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, Afghanistan) - 329 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)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Halabia on the Euphrates

To see the Euphrates is one of those lifetime experiences that leave a deep impression. For me the very name is forever associated with the Bible and visions of old Mesopotamia, the land of milk and honey and, of course, with Alexander the Great.

Unlike my previous trip when I crossed the famous river by bus over a modern bridge, I now have the opportunity to take a much closer look. The late wintry sun stands low above the horizon, wrapping the entire landscape in gold adding a touch of indescribably mystical to the Euphrates. And then there is the omnipresent silence. All I hear is the murmur of the current and the sweet rustle of the wind through the high reeds. The picture is timeless, eternal even. For me, a moment to let my thoughts drift back to Alexander the Great who crossed this very river with his army on the way to his confrontation with King Darius at Gaugamela to conquer Persia. I venture through the high grasses, carefully avoiding the marshy edges to get as close as possible to the fast flowing water that reflects the moods of the sky and the riverbanks. I deeply savor the moment before boarding my van and drive down the winding road alongside to the river.

The villages and settlements I encounter are from another world with houses assembled from large blocks of cement; cube-shaped piles of harvested cotton secured under patches of tarp; a lonely donkey tied to a pole; women carrying bushels of dried cotton-stalks on their head (fodder for the sheep); etc.  In what appears to be the heart of the settlement, hollow square rooms line the street where shops are set up displaying their colorful wares on the sidewalk: bananas, leek, oranges, potatoes, lemons, cauliflower, tomatoes and all kinds of fresh herbs. Even the bakery shows off with his bread and buns for everyone to see. Further down, stacks of crates filled with soft drinks; plastic jugs and tubs; brooms and cleaning products; drying racks for clothes; shoes and slippers are waiting for potential customers. Men pass by on bikes, mopeds and scooters in all possible shapes and sizes enhanced with the strangest accessories. The women’s dresses are more colorful than in the west, more like what I have seen in eastern Turkey. The taxi ahead of me is crammed with six men in black wearing their typical red-and-white scarf around their head. The local vans, comparable to the Turkish dolmuş, seem to take more people on board than there are seats. This local folklore is very welcome for otherwise the road is rather uneventful.


In fact, I’m on my way to Halabiye, old Halabia, one of those garrisons founded by Queen Zenobia of Palmyra in 266 AD.  Time is of the essence in the fast failing daylight. Except for the sturdy city walls there isn’t much left to see of Halabia, only the Pretorium that occupies a very strategic place high above the Euphrates valley. The old city was located on the Silk Road and flourished till 273 AD when Emperor Aurelius added the city to the Roman Empire. However, Emperor Justinian (527-565) judged it useful to restore the city and built these mighty defense walls to withstand possible invasions from the Persians.

It is a strenuous climb up to the Pretorium and a run against the failing daylight but I’m determined to make it in time. It is hard to believe that these remains are at least 1,500 years old. The strong walls are cracked in many places due to repeated earthquakes in the area which the three-stories-high arched rooms have survived. Deep niches around arch-shaped windows remind me of Medieval castles and look in fact quite cozy with a stone bench on either side that may have been covered with some cushions or covers. This is a great spot for the lookout to scrutinize the river upstream as well as downstream. The quietness of late evening is disturbed by a rattling sound, that of a car crossing the Euphrates a few hundreds of meters away using a pontoon bridge – a system that was very well-known in antiquity and used repeatedly by Alexander on his march east.

It feels as if I’m looking over Alexander’s shoulder, a special glance into the past.

[Click here for more pictures taken along the Euphrates] 

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