National Museum Serbia in Belgrad has a great archaeological collection and very beautiful presentation. Visitors get good insight in (pre)historic life in this region where rivers dominate the landscape and many different tribes shaped the local customs.
Do not go to the National Museum Serbia, people told me. Apparently, it is a prominent project of the actual president that many citizens of Belgrad hate. However, archaeological findings house in this ‘Narodni Muzej Srbije’ so I went there anyway and I did not regret. The enormous hall on the ground floor has a nice atmosphere and good overview over the ages, starting in the 9-7th millenium BCE with the extensive findings of Lepenski Vir – like the figurines on the photograph above. Mesolithic artists shaped sandstone boulders from the river into sculptures and altars.
The National Museum Serbia contains many other precious objects and they know how to show them as you can see here. It is a joy to walk and look around.
Fortunately, always great to see, they have ancient jewelry! I was particularly intrigues by the ‘wristband’, an ornament that people wore 1500-1000 years BCE. I’d loved to try it for myself. More in general, why are jewelry makers not more often inspired by ancient times and the often spectacular ideas of our ancestors? The silver jewelry shown here date from 500-400 BCE.
These are just a few impressions. I really recomment that you go and see for yourself as there is so much more than what I show. The National Museum Serbia houses in a former bank and they use that as an advantage by housing a numismatic collection in two former bank vaults. Here you see pictures of a coin of Emperor Valentinian 1 (364 BCE) – of the oldest Serbian coin (1230 AD) with Christ blessing King Radoslav – and of a beautiful Yugoslavian banknote (1931). If you like ancient coins, the numismatic collection alone is rich enough to pay a visit to.
The first floor has lots of medieval objects, many of them religious. The top floors have paintings – I spotted quite some Dutch ones among many international famous names. For this blog, I think the Serbian painter Uros Predic (1857 – 1953) is interesting to show with some very fine Realistic paintings: ‘An orphan at his mother’s grave'(1888) and ‘Fugitives from Herzegovina'(1889). I was deeply moved while watching them.
Villa del Casale in Sicily is a wonderful heritage from Roman times. It has a unique mosaic that proves women were exercising for different sports as well as men. What makes Villa del Casale a must-see in Sicily are the many mosaics still in place. The villa with numerous rooms, courts and halls contains more authentic mosaics on their original spots than museums can offer. My visit was amazing and breathtaking as there are not just many mosaics. They are also storytelling mosaics, full of action.
Historians have searched: who would have been rich enough in ancient times to build a place like this? So many rooms (see the villa-plan below) and litterally every floor had mosaics (remaining), wall paintings and marble (mostly lost). In his excellent book about the history of Sicily, Fik Meijer suggests that it could have been Maximinianus, co-emperor of Diocletianus in the 3rd century AD but there are also other theories.
Villa del Casale was well in use for at least 7 centuries and probably disappeared underground in the time of the Normans (12th century. Farmers re-discovered it in the 18th century. Restauration followed in the 20th century. And it is very much worth your visit.
Mosaic of Circus Maximus Not only the mosaic with the sportgirls is unique. In a spectacular corridor, you can see the Roman Circus Maximus projected, with horses running around the track, and other scenes that belong to this horse racing event. It is an incredible and very vivid mosaic, although a little bit difficult to see for the visitor. But even with some distance, it impresses well enough. At a certain point in your visit, you can look into this room also from the other side.
Mosaic Colosseum animals Very impressive is also the 100 (!) meter long corridor. This corridor is like a film that shows how Romans catch wild animals that must fight in the Colosseum, and how they transport them. This is storytelling mosaic in its best form, not to be found anywhere else in the world. A great variety of animals is put into ships towards Rome: from springbok, buffalo and ostrich to lion, tiger, rhino, elephant. The places depicted are Carthago, Alexandria, the Nile delta, India and the harbour of Ostia. Apparently animals had to be taken from far away to feed the hunger of the Colosseum public in Rome.
