San Marino

The most serene Republic of San Marino claims to be the world’s oldest surviving republic. Apparently formed in the early 4th Century by St Marinus fleeing the persecutions of Diocletian, it has remained independent ever since.  Marinus started life in Croatia, before becoming  a stonemason in Rimini. He fled to Monte Titano, forming a monastery and church before his death in 366.

It’s an easy day trip from Rimini by bus, and it’s rugged hilltop location can be viewed from miles around.  The state is made up of the capital San Marino, a medieval citadel hugging the cliff top of Monte Titano, and a range of towns and villages. The total population is just over 33,000.

The scene in the main city is like a medieval fairytale – towers and turrets abound!  And the views over the surrounding countryside are simply stunning. 

Sadly we missed the changing of the guard which takes place daily in the 19th Century Palazzo Pubblico.

Have you been to San Marino – what was your favourite part? 

Finding Ancient Rome in Rimini

The Roman city of Ariminum isn’t hard to find in modern day Rimini.  I loved these  signs dotted around the city centre, allowing the visitor to see where they are in relation to the ancient sights.

“Here” on the map above is the still impressiv Arch of Augustus dating from 27 BC.  The Arch marked the entrance to the Via Flaminia, the main road between Rome and Milan (in what must have been quite a circuitous route).

It also represents the start of the city’s Decumanus Maximus. which corresponds to the present day Corso D’Augusto, the city’s main shopping street.  A few minutes away stands the more open area on the map representing the ancient Forum.  Nowadays it’s the beautiful Piazza Tre Martiri, lined with cafes and shops- keeping that ancient Forum’s spirit alive!

That forum was also the location where Julius Caesar is reputed to have addressed his troops after crossing the Rubicon. He stands guard over the piazza (which used to bear his name). No-one seems to quite know that river’s current course, although there are villages in the area that have “Rubicone” in their name.  I like to think I crossed it on a train journey between Rimini and nearby Ravenna (where Caesar addressed those troops before crossing the river).

At the other end of the Corso stands the Bridge of Tiberius, like the original arch built in Istrian stone,. Remarkably, buses and cars still trundle along it daily.  

The bridge was begun during the time of Augustus, but was completed by his successor Tiberius.  It’s now over a canal – leading from the seafront and passing the lighthouse and port area shown in my previous post. But it origially stood over the river Ariminus (which gave the city its name). Nowadays that river is known as the River Marechhia, and its course bypasses the city.

Nearby, and also on the Corso d’Augusto was a great new addition to Rimini, Arimini Caput Viarum, a nod to the ancient city’s strategic road position. This was a fanstastic video depiction of hte city’s development, and its fate after the Fall of Rome.  As a free attraction, it was definitely a great way to while away part of an afternoon. 

We were also lucky enough to get free entry to the Museo della Citta which houses some great artefacts – including a model showing what the Arch of Augustus might have once looked like. While it’s impressive now, imagine that the imrpression that gleaming white stone would have had on weary travellers.

In the square outside stands a wonderful site, only uncovered in 1989 – the Domus del Chirugo (or surgeon’s house).  This is a beautifully presented and airy site protected by a modern building.  It was home to an ancient surgeon (his implants are on view in the museum), but the area suffered in the era following the decline of the western Empire.  Those beautiful mosaic floors were integrated into other buildings, and even a medieval cemetery.

Have you explored Roman Rimini and what was your favourite site?

A tale of two cathedrals

Inspired by a colleague’s great photo blog on Canterbury Cathedral, I paid a visit a few weeks ago.  This site has been a centre of worship since the Roman occupation of England, and the cathedral is closely associated with Saint Augustine – the first archbishop of Canterbury –  whose original building now lies below the present Gothic site.


Inside the Cathedral, ceilings soar, English Saints are celebrated…and an English King and Queen attract bystanders..

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Cathedral number two is somewhere I walk past every day but had never visited: Westminster cathedral, I think most people are unaware of this site’s varied history – from marshland, through ownership by the monks of Westminster Abbey, through market, fairground and prison before coming into the ownership of the Catholic church in the 1800s. The Cathedral was built in the early 20th Century to serve as a central home for the Catholic church in England.

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And the scenery gets even more modern across the road…from the aptly named Cardinal Place


There are a lot of the same saints celebrated here  as in Canterbury – so again we find representations of Anselm, Augustine et al. But in a very different – almost Byzantine style.  So while  its near neighbour, Westminster Abbey, has the soaring vaulted Gothic ceilings of Canterbury, this is a very different experience – with round arches,  gilt, and almost icon-like representations.  There’s a nod to the influence of Constantinople in St Andrew’s chapel, while those of us from across the Irish Sea find St Patrick equally celebrated!

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Untangling the Web by Aleks Krotoski

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged on my reading.

Anyway, I’d been eagerly awaiting getting hold of Aleks Krotoski’s Untangling the Web. I heard Aleks speak a few years ago at a UKRC conference, (I shared her interest if not her expertise in Second Life at the time!). She’s had such a great mix of roles too: both an academic career and reaching out to build public awareness of the web, and she was an inspirational speaker.

There’s such a wealth of detailed research and interviews with leaders in the field informing this book, but equally true to form, it’s an accessible read that you’ll want to stick with.  It covers a good bit of ground: from how the web impacts on individuals and their identities, their friendships and love lives, its role in protests and much more.  From how we live our lives to how we approach our deaths,   It’s a shortish book, so doesn’t go into a great deal of detail on each issue, but gives some really useful insights into research and current thinking, and there’s a great list of references to pursue further.


