Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Identity and the Movement of Stars

On the news today is the newly discovered rotating dining room built by the roman ruler Nero about 2000 years ago. He reigned from AD 54 to 68. It seems to be an extraordinary discovery in terms of architecture, as archeologist have not seen pillars of similar size in any other ancient roman structure before. The newly discovered structural pillars are about four meters in diameter, the BBC reports.
The Telegraph has details of the interior, writing “The hall is said to have had a revolving wooden floor which allowed guests to survey a ceiling painted with stars and equipped with panels from which flower petals and perfume would shower onto the tables below. ”
The use of the structure was interpreted with the help of written source describing such a rotating room. The dining area was described by the ancient historian Suetonius in his Lives of the Caesars. He wrote, “The chief banqueting room was circular and revolved perpetually, night and day, in imitation of the motion of the celestial bodies,”

The rotation mechanism is imagined to have been powered by streams of water to archive the continuous movement.
Observing the characteristics and the movement of stars and the moon has a long tradition. A lot of this has influenced human culture from the beginning and the identification with these elements has gone as far the assignment of the zodiac sign to periods of the year. In a lot of cultures the rules, king or Pharaoh are identified as good like and to demonstrate such a relationship this dining room must have impressed the guests. The close relationship of with these influential objects where a source of power, but also firmness and dynamic, a great source to shape the desired identity. In an earlier post on the early Egyptian concept of the rebirth this subject is also explored.
However, as we know from our experience the movement of these bodies is rather slow in comparison to the speed of human activity. Often we have difficulties to actually adapt to such large scale movement as for example the tide. It is too slow to actively recognize and then suddenly is different. As to imitate the movement of stars or to be in sync with the rhythm of day and night the mechanism would need to be rather sophisticated to slow down with the use of gears or similar. I believe it was rather a conceptual imitation and therefore would require the guests to understand the concept.

Image by minasodaboy on flickr - the panorama on the Schlithorn

Today a number of similar dining rooms exist al over the world mainly in famous locations, such as on top of the mountain - the Schilthorn restaurant Piz Gloria in Switzerland location for the James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service - the Space Needle’s restaurant in Seattle, or the restaurant on the CN Tower in Toronto,
As an element of identity it was and still is a great feature.

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