The Romans return to the City of London

IMG_0004The first time I saw Ridley Scott’s ‘The Gladiator‘ was in 2000 during the so called ‘Estate Romana’. The screen had been mounted in Via dei Fori Imperiali, closed to the traffic for the occasion, with the Colosseum behind. When the audience saw the famous Amphitheater on screen, everybody erupted in a mighty applause, exuding pride.
The film is one of those colossal of the ‘Sword and Sandals’ series, of which Italy was prolific in the 50s, when American actors were impersonating Maciste, Hercules, Spartacus and other heroes of the Ancient world. These films were not historically accurate, but also those produced nowadays still show some naivety and inaccuracies, despite the meticulous reconstruction of architectures and costumes. What really counts though is the plot, the action, and the gestures of a character with whom the audience can identify.
17 years later, on a mild London evening, blessed by a starry sky, I was there again, watching Russell Crowe aka Maximus ‘The Gladiator’, on the site of a Roman amphitheater, this time in Londinium (one of the largest cities in the western provinces of the Empire).
The atmosphere was a playful one, like on other London’s summer outdoor events, with beer, popcorn, Italian and Greek street food (gnocchi and souvlaki), and also a couple of gladiators, from Britannia, the reenactment group of the film, which was involved in the battle scenes shot at Farnham, Surrey. These two Thraex were available both for selfies and for short demonstrations. The only one to exult when the Colosseum appeared on screen was me (!),  but a general applause at the end of the film, signalled the satisfaction of having spent a few hours in a pleasant and safe environment. The outdoor projection, in the charming courtyard of the Guildhall, once home to the Roman amphitheatre (which remains were rediscovered only in 1988), is part of a large programme of events (guided tours, 3D animations, theatre performances, conferences, wine tastings, gladiator games, exhibitions and the imminent opening of the Mithraeum.)
The Roman temple dedicated to the god Mithra was discovered by chance on two separate occasions: first, in 1954, during excavation at a bombed site; subsequently, when the foundations for the new Bloomberg headquarters were excavated in the same area.
Londinium, founded by the Romans in 43 AD, today corresponds to the heart of the City, and its ruins, although not visible to the eye, as it happens with other ancient cities (Rome, Nimes, Trier, Merida …) are, for the most part, accessible to visitors. Many of these remains (mosaics, rich burials, thermal baths, city walls) began to emerge after World War II, during the reconstruction of the areas destroyed during the Blitz. This period saw the birth of the Roman and Medieval Excavation Council, which, under the guidance of Professor W F Grimes, carried out archaeological excavations in 25 bombed sites between 1946 and 1968.
This summer, 2,000 years on, the Romans return to the City with the Londinium season, which will last until the end of October.

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Explore London with 20in20 guided tours for the MS Trust

On the 25th of May 2017,  I will be part of a group of London tour guides aiming to raise £20,000 for the MS Trust in 20 hours. Guided tours of the City of London will be offered every hour, from 6:00am (Smithfield Market tour) to late evening, ending with a midnight walk. These tours are on foot or bike, with some fully accessible and taylor made for wheelchair users and visual impaired participants.
You can join one of the tours from just £20 and get unique insights into the City’s architecture, history and customs from an experienced and qualified guide.
I will be offering my tour of the Georgian City at 3pm.

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A Dickensian Christmas in the City

img_0691A Christmas Carol is a famous novel in which Charles Dickens infused an humanitarian message of peace and mercy, against greed and social injustice. Set on a cold and rainy London at Christmas Eve, the story plays on the contrast of light and darkness, heat and frost, and two main characters: the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, placed in the financial heart of the City (with all its corollary of greed, cynicism and power), and the clerk Bob Cratchit, who lives in Camden (an area blighted by extreme poverty), along with his wife and children, rejoicing in the spirit of Christmas. Through the visit of some ghosts, including that of his former business partner, now chained to his sins, Scrooge will be redeemed. With a copy of A Christmas Carol in your pocket or under your arm, you can find some of the story’s possible locations in the City and experience a literary tour of lights and Christmas decorations.
Do it on a Sunday, when offices and streets are empty from the hectic swarm of bankers, lawyers, clerks and stockbrokers, and start at the Royal Exchange, where the last one of the Christmas’ spirits transported Scrooge. Here he could hear the dealers’ unedifying comments about him, dismissing his death as they “hurried up and down and chinked the money in their pockets”. It is reasonable to conjecture that Scrooge’s counting-house was somewhere nearby, and walking around Cornhill, you can imagine how the alley where Scrooge had his accounting firm looked like. Cornhill is home to The Counting House pub, originally built as Prescott Bank, in 1893, and “the ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slyly down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall”, is surely the bell tower of St Michael Cornhill. While Scrooge “took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern” (possibly the Simpson’s Tavern, the oldest chop house in London), Bob Cratchit went down a slide on Cornhill at the end of a lane of boys, twenty times, in honour of its being Christmas Eve. Perhaps he bought the goose for his Christmas dinner at Leadenhall, a poultry and fowl market, which stood here since the Middle Ages. Just across Leadenhall Market, nowadays a Victorian architectural gem, designed by Sir Horace Jones (1881), you will find Lime Street. Nothing is left of number 45, where Scrooge “lived in chambers which had once belonged to his deceased partner. They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard…The yard was so dark that even Scrooge, who knew its every stone, was fain to grope with his hands”…

