Gdańsk / Danzig

Our hotel is only one street back from the centre of the Old Town, so I when I got up this morning I decided to take a quick walk into the Long Market before breakfast to take some photos of the famous street before all the tourists were up.  It was probably about 08:30 so not that early… but it worked.  There was no one around. The Long Market was established in about the 13th century as a merchant road that led to a large marketplace away from the river, and it became the city’s main thoroughfare. It also became known as the Royal Route in the 15th to 16th centuries because it served as the precessional road for visiting Polish royalty – the monarchs would visit the city and be entertained in the tenement houses along the road, and during the various feasts the city council have fireworks displays here. The most prominent and of course, wealthy, citizens of the Royal City of Gdańsk lived along this route.
After breakfast, we struck out to explore properly.  Refreshingly most of the Old Town is laid out in a grid so instead of winding through confusing little streets, you could stroll down nice straight cobblestoned streets that would also allow you to (mostly) get far enough back to photograph the architectural gates that seemed to be at the end of most roads in the area.All the drainage down pipes have these fantastical stone dragons and gargoyles spitting water into the street – and for a short arse like me, most of them are at shoulder or head height, so they seem like they’d be a bit hazardous in really wet weather!
The decorative details on all the buildings is just overwhelming, everywhere you look is something new and interesting whether it some stonework, wrought ironwork, frescos, tiles or sculpture… it’s a veritable feast for the eyes.
This is known to be the oldest surviving original building in Gdańsk, knowing as Gotyk House which was built in 1453.The tennement houses are lovely…
… I want one!  Red please.  🙂 

We were making our way to St. Mary’s Church which is more formally know as (wait for it, ahem,) the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or even cooler in Polish: the Bazylika Mariacka Wniebowzięcia Najświętszej Maryi Panny w Gdańsku!  How’s that for a mouthful.  St Mary’s is Roman Catholic that saw it’s construction begin in either 1379 or 1343, they’re not sure.  It is considered to be one of the top three largest brick chuches in the entire world with a volume of somewhere around 185,000m3 and 190,000m3 (no idea why they measure churches for volume but there it is … the other two are the San Petronio Basilica in Bologna at 258,000 m3 (better add that to my list) and  Munich’s Frauenkirche which I have a sneaky suspicion we saw back in ’95 and it is roughly the same size as this St Mary’s.

Between 1536 and 1572 the church was used for both Roman Catholic masses and Lutheran services right up until 1945, when Danzig became Polish Gdańsk. It seems the church is mostly known this unusual arrangement, and for its enormous size – it is 105.5m long, 66m and can fit roughly 25,000 people inside. Inside the church is surprisingly stark (like the Frauenkirche in Munich), which was confusing when I first walked in and said to yale, ‘I thought this was a catholic church but it looks kinda Lutheran in here.’, and was again confused when I saw a confessional a bit later… but the dual denomination situation described above kinda explains that I guess. The enormous baptismal font is unusually placed almost right inside the door – about 50m from the nave. We saw this fancy commercial votive candle system – copyrighted in Ireland… sometimes I think we forget that big churches are more run as big business these days. Anyway, St. Mary’s is a triple-aisled hall church with a triple-aisled transept – which basically means that the main nave and the two adjacent transepts are of roughly similar length, height and width. The building is an excellent example of late Gothic architecture.  In the late 1500s to early 1600s the church was rebuilt and enlarged somewhat with the final footprint of the church not being achieved until over 150 years since the initial construction had started. There are so many different donation boxes in this church – all different sizes, and marked to all different causes/saints/purposes. Embroidered banner: ‘God, Honour and Homeland’.  No idea what period, but I want to say, late 19th or 20th centuries, just because this place isn’t climate controlled and the goldwork isn’t that tarnished.

The Pulpit is pretty impressive – another later period addition from 1762. Apparently designed by Johann Heinrich Meissner and the oil paintings decorating it were done by Isaac van den Block.

