The Magnificent Art of Roman Mosaic

img_4502I’ve always loved mosaics. From jewellery set with tiny pieces of glass to sprawling floors, I’m fascinated by the alchemy of creating pictures from pieces of coloured stone. Years ago I even took several workshops on how to create my own mosaics, working in both the regular and reverse transfer processes. I ended up making my own mosaic table top, which has since been carted across the world with me in several moves. It currently sits in our shed and is in a sorry state of repair, so is a project for me this summer.

img_4503Near to where I live is the city of St Albans, once called Verulamium and one of the most important Roman towns in Britain. There was a lot of wealth in Verulamium, with many splendid villas being built there, as well as a baths, basilica and forum, all important fixtures in any decent Roman town. Now all that remains are a few fragments of the old city wall, and, beneath the parks and streets, wonderful mosaic floors, several of which have been removed and preserved in the excellent local museum.

img_4500As you can see the designs are amazingly modern, considering they were made almost two thousand years ago. I particularly like the semi-circular shell pattern – it predates Art Deco by almost two millennia, proving that really, there are no new ideas. And, if you go to the nearby park, you can see a mosaic floor still in situ.

img_1471Protected by a modern building, this beautiful floor was once part of a grand reception room. Complete with hypocaust underfloor heating, it comprises a series of panels with repeating designs. But I think the best thing about it is that it is where it has always been since it was laid, gleaming and new, all those centuries ago. I imagine how pleased the householder must have been, how proud that they had the funds to buy such a magnificent floor.

img_1473Now, perhaps, mosaic is something you have in your bathroom, or on the top of an outdoor table. But it must have been wonderful to live in a home where such beauty ran underfoot from room to room, full of stories and patterns and colour. What do you think?


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Wednesday Wander – Le Musee De La Mar, Biarritz

It’s Wednesday, and time to wander again. I recently visited the French coastal town of Biarritz, and this week I’m going to wander to Le Musee De La Mer – the Biarritz Aquarium.

Opened to the public in 1933, the building is a stylish example of Art Deco architecture, much like the nearby Casino. However, the origins of the aquarium go back a few decades earlier, when the Marquis de Folin convinced the French authorities to commence scientific studies of the Bay of Biscay. He wanted to create a ‘seat of learning’ where people could come and learn about the oceans, a field of study that was gaining in popularity at the time. The First World War halted development of his idea, and it wasn’t until the 1930s that it came to fruition.

Perched upon cliffs high above the town, the Aquarium looks out onto the sea…

…and also onto some fairly impressive houses. This one would be fairly close to my dream home, I think!

The Aquarium has been extended and renovated since the 1930s, but still retains its original Art Deco interior design. There is something about this style of design that lends itself particularly well to maritime themes, I think.

The aquarium also houses a Scientific Study and Research Centre, which focuses mainly on the nearby Bay of Biscay. There is a museum section which houses sailing and surfing artifacts, and different exhibit areas for each of the world’s oceans.

Like much in central Biarritz, the Aquarium is easy to get to on foot – a short walk along the beach path and through a picturesque old harbour, then up a (not too steep) hill. Once inside, we spent several hours exploring the oceans – we listened to whale songs, examined skeletons and surfboards, watched seals play and found Dory, as well as Nemo.

We also visited the Shark Cave, a massive tank home to several species of sharks, including a rather lonely looking hammerhead. To be honest, I’m not too fond of seeing animals in captivity, even though I’m sure these tanks are top of the line. However, the gorgeous girl is particularly fond of all things aquatic, so an aquarium stop is de rigeur wherever we go on holiday. She thoroughly enjoyed this one, especially the glow-in-the-dark exhibits.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Biarritz, and will definitely wander there again, both on this blog and in real life. Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me, see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Parc Guell, Barcelona

It’s Wednesday, and time to wander again. This week I’m heading to Barcelona, Spain, and to Antoni Gaudi’s magnificent Parc Guell.

High on a hilltop overlooking the city, the park is accessed via a series of escalators and steps up a narrow and very steep street. There may have been some complaining from certain family members on our way up the hill, but when we got there it was certainly worth it!

Built between 1900 and 1914, the park was the brainchild of Count Eusebi Guell, who wanted to create a luxury housing estate on the site, and worked with Gaudi on the design. However, only two houses were ever built, one of which Gaudi and his family ended up living in for twenty years – it is now a museum.

Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, the park is full of Gaudi’s signature design style, from undulating dragon-spine rooftops to stylised stalactites and sculpted pillars. The park is laid out across several levels, and can be walked in a circular fashion up to the topmost point (marked by a stone cross) before heading downhill once more.

I’m a huge fan of Gaudi’s design style, so a visit to the park was high on my list of things to do when we visited Barcelona. And I was definitely not disappointed. Although it was a bit crowded at times, the views, the design, the wonderful shapes and whimsy of Gaudi’s unique vision were all there to be seen and enjoyed. There is a freshness and modernity to his work which makes it hard to believe it’s over a century old.

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Thursday Doors – Faded Glory

img_0405These two attractive green doors are in the town of Silves, Portugal.

I use the word ‘attractive’ because I love the tiles, the cobbles, the ornate metal balconies and the old doors with curved frames, traditional style hearkening back to when the building was originally constructed.

However, I don’t love the unsightly (and dangerous-looking) tangle of wires, the clunky air conditioning unit and the metal post plonked into the old cobbles. Don’t get me wrong – there is much to love about modern design and the convenience it brings. However, in this instance, all these ‘conveniences’ have done is to detract from what was a rather nice building facade.

Sometimes I think that, as a species, we are so keen to ‘modernise’ that we overlook that which is already in place. Only once the damage is done, the old things lost, do we realise.

This was my response to the Thursday Doors Challenge, courtesy of Norm 2.0. For more doors, or to add one of your own, head over to Norm’s site and click the link.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

 

Wednesday Wander – Federation Square, Melbourne

IMG_0763

I lived in Melbourne for many years. I loved living there, walking along the Yarra River to work while rowers glided past and cockatoos swooped and shrieked in the eucalypts, the city a gleaming array of towers on the opposite side. It’s a beautiful city, usually ranked in the top five world’s most liveable. When I first moved there, the old Gas and Fuel Towers still stood at the entrance to the city, two huge brown sixties monoliths blocking the view in all directions, a misguided planning decision if ever there was one. This seemed to be a general consensus because, soon after I arrived, the towers were demolished, opening up the cityscape once more and leaving a large building site designated for a mixed-use public space.

Fed Square 3

A competition was held, designs submitted, and a winner chosen. Melbourne is a city that embraces modern architecture, sculptural cutting edge buildings standing next to crenellated Victorian masterpieces – just about every style of architecture since the 1850’s can be seen on its wide streets. What the city wanted was a new architectural icon, something to rival Sydney’s Opera House. So the new design, with its eco-friendly elements and exciting use of glass and metal, was seen as a clear favourite.

Fed Square 1

Except, when they started building it, people didn’t like it. We were living across the road from the site at the time and would routinely curse the builders. Pile driving started at 7am even on weekends, plus the constant clatter and scream of concrete cutting and metal assembly echoed off the buildings and along the brown winding river. The emerging buildings looked like tin sheds crumpled by some giant’s hand and then dropped haphazardly across the coveted riverside site. There were complaints that some of the elements would block views of the Cathedral, and so the plans had to be changed. Everyone wondered why it was costing so much and taking so long to build.

Fed Square 2

Then it was finished. And we went along to have a look. I still cannot say that I love the exterior, even though it features in some of my wedding photos. Yet the inside was a revelation. Soaring spaces, angles and glass, small windows framing snapshot views of the city and river. The buildings house museums, offices, galleries, shops and restaurants, while the sweeping plaza with warm stone cobbles and stepped layers is perfect for meeting, or just lazing with a cool drink on a hot Melbourne day.

Fed Square 4Federation Square is now almost fifteen years old and, while I don’t think it compares to Utzon’s Opera House for sheer visual impact, I do think it has a charm that is not immediately apparent. And that, perhaps, is what makes it quintessentially Melbourne. Unlike Sydney, where harbour and bridge and scenery hit you straight away, Melbourne is a city of layers. Of hidden laneways and after hours clubs, leafy homes and rambling parks. And so perhaps this design was the most appropriate, after all.

 

Thank you for joining me on another Wednesday Wander – if you’d like to know more about Federation Square, clicFed Square 6k here. See you next week!