Tag Archives: Medieval History

Trakai – Historic Town Built on Water

Trakai - Historic Town Built on Water

Today was going to be my third and final full day in Lithuania, and it looked as though the good weather was going to desert me. I had it in mind to go to Trakai, which is without doubt, one of Lithuania’s most popular tourist destinations, but I had my doubts as to how successful the day would be, especially as the holiday season was now in full swing.

I’m not one of those people who avoid such places (after all, they’re popular for a reason), but I’ll always try to time my visit accordingly. Today though, even if I could justify the effort in getting from Kaunas to Trakai, I was only ever going to be able to be there when it suited the public transport system, and not when it suited me.

After giving it some thought, I knew I would never have another chance to see the place that is so revered by the Lithuanian people, and so I decided to bite the bullet and catch the early fast train to Vilnius again – the same one as I took yesterday.

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A Brief Encounter with Lithuania’s Capital City

A Brief Encounter with Lithuania's Capital City

With around 600,000 people, Vilnius demands more than a day of anybody’s time, but I’m afraid that’s all I had.

The train journey from Kaunas can take anything between an hour and an hour and three quarters, and with that in mind I took an early fast train to Lithuania’s capital city.

The journey passed through some pretty flat countryside and quite different to where I come from: There were lots of trees and wooden farmhouses, one of which had a stork’s nest on its rooftop, an unusual sight for anyone from the UK to see.

Apparently, Lithuania has the biggest population of White Storks in the world, which is why it’s the country’s ‘National Bird’: They seem to be revered so much that March 25th is Stork Day when all sorts of rituals take place. Anyway, I digress.

I arrived at Vilnius railway station around 09.30 and made my way towards Ausros Gate, or better known in English as the Gates of Dawn.

The Gate gives entry into the Old Town, which is where most visitors to Vilnius head for, and which was bound to keep me occupied all day. The good thing is, that just a few streets lead straight through the Old Town down to where the Vilnia River meets the Neris near Cathedral Square and the Castle, where according to legend, the city was founded in 1323 by Gediminas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania.

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The Port of Antwerp and its Historical Significance

The Port of Antwerp and its Historical Significance

If you read my post, From the Railway Station to the Grote Markt, you could be forgiven for thinking that Antwerp’s involvement in the world’s diamond trade is where most of its wealth comes from, but as important as the business is, the real prosperity has always depended on its port.

The River Scheldt, on which the port lies is not so well known as the Rhine or the Meuse perhaps, but that’s probably more to do with how far it travels in comparison, rather than anything else. From its source near Gouy in Northern France, it runs for 350 kilometres (220 miles) and enters the North Sea near Vissingen (Flushing) in The Netherlands. On its journey, it runs through Belgium and crosses over the Dutch border near Antwerp. The strategic importance of both the river and the city of Antwerp has had a profound effect on the fortunes of, not just the city itself, but also the Low Countries in general.

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Grenoble – Capital of the Alps

Grenoble - Capital of the Alps

Before coming to Grenoble I was somewhat surprised to learn that it’s often referred to as the ‘Capital of the Alps’: After all, the Alps run for 750 miles between France and Slovenia, and Grenoble is at the extreme western edge of the mountain range – and as far as I’m concerned, is not actually even in the Alps.

I thought that maybe somewhere like Innsbruck would have a better claim to the title, so I looked it up and can you guess what I found? Yep! That’s right, Innsbruck is also called the capital of the Alps.

I’ll leave it to the powers that be to decide which they think is the best candidate for the title, but if nothing else, it did focus my mind a bit more on how the city of Grenoble sees itself.

There’s no doubt that its location in south-eastern France, where the Rivers Isère and Drac meet, would have been a natural place to build a settlement, and from its humble Gallic beginnings in 43 BC, Grenoble has grown into a fair-sized city.

The official population is around the 160,000 mark, but if you include the sprawling suburbs of the metro area that stretch up through the valleys either side of the Chartreuse Massif, the population is nearer to 700,000.

 

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Bamburgh – Historic Castle in a Wonderful Location

Bamburgh - Historic Castle in a Wonderful Location

Bamburgh Castle can be seen for miles, and as you get closer to it you can see that it sits on top of an outcrop of igneous rock which forms part of the Great Whin Sill – a geological formation that for anyone who has been along Hadrian’s Wall will probably recognise.

