Wednesday, 12 November 2014

it happened on the way to the forum: epilogue oder mainzigartig

I had an opportunity to seek out and find those relics and sites of the late Roman Empire hidden in more or less plain sight in the ancient city of Mainz. Originally known Fortress Mogontiacum after a Celtic deity, the outpost founded by General Nero Claudus Drusus became the provincial capital of Germania Superior.
 Having learned of the existence of these places after being inspired by the podcast series, I was really surprised to discover how I had just breezed by them on more than one occasion. It was a real treat to have a comprehensive and circumspect view of Rome from its origin to the eventual collapse. First, I explored the archeological excavation of the Temple of Isis and Magna Mater (both being the matrons of the gods but from different traditions and both with a devoted following), beneath the subfloor of the appropriately named Römerpassage shopping centre.
The foundation is preserved and multiple artefacts are on display—as well as and video presentation. The fact that this miraculous ruin was discovered buried beneath a shopping centre makes me think about a very good novel from Portuguese writer José Saramago called The Cave—no spoilers but with a similar arrangement. Next, I cut a path to the Electoral Palace (Kurfürstliche Schloß) that brought me past a few other Roman remnants along the way. A wing of the palace houses the Roman collections of the archeological and historic institute called the Romano-Germanic Central Museum (Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum).
 I had read about this venerable place but was completely overwhelmed and unprepared for the scope and reach, which is comparable to that of the Vatican’s holdings in terms of treasure and curation. Not only were riches and craftmanship on show to wonder at, there were unending galleries on different aspects of Roman culture and daily life, including tools and technology and all the trappings of government administration, time-keeping, trade and commerce, and communication.
There were geographically-orientated exhibitions on how the different peoples of the Empire practised and reinterpreted these donations and influenced the Romans in return.  I really liked this magic amulet with the head of a rooster and found it interesting to peer inside a sacrophagus and see it‘s furnished for the afterlife. There were countless other mundane and sacred objects to inspect.  The altar-pieces of the temple under the shopping centre can be seen behind the coffin  against the wall. Spanning from the early days of the Republic all the way to the aftermath when the Western portion fell and the Middle Ages began, there was simply too much to digest for one day’s visit—not that I even managed to cover all the ground with partner museums around the city, and H and I will have to return soon.
I spoke briefly with one of the caretakers who said that there was not even floor-space for half of the collection, which is often loaned out to other museums, and told me a little bit about the research and restoration functions of the institute. Though the majority of the relics were not uncovered locally, several findings did occur in Mainz—which saw nearly four-hundred years of Roman rule, and more and more items are being unearthed all the time during construction and urban expansion, like the temple under the shopping centre. Sadly, as time is money building-business, she said that she suspected that antiquity is often bulldozed over to avoid complications, with not everyone entirely sold on the prospect of hosting an archeological sensation instead of a park-deck but the institute is working for conservation and ways to mitigate such conflicts.