Where should I start to describe the rest of Villa del Casale? There are many more storytelling mosaics. A last one that I like both for the scene and for the way the mosaic was placed in a ‘semi-circular portico’ around a small courtyard that connects various rooms.
Mosaic about the art of fishing This mosaic shows are many boats, all of them with two fishermen using different methods to fish. It reveals in detail the secrets of fishing with a net, a creel, a trident and a fishing line with a hook. The sea is full with an immense variety of fish. Alongside of the sea you see beautiful maritime villas with different forms but all with long arcades that open out onto the sea. Most probably this is one of the ‘North-African’ mosaics present in Villa del Casale as it looks a lot like mosaics found in the Bardo Museum in Tunis.
Mosaic floors for servants Were you only a servant in the Villa del Casale? Well, even for you the floors would be covered with mosaics and the walls with frescos and marble. It might not be a storytelling mosaic but I would not mind to have that kind of floor in my room!
How to get there? Villa del Casale lies in the country-side, a few kilometers from Piazza Armerina about one hour drive from Catania. There is a public bus (Interbus) going from Taormina – Catania – Piazza Armerina. The total ride is about 3 hours (a lot shorter if you start from Catania of course). Tickets are rather cheap (return ticket 18 euros in 2023). Next to the busstop in Piazza Armerina is also the stop of the shuttle to Villa del Catale (2,50 return ticket in 2023, only 10 minutes drive). If you have time left between bus and shuttle, Piazza Armerina has a nice historic centre. Although a bit in neglect, it is worth some of your time.
Reconstruction of Gallic house (1st century BD – based on Oppidum Titelberg)
Musée National Luxembourg offers 5 floors of archaeology, presented in a beautiful way. The collection is rich and a visit feels like a discovery of old times. Also children can have a great time in this museum; there is plenty of space, interaction and objects presentations that can attract their full attention.
Skull of prehistoric rhinoceros
Musée National Luxembourg was built in the rocks: when you enter in the ground floor, there is a nationalistic presentation about Luxembourg: since when is it a country and how does it develop it’s own identity. Then you walk to floor -1 to find yourself in the first ages of our era. You can go down by stairs or slope (wheelchair accessible). and each floor you go back in time, to end on floor -5 with the oldest known history of Luxembourg. Here and there I lost my way through the logic of the route but that didn’t matter, it just added to the joy of the discovery.
Mosaic floor with the Muses, found in Gallo-Roman villa in Vichten
The mosaic floor that was found in Vichten is a striking beauty – in reality better than in the picture above (difficult to photograph because of the specific lights above the floor). It depicts the 9 Muses in an impressive way. The complete floor is ca. 6 x 10 meters! You can read in this (French) article how it was found and unearthed, an interesting story. Other pieces from that period that drew my attention are the altars with indigenous fertility godesses; they have fruit baskets on their lap and small animals or children on their side. They made me think of the altar findings at the coast in the Netherlands (see the blog: Meet Nehalennia!).
Indigenous fertility goddess, most probably a home altar
Apparently there was an exposition in the Henan Museum in Zhengzhou, China, under the title ‘Luxembourg: small country, rich history’. Indeed Luxembourg is small compared to China. In lots of vitrines, like here in the midst of special glasswork (left photo) and wonderful accessories from the 1st-4rd century AD (right photo), there were signs of objects gone to China. Very nice to see this special cultural exchange!
There is a lot more to tell about Musée National Luxembourg, I will limit it here to 2 more items – just go there yourself to see and live it all! 1, I did like this piece of glasswork from 40-50AD, found in graves ‘Hellange – Belsaker’:
2. Finally, real amazing, the facial reconstruction of ‘the man of Loschbour’ based on a skeleton that dates from about 6000 BC, called the Mesolithic Period – these are the oldest finding of humans on Luxembourg’s soil – Loschbour is a small stream in Heffingen – Müllerthal, in the east of Luxembourg. These kind of video’s next to the representation of original findings make the neutral past so much more alive and close to our own lives. Well done, Musée National Luxembourg!
