Tuesday, 17 December 2019

The Making of a Virgin Birth

Mary as Theotokos 6th century St Catherine's monastery, Sinai

From The Quest for Mary Magdalene by Michael Haag.

Celsus and The True Word 
The earliest known comprehensive attack against Christianity was written by the pagan philosopher Celsus in the AD 170s.  The myths put about by the Christians, he wrote with some exasperation in The True Word, were now becoming better known than the doctrines of philosophers.  ‘Who has not heard that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he was crucified, and that his resurrection is an article of faith among many?’, he wrote, adding that reason does not enter into their argument; instead Christians will say, ‘Do not question, but believe’, and ‘Your faith will save you’.  When Christians’ views are challenged, writes Celsus, they retreat behind the remark that ‘to God everything is possible’.

Yet for these fables, wrote Celsus, Christians were willing to die.  Though the emperor Hadrian would not tolerate actions against Christians for their faith, only if they broke the law, there had been some sporadic persecutions and executions of Christians under his predecessors Nero and Domitian in the first century and under Trajan in the early second century, and there would be more to come.

The Christian Threat
The imperial government and many citizens were anxious about Christianity, seeing it as a danger to social cohesion.  Romans owed an allegiance to the state and to the emperor and occasionally performed rituals which involved offering a sacrifice but Christians refused to participate, saying it was idolatry and the worship of a false god.  This Christian refusal seemed all the more threatening after the Bar Kokhba revolt against Roman rule in Judea in the 130s which was a rejection of any authority other than the Jewish God.  But as Celsus remarked, Christians were a threat in another way; they were so divided into rival sects, denouncing one another, that simply the instability of their faith could prove harmful to social harmony and the Roman state. 

Very little is known about Celsus who was probably a Greek and probably an Alexandrian.  Nothing remains of his original writings and we know about The True Word only because Origen, an early Christian theologian and Clement’s successor as head of Alexandria’s Catechetical School, responded to its arguments with his own work, Against Celsus, written in 248.  Origen so completely quotes Celsus in his refutation that it has been possible to reconstruct The True Word in almost its entirety.

The number of Christians in the latter half of the second century was still very small but Celsus’ attack is testimony to how seriously the danger from Christianity was taken while Origen’s exhaustive rebuttal is testimony to how seriously Celsus’ arguments against Christianity were taken by the Church.

Celsus compared Christians to members of other cults, to the noisy followers of the Phrygian sky god Sabazius; the acolytes of the bull-killing god Mithras; the begging priests of the fertility goddess Cybele; and to travelling rogues who called up apparitions of demons or of the triple-bodied Hecate, a goddess associated with sorcery.  Moreover ‘Jesus went about with his disciples, and obtained his livelihood in a disgraceful and importunate manner’, meaning sponging off Mary Magdalene and the other women. 

As for the Christians’ story that when Jesus was dead ‘he rose again and displayed the marks of his punishment and showed how his hands had been pierced by nails, who saw this?  A frantic woman’, again meaning Mary Magdalene, ‘and perhaps one other person, both deluded by sorcery’.  Celsus was as much against the gnostics as he was against other Christians; elsewhere in his text he mentions followers of Mary Magdalene, and knowing that she was the gnostics’ visionary he attacks them by reducing her to a delusionary female.  (The phrase ‘gyne paroistros’ in Greek is variously translated as a frantic or fevered or hysterical woman.) 

