Tag Archives: Roman History

Day 3 – Lugo again: Victor Lugorum

Tuesday 30 April 2024 – We got a lot more touristing done today than I had expected given the dire (or at least rainy) weather forecast by Accuweather. And, in truth, the prospects at the start of the day weren’t particularly appealing.

It seemed that seeking indoor touristing would be the way to go for the day, so we set out for the cathedral, through the rain.

En route, we stopped in at the central pharmacy, which was well-decorated in an art nouveau kind of way,

You can only really see the stained glass in this door from inside the shop, where it appears reversed. So I have flipped it left-to-right

and were reminded that Lugo is actually on various of the Camino de Santiago routes – the Primitivo and XIX.

I’m grumpy about visiting the cathedral. They charge €7.50 for entry and then won’t let you take photos. My feeling is that you can do one or the other. So I sneaked a couple of illicit photos anyway, yah boo, in both cathedral and cloisters.

There’s some lovely detail in the cloisters and some fine stained glass in the cathedral itself.

After this peremptory visit to the cathedral, we walked around in dampness that was gradually escalating from slight drizzle to proper rain, taking in some other nice corners of the city.

but the dampness became too oppressive, so we scurried off to the Café del Centro, where we’d noticed hot chocolate and churros advertised. And very nice they were too; we were amused to note that the café seemed to regard this as a normal breakfast.

The rain appeared to be easing as we left the café, so, rather than go back and skulk in our hotel room, we decided to take a walk out of the old city to a Roman bridge across the river, passing a couple of installations in the main square that we hadn’t really taken note of before

and passing some nice scenes as we went.

Delightfully, as we got to the river, the sun came out,

and showed the 7-arch Roman bridge off to its best advantage.

The walk to the river is quite steeply downhill, which meant that we got some practice for our forthcoming hiking as we worked our way back up to the city, up to and through the Parque Rosalía de Castro. This is named after a Galician poet and novelist, considered one of the most important figures of 19th-century Spanish literature and modern lyricism. Widely regarded as the greatest Galician cultural icon, she was a leading figure in the emergence of the literary Galician language. The route also involved climbing some 180 steps and 100 metres vertical, so constituted a nice preparatory workout for the day after tomorrow, which is when we take our first steps on the Camino Finisterre.

By this stage we felt we’d earned some lunch, so once again visited the Terrazza restaurant at our hotel. Although we weren’t much later than yesterday, the restaurant was very quiet, with only a couple of other tables occupied; a great contrast with yesterday’s buzz.  The food was just as good, though.

Having (slightly over-) indulged ourselves, we noted that the rain which had come on just as we arrived at the hotel had now eased, and so we went off for a post-prandial constitution in search of some final sights to take in. There were still a couple of churches to be visited, after all.

Having passed the “Monumento do Bimilenario”, the city’s nod to Y2K

(dubbed “The Millennium Falcon”, by Jane), our first stop was the church of the Convento de San Domingos, a very tranquil place.

I noticed that it featured an organ with horizontal pipes,

which appears to be A Thing in these parts – we’d noticed similar setups in the cathedrals of Burgos and León.

The other was the church of San Pedro,

which has some fine stained glass.

There remained but one other Thing To See, which is something we’d completely missed in our walks around because the last thing it looks like is a site of significant historic interest.

It is actually the Museo Universitario A Domus do Mitreo. “Domus”, as anyone old enough to have studied Latin at school knows, means “house”*, and this unlikely-looking building houses (sorry) a really interesting site – the remains of what must have once been a palatial residence that was also a Mithraeum, a temple dedicated to the cult of Mithras, a Roman mystery religion. It’s a very extensive site

with great archeological significance for the city. The site of the domus is important to the city, since it has allowed the documentation of archaeological remains from the entire history of Lugo, starting at the moment of its foundation, around 27BC, until the 20th century. The site is very well laid out with lots of detailed information on info boards and in videos and enabling one to get really very close to the original Roman stonework. Interestingly, when The Powers That Be of the time decided that the city needed a wall, they just went ahead and built it straight through one end of the place.

And that was about it for our wandering around Lugo – a very pleasant city with a significant Roman history. The morrow involves departing for Santiago de Compostela and (after an overnight stop to draw breath) the start in earnest of our proper peregrination to the coast. It will be interesting for us to find out how we get on with some serious walking; I hope it might also be interesting for you to come back to these pages to see how things went.


* Domus was also the name of a now-defunct chain of (originally co-operative-run) department stores in Sweden. This fact may be of use in some bizarre set of circumstances, such as when writing a blog about a Roman city in Spain.

Day 13 – Split the difference

September 27th. Almost, but not quite, entirely unlike meeting an old friend, we returned to Split which (the observant among my readers will have noticed) we visited in the first week of our time in Croatia. I had expected the second visit to be more or less a re-run of the first only in cooler temperatures, but it didn’t actually work out like that.

