Category Archives: landscape and garden archaeology

Changing attitudes to religion, marriage and the environment

Sunrise on the solstice is celebrated at Stonehenge. Archaeologists now think sunset was the significant occasion.

In the 1950s, people felt shame-faced about being athiest and/or ‘living in sin’, while the Ministry of Agriculture gave special grants for removing hedges, draining wetlands and planting conifers. These attitudes have been reversed. Europeans want to conserve everything and speak confidently about religion being ‘a load of rubbish’. But their attitude to religions is peculiar. Adherents of older religions are seen as minions worshiping graven images in hopes of being given baubles. Christianity is associated with mumbo-jumbo (and child abuse). These attitudes put a 7th generation agnostic (me) in the unexpected position of explaining the good aspects of faiths: the value of spiritual matters, ethics, virtues, peace, hard work and simple living.

Image courtesy tarotastic

Concepts of sacredness and beauty

It is likely that the history of Japanese gardens finds its origins in Shinto traditions. In particular the sacred nature of rocks: “from the ancient remains of rock arrangement” of the fifth century AD, we find a resemblance to existing Japanese gardens. “However it appears they were used for the spiritual rituals and not designed as a stone arrangement for the beauty of gardens.”

The earliest known Japanese gardening texts are a medieval text, Sakuteiki, and an illustrated text dating from the Muromachi period (1333-1573). The origins of Japanese garden design principles are said to be traceable back to these two texts. The location of Shinto shrines were near striking natural formations, waterfalls, caves, rock formations, mountain tops or forrest glens reflecting the idea that kami spirits were located in nature. The earliest shrines were mounds, caves or groves. Kami occur in two categories (object kami) and mythical and historical persons (active kami). Illustrated is off-shore rock kami.

The following story is related of an off-shore rock just off Oshima:
“The kami enshrined here is Ichikishimahime, daughter of Susano, and eldest of the three Munakata princesses. Just off Oshima is a large rock protuding from the sea. The story is when Ichikishimahime heard she was going to be enshrined on Oshima, she was really excited and proud because Oshima means ‘Great Island’, but when she got here and saw just how small it really was, her tears formed the rock.”

With the introduction of Buddhism into Japan the earliest interaction saw local kami asking to be saved from their kami-state by means of Buddhist ritual.

John Evelyn's garden at Sayes Court and the Convoys Wharf Urban Landscape Master Plan

John Evelyn's garden superimposed on plans of the Convoys Wharf site in the seventeenth century, the nineteenth century and, one hopes not, the twentyfirst century

Steen Eiler Rasmussen concluded the second edition of his brilliant book London: the Unique City with these prophetic words: ‘Thus the foolish mistakes of other countries are imported everywhere, and at the end of a few years all cities will be equally ugly and equally devoid of individuality. This is the bitter END’. So what would he think of the Hutchison Whampoa Master Plan for Convoys Wharf? He would detest it, utterly. The architects are Aedas, who claim that ‘ We provide international expertise with innate knowledge and understanding of local cultures’. Evidently, this expertise does not extend to the local culture of Deptford – unless they think it is the same as the culture of London/England/Europe or the World. The planning consultants, let it be recorded, is by bptw . Their website promises ‘responsible architecture executed with imagination’. Maybe the firm can do this. Maybe the client’s brief made it impossible at Convoys Wharf. Or maybe what the project required was a firm of Urban Landscape Designers, rather than a firm which sees its main business as architecture. The architecture makes one yearn for the imaginative approach one sees in Dubai. The spatial pattern resembles that of the Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke, the planting design is what Chris Baines calls ‘a green desert with lollipops’. I am not an admirer of the scheme – and I much regret that John Evelyn’s design for Sayes Court has been cast into what Leon Trotsky called ‘the dustbin of history’. It is a quotation which gives us a lead into the origins of the Convoys Wharf design. In days gone by it might have graced a Parisian banlieue (like Sarcelles), a suburb of East Berlin – or even Moscow itself. With specific regard to the Sayes Court Garden, we should remember that (1) Evelyn, beyond doubt, was the greatest English garden theorist of the seventeenth century (2) Evelyn played a key role in introducing Baroque ideas on garden design to London (3) the Convoys Wharf site would never have come into public ownership were it not for the generosity of John Evelyn (4) Sayes Court was very nearly the first property to be saved by the National Trust.
THEREFORE the Convoys Wharf site demands a context-sensitive urban landscape design.
Wikipamia shows the present condition of the Convoys Wharf site and the Sayes Court Estate. Also see the Convoys Wharf Planning Application Documents.

