A Buddhist temple complex in Eastern Kyoto, Japan and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Remarkably, not a single nail was used in creating the main temple structure!
Secret rooms, passageways, and buildings have been constructed throughout history as far back as the Ancient Egyptians. They were used for a number of different reasons – to distinguish social hierarchy, provide protection, or to wangle ones way around a constricting status quo. Despite being built to conceal and hide, some of these rooms, passageways, and buildings actually have a lot to be shouting about considering their fascinating roles in history. Here are a few interesting ones that should be kicking up a bit more of a fuss…
1. Il Passetto di Borgo, Rome.
Il Passetto di Borgo is the raised passageway, atop the old Vatican wall, linking Saint Peter’s Church to the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. The Passetto (meaning ‘small passage’ in Italian) is an 800 metre corridor used exclusively by the papacy and was supposedly built in 1277 by Pope Nicholas III. It played an important role in the 1527 Sack of Rome when the Passetto was used by Pope Clement VI to escape the Vatican, and take shelter in the fortified Castel Sant’Angelo.
Below is a bird’s eye view of the Passetto, shown as a red line running from Saint Peter’s (on the left) to Sant’Angelo (on the right).
2. The Vasari Corridor, Florence.
Now admittedly the Vasari Corridor is probably the most well-known of hidden passageways (and really it isn’t very hidden when you consider that it is in plain sight of anyone looking down the Arno river), but I’ve decided to include it here out of loyalty to this small Tuscan city. I lived in Florence briefly a couple of years ago and in that time I did manage to scrape in on a tour down the corridor – a really interesting experience that I highly recommend. The Vasari Corridor was built in 1564 for the Medici family, as a way of linking the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi, which at the time was the site of the family’s offices, with the Palazzo Pitti, the Medici’s newly bought palace of residence. It is an enclosed passageway, running along the bank of the Arno, crossing the Ponte Vecchio, and then winding its way through the Oltrarno area, before finally reaching the Pitti. The corridor actually cuts through the Chiesa Santa Felicita, in the Oltrarno, and a balcony from the corridor that looks down onto the church congregation was created for the family. There the Medici could stand and follow the service taking place, without having to mix with the public both inside and en route to the church. Below you can see the Ponte Vecchio with the corridor making up the top part.
3. Our Lord in the Attic (Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder), Amsterdam.
This is my favourite museum in Amsterdam. It is a 17th century residential canal house, originally owned by the merchant Jan Hartman. Hartman converted the top 3 floors of the bourgeois house into a secret Catholic church in 1663, a time when Catholicism was increasingly oppressed by Protestantism and the celebration of public mass and worship was forbidden. The lower floors of the house remained the living quarters of the Hartman family, and a stairway was built on the side of the house for the Catholics to climb when secretly congregating in the attic church for mass. The museum is well worth a visit not only for the secret church, but also for seeing what a middle class family house looked like during the ‘Dutch Golden Age’.
4. Priest Holes, UK.
Ploughing on with the Catholic theme – priest holes. These were secret hiding places built into many English Catholic houses in the mid-16th century, a period when Catholics were persecuted by English Elizabethan law. It was commonplace for old English castles and country houses to have some sort of secret room or means of escape in case of emergencies. However, these secret chambers grew in number within Catholic households during this time of persecution. They were usually used to conceal priests, who could quickly hide if in the middle of officiating secret masses (these were normally held in the attic or secluded parts of Catholics houses), but they also provided a place to put the sacred vessels and altar furniture needed for mass. These priest holes proved effective against ‘priest hunters’ (pursuivants) who could spend days searching and tearing through a house, but it wasn’t uncommon for the priest to die from lack of oxygen and/or starvation while confined to their small hiding place (very bleak…). During the Civil War, the priest hole in Moseley Old Hall, on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, became the hiding place for King Charles II, who was fleeing from Cromwell’s army in 1651. He was successfully concealed below a bedroom closet, in a tiny hole with no light, before the owner’s of the house helped the monarch escape to Europe.
5. Krifo Scholio, Greece.
Krifo Scholio, Greek for ‘secret schools’, were the supposed clandestine schools in Greece that illegally taught the forbidden Christian doctrines and Greek language when the country was under Ottoman rule between the 15th and 19th centuries. Historians who believe these secret schools to be true suspect that the schools operated throughout Greece and were overseen by monks from the nearby monasteries. The most well-known krifo scholio is thought to have been in the Peloponnese Monastery of Philosophos in the mountain village of Dimitsana. The monastery’s inaccessibility made it the perfect location for a secret school, as can be seen in the photo below.