To the left of the pulpit you can find the Rajnold Chapel, where there is a 19th century replica of Hans Memling’s famous triptych, “The Last Judgement”. The original is kept in the town’s National Museum – it was painted between 1467 and 1471.and the painting itself has quite a cool history.  It was commissioned by Angelo Tani, an agent of the Medici at Bruges, but the painting was captured at sea by Paul Beneke, a privateer from Danzig.  Apparently it took a lengthy lawsuit against the Danzig Hanseatic League to see it returned to Italy.  Eventually it somehow made its way back to St Mary’s, but of course was then moved to the National Museum for preservation. The central panel shows Jesus sitting in judgment, while St Michael is weighing souls and sending the damned to Hell, while the saved are being guided to heaven by St Peter and angels.

I can’t find any information on this artwork at all… but here is your little bit o’ medieval weirdness for the day: This rather incongruous memorial was to remember the 96 victims of a plane crash in Smolensk on 10th April 2011.  Lech Kaczyński, the fourth President of the Republic of Poland, was on the Polish Air Force Tu-154 when it crashed outside of Smolensk, as was his wife, First Lady and Economic Minister for Poland at the time. Directly opposite this very modern memorial is an enormous medieval astronomical clock.  Standing 14m tall, it is said to have been constructed by Hans Düringer between 1464 and 1470. Like every other monumental medeival astronomical clock, it is said that Düringer had his eyes put out after he made it so he could not make another – which begs the question:  why would a medieval master clockmaker accept such a commission if ultimately he was going to be blinded to stop him from replicating his work?!  Dunno… urban myths alive and well in the middle ages. The clock has some pretty complex dials that show time, date, phases of the moon, the position of the moon and sun in relation to the zodiac signs, and the calendar of saints.  Another unlabelled, anonymous fresco/sculpture.

The original high altar was created in 1511–1517 by Michael of Augsburg is currently undergoing restoration, right here in the church. They have the space, so why not I guess. You can see the altar all pulled apart, and restorers were working on it while we were visiting. From the altar looking back down the nave – it really is an enromous church.I think this is a representation of the ten commandments from 1485… there is supposed to be a piece here of that nature, though the artist is unknown. Organ – no real church is complete without one. More medieval paintings with no information or attribution  🙁  Photographing these paintings in this evironment is worse than in a musuem under glass – the camera just can’t handle the brightness ration from the stark white walls and the glare forming from them on the surface of the canvasses is almost impossible to avoid. This is me… looking at all these cool paintings and then not being able to find any information on them whatsoever.

After we left the quiet enormousness of St Mary’s we went for a walk down the Long Lane which runs parallel to the Long Market and ends at the Gdańsk Great Armory.

The Great Armory in Gdańsk or The Arsenal is the most decorative secular mannerist building in the town.  Towards the end of the 16th century, a growing military threat from Sweden prompted the Gdańsk burghers and merchants to prepare for war. Given there was a lack of suitable warehousing for war equipment they designed this purpose-built arsenal building.  To build the arsenal, the burghers hired the most eminent architect of the era, Antony van Obberghen, because a warehouse can’t just be a warehouse, right? And work on the armoury began in 1602 to 1605.  It was made of small red Dutch bricks with sandstone decorations and covered in rich gilding.  It actually looks like four separate tenement houses (especially from above) but it actually one building. Directly outside the armoury, the entire street is largely taken over by amber shops and by souvenir shops. You can face in any direction in this town and see amber for sale.

Over onto the end of the Long Market now, you can see the Golden Gate which is one of the most notable tourist attractions of the city and is located at one end of the Royal Route (the Green Gate is at the other river end). 

The Golden Gate was built in 1612–14 to replace an old 13th-century gothic gate, which formed part of the old city fortifications.  Both sides of the gate have figures symbolizing the qualities of an ideal citizen. They were designed in 1648 by Jeremias Falck and then reconstructed in 1878 due to the originals being damaged by weathering and oxidising over time.

On the west side these qualities are: (in Latin, of course)  On the west side of the gate, the listed qualities are (in Latin of course):
Pax (Peace)
Libertas (Freedom)
Fortuna (Wealth)
and Fama (Fame)

On the East (Long Lane) side of the gate, they have listed:
Concordia (Agreement)
Iustitia (Justice),
Pietas (Piety)
and Prudentia (Prudence).

