Roman Baths

Roman baths, used for both socializing and cleaning, were a marvel of engineering. The water was heated by the fire lit under the pool and the hot air was circulated between the walls of the bath; so that both the water temperature and the temperature of the building would remain constant. The water used in the Roman baths was generally carried from the water source to the bath with the help of aqueducts.

The dirty water coming out of the baths had a function. These dirty waters were drained from the canal and used to clean the dirty canals of the latrinas (Public Toilet) next to the baths.

For the Romans, these baths were an important part of daily life. They would go every day and stay for a few hours. The wealthy Romans used to come with their slaves. The slaves brought in usually took on the task of carrying towels and drinks. Before bathing in Roman baths, sports exercises were done. Running, weight lifting and wrestling are examples of these. After the exercises, the servants would smear their masters with oil and then scrape off the oil with the help of a board or bone. In this way, great dirt would be removed.

In the Roman bath, body cleaning was done with an apparatus called strigilis. With this apparatus, sweat, sand and dust sticking to the body were removed, and then the body was lubricated in the area called aleipterion.

Roman baths were also present inside various palaces or castles. The Romans used the same name (Thermae) for them as well. The design of the baths is mentioned a lot on Vitruvius’ De architectura.

Since the limits of socialization were exceeded in some baths and there were incidents such as prostitution, it was decided that women would enter the bath from morning to noon and men would enter the bath in the afternoon. So they were prevented from entering to baths together.

For example, Emperor Trajan forbade men and women to bathe together in the Ephesus Bath in 98 AD.

The Younger Futhark

The runic alphabet that was used during the Viking Age is called Younger Futhark. These runes can be found on hundreds of runestones throughout Scandinavia. This alphabet does not consist of many runes, and that is because the Norse language evolved a lot during the Iron Age, which meant that the runic alphabet was reduced from 24 to 16 runes.

Each rune has its own name and sound. Some of the runes are used to spell the same letter, for instance, the Týr rune is used for the letters “t” and “d”, and kaun is used for “g” and “k”. 

The names on this list of the Younger Futhark runes have been taken from the website of The National Museum in Copenhagen. The names of the runes may vary slightly depending on the language and on which runologist has conducted the research.

Jewish Warsaw Before World War II

The Jewish community in Warsaw has a rich history. It is undoubtedly the story of one of the largest, most interesting and varied communities in the history of the Jewish people.

There has been a Jewish presence in Warsaw since the time it became the capitol of the small province in the Mazovia Principality. There was a Jewish settlement on the northwest outskirts of the Old Town, between Dunai and Piekarska Streets. There was a synagogue there and a cemetery further away, near the site of the Bristol Hotel today. The Jews were exiled from Warsaw towards the end of the 14th century by one of the Mazovian princes and the edict prohibiting Jews from residing in Warsaw remained in effect until the 19th century. In spite of that, as Warsaw became an important political-cultural center, more Jews were allowed to settle on its periphery, since the nobility recognized that the Jews represented a significant commercial force. The nobles exploited their right to rule over autonomous territories, and brought Jews to live under their protection. Legally, this system was called Juridica. Thus, the Potocki family, in the 18th century, created the neighborhood Nowy Potok, today the area of the Hotel Sobieski. The Sulkowski family established New Jerusalem – the street leading to the area is still called Aleje Jerozolimskie [Jerusalem Blvd].

In the beginning of the 19th century, the Leczczynski family founded a neighborhood, and hence the name of Leszno Street. A Venetian architect designed the Muranow neighborhood, and named it after the city of his birth, Merrano. Jews in increasingly large numbers also settled in the Praga district. One of the neighborhoods still carries the name Szmulowizna, in honor of the Jewish merchant Shmuel Zbytkower, who also received permission to build Jewish cemeteries, first in the Praga district, and later, on the western bank of the Vistula.
With the Prussian regime came the partition of Poland. During the period of the Napoleonic principality of Warsaw, and later Congress Poland, (named for the Congress of Vienna in 1815, which transferred control of Warsaw and the surrounding area from Prussia to Russia, and hence the name of all the territory annexed by Czarist Russia), more and more Jews settled in Warsaw. After the removal of all special tax restrictions on the rights of Jews in the city in 1862, Jews settled in all sections of Warsaw. Most of them, for economic, cultural and religious reasons, continued to reside in those areas where Jews were the majority.