Interestingly Celsus mentions only Mary Magdalene and possibly one other person as witnesses to the risen Jesus which suggests that the gospels in circulation in Egypt in the mid-second century were an early form of Mark and a version of John to which the final chapter 21 had not yet been added (the Church Father Tertullian writing in about 200 knew nothing about it), a late addendum which serves Rome and the purpose of apostolic succession by having Jesus appearing before the disciples and declaring Peter his leading apostle.  That Celsus does not mention Matthew or Luke seems to confirm other literary sources and the archaeological record which show that while versions of John and Thomas and Mark were circulating widely in Egypt in the early second century the gospels of Matthew and Luke appear not to have circulated until the end of the century, meaning that versions of gospels carrying verses justifying apostolic succession were largely unknown in Egypt.  Also as Matthew and Luke are the only two gospels that include stories of the nativity and describe Mary the mother of Jesus as a virgin, their written accounts were unknown too.  So when Celsus attacks the Christian belief that Jesus was born of a virgin, and when Origen defends that belief, they might both be arguing from oral tradition, not from infancy narratives attached to the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Geza Vermes, the leading Jesus scholar, is not alone in regarding the infancy narratives as pious fictions.  The infancy narratives, he says in his Jesus, are ‘late additions’ to the main accounts in Matthew and Luke.  He notes that Matthew and Luke contradict one another (the former taking Jesus off to Egypt, for example, while the latter has him go to Jerusalem and Nazareth) and are unsupported by history (such an egregious event as Herod slaughtering the infants is not remarked upon by any source other than Matthew; not even by Luke).  Moreover, as Vermes observes, the idea of a virgin birth is in direct contradiction with Jewish-Christian tradition.  It is unlikely therefore to have been set down before the Bar Kokhba Revolt, its audience Hellenised gentiles rather than Jews.  Clement of Alexandria does mention that both gospels were read in Alexandria in the late second century but we do not know their contents; the earliest known copies of Matthew and Luke discovered in Egypt date only to the third century and these are so damaged and incomplete that they tell us nothing about the infancy narratives.  Not until the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, both dating to the fourth century, do we have the complete gospels of Matthew and Luke as we know them today. 

Jesus a Bastard, His Mother Mary an Adulteress
The reality, writes Celsus, is that Jesus was a sorcerer and his mother Mary was an adulteress who had deceived her husband Joseph and conceived her child by a Roman soldier called Panthera.  ‘He invented his birth from a virgin.  His mother was a poor woman of the country who was thrown out of her home by her husband, a carpenter by trade, because she was convicted of adultery; and after being driven away by her husband and wandering about for a time she disgracefully gave birth to Jesus, an illegitmate child, who having hired himself out as a servant in Egypt on account of his poverty, and having acquired there some magical powers on which the Egyptians pride themselves, returned to his own country where his sorcery won him a great following, by means of which he proclaimed himself a god’. 

There are indeed hints in the gospels that stories were going round in the lifetimes of Jesus and of Mary his mother saying that he was a bastard and she was an adulteress.  ‘Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?’, says Mark 6:3.  In Judaism a son would be identified by naming his father even if Joseph had been dead for a long while but Mark, who mentions every other member of the family, leave Jesus’ father unknown.  Nor does Mark mention Joseph in any other part of his gospel.  And in John 8:41 during a confrontation at the Temple the pharisees say to Jesus, ‘We be not born of fornication’, insinuating that he was. 

In The Illegitimacy of Jesus, scholar Jane Schaberg argues that Matthew and Luke knew a tradition that Jesus was conceived by a rape rather than by a virginal conception and did what they could to erase the truth in their gospels, Matthew by concentrating on Joseph’s dilemma and both Matthew and Luke by attributing the conception to the Holy Spirit. Schaberg, however, has simply made up the rape; as a Catholic and a feminist it seems that she prefers Mary to have been a man’s victim rather than a willing adulteress.  At any rate Celsus knew the story of Jesus’ illegitimacy which was in general circulation among Jews, Greeks and others. 

Origen in his Against Celsus replies to this charge of illegitimacy by writing, ‘Is it at all agreeable to reason, that he who dared to do so much for the human race ... should not have had a miraculous birth, but one the vilest and most disgraceful of all?’  From ‘an act of adultery between Panthera and the Virgin’, from ‘such unhallowed intercourse there must rather have been brought forth some fool to do injury to mankind, a teacher of licentiousness and wickedness and other evils; and not of temperance and righteousness and the other virtues’.  Celsus would not have been impressed by Origen’s circular reasoning, that because Jesus is the saviour of mankind then of course he would not have been the child of an adulterous relationship.  But for Origen there were two kinds of faith, that of simple people (simpliciores) who take scripture literally, and a more profound understanding which requires allegorical interpretation of the spiritual mysteries. The virgin birth was one such mystery. 

