Europe

The lost Roman temple beneath London

Published 1616 GMT (0016 HKT) January 12, 2018
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An ancient Roman temple has been recreated on the site of its original discovery, seven meters beneath the heart of London. It is one of more than 400 temples to the god Mithras discovered across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. James Newton
Built around 250 AD on the banks of the Walbrook, one of London's lost rivers, the temple was at the center of bustling Roman London. While it lost its roof and superstructure in antiquity, experts believe it may have resembled the above windowless building, to imitate the cave in which Mithras killed the primordial bull. Judith Dobie/MOLA
The Temple of Mithras was discovered by chance in 1954 during excavations of a World War II bombsite in the heart of the City. A number of Roman statues were recovered at the site, including the head of the god Mithras. Robert Hitchman/MOLA
The temple quickly became a public sensation, catching the attention of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and attracting up to 30,000 visitors a day in the first two weeks of opening. However, the unforgiving nature of London's postwar development meant that it was dismantled and moved to make way for much needed construction. Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
In 1962, in response to rising public interest, the temple was clumsily reassembled 100 meters away from its original location, above a car park on Queen Victoria Street. This was this site that Bloomberg got its hands on in 2010, committing to a more authentic reconstruction. MOLA
The cult of Mithras is shrouded in mystery. It was all male, made up from the Roman army, merchants and civil servants. While no one really knows what went on in the temples, it is believed there was feasting, drinking, initiation rituals and animal sacrifices. Judith Dobie/MOLA
A team of archaeologists, stone masons, conservators and designers sampled mortar from mid third century Roman buildings in London to make a mix of mortars to reassemble the temple as faithfully as possible. They even made a resin cast of real Roman mud obtained during the excavation, to recreate the ruin's mud floor. The reconstruction took 18 months to build. MOLA
Visiting the temple is a fully immersive experience. The temple lies seven meters below the streets of London, at Roman ground level. Light and haze extend from the ruins to recreate the temple's columns, which are thought to have been sold when the building was taken over by another cult. James Newton
The team created a ritual chant, based on graffiti found on the walls of a Mithraeum in Rome, that plays out along with sounds of feasting and laughing to bring the remains to life, and evoke the rituals that may have taken place. PAYE Conservation
Worshipers sat on wooden benches in the side aisles, while the rituals took place in the nave. The London Mithraeum is bigger than most, measuring 18 meters long and eight meters wide. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
The centerpiece of most Mithraic temples features the god Mithras slaying a bull, known as the tauroctony. Variations of the relief feature a scorpion on the bull's testicles and a dog or snake licking the blood. Hulton Archive/Getty Images