Emperor Nero really had a revolving dining hall, archaeologists prove


This video is called The Life And Death Of Emperor Nero.

From daily Haaretz in Israel:

Nero’s revolving restaurant really existed, archaeologists prove

Haaretz gets an exclusive look at the reopened dig of the infamous Emperor Nero’s rotating dining hall in Rome.

By Ariel David

July 1, 2014 | 10:10 AM

Dormice drenched in honey and poppy seeds as an appetizer.

Roast boar stuffed with live thrushes for the main course, focaccia with cheese and Spanish honey for dessert, and a finale of fresh oysters and grilled snails. All washed down with wine aged for a century.

That’s only part of the decadent menu that the satirical writer Petronius reports could be sampled at a typical banquet hosted by first-century Roman elites.

It’s easy to imagine even more exotic delicacies gracing the table of an emperor when visiting the remains of what archeologists believe was one of the most peculiar and sophisticated structures of antiquity: the revolving dining room built by the infamous Nero. First uncovered in 2009 by a team of French and Italian archeologists, the building is now undergoing excavations and will be visible to the public after October, when the dig ends.

Haaretz got an exclusive tour of the site last month, as well as insight into the archeological detective work that went into identifying the building.

Mystery: The platform that should have collapsed

When they started digging on an artificial terrace created by Nero’s successors on the north-east corner of Rome’s Palatine hill, researchers certainly hadn’t been looking for a precursor to the modern revolving restaurant.

The platform was built after 70 CE, shortly after Nero was toppled in a revolt. His successors, the Flavian dynasty, were moving to consolidate their rule by building a new palace on the Palatine, the traditional seat of imperial power in Rome.

Modern researchers had puzzled over the area because surveys showed the retaining wall was too thin to hold the artificial terrace: the whole thing should have collapsed.

“It was a mystery that needed to be solved,” says Francois Villedieu, the French archeologist who leads the dig. “There had to be something big underground holding it all in place.”

What they found was a huge puzzle: a round, 12-meter-tall tower, with a massive central pillar of four meters in diameter and 8 pairs of arches supporting two floors.

“There was no other ancient building like it, nothing to compare it to,” Villedieu recalls. The strata it occupied and the building technique dated the tower to Nero’s time. But whatever it was built to support had been razed to make way for the new palace and erase the memory of the previous ruler, reviled as a cruel, corrupt despot and megalomaniacal builder who allegedly fiddled while Rome burned down in 64 CE.

The only clues to the tower’s function, along the top of the upper arches, were lines of semi-spherical holes, filled with slippery clay.

Primitive ball bearings and water power

Archeologists were reminded of cavities, filled with similar lubricants, that were used on large ships and harbor structures to contain primitive ball bearings, on which moveable platforms were mounted to transport heavy loads.

But what was such industrial equipment doing in what would have been part of Nero’s elegant palace, the fabled D[omus aurea] – the Golden House?

It was then that researchers recalled a description of the emperor’s palace by the Roman historian Suetonius, who wrote that Nero’s “main dining room was round, and revolved continuously on itself, day and night, like the world.”

Historians had long thought that Suetonius had exaggerated his description and that the coenatio rotunda was the round, frescoed hall located in another part of the immense palace, on the opposite Esquiline Hill.

But the discovery by Villedieu’s team is set to change that view. The mysterious cavities in the structure are believed to have housed metal spheres that supported a revolving floor.

At the bottom of the tower, archeologists also found indications that a mechanism had been built into the wall. The metal parts had been ripped out to be reused, but calcite deposits on the surrounding stones suggest that the floor’s constant movement may have been powered by water channeled through a system of gears.

The Sibylline inscription

Further evidence comes from a coin minted by Nero, which shows a tower similar to the one uncovered with two smaller structures on the side, and a Sibylline inscription that describes it as “MAC AUG.”

That second word refers to Augustus, the title that all Caesars took. As for the first abbreviation, some scholars think it refers to the m” or market of Augustus. But others, including Villedieu, believe the tall and narrow building on the coin does not look like a market, and the writing should be read as celebrating the “machina” – the machine of Augustus.

The discovery generated much debate and skepticism among archeologists, so much that it took years for Villedieu to gather funding to continue the dig.

