The Lost Fort
My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times
A Bronze Age Cemetery – The Clava Cairns near Inverness
I visted the site in early summer 2013, a year before Claire Beauchamp-Randall stepped through a cleft stone into pre-Culloden Scotland, and brought a trail of visitors to the hence quite place. Back then, the Clava Cairns at Balnuaran, not far from the battlefield of Culloden, were a lovely spot, especially on a sunny day. Now the inrush of visitors – not all of them respectful to the ancient monuments, alas – has led to some damage of the site.
Clava Cairns – some standing stones and one of the cairns
The Clava Cairns consist of the remains of three cairns which are rather well preserved, with the walls still intact and only the domed roofs gone, and a number of standing stones. The stones are not as tall as those in the Ring of Brodgar, but they are placed in positions of astronomical importance. The cairns had been dated as Neolithic, but a survey by Prof. Richard Bradley in the 1990ies proved that there were constructed in the Bronze Age.
Cairns are mounds often erected over burials and sometimes serve as sort or markers. The ones at Balnuaran date to about 2000 BC, but some additions were made a thousand years later. There may have been two to four more cairns in the row at Balnuaran, all situated on a gravel terrace above the river Nairn. Excavations have shown that the area had been settled and farmed since 2500 BC at least; prior to the erection of the cairns.
Clava Cairns, seen from the south
The specific style of the Clava Cairns – which gave the name to this type – can be found mostly in Moray and around Inverness; there are about 50 of them. The ring of gravel and ashlar that forms the basis of the cairns is set in a double ring of large kerb stones. Some of these show cup and ring markings. Over the chamber, a domed roof was erected. Originally, the cairns were about 3 to 4 metres in height. Usually, a corbelled passage leads to the inner chamber, facing south-west towards the midwinter sunset. But the middle cairn in Balnuaran is a ring cairn without a passage; it has always remained unroofed.
Some of the stones
The cairns are surrounded by stone circles in 10-15 metres distance. The spacing between the stones is rather wide. The size of the megaliths increases towards the entrance of the passages, and stones of a redder hue were chosen, while the smallest exemplars are found on the opposite side of the cairns. The stones surrounding the middle ring cairn are of roughly the same size; some are connected to the cairn by a sort of paved stone 'rays'.
More standing stones
Burials of the Clava Cairn type contained but one or two bodies. Few bone remains have been found, an no complete skeleton. Considering the work it took to erect such a cairn, one can assume that those buried there were important members of the local society, some sort of chief or priest. Or maybe a priestess – not enough bones are left to tell. Despite the passages, it seems that no further burials were added in the years after the erection of the cairns. Maybe a visit to the dead or the possibility of the dead to spiritually join the living was part of some ceremonies.
North-east cairn with megalith in the foreground
The cemetery was resused around 1000 BC. Some new burials were placed outside the cairns; bone fragments were found to date those. A few smaller momuments (like the kerb ring) were added. We don't know if the site was used for burials in between, though it doesn't seem to have been the case. It is very likely, though, that the site played a role in ceremonies during that millenium and maybe beyond. The area had always been settled.
One of the stone circles
The way the cairns are arranged, with the passage entrances facing towards the sunset at winter solstice and the various henges surrounding them point at a use of the site for astronomic and ceremonial / spiritual purposes – both of which were often linked in Bronze Age cultures. The ring and cup marks on some of the stones inside and outside the cairns may also have had some ritual significance.
Now let's have a look at the individual cairns.
The north-eastern cairn
The so-called north-east cairn is a passage grave. The chamber itself was about 4 metres high and covered by a domed stone roof; the passage was covered as well, butit was so low that a human could not have stood upright. More like a crawl space.
The passage of the north-east cairn
The outer edge of the circular cairn is supported by a kerb of larger stones that keep the rubble from disintegrating. The use of sandstone of various hues of red and beige/white for the kerb once gave it a distinct pattern.
Interior of the north-east cairn
The inner floor was paved, and the inner walls also were supported by larger kerb stones, some of them with ring and cup marks (which are not well visible on my photos, alas). Most of those stones are still in place. I could not find any information whether the domed roof was supported by beams or constructed by a layer of skilfully placed flat stones. The latter is well possible, as the houses in Skara Brae show.
