They entered this world likely together and departed after just a few short months on this earth and their short lives are making an impact some 1,500 years after their death. They are the babies of the Apolline Project on the dark side of Vesuvius. Archaeologist Girolamo Ferdinando DeSimone and his team uncovered the tiny burial urns at the site of one of the most fascinating digs in Naples, Pollena Trochia in the Somma-Vesuvius region. It’s all that’s left of a villa with roman baths but archaeologists believe the site also served, at one point, as a burial ground for children.
DeSimone suspects the infants were twins because of the close proximity of their burial urns and appearing to be the same age at between one and three months old. Since they were buried so closely together, with their heads adjacent, resembling a position inside the womb, DeSimone says this is further evidence that they were likely twins.
Today’s technology could map the DNA to make an exact determination on their familial relation, if any, but the test is costly at €3,000 and the archaeological project has not yet raised the funds.
The importance of this find is immeasurable says DeSimone. “We know that in antiquity there were twins – Romulus and Remus are the most famous twins in History. Nevertheless, nobody ever carried out DNA analyses on possible ancient twins, so this would be the first time this test is done on Roman remains.” DeSimone hopes such testing would not only accomplish genetic mapping but would also serve to identify which ethnic group the babies were from as well as whether they died from any genetic disease.
Students who would like to join the excavation work for two weeks this summer may inquire by clicking here (the deadline is May 15th). Also, if you would like to help uncover the mystery of the Apolline Twins, all donations are easily made online by clicking here: donate to the Apolline Project
Sometimes the synergy between your everyday life and your travel life brings nice surprises. While renovating my bathroom I came across a tiled mural of an ancient Roman spa by the wonderful 19th century British artist, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. It evoked the romance of the ancient Romans as barely-clad people lounged in the terme. It was the Baths at Caracalla in Rome.
Who knew? You could still visit the ancient spa in Rome. The site is in the heart of the Eternal City but still off the beaten path just enough to keep hoards of tourists from flocking there.
The Baths at Caracalla are massive, taking up 33 acres just to the east of Circo Massimo (less than a 10 minute walk). The free baths were the second largest in ancient Rome and were free of charge to people of all classes. Libraries, gyms, hot and cold pools, all lined in marble and semi-precious stones. I found myself staring at the floor imagining that toga-clad men and women traversed these same tiled pathways.
Upon entering I was overwhelmed by the towering ruins which reach into the skies, making you realize just how small you are in the grand scheme of life. You stroll from the natatio a swimming pool, where mosaics still line the floors and imagine the bronze mirrors mounted overhead to usher sunlight to bathers below.
It is an architectural and engineering marvel. And while the baths haven’t been as used a spa in nearly 2,000 years, today they host summer concerts and cultural events where you can still enjoy a night under the stars in beautiful Rome.
TOURIST TIP: Plan on at least three hours to fully explore the baths and the underground mini-museum. Bring a picnic if it’s a nice day. There’s plenty of green space. Most of the larger statues were recovered by the noble Faranese family and now sit in Naples at the Archaeological museum there, another treat. Tickets are €6 for adults and free for kids 17 and under. The nearest Metro stop is Linea B – Circo Massimo.
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“Pass Queen Elizabeth’s Keys and all’s well!“ The cry goes out from the Queen’s Guard at the Tower of London, as it has for more than 700 years. It’s the nightly Ceremony of the Keys, an off the beaten path London attraction which draws lucky visitors long after the tourists have left this riverside attraction. Not one night has been missed in conducting this centuries’ old ceremony.
The moon’s light casts eerie shadows on the Tower, a violent bastion of British history, and a Beefeater Guard ushers guests behind the giant gates. We are locked inside, keeping the Tower and us safe for another night.
It’s truly a ceremonial event (no cameras allowed) and tickets are limited in number. The Historic Royal Palaces website advises requesting the free tickets at least two months in advance (three in the summer) and they mean it. It took me several tries before acquiring the lucky ducat and the wait was well worth it.
While the Tower of London may no longer house monarchs or prisoners, it does contain the Crown Jewels and many other historic valuables. Being locked inside, tucked in for the night, is an experience not to be missed.