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Ventana - An Enchanting Resort in BIg Sur

Summary: I love Ventana. I highly recommend visiting  and exploring the landscape at Lime Kiln and Andrew Molera State Park which I've blogged about here. Please note this is #notsponsored . Yes, that means we paid our own bill! Lots of details in the following review. including a Post Ranch vs Ventana comparison.  Can you tell there's something exciting beyond this beautiful gate? There's something special about Big Sur, a magic in the light, the presence of the Pacific, the cliffs, beaches, redwood forests and the murmur of the surf. It's one of my favorite places in California. I couldn't think of anywhere else I wanted to be to celebrate turning fifty, because it's a place where there's a sense of nature, space and light and a wide horizon. We've been to Big Sur many times and for a celebration there are two fantastic hotels vying for your attention. The exclusive, modern and very private, cliff top Post Ranch Inn and on the other side of the road the …

Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

A few years ago we went underneath St Peters in Rome on what is called the "Scavi" (or excavation) tour. We went past the Swiss Guard, following steps under the cathedral to end up in an excavated Roman necropolis beneath the main altar. It was  fascinating, the tombs which were decorated with Roman, Greek and Christian imagery,  came from a time when  Rome was at a cultural intersection and this was reflected in the material culture of the necropolis.  A variety of different religious symbols reflected the multiplicity of religious expression before the establishment of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine. We were  struck by the idea that the center of Christendom, the main altar at St. Peters, rests on a burial ground filled with images of gods and goddesses, sitting comfortable up against Christian imagery of fish, sheep or shepherds. 

The  Kom el Shoqafa catacomb in Alexandria may not be as well known, but it was similarly eclectic, a cultural mishmash reflecting the border, boundaries and contradictions of empire. It's fascinating to find  places that embody the intersection, overlaps and disruptions of our cultural and religious histories. Here, it's well worth the journey to see a single familial tomb combining classical Greco-Roman and Pharaonic imagery, here the pharaonic ritual of mummification combines with the Roman burial practice of the catacombs. More than any other place in Alexandria this tomb points to the role that the city has played in incorporating, absorbing and re-shaping foreign influences in Egypt. It was moment when,  as E. M. Forster said his (1922) Alexandria: A History and Guide" the old faiths began to merge and melt". I love how lyrically he puts it, though I'm not sure if it's the Roman's melting into the Egyptians or vice versa? Perhaps the point is that once it melts it doesn't matter.
The tomb illustrates the legacy of Greek conquest under Alexander, the history and continuity of Pharaonic rituals such as mummification, along with Roman aesthetic influences in the design and decoration. Clearly this was the tomb of  influential and important people and it dates from the second half of the first century A.D., though nothing more is known about the family. I particularly love the images of the Egyptian gods Anubis (the jackal headed god of mummification) and Seth in the armor of Roman soldiers.
The first picture above is the main image you see facing you as you enter the tomb. The deceased lies on a lion headed  mummification table with the Egyptian gods Horus and Anubis officiating. You can see three canonic jars (which stored the organs) under the table. Below,  the Pharaoh wearing the double crown of Egypt before the Apis bull, flanked by a winged goddess. A similar images is found on the opposite side of the tomb.
Bearded serpents wearing the double crown of Egypt, with Medusa heads in the medallions above, flank either  side of the tomb's entrance. Each  serpent is holding the pine cone of Dionysis and the  staff of Hermes. Thus, we have an ancient Egyptian form of death ritual, mummification, represented along with a symbolic invocation of Greek gods for the protection they can offer the deceased.
When you leave the tomb its well worth looking at a painted tomb (relocated from the Delta) which can be found at ground level just above the catacombs.  The detail and coloring of the tomb is incredible - as you can see below. It is in a slightly different style but shows a similarly broad range of cultural and religious influence. The decorative painting  reminded us of Nero's palace in Rome, unfortunately now closed.
Tip: The main thing that we got from the guide was that the site was "rediscovered" in the early Twentieth Century when a donkey fell from the market above into the central shaft. If you have any understanding of Greco-Roman history or design you won't need a guide  for the history though it was useful to have someone guiding you through some of the darker tunnels.

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