Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lycia by Prof. Dr. Cevdet Bayburtluoğlu.

Cevdet Bayburtluoğlu is an archaeologist. He started working in the early 1970’s with excavations in Xanthos and later in Arykanda and Phaselis. It is clear that he fell in love with Lycia, a bulge in southwestern Turkey and since I shared this love, I could not find anyone better than him to be my guide - in book form that is.

The English translation is not the easiest to read and certainly not the best, but the clear and lively descriptions of the sites, their history and the directions to get there largely compensate for that shortcoming. I had visited several sites while on guided tours but when I decided to drive around Lycia by myself, this guidebook turned out to be a most wonderful travel companion. It is richly enhanced with many photographs and detailed maps of the excavated cities, done in such a way that you immediately recognize the spot you arrive there.

My highlight so far is Arykanda, where Cevdet Bayburtluoğlu spent many years of his life and it did not come as a surprise when I saw his map on a big billboard at the entrance. The place looked familiar to me even before I had entered it!

His book starts with an introduction stating his passion for Lycia and the progress archeology has made over the years. Another chapter handles a very useful and comprehensive history of Lycia set against its geography for one needs to understand both to get the complete picture of that area. The front cover is folded in three and holds a summary map of Lycia where the ancient sites are marked in typical brown frames.

It goes without saying that I highly recommend this guide to anyone who wants to discover Lycia on his own or simply wants to know more about this beautiful region of Turkey. Just make sure that pages 280-288 are also translated into English for mine were inserted in Turkish by mistake.

From Antalya to Demre – Sunflower Guide

Travelling on my own and using Finike as my base camp to explore the surrounding area of southeastern Lycia, I basically relied on two books: Lycia by Prof. Dr. Cevdet Bayburtluoglu and the Sunflower Guide to the Turkish Coast, specifically the one covering Antalya to Demre. Both books turned out to be very useful, each in its own way.

I already discussed the Lycia Guide on a previous occasion, so this time, I want to focus on the Sunflower Guide that I also mentioned in my stories about the Finike area. This book is more of a walking guide providing useful hints about food and lodging, but also about the signs to look for to get where you want to go. The sightseeing is arranged around several walks: Antalya and the larger Antalya area, Kemer, Olympos, Finike, and Demre, with a beautiful fold-out map of Lycia attached to the back cover and clear detailed maps along the way.

Besides that, it contains an extensive introduction with all kinds of practical information, such as phone area codes, newspapers, buses, events, shopping, cafés, restaurants, nightlife, laundry services, police, entrance fees and opening hours of the archaeological sites and parks, you just name it. A comprehensive history of Turkey and a list of useful Turkish words make the guide complete.

The book is a high standard teamwork of Michael Bussman and Gabriele Troger, with walks by Brian and Eileen Anderson and Dean Livesley. The seasoned traveller can even check their online update service at to make sure he/she has the most recent information when planning a trip to Lycia.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The First Emperor, China’s Terracotta Army and Alexander the Great

After all I have heard, read and watched on TV, I definitely wanted to see this exceptional army of terracotta soldiers for myself. Since this exhibition has been announced many months ago and runs from September 2007 till April 2008, I thought I would have all the time in the world to plan a trip to London some time early this year. Nothing was less evident for it became very difficult to acquire a ticket. When I checked the Internet booking site in the first days of January it appeared that they were sold out for the entire duration of the exhibition! I just couldn’t believe it, being as flexible as I was, yet finding no ticket. I decided to phone the British Museum and hear what they could offer me. Well, it was my lucky day for I could book for Sunday at 10.10 a.m. This meant that I would have to get up at five in the morning but no sacrifice is too big when it comes to the arts, right?

As it turned out, the exhibition met my expectation, nothing less but nothing more either. I have to admit that the British Museum and the BBC did a good job when making the documentary about the history of the site and the preparations of the exhibition. Well done, as usual – very complete.  So, all in all, I am very happy to have seen the soldiers and the other artifacts with my own eyes and I warmly recommend this venue!

The First Emperor - BRITISH MUSEUM from newangle on Vimeo.

It is all about Ying Zheng, later to be called the First Emperor (Qin Shi Huangdi), who was born in 259 BC. When he was 13 years old he became king of Qin (pronounced Chin), one of the seven greater kingdoms that rivaled with each other in Eastern China. Thanks to his military strategy and sophisticated arms, he succeeded in conquering the other warring states, thus unifying China for the first time in 221 BC. When you consider that imperial China lasted until the fall of the Qing or Manchu Dynasty in 1912, you can understand the importance of this unification!

Now if you ask me, Qin ruled like a despot and a tyrant for he literally went over dead bodies to achieve his goals. Of course, he had to organize his new empire, but at what costs! 

