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)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The trireme, a ship to remember

The trireme seems to be the most intriguing type of ship built and used in the ancient world. It was in fact the most dangerous and effective warship of its time, built for mobility and speed. We know that Tyre had a fleet of triremes when they attacked Alexander to hamper him working on the causeway to connect the island to the mainland. Arrian clearly states that he “took the quinqueremes and five triremes” he quickly assembled to meet the Tyrians and eventually “rammed the majority and made them unsailable”.
Triremes were meant to be used as a ramming weapon and were powered by 170 oarsmen arranged in three rows. The bottom row of oarsmen sat hardly 18 inches above the water level, meaning that the ship was not fit to be used in rough weather or to be handled in open ocean. Yet they were ideal for short battles as they were very fast and maneuverable, a huge advantage during critical encounters. They are known to have been the decisive weapon during the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC when the 371 Greek ships defeated the much larger Persian fleet of 1207 ships.

The first trireme was invented around 700 BC by Ameinocles the Corinthian. It could move fast and under sail under favorable conditions could even reach a speed of 10 knots. So it is not surprising that these triremes were favorites and were optimized over time to be the fastest ship in antiquity. They were used all over the eastern Mediterranean and the practical Romans sailed them until the 4th century AD.

In the past thirty years or so, there have been a lot of discussions about their shapes, the three levels of oars and their overall measurements. All we could go by were vase paintings, coins and pictures on different sculptures as no wreck was ever found. A few construction details were revealed in ancient texts, like the performances of the rowers or the fact that each oar was handled by one single man. Some building sheds however seem to have come to us, providing us with at least the maximum length and beam of a trireme. The length of the oars was a main subject of debate, since they plunged into the water from different levels. In the end, a general agreement has been reached to establish the length of a trireme at 120 feet (37 meters). They were manned by 170 oarsmen of which 31 sat on the top row, 27-29 on the middle and bottom rows.

By the end of last century, the debates flared up and eventually a Trireme Trust was created in 1982 to rebuild a full-size ship. It took about five years to launch the prototype which was baptized gallantly as Olympias. I like to believe that was in honor of Queen Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great but I couldn’t find any evidence to support my assumption. The modern replica was born in the shipyards of Piraeus using Oregon pine since adequate Greek pine had declined and was not expected to stand up to the strains. Some 20,000 wooden wedges were used to connect the hull planks, which according to tradition were made of beech wood, while the required 25,000 bronze spikes were all hand made. The ramming front was made of cast bronze in two separate pieces. The sails on the other hand were made of linen in Scotland, the only place capable of making such sails.

By 1987 sea trials were carried out in the Saronic Gulf around the island of Poros (1 day), in 1988 with a voyage to Methana and the subsequent circuit of Poros (1 day), in 1990 around the coast to Porto Heli when speed records were reached (5 days), in 1992 the first trireme passage through the Canal of Corinth was achieved and the longest voyage to Corinth, via Aegina and Salamis (6 days) and in 1994 the Olympias was used for public relation purposes with several Greek film crews. Remarkably, the ship even sailed up the River Thames in 1993 to mark the 2,500th anniversary of Greek democracy (I wonder why democracy had to be celebrated in London?).

All these trials led to interesting conclusions in spite of the opposition by the purists who thought that any reconstruction should be based on an archeological wreck, of which none exist. The Olympias sailed under favorable conditions in a sprint under oar at a speed of 9 knots (very close to the 10 knots mentioned above), while she was rowed continuously for more than 30 miles at cruising speed of close to 6 knots. She turned out to be extremely maneuverable and a lot of practical information was gleaned during these trials about the practicalities and logistics of using both oar and (square) sail.

The story of the Olympias has been dormant since, but all of the sudden I hear that scientists believe to be close to tracing the wood from which these ancient triremes were made. They are actually focusing on the Macedonian fir and pine tree of the Olympus in the Pieria area, southern Macedonia, Greece, because their wood locally known as “liacha” has no knots but is very resistant to salt water. This theory is based partly on Theophrastus, Aristotle’s successor, who recorded that these trees were used in the construction of paddles and ships, and partly on the results of archaeological excavation that were carried out in Methone in 2003. Since 2011 scientists from Greece are being joined by those from the USA, Britain and Ireland in a collective effort to discover pure pieces of wood from the 8th century at the excavation site of Methone. I can hardly await the results of this study, especially since this city is part of Alexander’s homeland!