Although the sun was shining and the visibility was good, the approach to Split from the sea was not as good a photo opportunity as I had expected. It’s Croatia’s second-largest city (behind the capital, Zagreb) and is clearly a huge tourist destination, which we could infer from the large cruise ships parked at the edge of the harbour. And the city sprawls to east and west and so is difficult to capture in a single photo. You can get some nice shots on the approach, but only by zooming in to cut out, as far as possible, undesirable elements. Bits of it look nice

but even in the shot above, you see a few modern and less attractive apartment blocks. The bell-tower in the Diocletian Palace is a clear landmark.

We arrived in Split just before lunchtime, and tied up to the south-west of the city for lunch and an instructive lecture from Filip about: times Roman from 1st to 4th Century AD (up to the time of Diocletian, of course); the growth of both Eastern and Western Roman Empire under Trajan; the military prowess of Diocletian (which established him as #3 in the all-time hit parade of Roman emperors); his setting up of a tetrarchy; and the length of his rule – nearly 20 years, which was a long time to survive as an emperor – before he retired (the only Roman emperor to do so) to the palace he had built in Split (believed to have been his birthplace).

We disembarked at around 1.30 to gather for our walk to and around Split, and were approached by a tall, extravagantly made-up, dubiously blonde woman who waltzed up and said “hello”, in a very deep voice. I was about to tell her that whatever it was that she wanted to sell us was something we weren’t interested in when she was greeted warmly by both Filip and Tom, our captain. So it turned out that she (Stella) was to be our guide, so I’m glad I didn’t say anything, particularly as she was bigger than me.

As we walked into Split, we actually saw our first – and only – Dalmatian dog!

(well-spotted by Jane). We gathered around the bronze model of what the powers that be thought that the Roman palace probably looked like, before entering the palace by the south gate, as we had the previous week. But instead of carrying straight on as we had before, we turned left and went much deeper into what was the basement part of the palace. The skill of the builders in designing and constructing arches, vaults and ceilings was apparent

as was the scope of the archaeological excavation – the entire basement had been largely used as a rubbish dump in medieval times and it takes a long time to excavate and restore such large spaces.

Some interesting things have been found, such as a thousand year old cedar timber

and in the back of the chamber, some workings have been left which give some idea of how awkward the excavation must have been.

Here’s a close-up of the compacted rubbish of ages.

Some glimpses of the upper levels can be caught – for example this view of some bottles in a cafe somewhere above us.

After wandering round in the basement levels, we finally emerged, blinking, into the above-ground levels of the palace. Diocletian (much to the fury of Rome) gradually adopted the Egyptian attitude to ruling which basically involved asserting his godhood; to bolster his claim he brought several sphinxes and many porphyry columns from Egypt which was then under his control. The largest surviving sphinx is on display in the main palace courtyard

and is reportedly some 3,600 years old.

After a coffee break, and some delicious ice-cream (the ricotta-and-fig combo went down a storm with most of our group members trying it), we then went to the temple of Jupiter, which is adorned with the work of Roman sculptors who used a new technique of fast drilling, thus enabling greater intricacy among the detail work.

We also visited the cathedral, essentially a re-purposing of Diocletian’s mausoleum (ironic as he was notorious for his persecution of Christians) which is decorated in real religious bling.

Running around the top of the mausoleum is a carved mural depicting various scenes of Roman life, including hunting.

The story goes that Diocletian received a prophecy that if he killed a boar, he would become emperor, and that this gave him the idea to kill his predecessor, whose name was the Latin for “boar”; perhaps this carving is Diocletian justifying his actions? As in so many cases, “no-one knows” the exact truth and there is much speculation about the details of history of this time, as indeed there is about what the basement areas of the palace were used for.

Modern, historical and Roman life come together in a shop just off the main square.

Here you see: a part of the drainage (sewerage?) system of the original Roman palace, preserved under glass within an upmarket scarf shop (similarly, next door is a bank where the PCs and desks of today’s office are set among the pillars of the ancient Roman palace). Filip also explained that in the times of Louis XIV, the Sun King, Croatian mercenaries in France wore distinctive cloth around their necks to identify them, in a style called “à la Cravate” – a description and appearance which has given the name “cravat” to today’s posh neckwear.

Before we left the palace for a final stroll round Split, we were treated to a small snatch of “Klapa” – traditional Dalmatian singing – in the vestibule of the palace courtyard.

After that, Jane and I made our way back up to the terrace we had visited the week before, in the expectation of getting a much improved view over Split, It was certainly clearer and the afternoon light looked good over the city, but it wasn’t quite the spectacular photo opportunity I had expected. Still, not too bad a view.

In the evening we took a longish walk around the harbour and into the 19th-century back streets of Split to a restaurant called “Ostarija U Vidjakovi”, where we were treated to a traditional Croatian dish called “pasticada” – very tender beef, which had been marinated and then slow-cooked in a rich sauce, served with gnocchi. This was extremely tasty, and very filling, so we were glad for the 25-minute walk back to the boat to settle the meal down before retiring for the night.

The morrow held out the prospect of visiting an old town called Trogir. This had not been on the original itinerary, but because of the vagaries of the weather during the week, we now had the luxury of the extra time to visit it. So, I’ll describe how that went in the next entry. I’m quite looking forward to reading it, myself….