A Celtic graveyard can be found at Bourdange, Nospelt, at walking distance from a gallo-roman villa complex. To be fair, there is not a lot to see at the former Celtic graveyard itself: all pieces that were found there in archaeological research – and there were many – are exhibited in the National Museum of History and Art in Luxembourg City. However, the 0,5 kilometer walk towards this Celtic graveyard is nice. Moreover, arriving on the spot after a small path through the woods gives a good look and feel of the place. The Celts were amazing in finding spots for mystic purposes. Please follow 2 minutes of my path to the Celtic graveyard in this happy video-recording July 2022.
The Celtic graveyard was used during a few centuries, from the 1st century BD till problably the 3rd century AD. Archaeologists suppose that this graveyard belonged to the inhabitants of the nearby gallo-roman villa complex. All the objects were dug up by volunteers who were able to reconstruct especially the 5 large tumulus: the last resting place of 4 men and 1 woman, all of them probably in powerful positions. Both the men and the woman received the same kind of attributes in their tumulus: lots of pottery, weaponry and horse equipment. Apart from that, there was a mirror for the woman and 2 special statues of mother figures. On the photograph of the information board at Bourdange, you can see these statues lying in spot 1 and spot 2, somehow in the middle of a number of objects.
Around the grave of the Celtic woman, many coins were found and also specific bones. Apparently people worshipped her after her death. From the date of the coins, we know that the worship lasted over 150 years! She must have been very important and maybe one day we will know more about her. In the picture below you can see the presentation of the grave gifts in the Museum: it was a rich treasure that was donated to her in her tumulus in the Celtic graveyard. The Museum also shows the gifts given to the men.
One thing puzzled me, apparently there is a museum in Nospelt where findings of the Celtic graveyard and the gallo-roman villa are exposed. I went to Nospelt and indeed there is a house-like building with a sign that it is a museum, but nothing shows when it is opened or how it can be visited. That is a pity because all on the site indicates that such a museum would have a story. Fortunately there is the Museum in Luxembourg. Maybe the future will also bring volunteers for the Nospelt Museum (or the marketing of it).
Anyway, the Celtic graveyard in combination with the gallo-roman villa will give you a very nice experience; worth the trip!
The site of the gallo-roman villa at Bourdange (Nospelt, Luxembourg) is very interesting. Clearly there is a lot of care both for the findings of the gallo-roman (celtic-roman) villa and the information given to visitors. It is a pleasure to go and see around.
In the woods at the verge of Bourdange, Nospelt, lies a most interesting Celtic site. The road signs call it a ‘Roman villa’, locals call it ‘Miecher’. Anyway it dates from the period where Celts were adapting more and more to Roman laws and lifestyle (‘gallo-roman period’). What you see is a group of foundations, scattered around in field and forest, remnants from a large villa with many side-buildings. The foundations were dug up and made accessible so that you easily have an overview and a good impression of the extent of the wealth here in the first centuries AD. Also you can see the traces of wooden fences, made in the 3rd and 4rd century when German tribes attacked Roman sites.
Volunteers have run this project that the local pastor Kayser started in 1964. Pastor Kayser followed up on the local rumors that there was a lot to find in the forest. There were talks about a hidden treasure. Together with the locals, he started the first serious archaeological search, with success. What happened before when following up on local memories, happened here again: a real hidden treasure was found! Imagine to find a pot filled with 2772 ‘antonian’ coins! Alas it is not on the site of the gallo-roman villa in Bourdange but in the National Museum of History and Art in Luxembourg city. The treasure stood within a wall in one of the side building – maybe the administrator of the property? There is no side note on the owner or the meaning of this treasure so that is one of the secrets of history.
His initiative was the basis of a large archaeological movement in the region that is remarkable and that obtained government recognition and permission as per 1991. What an achievement! Every year, more than 10.000 volunteer hours are spent in ancient sites. They also do projects with young people to increase interest and love for archaeology. You can feel that when you visit. Not only were several people working there to clean the site and make it more perfect, also the proof of regular research activity is visible on several spots. The information boards are excellent – I could follow every step of the project and it is exciting. There is way to much information to mention here so go there yourself and take your time.