This drawing purports to show 'Landscape, Townscape and Visual Amenity' . Phooey

Archaeologists wreck archaeological landscapes and ancient silk road cities

Better not to name it, for fear of attracting more tourists, but this is a silk road city in Central Asia. It was opened up by archaeologists and then left in this condition. The excavators will have published a learned report on their findings. Then they left it like this – as a tourist attraction which the government can put into guidbooks, hoping to create jobs and attract hard currency which can be spent on weapons. Now the rain falls on the mud walls, the sun cracks them, the wind blows the dust away. Far better if the archaeologists had done something useful with their lives, instead of running university courses to teach other archaeologists to support the tourist industry.

Shimmering on the water

The floods have done something amazing to the inland Australian landscape that is perhaps only rivalled by the fabulously unique underwater landscapes that are rarely glimpsed by the landbound. It is a rare event that mostly only occurs in La Nina weather patterns: the overflowing of Lake Eyre.

And where is all this additional water coming from? Tropical cyclones, with their destructive winds, which develop over the Pacific Ocean as far away as Fiji. So out of natural disaster (as we call it because of our cities and human settlement patterns) comes a natural wonder.

Is there a better way for us to accommodate the cycles of nature within our human environments?

Gardening on ice: a mammoth project

It is not often that you see a proposal for a substantial indoor garden, still less one located on an ice tundra, however this is what Leeser Architecture, (who also imagined the engaging Helix Hotel in Abu Dhabi) have proposed in their design for the World Mammoth and Permafrost Museum in Yakutsk Siberia. Yakutsk is the world’s largest city built on permafrost with temperatures ranging from -45degF to 90degF.

The extensive and intensive indoor gardens have been designed to “promote a sense of year-round natural life even in the desolate winter months.”

Not much is said of the about the construction of the landscape elements and gardens. This is a competition afterall, so details will undoubtedly be required later.

The exterior gardens are described as “naturally patterned by the effects of shifting permafrost cycles.” Cells will be planted with native grasses. Mosses and trees will be reintroduced to the landscape to reflect the existing topography and improve site hydrology.

While the interior gardens cascade “at the perimeter of the building’s interior with lush thick mats of moss and lichen” grown between a latticework of pathways.” Moss and lichen are the natural insulators of permafrost ground. The gardens have a number of important functions including to 1) add color 2) insulation value 3) filter indoor air and 4) maintain air humidity.

In one of the gardens floats a cafe, while other gardens can only be viewed from above by visitors but are accessible to researchers.

What were bronze age hillforts, like Earnsheugh, used for?

Why would someone want to live in a Bronze Age hillfort?


The high point in these images is a ‘hillfort’ 150m above the North Sea and with nothing but water and ice between this point and the north pole. The name ‘hill-fort’ suggests a fort on a hill. Archaeologists have never been happy with this term but are unable to think of anything better. Hillforts were made about 2500 years ago, in many parts of NW Europe, and there is no firm evidence concerning their use. Some hillforts are thought to have been military, some residential (many contain hut circles), some religious. The hillfort at Earnsheugh in Berwickshire, in the above photographs, would seem a very odd choice for a residential site, even if for a tribe which enjoyed seaviews as much as I do. It also seems an odd choice for a military site, because it would be so easy to starve out the occupants. So what were hillforts used for? An archaeological dig at Fin Cop in the Peak District has been in the news this week with interpretations of why the skeletons of women and children, only, have been found. http://www.archaeologicalresearchservices.com/projects/fincop.html http://www.thisisderbyshire.co.uk/news/Mass-grave-holds-evidence-horrific-massacre-Iron-Age/article-3461045-detail/article.html Some newspapers have suggested they were sacrificial sites. Heaven knows. The unusual semi-circular form of the Earnsheugh hillfort may result from 2400 years of erosion. Vitruvius’ account of the aims of construction was: Commodity, Firmness and Delight. Which of these qualities, if any, does Earnsheugh have? It is a great place fort a walk, if you do not suffer from vertigo, but why would anyone want protection from the landward side when visiting the place? Is it an example of ‘landscape architecture’?