There are just too many very fancy and impressive buildings in the Long Market.  I can’t describe them all, but have included many photographs to show how stunning this town is. The older High Gate which is attached to the Golden Gate is a Renaissance city gate now at the main vehicular entrance to the Old Town. 

Directly opposite the High Gate and the Golden Gate is the Prison Tower. It was established as part of the medieval fortifications, and the foundations of the Prison Tower are from the beginning of the 14th century. The Tower has a long-tower with a pointed arch and a rectangular courtyard.  These were built at various stages between 1379-1382 and 1416-1418. Henryk Hetzel was the architect and he allegedly erected the highest level a “donkey back”, but I can’t see it.  Michał Enkinger later came along and topped the Tower with a tent roof which burned down in 1577 during the siege of Gdańsk by Stefan Batory’s army (long story omitted here). For over two centuries, from 1604 to 1858, this was the largest prison in Europe. Records show no known successful escape attempts, so we can guess it was a pretty effective one at that.  Also located in the Prison Tower were Torture Chambers and the hangman’s headquarters which look like a small renaissance palace.

Today, the Prison Tower contains a Torture Museum (pass) and an Amber Museum (also pass), so we had a look around the medieval building but didn’t visit inside.

The Brama Wyżynnai gate is another gate built in 1588 gate and at one time was the main entrance to the city. It features many symbols of Gdansk, but also of Prussia & Poland. After this we went through the Golden Gate and back into the Long Market to marvel at the beautiful tennement buildings. The Gdańsk Main Town Hall is a historic building located in the middle of the Long Market and it is considered to be one of the best the Gothic-Renaissance style historic buildings in the city.  It is built at the intersection of the Long Lane and Long Market, and currently houses the History Museum of the City of Gdańsk and a weird modern art exhibition of Kazakhstani photographers?!   So many of these beautiful tenement houses have a long and distinguished history all of their own – for example, this red building below is called, the Schumann House. It was designed and built for a man named, Hans Conert the Younger, by an unknown architect in around 1560. The building was known as the King’s House as the top of the house has a sculpture of Zeus. Now, it houses a Tourist Information Centre… but my point is, every one of these buildings has a history.It’s nearly midday and the tourists are finally up and about – I am very glad I came out earlier and took some photos of the empty streets. Neptune’s Fountain – is an iconic fountain of Gdańsk.  It was  constructed by a local Mayor, Bartłomiej Schachmann in 1549 and is located outside a building called Artus Court because there was a natural well here. The fountain was proposed and approved in 1549 but didn’t ‘open’ until 1633 due to a series of construction delays – the Artus Court building was being renovated, there were problems with the water system, and then the terribly inconvenient Thirty Years’ War. 

The fountain was renovated in 1927, the fountain was renovated but got badly damaged during World War II, so they moved it to Parchów, and didn’t return it to its place until July 1957. It was renovated again in 1988, and again in September 2011 and April 2012… seems these things are pretty high maintenance. At the other end of the Long Market – the back of the Green Gate. So many beautiful buildings!  It’s simply overwhelming… so many beautiful facades to look at and so many wonderfully detailed frontages.
The Green Gate is on the river end of the Long Market and marks the start of the Royal Route.

The Green Gate was apparently inspired by the Antwerp City Hall building and was built in 1568-71 as a residence for the Polish Monarchy. It was commissioned from the master architect, Regnier (or Reiner van Amsterdam), and bring some Flemish architectural influence to Gdańsk.

More tenement buildings lining the river to either side of the Green Gate.Across the river is Granary Island – we popped over there very briefly, but it seemed full of modern hotels, a ferris wheel (called the Amber Sky of course) and several bars that appeared to largely cater to American tourists (Jack Lives Here). So we made our way along the waterfront and back into the Old Town to meander through more back streets. The seemingly modest, Royal Chapel. The famous Gdansk treadwheel crane – originally built in 1366, the crane was operated by men in the treadwheel to hoist heavy weights onto ships.