Most of the foundations at the gallo-roman villa of Bourdange were former houses or buildings, except for 2 structures: 1 is a small temple, I loved that: to have your own temple next to the house! This, of course, was only for the very rich. 2 is a former monument for the death, a small round tower. The fact that the monument was situated at the doorstep of the house, means that ancestors and death have been very present for the living.
When you visit the gallo-roman villa at Bourdange, it is just a short walk to go to the Celtic graves further into the woods. I went there and will tell more about them in the next blog.
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden is the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in the city of Leiden. I always thought that our country, the Netherlands, only had antiquities from foreign countries like Greece or Egypt, and that Dutch findings were rather recent. So I visited many archaeological museums especially in the Middle East (see below). How could I be so ignorant? Rijksmuseum van Oudheden has spectacular, really ancient findings from Dutch soil. Also I learned about local gods that I never heard about before. So nice!
The altars shown above are dedicated to the goddess Nehalennia. Many merchants who crossed the sea from the Netherlands to London from 150 – 250 AD erected an altar to thank her for a safe journey. People completely forgot about her until a temple and many altars were discovered in the dunes of Domburg in 1647 AD. Nehalennia is a goddess of fertility, often pictured with fruits and/or a dog, but also with (elements of) a ship. Her origin should be Germanic or Celtic. If you also never heard about her, that in itself makes it worth a visit to Rijksmuseum van Oudheden!
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden has a large collection with antiquities from many countries. It’s easy to spend many hours there! In this blog, I concentrate on the Dutch ones. Things I particularly liked:
Pottery from a settlement at the river Meuse in the south, dating from 5000BC.
The Ommerschans Sword and the Jutphaas Sword, unique pieces of bronze casting from 1500BC. The museum calls them ‘exceptional artefacts’. They were used as gifts in sacrifices. Center and northeast of the Netherlands (that didn’t exist as a country in that time yet).
Both men and women wore bronze neck rings. These date from the early iron age, 800-500BC. Found in the center of the country but most probably imported. Also used as offers. I particularly liked the twisted one.
This woodcarved figure was probably a ritual object. It was found in a well in Oss in the south and dates from 400BC. It is rare to find wooden antiquities. This one is in oak.
Spearhead, put in wooden shaft and then thrown to the enemy, apparently a real killer. Dating from 1-300BC, found in Alblasserdam, middle-west of the country. A masterpiece!
The golden helmet found by turf-cutters in the Peel (southeast), dating from 320AD. More precious objects were found but there is no info about context (owner, offering?). An absolute wow-piece!
The Viking Hoard of Wieringen, north-west of the country, 850AD. 1,6 kilo of silver, most probably from a Danish owner. It was buried in spring. So maybe the owner was hiding it when he left and he never came back…
The Musée d’Histoire et d’Archéologie in Orléans houses the great bronze treasure of Neuvy-en-Sullias – 33 art pieces from the gallic and gallo-roman period in the begin of our era. There is much more to see in this museum but the bronze treasure alone is already worth your visit.
Top pieces in the Musée d’Histoire et d’Archéologie in Orléans are the horse (54 kilos without the bronze pedestal) and the wild boar (125 cm long). You better bring a chair to sit in front of them for a while and admire this art that is unique in Europe. Let the refined craft work and the beauty sink in…
The bronze artefacts were found 1861 in Neuvy-en-Sullias in a hidden place next to the Loire river – most probably an offer to celtic gods like Rudiobus. Recent studies reveal that they were partly restaured at that time and not always in the right way.
Probably the top of this wild boar was placed on the wrong animal and must have belonged to the other wild boar. The rings on the pedestal of the horse, that probably served to carry the horse around in religious ceremonies, might not be the right ones but the other 4 ones in the showcase…
Amazing is also the series of small figurines: with gestures and movement and mostly nude. They do not look like roman art and their signification is unknown. One assumption is that they represent the naked dancing that came with gallic carnaval.