Mary the Mother of God
Origen understood that a vital defence against the charge that Jesus was a sorcerer and a bastard was to insist that Mary his mother was a virgin.  Origen further shored up the reputation of Mary the mother of Jesus by being the first to call her Theotokos, literally God-bearer in Greek, but mistranslated in the West as the Mother of God.  As no original copy has survived of Origen’s Commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans written in 246 in which Socrates of Constantinople, a fourth-century Byzantine historian, said Origen had used the term, some have questioned the authenticity of the claim.  But the term was certainly in use just a few years later, in about 250, when it was used by Dionysius, the patriarch of Alexandria, in an epistle to Paul of Samosata.  In about the same year Theotokos appeared in a Christian hymn in Egypt, preserved in a papyrus written in Greek and known in the West by its Latin title Sub Tuum Praesidium, literally Under Your Protection.  One of the oldest Christian hymns and certainly the oldest to Mary the mother of Jesus, it is used in the Coptic and Eastern Orthodox liturgies to this day as well as by Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans, and it has been rendered in Byzantine and Gregorian chants and in Mozart’s K198 Offertorio.

We fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin.

The hymn states the theological doctrine that Mary the mother of Jesus is a virgin and the mother (or bearer) of the divine as chosen (blessed) by God.

Over the next century or so the use of Theotokos, or Mother of God, became widespread throughout the Church, East and West, and in 431 at the Council of Ephesus the matter was enforced: Mary the mother of Jesus was declared the Mother of God and those who disagreed were anathematised. 

Mary’s elevation to Mother of God was a remarkable transition for a woman who is close to being a nonentity in the gospels. The gospel of Mark mentions her only twice, once by name (6:3), the second time as the mother of Jesus without naming her (3:31).  The gospel of Matthew mentions her name five times, on four occasions in the infancy narrative (1:16,18,20; 2:11) but otherwise only once and by name (13:55).  The gospel of Luke mentions Mary twelve times by name but only within the infancy narrative (1:27,30,34,38,39,41,46,56; 2:5,16,19,34); otherwise Luke has nothing to say about Mary the mother of Jesus.  The gospel of John twice mentions Mary as the mother of Jesus, first at the marriage at Cana (2:1-12), which is the only time anywhere in the gospels that Jesus has a conversation with his mother, and a rather testy one at that; and on the second occasion at the foot of the cross (19:25) in the company of Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and the beloved disciple; but on neither occasion does he mention her name.  Finally in Acts Mary is mentioned once and by name. 

Strip away the infancy narratives and Mary the mother of Jesus is mentioned in the New Testament only six times and only three times by name.  Had the infancy narratives been there from the beginning, as part of the original composition, one would expect more mentions of Mary in the later parts of the gospels.  As Geza Vermes says in Jesus, ‘The ultimate proof that the birth story is not a natural introductory section of a biography is the absence of continuity between it and the rest of the Gospel’. 

In short we are left with the real possibility that the setting down of the infancy narratives with their claims of the virgin birth were a reaction to widespread criticisms and doubts as expressed by Celsus and others and also a response to the eclecticism of Christianity in Egypt.  In particular it was a reaction to gnosticism which spoke of the secret message that Jesus had to bring and which valued Mary Magdalene for her vision but was not interested in the crucifixion nor in apostolic succession nor in the virgin birth which gnostics regarded at best as naive misunderstandings, the delusions of this world of the demiurge from which gnostics wanted to escape.

But not only was Mary a virgin, she was a perpetual virgin, which Origen also argued early on.  Not that this is stated anywhere in the New Testament; indeed it is contradicted by the gospels themselves which mention four brothers by name, James, Joses, Judas and Simon, and at least two sisters (Matthew 13:55-56; Mark 6:3).  Moreover Matthew 1:25 says of Mary that Joseph ‘knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son’, with its implication that after ‘till’, that is after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary had conjugal relations and that she bore six more children.  But Origen explained these verses away by claiming that the children were Joseph’s from a previous marriage. That Joseph should not have to lead a chaste life with his virginal wife the fiction was invented that he was an old man who died early on, though again the gospels say absolutely nothing about his age; all we know is that Joseph does not appear after about Jesus’ twelfth year by when he could have fathered all Jesus’ sisters and brothers. 

