2017 was a very special year for me as the year marked the 1900th anniversary of the accession of Hadrian to the imperial throne and the start of my Hadrian 1900 project. I travelled to 9 countries, visited 57 new archaeological sites, 21 new archaeological museums and attended 4 exhibitions.
Here’s an overview of my 2017 archaeological travels:
January: Poznan, Poland
I kicked off the year with a trip to Poznan in Poland to present my Hadrian 1900 project at the annual “Meeting for the lovers of Turkey” organised by Izabela Miszczak who I had met on Facebook. Izabela runs Turkish Archaeological News, a website created in 2013 with the aim of providing news about the latest archaeological discoveries in Turkey and neighboring regions. This meeting was a great opportunity for me to present my project for the first time to fellow archaeology enthusiasts.
The day after the meeting Izabela and I visited the Archaeological Museum of Poznan housed inside the 16th-century Górka Palace. The museum presents the prehistory of the region, from the Stone Age to the early medieval period and houses an extensive Egyptian collection, with over one hundred objects presented at the exhibition ‘Death and Life in Ancient Egypt’. One of the masterpieces of Egyptian art in the museum is the three-meters high Obelisk of Ramesses II which came from Berlin in 2002. The grey granite monolith bears incised hieroglyphic inscriptions with names and titles of three pharaohs of the Nineteenth Dynasty: Ramesses II (1279-1213 BC), Merenptah (1213-1203 BC) and Sethi II (1200-1194 BC). It is the only pharaonic obelisk in Poland and one of a few in Europe. The museum also houses the largest collections of Sudanese artefacts outside Sudan.
My first proper archaeological trip was in February with a four-day trip to Morocco. The main reason for going to Morocco was to see the ruins of Volubilis which I had been aiming to visit for a long time. In addition to Volubilis I also visited the sites of Sala Colonia, Banasa, Lixus, the Roman-Berber river port and city of Thamusida and the Roman castrum of Tamuda.
I also visited the Archaeological Museum in Tetouan which preserves and exhibits beautiful artifacts from Tamuda as well as exquisite mosaics from Lixus which depict the Three Graces, and Venus and Adonis. Sadly the Archaeological Museum in Rabat was closed for renovation at the time of my visit. Opened in 1932, it contains the most extensive collection of archaeological artifacts found in Morocco, including many objects discovered in Volubilis, Banasa and Thamusida. The museum is particularly noted for its collection of Hellenistic-style bronze statues from Volubilis, including a portrait head of the Berber king Juba II (see some images here).
March: Paris & Athens
In March I travelled to Paris and Athens to see two exhibitions related to Hadrian. The first one was called “Eclectic, a collection of the 21st century” and was held in the renowned Parisian museum, the Musée du Quai Branly. The exhibition shed light on the stunning private collection of the French art collector and businessman Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière. Among the objects on show was a small marble head of Hadrian representing the emperor at the height of his power. It was created in 127/128 AD for Hadrian’s decennalia (celebration of ten years of an emperor’s reign) and his acceptance of the title Pater Patriae (Father of the Country).
In Paris I also went back to the Louvre to see a restored relief with a portrait of Antinous. The relief was made by assembling an ancient fragment of a relief portrait of Antinous with a modern rectangular marble slab.
Athens was the first city to celebrate the 1900th anniversary of Hadrian’s accession with the presentation at the Acropolis Museum of an exquisite portrait of Hadrian found in Syngrou Avenue and an interesting video which showcased the Emperor’s immense building program in the city. The presentation ran from 15th January to 31st March 2017.
Read more: Hadrian at the Acropolis Museum of Athens
My second archaeological trip of 2017 was in Jordan, a land rich in history which Hadrian visited in 129-30 AD. I spent nine days visiting Jordan’s mesmerising sights starting with two days in Madaba located along the 5,000-year-old Kings’ Highway. Known as the “City of Mosaics”, Madaba is home to the famous 6th century Mosaic Map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
From Madaba I drove south along the scenic Desert Highway to the red-colored city of Petra, one of the wonders of the world and Jordan’s #1 tourist attraction. On the way I visited the archaeological site of Um er-Rasas (Kastrom Mefa’a) which has remains from the Roman, Byzantine and Early Muslim periods and saw some stretches of the Limes Arabicus, the desert frontier of the Roman Empire.
I spent one day exploring Petra, walking about 20 miles, marvelling at the landscape and at the beautiful tombs and facades. I ended my day in Petra by taking the trail – rarely taken by tourists – that leads to stunning views from above the Treasury.