Right beside the riverside and the Treadwheel Crane is the Gdansk Archeological Museum.  We had a nice visit in the museum, though there were absolutely zero plaques in English telling us what we were looking at.  So I’m guessing your educated guesses are as good as mine on these artefacts. This was marked – it’s a 10th century viking longboat most likely used for trading and not so much for the war and the pillaging bit. The most noteable thing about the Gdansk Archeological Museum is how much of their collection was so completely lost during World War II.  The Museum apparently had a remarkable collection of artefacts and now it is a hodge podge of what remains.

After a wonderful day out exploring the city, we decided to look for one of Gdansk’s finest dining establishments – with some leftover Zloty, we thought we’d find somewhere really nice… and with fingers crossed, we might even find some friendly service too!  We ended up at ‘Chef, Food & Friends’ and because we have a very early start tomorrow, we went out for a 7pm dinner (read: an unusually early meal time on the Continent) so we had the restaurant entirely to ourselves.

Wines and lager ordered, we then took a moment to drool over the menu.

I had the Beef Tartare with Black Truffles, and it was really good. A lighter on the vinegar than you might expect, but lovely citrus and onion flavours with just the right hint of truffle. yale splashed out and ordered the Fried Foie Gras which was served with a beetroot sponge and truffle mousse – the sponge was light and fluffy as to be souffle-like, and the foie gras was rich and in a really meaty flavoursome sauce. For a main, I ordered the Pork Tenderloin that came wrapped in bacon was served with pearl buckwheat and caramelised red onion jam. Fabulous! And becaue yale is a bottomless pit, he ordered two mains, Greased “Russian” dumplings with curd cheese filling served with bacon sprinkles and sour cream (the Polish love their sour cream!).  These were very tasty also but a bit stodgy for my liking.And he also had the Guinea Fowl breast served with truffle potatoes and a vegetable ratatouille… which was also really really good. After this, we had to decline dessert – as the portions were much larger than you normally encounter in high-end restaurants.  But our waiter was having none of that, said we can’t end our meal there and he brought us some complimentary freezing cold, cherry vodka liqueurs to try. This stuff is amazing -Lubelska Wisniowka Cherry Vodka – I’m not normally one for cherry flavoured anything, but served freezing cold, it certainly warmed the cockles quicker than anything I’ve ever tried.  Only 30% alcohol, I could have had two more.

I would certainly recommend this amazing restaurant, Chef Food & Friends – the food was divine, the prices were very reasonable, our meal including alcohol was just over AUD$100 (not looking forward to paying for meals in Euros again), and it was the first time we encountered service staff that seemed friendly and helpful too.

All up we had a great day out in Gdańsk and I would love to come back as there is so much more to see – so many museums we either couldn’t see (Sunday) or didn’t have time to see.  I nearly forgot to mention just how completely annihilated Gdańsk was during World War II… it suffered so badly as to look nothing like its current beautiful self.  It is a testament to the will and perseverance of the people here, that they have taken the decades necessary to rebuild the city to reflect its previous glory, and not just bulldoze the lot and build parking lots.  I feel so thankful that there were obviously people here who survived the war and cared enough about their cultural heritage to rebuild rather than reinvent.

I <3 Gdańsk!

Exploring Tallinn Old Town

We are in Tallinn today, where all of the bollards look like fat lazy pigeons.  The weather is pretty dismal, but the rain kept at bay long enough for us to have a really good poke around the Old Town.  I visited here last year when doing the Baltic with Mr K, so plenty of the spots we stopped today where places I have seen before.  Though not with so few people around!  Tallinn in August is very different to Tallinn in October… the narrow medieval cobblestoned Old Town feels deserted and if the cost of that is a few shops are shut for the winter, then that is fine by me! We found a great little cafe for breakfast which wasn’t so easy given that many places were just not open this early – you know, about 0930.  It was called Revel and was warm and cosy and served up the best €4.95 brekkie ever – a potato, bacon, onion and mushroom bubble and squeak type deal with an egg on top. I didn’t finish it, but it was a delicious start to the day.