North-east cairn, view out of the passage
After a short time of use, a rubble platform was heaped up to cover the kerb ring and the entrance of the passage. On that platform, a scatter of seashells and cremated bones, as well as a number of lithic artifacts, have been found which points at a later re-use of the site after the passage and chamber were sealed.
The ring cairn
The central cairn is different from the other two. It is a ring cairn without a passage way which has always been open at the centre. The ring of gravel and ashlar was supported by kerb stones outside and inside; some of the outside stones are decorated with cup marks, and, like in the other cairns, they are of contrasting hues of sandstone. The outer kerb ring has been partly destroyed.
View to the ring cairn (left)
It is assumed that the ring cairn surrounded a funeral pyre, based on finds from the 1950ies which included some charred pieces of bone. The interior was once filled with a layer of rubble as high as the kerbs, but that has been removed during the 1950ies excavation.
Standing stones with the ring cairn in the background
The placement of the ring cairn is interesting. It is set off the line of the cairns as to allow an unobstructed view between them. The ring of stones surrounding it is today incomplete (as is the one around the south-west cairn; see below).
View from the ring cairn to the north-east cairn
The function of this unusual cairn within the setting of the Clava Cairns remains unexplained, but a connection to the other cairns exists by the pattern of the standing stones. A similar ring cairn has been found in Aberdeenshire.
The south-west cairn
The south-west cairn is another passage grave, almost identical to the north-east one. It too, seems to have been in use only for a short time before a platform of rubble was erected around the cairn, and the passage entrance blocked. A stone circle was set up as well.
South-west cairn, the passage
Two of those stones were removed in the 1870ies due to the construction of a road. At the time the trees now adorning the site were planted as well. The Victorians thought that those cairns and standing stones were pagan temples and wanted to recreated the vista of an ancient druid grove.
South-west cairn, interior
Some of the red sandstone boulders supporting the passage, as well as some stones in the outer kerb and the inner layer, are decoared with cup-marks. Some of those decorations face off towards the rubble filling and must have been carved before they were built into the cairn. It is possible that they belonged to an older building and have been reused.
Closeup of the stone layers
The first excavations at the site began as early as 1828; in the 1940ies, Prof. Alexander Thorn demonstrated that the alignment of the grave entrances points to the sunset at midwinter solstice. He also measured the standing stones and found out that the stone circles correspond to geometrical patterns like ovals and triangles and form a more complex overall pattern – which may have been of astronomical sigificance – than immediately visible.
Part of a ring of standing stones
The most excessive and important work was done by Richard Bradley in the 1990ies. Bradley concluded that the entire site was constructed during a single phase, though the place may have been in use prior to the erection of the cairns (and the cup and ring marked stones – or some of them – may have been integrated into the new structures). Interesting is the amount of quartz found near the caves. Bradley suggest that stones rich in quartz may once have formed the outer layer of the cairns and the stone platforms surrounding them, so that they would have sparkled in the sun.
One of the standing stones with a cairn in the background
It must have taken considerable effort to plan and erect those cairns and standing stones; surely a communal work directed by a chief or priest. That people were willing to take time off the farming and other daily routines to work on the site shows that it must have had an important function in the local Bronze Age society.
Cairn against the trees
The pattern of the Clava Cairns with the distinct use of kerb stones and outer platforms differs from cairns in other parts of Scotland and is restricted to the area around Inverness and Moray, though the type of the chambered passage cairn itself can be found everywhere in northern Britain and Ireland.
Cairn with surrounding stones
We can only guess the purpose of sites like the cairns at Balnuaran, but a religious significance is likely due to the connection with the dead and the sun. The situation of these specific cairns at the road along the Great Glen might also point at a use as gathering site for a larger group of people, maybe several clans or tribes in the highlands.
The river Nairn near the Clava Cairns
A visitor's guide to Balnuaran of Clava – a prehistoric cemetery, by Historic Scotland.
The site about the Clava Cairns on the Ancient History Encyclopedia (though I didn't elaborate on the more esoteric statements about caves and labyrinths being the navel of the earth and such mentioned on that page).