The site was occupied by Ancient Britons even before the Romans arrived, and when the Romans left in the early 5th century the Celts were back in control – but not for long.

The Dark Ages brought an influx of invaders from the continent which resulted in the land the Romans called Britannia being carved up into various kingdoms – Anglo-Saxon Northumbria being one of them.

The first Anglo-Saxon King to rule from Bamburgh was King Ida who took control from the Din Guarie tribe in 547, and even though there must have been a fortress here before, it was from this time that we have the first written record of one.

The castle was of wooden construction and, according to that great early historian the Venerable Bede, it didn’t get its name of  ‘Bebbanburgh’ until King Ida’s grandson, Æthelfrith, passed it on to his wife Bebba.

The original wooden fortification was destroyed by the Vikings in 993, but William the Conqueror could see that he would have the same trouble as the Romans if he didn’t build another one to keep the Scots at bay and the northerners in check, but this time it was built in stone.

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Tynemouth Priory and Castle

Tynemouth Priory and Castle

You would think, wouldn’t you, that the rocky headland overlooking the mouth of the River Tyne would have been a natural place for the Romans to build a fort to guard the main sea route to Hadrian’s Wall, but they didn’t: Instead, they chose to build one on the opposite side of the river at South Shields which they called Arbeia. What their reasons were I’m not sure, but although remains of an Iron Age settlement have been found on Pen Bal Crag, the first written records didn’t appear until the 8th century when monks established a community here on the north side of the river.

The precise date when this first monastery was built isn’t known for sure, but history detectives have pinned it down to around the mid-700s. It seems as though Tynemouth was one of four monasteries in this part of the country at the time, the other three being Wearmouth, Lindisfarne and Jarrow, which was located just across the river.

One of Jarrow’s monks was the Venerable Bede (c673-735) who, in around 731, wrote the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, considered by most experts to be the first ever historical account of the people who lived in the land we now call England. Those in the know will tell you that he never mentioned a monastery at Tynemouth, so it’s assumed that there wasn’t one here during his lifetime. By 792, there was definitely a monastery here because this became King Osred II of Northumbria’s final resting place.

The 9th and 10th centuries saw the Vikings being attracted to the riches of the monasteries of the North-East, and Tynemouth’s monastery was on their list of targets. Around 875 they raided and destroyed the (wooden) buildings, after which it seems, they were content to stay put for a while.

The picture below shows the remains of Jarrow’s monastery which was rebuilt during medieval times. Part of the old Anglo-Saxon monastery still survives in the chancel of the adjacent St. Paul’s church.

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Wandering Around Canterbury Cathedral

Wandering Around Canterbury Cathedral

In my previous blog Canterbury Cathedral – A Shortish History, I promised that I would show you around some of the cathedral’s highlights, but before I start, I have to say right from the outset that trying to cover all aspects of a building like this in one visit is nigh on impossible, and not only that, ongoing restoration work always restricts access to somewhere or another, so bearing that in mind, here is a selection of what I saw and worthy of special mention, which of course, is subjective – so here goes.

The main entrance into the cathedral precincts is through Christ Church Gate in the Buttermarket. This Tudor gateway was probably built as a memorial to Arthur Prince of Wales, and according to cathedral records was constructed between 1504 and 1521.

Prince Arthur was Henry VII’s eldest son and destined to become king. In 1501 at the age of fifteen he married Catherine of Aragon but a year later died of an unknown illness. When Henry VIII became king after his father’s death in 1509 he took his brother’s widow as his wife and queen.

Note the Tudor Coats of Arms as you walk under the archway and through the 17th century wooden doors. The original doors and the statue of Christ were destroyed by the Puritans in 1643. The present bronze sculpture of Christ was installed in 1990.

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Canterbury Cathedral – A Shortish History

Canterbury Cathedral - A Shortish History

Ever since St. Augustine set foot on English soil in 597 A.D, Canterbury Cathedral has been at the forefront of Christianity in England: First and foremost, it is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is both head of the Church of England, and the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Over the last 1400 years the cathedral has not only been transformed into one of the country’s most celebrated ecclesiastical buildings, but has also played a significant part in its turbulent history.