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Autumn in the City

The15025521_10209709401786112_1312758388199074246_o City of London is dotted with many gardens and open spaces of historical and natural interest. Some of these gardens were, in ancient times, part of ecclesiastical or secular buildings, such as the  Livery Companies Halls. The garden of Barber Surgeon’s Hall is inspired by a previous one, created by the herbalist John Gerrard in the seventeenth century. At the end of the nineteenth century, many disused churchyard were opened to the public, and today they represent a third of all the City’s open spaces. Following WW2, other gardens were built amidst the ruins or on bombed sites, such as Cleary Gardens and Christchurch Greyfriars.
Unknown to most people, there are also many hidden courtyards, adorned with protected trees, such as the London Plane, the Common Ash and the Broad Leafed Lime.
Autumn can be really enjoyable around the Square Mile, thanks to the warmth and colour of the changing foliage of native or foreign plants. Many  of these gardens are not only an oasis of calm and beauty, but they are also able to support wildlife. There are over 140 different species of plants in the City.
This season, the Japanese Maple Tree in St Vedast alias Foster churchyard is one of the most striking sights. You can access this peaceful, small garden through an alleyway on the side of the church and admire not only the plants, but also some bits of history set into the walls: a portion of Roman mosaic, found in 1880, during the demolition of St Matthew, Friday Street, and a 9th century BC brick from Iraq, presented to Canon Mortlock, rector of the church, by Agatha Christie’s husband, the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan. This garden was also the winner of the Silver Award in the last City in Bloom campaign, organised by Friends of City Gardens and supported by City Gardens and City of London Corporation.
img_0109Further away, but always a stone throw from St Paul’s Cathedral, the secluded court in Wardrobe Place, looks all yellow and gold. The houses are mainly from the first half of the eighteenth century and the name of this secluded space is a reminder of the King’s Wardrobe, which stood here up until the Great Fire of London. Never rebuilt, the original garden was transformed in the present courtyard, which preserves a very old London Plane. Introduced in the seventeenth century by John Trade scant, this species proved very resilient to pollution and was planted practically everywhere in London during the industrial revolution, so that nowadays planes are commonly referred to as the London Tree.

Book my Garden Walk and enjoy a couple of hours surrounded by amazing foliage and beautiful spaces in the City.

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Glaziers’ Art Fair 2016

img_0073‘For me a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world.’ – Marc Chagall

I love visiting the City of London Livery Halls whenever I have the occasion. This time, it was Glaziers’ Hall, for the second edition of the Glaziers’ Art Fair, which was attended by over 50 exhibitors. The Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass has been in existence since 1328. The original hall was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, and after nearly two centuries of wandering, the company moved to its present site, a regency building, south of London Bridge. The Glaziers still look after the conservation of stained glass art and promote the skills necessary for the production of or painted or coloured glass. In visiting the Fair, I had the chance to meet many talented artists, who explained their work to me, illustrating their past and future endeavours. The approach to this fascinating art varies with context and a bit of serendipity. Some artists have been glassmaker for generations, some others are self-taught, like Louise Truslow, who produces beautiful artifacts reusing and recycling crystalline glass. There were established glassmakers, as Adam Aaronson, creator, together with Mary Branson, of the sculpture “New Dawn“, which you can see at Westminster, or Hildegarde Nathalie Liege, a designer and artist of architectural glass, who makes beautiful works for churches, hospitals and private buildings. Carolyn Barlow, instead, told me about a sort of artistic revelation she had after attending a glass workshop. She had always worked in black and white and with other media, but then she discovered the huge potential of colour and the brightness and clarity of glass. It was the beginning of a strong commitment and for her stained glass and fused pieces she takes inspiration from the Scottish countryside.
The fair this year focused not only on glass, but also other media, like ceramics. Hitomi Sugimoto, a Japanese artist and teacher from Kobe, who received the support of the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, makes delicate and ironic creations, looking for happiness and joy. Perhaps, the highlight of this edition was the project “Roots of Knowledge”, by Holdman Studios. This masterpiece took already 12 years of work and it is made up of 80 glass panels, which tell, through 60,000 pieces of painted or melted glass, with inserts of coral, fossil, petrified wood and coins, the spiritual and cultural evolution of mankind and the advancement of knowledge, from prehistory to the present days. The glass windows will be placed in the library of Utah Valley University in 2018.