The Feature Page on Undiscovered Scotland.
'Claire's Stone' as featured in the Outlander series. Do not use for time travel. You might end up in the Bronze Age and be forced to carry one of those big boys to its final place. *grin*
Jewish Kraków: A Virtual Tour through the Kazimierz and Podgórze Quarters
Kazimierz is a very different part of the historical Kraków. Less frequented by tourists, but popular with young people. Some houses have already been renovated and look as pretty as in the Old Town, but others still need some new paint or a sandblasting. It gives the place a slightly rundown, but charming atmosphere.
Street Café in Kazimierz
Originally, the part of the historical centre of Kraków today known as Kazimierz was an island in the Vistula river. There had been a Slavic shrine and a sacred pool before Poland was Christianised. Nearby was the seat of a local chief and a cattle market which later became the Bawół district. Those merged into a settlement; the first church was built on the site of the shrine in the 11th century. The town that developed on the site was independent from the Wawel and the city of Kraków (today the part known as Old Town) for several centuries.
Lane with old houses in Kazimierz
King Kazimierz Wielki (Casimir III the Great) declared the settlement on the island to be named after him: Kazimierz; Casimiria in Latin. The town walls of Kraków were extended to surround the central section of the island, yet the newly named town remained an independent Town of the Royal Crown. Casimir granted it the Magdeburg Law, and burghers were encouraged to settle on the island. The site of the former pagan shrine was occupied by the Augustinian Order.
Corpus Christus Basilica
The one remaining building that dates to the time of Casimir the Great is the Corpus Christus Basilica, built in the Gothic style. It was founded in 1335 by the king; its construction took place in several stages from 1340 to the mid-15th century. Later, some Baroque chapels were added. The ground where it stands – including a cemetary – was once surrounded by a separate wall, since the church was independent from the town jurisdiction.
A square in Kazimierz
After the Partition of Poland in 1795, Kraków came under Austrian supremacy. Kazimierz lost its independent status and became a suburb of the city of Kraków.
Kazimierz was connected to Kraków by an important bridge, the Pons Regalis, which was part of the trade route that went from Kraków to the salt mines of Wieliczka and then continued into Hungary. The bridge was dismantled in 1880, after the branch of the Vistula river separating Kraków from Kazimierz had been filled in by the Austrian government.
One of the inner yards in the older houses
The new town flourished in the 16th century when many fine buildings of the Renaissance architecture were created. Those included several synagagues.
I went to visit Kazimierz in the evening, so those synagogues open to tourists were already closed, though I got some photos of the exterior. Yet it turned out that one needs more time than a single day to do Kraków justice. Good reason to return some day.
Lane in Kazimierz
I've briefly mentioned the situation of Jews in Poland in the comments to my post about the history of Ogrodzieniec Castle. The privileges granted to the Jews in the Statue of Kalisz, issued by Duke Bolesław the Pious of Greater Poland in 1264, were unprecedented in Europe. They allowed the Jews ‒ among other rights ‒ freedom of worship, the right to have their own legal courts, freedom of movement in the realm, and protection from attacks by Christians. The statue was ratified by several other Polish rulers, including King Casimir the Great (1334) and thus extended to the entire of Mediaeval Poland and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Nevertheless, the Jewish community in Kraków suffered some setbacks in the 15th century. There were riots in 1407, after the Syonod of Constance had whipped the local clergy into a less tolerant attitude, though the riots were quelled by the royal guards. In 1494, a great fire destroyed part of Kraków, and a year later, King John Albert (Jan Olbracht) ordered the Jews to resettle in the the Bawół district of Kazimierz.
Remains of the Jewish walls
In 1553, the Kazimierz town council allowed the Jewish community to build a wall that cut across the western end of the town walls to protect their quarter. The walls were extended in 1608 due to the growth of the Jewish community. The area was known as Oppidum Judaeorum; it encompassed about a fifth of the area of Kazimierz, but held half of its inhabitants.