A guide in the Musée d’Histoire et d’Archéologie in Orléans was very enthusiastic about the treasure himself and most willing to show all the details. He also gave me the website address of JF Bradu who made scientific studies about the artefacts and published his findings. It made my visit even more interesting.
There is some more to see, first of all the Hôtel Cabu that houses the Musée d’Histoire et d’Archéologie in Orléans: built in 1548 in renaissance style.
Some objects in other parts of the museum I liked:
The intriguing statue of Saint Denis, the first bishop of France who was sent by pope Clemens to convert the Gauls and was decapitated by the Romans in 205. The story tells that he made it all the way from Montmartre to Saint Denis while carrying his decapitated head in his hands.
Nice plagues – very different in style and theme.
The drawing of a wild animal that wreaked havoc around Orléans, with a poem-like text next to it. An intriguing story, what kind of animal was that? When you stand there you can feel the fear people had for the cruelty of nature.
The Loire had tremendous inundations in the past. Signs in the city remind people to that: nothing new in nowadays high waters, showing that we are not yet on the level of the old days. In 1846 Alexandre Joseph Caboche saved paintress Mlle Schmitt from the flood and she painted his portrait with the cross of the Légion d’Honneur that he received.
Portrait of Wilhelmine and Henriette van Loon, by A.j. Dubois-Drahonet 1826
Museum Van Loon is a special canal house in Amsterdam built in 1672 and owned by the Van Loon family since 1884. The visit is a mixed experience of beauty, amazing details and an overdose of portraits. Did people actually live here, is a question coming up when walking around.
Many rooms are beautiful in Museum Van Loon. This photograph is the Blue Saloon on the ground floor. The woman with the red dress is Thora van Loon-Egidius who worked for Queen Wilhelmina. The museum shows more royal connections of the Van Loon family during the ages.
More recently, President Obama had dinner in the dining room of Museum van Loon when he visited Amsterdam. These kind of high profile contacts are clearly very important for the Van Loon family, but they do not communicate why. This leaves the visitor with the impression that it is about ‘belonging’, being part of societal circles as a value in itself.
Intriguing is the fact that the insignia of Van Loon has 2 black heads in it and they do not know where that came from. Ancestor Willem van Loon was one of the co-founders of the VOC in 1602. The black heads were added later to the original 15ht century insignia of the three crosses (‘mill irons’) and suggest a link with slavery and colonialism.
But a fundamental explanation has not been found yet. Museum Van Loon is open about the family’s connections with slavery in the 18th and 19th century and had a big project on the subject – keeping the details for an online visit here: https://www.museumvanloon.nl/programma/archief/120.
When I entered the sleeping room – the Sheep Room – I felt cosiness and private life for the first time. Much of the canal house is beautiful but impersonal. The Sheep Room is different; a place where humans live and enjoy themselves – maybe also because of the bookshelves and the fact that chaos is more dominant than order there.
Some particular highlights I like to show you here:
The Red Saloon, an amazing room full of portraits.
The most recent portraits of women in the family – they chose a different style, very nice.
The kitchen – just adorable
The garden, at the ‘back side’ of the canal house.
The char-à-bancs from the begin of the 20th century that was used for pleasure drives. Imagine that you sit in there or maybe even drive it yourself over the romantic canals of Amsterdam!
The stairwell that has its own particular charm.
All in all, I am not sure what to think of Museum Van Loon and that is maybe why I recommend a visit; it is intriguing, an elitist impression in an egalitarian city, a place where human touch has a challenge to break through the stiff upperlip while all seem to mean well.
Are Jews White?, is the name of a new exposition in the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. As an expert in diversity and inclusion, I went there almost immediately after the opening. Are Jews White? is an interesting and also a bit disappointing exposition. I explain you my mixed feelings in this blog.