The prospects for an International Society for Garden Archaeology

This is not a disused railway siding in Birmingham. It was once the grandest garden court in Europe's grandest palace: the Palace of the Emperors on the Palatine Hill in Rome. Something should be done. But what?

I was very pleased to hear from Kathryn Gleason about the foundation of International Society for Garden Archaeology. The Gardenvisit blog has a number of posts on garden archaeology and I have gleaned the following thoughts from them:

1) the work archaeologists do on archaeology is of great value, for the information it yields and for the carefulness of their approach. But the work archaeologists do on garden ‘restoration’ and ‘management’ is generally terrible. It tends to lack each of the three essentials for dealing with historic garden sites: (a) a broad perspective on garden history (b) design judgment (c) technical knowledge of construction techniques and building materials (d) technical knowledge and skill with plant material and techniques of plant management
2) garden archaeologists should take an interest in two separate but related issues (a) the investigation, care and management of what are primarily archaeological sites (b) the investigation, care and management of what are primarily garden sites
3) I admire the garden archaeological work of Wilhelmina Feemster Jashemski (at Pompeii and Herculaneum) and of Barry Cunliffe (at Fishborne Roman Palace) but I do not admire they ‘resotrations’ of Roman gardens.
4) the archaeological principle of preserving evidence should have a strong position in the care and management of historic gardens
5) the current condition of the garden courts in Rome’s Palace of the Emperor’s (on the Palatine Hill) is depressing
6) the vast crowds who course through the Emperor’s garden in the Forbidden City (in Beijing) are wearing away the wonderful pebble paving.

Turfing the grand courtyard on the Palatine was wrong. But what should be done? To answer the question one needs historical and design judgment underpinned by a detailed knowledge of Roman planting and construction. But I am doubtful about any kind of restoration on such an important site.
Image of the Palatine courtesy Jeff, Jen and Travis

Please protect the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities


This is not a railway station: it is the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities – and a nearby building is on fire today. The thought of the antiquities being damaged is horrific and it makes me think they should be copied for public view and placed in secure underground bunkers. In fact they should make two copies. In the case of statues, one should go on display in a museum and the other should go in the place where it was found. This should be the normal procedure. For example, large numbers of statues were found at Hadrian’s Villa. Copies should be sited in their original locations.
I would love to see the Egyptians changing their government. But waiting till the old devil dies would be better than damaging the fabulous antiquities. Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said two mummies were damaged by demonstrators. But his job came from Mubarak – so can he trusted?
It seems a petty point to add, but the Egyptian Museum also has material of the first importance to the study of garden history.

Image courtesy jkannenberg

The landscape setting of Dun Carloway Broch, Lewis, Outer Hebrides

Brochs are a unique building form, dating from the 1st century BC and indigenous to Scotland. They had internal wooden floors and they were inhabited. This is clear. But how they were located and why they were built is unclear. Gordon Childe interpreted brochs as fortifications from which chiefs ruled subject populations. Since no evidence for this could be found, this was followed (in the 1980s) by a theory that they were prestige dwellings for important families, but again there was a lack of evidence and it is often the case that brochs are not located in good agricultural land. But many brochs do have significant positions in the landscape, near cliffs, in valleys and by narrow stretches of water. This suggests, to me, that like so-called hill-forts and stone circles, they had a symbolic and aesthetic role in proclaiming that an area of land was in the ownership of a clan of closely related families. Brochs are early examples of Scottish landscape architecture.

