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Posts Tagged ‘Wall

Tabula Rasa

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Only an excellent writer with a superb set of characters and an imagination full of fresh ideas can fuel a series to last more than maybe 4 or 5 books in a series. The fact that Tabula Rasa is book 6 in Ruth Downie’s series, then, is telling. The fact that, yet again, it is an absolutely cracking tale is even better.

I figure I’m past having to explain why I love Ruth’s books at this point, but to recap my view over the whole series, this is it in a nutshell:

  • Truly believable, very sympathetic and engaging characters
  • Intricate, carefully-crafted plots
  • Deep, realistic, historically accurate portrayal of the ancient world
  • Fascinating details that add colour and realism
  • Quirky sense of humour that always hits the spot
  • True historical mysteries, shot through with shrewd social observations

So there you go. That’s why I love the Ruso books. This book, in particular, brings in some of my favourite characters in the whole series. Some returning, some new. Tribune Accius, Valens, Albanus, Virana… and in particular Pertinax and Fabius. Oh, boy but Fabius is one of my fabourite supporting characters of any book I’ve read.

Tabula Rasa (‘Clean Slate’) is set in the forts on the Stanegate during the building of Hadrian’s wall. Ruso is back with the army, along with his better half, Tilla. He is serving as the medic in a tiny fort in the middle of nowhere that happens (much to his chagrin) to be close to the farm of one of Tilla’s relatives. Essentially the root of the tale is a case of ‘missing person’. Well, missing persons, at least. Ruso’s clerk has vanished, while his uncle Albinus is coming north to see him. And a local boy has vanished. As if the tension between locals and Roman invaders were not enough, the medicus pulls what I am coming to think of as ‘a Ruso’ and exacerbates the situation completely by accident. What follows is an excellent investigation that roams across the Stanegate forts and even beyond the wall, searching for the boy and trying to piece together why he was taken.

This area is somewhat home turf for me, so it was fascinating to read about places I know well. And I have to say I’d not twigged what was going on until Ruth revealed the truth towards the end of the book, so kudos there.

As usual, Tabula Rasa is pacy, clever, witty, thought-provoking and fascinating. I am starting to twitch at the thought that I now only have one Ruso book left before I will have to wait like everyone else.

Highly recommended as always. Ruth Downie’s books sell themselves.

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Written by SJAT

October 21, 2016 at 9:02 am

Seven Wonders

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So, I was watching the Big Bang Theory and listening to its rather catchy theme tune, and noted the mention of the Wall and the Pyramids, which got me to thinking about what Herodotus would have included on his list of Wonders of the Ancient World if he had had access to more exotic places? The Great Wall would probably not have been one, since the wall as we know it is much later, the early versions not being up to Herodotus’ mark, I feel. And that led me to wondering what my Seven Wonders would be. So I’ve set myself the task to work it out.

The criteria must be the same as those available in the ancient world when ‘roddy wrote that list that rested in the library of Alexandria. Of the original seven wonders, only tiny fragments remain of most of them. Only the Great Pyramid at Giza still stands entire. So my seven wonders must be there and visible. I am going to allow ‘ruinous’ of course. And I must have been there. How can I compile a recommended list if I haven’t seen them?

1. The Pyramids of Giza

Image by Ricardo Liberato via Wikimedia Commons

Yes, the only survivor from the original list. Who could deny they’re a wonder? Quite simply they are breathtaking. Sadly, with every year, they are a little more invisible through hordes of tourists. Every year the urban sprawl of Cairo gets a little nearer to enveloping them. Already between the two visits I made to this amazing site (in 1982 and 2006) the city moved frighteningly closer. And given the troubles in Egypt, one has to fear for their future safety. But still… they remain an icon of the past and rightly so. Nice one, Herodotus!

2. The Ayia Sofya (or Haghia Sophia)

Image by Philz via Wikimedia Commons

Not around until long after our Roddy made his list. The great church of Holy Wisdom was started by Constantine II, and there were several rebuilds between 360AD and 532 when the current structure was commissioned by Justinian. It is simply the most breathtaking religious building I have ever set foot in. It is a symbol of Europe and Turkey and Byzantium and Rome, the blueprint for the Ottoman mosques for half a millennium. Among the fascinating oddities to be found within are runic carvings by one of the Viking Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Emperor who went by the name of Halfdan. The place leaves me speechless.

3. The amphitheatre of Pozzuoli

Image by Ferdinando Marfella via Wikimedia Commons

The Colosseum is magnificent, yes. El Jem is wondrous. I am led to believe Pula’s amphitheatre is astounding. Yet surprisingly few people mention the great Flavian amphitheatre of Pozzuoli in Italy (near Naples.) It’s only a little smaller than the Colosseum (3rd largest in Italy), constructed only a few years later, and is easily better preserved than any of those previous three I mentioned. It is simply astounding to walk around and beneath. While I find most amphitheatres to be dead, emotionless structures (while still wondrous), the one at Pozzuoli sent a shiver through me. I felt loss there. Perhaps it is too intact not to?

4. The Siq at Petra

Image by David Bjorgen via Wikimedia Commons

I guess everyone knows this because of Indiana Jones if nothing else. But Petra blew my mind. All of it. You can’t see Petra in a day. You can’t see it all in 3 days. But the core area, in particular the Siq are easily taken in. The siq was a crevasse through the rock that contituted the main entrance to the city. It is astounding to walk through. Roman paving is visible beneath your feet and an aqueduct channel runs along at your side, dry for millennia. Carvings crop up here and there, and tombs are visible high in the rocks. And in places where the Siq opens up, you find carved monuments such as the Treasury (see above). How could that NOT make it to a list of the great seven?

5. Hadrian’s Wall

Image by Michael Hanselmann via Wikimedia Commons

I can”t imagine I need to do much enthusing about Hadrian’s Wall. It is quite simply one of the most amazing and evocative monuments in the world. Not only was it a feat of sheer engineering and planning brilliance, but it also marks something unique. It represents that very moment when Rome stopped expanding and defined borders. Until Hadrian, the idea that Rome had a limit was a flight of fancy. Despite the Roman influence that continued beyond the wall, for that reason alone, Hadrian’s wall marks the edge of the Roman world for me.

6. The Baths of Caracalla

Image by Pascal Reusch via Wikimedia Commons

There are many great bath houses of Roman construction, even in Rome. The baths of Trajan and Diocletian remain. Further afield, those of Licinius in Dougga, or Antoninus in Carthage. But those of Caracalla stand as a testament to the sheer scale of such monuments. The remaining decoration; the enormous walls; the supplying aqueduct and cistern; Mind-blowing. And, though not open to the visitor, the underground passages remain, with rooms and furnaces, shrines and more. It is, to me the height of the Roman bath house and will ever remain so.

7. The harbour of Carthage

By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The navy that actually beat Rome! Yes, Carthage for a while actually held the might of Rome at bay. They had the most advanced navy in the world, in history in fact. And the military harbour at Carthage was a wonder worthy of that fleet. Take a look at the picture above, as it survivies today. Upon a time, imagine this image, but with the circle complete, both the island’s edge and the outer circuit home to endless what are essentially hangars for warships. Room for around 300 warships to be berthed, each in its own building on an inland port with swift access to the sea by a channel. On the island’s centre was the admiralty. I stood on that road on the left side of the picture a few years ago and was simply stunned into silence.

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So there you go. That’s my Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Now, all those of you who blog… let’s hear yours? I’m intrigued.

Written by SJAT

November 24, 2011 at 3:10 pm