The Jewish population of Warsaw grew significantly – from about 10,000 at the beginning of the 19th century to approximately 350,000 by the end of World War 1. It was the largest Jewish community in Europe at that time. Like all of European Jewry in the 19th century, the Jews of Warsaw vacillated between assimilation and attempts to preserve a distinctive Jewish character in their lives. The relationship between the Poles and the Jews changed frequently: there were periods of cooperation, active inclusion of Jews in Polish struggles for independence, and the protection and advancement of Jewish culture, followed by periods of crises, often with the “help” of the Russian powers, who practiced a policy of “divide and conquer”.

During the 19th century, two distinct approaches to the relationship with the Jews developed among the Poles. One approach – the romantic, liberal, democratic and later socialistic one – called for the inclusion of the Jews and other minorities in Polish civic life. Others took a different approach – the nationalistic, religious one. This group viewed the Jews and the German minority as eternal enemies and developed a politically motivated anti-Semitism, especially towards the end of the century. This modern antisemitism served to compound ancient antisemitism already prevalent in Polish society, especially in religious circles and among those who controlled financial competition. The PPS, The Polish Socialist Party, headed by Jozef Pilsudski, was founded in the 1890’s. In opposition to the Socialists, the ND, the National Democratic Party, called the Endeks, headed by Roman Dmowski, was established. A third political force was the Farmers’ Party, led by Wincenty Witos, which served as a balance.

Jewish figures like Berek Joselewicz [Yoselevich], Rabbi Meisels, Michael Landy and Henryk Wohl – are remembered for taking active roles in the history of the shared homeland. On the other hand, antisemitism, economic struggles and even riots -usually instigated by the Cossacks – were also prevalent. During the 19th century, the growing and developing Warsaw became a magnet for Jews, who streamed into the city for economic reasons, but also in order to obtain an education and participate in the building of a modern city.

Several Jewish families became influential in the financial, cultural and municipal life of the city. Scions of many families (Kronenberg, Nathanson, Berenson, Wawelberg, Bloch, Toeplitz and others) converted under pressure and are buried in cemeteries belonging to the different faiths. These families were major contributors to the development of education and trade in Warsaw. Yet thousands of Jews continued to live in poverty, with no electricity or running water.
Leopold Kronenberg (1812-1878). Banker, Industrialist and major philanthropist. He built the railway lines connecting Warsaw to St. Petersburg, Minsk, and Brest, and other places. He and his family assimilated and converted.

Warsaw became the center of Jewish activity. The Gur Rabbi temporarily established his court there while some progressive rabbis such as Kramsztyk and Jastrow preached a different approach. Zionism was an important force. At the same time a rabbinical school was established – a school which preached involvement in the life of the city, but produced not a single rabbi. Jewish schools were established and contributed to Jewish creativity in the Polish language. A Hebrew and Yiddish cultural center was also established.

While Polish society with its many different political parties became more united, all the conflicting Jewish ideologies flourished. At the same time, new ideas were burgeoning in the Jewish world. In independent Poland, Jews had been equal citizens by law since 1918 yet many began to feel more and more like strangers. In the streets of Warsaw, every fourth person was a Jew. Among them you could find rabbis from Agudat Israel, Zionists, leaders of the Bund and classic Polish intellectuals of Jewish background. Youth movements were active in the city, representing the entire range of political parties, educational trends, and community institutions. And all of these were constantly meeting and debating issues, fighting and arguing in a never-ending stream of Jewish creativity. Ten daily newspapers and several monthlies were published. Jews boxed, rode bikes and participated in many organized sports. Meir Balaban, Moshe Shorr, Yitzhak Shiper and the young Emanuel Ringelblum laid down the foundation of Jewish historiography and Shimon Ashkenazi and Marceli Handelsman joined forces with them. Jewish culture thrived – theatre, cabaret satirical performances, movies and literature. The most outstanding 20th century Polish authors and poets met in Cafe Ziminski – the Jewish writers, Julian Tuwim, Slonimski, Lesmian and Schulz. The Singer brothers, Sholem Asch, I.L. Peretz and others, sat somewhere in Krochmalna Street or in the Yiddish Authors House on Tlomacka Street.

Nazi “Death Valley” Prelude to the Holocaust

In the opening months of the Second World War, Nazi forces executed over 30-35,000 civilians in the Pomeranian region of Poland – the first large scale atrocity in the country. Despite efforts to hide these crimes, research is shedding light on these massacres over 80 years later.

Archaeologists working in ‘Death Valley,’ one of at least 400 locations these massacres took place, have uncovered a mass grave and hundreds of artifacts such as victims’ possessions.

