What remains of emperor Hadrian’s wall is today a UNESCO World Heritage site and can be seen in Northern England. Historians are divided when it comes to the reason as to why the wall was built. A third believe that it was built as a defensive wall. “To separate the Romans from the barbarians” wrote Hadrian’s biographer. The barbarians he was referring to were the Picts – a tribal community living in modern day Scotland.
Another theory is that the wall was built to control the movement of goods. The check points along the wall provided points of entry and exit into the Roman empire and thus would have formed a ideal location to levy tax. Something had to fund the many wars in the many places that the the Romans had gotten themselves into!
The third belief is that the wall had no purpose but to make a political point. The white washed walls reflecting the sunlight would have been visible for miles and a constant reminder about the vastness of the Roman empire.
The ruins of Hadrian’s wall
The original wall was about 117 km long and was wide enough for 2 guards to stand side by side for sentry duty. The engineers of the Roman army designed and built this wall. Along the wall there were hospitals and granaries and other necessities to ensure that the men of the Roman army were comfortable.
The stones that have survived the attacks by picts and by nature lie today surrounded by green fields and guarded by sheep, lots of sheep.
A bare brick wall with a simple white plaque. Behind the barely 6 feet wall the sound of music from a cafe reaches us. We hear the sounds of skate boards, the periodic ‘kat’,’kat’ as the wheels of the board hit the ground.
“You shall tell your sons.” A verse from the Old testament is inscribed in black on the simple white plaque. The sounds of activity from the other side of the wall betrays the sense of decrepitude that we see around us. Dilapidated buildings about 3 stories high. Apartments with cracked doors and/or cracked walls. Washing hanging on the telephone lines that sag almost threatening to snap. Low lights escaping through the cracks, the only indication of life within.
“This is a part of the original ghetto wall”, says our guide from the Budapest Free walking tours.”A wall this high segregated the Jews from the rest of humanity.”
For a minute we all take it in. I for one can never comprehend the holocaust. I cannot bring myself to believe that something as horrid and cruel as that could actually happen in an intelligent society. But standing here in front of ‘The Wall’ I cannot not believe. Suddenly the sound of music and the kat kat of the skateboard seem alien. A false sense of security that does not belong with cracks, the sagging pole and the memories that lie trapped.
The last stop of our tour is the holocaust memorial. The guide points us to a pile of pebbles gathered in the center of the courtyard.
“It was customary to place an inanimate object by a Jewish grave, something that would not wither and die like flowers. Feel free to pay your respects.” With that our tour is over and our guide slowly steps away to take questions in private. Most of us linger around the graves. Some of us pick pebbles from the pile. I walk over to the corner grave. I kneel on the ground as a sign of respect. Under a pile of previously placed pebble is a white pamphlet.
‘Pray the Kaddish for the those who do not have anybody to pray for them.’
On the reverse was the translated Jewish Mourner;s prayer.
I placed by pebble down by the grave and bowed my head and prayed
“May his Great name grow exalted and sanctified. Amen. In the world He created as He willed…”
On our walk back to our hotel that evening Maria and I pass by the cafe on the side of the wall. As a symbolic gesture we stop for a cup of coffee by the Ghetto wall.
The sense of abandon do not reach us at this side of the wall. It is as if the wall still stands to keep the light escaping from the cracks from mixing with the lights of the cafe, the sounds of sadness from blending in with the conversations. It stands tall to keep modernity from creeping in and memories from flowing out. It stands as a check; lest one forgets the untold horrors that the wall has contained silently.