When you enter the expo, there are a number of signs on walls and pillars, and a short introducton video. After that, you arrive in a former synagogue which is the religious part of the Jewish Historical Museum. I was surprised: was that all? Indeed it wasn’t. After the religious part, the exposition Are Jews White? continues. Video has a central place. The exposition makers have interviewed around ten persons with different background who reflect on the theme Are Jews White?. After some nice cutting and pasting, they produced a good series of interesting comments on the subject: many aspects of the theme are thus covered from different perspectives. A disadvantage however is that this production does not elevate the theme above the average ‘circus of opinions’. I could not discover where Are Jews White? rises above existing concepts. Are Jews White? rather shows how deeply we are imprisoned in boxes, unable to liberate ourselves from them.
To me, the concept of black and white is evidently not applicable to Jews (and many others). I remember how I visited a camp with Jews from Ethiopia in Tel Aviv who newly arrived, somewhere in the begin of this century. They had been health care workers in Ethiopia and were preparing for a similar job in Israel. They had a good selfconfidence of what they had to offer to Israeli Jews – for example, more respect for the elderly – but many of them felt underestimated and discriminated upon. Therefor I wondered how the exposition would work this out. Are Jews White? failed to do so, but shows clearly that the concept of black and white has strong limits and serves rather as a concept to divide people more than to unite them.
Professor Gloria Wekker is one of the persons interviewed in the video. Her concept of intersectionality has no answer to the Are Jews White? issue. Intersectionality (in my view) was an original concept encouraging us to leave a dualistic world and enter the multifaceted one. Especially when Gloria Wekker just started as a professor and called her concept ‘kruispuntdenken’ (crossroad thinking), it was much more open to the dynamics of diversity. Something went wrong during the years along the intersectional road. Not only did intersectionality create more boxes, these boxes are also more oppressive, there is no escape from them.
The result, and that is very clear in Are Jews White?, is that Jews would be called black or white for political reasons, or for the opinion people have about them, or that they have about themselves. The tragedy is that this limits Jews to be who they are. And indeed this may be true for all of us: the concept of black and white limits us all. Of course I understand that the concept of black and white serves to explain the construction of society but let’s be fair: watching the video in the exposition, it is clear that the concept of black and white is more than a methodology. It serves the need of many to be part of a group or to see others as such. It provides a safe world of boxes where skin color and other aspects are all well set and clear and can be explained in predictable terms. The exposition fails to explain this need at a deeper level: why do we need to put people into categories? Why do we get upset when Jews do not fit in?
Maybe the ambition to have more answers is too high. I remember my last visit to Israel when I discussed with a scientist in the Holocaust Museum: why is there antisemitism, and why does it seem to be always there? He admitted that as a scientist, he can prove it is there and describe it, but he can not explain it scientifically.
My guess is that the Jewish Historical Museum created Are Jews White? to open the discussion about (useless) boxes and to prevent that we lock ourselves in and that we try to lock Jews in. We have to live with a rather misty and multi-interpretable reality for ourselves and for others, even though that comes with uncertainties. All-in all, I recommend the exposition. For your notice, it is totally bilingual (English and Dutch).
And don’t forget to walk by the paintings I show on the picture here, that I adored above every object in the museum, especially the woman’s dress: Benjamin and Chaile (Kaatje) Cohen from the 18th century. There’s more info about them but you will find that when you visit…
Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder is a special and well hidden treasure in the oldest part of Amsterdam. Ever seen a church in the attic of a canalhouse? For that unique experience, this museum should be on your wish list!
Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic) surprises the visitor who starts his tour in a ‘normal’ canal house and suddenly arrives in a church that can host quite a few visitors. You don’t feel that coming and that was exactly the point for this catholic church. In 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age, the religious war between roman-catholics and protestants was won by protestants in Amsterdam. Catholicism was officially banned but in the meantime, many catholics could still go to hidden churches all over the city – as long as they wouldn’t be visible, they would not be bothered.
At that time, accepting in silence that people would not give up their faith and letting them to worship according to their own rules and wishes was seen as a strong sign of tolerance. Thus Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder is a museum that shows the roots of tolerance in an intolerant world, a characteristic that was very strong in 17th century Amsterdam that also opened the door for many Jews.