“We don’t have definitive proof, but we have many convincing clues,” Villedieu told Haaretz.

Now, thanks to a prize that the project won in France and with the support of Italian officials, she hopes to find the building’s facade and the other structures depicted on the coin.

Maria Antonietta Tomei, an archeologist and former Culture Ministry official who supervised the dig on the Palatine, said the discovery of the dining room somewhat changes our view of Nero.

The emperor is known mostly through the writings of historians who belonged to the aristocracy and opposed him for his populist economic policies in favor of the poor and the expropriation of lands that belonged to the upper class to build his golden palace, she points out.

“Nero has a terrible reputation but he was a very complex character,” Tomei told Haaretz. “He was not just a negative figure.” And now, in hew view, the mechanical and architectural sophistication of his revolving dining room highlight his passion for science and technology as well as for the arts and culture.

Ancient Roman women priests-controversy catacomb on the Internet


Fresco inside the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome, said to depict woman priest. Photo credit: AP/Gregorio Borgia

From TheBlaze.com:

Do These Ancient Paintings Prove There Were Female Priests in the Early Church?

Nov. 20, 2013 11:46am, Billy Hallowell

New questions are emerging about the role of women in the early Christian church after the Vatican this week unveiled recently restored frescoes in the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome.

Some say the paintings depict women serving as priests during Christianity’s beginning centuries — a contention the Vatican is calling the stuff of “fairy tales.”

Two scenes inside the catacombs, in particular, are capturing attention.

In one, a group of women are seen celebrating what is believed to be the Eucharist. Another shows a woman in a garment that resembles a robe with her hands lifted up in a position that is generally used by priests during public worship, The Associated Press reported.

The paintings are being used as evidence by some individuals and groups that women once served as priests and that they should once again be allowed to do so within the confines of the Catholic Church.

While the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, a group that ordains and argues for female priests, believes this is the case, others aren’t so certain. …

Reuters reported that the Catacombs of Priscilla – underground burial chambers that stretch eight miles – were built as burial grounds between the second and fifth centuries.

The catacombs have been reopened to the public after a five-year restoration project. For those who cannot make it to Rome to see the site can explore it from home using Google Maps.

Debate over the Catholic Church’s restrictions on female faith leaders continues as the Vatican’s policy of only allowing male priests remains in place.

Fake Italian dragon, pterosaur or dog?


Engravings from Meyer's book of the fake Italian dragon

From World Science:

Killed twice in 1600s, hoax “dragon” slain again—in creationism dispute

May 8, 2013
Special to World Science

A “drag­on” thought to have turned up out­side Rome in the 1600s was killed once, or even twice, in the lo­cal lo­re of its day.

It then lay for­got­ten for three cen­turies—be­fore tak­ing on yet a new life, in the minds of some crea­t­ion­ists who saw in the tale com­pel­ling ev­i­dence for their be­liefs.

Two bi­ol­o­gists from Fay­ette­ville State Uni­vers­ity in North Car­o­li­na have now de­cid­ed to slay the beast once and for all, by do­ing some sleuthing to con­firm what many Ital­ians al­ready sus­pected way back then.

The drag­on was a hoax, they con­clude. Such ex­ist­ence as it had, they add, was based on a forgery com­posed of var­i­ous an­i­mal bones. In that sense it was not too un­like the fa­mous Pilt­down Man, a fake “early hu­man” con­sist­ing of the low­er jaw­bone of an orang­u­tan com­bined with a hu­man skull. That scheme was ex­posed in 1953.

The drag­on sto­ry as trans­mit­ted through old doc­u­ments has de­light­ed some crea­t­ion­ists be­cause they cite the mon­ster—en­grav­ings from the time in­clude a de­tailed skele­tal view—as proof that con­tra­ry to main­stream sci­ence, a fly­ing, rep­til­i­an cous­in of the di­no­saurs lived just re­cent­ly.

But the tale cap­ti­vat­ed Ital­ians long be­fore ar­gu­ments over ev­o­lu­tion. The sto­ry brings us back to about the time when the great sculp­tor-ar­chi­tect Gian Lo­ren­zo Ber­ni­ni re­built the fa­mous square in front of St. Pe­ter’s Ba­sil­i­ca in Rome, erect­ing its cel­e­brat­ed col­on­nade.