In these arguments put forward by Origen in Egypt more than reason and even more than faith were at work; the arguments were driven by necessity, the need to establish conformity and authority within the Church in order to counter the heterodox nature of Egyptian Christianity.  By the fourth century Mary’s virginity before, during and after the birth of Jesus was almost universally accepted as was her status as the God-bearer, the Mother of God.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Not in a Hurry

American Airlines advertisement Esquire 1930s

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Anne Farnol

Anne Farnol is a passing character in Constance, the central volume of Lawrence Durrell's Avignon Quintet.  It is wartime, about 1940, in Cairo where Anne is a young officer in the Field Transport Corps.  She appears in a brief vignette about four pages long (p.64ff) in which she and Blanford, a major character in the book, are drifting into an affair.  One evening Blanford goes round to her flat; he says 'I would like to stay with you', and she says 'I hoped you would - I am so homesick, I sleep badly and this town makes me restless'.  They make love, shuddering with pleasure, spending the whole night happily in each other's arms.

The next day Blanford is told that Anne is dead.  Suicide.  She had found out just before going to bed with Blanford that her husband who was in the Royal Navy was lost at sea.           

'Anne Farnol!' says Blanford. 'The modest name vibrated on in my memory for whole months which succeeded her disapparance from the scene, from the war, from time.'

And that is that.  You hear nothing more of Anne Farnol again.  The reader is left suspended and unknowing just like Blanford.

I have wondered whether that story was based on anything in Durrell's life but I have drawn a blank.  Just recently however I have come across the name again, the surname at least, Farnol, in Durrell's The Black Book written on Corfu 46 years before Constance. It is mentioned twice but just in a string of names; nothing identifies Farnol.  Just 'a modest name' that may have meant something to Durrell at the time and which he tucked away in a drawer for future use,

Friday, 20 September 2019

Nanos Valaoritis

Over the years I have done various posts concerning  the outstanding and delightful Greek poet Nanos Valaoritis who died last Friday age 98. XAPA!

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Three Caravan Cities

My copy of the 1945 edition.
Three Caravan Cities - Petra - Jerash - Baalbek - and St Catherine's Monastery Sinai by Paul Gotch was published by Whitehead Morris in Alexandria in 1945.  With photographs, maps and text it tells of journeys made during the war by Paul and his wife and friends.  And it carries a brief introduction by Lawrence Durrell who with his girlfriend Eve Cohen shared the upper floor of the Villa Ambron in Alexandria with Paul and others working for the British Council.

Now Paul's son Adam Gotch has reproduced the original in an enlarged format and has added further photographs taken by Paul at the time.  And other curiosities such as the letter reproduced here from the head of the British Council to Paul for going where it was thought he should not have gone.

For more information you can contact adamgotch@mac.com

Adam's 2019 edition.

Paul and Billy Gotch.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Alexandria in Greek Memory

Patakis in Athens have just published Alexandria: City of Memory in a fresh translation.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Remembering Alexandria

Maria and Rafaella

Seven years ago I did a blog post on Alexandrian women.  Now out of the blue I have received an email from the daughter, Sylvia Mikkelsen, of one of the women pictured in that post.

With Sylvia's permission I post her email here.

What a surprise to see my beautiful, young mother staring right back at me from your blog under the caption ‘Alexandrian Women.’  She is the one in white. I had been trying to read up on the Aleksandrinke and there you were, both of you! I knew you, of course, through your wonderful Alexandria: City of Memory, a book I had bought years back when Louisa, my grandchild, was born. I knew that the day would come when she would be asking questions about whether I was Egyptian, being born in Alexandria, or why in the world would her great grandmother come from Slovenia (of all places), and her great grandfather from the Levant –  and where was that, anyway?? Oh, we still say the Levant because if we say Lebanese, there are other  connotations today – and why do you speak English and French? – well, my father decided I should have an English education and my sister a French one, and Christian Lebanese people speak mostly French, etc. etc. There would be a lot of oral tales about my background, naturally. Yet, your book would give her all the necessary cultural and historical background as well as your great insight into the strange and mysterious world that was our Alexandria, a place that only exists in the memory of people who lived there. Not to mention the enriching literary parts concerning Durrell and Forster! She is today sixteen, and is the spitting image of my mother, Rafaella. She looks very often in your book, where I point out on the map the different tram stations on this narrow strip of land where we  lived so well,  between the marshes and the Mediterranean.