Her chapter on online identities was intriguing, given that Tim and I had just been discussing the professional vs personal dilemna that some public sector tweeters face. Aleks argues that the pre social network online “anonymous” identity is as valid as any of our offline constructions.  She argues that “the old web, a place where identity could remain separate from real life is rapidly disappearing”, while the work of Facebook, Twitter  is one  “where people who have arrived on the web since 2003 only want online interactions supported by “authentic” identity”.    I take that argument on board completely: for some, there will probalby always be a place for anonymity and experimentation online, but I’d still argue that those of us commenting on our own policies should have that authentic identity if only to build credibility within the conversations that we’re having.

Obviously, we alll have the right to privacy even while we’re busy sharing (and creating) aspects of our lives online.   it was intriguing how Aleks herself has played with her online identity, shaping and creating it as far as possible that during writing of the book she apparently set hares running, manipulating an exaggerated version of herself online.

Equally intriguing was technology’s incursion even into death.  I wasn’t aware, for example, that burial with technology is now quite common in China.  And why not, if we consider how taking wealth and status to the grave is millenniums old in certain cultures?

We all know how social media can help people to coalesce around events, and find out information – the London Riots of 2011 were a prime example of that.    But I hadn’t realised even earlier than that – in the wake of the 2005 bombings in London, a whole community had grown up in Second Life initially to share information, but later as a virtual memorial that enabled people to come to terms with what had happened.  Aleks goes on to describe how what Danica Radovanovic labels our “phatic culture” (ie a culture of sharing the little details of our lives) has a genuine impact on those left behind after death. Little remnants of us survive our physical lives, while the type of grouping together described above can create a sense of belonging that can survive longer than traditional grieving processes.

And Aleks goes on to argue that how we use  technology is indeed “responding to our human psychological instinct to belong”.  And we tend to coalesce around like-minded people.  So,instead of exploring the whole world that’s available to them, younger people who have grown up with the web will tend to friend and connect with people that they know.  The web isn’t really opening up our horizons, but reinforcing divisions such that we all only really see our own “little slice”.  

A bit like this post, which has just been a little slice of what this really readable book has to discuss!

Who do you trust in a crisis?

Last week I got the chance to go on a course organised by the Whitehall & Industry Group (WIG) but run by Steph and Howard from The Social Simulator – on managing social media in a crisis.

WIG courses, like all their activities, are specifically designed to bring people from Government and industry together, which in itself is A Good Thing. Given that they’re run under Chatham House rules I can’t say anything about my fellow course members’ use of social media, but it was interesting to get a little insight into some of the issues facing comms people in other sectors.

This was a half day course so there was both theory and a nice couple of examples of crises fuelled by social media that we got the chance to work – both of which were fun and showed how the best laid comms plans can go out the window pretty quickly once real people and social media campaigns and firestorms get in the way.

But it was some of Steph’s slides on trust that really caught my eye. People who know me from my last job know that I supported the Science and Trust expert group, a group (of experts funnily enough) responsible for developing an action plan to address some of the issues raised around trust in science. That, and the public attitudes research supported by BIS, both looked at who people trusted when it came to hearing about scientific issues. One source of evidence we used was Ipsos Mori’s Trust in the professions series, which showed how scientists and academics are generally more trusted than other figures in authority.

What’s this got to do with a social media crisis I hear you ask? Well, Steph showcased some similar work to the Ipsos Mori series by Edelman. This really brought home how we tend to trust people like ourselves, and that we will tend to trust someone more at the sharp end with a voice and personality of their own, as opposed to anonymous company spokespeople. That voice can’t be dispensed with completely, of course, but that research does show the value in building up relationships – either on- or offline – before crises erupt, as well as the value of empowering others, where possible in appropriate circumstances, to have a voice.

A few of my (recent) favourite (social media) things..

Last month saw National Apprenticeship Week and National Science & Engineering Week go by in quick succession.  Both Weeks  produced some of my favourite uses of social media, and provided an opportunity for us to do a little experimenting of our own.

PinterestFor Apprenticeship Week, Number 10 and the National Apprenticeship Service introduced the hashtag #madebyapprentices to showcase some of the work being undertaken by apprentices across the country.  The resulting Pinterest board has to be one of my favourite uses of Pinterest  far – it’s a brilliant vehicle for showcasing the variety of opportunities available, and the breadth of products and services that apprentices are involved in – from your morning coffee to the train that takes you home.

We captured one of the featured images at the Big Bang Fair.  As ever, that event was a real eye-opener with the ingenuity of the young people there.  We also got to experiment with Vine which could become quite addictive and useful.

The Big Bang Fair also incorporates the finals of the National Science & Engineering Competition and we were delighted that this year’s winners feature in the first of our – hopefully regular – BIS Science & Innovation podcast series – a departure from our normal use of Audioboo that I’ll blog about  separately.

Science Week also saw the Science Week using that channel in quite an interesting way as part of its Century of Innovation #greatvote.  Audio snippets feature in most of the innovations that were up for “election” – with everyone from celebs like Stephen Fry, BIS Ministers and Yewande Akinola (an engineer that I first met as part of the Ingenious Women mentoring programme, and who continues to inspire).  It was interesting to see “behind the scenes” slightly with this – from how the Audioboo channel was used originally to record individual innovation endorsements through to the final product as it now stands.  Now those Audiboo snippets are effectively incorporated into all the other supporting info for each innovation.  Social media was also used effectively to garner support for individual innovations (both past and future).