The next day I drove down to Wadi Rum to experience the breathtaking landscapes of Jordan’ stunning desert terrain on a 3 hour jeep ride. I drove back north to visit the copper mines of Wadi Feynan and continued northwards along the Dead Sea to visit Mount Nebo, the memorial of Moses and the presumed site of his death and burial place. The next two days were spent visiting the sites of Gerasa (Jerash), Pella and Gadara (Umm Qais). Perched on a splendid hilltop overlooking the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee, Gadara boasts impressive colonnaded streets, a bath complex and the ruins of two theatres.
The last two days of my Jordan trip were spent in Amman visiting the citadel with its Temple of Hercules as well as the Jordan Museum. In the Roman theatre in Amman I was surprised to discover a thorax of a posthumous cuirassed statue of Hadrian. I ended my Jordan’s trip with the visit of Machaerus, a fortified hilltop palace built by Herod the Great as well as Qasr Al-Abd, Hellenistic palace dating from approximately 200 BC.
May: National Archaeology Museum of Saint-Germain-En-Laye & Rouen
While in Paris I took the RER Line A for Saint-Germain-en-Laye to visit France’s national archaeology museum which is housed in what was once a royal residence, the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. In 1862, Napoleon III decided to restore the castle and to use it to store the national archaeological collections. Today, the museum has a vast collection of artefacts from all over the country covering all periods from the early settlements of France up until 1000 AD.
From Paris I also took the train to Rouen to visit the city, its cathedral as well as its archaeological museum.
June: Archaeological Park of Bliesbruck-Reinheim
In mid-June I finally visited the archaeological site of Bliesbruck-Reinheim, an archaeological park stretching on both sides of the German-French border between the towns of Reinheim (Saarland) and Bliesbruck (Moselle). I also visited the cave of Mithras in Halberg near Saarbrücken, a sanctuary to Mithras used during the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Then I headed to Saarbrücken to visit the Museum of Pre- and Early History in Saarbrücken which displays the original finds from the tomb of the Celtic Princess of Reinheim as well as Roman artefacts and wall paintings from a nearby Roman villa.
July: Hadrian’s Wall & Turkey
At the beginning of July I headed to Hadrian’s Wall to attend some of the events taking place to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Hadrian’s Wall being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and 1,900 years since Hadrian became Emperor. Hadrian’s Cavalry was the theme chosen for the celebrations with a fantastic programme of public talks, Roman-themed re-enactment events and a major exhibition along the Wall. The most spectacular event was the Turma! Hadrian’s Cavalry Charge in Bitts Park in Carlisle.
On Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd of July 2017 and for the first time in about 1,500 years, a full turma of Roman cavalry, the Roman name for a 30-strong cavalry, was brought together to perform some of the manoeuvres that would have been done at the time of Hadrian. The Turma! event was part of the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition which was taking place across 10 sites along Hadrian’s Wall. This unique series of exhibitions celebrated the cavalry regiments that once guarded the northern frontier of the Roman Empire by exploring the role and daily life of cavalry soldiers.
Read more: Turma! Hadrian’s Cavalry Charge in Carlisle
The highlights of the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition were the richly decorated helmets, including the rare Roman cavalry helmet – the Crosby Garrett Helmet, found by an unnamed metal detectorist near Crosby Garrett in Cumbria in May 2010 and sold at Christie’s for £2.3 million ($3.6 million) to an undisclosed private buyer.
They are a few places that I visited for the first time: the Great North Museum in Newcastle, Senhouse Museum in Maryport, Ravenglass Roman Bath House as well as Hardknott Roman Fort in the Lake District. The highlights of the Great North’s archaeological collections are the carved and inscribed stones from Hadrian’s Wall and its outpost forts and hinterland sites, which are critical for the study of Roman Britain and Roman military history. They include altars, building inscriptions and tombstones, as well as relief sculptures. The Great North Museum also houses the most significant inscription from Hadrian’s Wall which confirmed that it was indeed Hadrian who built the Roman wall running across northern England (it was known before as Severus’s Wall).
The Senhouse Museum in Maryport is dramatically sited on a cliff overlooking the Solway Firth. It is located next to a Roman fort, probably founded in the 1st century AD and rebuilt during the reign of Hadrian. Most of the objects in the Museum derive from the fort at Maryport and the Roman civil settlement attached to it. It displays the largest group of Roman military altar stones and inscriptions from any site in Britain.
