Augusta Raurica

I went to Basil for a powerlifting competition in mid-March and stayed in a small town just outside Basel called Kaiseraugst. In this town are the remains of the Roman town, Augusta Raurica, which was founded around 15 BC and named after Augustus Caesar and the local Celtic inhabitants, the Raurici. At its height around 100 AD, the town had around 15,000 inhabitants. The surrounding modern town is now called Kaiseraugst (Caesar Augustus) and I stayed in a hotel just across the road from the fortress (see below). I spent an afternoon visiting the ruins of Augusta Raurica, which  has the best-preserved Roman theatre north of the Alps. This theatre once seated between 10,000 and 12,000 visitors.

A short walk from the theatre is the remains of the Roman Forum, where I saw this piece of Roman graffiti carved on the side of one of the columns.

A little further on, are the remains of a shopping district, mostly low remains of walls and foundations, but also the remains of the communal bath-house.  The baths were serviced by water from a well, which had an underground service tunnel. It was possible to descend through this tunnel under the baths to look into the well.

In the late third century AD, under pressure from the Alamanni (German tribes) the Romans withdrew from the territory north of the Rhine river, and August Raurica was on the frontier of the empire. A large fortress nearly a kilometre in length was built on the bank of the Rhine and a Roman Legion was stationed there.

The Rhine River at Kaiseraugst.

Where I am standing to take the above photo is in Switzerland. The other bank is in Germany and a little upstream the other bank becomes France.

Around 351/352 AD, the Alamanni crossed the river and burnt the fortress to the ground. Fearing this might happen, high-ranking officers buried a hoard of silver treasure just inside the walls of the fort (just near where I stood to take the photo below). The treasure comprises silver platters, bowls, tableware and coins made from 58 kg of silver. These items were gifts from the emperor, or family heirlooms collected by one or more officers of the Legion.

Walls of the Caastrum Rauracense, the Roman fortress in Kaiseraugst.

The treasure remained hidden there until it was accidentally unearthed by a bulldozer in 1961. It contains 270 objects made of pure silver and weighing 58 kg, it is one of the largest ancient silver hoards ever found.

I saw it on display in the Roman Museum next to the Roman theatre.

In the second half of the 5th century, the Romans lost control over their provinces north of the Alps. With the rise of the Alemannic settlement of Basel in the 7th century, Kaiseraugst dwindled to become a small fishing village.

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Skiing in the French Alps

Schools in Geneva have a one-week mid-term break in February, and the ski slopes are normally crowded. I took my boys for a week skiing in the French Alps at Les Gets, which is a little over 60 kilometres from Geneva, in the direction of Chamonix. The slopes were even more crowded as usual, as it was also the British mid-term break, and Les Gets is a popular destination.

Looking towards Mont Blanc from Mont Chéry.

The village of Les Gets, visible in the valley below my younger son in the photo above, is relatively low at 1,170m above sea level, and the highest points accessible on ski are at around 2000 m. The photo above was taken near the summit of Mont Chéry at around 1,800 m. In the distance to the south-east Mont Blanc (4,810 m) is visible on the horizon. I stood on its summit in 2010 (Mont Blanc), 3000 metres higher than where I and my son are now standing. Below is another photo taken using the zoom lens.

Closer view of Mont Blanc

On another day, we ascended to the highest point of the Les Gets pistes, the ridge of Chamossière at around 2000m, with spectacular views of the Alps in all directions.

The view from Chamossière ridge.

The Arbis run from the top of Chamossière is a red piste, and almost certainly the hardest red piste in the resort. February this year was the second warmest since records began in the 1860s, and it was around +8 C under a hot sun in cloudless skies (for the entire week).  As a result, the snow was fairly firm, and icy on the steeper pistes because of the melting and refreezing overnight. Overall, snow conditions were quite reasonable, but this piste was icier than most. Because of the warmth, none of us wore parkas the whole week, and I didn’t put a pair of glove on all week either.

Descending the Arbis run from Chamossière. My younger son in the middle of photo.

