The London Mithraeum is the City’s latest historic site to open. Its part of the Bloomberg building which I have written about here. Formerly the Mithraeum was located some 100 yards to the north in what was considered a most unsuited setting, and worse, it wasn’t actually how it should have looked!
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Somewhat inconspicuous entrance to the new Mithraeum museum
The new location for the Temple of Mithras is in sight of Cannon Street station, and just a short walk from Bank station. Its not a clearly signed location however (that is, considering those who will not be familiar with the area) and the entrance is rather inconspicious. It may be because it is a new site or perhaps local planning conditions have made it that signage and external furniture be kept to an absolute minimum
It is generally recommended people book online before visiting as visitor numbers are limited. I chose a quiet day in February and was able to visit the historic ruins without any prior booking. It wont always be the case especially in the more busy periods of the year when booking will be essential.
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The reception/exhibition area and artifacts display on the ground floor
The new site for the famous Roman temple is so much better, being more or less upon the exact site it was found during the 1950s, and at the correct delineation below street level too. There’s an interpretation centre and a wall consisting of various artifacts found both during the original and later excavations (for Bloomberg’s.)
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Descriptive wall covering the mythology of Mithras
Overall I really liked the new setting in which the Temple of Mithras is sited. Its vibrant, innovative, and invigorating, its perfectly ideal and actually gives a proper sense both in how the structure was discovered and how it looked when first built thousands of years ago. There’s the right amount of information, and artifacts to inform and interest visitors, and one goes away feeling satisfied at having learnt something important and worthwhile about Roman London.
The stairs leading down from the ground floor area illustrate just how much the surface levels in London have risen since AD 410 when the Romans left Britain. Our present era is right at the top few of these steps so its obvious modern London is essentially a just blip on the landscape! If one thinks about it the Roman buildings of London lasted much longer than many of the city’s modern buildings, with perhaps the exception of St Paul’s cathedral.
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Exhibits on the lower level can be seen whilst waiting to enter the temple
It is said the temple is without a doubt one of the best examples of the 100 or so Mithraea found across the world. Most were quite small so that in London happens to be a somewhat larger and rarer construction of this particular type of Roman temple.
Usually any ruins of any important significance get left in the pale by modern development (take for example other sites within the City of London such as the walls) but this is one where the developers have positively embraced the historic ruins and made it such an interesting place to visit.
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The Mithraeum guidebook
Clever use of lighting has been enabled to highlight the missing elements of the temple such as its columns and the shape of the former Roman structure itself. A viewing gallery has been placed within the ruins which gives a good perspective looking down the aisle towards the altar.
Bloomberg’s definitely get a commendation from me for their efforts in establishing the London Mithraeum. I give it practically top points, for both venue, exhibition and presentation. However, I did have some minor concerns as discussed next.
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General view of the Temple of Mithras
The need to have a guide was somewhat difficult because it didn’t consider my disabilities although there was in fact one member of staff who knew about the needs of people like me unfortunately he couldn’t leave his post and accompany me down to the ruins themselves so I was left without the appropriate support – that in itself should have been a big minus point!
I decided to put this to one side and consider the total overall experience I had which was good. It must be added that the provision of printed information made up for that somewhat, though not completely because places where invariably a guide is mandatory is a huge let down as it means the presentation is almost entirely going to be aural based. On the other hand, blind people would also miss out quite badly because of the visual elements of the presentation.
Clearly Bloomberg’s try to make the best of its duties in regards to accessibility, and it does list these on its main page. Full lift access is available to all floors and no steps of any sort need to be encountered. However the nature of the site itself does present problems and sadly some of us just will not get the full range of experiences that should be gained from a visit to the Mithraeum.
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The temple viewed from the western (altar) end
The museum is described as ‘Bloomberg Space’ as per the publicity and Internet. What this means is the ground floor area doubles as an exhibition space. The guide books and publicity will no doubt change as the exhibition itself changes. The first (and current) on show until 3 June 2018 is a work by Isabel Nolan entitled Another View from Nowhen.
The London Mithraeum is a couple of minutes walk from Cannon Street main line and tube station.
Note: Lift access is available only to the tube station’s westbound platform and there may be a significance gap to the platform depending on which part fo the train is used.
Link to Bloomberg site: London Mithraeum