Underground and Unexpected. Roman Art in Cologne

In Cologne, tourists go to see the Cathedral, which is the number one tourist site in Germany. Right next door , in the Roman Germanic Museum, there are treasures  that rival those of the Cathedral.  After the tour of the Cathedral, I was ready to blow off the museum, but since it was a rainy day I decided to take a chance on it.  Our tour company made arrangements for a visit, even though the museum is closed on Monday,  and I realized why they did so.  The place was unexpectedly interesting.  I expected a dusty old place with pottery sherds and fragments of statuary.  Instead it was modern with a lot of well displayed intact artifacts. When you enter the museum, right next to the gift shop, you see a two thousand old Roman mosaic floor. In other parts of the building there is a large collection of Roman glass and displays that illustrate the early history of the region.

Agripinna, wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius.

Agrippinna, wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius.

The museum was built in 1974, over the site of a Roman Villa, and copies the layout of the villa.  The villa dates  from AD 220-230, when the villa, which was located near the northern gate of a Roman town called Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium.    The mosaic was discovered by accident during World War 2  when an air raid shelter was constructed. The town was the birthplace of Agrippina, wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius, who ruled from AD 41-54. Agrippina convinced her husband to raise her hometown to the status of a city. Cologne’s name came from the name of its Roman predecessor.  Today the museum keeps company with the symphony hall, the train station a museum of modern art and Cologne Cathedral.
The large mosaic floor, which is in almost perfect condition, tells the story of the Roman god Dionysos, god of wine an pleasure.  It is made of of over one million pieces of glass, stone and ceramic tiles.

The mosaic floor, telling the story of Dionysos, the Roman god of wine.

The mosaic floor, telling the story of Dionysos, the Roman god of wine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overlooking the mosaic is a large structure, built in AD 40. It looks like a small temple, but is actually a tomb. When I saw the tomb, I though it may the burial place of the owner of the villa, or a prominent member of the community.  Actually, the tomb was built by Polbicius of Terentina, a veteran of the 5th Roman Legion as a tomb for himself, his wife and daughter.  Standing over 14 meters tall, it is an imposing structure. Cologne’s Dom square  is not its original location. Its discovery, like that of the mosaic was an accident. It was found in 1967 under the home of the Gens family of Cologne.  Their teenage sons decided to build a party room in the basement of their home, and when  they started to dig, they found a stone which was part of the tomb’s structure.   It took them two years of excavation, which went nine meters below the house to find most of the tomb’s parts. They were offered a lot of money for their discovery, but decided to give it to the city of Cologne.   It was reassembled in its present state when the museum was built.

The tomb of Poblicius, a Roman soldier.

The tomb of Poblicius, a Roman soldier.

 

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