St. Augustine’s first church for the people was built, (or possibly re-built over a previous Roman one), within the old city wall on the same site as today’s cathedral.

The early successors to St Augustine were largely members of the missions that Pope Gregory I sent over from Italy, and the first home-grown Archbishop of note was St Cuthbert who added a second building during his time in office in the mid-8th century.

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The Great Hall and The Round Table

The Great Hall and The Round Table

No sooner had William the Conqueror been crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066, he was ordering castles to be built all over the country to defend his newly won territory – and Winchester, England’s de facto capital, was one of the first on his list.

Under these circumstances you would think, wouldn’t you, that Winchester would have been razed to the ground, but the truth was, that until the new King could set up his headquarters in London then Winchester still had an important part to play.

William’s Castle was built over the top of the Roman fort that was built to protect Venta Bulgarum, and for over a hundred years after the conquest England was ruled from Winchester Castle.

Henry II, the first Plantagenet king, built a stone keep to house the royal treasury and the Domesday Book, and Henry III, who was born at Winchester Castle and only 9 years old when he became king in 1216, added the Great Hall between 1222 and 1235.

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A Journey Back in Time

A Journey Back in Time

One of the positive things to come out of this pandemic – and there aren’t many – is that people have come to appreciate their own backyard a bit more, and I mean that metaphorically not literally.

Ever since I was let loose on an unsuspecting world I’ve been accused of all sorts of things, but one thing I can’t really be accused of, is being blind to what’s on my own doorstep: I’ve always had an inquisitive mind at what’s around me, and  during the time I was living in North Somerset, I was always exploring the local area – places that people know well, places that people have probably never heard of, and places I probably shouldn’t have gone to at all.

It was quite a long time ago now since I lived there, and although it’s often said that you should never go back, I think it depends on why you want to, and going back down memory lane to re-kindle those salad days is something I really enjoy doing, even if times have changed.

Although Bradford-on-Avon is in Wiltshire, it wasn’t much more than half an hour’s drive away from where I used to live, but it’s much further from where I live now, and last year before Covid arrived, we took the train(s) from Paignton back up to the Avon Valley for a brief visit to see if it had changed very much.

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Wandering Around Inside the Old City Walls

St. Nicholas Street

Wandering Around Inside the Old City Walls

If the title of this post gives anyone the impression that wandering around Old Bristol is similar to wandering around York or Chester then I apologise straight away. For a start, apart from one notable exception, there are no parts of the old city wall left, and don’t expect to come here and tick off a list of medieval buildings either.

That said, just because the city’s core isn’t set in aspic, it doesn’t mean to say that centuries of history hasn’t left anything of interest behind.

My previous post, From Brycgstowe to Bristol, explained how the Anglo-Saxon settlement became a Norman town and trading port. The diversion of the River Frome in the 13th century helped the port expand, and for the town to do the same it meant tearing down the city walls.

The other major event to change Bristol’s layout was the Second World War when air raids did enormous damage. As far as the Old City was concerned, virtually everything in the south-eastern quarter was destroyed. Apart from the remains of two churches – St. Mary-le-Port and St. Stephens – nothing else survived.

The western side though escaped the worst of the Blitz and it’s mainly this part of the Old City that I’m going to take you around in this virtual tour.

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St. Michael’s Mount

St. Michael's Mount

I’ve got a painting at home of St. Michael’s Mount under a moonlit sky, and to me it represents a classic Cornish seascape. I can almost hear the monks at prayer in their monastery and the sound of waves gently lapping the shore, but I can also imagine the Spaniards attacking the coastline and the smugglers offloading their barrels of brandy.

This painting was conceived from the artist’s imagination of course, but if you can be here when all the other visitors have gone, then it’s still possible to get a feel for the centuries of history that lie behind this evocative Cornish landmark.

Being Cornwall, it’s inevitable that this small rocky island half a mile offshore from Marazion, has attracted its fair share of myths and legends: Tales of seafarers being lured onto the rocks by mermaids were followed in the 5th century by an apparition of the Archangel Michael by local fishermen.

St. Michael (who is regarded as a protector from evil) is, amongst other things, the patron saint of fishermen, and his ‘appearance’ was seen as a vision to help keep the fishermen safe from harm.

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