We started off near St John’s church, (Jaani Kirik) which is near Independence Square.  Dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist, it was built in the late 1860s. In very typical old meets new Tallinn style of blended city scaping, the church has these large light poles out front that have colour changing strips running up and down them in blue and white (colours of the Estonian flag).  It’s a bit jarring to the eye, but thankfully most of the Old Town is UNESCO World Heritage listed, so you don’t see much of this sort of thing. Across the Square, the imposing War of Independence Victory Column is currently under wraps.  It is a tall, usually well-lit plinth with an enormous cross on it.  Usually, I try to crop the scaffolded buildings and monuments out of my photos, but this one struck me as a bit of a monument in its own right. It was only unveiled about a decade ago and already under scaffold… I think this piece is currently a monument to the: ‘They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To’ field of civic building. On the hill above the Independence Square was the marker for the Baltic Way – commemorating the 2,000,000 people that formed a human chain across the 675kms from Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius on 23rd of August 1989. The plaques were bestowed by the city of Vilnius, we will have to find the Riga one when we get there too, I think. The Baltic Way event occurred to commemorate the stunning peaceable act that was to protest against the Molotov-Ribbentrop protocols. I am so totally in love with the autumn colours – we experience nothing like this in subtropical Brisbane. Not far from Independence Square is the Kiek in de Kök – a restored cannon tower from the 15th century that is now a museum. The name, Kiek in de Kök, literally means ‘peek in the kitchen’ in German; the tower got its name from stories about how soldiers in the fortification could peek from the top of the tower into the kitchens of the town below.  Nearby is the sturdy 14th century, Maiden’s Tower which is currently a cafe and small museum which oddly focuses on the culinary arts and the art of war – interesting combo. We thought we may double back around on these museums later if it started raining and we needed to take refuge indoors (it didn’t and we didn’t). Up a small hill from the Maiden’s Tower is the decidedly pink Toompea Palace. The Palace/Castle was erected on the foundations of the crumbling eastern wing of the 13th – 14th century fortress that was on this site.  The Baroque castle was built in the late 18th century, and is now the Estonia parliament, complete with carpark and (out of frame to the left) be-logo’d scaffolding, which I am now convinced is permanent, as it was here last year and isn’t covering or protecting anything, just being used as a visual divider between the road and the palace. Across the street is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which is Tallinn’s largest and grandest orthodox cupola cathedral and is dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky, and the locals hate it.   Apparently, the cathedral was built during the late 19th century as part of the efforts to  Russify Estonia.  It is so heartily disliked by many Estonians as a symbol of abject oppression, such that Estonia officials had scheduled the cathedral for demolition in 1924,. The only reason the cathedral is still standing is due to lack of money – it was going to be an expensive effort to destroy and remove the massive construction.  After Estonia gained their independence, the Estonian parliament again started to discuss plans to demolish Cathedral in the 1990s!  Seriously as recently as 30 years ago they wanted to demolish this beautiful building to extend the parking lot for the members of Parliament!   I love these street lamps – I wish I could take one home for the front garden… it would only look a little out of place.It was supposed to only get to 7°C today, but with the wind chill, feel more like 2-3°C and a high possibility of rain, so I wore my Fantastic Purple Jacket Of Warmth that I bought last year in Oslo on the end of season bargain shelves for €50 – only problem is as soon as you are indoors, you’re overheating like mad, so it’s on and off, on and off, with the jacket all day. Souvenirs – the more I travel, the more I realise that I like to look at souvenirs and see what sort of things people make/sell to represent their towns and special places, but I don’t actually like to buy souvenirs.  🙂  They just clutter up the house and you do nothing with them. So far this trip, I have bought sweet stuff all other than my lapel pins. Vikings – with horns or course.
I love these heavy felted fun wool hats – I’d love to be able to take half a dozen of them home for friends, but at €45-55 and knowing how little wear they would get in Queensland, it just doesn’t seem a sensible proposition.  🙂  Around the corner is the Toomkirik or St Mary’s Cathedral. Originally dating from the 13th century, the medieval church has a Baroque bell tower and an amazing organ inside that someone was playing this morning. The Toomkirik is the oldest church in Tallinn and mainland Estonia. It is also the only building in the Toompea area that survived a severe fire in the 17th century fire. The interior is rather austere with these enormous high pews that congregants would sit in, probably as a family, quite pointedly separated from the people in front and behind them.  yale for scale:I can’t hardly see the altar over the pew… borys for scale: After leaving St Mary’s we walked around to the first of several viewing platforms to see over the city – the Piiskopi viewing platform faces over more modern areas of Tallinn. And there was no one here!  Amazing… especially after still feeling swamped by tourists in Prague and Kiev. As you move around the Toompea area, views of the Alexander Nevsky’s onion domes can be seen peeking through the buildings in the narrow streets – I can’t believe they would still want to knock it down!
The only evidence that Tallinn was once a major port for the Hanseatic Guilds are these signs outside of the souvenir shops – the Hanseatic Guild of Souvenir Shop Owners perhaps? They certainly seem organised or even unionised to keep their pricing on par.  🙂  A little further around the town winding through the international embassies that are placed around Toompea near the Parliament buildings is another viewing platform, the Patkuli Viewing Platform. This time facing out over an older section of the city and with a few visitors. 