Among his most impressive accomplishments were the many standardizations. He instated one language and one writing; one currency, a circular copper coin with a square hole in the middle (to the Chinese the earth was square and the sky was a circle above it); standard weights and measures; same axle length for all carts to match the ruts in the roads; etc. He built 6,000 km of roads, many irrigation canals and he erected a Great Wall on the northern frontier as a protection against outside invaders (nothing to do with the Great Wall we talk about today). He forged his people into units of five to ten families, who had a group responsibility for the wrongdoings of any individual within the unit. In short, human value was zero and one dead more or less did not matter. He ruled by what is called a legalist form of government that involved rewards and punishments to keep order. This was entirely the opposite of Confucius’ preaching (551-479 BC) that focused on human morality and good-doings. Qin allowed the burning of intellectual books and buried hundreds of Confucians alive - not the happiest of worlds to live in, if you ask me!

Qin Shi Huangdi drank from jade cups and ate from golden plates for he believed this would ensure him longevity (see the beakers and cups at the exhibition). This reminds me of the chinaware I saw at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and that has the color of jade; the Ottoman Sultans believed that jade would neutralize the poison in their food – now I know where they got the idea! Qin went as far drinking solutions containing mercury as well as other deadly brews in the hope to prolong his life; I guess he simply poisoned himself in the end. Ironically and in spite of his dear precautions, he died in 210 BC, at the rather young age of 49.

I have to admit that Qin has led a very busy life for beside all warfare and reforms, he exploited any manpower and resources he could in order to build his roads, walls and palaces. Wishing to find the same luxury in the afterlife, he spent thirty years building a lavish tomb near the capital Xian yang, modern Xi’an. This burial site is huge and covers an area of 56 square kilometers. The actual burial mount has been located in the very center, and in the wide space around it several pits are slowly being found and excavated. The first discovery was made in 1974 when a local farmer was digging a new well and found a terracotta head. Since then, three pits have exposed a total of 7,000 terracotta soldiers. It must be a magnificent and imposing view for those who visit the army in situ whereas we, at the exhibition, have to use our imagination when we are among their selected delegates. They are waiting for me at the far end of the exhibition tour.

The collection shows a variety of objects, ranging from drinking vessels and terracotta roof tiles to copper coins and bronze ceremonial bells. Striking are the units of weights and fluid containers, the kind of standardization I expected to have come along with our metric system.

Next to a kneeled archer who still shows traces of paint on his armor, there is
an interesting reconstruction of a crossbow and since all the wood has decayed over the years, a collection of arrowheads that originally were mounted on bamboo sticks that could easily be replaced when they broke, as well as a lance head and a chromed sword – fine examples of craftsmanship.

The huge bronze basins I discover in the spotlights remind me of those I saw at Vergina as part of the tomb belonging to Philip II of Macedon, although a good two hundred years older. Many bronze bells in their typical Asiatic shape are heavily decorated and show the wear and tear where they were hit to make them ring (a different sound according to the spot). Also on display are decorative bronze pole ends that once wrapped around the square wooden beams conceived in such a way that they simply clicked together, in fact a kind of prefab construction. Amazing for we like to believe that the prefab has made its appearance only last century.

The items are well presented and well labeled, especially for those who, like me, don’t want to take a talking pole. I always find this gadget distracting for it is like somebody talking in my ear all the time while I try to read the labels anyway. I concentrate better by just looking at the objects and registering the facts and figures at my own pace. But again, that is me. Most people prefer just listening rather than reading.

There are maps here and there to locate Qin’s early conquests and the expansion of his empire; there is a short slide show presenting the soldiers in full armor while the peasants and convicts are at work building the great wall; and there is a silent black and white projection of soldiers and horses on the inner circle of this library room converted especially for the exhibition.

After the rows of showcases with mainly bronze items, I am now approaching the piece de resistance, the terracotta soldiers and horses. I can’t wait to get closer but with the visiting crowd, it is best to stay in line and move along at the pace of the queue.

As a teaser it seems, they have set up a long display with clay figurines showing in miniature how the terracotta figures were made. This is an assembly line, nothing less. The clay arrived in lumps at the workshops where laborers and local craftsmen worked together to press it in their respective molds. The heads, arms, legs and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Once assembled the individual features such as facial expressions and hairdo were added. As each soldier shows his personal features, a connoisseur can tell for instance from which part of the country he is originating. Some have their hair tied in a knot, others have it braided or wear a kind of bonnet. Their dress also differs according to their role. So the charioteers have the most extensive harness reaching over their hands even, the cavalry wear a sleeveless protection, whereas the infantry and the archers wear a short skirted harness. The light infantry, the most mobile part of Qin’s army, did not carry any protection so they could move around faster (I think they were the most likely to be killed too, right?).