For centuries, the Jewish Quarter was the spiritual and cultural centre of the Polish Jews, and Kazimierz an example of a mostly peaceful coexistence of Jewish and Polish cultures. After Austria acquired the city of Kraków, many of the wealthy Jews moved out of the crowded quarter in Kazimierz, though they stayed near their synagogues and the graves of their ancestors. Kazimierz remained a 'Jewish district' until 1941, when the German occupants moved the Jews to the ghetto in Podgórze (see below).
The Old Synagogue
Despite the migration of Jews to other parts of Kraków, Kazimierz still had 120 syangogues and prayer houses in 1930. Now but a few have been left or were repaired after the war. I managed to see four of these remaining ones, among them the oldest and finest, aptly named the Old Synagogue.
Old Synagogue, from a different angle
There are two contested dates for the erection of the synagogue: 1407 which would put it shortly after the riots in Kraków (maybe some Jews left the city because of those) or 1492, but three years before the Jewish community was ordered to settle in Kazimierz. In both cases, there already seemed to have been some migration to the island prior to 1495.
The synagogue was damaged by a fire and had to be rebuilt in 1570. The Italian architect Mateo Gucci added defensive features to the architecture, like windows placed above ground level and thick walls with buttresses, thus turning the Old Synagogue into a rare example of a fortress synagogue that could shelter and defend people in case of war.
They synagogue was looted by the Germans and used as warehouse, but it was not destroyed. It was renovated in 1959 and is today used as museum.
The High Synagogue
The High Synagogue – the third to be built in Kazimierz ‒ was commissioned by a rich Jewish merchant called 'Israel' in 1556-63. It was the tallest synagogue in the city for several centuries, with an upstairs prayer room. The style is influenced by Italian and French Renaissance. This synagogue, too, was rannsacked by the Nazis,
The Izaak Synagogue was built in 1644 by Izaak Jakubowicz, also known as 'Isaac the Rich', a banker to King Władysław IV. He employed the Italian architect Francesco Olivierri who worked in Poland at the time. King Władysław was a generous protector of the arts, so his reign attracted artists from other countries. Izaak seems to have financed more than one of the king's grand projects.
The interior of the synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis. After the war, it became the workshop of a a threatre company until a fire destroyed the interior in 1981. As result of the fall of communism, the synagogue was returned to the Jewish community who restored the damage. It now serves its original purpose as synagogue again.
The Temple Synagogue is a younger building, dating to 1860-62. It was built in the Moorish Revival style, though not all elements are truly Moorish. The architecture was influnced by similar buidlings in Austria – Kraków was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time – as well as the golden-domed Sigismund Chapel in the Wawel (1533), a fine example of the Renaissance architecture. The synagogue is still in use today.
Classicist buildings at the Podgórski Square in Podgórze
It was already late evening, though still light at the time of the year, and I just wanted to walk back to my hotel, when some vehicles best described as e-bike rikshas caught my attention. They offered tours to Podgórze, a district of Kraków situated on the southern bank of the Vistula river, and the remains of the Jewish ghetto. Well, at least I could rest my feet that way, so I made a deal with a young Pole who spoke pretty good English to show me the most important sites. It would prove to be the most emotional part of my visit.
Wall of Memory –
The remaining part of the wall that encircled the Jewish ghetto
After the occupation of Poland by the German army in September 1939, Kraków became the capital of the General Government, the Nazi administration of Poland. The town was intended to become a 'German' town, so Polish and Jewish inhabitants were at first encouraged to leave (at that stage, they were allowed to bring along their possessions), and later forced out of the city by various means. The Jewish population lost many of their civilian rights; a Jewish Council (Judenrat) of 24 Jewish members was established to govern the Jewish comunity, but mostly to carry out the orders of the Nazis, like registration, the collection of taxes and the organisation of forced labour groups.
Another shot of the ghetto wall
In March 1941, part of the Podgórze district was turned into a ghetto and all Jews still resident in Kraków had to move into its boundaries. They were forced to erect the walls that enclosed the ghetto, which were deliberately designed like Jewish tombstones by the German government. 16,000 Jews were crammed into quarters that prior had held 3,500 inhabitants.