A cou­ple of dec­ades af­ter that proj­ect, ru­mors of the drag­on cropped up in con­nec­tion with an­oth­er, less fa­mous con­struc­tion near­by.

Ac­tu­al­ly, one pub­lished ver­sion of the drag­on tale ac­tu­ally dat­ed its “death” to the mid­dle of the St. Pe­ter’s Square proj­ect, in 1660. Yet ma­te­ri­al in an­oth­er book sug­gests that ru­mors of its sight­ing cir­cu­lat­ed about 1691, in the swamps out­side Rome where a di­ke was un­der con­struc­tion. Which­ev­er ver­sion might ac­cu­rately re­flect the “real” ru­mor, the lat­ter book is the one with the en­grav­ings.

This book, by an en­gi­neer in­volved with the di­ke, states that the drag­on was killed and pro­vides three de­light­ful en­graved il­lustra­t­ions. But it says lit­tle else on the sub­ject, ex­cept to men­tion that the beast was “was reco­vered in the hands of the en­gi­neer” him­self, one Cor­ne­li­us Mey­er. The book is mostly about di­ke con­struc­tion proj­ects around Rome.

De­tails on the bi­zarre rep­til­i­an tale are thus fog­gy. But the two bi­ol­o­gists, Pon­danesa D. Wil­kins and Phil Sen­ter, spec­u­late, based on the doc­u­ments, that a drag­on ru­mor be­came an ob­sta­cle to a di­ke con­struc­tion in 1691. Lo­cals or work­ers might have balked at the proj­ect, be­liev­ing a drag­on was on the loose in the ar­ea, per­haps one that was an­gry over the dis­turb­ance of its home. The beast was per­haps viewed as a res­ur­rec­tion of the same mon­ster writ­ten else­where to have died in 1660, al­so in the Rome ar­ea.

In any case, the bi­ol­o­gists pro­pose that Mey­er’s pub­lished “ev­i­dence” of the death in­clud­ing the en­grav­ings might have been part of an effort to fi­nally quell the ru­mors and keep the proj­ect afloat. A pa­per with their findings ap­pears in the May-August is­sue of the on­line re­search jour­nal Pa­lae­on­tolo­gia Elec­tron­ica.

The explanation for the engravings is that “Meyer chose not to invite op­position by ex­press­ing skepticism about the lo­cal rumor,” they argue. “In­stead, he wisely chose to avoid re­sist­ance by hu­moring the lo­cals… em­bracing the lo­cal rumor and pro­viding vi­sual evid­ence that their source of con­cern had been van­quished.”

Wil­kins and Sen­ter ar­gue that some­one likely cob­bled to­geth­er a fake skel­e­ton. This nat­u­rally found its way in­to some of those closely ob­served de­pic­tions for which Ital­ians had such a flair. In one of these en­grav­ings, the ske­l­e­ton ap­pears, prop­erly perched on a charm­ing ba­roque ped­es­tal.

All that re­mained was for Wil­kins and Sen­ter to fig­ure out just what went in­to this “skel­e­ton.” In­ter­est­ingly “the en­grav­ing is de­tailed enough to test” the view that it’s a real pter­o­saur, the re­search­ers wrote.

The con­clu­sions from their analysis are cut­ting.

“The skull of Mey­er’s drag­on is that of a do­mes­tic dog,” they write. “The man­di­ble is that of a sec­ond, smaller do­mes­tic dog. The ‘hindlimb’ is the fore­limb of a bear. The ribs are from a large fish. Os­ten­si­ble skin hides the junc­tions be­tween the parts of dif­fer­ent an­i­mals. The tail is a sculpted fake. The wings are fake and lack di­ag­nos­tic traits of bat wings and pter­o­saur wings. No part of the ske­l­e­ton re­sem­bles its coun­ter­part in pter­o­saurs.”