Meanwhile more exciting news comes from recent diving expeditions off the east cost of Sicily near the Egadi Islands where ten bronze ship-rams have been discovered together with a variety of arms and utensils. The site is where the last battle of the First Punic War (241 BC) was fought between Carthage and Rome which was won by the Romans thanks to their smart planning. The ten rams, each weighing as much as 125 kg, were mounted on the bow of the triremes or quinqueremes to be used to simply ram the enemy ship to pieces. This find is quite significant considering that till now only four rams had been recovered for all antiquity. Follow the latest developments on The Archaeology News Network. Another interesting article appeared lately in the Daily Mail. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Picking up Alexander’s traces in Cyrene (Lybia)

Cyrene, now part of Libya, doesn’t come to my mind right away when following Alexander’s track and I must admit that I didn’t expect to meet him there either – yet I did!
It happened at the local museum, although “museum” is a great word for the barren storage room, hidden behind a courtyard with heavy metal doors. There are only a handful of small barred window high up the walls but in honor of the visitors large flickering neon lights are being switched on. I walk among Roman sarcophagi and statues, meeting familiar statues of Apollo, Aphrodite, Heracles, Isis, Hekate, beside the Three Graces and even Marcus Aurelius. Grumpy Demosthenes is looking very sour and I suddenly realize why: Alexander is standing nearby, larger than life-size with poor remains of his beloved Bucephalus at his feet! Oh wow! I’m digging hard in my Alexander history to fit in Cyrene. Thoughts are rushing through my brain, tumbling helter-skelter, pushing each other aside – I have to straighten this out!

 So, I pick up Alexander after the siege of Gaza, when he arrives in Pelusium, his first stop in Egypt. From here he went to Memphis, the capital of Egypt in his days, where he received a delegation from Cyrene that brought him horses among their gifts. There is a beautiful relief at the Cyrene museum praising these horses for their stamina, especially on the battlefield – a quality that cannot have escaped Alexander’s awareness for this noble animal.

A couple of years ago, I attended a lecture by Olaf Kaper who speculated that the gift of horses may have been an invitation for Alexander to visit Cyrene, a Greek colony at that time and famous for its horses. He speculated that his intention was to visit the city but traveled on to Siwah instead. The full story of this lecture has been published earlier under the title “Alexander the Great in Egypt. Lecture of 24 November 2010. Fascinating stuff!
My visit to Cyrene was part of a tour of Libya (before the Arab Spring) and I knew that in antiquity it was one of the major cities of North Africa (counting tens of thousands inhabitant as early as the 5th century BC), together with Leptis Magna and Sabratha in Lybia, Volubilis in Morocco and Douga and El Jem in Tunisia. Yet I never made the link with Alexander or even with the Ptolemies who ruled over Egypt that included Cyrene. Besides, in spite of above information, I had no idea that Cyrene was that big – huge excavations works have been widely rewarded!

Before entering the city, I am confronted with the Temple of Zeus – a truly big and imposing temple. Strangely enough it feels very familiar, as if I have seen it before. The Temple of Poseidon in Paestum (Italy) comes to mind, followed by the Temple of Zeus in Olympia (Greece) and the Parthenon in Athens which are approximately both of the same size, yet this one looks less refined and more solid. The Doric columns date from the 6th century but the temple has suffered many restorations and reconstructions over the centuries, including the addition of Egyptian-style capitals. Just like in Olympia, the naos held a huge statue of the Father of all Gods, a seated Zeus with marble feet and arms attached to a plaster body, a copy of Phidias’ work known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  The temple was heavily damaged during the Jewish uprise of 115 AD but thankfully Emperor Hadrian rebuilt it, adding a smaller room inside the old complex. Eventually, the temple collapsed during the strong earthquake of 365 that drew a path of devastation all along the coast of Northern Africa.

I thoroughly enjoy this peaceful setting, walking over pavements scraped by scores of sandals in eons past and exploring every minute detail of which there are many: a marble threshold, a marble plinth, a Greek inscription between the regulae and the friezes but also on the architrave, the majestic steps inside the cella that must have led to the colossal Zeus, the tired marble floor-tiles of the peristyle between the cella walls and the outside columns, etc. Enough to trigger my imagination, an idyllic place were I could stroll on and on. In front of the entrance to the temple huge stone blocks have been assembled in an attempt to piece the oversized letters together to read the inscription Jovis Caesar that once framed the portal.

The most remarkable religious development in Cyrene was the introduction of a new god, Amon (with one single “m”), which we know from Siwah in Egypt. It didn’t take long for the Greeks to identify this divinity with their own supreme Zeus, calling him Ammon (with double “mm”) since “ammos” was the Greek word for sand, hence Sandy Zeus. From here, the cult spread all over Greece by the end of the 6th/early 5th century BC. It is here in Cyrene that the picture of Zeus with rams’ horns is born, the Ammon-Zeus as opposed to the later Zeus-Amon – an image that caught Alexander’s attention while he was in Egypt and eventually appeared on Alexander’s coins in later years.