Thank you to Maciomhair for his beautiful black and white photograph of Dun Carloway Broch in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. The building form made good use of local materials and gave a high level of protection from wind and rain. Since travel by boat was easier than travel on land, the west coast of Scotland had relatively good links with Celtic Europe. The crofts on the left of the photograph are a survival of a medieval building-and-farming settlement type. When the brochs were built, other families lived in circular huts with mud or stone walls and thatched roofs.

Garden archaeology and archaeologists

There is no evidence for the gardens of Herculaneum having had lawns. So why is this grass here?

There is no evidence for the gardens of Herculaneum having had lawns. So why is this grass here?

I despair of the archaeologists who manage historic gardens – please can someone cheer me up by pointing to some good examples of garden archaeology combined with garden management. (Photograph of Herculaneum courtesy dandwig)

The best garden archaeologists, like those who ‘restored’ Kenilworth Castle Garden, seem to be dry academics devoid of design sense or design judgment. Normal, bad, garden archaeologist-managers seem to work on the principle that ‘we don’t know much about historic gardens so they must have resembled modern gardens’. Gertrude Stein remarked that ‘Civilization begins with a rose. A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.’ GERTRUDE STEIN DID NOT say “Civilization begins with a garden. A garden is a garden is a garden is a garden.” Garden archaeologist-managers reason that because modern gardens have lawns and shrubs THEREFORE historic gardens must have been the same. It is rubbish and their approach to garden management is rubbish.

Take Roman peristyle gardens as an example. I know of many fresco paintings of Roman garden planting, always with flowers and birds, but not one single  example of an illustration of a Roman lawn. So why do our garden archaeologists supply all excavated Roman gardens with lawns? Are they vandals, penny-pinching accountants or imbiciles?

Garden fresco at Pompeii - showing lush planting in a courtyard

Garden fresco at Pompeii - showing lush planting in a courtyard

Roman courtyard gardens DID NOT have mown lawns and the Romans DID NOT have lawn mowers. They clipped box, to make what we call topiary, but there are very few illustrations of linear and uniform box hedging of the type which became common in renaissance gardens. Nor are there any illustrations of Roman parterres – and I am doubtful about the accuracy of Barry Cunliffe’s ‘restoration’ of the garden at Fishbourne Roman Palace

A Persian garden pavilion, with Ardashir and Gulnar

Ardashir with a slave girl, Gulnat

Ardashir with the slave girl, Gulnat, who loved him

I wish Iran would devote less effort to enriching uranium and more to enriching Iranian gardens and conserving  Persian gardens. Persia was one of the central powers in garden history, drawing upon and influencing Mesopotamia, Central Asia, India and Islam. My own modest proposal for conserving the Bagh-e Fin will be the subject of a future blog post.
Omar Khayyám (1048-1131), born in Nishapur, was an astronomer and a garden poet. The Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam, 1120 CE, begins:

I

Wake! For the Sun behind yon Eastern height
Has chased the Session of the Stars from Night;
And to the field of Heav’n ascending, strikes
The Sultan’s Turret with a Shaft of Light.
Awake Morning: For the sun behind yon eastern height.]
II
Before the phantom of False morning died,
Methought a Voice within the Tavern cried,
“When all the Temple is prepared within,
Why lags the drowsy Worshipper outside?”
III
And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted – “Open then the Door!
You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more.”
IV
Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.
V

Iram indeed is gone with all his Rose,
And Jamshyd’s Sev’n – ring’d Cup where no one knows;
But still a Ruby gushes from the Vine,
And many a Garden by the Water blows.

