stone foundations in the main camp

Legionary daggers are not only a weapon but also something of a status symbol a soldier would take care not to lose - the reason why they're a lot more scarce than fe. spear points; another argument in favour of a ritual placement of the dagger. Though I'd like to know what sort of ceremony would entice a legionary to give up his dagger.

The two pugio finds at Hedemünden are the only ones in Lower Saxony. The weapon, Mr. Grote says, would have been a sensation in itself but for the even more spectacular fetter.

Another shot of the wall and trench fortifications

Considering the timber/earth wall fortifications and first steps into rebuilding some of the houses in stone may imply that Hedemünden could have become a major Roman fort with an annexed vicus, or even a town if the Romans had not decided to abandon Germania after the defeat in the Teutoburg Forest and Germanicus' not very successful attempts to conquer Germania in 14-16 AD.

All in all, some 2500 metal objects have been discovered since 2003, weapons, tools, coins, jewlelry and everyday objects. Alas, diggings will have to be stopped next year for the lack of fundings, chief archaeologist Klaus Grote says. It's a pity that there's never money for those things. We can only hope the new finds may change some peoples' minds about funding.

Below is the restored version of the fetter from an exhibition in Hannoversch-Münden in 2009.

Roman fetter

The neck goes in the large loop, the wrists in the smaller ones, then the whole thing is fixed with the bar. It looks decidedly uncomfortable and the iron was probably going to chafe after some time.

Sources: Göttinger Tageblatt and HNA Online, both from Sept. 11, 2008.
 


8.9.08
  A Fancy Park

Last week I went to revisit a non-Medieaval place, the Rococo palace Kassel-Wilhelmsthal. The prettiest feature that one offers is the large park, a mix of Rococo and English landscape style, with fountains, lakes, pavillions, alleys, a fake Mediaeval tower, and a few gilded statues. Here's a photo collection.

The great pavillion with artifical 'river'

Reeds in a lake, part of the English garden

The 18th century 'Mediaeval' tower

View from the tower towards the palace (mostly hidden behind the trees)

Artificial lake near the palace
 


7.9.08
  Villa en suite

I've mentioned that the Wachenheim villa has two sets of baths, assumedly one for the family located inside the main villa, and another for the slaves and farmworkers in the outbuildings. The family bath encompassed 59 square metres, that's pretty much a two room flat today. Talk about luxury. The room behind the cellar you can see on the photo was the warm bath (changed to a hot bath in the 4th century). The original hot bath is to the right where part of the hypocaust heating has been laid open. There had been a whole system of heating tunnels and water and sewage pipes.

Wachenheim villa, the tepidarium (warm bath)

Directly outside the main building is a latrine with water flushing. Since our dear Romans were practical people, they used the used water from the second baths for toilet flushing by building the seats over the drainage pipe which was guided through an open channel under the toilets. The sewage was probably led into a brook near the villa, while the freshwater was taken from a different source. There has been a well far enough from the brook to have offered clean water. We know from Vindobona (Vienna) that a good part of it ran under the ground, especially in parts where frost may have damaged the aquaeducts (and while the Rhineland is warmer than where I live, frost in winter is not impossible). Such systems would not leave many traces today after ploughing the fields for centuries.

Partly reconstructed toilets, in the background part of the second baths

The toilet seats are a reconstruction. Visiting the loo was not the private matter it is today, not only in the military forts but in private households as well. Latrines often had decorated walls, but not enough traces remain of the Wachenheim villa to learn anything about frescoes and mosaics in those buildings. Public toilets also fell victim to a phenomenon today called graffiti which is not as modern as we think, but I doubt the owner of the villa would have allowed dirty jokes on the latrine walls.
 


5.9.08
  Autumn Day

I got a spontanous urge to translate a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), probably because it's an autumn day outside. It is one of my favourites, one of those I know by heart. As usual, I went for closeness to the original rather than art in its own right; I wrote the translation without much polishing, following my emotions as I recited the poem to myself.

Autumn Day
(1902, from Das Buch der Bilder - The Book of Images)

Lord, it is time. This summer, it was great.
Now lay your shadow on the sundial hands,
And on the fields set free the gales.

Command the last fruits to fully ripen;
Give them two more days of south,
Urge them to perfection, and drive
Some last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Who has no house yet, will not build one now.
Who is alone now, will long remain alone,
Will stay awake, reading, writing letters,
And wand'ring in the alleys to and fro
Restless, when the leaves dance.


Here is the German original:

Herbsttag

Herr, es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.


Junkerberg Cemetary, Göttingen

The golden sun is but a memory. Today it rains and the air smells ripe apples and mist.
 


1.9.08
  A Curious Cellar

All that travelling around not only gives me plotbunnies, I also have tons of old material I haven't posted yet, and there's always new stuff adding up. So today we'll go back to that Roman villa rustica in Wachenheim I presented last summer.

One of the most interesting features of the Wachenheim villa is the cellar which has been preserved in its original height - probably got filled with rubbish and mud and was missed by the stone filching farmers. With a size of 11.90 x 3.90 metres (46.50 square for those who, like me, suck at maths) it is one of the largest in the Roman settled lands along the Rhine.

View towards the remains of the villa, the roofed area is the cellar

Light came in from six air shafts on the west wall, albeit not very much. The walls had been whitewashed and were decorated with red painted, artificial joints. The Romans liked even their cellars pretty. The three niches in the north wall also date from this first period.

It has been assumed those may have been places for the images of Mithras and his helpers, and the cellar was used as mithraeum, but the usual stone benches on the sides are missing. On the other side, if the cellar was only used as storage room, why build three niches, one large and two smaller ones, that don't look very useful for putting things in other than statues or such. Wooden shelves would have been of more use.

View towards the north wall niches (the air shafts can be seen on the left)

In the 3rd century, the cellar was rebuilt. The eastern wall which today has seven niches as mysterious as the three on the north side was remade, and the cellar was divided into two compartments by a wall.

While the southern room could still be accessed by the stone stairs hiding behind the bush on the photo below, the 'inner' room would have been entered by a wooden staircase from inside the villa. Maybe it was then the room was used as mithraeum; the benches could well have been made of wood and not stone. I've not found out by which arguments the three niches in the north wall are ascribed the first building period, while the east wall ones belong to the second.

View towards the south, on the right side the niches, in the foreground the dividing wall

In the 4th century, the inner room was filled up and covered with a platform for a furnace room (praefurnium), that way the warm bath (tepidarium) changed into a hot bath (caldarium). The new bath was in use until the villa was abandoned in the 6th century.

I wonder if, in case the inner room has indeed been used as mithraeum, this change in architecture came about by a change in the religion of the owners who may have become Christians and wanted to cover up the pagan place.
 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction and Fantasy living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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