“This piece of young-Earth crea­t­ion­ist ‘ev­i­dence’ there­fore now joins the ranks of oth­er dis­cred­ited ‘ev­i­dence’ for hu­man-pter­o­saur coex­ist­ence and against the ex­ist­ence of the pas­sage of mil­lions of years,” Wil­kins and Sen­ter add. “Also, a three-century-old hoax is fi­nally un­veiled, the mys­tery of its con­struc­tion is solved, and an in­ter­est­ing and bi­zarre ep­i­sode in Ren­ais­sance Ital­ian histo­ry is elucidat­ed.”

Skep­ti­cism over the drag­on yarn is far from new. The con­tem­po­rary Ger­man au­thor George Kirch­meyer re­counts that the “fly­ing ser­pent” was sup­posedly “killed by a hunt­er af­ter a se­vere and dan­ger­ous strug­gle”; but “this sto­ry, which ap­peared more like some fa­ble than real truth, was a sub­ject of dis­cus­sion among the learn­ed. The cir­cum­stance was de­nied by many, be­lieved by oth­ers, and left in doubt by sev­er­al.”

Two crea­t­ion­ists who have cho­sen to join the be­liev­ers are the au­thors John Go­ertzen and Da­vid Woet­zel, who penned 1998 and 2006 pa­pers on the sub­ject, re­spec­tive­ly.

“This study helps to es­tab­lish the re­cent ex­ist­ence of rham­phorhyn­choid pter­o­saurs; an­i­mals that main­stream sci­ence be­lieves be­came ex­tinct about 140 mil­lion years ago,” Go­ertzen wrote in his pa­per, which ap­peared in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Fourth In­terna­t­ional Con­fer­ence on Crea­t­ion.

Crea­t­ion­ists claim that the Bi­ble proves Earth is only a few thou­sand years old. Thus things like di­no­saurs, which died out 65 mil­lion years ago, pose a prob­lem for crea­t­ion­ists.

Woet­zel did not re­spond to an e­mail sent through his web­site re­quest­ing com­ment.

Go­ertzen could not be lo­cat­ed via e­mail or tel­e­phone, with none of his sev­er­al pa­pers on­line pro­vid­ing con­tact in­forma­t­ion. How­ev­er, his 1998 pa­per on the drag­on ar­gued that the Ital­ian drag­on tale was not the only piece of ev­i­dence for its re­cent ex­ist­ence.

“The re­mark­a­ble thing about this an­i­mal is that it was de­picted in sev­er­al cul­tures of an­ti­qu­ity. Ar­ti­facts iden­ti­fied with this in­ter­est­ing pter­o­saur spe­cies in­clude Roman-Alex­and­rian coins, an Ara­bia-Phil­istia coin, a French wood carv­ing, a Ger­man stat­ue and coin, sev­er­al Mid­dle Ages pic­ture maps, and an en­light­en­ing sketch of a mount­ed an­i­mal in Rome.”

See also here.

Dictator Mussolini’s secret bunker discovered


From Smart News blog:

March 25, 2013 2:15 pm

Italian Dictator Mussolini’s Secret Bunker Unearthed

Mussolini and Hitler in Munich in 1940

Mussolini and Hitler in Munich in 1940. Photo: National Archives

From 1922 to 1943, when Allied troops took Sicily nearing the end of World War II and his power began to wane, Benito Mussolini ruled Italy as its fascist dictator. As Italy suffered defeats throughout the war and as the Allied forces pushed ever closer, Mussolini became increasingly paranoid, says The Telegraph, fearing that the Royal Air Force, “was planning to launch an audacious raid on his headquarters in an attempt to kill him and knock Italy out of the war.”

His fears were well founded – the RAF had indeed drawn up a plan to launch a bombing raid on the palazzo, as well as his private residence in Rome, Villa Torlonia, using the 617 Squadron of Dambusters fame.

In response to the encroaching forces, Mussolini set about constructing a series of fortified bunkers. One such bunker, buried beneath Mussolini’s headquarters in Rome, was discovered recently during maintenance. The bunker will soon be opened to the public.

The bunker was discovered three years ago when engineers carrying out structural work on the foundations of Palazzo Venezia noticed a small wooden trap door.

It opened out to a narrow flight of brick stairs which in turn led to the bunker, divided into nine rooms by thick concrete walls.

The structure was so deep that it had exposed some Roman remains, which are still visible today.