When I put my skis on after climbing up to the ridgetop to see the view, I did not realize that my heels did not properly lock in because of snow built up on the bottom of the heel. When I did a hard turn on the icy slope, both skis came off and they and I slid quite fast down the piste. One ski was left behind me, and I slid faster to catch the other and then tried to arrest my fall. Someone else brought the other ski down to me, and I managed to get the skis on and continue. When I fell, I cut my hand in several places and it was bleeding quite freely. One of the disadvantages of skiing without gloves. I did not realize I had wiped the blood across my face, until I caught up with the boys, who reacted with shock to my appearance.

My older son is a snowboarder, I and my other son were on skis.

A viewing platform at the top of the Ranfoilly chairlift

We stayed in a chalet in the snow at 1500m quite close to the Folliet chairlift. We could walk or drive the short distance to the Folliet lift, and either ski down to the main telecabine or take the Folliet lift up to the top of the ridge. The boys figured out an offpiste route to ski around the edge of the forest to within about 50 metres of our chalet. So it was almost ski in and ski out. The final photo is a view from the front balcony of our chalet in the evening after a great day on the slopes.

View from our chalet

Alexandria Bay

I returned to Noosa in Queensland, Australia for Christmas with my sister and mother. While there I walked from the southern end of Noosa National Park along the coastal track to Alexandria Bay where I had a swim with the jellyfish and enjoyed the relative solitude of a beautiful beach on the Pacific Ocean.

Northern end of Sunshine Beach

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Glacial Erratic Blocks in the Rhone Valley

Continuing our glacial explorations (see also The-pyramids-of-euseigne), we visited a number of enormous glacial erratic blocks in the wooded slopes above the town of Monthey in the Rhone Valley. These blocks played a pivotal role in the realization that there had been great Ice Ages in the past. There are eight blocks along a trail about 5km long between Monthey and Collombey. ( MT_Blocs_Erratiques_Web.pdf). The first and largest of these blocks, “La Pierre des Marmettes”, is now in the middle of the parking lot of the Monthey Hospital.

La Pierre des Marmettes

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The Pyramids of Euseigne

The Pyramids of Euseigne are one of the more bizarre geological features created by the last ice age. They are in the Val d’Hérens, one of the southern side valleys off the Rhône valley of Switzerland. The entire Rhone valley and its side valleys were under glaciers at the height of the last ice age around 23,000 years ago. An old university friend who is a geologist visited Switzerland at the beginning of the year and invited me to join him for an exploration of some of the landscape features created by the glaciers of the last ice age.

In the photo below, my friend is looking south towards the junction of the Val d’Hérens and Val d’Hérémence where two glaciers met and continued down towards us. The pyramids are located on the ridge separating the two valleys, We are standing on the remnants of a glacial lake delta formed by the damming of the melt waters of the joined glaciers. The glaciers retreated about 11,000 years ago when humans expanded north back into Northern Europe and Britain again.

The Pyramids are the remnants of a ground moraine created from finely ground silt and sand with embedded larger boulders. Some of the boulders protected the underlying compacted silt from erosion, forming protective caps.

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Canoeing in the Noosa Everglades

While visiting Noosa in July, I took my two boys on a kayak trip into the Noosa Everglades.  Located in the Great Sandy National Park, the upper reaches of the Noosa River are a network of waterways, rivers, lakes and marshes and are best explored by kayak or canoe. The Everglades are situated in the Noosa Biosphere, which is one of Australia’s most diverse ecosystems and includes more than 40 per cent of the country’s bird species.

We drove about 20 km from Noosa to Booreen Point on Lake Cootharaba and crossed the lake in a larger boat to the mouth of the Upper Noosa River, where we changed to canoes, and continued into the Everglades by canoe. Lake Cootharaba is one of three large lakes connected to the Noosa River, the others are Lake Cooroibah and Lake Weyba.

Lake Cootharaba

The banks of the river are a mix of swampy grassland and subtropical forest, with patches of rainforest. There are lots of banksia trees and tea-trees. The tea-trees stain the water a deep brown colour from the tannin in their leaves. The Tea Tree, Melaleuca alternifolia, is an Australian native plant, and its leaves are also used to produce tea-tree oil, prized for its it’s anti-bacterial and anti-fungal prowess.

Upper Noosa River

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