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Fish Harvest Festival at St-Mary-at-Hill

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‘Never weather-beaten sail more willing bent to shore…’- Thomas Campion (1603)

Festivals and ceremonies of thanksgiving for a successful harvest have been celebrated for centuries. As a Christian celebration, The Harvest Festival is traditionally held on a Sunday near the autumnal equinox. Usually the ceremony not only includes hymns and prayers, but also wonderful fruit and food compositions. On a sunny Sunday morning, I walked to the church of St Mary-at-Hill, for the annual celebration of the harvest of fruits of the sea. The service is also in recognition of the hard work of porters and fishmongers of Billingsgate market. Billingsgate was at the center of the fish trade for centuries. The market, since 1982, has moved to a more modern and functional structure, to the Isle of Dogs near Canary Wharf, while the old headquarters are nowadays an attractive centre for conferences and exhibitions. Each year, on the second Sunday of October, the porters and fishmongers are coming back to St-Mary-at-Hill to celebrate the “Harvest of the Sea”. It’s truly a unique sight: the atrium of this beautiful Wren’s church, is decorated with fishing nets, shells and a spectacular amount of fresh fish and seafood, artfully arranged on a bed of ice. The composition remains on display for the duration of the service, and then fish is donated to Queen Victoria Seamen Rest, a charity that provides housing to former merchant seamen, members of the Royal Navy and homeless men from diverse social backgrounds.

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Local London Guiding Day 2016

llgdAs in previous years, I am glad to take part in Local London Guiding Day, an annual event which offers free walks around London led by local specialist guides. The theme this year is “Art for All” and free walks will highlight public art of all kinds, promoting the skills and resources offered by local guiding organisations in five different areas of London.

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Open House London 2016

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For one weekend a year, London opens its doors to the public. You can see buildings that you wouldn’t normally get the chance to and follow architectural walks for free. London Open House weekend is on the 17th and the 18th of September. City of London guides will give special tours on a Tudor theme to commemorate the 500 years since the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia and -of course- an architectural walk about the Great Fire of London. I will be guiding on this subject on Sunday 18th September at 1:15pm. The meeting point for these walks is in Guildhall Yard. Tours are free, but tickets will be given on a first come first served basis.

Info:www.openhouselondon.org.uk

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The Great Fire of London and the City

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In the early hours of September 2nd 1666, a dry summer and a very strong wind helped a spark from the furnace of Thomas Farriner bakery in Pudding Lane, to spread fast and become one of the most destructive fires in the history of Western Europe.
The Great Fire of London destroyed 13.000 houses, 87 churches, the old St Paul’s Cathedral and four-fifths of the City.
The Museum of London, on the occasion of the 350 years since that terrible event, is displaying an interactive exhibition on the Fire and its consequences, which I highly recommend.

If you want to know more about the Great Fire and its aftermath in the City why don’t you join me on a Highlights Tour? You will hear all about destruction, loss, resilience, Sir Christopher Wren imaginative plans, the Rebuilding Act of 1666 and the fascinating world of 17th century coffee houses, where scientists, writers, politicians and City merchants and bankers once met.

My next Highlights Tour is on Sunday 16th October, at 2pm. Meeting at the City Information Centre. £7

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Open Garden Squares Weekend 2016

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It’s been a fantastic weekend filled with special places, amazing gardens and cheerful volunteers.
Grazie a tutti coloro che hanno partecipato alla mia passeggiata attraverso i giardini più o meno conosciuti della City of London. Le fioriture erano spettacolari, anche negli spazi lasciati alla proliferazione di piante selvatiche. Arrivederci al prossimo anno. #ogsw16
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