I took some panorama photos here so will have to share those on FB using the 3D thing. Amber, amber everywhere – some of it lovely, some of it hideous.  It’s hard to find just nice chunks of amber that you could do your own thing with them, and when you do, they are enormous with price tags to match.  I bought some rough amber beads (strings of large chips?) when I was here last year and have done absolutely nothing wtih them, so was determined not to buy more!

We then left the Toompea area and head down hill towards the Old Town Square. Which amazingly had nearly zero visitors.  The Raekoja plats or Town Hall has been here since 1322 and the town square next to it has been here ever since then as well. The hall was rebuilt from 1402 to 1404 into its current form.  Every year since 1441, the town puts up a large Christmas tree display in the square beside the Town Hall in a tradition that is now over 570 years old. You can visit inside the Town Hall – between the months of June and August. The Square is lined with restaurants, cafes and shops – most of which are fairly empty today.  Some of which have signs out saying ‘Thanks for a great summer – see you next year!’. The old jail which is right beside the Town Hall and is now a photography exhibit. By this point we were looking for somewhere to warm up a bit – maybe some mulled wine and a light lunch.  We saw this restaurant with the promise of mushroom soup on their chalkboard and were enticed inside.  We had no idea what we were walking into – but rolled with it nonetheless.

Turns out it is the most touristy of touristy medieval tavern/cafe/restaurants in town!  Complete with garbed waitstaff and a hearty, “Greetings traveller, can we offer you some fare to warm your gullet” type welcome.  Oh dear.   The entire hall is lit only by candlelight and the menu was really quite interesting. We were unaware, but visitors were even able to dress in medieval clothing to enjoy their medieval lunch.  Apparently, this place is a major draw for many visitors to Tallinn. and rates very highly on Trip Advisor –

“In one word- perfect. It’s the only place I know that promises you authentic medieval experience and actually gives it to you. The menu includes some of the most popular and finest medieval foods and beverages and even though some may taste unusual most is still excellent once you get used to it…. The service is also on top. The lady who waited our table stayed in a character… and the decor is also worth a mention. It’s maybe a bit too dark for some but we loved it. The candle-light gives it a cosy feel and lets you relax in a medieval nobility style.”

Having only come in for a cider/mulled wine and some soup – we ended up trying lots of interesting food.  Designed as an entree for one, we shared this ‘Neptune’s Platter’ which contained – Salmon eggs, Andalusian fish, smoke-grilled salmon, herring, anchovies, quail eggs, Castle’s fresh cheese, herb-bread with nuts, rye bread with smoked ham.   yale ordered the 

I ordered the Earl’s Forest Mushroom soup – it was delicious, I love good mushroom soup. Afterwards we had enjoyed the Neptune Platter so well, that we decided to not have a dessert but instead flip back to try the non-seafood version taster plate called the Reval’s Beef and Liver Pate Tasting Plate, which contained: Juniper-flavoured beef, orange tongue jelly, French royal poultry liver paté, olives, breads and caramelized onion jam.  Also all very tasty.  One thing about eating out with yale – I get to try all the things knowing he will finish them. 🙂 