St Anthony's Monastery, in Egypt, and the monastic gardening tradition


St Anthony's Monastry in Egypt

St Anthony's Monastery in Egypt


Saint Anthony (c 251–356) is known as ‘the Father of All Monks’. Athanasius wrote his biography and it spread monasticism in Western Europe. He was not the ‘first monk’ but he was a Christian ascetic who went into the wilderness. The present monastery was built (c 356) on his burial site and near his retreat. Its fortified character was a response to Bedouin attacks. St Anthony gave his father’s money to the poor and ‘shut himself up in a remote cell upon a mountain’  so that ‘filled with inward peace, simplicity and goodness’ he ‘cultivated and pruned a little garden’. Presumably, the garden was his food supply and the wilderness was the subject of his contemplation. This may well be the origin of a Christian approach to gardens, seeing them primarily as functional places – not as symbolic or luxurious places. Cloister garths belong to a different tradition: they are symbolic; they probably did not have a ‘use’; they became places of luxury. See posts on Certose Cloister, Canterbury Cloister, Salisbury Cloister and a hypothesis concerning the origin of Christian monasticism. Islam does not have a monastic tradition, though there are Dervish brotherhoods, possibly because the Arabs had sufficient experience of living in deserts.

(Image courtesy Miami Love)

A hypothesis concerning the origin of Christian monasticism and cloister gardens

An Indian Rishi or Yogi or Holy man

Indian Rishi or Yogi or Holy man, today and yesterday

It is known that Homo sapiens sapiens evolved in Africa and migrated into Asia but remained an entirely nomadic species until c10,000 BC. Christ was born in 1 AD and monasticism was unknown in Christianity until the end of the third century, with St Anthony of Egypt (251-356) one of the first Christian hermits. The practice of retreating into natural landscapes was much older. It is found in the Bon religion, in Hinduism and in Daoism. Buddhist monks developed monastic communities after 400 BC. One can therefore hypothesize that the roots of Christian monasticism extend back to the habit of retreating into the wilds in Central Asia, as does the architectural practice of arranging residential cells around a square of grass. It is likely that the central square space was a symbol of The Earth, just as a circle was  a symbol of Heaven. Should this hypothesis be correct, there is a powerful case for managing cloisters as green voids with grass and wild flowers. See posts on Certose Cloister, Canterbury Cloister and Salisbury Cloister. If correct, the hypothesis supports the contention that early cloisters were not used as gardens or for any kind of gardening activity.

(The left image is the cover of the Indian Gardens eBook. The right image is a montage of a rishi onto a photograph of Egypt).

Canterbury Cathedral and the social use of cloister gardens in English monasteries

Canterbury Cathedral Cloister garden

Domestic use of Canterbury Cathedral Cloister is appropriate, but I do not think it should have been used as a graveyard


Canterbury Cathedral has beautiful cloisters. They were rebuilt in the fifteenth century on the site of the eleventh century cloisters built by Archbishop Lanfranc (c. 1005–1089) for Christ Church Canterbury. Lanfranc was born in Pavia (Italy) and brought to England by William the Conqueror. A water system was installed and a plan of the cloister drawn c1165. ‘This is a bird’s-eye view of the entire convent, drawn in accordance with the artistic methods of the time, and exhibiting the cathedral and monastic offices, viewed from the north. The water-courses are minutely shewn, with all their arrangements from the source to the convent, and its distribution to the monastic offices, supplying lavatories, cisterns, fish-ponds, etc., and finally flowing, in conjunction with the rain-water from the roofs and the sewerage of the convent, into the town ditch. As the drawing was probably made after the system was completed, we may for convenience assume its date at 1165, two years before the death of Wibert, and five years before the murder of Becket’. But what was the cloister used for? We can discover something from The monastic constitutions of Lanfranc By Lanfranc (Archbishop of Canterbury), trans David Knowles and Christopher Brooke:

p. 27 After their meal they shall sit in the cloister until the servers leave the refectory.
p. 35 There shall be a precession through the cloister as usual on Sundays.
p. 49 On Maundy… the cellarer and almoner and others appointed shall lead the poor into the cloister and cause them to sit
p.65 When all have received Communion the board shall be struck and the evening prayer take place. When this is done they shall go out into the cloister and wash their feet in warm water, and put on their day shoes.
p. 75 On Rogation Days… no sleep is taken in the afternoon… but at a fitting hour the masters shall waken the children as quietly as possible, and when these are reading in the cloister those who are still abed shall rise without delay p. 109 If it be an abbot who is received, he shall stand before the dore of the chapter-house and kiss the bretheren as they come out.
p. 131 Whossoever wishes to speak with the abbot, prior or any monk of the cloister shall use the guestmaster as his ambassador.
p.139 On other days when there is talking in the cloister, he who needs to he shaved may, by permission of the abbot or prior, be shaved in the cloister.