Each workshop was required to inscribe its name on the produced items in order to ensure quality control. After completion, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to rank and duty. Quite an affair! These burial pits are now part of the Museum of Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an.

The terracotta figures are very much life-like and rather tall, certainly considering the average Chinese in those days. They vary in height according to their rank, the tallest being the generals measuring approximately 190 cm (more than 6 foot). These generals also wear a specific headdress in the shape of a bird’s tail and I even notice that their shoes show an upwards curve. 

A span of four horses is placed in front of a roughly reconstructed chariot with the driver and accompanying soldiers on their spots. Yet I cannot really figure out how these soldiers stood on the platform behind the charioteer, two on one side of the yoke and one behind the driver on the other side. It seems to me that the chariot does not match reality here.

It is hard to imagine these terracotta figures painted in bright colors. A lacquer finish was applied on their faces and outfits, and the real weapons they carried must have given them an extremely realistic look. Most of the weapons were stolen shortly after the army was set into place and their lavishly painted features have faded away. There are a few good examples on display that still show traces of paint and glaze. To make things clear, there is a copy of the one archer shown near the entrance that is being reproduced at the end of the room in full blast of colors. Quite shocking in a way, but very interesting! It is believed that the terracotta warriors were based on true people – well they look real enough and even more so when we imagine them in lifelike colors carrying their arches and swords! They speak of a workforce of 700,000 men to create this army for the afterlife alone. How many more must have suffered and died in Qin’s other building projects and wars, I wonder.

It should be stressed that the actual Tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi still lies under an earthen pyramid of 76 meters tall, covering nearly 350 square meters. It remains unopened as the archeologists and experts are not sure what they can expect and they are afraid they may destroy an important part of the treasures inside. According to their measurements and probes, they believe it contains a scale replica of the universe complete with gemmed ceilings representing the cosmos and flowing mercury representing the rivers and lakes. Pearls seem to ornate the ceiling of the tomb, in an effort to represent the stars, planets, etc. Recent scientific work has however shown high levels of mercury in the soil of Mount Lishan, as it is called today. Future technology may shed more light on this tomb one day.

Facing the terracotta army of soldiers, generals and charioteers in this exhibition space, stands a replica of a bronze travel carriage with four horses, whose original was too fragile to be moved. It is a reduced size model and an outstanding piece of art. The horses look very alert and it is strange how only two of them, i.e. the two middle ones are hooked to the yoke while the horses on the outside are simply attached with the bridles and reins. To avoid any possible collision the yoked horses have a cone attached to their side to keep the outside one at a safe distance. I’ve never see anything like this! As to the carriage itself, it has windows made of perforated bronze plates to let the breeze blow through it. The entrance door in the back stands ajar and I can see right through these so-called windows! I am marveling that such refinement existed already in antiquity!

Today’s Chinese are understandably proud of Qin Shi Huangdi’s achievements, considering him as one of the greatest military leaders in history, but I can’t help having my doubts. From the start of the exhibition I couldn’t help but comparing him to Alexander the Great who lived roughly one hundred years earlier. Why do I think that Alexander was so great, while I can’t find such merit in Emperor Qin’s conquests? Probably the more humane approach of Alexander although it has been said he could be merciless, at least he did not exploit the people he conquered, often leaving their own rulers and religions in place, unless they had betrayed his confidence. This cannot be said of Qin but it remains a fact that the cast system and hierarchy he initiated survived for more than two thousand years. By now we all know the story related in the movie “The Last Emperor” where the outdated style of government had to make way for 20th century practices. So yes, this was quite an achievement on the part of Qin.

I just wonder however what would have happened if he and Alexander the Great had met. Of course, this is an absurd and most speculative idea, for Qin was not even born at the time of Alexander’s death, but just imagine the huge impact this would have had on today’s world! Fascinating stuff!

So much for my impressions and my philosophy. For those living on the other side of the Atlantic, the good news is that some parallel exhibitions are running or will be soon:
The Midland Center for the Arts, Midland, Michigan, organizes an exhibition “1500 years of Ancient China” running from Jan 18 till April 13 2008.   
The Bowers Museum of the Arts, Santa Ana, Ca also is planning "Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of the First Emperor" starting May 18 till Oct 12, 2008.
After premiering at the Bowers Museum, this exhibition is scheduled to travel to the Houston Museum of Natural Science (May 18–September 25, 2009) and the National Geographic Society Museum (November 19, 2009–March 31, 2010).
[Photo Source: The British Museum]

[Pictures from Wikipedia, except map which is from History of Qi]