The place was kinda funky – I don’t think I have seen a better medieval recreation tavern, I definitely know I have seen much much worse. I would definitely recommend it to my medieval friends and would love to come here in garb with a handful of friends to try their banquet meals.  Lovely space, lovely atmosphere, great staff and a good attempt at medieval style food that suits a modern palate.  Good fun all round.  They also have a shop attached where they are selling various period style wares. I am not sure what this was about on the website of a different nearby ‘medieval’ tavern… is it lodgings for if you’re drunk and can’t drive home?  Or are they offering ‘special services’ upstairs?  😮 Back out on the street we went looking for the Town Hall Pharmacy also known as the Raeapteek which is the oldest pharmacy in Europe that has been in continuous operation in the same premises. … since 1422! It looked a bit weird to see all the modern medicines in the old cabinets – but it is still a working pharmacy so you can go buy your panadol here. There is a small museum of old ‘treatments’…  dried toads, bats, hedgehogs?

After this, we went to St Katherine’s Passage to make our way to the old city walls.

Easily one of the most picturesque of Old Town’s lanes, the walkway runs behind St. Catherine’s Church.

The walkway is particularly known for being home to the St. Catherine’s Guild, which is a collection of craft workshops where artists use traditional methods to create glassware, hats, quilts, ceramics, jewellery etc. The workshops are housed in the small, 15th- to 17th-century workrooms in open type studios so you can see artists working and buy their wares. No summer crowds! It was lovely to walk through this space and have it all to ourselves, also to have time to check out some of the art studios that are here – though the woodworker seems to have packed up for the winter.
At the end of the passage, you can climb to the top of the Hellemann Tower to walk along the old castle walls.  

The street views are spectacular from up here – and you can see how few people are visiting the town today. The rickety staircase we claimed to come up with the bored octagenarian ticket seller who we just about had to wake up to take our €2.00 for tickets. Finally, it was starting to rain on our parade – we did pretty well considering it was supposed to be raining all day.  So we retreated back to the hotel with some caviar and some vodka for a bit of down time and a quiet evening in the warm.

Medieval Goatse, oh my!

I’m sitting here asking myself – what was going on in those Medieval monasteries? Seriously?  Even though the image seems to err.. complement? the accompanying text (below), how does one reconcile this image with the fact that it was very likely have been produced, and viewed, by persons who had devoted themselves to lives to piety, prayer and scholasticism?  At first glimpse I thought it might have something to do with Absolon who did infamously kist Alisoun’s nether yea in The Miller’s Tale, from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  But not so, it seems this moonish illumination derives from a Medieval romance called The Conversations of Solomon and Marcolf.

The concept of monks writing out racy romances feels more than a little absurd… and totally incongruous with our general perceptions of Medieval monks and their life of studious solitude, self deprivation (not to be confused with depravation!), and celibacy!?  Makes you wonder, what on earth were they thinking?  And also… what really went on, in ye olde monasteries?  O_o

From the dialogue of Solomon and Marcolf:

‘The king Salomon discended from hys hors and began to loke into the oven. Marcolphus laye all crokyd, hys vysage from hymwardes, had put downe hys breche into hys hammes that he myght se hys arshole and alle hys othre fowle gere. As the kyng Salomon, that seyng, demawnded what laye there, Marcolph answeryd: I am here. Salomon: Wherefore lyest thou thus? Marcolf: For ye have commaunded me that ye shulde no more se me betwyxt myn yes. Now and ye woll not se me betwyxt myn yes, ye may se me betwene my buttockys in the myddes of myn arsehole.’

unusal medieval manuscript solomon arsehole

Gorleston Psalter, England 14th century (British Library, Additional 49622, fol. 61r)

TIL… lots of cool stuff.