Note1: Technically, the ‘Cloister’ is the part of a monastery to which the public do not normally have access. The ‘Garth’, or garden, was the green space we now call a cloister.

Note2: in view of the appalling revelations of what catholic priests did to children in the 20th century, one worries about how much worse things were in earlier centuries. Rogation Days were set apart for solemn processions to invoke God’s mercy.


Triclinium Roman dining tables

A re-created Triclinium at Fishbourne Roman Garden

A re-created Triclinium at Fishbourne Roman Garden

How did they do it? Romans ate on ‘three couches’ (a triclinium) with a table separating them (see Wiki on triclinium). There is a garden re-creation of a triclinium at Fishbourne Roman Garden and one can find some photos on the web of students eating this way. When I first came across the idea, I assumed the couches were only for orgies, so that you could eat yourself sick and misbehave at will. But no, a triclinium seems to have been the normal way for wealthy people to eat. I tried arranging the sofa to eat in this way. It was not good for my digestion,  drinking was  difficult and I did not explore my earlier ideas. The only advantage I discovered was that if one was eating sloppy food without a knife or fork then it was easy to get one’s mouth vertically above the plate, as one still does for spaghetti. I remain puzzled, but here are some German students with a foodless triclinium and here is a painting of a Roman banquet.


Mass protest against Greenwich Park equestrian event

Protesters shout SAVE GREENWICH PARK on 11 October 2009

Protesters shout SAVE GREENWICH PARK on 11 October 2009

We like to be first with the news. This photo was taken half an hour ago and we estimate there were over a thousand people in Greenwich Park on a wet afternoon, most of them horrified at the prospect of the damage the Olympic Equestrian Event would do to the Park. Those pounding hoofs and crowds of people would damage the Le Notre Parterre and endanger those wonderful old chestnut trees which do so much to feed Chinese chestnut pickers each autumn. See also: Restoration after 2012 Greenwich Olympic Equestrian Event and Olympic Village 2012.

Rescue garden archaeology before the Olympic equestrian event in Greenwich

The space in front of the Queen's House is the site of the only design by Andre Le Notre for a British park or garden. Le Notre was the greatest garden designer and landscape architect of the seventeenth century.

The space in front of the Queen's House is the site of the only design by Andre Le Notre for a British park or garden. Le Notre was the greatest garden designer and landscape architect of the seventeenth century. Archaeological research should be done before the land is sacrificed to the the 2012 Olympic horses.

Andre Le Notre was the greatest landscape architect of the seventeenth century and, many would say, of any century. He completed only one design in the British Isles. It was for a parterre in Greenwich Park, London. The current proposal is to use this parterre for the 2012 Olympic Equestrian. Two conclusions surely follow:

1) the parterre garden and its periphery should have a full rescue archaeology investigation before any work of any kind begins

2) the Le Notre parterre garden should be fully restored if the Equestrian Event takes place here, because horses and stadia damage land.

LOCOG, the London Organising Committee of the 2012 Olympic Games,  say:

– the ground is to be ‘improved’ and strengthened
– to soften the ground there will be some decompaction/aeration
– as part of recovery programme there will be reseeding or returfing
– tree roots would be protected with materials such as woodchip

What will improvement, strengthening, decompaction and aeration do the archaeological remains? They are no way to treat a site of Grade I Garden Archaeological Importance. The first step should be a non-invasive geophysical survey using a magnetometer. This can map buried building foundations (eg of fountain basins) and can even plot the location of pre-historic paths in certain circumstances. The Le Notre parterre was cultivated during the Second World War but (1) the cultivation is unlikely to have been deep (2) it may well have been limited to the flat area of the parterre (3) evedince may survive below the parterre and near Le Notre’s banks, which are the areas most likely to be damaged by the equestrian competition arena.