This photo shows the entrance to the church, also the supposed site of the secret school:
Today marked the final day of London Fashion Week, which ran from the 14th to the 18th of February. As it was partly held in Somerset House (where my current place of study is located), I had the unique opportunity of witnessing a lot of the “street style” and fashion frenzy that took place outside the “heart” of LFW – the “heart” was essentially the two super exclusive, central tents set up in the middle of the piazza of Somerset House, where the runways would be. Around these tents, visitors, trend setters, photographers, aspiring models, anyone, could walk, and naturally, as it was LFW, everyone seemed to make an extra concerted effort to display their own individual, distinct, and creative style, setting fashion trends to come. Now I love shopping, clothes, and all sorts of nice things, but I wouldn’t call myself a fashion aficionado with a finger on the pulse of every trend. So, I made sure to closely observe what all these people “in the fashion know” were wearing these last 4 days, so that I can be leaps, bounds, and strides ahead of the game this season. Here are some of the things that I learnt about during this period of intense observation:
1. Best friends must dress in matching.monochrome.outfits, each friend preferably in a different pastel colour. This one will definitely be a hit with my group of girlfriends – watch out London!
2. Gone are the days of cutting the bottom half of your jeans (young teenage me loved putting scissors to denim – and by “denim” I am referring to my many pairs of flared jeans that I’d decorated with iron-on flower badges. All-in-all, a disastrous look), NOW we need to be cutting the top half. Like this clever woman:
3. It seems to be a thing for men to wear dresses over their super skinny jeans, sometimes replacing the jeans with leggings…I don’t know.
4. Always remember to go for the face-veil, ideally with lots of dangly trinkets. While I saw one woman with a veil of feathers, another decorated her black veil with lots of metal safety pins, creating a very warm and forthcoming look. Harness your creative power with this one and go to town – the opportunities are endless! For now, here is some inspiration (the bottom right looks particularly practical):
5. WOODEN CLOGS ARE MAKING A COME BACK! I don’t know if these were actually ever “in”, but clogs were another staple to my teenage wardrobe (worn frequently with the aforementioned jeans). They were so comfortable and made the best noises when charging about. Very on board with this trend. If you’re not feeling the clog vibe, then why not opt for some versatile furry sandals?
6. Dip-dye is out, colouring your hair with a LEOPARD PRINT pattern is in – I didn’t really understand this one, what was the leopard print doing on her hair?! Sadly, I wasn’t fast enough with my camera.
7. Finally, if all else fails, a dog will always be your best accessory:
When I mentioned to friends that I would be in Amsterdam for a couple of days, many responded by giving me a knowing smile and a mischievous “oh right, have fun”. It was clear that they weren’t thinking of scenic cycle rides along the picturesque canals or the Dutch Old Master paintings on display at the Rijksmuseum. You see, among many of the other attractions the city has to offer, Amsterdam is most notorious for its coffee shops and red lights, activities that immediately spring to the minds of many who hear the city’s name – although I don’t know and have chosen to ignore why my friends thought of these things in relation to me going there. For me, Amsterdam is synonymous with something else completely – FOOD. While London remains my home in mind and body, Amsterdam is the spiritual home of my stomach. In my dream life I would move to the city and live a life of pancakes, stroopwafel, chips, and cheese, but in reality this would only last months before I quickly mutate into a grossly obese human whale. So for now I’ll stick with suggesting places to eat in Amsterdam, with the hope that friends will similarly return obsessed with the food (while also bearing some edible souvenirs).
1. Pancakes! Amsterdam, Berenstraat 38, http://www.pancakesamsterdam.com – This place makes the most incredible Dutch pancake and is located in the hip De Negen Straatjes area. If you go (which you should), I recommend the bacon and apple pancake or the smoked salmon, creme fraiche, and chives…or have both! If this small and cozy restaurant is full then there is always the Pancake Bakery (Prinsengracht 191), which is slightly more toursity, but still good, and also just down the road.
2. Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx, Voetboogstraat 31-33 – Vleminckx is a take-away shop that sells delicious warm Belgium chips in cones, topped with any one of their 25 different sauces. These aren’t chips you’d find in any local chippy in the UK. This shop, with more than 50-years of chip frying experience, has perfected the crispy outside, the fluffy warm inside, and the salty nature of the ideal chip. However don’t be put off by the queue – the wait is well worth it!
3. Winkel 43, Noordermarkt 43, www.winkel43.nl – This restaurant, cafe, and bar is located in the chilled Jordaan area of Amsterdam (a great neighbourhood with lots other cafes and boutique shops). While their lunch menu changes monthly, their dinner menu changes daily, and both always hold meat, fish, and vegetarian options. An absolute ‘must’ with Winckel 43 is its homemade apple pie, said to be a “well-known delicacy” in the Jordaan area. It’s more of a cake in my opinion but that’s nothing to complain about, especially considering their pretty generous portion sizes – always a welcome bonus in my books. So definitely try and work this apple pie into your itinerary – even if it takes the form of a quick 10 minute coffee and tea stop!
4. De Laatste Kruimel, Langebrugsteeg 4, http://delaatstekruimel.nl – If, for some strange reason, the freshly baked cakes, breads, quiches, and tarts decorating the display window don’t invite you into this cafe, the cozy and relaxed interior will. This sweet little bakery, deli, and cafe can be found in the centre of the city, near the Red Light District. It can get busy inside during peak times, but (again) the crowd is well-worth tackling if you want a tasty lunch. Some highlights for me were the Pastel del Nata (a mini custard tart) and the Apple tart – it’s probably clear by now that I have a strong love for apple based dishes.