A propos the photo, Rafaella is together with her sister, Maria (in the dark dress). It is a strange photo, or part of a photo where there were two other Slovene girls together with them, if I remember correctly. It reflects the two extremes in the lot that awaited most of these girls in their fatidic journey to Alexandria.  Maria arrived a few years before her younger sister to earn some money to send back to Gradisce – a village at the foot of the Carso hills, a few kilometers from Gorizia – where she had left a husband, two children, only to come back home years later, after the war, to be abused and insulted by her husband who called her the Alexandrian whore. My mother, on the other hand, found her husband almost immediately.  She was barely eighteen and worked as a governess for the Ada’s only child, a girl who adored my mother for years and years to come (we, her daughters, were quite jealous of this relationship!). The Ada were a wealthy Jewish family who treated Rafaella as a daughter. Their neighbour, a  Lebanese young man of a bit less than twice her age, observed her from his balcony and fell madly in love with her. He was to be our father. They had a happy marriage and my father and mother are buried  in the beautiful cemetery in my mother’s village. With Nasser, they left Alexandria, first to Lebanon, later to Switzerland, and finally to Slovenia where they spent their summers, and shared their winters between Denmark, at my place, and Geneva, my sister’s. 

Et voilà, the story behind the girls, one in dark and the other in white.I am sorry for this long-winded mail but that is how Alexandrians are, n’est-ce pas?

Oh, I have almost forgotten. I have a story to tell but do you think it would be worthwhile? Rafaella’s first cousin, Elda, was a governess – not to a child – but to none other than Lee Miller who was for a short period of time Aziz Eloui Bey’s second wife. After Lee deserted Eloui (there are several versions of who left whom), Elda - who was also my godmother - married Aziz Eloui, like a true Jane Eyre. We were very close as a family and we had great times, especially at Gharbaniat where Uncle Aziz had one of these fortress-like mansions in the desert. Anyway, practically on her deathbed, years later while she was living in a lovely pink villa close to Trieste, she finally opened up and talked about the long-lasting effects of having interacted with a beauty and personality as wild as  Lee Miller’s.  If I ever venture to write in the genre of a personal essay, perhaps, or anything you would advise me to do, would you kindly read it?  It would be the story of  the paradoxical effects Lee Miller had upon the governess,  a prudish, Catholic, Slovene country-girl, emotions that fluctuated between sheer horror and unconditional adoration. The Alexandrian Governess would be a cross between Jane Eyre, and Daphne du Maurier’s Mrs Danvers. Actually, it seems that du Maurier’s inspiration for Rebecca arose from her years spent in Alexandria (which she intensely disliked) while her husband was stationed there as a marine officer.

I do not know why we, Alexandrians, always have the dream to write, but we do. Probably because we lived in a time warp, and we still cannot come to terms with it.

Monday, 13 May 2019

What the Durrells Did Next

You can also find out what the Durrells did next by reading this book.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

End of the Durrells' Corfu Idyll

Corfu town bombed by the Italians in 1941.
The Mirror has run a story on the terrible end of the Durrells' Corfu idyll when the island was devastated by war and some of the family fled for their lives.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Fascists in Corfu

Corfu fascist parade 1933.
The Durrells went to Corfu in 1935, where they seemed able to ignore the darkening political situation in Europe. But judging from this photograph there was already a fascist movement in Corfu two years before the Durrell family arrived.

What I do not know is to what extent this was an indigenous Greek movement or a purely Italian-Corfiot one.  Corfu was long ruled by Venice and Italian influence remained strong.  Italian was the lingua franca of Corfu well into the nineteenth century and the island had an Italian community right up to the Second World War.  Mussolini used this historical connection to twice justify his occupation of Corfu, once briefly in 1923, again in 1941.

Certainly Corfiots courageously protested against the second occupation, a rare thing in Europe at the time, and the island provided the beginnings of the Greek resistance against the 1941-1945 Italian and German occupations of Greece.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

The Templars in Turkish

The Templars: History and Myth will be published in Turkey by Kronik
of Istanbul.

This will be the seventh language for this book.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

The Durrells in Greek

The family photograph at the top was Gerry's favourite.
The Durrells of Corfu has been translated into Greek and published by Patakis in Athens. The cover shows the Durrells' villa at Sotiriotissa and the family on the terrace: Margo, Nancy, Larry, Gerry and Louisa.  Leslie took the photograph.