Your visit to Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder starts in the canalhouse, with rooms like the kitchen here on the right, with stairs leading up and down in the narrowness that is usual in canalhouses in Amsterdam. I loved the stairs maybe even more than the rooms. Pottery is shown that was found in a cesspool, as well as the bedroom of the canalhouse owner.
There is also a room with 18th or 19th century classical design to give you an idea how people lived there at the time. I particularly liked the painted ceiling that you can see at the photograph. After this look into canalhouse-life, you can climb another staircase and boff, there you are, in a church that is not at all visible from the outside.
The colour surprised me. The guard at the entrance knew all about Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder and answered many questions, also the one on the pink paint in the museum. The church is in it’s original, 19th century state, a Victorian period where this colour was popular. Moreover there are many details and artefacts that are older, like the painting of Jacob de Wit at the altar (first half 18th century) and the organ (1794)
As you can see in the picture, the church has several floors and you can walk downstairs or go to the first floor. The church was founded by a rich German merchant, Jan Hartman in 1663.
Next to the church is the room where the priest lived: Peter Parmentier. He dedicated already decades of his life to the conversion of Amsterdam so probably it was logical that he got the job… While making your tour through the canal house, do not forget to look out of the windows – the view on the canal is beautiful, and at one point also the tower of the Old Church can be spotted!
Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder is living difficult times (summer 2020) as it seems to loose it’s financial support from the government. I am sure a solution will be found as this is among the oldest museums of Amsterdam and a more than unique reflection of the religiously diverse history of Amsterdam. However, you can contribute yourself by paying a visit to Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder and/or fund them with your donation. Warmly recommended!
Celtic helmet, 4th century BC, bronze, gold, silver, coral, spectacular finding 1981 Cave of Perrats (Agris)
Musée d’Angoulême has a fine collection worth visiting, with the golden Celtic helmet as a unique masterpiece. It is a mixture of archaeology, ethnography and fine arts, presented with care and good guidance.
Looking for the archaeological museum of Angoulême, find the Musée d’Angoulême on the backside of the cathedral Saint Pierre. I had some struggle finding it. There are few signs indicating where the museum is. Once arrived, you go through a beautiful entrance. The 12th century roman tower of the cathedral looks down upon the visitors in all its magnificence.
Entrance is only 5 euro (in 2020) and I was told the ticket gives me a 50% reduction for the Paper Museum that I never heard of. Angoulême still has some work to do to attract interested visitors… This also goes for the language: everything is in French only. The information given is great, thorough and lively – if you speak the language. See the image here on the right about objects found in this region deriving from the Bronze Age.
The archaeological collection is on the ground floor. The website gave the warning that most of the older archaeological findings of this region are in other museums but I must say the Musée d’Angoulême presents very well what they do have. Even prehistorical items took my immediate attention. Prehistory is a period that I usually skip because I prefer the period from 10.000BC until the Romans, but not in Musée d’Angoulême.
The rock that the Musée d’Angoulême placed against the wall to show the findings of a dinosaure skeleton is very special! Moreover, the findings of the Neanderthaler and Cromagnon Humans are local: it is here that they lived. That, in combination with an excellent presentation, makes it special.
I liked a movie about the dolmen, telling that originally there was much more to the structure than just the big rocks that are left over. As the dolmen are older that the pyramids in Egypt, the Musée d’Angoulême calls them the ‘oldest architectural structure in the world’. But that is incorrect: the – presumed – temples of Göbekli Tepe are much older. Nevertheless it was new for me that dolmen were at the center of bigger constructions. The movie gives great images of what they must have looked like.
There are many nice objects, I show 3 of them here that I particularly liked:
The Heads of Jarnac, images meant to keep ancestors close. The faces have their own individuality. West-Celtic (Gaule de l’Ouest) dating 1st or 2nd Century BC.
2. One of those ‘simple’ but very beautiful pieces to be found in Bronze Age collections. The fine art work on top would seduce me to buy it, if available in shops today…
3. Chess came to Western Europe from India via the Arab world in the 10th century. These are among the oldest pieces ever found. Trictrac was also a known game. Both were played with dice at the time.
