Digging bomb shelters sounds miserable and can’t be happy work. There’s the dark, dank, underground drudgery, and then there’s, well, the threat that the bombs will arrive before the job is finished.
But on a typical work day in 1941 workers in Cologne, Germany unearthed something that surely must have brightened their day: one of the largest, best preserved Roman mosaics in Europe. In fact, the floor mosaic was so outstanding that archaeologists left it right where it was, and the Roman-Germanic Museum (Römisch-Germanisches Museum) was built around it.
Like most great rivers, the Rhine was a natural conduit for explorers, adventurers, and ultimately, invaders. In 50 A.D. land-hungry Romans established a regional capital there, and roughly two centuries later, a member of the nobility added this incredible mosaic floor to their villa. Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest is the star of the show, and gives the 1800 year-old mosaic its name.
Mosaics are beautiful works of art, but they’re also appreciated by historians for the insights they provide into daily Roman life: clothing, food, tools, weapons, sports, farming, hunting, flora and fauna are carefully preserved in stone – all one million pieces of it.
The artist included vases of colorful flowers, lions, tigers, and birds. I particularly liked the two parakeets pulling a chariot. The message escapes me, but it’s an attention-getter. And honestly, nothing perks up a mosaic like a few nude gods and goddesses cavorting about.
I’ve always had an appreciation for mosaics. It must take a spectacular artistic talent to create a work of this complexity. And just how do you think they kept those million tiny pieces of rock organized?
The Dionysus Mosaic is the centerpiece of the museum, but it also has an excellent collection of glassware, as well as thousands of other everyday items that will give you a real feel for Roman colonial life in the far reaches of the empire. If you visit Cologne, don’t miss the Roman-Germanic Museum.
James & Terri