At the end of the summer of 1935 the Durrells moved from the Strawberry-Pink Villa at Perama to the Villa Anemoyanni. This was Gerry’s Daffodil-Yellow Villa near Kontokali, at Sotiriotissa, about five miles along the coast road north of Corfu town.

Standing on the side of a hill rising out of the sea, the Daffodil-Yellow Villa was an enormous and neglected Venetian mansion four storeys high, set amidst extensive grounds, overgrown and almost wild, with unkept orange and lemon orchards and olive groves, and with melancholy cypresses and stout arbutus heavy with ripening berries. 

Facing the sea was a stone-paved terrace shaded with a trellis of vines and evergreens from where terraced gardens and a Venetian stairway descended to a wooden jetty projecting from the shore.  A couple of small islands shimmered in the channel and in the distance loomed the hills of mainland Greece and Albania.  To the left was Gouvia Bay, a smooth sheet of water used as a landing place for seaplanes, and beyond that the high hills shouldering Pantocrator, the highest mountain on the island.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Clea Badaro in Australia

Durrell named the fourth volume of his Alexandria Quartet after Clea Badaro.
Recently Simon Parow of Melbourne got in touch, showing me this charcoal on paper drawing by Clea Badaro he picked up at a Sunday market about ten years ago.  The seller told him it was by an Egyptian artist and that is all Simon ever knew.  'I bought it because I liked it.'  

Searching online he found this post of mine which told him something more. 

I have also told Simon about Clea Badaro, 1913-1968: sa vie, son oeuvre, by her sister Jeanne Engalytcheff-Badaro.

And I cover her in my book Alexandria: City of Memory, her studio at the Ambron villa, her connection with the Atelier, her acquaintance with Durrell, and comments from my interviews with some people who knew her.  

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Mountolive at Lisbon Airport

Still flying high: Mountolive, the third volume of The Alexandria Quartet,
for sale on a Lisbon airport book rack.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Early February London Snow

The recent fall of snow in London was photographed by a friend, not the usual view from the streets but over the city's hidden gardens.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Postcards of the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition

In a previous post about the origins of the London area called White City I mentioned some postcards I had come across of the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition.  Here they are.

Monday, 31 December 2018

White City


Several times in The Alexandria Quartet Lawrence Durrell describes Alexandria as the ‘white city’ as in this excerpt from the third volume Mountolive.

A sea-wind chaffered and tugged at the sea-limits of the estuary. Higher still roamed packages of smoking, blood-stained cloud throwing down a strange radiance into the streets and squares of the white city. Rain was a rare and brief winter phenomenon in Alexandria.

Ibrahim Abdel Meguid does the  same in his novel No One Sleeps in Alexandria.

In the evening he told Magd al-Din about the city where he had spent all that time, white Alexandria, where foreigners from all over the world and poor Egyptians from all over the land went.

Alexandria’s whiteness is in contrast to the dustiness of Cairo, a city blown by desert winds, shrouded in sand,  whereas Alexandria glistens with salt crystals from the evening breezes off the sea. 

Which made me think of other cities called white.  Tel Aviv for example and Nicosia which in Greek is called Lefkosia, literally the White Place.

But what about that part of my own city that I never think about at all nor do I ever go there?  That rundown area shoved up against Shepherd’s Bush and amputated from Holland Park and the heart of London by a motorway.  How did White City get its name?

Only recently, seeing a set of striking postcard scenes of the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition celebrating the new alliance between the countries did I understand. 

The 1908 Franco-British Exhibition.

The exhibition is indeed a fabulous white city.  And the name was further popularised when the Olympic Games were held next door in the same year.  The 1908 Olympics were meant to be held in Rome but the explosion of Vesuvius caused the Italians to direct their attention to the devastation round the Bay of Naples.  Runner-up London quickly stepped in, a running track was built, and the Olympics and the Franco-British Exhibition ran side by side at what was now indelibly called White City.

1908 White City Marathon.
The exhibition was torn down and the Olympic track given over to dog racing.  Then the motorway finished it off.  But not quite because the BBC built a hideous television studio there which I gather is now protected as a national treasure, and a vast shopping centre has been erected there.  I gather it is even quite trendy to live in White City these days.

BBC Television Studios.

Maybe I should jump on the 31 bus and take a look.