There is a fresh new approach to history, to heritage and to the simple irreplaceable priceless relics and architecture of the past. This weeks story is about an amazing discovery in London of a Roman Temple, dedicated to Mithras, the Celestial Bull Slayer. Originally it was uncovered during bomb site and bomb crater restoration works in 1954. Over 30,000 people lined up to view the site during its recovery. It had been buried under 7 metres of earth over time. Known as the Mithraeum, it was inexpertly reconstructed 100m away using new stones to fill gaps. This was 8 years later, after it had been ‘stored’ in a builders wrecking yard.
All the Artefacts were claimed by the Museum of London, whilst priceless items such as the original timber benches were simply thrown away. The original temple was a dark place – literally with no windows and lit by flaring oil soaked torches.
The Temple of Mithras
Mithras was a virile young God. For many today practicing ‘Christianity’ it may be surprising to know that December 25th was the most important day of the calendar of Mithras. In Constantinople when Roman Emperor Constantine transitioned Rome towards being a Christian empire, one of the concessions was to incorporate Mithran feast days into the Christian Calendar.
The Temple was built next to a river. One tenth of all Roman objects on display in the Museum of London come from various excavations on this patch of land.
To the present – the site was selected as the European Headquarters for the Tech and Media giant corporation – Bloombergs. Its founder Michael Bloomberg considered that his company was now the stewards of the ancient building and its artefacts.
“London has a long tradition as a crossroads for culture and business and we are building on that tradition” he said.
Although the location has seen the original site suffer destruction from the building works previously carried out there (through deep basements), there was still a substantial archeological layer that survived. Objects such as the oldest hand written wooden tablets – the oldest handwritten documents ever found in Britain were preserved. In them was found the first recorded usage of the word ‘Londinium’. When Bloomberg purchased the site in 2009 it announced its plans to rebuild the Temple of Mithras within its new European Headquarters.
And now it has certainly delivered. Inside its ‘glassy, waffle shaped’ building is a full reconstruction of the original temple, a part of the three storey London Mithraeum Space, now open to the public.
The first floor houses impressive artefacts discovered during the first and subsequent archeological digs on the site – displayed behind glass. Here you’ll find the pre-mentioned wooden tablets – one from AD57 – all handwritten documents, some of the oldest in Britain as well as worn leather shoes, broken pots and other pieces.
But below ground is a spectacular concept, a re-imagining of the original temple. It was built using mud-castes and archival material. This was a place that was essentially a Mens Club, where drinking, misbehaving and debauchery (so it is said) occurred in celebration of the young Bull Slayer Mithras. As has been noted, London’s financial district has not changed so very much for a millennium!
The Temple features audio for visitors giving people the atmosphere and that sense of being in a living space. Latin chants with light effecting the vision of walking through the dusty ruins of antiquity. It is the essence of the Roman ‘Londinium’.
Architecturally what is extraordinary is the effort to which Bloomberg has gone to to incorporate this incredible feature into its essentially very modern building.
It is a perfect example of providing a sympathetic and accurate hand in preserving history, heritage and culture – even when that culture has long passed. It is no less relevant to our most recent histories here in Australia. Preserve our buildings, our architecture and our culture. And in 2000 years time what will archeologists find here in Melbourne? A fast food outlet? A carpark? or a series of extraordinary buildings preserved with care and precision, and a cultural heritage that has been respected and protected.
Ahh Development – It can be done well you know… It can be done better