You are a Roman soldier sent to be stationed in the farthest frontiers of the Roman Empire as it expands across Europe. Priests from the secretive sect of Mithras have travelled with you and the legions along the new stone roads to these inhospitable strange new territories where, along with other essential buildings to maintain the frontier, workmen are busy building an underground temple, a Mithraeum, where only men will be allowed to enter for initiation and for the ritual of the soul descending and leaving.
You enter, going down, down, down, deep underground, the mist and sense of incense swelling up to fill the simple space, with the subtle sound of chanting from the priests as you are immersed in the initiation and then join in the meal on the benches at the side of the temple.
Step back 2000 years and you can go down and immerse yourself in this atmosphere in London, through the experience which has been created with the old remains of London’s Mithraeum, one of four known in Britain, now underneath Bloomberg’s new HQ in the City of London and I have to admit one of my favourite places to take visitors to London, followed by a visit to the Guildhall Museum to see more archaeological remains from Roman London in the basement there.
Rome was a classical city with the Mithraeum and the other buildings, spaces and statues being classical in design, setting an architectural precedent which has continued over the generations. To celebrate the link between the classical architecture of Rome. and Greece before it, and that of cities such as London, substantially rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 with classical architecture in the new cathedral, the churches and the civic buildings, Argentinian artist Paulo Bronstein has filled the ground floor Bloomberg Space with digital photographs of classical buildings and sculptures, juxtaposed against each other in a way they never were in reality to create an idealised classical city, creating a link between the classical buildings in the City of London today and the classical architecture of Roman times, including the Mithraeum. ‘London in its Original Splendour’ follows the first exhibition ‘Another View from Nowhen’ where Irish artist Isabel Nolan installed a tapestry and sculpture that linked back to the Walbrook River which flows underneath the site of the new Bloomberg building, and continues a programme of art installations responding to the historical and cultural context of the Mithraeum and its location.