The remains of the Roman fort Mediobogdum are located on the western side of the Hardknott Pass in the English county of Cumbria (formerly part of Cumberland). Built between about 120 and 138 AD, the fort was abandoned during the Antonine advance into Scotland during the mid-2nd century.
The remains of the bath house of Ravenglass Roman fort, established in 130 AD, are the tallest Roman structures surviving in northern Britain. The Hadrianic fort, whose earthworks can be seen near the bath house, guarded what was probably a harbour and there is evidence that soldiers stationed here served in Hadrian’s fleet.
I also returned to the Roman forts of Chesters and Housesteads as well as Corbridge Roman City. I walked along the Wall on the same path as the one I took a few years ago.
July was also the start of my Hadrian 1900 project. Hadrian was hailed emperor in Antioch in modern-day southeastern Turkey so I took a flight to Adana and headed to the city of Antakya near the Syrian border. Unfortunately very little of Antioch has survived and most of the ruins of Antioch are buried beneath the modern Turkish city. Still visible however are parts of the aqueduct built by Trajan and completed by Hadrian, the so-called Charonion relief, a large Hellenistic limestone bust more than 4.5 m high carved out on the mountainside above the city as well as the ruins of a massive Roman temple’s podium still standing at a height of 5 m. In addition, Antioch bears the Church of Saint Peter which is generally considered to be the world’s first Christian church.
The Antioch mosaics are now the principal reminders of the glory of the ancient city. About half of the mosaics will be housed in the new Hatay Archaeology Museum which was still partly under development at the time of my visit.
After his accession to power Hadrian remained a few weeks in Antioch before beginning his journey back to Rome in October 117 AD. Instead of sailing straight to Rome, Hadrian journeyed north-westwards across Asia Minor to deal with troubles on the Danube frontier and to conduct negotiations with the king of the Roxolani. The first stage of Hadrian’s journey towards Dacia took him to Ancyra (modern Ankara). Some parts of his journey were recorded on inscriptions so it was possible for me to follow Hadrian’s itinerary. From Antioch I travelled northwards towards Mopsucrene, Adana, Tarsus and Tyana. Twelve miles north Tarsus, near the village of Saglikli, I walked a long stretch of the Via Tauri (known locally as Roma Yolu), the same road on which Hadrian marched before crossing the Cilician Gates.
- 13th October 117 AD – Hadrian travels back to Rome and reaches Mopsucrene (#Hadrian1900)
- 15th October 117 AD – Hadrian crosses the Cilician gates and arrives in Cappadocia (#Hadrian1900)
- 17 October 117 – Hadrian arrives in Tyana (#Hadrian1900)
I also travelled to Selinus in present-day Gazipaşa on the southern coast of Turkey to see the place of Trajan’s death. On the way I visited the sites of Soli/Pompeipolis, Anamurium, Antiochia ad Cragum, Canytelis, Elaiussa Sebaste, Diocaesarea/Olba and the ruins of Veyselli.
While in the area I took the opportunity to visit Nemrut Dağı where Antiochus I (69–34 BC), who reigned over Commagene, built his mausoleum on one of the highest peaks of the Eastern Taurus mountain range. On the way I visited the Hittite Fortress of Karatepe, Kastabala/Hierapolis, the Necropolis of Perrhe, the Severan Bridge of Cendere and Arsameia.
In addition I walked inside the Vespasianus Titus Tunnel located within the boundaries of the Ancient City of Seleucia Pieria. The construction began in the 1st century AD during the reign of the Roman emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD), continued under his son Titus (79-81 AD) and his successors, completed in 2nd century AD during the reign of Antonius Pius. A rock-carved inscription at the entrance of the first tunnel section bears the names Vespasianus and Titus, another inscription in the downstream channel that of Antonius.
September: Lille, Budapest & Rome
September was a busy month with three weekend trips to Lille, Budapest and Rome. In Lille I attended the three-day conference on Hadrian and Trajan organised by the University of Lille. In Budapest I visited the Aquincum Museum. It was hosting a small exhibition dedicated to Hadrian to commemorate his accession to the throne 1,900 years ago. It presented various themes and some of the most important aspects of Hadrian’s life and introduced a number of items found in Aquincum never displayed before such as weapons, coins and everyday objects. For the occasion, the Aquincum Museum created a painted replica of a full length statue of Hadrian, similar to the work done on the famous Augustus Prima Porta.
In Budapest I also visited all the other Roman remains as well as the wonderful lapidarium of the Hungarian National Museum.
