Autumn colours at Stourhead

I’ve just got round to reviewing and processing photographs I took at Stourhead Gardens in October. The gardens were planned and built over a 40 year period in the mid-late 18th century by the Hoare family and are arranged around an artificial lake. Neoclassical buildings a grotto and follies are carefully located in this fascinating landscape. As you walk around the lake the vista is constantly changing, as you see the landscape from new angles, and of course so is the light. For photographers, it is endlessly challenging to try and capture it. But the best time of year to visit is the autumn when the colours of the trees are at their best. My visit didn’t quite coincide with peak autumn, but it wasn’t far off.

I have photographed this stand of trees many times and they always appear different: in some light conditions they just glow.

I really liked the dappled light beneath this old tree, but I couldn’t quite capture that elusive soft quality of the light filtering through the leaves:

I liked the circular pattern in this bush, implied by its reflection in the water.

Temple of Apollo in the background next to some of the most stunning tree colours and framed by the dark trunks in the foreground.

 

The tree on the left in the picture is a Tulip tree that was planted in 1791 and is probably my favourite tree in the gardens. I am always amazed that the people who were responsible  for planting the tree never saw it in its full glory, but they did it anyway, almost as a gift for future generations to enjoy. What beautiful legacies are we leaving for future generations?

Close up of the trunk of the above Tulip tree:

Looking across towards the Pantheon through the branches of the Tulip tree:

And finally a semi-abstract shot looking through the branches at the lake:

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Seville

Just a few rather random shots from my visit to southern Spain last June. I will do a proper post some time on the Seville Alcazar.

Jacarandas in southern Spain

Visiting Seville and Cadiz in June we kept seeing trees with wonderful blue flowers. It took us a little while and a bit of Googling to work out they are jacarandas. Why have I never come across these beautiful trees before?

This lovely specimen in the gardens of the Alcazar in Seville;

Outside the Alcazar in Jerez de la Frontera:

Close up:

Mushrooms in Seville

The Metropol Parasol in Seville – called the ‘Mushrooms’ by the locals – is a surreal sight that dominates La Encarnacion Square. It was designed by a German artist and installed in 2011. I love its honeycomb structure and how it changes in light and shade as you walk underneath it

 

It does overpower the Encarnacion church on the corner of the square, but on the other hand it gives a wonderful viewing point for it.

Kerameikos in Athens

The Kerameikos site in Athens feels at first a bit of a disappointment. It’s not well signed and so not that easy to find. The Kerameikos underground station is in the middle of a business regeneration area, an old gas works that has been turned into small business units for design and tech companies. The surrounding bars are equally trendy.

The Kerameikos site contains remnants of the old city walls, two of the main gates to the city and some reconstructed grave steles. But it’s bounded to one side by a main road and enclosed by modern buildings. However, once you start to explore it, it seems to have an atmosphere all of its own and it’s full of reminders of the ancient Greeks . It also has one of the best small museums in the city.

The site is crossed by one of the best preserved sections of the ancient city wall that was built by Themistocles in 479-478 BC to protect Athens against the Persians. I really like the solidity and beautiful design of these walls, incredible considering the speed at which they were thrown up. Although destroyed by Sulla in 86 BC they were rebuilt under Justinian and lasted in total for about 1,000 years.

The site also incorporates two city gates: the Sacred Gate which was only used for processions to celebrate the Mysteries at Eleusis, and the road to Peiraias which ran through the Dyplon gate.

Originally the Kerameikos was the area of the potters who used the clay from the River Eridanos that flowed alongside the Peiraias road and then it became the place (the Demosion Sema) where notable Athenians (including Lycurgus, Pericles and Kleisthenes) and the war dead were buried. There are very few remains of the public cemetery still left, but one notable exception is a monument to the Lacedaemonians (Spartans) who were killed in 403 BC which is still in good condition (minus its top and contents). It was excavated during the First World War and the skeletons of the Spartan soldiers were found intact.

The road to Peiraias passed by Plato’s academy (now buried under the concrete of the road and buildings beyond the perimeter wall in the photograph below).