Life in the ghetto was difficult, quarters cramped, food scarce, diseases common. In December 1942, the ghetto was divided into two parts: 'Ghetto A' for people who were working, and 'Ghetto B' for the others. In the following months, 13,000 Jews not being able to work were transported to the concentration camp of Auschwitz and the extermination camp at Bełżec; several hundred were murdered in streets. The ghetto of Kraków was liquidated in March 1943, the camp of Bełżec closed in June 1943. 2,000 members of Ghetto A were sent to the work camp in Płaszów.
Plac Bohaterów Getta – Place of the Ghetto Heroes in Podgórze
The Place of the Ghetto Heroes, formely Place of Unity (Plac Zgody), was the main square of the ghetto, situated at one of the four gates. It was the place where the Jews had to gather for appeals and selections; it was the starting point for the deportations to the concentration and extermination camps.
Today, the place is a memorial. The Polish architects Piotr Lewicki and Kazimierz Łatak created a number of metal chairs. 30 are oversized and face the former Eagle Pharmacy (see below), another 3 face the remains of the ghetto wall; further 37 chairs spread in between are of normal proportions. The memorial was opened in December 2005.
On that sunny spring evening, young people gathered on the square, using the chairs to sit on and having a good time with a snack and their smartphones. It felt a bit odd at first, when the guide told me about the history of the place – I thought the square should be empty and stern. But then I realised that the normality of life is a sign of hope.
'Eagle Pharmacy' (Apteka pod Orłem)
At a corner of the place sits the former Eagle Pharmacy. It belonged to Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Pole of Roman Christian faith. When all non-Jewish inhabitants were ordered to leave the area of the ghetto, Pankiewicz managed to remain and continue to run the pharmacy which had been established by his father in 1909. He bribed some officials, proved 'Arian descent', promised to only employ other Arians and talk to Jews only about medicine.
Pankiewicz's pharmacy developed into a meeting point not only for the sick, but for all the Jews in the ghetto. He and his coworkers maintained contact to the world outside the ghetto, delivered messages, smuggled valuables, obtained fake passports. When the mass transportations began – Tadeusz could see the sad gatherings on the square – he hid a number of Jews in his pharmacy, among the a lot of children, and thus saved their lives.
After the war, the pharmacy was nationalised by the Sovjets; later it was turned into a museum which opened in 1983.
Schindler's Factory; the administration building
Another important monument in Podgórze is Oskar Schindler's Enamelled Goods Factory, well known from the movie 'Schindler's List' and now a museum. The factory had belonged to a Jewish trust which Schindler first joined as another trustee; he then used his position with the Nazis to take over the factory.
Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist born in Moravia in 1908, joined the Nazi Intelligence Service (Abwehr) and collected information prior to the occupation of Czechoslovakia and later Poland. At first, Schindler was only interested in the financial gains of the factory he had obtained, and hired Jews because they were cheap.
But at some point – perhaps after witnessing the cruel liquidation of the ghetto ‒ he must have had a change of conscience and used the factory to save as many Jews as possible. He started to produce ammunition shells and field cooking gears to have the factory considered an 'essential part of the war effort'. Schindler employed Jews the German administration deemed unfit to work, put his own fortune into feeding them, bribing the government – he was still a member of the Intelligence and had some influence – and sometimes he bought products elsewhere to cover up the low output of his factory. He managed to set up a subcamp of the Płaszów work camp on the premises of his factory to protect more Jews from the Nazi guards.
Schindler saved the lives of about 1,200 Jews. After his death in 1974, he was buried in Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.
St.Joseph's Church in Podgórze
On the way back to the Old Town, my guide passed the St.Joseph's Church. It is situated outside the former ghetto at the Podgórski Square. St.Joseph is the largest church in the area and dates to 1909. It is a fine example of the Gothic Revival style, basically Gothic with extra Fancy. It looked pretty in the golden sun of late evening.
I've only given some of the mere facts about the ghetto, since my blog is more a documentary than a personal travel diary, but I will say that walking along the river back to the castle and my hotel in the Old Town restored my peace of mind.
The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, the Baltic Countries, and central Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.
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- Name: Gabriele Campbell
- Location: Goettingen, Germany
I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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