Another London Walk
It started off with this photograph, taken during the war. There’s a street in the City of London called Walbrook which was heavily bombed. After the site had been cleared, ready to build a new office building, there was an excavation that turned up – on the very last day of the dig – the head of a goddess. It was realised that this was the site of the most mysterious Roman god, Mithras. His temple had been constructed here, and worship was centred around sacred bulls, which may have been sacrificed there.
There had been artefacts found around here over a long period – among the sculptures the archaeologists found was a head of the god himself, recognisable by his Phrygian cap. As often happens in these cases, the temple was saved for the nation and reassembled but there was no clear idea of what to do with it. It had been built on the Walbrook, then a river, to supply it with fresh water. Now, it has found its place.
The ruins have been reconstructed as they appeared at the end of the excavation in October 1954, reflecting the first building phase of around AD 240. They can be seen in the basement of the Bloomberg building, which offers free entry but you must book a visit in advance. Inevitably it’s smaller than expected but still fascinating.
There are three floors going deep underground, the first displaying artefacts found on the site like jewellery and sandals, then there’s an audio-visual presentation and finally the temple remains themselves, arranged in a son-et-lumiere presentation.
Walbrook is an interesting street. It houses the often overlooked St Stephen Walbrook, a graceful circular church with a grand dome, one of one hundred churches in the City of London.
It always strikes me as odd that in the City, where there’s so much more to see, there are so few tourists. Next to the church is there Walbrook Club, a throwback members club for atavistic company directors who like their women in skirts and their grouse shot personally. Pretty mock-Queen Anne building, though.
There’s odd art here in there shape of bronze tree roots cascaded with water. London was probably founded on the spot two millennia ago, and the Romans built their city on the hills of Ludgate and Cornhill, which are separated by the valley of the Walbrook. That river still flows under the site as part of the sewer system. The trio of sculptural fountains are by Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias, and remind us that the city grew from the river that lies beneath.
On my way back I take a stroll through Covent Garden, heading for lunch at the delightful English restaurant Cora Pearl, and find each of the wards decorated in different Christmas styles. Monmouth Street’s decorations run up to Seven Dials, while down in the market giant reindeer predominate. London gets very sparkly around about now, with each ward seeking to outdo the next.. It’s worth wandering into the side streets to take a look, especially since Leicester Square is the spot to avoid at this time of the year.