June 12, 2011
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Köln’s cathedral area is marred by some astonishing urban planning decision. Extensive bombing transformed the city, of course, but attaching a beton brut camera shop to the cathedral seems an unforced error, and there’s enough of those around to fill a textbook.

But during the war, an important Roman mosaic was found in the shadow of the cathedral, and it made good sense to build the museum around the mosaic rather than move it. This could have been done better – there’s no sense, for example, of where the atrium ran, or how the rest of the house was oriented, and surely we know this. Still, it’s reasonable to place the museum where it is.

And what a museum! Astonishing in scope and presentation, with intelligent selection and good signage and a reasonable respect for the literate visitor while showing consideration for the tourist. The gift stores of both this museum and the adjacent Ludwig are situated where they belong, another refreshing change from the American and Italian practice of throwing stores into the middle of the museum.

Tons of epigraphy – almost all of it with labelled with a CIL-style transcript, translation to German, and brief commentary in German, English, and French. I found this especially helpful because, though my German is extremely feeble and my Latin is probably worse, it’s a lot easier to work from Latin+German than from Latin+Italian.

Nifty visualization of Roman Köln.