On the first floor, a large collection of ethnography can be visited, mostly from Oceania, the Maghreb and some African countries. No opinion on that from my side. I paid a visit to the second floor for the ‘fine arts’ of the Musée d’Angoulême. It appears to be a mixture of art objects like porcelain and many paintings, some valuable, some not worth to be put into a museum. 3 paintings took my attention:
Jeune taureau sautant la barrière, by Rosa Bonheur (19th century). Rosa Bonheur lived in a time where women were not allowed to go to art schools, however she found a way to learn how to paint. She made a great reputation with paintings of horses and cows. To go to animal markets and slaughter houses, she dressed up like a man to have access – just like the contemporary female writer George Sand was doing to be accepted. Rosa Bonheur was the first woman to be decorated with the great cross of the Legion d’Honneur.
Amid the many paintings of very different value, suddenly a real 17th century Van Der Helst painting. It is called ‘Portrait of a young Dutch gentleman and his wife‘ , not sure if this was the description or the real title. Anyway a surprising work of art in the collection.
And last but ot least, an intriguing piece of work by Pierre Auguste Vafflard, made in 1804: Young et sa fille. This is an incredible story about the English poet Edward Young who went to France with his daughter while she was ill, in the hope to get her cured. Helas, she dies at the age of 18 in Lyon. Being protestant in a catholic country, he is only allowed to bury here at night in the graveyard of the Swiss colony – and he has to do it himself. So here is the painting where he carries his deceased daughter to her grave at night. A true masterpiece – with apologies for the imperfect photograph.
Aubeterre Underground Church of Saint Jean is an amazing site. The church was carved out of the rocks from the upper side downwards. The crusader Pierre II de Castillon lived in the castle above it and reserved the best spot for himself, with view on the copy of the Holy Grave in Jerusalem. Now you can visit this spot and see what he saw in the XIIth century.
Aubeterre Underground Church of Saint Jean is also called the Monolithic Church as it was carved out of the limestone rocks, however not out of a single rock. Still it is one of the largest rock-hewn churches in Europe. There is some discussion about the origin but the main carving job was done in the XIIth century by Benedictine monks. The way to carve it, from the upper side downwards, was influenced by early churches that can still be found in Turkey’s Kappadokia. On their way to Jerusalem the crusaders must have past this region and be inspired by the way they were created and brought this idea back to France.
The work took 10 years. 9000 m3 of stone was removed! The church is 27 meters long, 20 meters high and 16 meters wide. In the middle of the floor you can find a beautiful baptismal pool, carved in the form of a Greek cross. Aubeterre Underground Church was hidden for centuries by a rock fall, and only rediscovered in the 1950′s.
Imagine the first people entering the site; their mouths must have fallen open. They might have lived next door for years without any idea of the miracle that was created there in medieval times. See also this photograph I took at the entrance: if that had not been built, one could easily pass the church unnoticed.
Aubeterre Underground Church has enormous high rounded vaults which tower above a monumental reliquary in the form of the holy sepulchre in Jerusalem. The religious artifacts are no longer there. They were brought to Aubeterre-sur-Dronne from Jerusalem by Pierre II de Castillon, crusader and lord of the castle situated above the church. There is an entrance through the rocks to go from the castle down to the deambulatory in the vaults of the church.
Visitors actually enter the church from downstairs and take stairs to go up to the deambulatory that is perched beneath the vaults. Here is the perfect spot where Pierre II as the lord of the castle could overview the whole church. Seeing the holy sepulchre from here creates a highly spiritual ambience. However, the deambulatory is also home for bats. Don’t let it influence your spiritual experience! Aubeterre-sur-Dronne lies on the road to Santiago de Compostella and always had many pilgrims passing to see the relics.
Once back downstairs, don’t forget to have a view at the ‘cemetary’, on the side of the church: a complete necropolis that is also hewn out of the rock. It shows the popularity of the church and the holiness it had for visitors and inhabitants. All the graves head in the direction of Jerusalem.