This is not the first of Mussolini’s bunkers discovered, says Yahoo! News, but rather the twelfth. The building it is buried beneath, the Palazzo Venezie, “currently houses a national museum and has been a historically significant structure for centuries, having been used by high ranking members of the Roman Catholic Church and other important figures over the years.”

The bunker was first discovered in 2011, says La Stampa, “but has only been revealed now.”

Mussolini’s MP granddaughter causes outrage after being caught signing pictures of the dictator: here.

Arguably Rossellini’s masterpiece, Rome Open City is a poignant reflection upon the atrocity of the fascist regime in Italy during WWII: here.

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Black smoke in the Vatican, music video


This video, recorded today in Rome, is called No New Pope Elected yet – Black Smoke from Sistine Chapel.

So, time for this music video again: Bafflin’ Smoke Signals – Lee “Scratch” Perry.

Roman art discoveries in Colosseum


This video is about the Colosseum in Rome.

From Huffington Post:

Colosseum Cleaning Yields Ancient Art Discoveries Including Old Frescos, Graffiti

NICOLE WINFIELD

01/18/13 12:02 PM ET EST

ROME — A long-delayed restoration of the Colosseum’s only intact internal passageway has yielded ancient traces of red, black, green and blue frescoes – as well as graffiti and drawings of phallic symbols – indicating that the arena where gladiators fought was far more colorful than previously thought.

Officials unveiled the discoveries Friday and said the passageway – between the second and third levels of the 1st Century Colosseum – would open to the public starting this summer, after the (EURO)80,000 ($100,000) restoration is completed.

The frescoes were hidden under decades of calcified rock and grime, and were revealed during a cleaning and restoration project over the last two months. The traces confirmed that while the Colosseum today is a fairly monochrome gray travertine rock, red brick and moss-covered marble, in its day its interior halls were a rich and expensive Technicolor.

“We’re used to thinking that during excavations, archaeological surprises are a risk for builders and for the city’s development,” Rome archaeological heritage superintendent Mariarosaria Barbera said. “But here is a beautiful archaeological surprise … a monument that has been studied and known and appreciated across the world, yet still provides surprises.”

While intriguing, none of the fragments restored so far rival the gorgeous frescoes found in other nearby ruins of the Roman Forum, such as the 6th century biblical scenes in the Santa Maria Antiqua church. But officials stressed that they are nevertheless remarkable because they give a very different impression of what the Colosseum must have looked like in its heyday.

Colosseum director Rosella Rea said less than 1 percent of the painted surfaces of the Colosseum remain. And while the exposed seating area was covered in white marble, “the insides, the galleries, all the corridors and transverse hallways were completely colored.”

“We need to imagine a building with extreme contrasts of color,” she said. “This was a surprise.”

Many of the splashes of color are covered with layers of more recent graffiti. “Ricciu” signed his name there with the date 1943. “Maria” and “Filippo” did as well. Someone else left some drawings in 1620.

But there are also older types of graffiti as well that officials say may date from the 3rd century, after the Colosseum was restored following a fire in A.D. 217.

A red palm frond and a drawing of a crown are believed to have been drawn by a gladiator fan as he or she passed through the passageway, officials said. Another restored section has images of a phallus, which officials said was commonly drawn for good luck.

Asked how such details could have gone undetected for nearly 2,000 years, officials said flatly: money. There simply wasn’t funding available to carry out the restoration of the passageway, which Rea said had been a goal for her office for 20 years.

Aside from the hallway cleaning, the Colosseum is set to undergo (EURO)25 million ($33.31 million) head-to-toe restoration funded by Italian businessman Diego Della Valle, founder of the Tod’s shoe empire. The effort is primarily designed to shore up the monument, one of the world’s most famous, which is crumbling under years of neglect.

Pieces of masonry and rock have fallen from the rafters, and the travertine is covered in gray dirt from car exhaust and pollution. The nearby subway rattles its foundations, such that the Colosseum has begun sinking in the same way the Leaning Tower of Pisa does, with a 40-centimeter (nearly 16-inch) inclination on its south side.

“It’s not serious, but it needs to be restored,” Rea said, noting the last major restoration was carried out in the 1970s. “The later you start, the worse it is.”

Work has been delayed because of court challenges to the contract bidding process, with the latest hearing this week put off until the end of the month.