Let us hope English Heritage supports the call for an archaeological investigation before further damage is done.

Andre Le Notre's plan for the parterre in Greenwich Park, with handwriting in his own hand. The earthworks were implemented and survive in part. An archaeological investigation is necessary to discover the extent to which the paths were built, and what survives of them.

Andre Le Notre's plan for the parterre in Greenwich Park, with handwriting in his own hand. The earthworks were implemented and survive in part. An archaeological investigation is necessary to discover the extent to which the paths were built, and what survives of them.

The embankment forms part of Andre Le Notre's earthworks in Greenwich Park

The foreground embankment forms part of Andre Le Notre's earthworks in Greenwich Park

Capernaum House of St Peter and landscape archaeology

The Octagon Church is a fine example of context-insensitive design, despite its octagonal shape

The Octagon Church is a fine example of context-insensitive design, despite its octagonal shape

When building a visitor centre on an archaeological site the best policy is assemble a group of experts and ask them to make a reconstruction of the original building. The worst policy is to invite a trendy designer to exercise his or her creative imagination. The Octagon Church at Capernaum shows ‘how not to do it’. The building dominates the ancient town. I find it no comfort at all that visitors can look through the glass floor and see the ruins of the octagonal church which the Byzantines built on the supposed ruins of St Peter’s House.

” According to Luke 4:31-44, Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum on the sabbath days. In Capernaum also, Jesus allegedly healed a man who had the spirit of an unclean devil and healed a fever in Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. According to Matthew 8:5-13, it is also the place where a Roman Centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant… One block of homes, called by the Franciscan excavators the sacra insula or “holy insula” (“insula” refers to a block of homes around a courtyard) was found to have a complex history. ..The excavators concluded that one house in the village was venerated as the house of Peter the fisherman as early as the mid-first century AD, with two churches having been constructed over it (Lofreda, 1984).”  Info from Wiki. Photo courtesy kokorokoko

There is a great need for landscape architects to become involved with archaeological sites. They are far too important to be left to the care of archaeologists.

Glastonbury Tor as a sacred landscape

Glastonbury Tor Sacred Landscape

Glastonbury Tor Sacred Landscape

Glastonbury Tor is a sacred place, in the same region (the Somerset Levels) as the oldest engineered road in north Europe, the Sweet Track (tree-ring dating establishes the construction date at 3806 BCE). Physically, Glastonbury Tor resembles Silbury Hill. My  view (see evidence below) is that it has been a sacred site since Neolithic times. European Christianity grew in opposition to paganism, banning garden luxury and felling sacred trees, but was willing to take advantage of the sacred sites and to use them as sites for church building. We can therefore see some connection with the animism of Central Asia and the custom of building temples on hills and mountains.

The National Trust conservation statement for Glastonbury Tor summarizes what is known of Glastonbury Tor’s history as follows:

1.2. RESEARCH AND CURRENT UNDERSTANDING OF THE SITE
Later Neolithic 2900-2200BC, flint and stone artefacts found from this period. later Bronze Age 1400-600BC. Very little known about this period. Romano-British 43AD-410AD. Prehistoric and Roman finds- early and late Roman pottery.
Dark Age centred on 600 AD, timber building, evidence of metal workings, substantial metal working, Roman Samian pot shards.
Late Saxon-early Medieval 600-1066 AD, monastic settlement, possible wooden church.
Medieval 1066-1485 AD, two or more successive stone churches on summit. Priest’s house and other buildings on shoulder.
Tudor 1485-1603. Very little known about this period.
Stuart 1603-1714. Very little known about this period.
Hanover 1714-1901, rebuilding of the tower in 1848. The 1821 rates map and 1844 tithe map show Tor field (the lower enclosed fields?) were used for arable crops well into the 19th century. St Michaels Tower restored.
1933 National Trust acquires Tor field with St Michaels Tower.
1948 further restoration works on the St Michaels Tower.