5. Sama Sebo, Hoofstraat 27, www.samasebo.nl/en/ – This Indonesian restaurant serves one of the best Rijsttafel (literally meaning ‘rice-table’), a meal in which up to 30 side dishes are served around a central bowl of rice, in Amsterdam. My only tip is to make sure you arrive hungry! Sama Sebo is located in the Museum Quarter of the city and is usually fully booked, so reserve a table in advance. If you fancy Indonesian cuisine with more of a modern twist then head to Blue Pepper (Nassaukade 366, http://www.restaurantbluepepper.com), which also serves a delicious Rijsttafel.
This past Saturday when my friend asked me if I wanted to accompany her to the Martin Creed exhibition currently on at the Hayward Gallery in London, I gave her a flat “no”. I had no idea who this man was and, to be honest, I really don’t like contemporary art. This dislike is essentially rooted in my deep unfamiliarity with any artistic work made in the last 250 or so years (I am an Early Modern art historian, so anything past 1750 is a little foreign to me). Even if I tried to understand it, the pool of contemporary art feels so dauntingly vast and the artists and artistic trends seem to constantly be changing – I basically have no clue where to begin learning about it, let alone keeping up with it, and a lot of the works just seem a bit ridiculous sometimes. So out of laziness, I pushed it aside and continued on in blissful ignorance. That is until Saturday, when, after learning that my plans for the rest of the day involved catching up on the latest episodes of ‘New Girl’ and napping, I was “forced” to accompany my friend to Creed’s one-man show titled ‘What’s the point of it?’…and I am so glad she did! The fun, witty, and whimsical works that take over the entire Hayward gallery proved to be one of the best introductions to contemporary, expressionist, minimalist (however you describe Creed’s approach) art.
Creed is a British born artist whose works tend to play on the definitions of art through humour and irony, recalling Marcel Duchamp in his representation of ideas and objects. In 2001 he won the prestigious Turner Prize, an award celebrating new developments in contemporary art, with his work entitled ‘The Lights Going On and Off’ (literally a lamp that turns on and off, also shown at this exhibition). In my opinion, the genius of this current retrospective at the Hayward is that it highlights one of main questions that pops into the general public’s mind when looking at contemporary art – What is the point? – at least that’s what comes into my mind. Creed’s exhibition title cleverly encourages the viewer to create their own interpretation of the art on display, whether it is some complicated reading drowning in art historical theory or something more simple and straightforward. I decided to go for the latter approach, enjoying his playful, random, and at times nonsensical works of art.
The first room is dominated by a giant, revolving neon sign that reads MOTHERS (‘MOTHERS‘, 2011). The beam holding the lights spins at variable speeds, giving the impression that it is out of control and making the viewers, who walk beneath, alarmingly aware of the space around and above them – watch out if you are over 6ft 6in. In another section framed blank sheets of paper hang on the walls. It is only when you come close to the image itself that you see the words ‘fuck off’ written in small type on the paper – putting anyone who tries to assign meaning to the work in his or her place. Then there’s the scrunched up ball of paper (‘A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball‘, 2005), which has been carefully covered and placed on top of a plinth as if it were a Renaissance masterpiece – another work by Creed that seems to take the piss out of art. My absolute favourite part of the exhibition however, was ‘Half the air in a given space‘ (1998), one of Creed’s best known visual works. This is essentially a room filled with white balloons meant to demonstrate to the visitor what that volume of air actually feels like. It is meant to playfully question our perception of space as you work your way round the room, pushing past all these balloons that come above head height. I basically regressed to an overexcited 8-year old and almost had an asthma attack from being so breathless, very dramatic (on that point, the gallery actually advise you beforehand not to go into the room if you have asthma). Finally, another highlight was the film room, which played Creed’s famous ‘Sick and shit‘ (basically a film of people pooing and vomiting). I enjoyed this less for the content of the film (which was gross by the way) and more for the horrified reactions of the unsuspecting visitors, who casually walked into the room only to be confronted by a huge screen of a squatting woman defecating on to the floor – very comical.
Creed’s exhibition is a definite must for anyone with a free afternoon, even for those like me who are completely clueless about contemporary art! The works displayed cleverly embrace the meaninglessness and pointlessness of art in a Duchamp and Dada-like way, ironically giving the works meaning by doing so. Ultimately, it was thought-provoking and, for a lack of a better word, FUN, and I left the gallery feeling more optimistic and enthusiastic about contemporary art. Maybe my next blog post will be a phenomenological and Freudian reading of Jeff Koons’s ‘Balloon Dog’ - hopefully not as I still have no idea if that even makes sense…baby steps for now.
Martin Creed: What’s the point of it? is showing at the Hayward Gallery in London from January 29th 2014 to April 27th 2014.