Next few days we rest, watch the rugby and walk in Holland Park.
Tuesday 22 September
Take the train to Shepherds Bush and to Holburn for a couple of hours in the British Museum.
Start in Rooms 6 to 10, subject Assyria. Assyria was a major ancient empire which existed as an independent state for almost 2000 years up to 605 BC. It was centered on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia (now northern Iraq, northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey). At its peak, the Assyrian empire stretched from Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea to Persia (Iran), and from what is now Armenia to the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt. Weakened by civil war its downfall was brought about by an alliance of Medes, Persians, Chaldeans, Babylonians, Scythians and Cimmerians.
There are large stone sculptures and rooms full of reliefs that were a feature of the palaces and temples of ancient Assyria. An entrance to one of the royal palaces was flanked by two colossal winged human-headed lions. The reliefs or stone panels depict the king and his subjects engaged in a variety of activities. He is shown leading military campaigns against his enemies and in hunting and killing lions, a royal sport in ancient Mesopotamia. There is incredible detail in the reliefs that among other things provide an insight into ancient quarrying and transport techniques. The siege of Lachish, mentioned in the bible, which was one of the chief cities of the kingdom of Judah is also portrayed in a series of reliefs. The siege followed the refusal of Lachish to pay tribute to the Assyrian Empire.
We also review the ancient Greek era including Minoan and Mycenaean civilisations and the large collection of ancient pottery and artifacts, some of which date back more than 5000 years. The pottery is amazing and many of the vases are beautifully decorated.
The Nereid Monument, a sculptured tomb from Xanthos in South West Turkey has been partially re-created. This was a Greek temple on top of a base decorated with sculpted friezes, and is thought to have been built in the early fourth century BCE as a tomb for a ruler of Lycia.
We see the marble sculptures (also known as the Elgin Marbles) that Lord Elgin removed from the Parthenon in Athens. The Museum seems to maintain that whether their removal was legal or not, for sure he saved them from vandalism, pollution, further deterioration and possible destruction.
The famous Rosetta stone is also on display. This chunk of stone provided scholars with the code or means by which they could interpret ancient Egyptian text. It features a decree issued by a king of Egypt in 196 BC that appears in three scripts; Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and Ancient Greek. Because it presents essentially the same text in all three scripts, it provided the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Monday 28 September
Over the past week take it easy, watching rugby, going to the park, bit of work, visit the Guildhall City of London business library to research company failure at this end of the world and visit St Paul’s Cathedral. The entry fee to the latter was STG 18 each about A$75 for the two of us. Just too steep and quite unconscionable to be charged for entry to a church and in principle we decline. Still we managed to get some impressions of this magnificent structure and time for meditation etc in the chapel on one side of the cathedral.
St Paul’s is the Anglican cathedral in London dating from the late 17th century. It was built after the great fire of London in 1666. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604.The present church was designed in the English Baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren. Its dome is among the highest in the world and it is the second largest church building in area in the UK (after Liverpool Cathedral).
Sunday 4 October
Not much to say about the last week. We have spent more time at the British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum and Holland Park. The museums are incredibly well-presented and have massive collections of artifacts and art and statues etc. They are informative, educational and fascinating. England lose to the Aussies and are out of the rugby world cup still in the pool stage which will take some of the lustre off the competition from the local perspective anyway. As the rugby dwindles a bit this next week we will see some of the other London sights.
Monday 5 October
Today we visit the Tower of London, founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. A yeoman of the guards or Beefeater gives us a 25 minute presentation. The White Tower or central keep of the complex was built in 1078 by William the Conqueror. Encircling it to the north, east, and west is the inner ward, built during the reign of Richard the Lionheart (1189–1199) and then there is the outer ward which encompasses the castle and was built under Edward I.
The Tower has served variously as an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of England. The castle was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952 and was a resented symbol of oppression by the ruling elite. For much of its history only upper class and royal prisoners were incarcerated there, some of them subsequently beheaded and buried in the chapel. Notable prisoners included Ann Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Guy Fawkes and Sir Walter Raleigh, all of whom were executed in one way or another. Fawkes was to be hung drawn and quartered but when about to be hung he apparently climbed too high up the ladder, slipped and fell because he was weak from torture and hanged himself immediately. He thus escaped the agonies of being drawn and quartered.
Thursday 8 October
Bit of a late start for Greenwich via Central line to Bank and the new DLR line to Cutty Sark station.
The Cutty Sark is the ship built in 1869 as a tea clipper for speed. We decide to see it and the Greenwich Royal Observatory. Both are part of the World Heritage site which also includes the Royal Navy College and the National Maritime Museum.
The Cutty Sark was one of the last tea clippers to be built and one of the fastest, coming at the end of a long period of design development which halted shortly after she was built as sailing ships gave way to steam propulsion. The opening of the Suez Canal also meant that steam ships could take a much shorter route to China. So many of the clippers that specialized in getting the new seasons tea to London in record time (thereby getting much better prices for it) were diverted to the wool trade in Australia.
The huge masts on the restored boat carried acres of sale and this boat must have been one fantastic sight when going full throttle. Very interesting presentation of the features of the craft and its history and restoration.
We walk through Greenwich Park and up the hill to the Royal Observatory. This is where the astronomical work, particularly of the scientist Robert Hooke, and John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, permitted the accurate measurement of the earth’s movement.
By 1700 skilled seamen could find their position latitude wise but still lacked accurate instruments or methods to calculate their east-west position. With growing international trade, the lives and valuable cargoes lost in shipwrecks made solving this problem of longitude urgent. The king at the time (Charles II) charged Flamsteed to “apply himself with the most exact care and diligence to the rectifying of the tables of the motions of the heavens, and the places of the fixed stars, so as to find out the so much desired longitude of places for the perfecting of the art of navigation.”
The two British solutions to the longitude problem were firstly to map measurements of the night sky and the other to develop a portable clock that would keep accurate time on board ships. Quite fascinating the displays of beautiful old clocks developed by John Harrison who eventually gained recognition for having solved the longitude problem and won a prize for a timepiece called H4.
The Observatory at zero degrees longitude is now the base-line for the world’s time zone system and for the measurement of longitude around the globe and by virtue of its elevation it provides great views of many of London’s landmarks.
Friday 9 October
Visit Westminster Abbey today, a mainly Gothic abbey church. Originally a church was founded on the site in the 7th century but construction of the present church began in 1245. The work continued between 1245 and 1517 and was largely finished in the reign of Richard II. Although called Westminster Abbey, since 1560 the building has not been an abbey nor a cathedral, having instead the status of a “Royal Peculiar”—a church responsible directly to the sovereign.
Since 1066, when William the Conqueror was crowned, the coronations of English and British monarchs have been held here and there have been at least 16 royal weddings. Oliver Cromwell was given an elaborate funeral here in 1658, only to be disinterred in January 1661 and posthumously hanged from a gibbet. The evolutionist Charles Darwin is buried here in a place of worship, the Church of England, of all places. I ask one the churchmen about Darwin, he says there was a great deal of controversy about it at the time. There are kings and queens and poets (Poets’ Corner) and many other famous people (Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer) buried here. King Edward’s Chair, the throne on which English and British sovereigns have been seated at the moment of coronation, is housed within the abbey and has been used at every coronation since 1308.
Every year Westminster Abbey welcomes over one million visitors who want to explore its history and the 700-year-old building itself. It is self-described as a must-see living pageant of British history. We agree.