Monday, 24 October 2016
The other day I had to give someone directions to the rear car park of the building where I work in Deptford. This involved a turn into New Butt Lane. This name possibly derives from archery butts - pieces of land where archers fired at targets set up in or on mounds of earth. In medieval times through into the Tudor / Stuart periods, archery practice became compulsory - in order that the male population would have the skills needed for when they were called up to go to war.
Many towns and cities have an area known as the Butts. However, the issue is complicated in that a butt can also simply refer to a strip of land - not necessarily one used for archery practice. Newington Butts, near Elephant and Castle, was often thought to be the site of an archery field, but there is no historical evidence to support this.
The fact that my local road is called New Butt Lane might suggest that this is one of the archery related places, if the "new" refers to the butt rather than to the lane.
Sunday, 9 October 2016
Lying on a flat area between the Tiber and the Capitoline and Palatine Hills, this was Rome's original port district - the Portus Tiburinas. It later became the city's principal cattle market - the forum venalium. Legend has it that the demigod Hercules visited Rome and slew a monster which lived in a cave at the foot of the Capitoline Hill.
In 264 BC, the first recorded gladiatorial fight took place here, as part of a funeral ceremony. It is also recorded that a human sacrifice was conducted here. In order to avert a war, two Gaul slaves - a man and a woman - were buried alive on the site.
Today, the area is a small park surrounded by busy roads - one running alongside the sharp bend of the Tiber, and the other along the foot of the hills. Two temples can be seen, dating from before the Imperial era. Both have survived due to their being converted into churches in the early medieval period.
The circular one is the Temple of Hercules Victor - also known as Hercules Olivarius, as Hercules was supposed to protect the lucrative olive trade. He had a great altar set up to him nearby as well. The building dates to the second century BC, and is Rome's oldest marble temple. 20 Corinthian columns surround the central cella, and it sits on a base of the volcanic tufa rock. It once had an architrave, which would have made it look like a mini Pantheon, but this has long gone. The roof is modern. Its circular appearance led it to be misidentified as the Temple of Vesta for many years.
In 1132 it was converted into the church of S. Stefano alle Carozze ("of the Carriages"). In the 17th Century it was rededicated to S. Maria del Sole ("of the Sun").
Close by is the later rectangular Temple of Portunas. Built between 120 - 80 BC, it is also known as the Temple of Fortunas Virilis ("manly fortune"). Portunas was the god of locks, keys and also of livestock - and so would watch over the cattle being delivered to the market here. The columns are Ionic. The ones holding up the portico are free-standing, whilst the ones along the side and across the back are only half-columns - embedded into the walls of the cella.
This temple was converted into a church in 872 - S. Maria Egyziaca ("of Egypt").