Lead author Dr Dawid Kobiałka, from the Polish Academy of Sciences, and the other researchers also explored archival material worked with the local community to gain more insight into these events.

“As a kid living near Death Valley, I used to play with my friends there,” said Dr Kobiałka, “Three decades later, I discovered a mass grave of approximately 500 Poles there.”

These war crimes, which gave Death Valley its name, were part of a coordinated campaign in which the Nazis executed 12,000 civilians in the area around the village of Piasńica from late 1939 to early 1940. Many historians consider this a prelude to the later Nazi genocides.

The Nazis returned to Death Valley, which is located near Chojnice, in 1945 to hide their crimes. Shortly after the war, the remains of 168 of the victims were uncovered at the site. However, it was commonly known that not all mass graves from 1939 were found and exhumed, and the grave of those killed in 1945 was not exhumed either.

Sources: Antiquity Journal

Cluny Museum: The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries

Touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight. These six tapestries, woven in around 1500, represent the five senses against a detailed red background.

The remaining sixth sense, explained only by the inscription “À mon seul désir” (To my only desire), has inspired countless theories. Without excluding a possible meaning in the register of courtly love, it could be a reference to free will: the woman with her decorative headdress and refined clothing, renouncing temporal pleasures.

These “millefleurs” (“thousand flowers”) tapestries are characterized by an abundance of flora, including flowers, orange trees, pines, hollies and oaks, and are inhabited by a peaceable bestiary (a monkey, dogs, rabbits and a heron).  In this idyllic natural setting conducive to contemplation, the unicorn by turns a participant and a simple spectator. Accompanied by a lion, it sports the coat of arms of the Le Viste family in every scene.

The Lady and the Unicorn wall-hanging was acquired in 1882. It is now considered one of the great masterpieces of Western art.

Ephesus: Roman Architectural Site

Ephesus:

Ephesus is one of the largest Roman archaeological sites in the eastern Mediterranean. The visible ruins still give some idea of the city’s original splendour, and the names associated with the ruins are evocative of its former life.

The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood 418′ by 239′ with over 100 marble pillars each 56′ high. The temple earned the city the title “Servant of the Goddess”. Pliny tells us that the magnificent structure took 120 years to build but is now represented only by one inconspicuous column, revealed during an archaeological excavation by the British Museum in the 1870s.

Arles: A Van Gogh Getaway

On the cusp of the Camargue National Park in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, Arles is a heady blast of Van Gogh nostalgia – the artist painted in excess of 200 works around this lovely Roman town. The stately amphitheatre, one of the largest in Roman times, is part of the reason for Arles’ Unesco World Heritage Site status. The twisting aluminium tower designed by Frank Gehry brings the city’s architecture bang up to date.

Lavender of Provence

Flowers bloom throughout the year in Provence, but none are more synonymous with the region than lavender, which turns acres of land purple. With more than 2,000 producers and roughly 25,000 people employed in the industry, working across 20,000 hectares, lavender is big business. You’ll want to visit between the last week of June and the beginning of August, just before the harvest begins, to see the flowers at their best.

La Voisin

In a darkened room stands a 40-year-old woman named Catherine Monvoisin. Her figure is lit only by torches held by the faceless men standing in front of her, men who are sentencing her to death by fire. It is the 17th century, where such a death sentence is an unusual ending to someone’s life. But Catherine is an unusual woman.

Catherine was the wife of a silk merchant and jeweler and lived a life of comfort in Parisian Society. She was a philanthropist, entrepreneur, fortune teller, mother, and art lover. But she was also a professional poisoner, alleged provider of sorceries, and an alleged witch who plunged the French aristocracy into turmoil, and even tried to kill a king.

She was more famously known as “La Voisin” and was a central figure in “L’affaire des Poisons” or the “Affair of the Poisons”. Catherine controlled a wide network of fortune-tellers from her position in Paris society. She provided poison, abortion, aphrodisiacs, arranged black masses, and even claimed to offer magical services.

She was so famous that she even drew clients from the aristocracy, who could afford to pay her high prices which funded her lavish lifestyle. Her organization, in performing commissioned black magic and murder by poison, took thousands of lives.

The claimed alchemist Adam Lesage, one of the lovers of Catherine, told of her murdering her own husband, an accusation she denied. It is believed that throughout her life, she might have been responsible for the deaths of around 2,500 infants due to her poisoning. However, throughout this time she remained a high-profile socialite, and her sheer charm made no one suspect her.

Sources: Bipin Dimri