The open area to the left in the above picture was used for funeral games and was also probably the site of Pericles Funeral Oration in 430 BC in honour of the Athenians killed in the Peloponnesian Wars.

The site also contains the remains of a building called the Pompeion that dates back to 400 BC. Here those involved in the great Panathenaic festival procession (that also features in the Parthenon Marbles) were robed and pre-festival feasting took place. At one time it apparently held a bronze statue of Socrates, but the building was destroyed by Sulla in 86 BC.

The Street of the Tombs contains mainly replicas steles, the originals of many of which are in the site museum.

I think the museum is the best part of the site, particularly the grave steles. This is a cavalry soldier:

The grave stele for two sisters:

A touching stele of a mother and baby who presumably dies in childbirth:

This is an unusual one with a dead woman looking into a mirror:

and this one of a man holding some form of implement. Having recently seen some Bhangra dhol drummers performing and using curved drumsticks, I wonder whether it is actually a Greek drumstick he is looking at so intently:

I like the little dog jumping up at the youth in this one:

Here is am interesting sculpture on the side of a basin:

and a scene of horseman on the side of a sarcophagus:

There are a couple of sphynxes on display:

and a lion:

Some pottery that looks Minoan in style:

Finally, one of my favourite items is this brilliantly realised bull that originally stood on an arch stele raised in honour of Dionysios of Kallytos.

Valley of the Temples, Agrigento

The Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi) near Agrigento is a stunning series of monuments built by the Ancient Greek colony in Sicily. ‘Valley’ is a bit of a misnomer though as the temple complex is spread along a ridge and connected by a sacred way.

The first temple you come across was thought at one time to be dedicated to Hera (Giunone), but that’s probably not the case. It is a massive temple, with an enormous 10 step altar in front of it. It was built like most of the temples on the site in the 5th century BC from the loot taken from the Carthaginians following their defeat in 480 BC.

Along the sacred way are the remains of the settlement’s protective walls. At some point in the Christian era rock tombs were hollowed out of these walls.

The next major site along the sacred way is one of the most complete Greek temples in the world, the so-called Temple of Concordia. An inscription was found nearby with the word Concordia and this was taken to be the name of the Temple. Judging by its size it looks more like a Temple of Zeus (although there is another huge temple to Zeus at the end of the sacred way). It is in incredible condition and gives a real sense of what the temples would have looked like to their original builders.

In the 4th-5th century AD, the temple was turned into a Christian basilica by a local bishop, a common practice to Christianise pagan sites in places where the newly converted were used to gathering when they practised their old religion. Another very good example of this practice is the church dedicated to St George that was built in the Temple of Ifaistos in the Ancient Agora in Athens which is similarly extremely very well-preserved (see my earlier blog post on the Agora here).

The stone looks very crumbly and in places you can still see some of the original stucco that has helped to preserve it over the centuries.

The third temple on the site, the oldest, is dedicated to Ercole (Hercules) and dates back to the 6th century BC. Apart from a few remaining columns however, the site is just a jumble of massive stones.

The final temple we visited is dedicated to Zeus It’s on a massive scale, but  again it’s very hard to get a sense of what it looked like originally as it is totally in ruins.

The temperature on site on the day we visited was 30 C and there is virtually no shade. In addition, the sacred way is about 3-4 kms long, so we were very glad to hop on a shuttle bus to get back to the entrance to the site at the end of our visit.

Later that evening we dined at the nearby Re di Grigenti restaurant, the terrace of which has a spectacular view out over the Valley of the Temples.

In Montalbano country

Outside the city of Agrigento in southern Sicily, you’re in Montalbano territory. This is the area where the writer of the Montalbano stories lived and some of the local landmarks feature in the TV series. The Scala dei Turchi (Cliff of the Turks), for example, is a brilliant white, stepped basalt outcrop pictured above.

It’s a beautiful and relaxing spot: the place in the television series where Montalbano met his informer. A few miles down the road and the coastline flattens out to a sandy beach at Torre di Salsa. Further along the coast, the working port town of Porta d’Empedocle also features in the TV series, as does Agrigento police station.

As it happens, we didn’t manage to see much of central Agrigento. But our adventures in Sicilian traffic will have to wait for another post.