At the end of September I travelled to Rome and had the privilege of visiting Hadrian’s Villa by night. I spent the whole day in Tivoli and I visited the Villa d’Este for the first time.
I went back to the Vatican Museums to visit the New Wing (Braccio Nuovo) of the Chiaramonti Museum which had just reopened after seven years of restoration. Along the walls of the gallery are twenty-eight niches which hold larger-than-life-size statues portraying emperors and Roman replicas of famous Greek statues.
I also went on a guided tour of the Necropolis of the Via Triumphalis which has a series of Roman-era tombs excavated under the Vatican Gardens. The ancient Roman necropolis was discovered by accident while digging the Vatican’s massive underground parking garage in 1956. The excavations have revealed more than 1,000 tombs and graves dating from the 1st century BC through 320 AD. Finally, I visited the Villa of Livia at Prima Porta located 12 km north of Rome along the Via Flaminia. The villa and gardens have been excavated and can be visited.
In October I returned to Turkey for the second leg of my Hadrian 1900 project. I flew to Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the Asian side and travelled westwards towards Ankara, crossing the ancient province of Bithynia to visit Izmit (ancient Nicomedia) and the ancient site of Juliopolis where Hadrian is said to have stayed on November 11 (a copy of a letter of thanks written by Hadrian from Juliopolis to the city of Pergamon has survived). From Juliopolis I travelled back towards Iznik and Bursa and followed the road taken from Hadrian to reach the cities of Nicaea and Nicomedia.
- 11th November 117 AD – Hadrian reaches Juliopolis in Bithynia (#Hadrian1900)
- Late November 117 AD – Hadrian arrives in Nicaea (#Hadrian1900)
Aizanoi was not on Hadrian’s itinerary but since I had a bit of time while staying in Bursa, I took the opportunity to visit this extraordinary site. Aizanoi is so isolated that it is rarely visited by foreign tourists. It took me about 3 hours to reach the site from Bursa but it was all worth it.
On the way back to Izmit from Juliopolis I stopped at Bolu to visit the city’s archaeological museum. Bolu was the ancient Claudiopolis, the place of birth of Antinous (later renamed Hadriana). The small (and free of charge) museum houses a nice collection of finds from the city and the region. The museum’s garden displays a wonderful collection of Roman sculptures and inscriptions, including a number of gladiatorial gravestones. One gravestone is shaped like a shield and helmet. The museum’s highlights include an inscription from the stadium dedicated to Hadrian as well as fragments from a temple, probably dedicated to Antinous. The steps of the stadium are still visible.
I finished my trip with 3 days in Istanbul visiting Hagia Sophia and Hagia Irene, walking along the Theodosian Walls, visiting the Basilica Cistern, as well as revisiting the Istanbul Archeology Museums and the Palace Mosaic Museum.
While in London for professional reasons, I took the opportunity to visit the Scythian exhibition at the British Museum as well as the new London Mithraeum housed in Bloomberg’s European headquarters. Discovered in 1954, the building, dedicated to the god Mithras, has been restored to its original site and lies 7 m below the city streets. The remains are enhanced by light and sound effects, including chants inspired by ancient graffiti found scrawled on a similar temple in Rome.
2018 looks to be another year of exciting travels with the third and fourth leg of my Hadrian 1900 project already planned. The year will start with trips to Athens and Seville to see the exhibitions dedicated to Hadrian. Both exhibitions mark the 1900 years since the beginning of Hadrian’s reign. The one in Athens called “Hadrian and Athens Conversing with an Ideal World” aims to give visitors a unique opportunity to view exhibits which showcase Hadrian’s philhellenism and highlight his immense and enduring legacy. The exhibition in Seville entitled “Hadrian 2017. Metamorphosis: The birth of a new Rome” brings together and for the first time all the portraits of Hadrian found in Spain, most notably the marble bust found recently at the archaeological site of Los Torrejones in the Region of Murcia (read more here).
Finally, in case you missed them, here are the blog posts that received the most reads in 2017.
5 most-read blog posts of 2017 on Following Hadrian:
- The Hadrianic Temple of Diktynna in Crete
- IO Saturnalia!
- Art and sculptures from Hadrian’s Villa: The Furietti Centaurs
- 11th August 117 AD – Hadrian is hailed emperor in Antioch (#Hadrian1900)
5 most-read blog posts of 2017 on Following Hadrian Photography:
Here’s wishing all a fantastic 2018! May it be full of happiness and travels for you too.