Today I learned that that even though we think we are living in an enlightened age of reason, science and technology, there are so many element intrinsic to Western thinking that might as well be purely Medieval.  For example, attitudes towards rape and rape victims really havent changed that much over the last 500 years.  In Renaissance Italy, the bulk of rape incidents happen by a known perpetrator and often in the victims own home, and usually went unreported as the shame and stain on a woman’s character was detrimental to her future.  Women were still frequently considered to have ‘asked for it’, if she has allowed her person to be alone, unguarded, unprotected (fryndlesse) or dressed provocatively.  Many rapists felt they have done nothing wrong and are therefore not repentent about their crimes, this was particularly evident in the case in group or gang rapes where the male agressor/s gain acceptance and reinforcement of their overt masculinities from their cohorts.  Women of lower/servant classes or disenfranchised minorities were often at very high risk of sexual assault due to the protection afforded to their ‘betters’ or more monied counterparts… any of this sounding familiar?  Yep, many of these aspects of rape mentality haven’t gone very far at all, particularly in some of our modern global cultures.

I also learned that eating disorders and anorexia tended to affect the same demographic of young woman in Puritan England that it does now… young women from well to do backgrounds, often with very religious backgrounds whose primarily emotional disturbance is doubt – primarily self doubt.  In Puritan England it was their burgeoning sexuality and the subsequent conflict with their piety that caused that self doubt and following self loathing.  Prescriptions for such melancholias included fasting… but many young women took the fasting treatment as seriously as they took their religion and then endured long term battles with willing periods of not nourishing their ‘traitorous bodies’ that were full of lust and potential for sin.  Modern day women (in the US at any rate, stats for Australia not available due to overzealousness of political correctness) are from the same demographics – tend to be from middle to upper class families with heavy religious backgrounds and similar expectations.  Confusion arises in young teens when puberty, adolescent angst and sexual experimentation leads to self and body perception issues.  Similar results ensue for many sufferers… years of fighting with a very serious condition that results from emotional dissatisfaction and disconnection from one’s own body.

Today I learned that post-partum depression, while much more widely acknowledge and recognizable in modern society, was just as present in Medieval life as it is today.  Perhaps even more so as women had so many children.  Margery Kempe was literally driven mad after the birth of her first child and in the absence of medical or psychological treatment turned to friends, family and townspeople for support. Eventually she turned to Christ for salvation and claimed it was only His divine intervention and her continued desire to please Christ that kept her from relapsing through the birth of her next 13 children.  But she ended up mad as pants in the end anyway according to her neighbours – which is by way of saying, she became one of those ‘uppity’ women of the Middle Ages who refused to be controlled by the social constraints of the time.  And after 14 kids, I think she deserves to be as free and uncontrolled as she wants to be!

I also learned that witches had consensual and emotionally fulfilling, sometimes long term, sexual relations with devils and demons that visited them in the night to ‘suckle at their genitalia’!  That presumed witches don’t float for a reason (but that’s a much longer story for another time) and that witch-hunting was a systematised and very lucrative business.  🙂

This conferences has been so full of amazing papers, wonderful people and interesting facts that I can’t wait for the next one – which is at the University of Queensland in 2015.

riding broom demons night sleeping devils

The Uses of Violence…

  • Rape and Ritual in Renaussance Italy: The Normalization of Violence?
  • “What shee hath often seene”: Family Violence in Pre-Modern Ireland

Witchcraft in Translation… 

  • The Witch-Finder General: The Matthew Hopkins Pamphlett.
  • Sleeping With Devils: The Sexual Witch in the Seventeenth Century England.
  • Glanvill in Germany: Translating an English Debate on Witchcraft and Spirits.

Medieval and Early Modern Echoes in Healthcare… 

  • Margery Kempe and Postnatal Psychosis: Going ‘owt of hir minde’.
  • Vesalius Writing on the Body of Medicine: from translation to Direct Observation.
  • Puberty and Eating Disorders in Puritan England.

Qualities of Kings: The Representation of Medieval English Monarchs…

  • The Portrait of Henry the Young King in the History of William Marshall.
  • How to Construct a King: The Correspondence of Edward I and Llwelyn ap Gruffydd
  • ‘Sodenly he was changed into a new man’: The Self-fashioned Masculinity of Henry V