[For further reading, click here: Cyrene, founded by the Greek]
[Click here to see all the pictures of Cyrene]

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cyrene, founded by the Greeks

Although the Phoenicians from Lebanon established early in the 10th century BC three trading posts in the Tripolitania (western Libya), later known as Sabratha, Oea (Tripoli) and Leptis Magna, the Greeks, on the other hand, were the first to establish colonies in the Cyrenaica region of Libya (the east)  in the 8th century BC, i.e. the land around Cyrene. A separation line that still exists today between the regions of Tripoli and Benghazi.

It is highly improbable that Alexander the Great ever visited Cyrene since a delegation of the city met him on his way to Siwah, but he must have been aware of its importance – a reason for me to spend some time in this huge city.

After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, Cyrene and other cities of the Cyrenaica fell to the Ptolemies. It was only in 96 BC that the Romans incorporated it as the Province of Crete and Cyrene, while they were already well established in the Tripolitania. Rome’s appetite for power had led previously to several wars, especially with Cartage (Punic Wars of 264-241 BC, 218-202 BC, and 149-146 BC) which led to the total destruction of the city. By the first century BC, they finally have North Africa firmly in their grip. We know that nobody less than Julius Caesar had his mind set on Egypt and when Octavian eliminated his rival Marc Anthony in 31 BC, Egypt was definitely theirs, including the cities of the Cyrenaica. At that time, the largest export product by far was silphium, a medical and potent plant that disappeared entirely but that was in high demand, especially in Rome. When in 395 AD the Roman Empire is split up between the eastern and western empire, it is obvious that the Cyrenaica becomes part of the eastern empire while the Tripolitania remains attached to the west. This separation till exist under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian who conquers the land in 533 and rules over both regions. A good hundred years later, the Arabs occupy the territory and rule over the Cyrenaica from Cairo as it failed in power and strength to occupy the Tripolitania as well. The first attempt to link both regions is only made last century by Mussolini who constructed a 2,000 km-long highway along the coastline of Libya, the Litoranea, running from Tunisia all the way to the Egyptian border.

This is the history of Libya in a tiny nutshell. Time to take a closer look at Cyrene, which is on the World Heritage List of Unesco.

When I arrive, all I see is a high city wall with a single entrance beyond a dozen steps. Stepping over the threshold, I find myself immediately inside the Hellenistic Gymnasium also called Ptolemaion in honor of Ptolemy VIII who built it in the 2nd century BC. When the Romans arrived in the first century AD, they paved the wide grounds and turned it into a Forum, which evidently was called Caesarion. The size of this Forum is entirely in accordance with the size of Cyrene itself, i.e. an impressive 85 x 96 meters! Thanks to the efforts of the Italians who excavated the Libyan sites under Mussolini, the majority of the surrounding colonnades have been re-erected. This seems to emphasize its sheer size and makes me stop in my tracks. In the center are the remains of a small temple dedicated to Dionysus (later to Julius Caesar) that has been restored by Hadrian after the Jewish revolt of 115 AD. In one of the corners, I discover delicate black and white mosaics that have weathered heavily – such a shame!

Beyond the Forum lies the Odeon, cozily nestled in the depth, an ideal location for whatever meeting that was held here. Both the Gymnasium/Forum and this Odeon border the notable Battus Street – so striking because a covered gallery ran along its entire length over a distance of some 130 meters. High up the walls of this long Stoa windows were added, each separated by an Atlantes (the male equivalent of a caryatid) representing, in turn, Hercules and Hermes, as both gods were held in high esteem by the local athletes. It is an intriguing sight, these compact male figures that are now balancing on top of the wall. I’ve never seen atlantes figures before and to witness them here in such lavish quantities is something really special.

Across the road, I discover another small theater or Odeon that is pretty well preserved. From the upper row, I have a good overview of the landscape, in fact, all part of Cyrene that has not been excavated as yet. It is huge! Far down I discern a row of Doric columns belonging to the Temple of Demeter. More to the right are the half exposed remains of a theater that was also part of Demeter’s Sanctuary with several altars on the other side. 

When I stop there the next day, I am met by a group of Italian archaeologists digging right next to this temple and exposing several new walls. I’m not allowed to take pictures but can otherwise walk around freely – a unique experience to witness this work in progress from nearby. All over Cyrene now rusted narrow train rails and small wagons are still there where the Italian archaeologists from Mussolini’s days have left them, determined to come back one day, it seems.

From the Odeon I easily enter the prestigious house of Jason Magnus, a well-to-do priest of the Sanctuary of Apollo who built his home around the end of the 2nd/beginning 3rd century. He definitely was “well-to-do” for his residence covers two entire blocks.

A mosaic carpet runs through the corridors and leads me from one room to the next. Quite special is the Triclinium, the summer dining room, paved with splendid marble in the so-called opus sectile fashion. The broad mosaic that surrounds it looks rather poor in contrast but that is because it was hidden by the couches of the dinner guests anyway. Behind the couch-area are faint hints of columns once alternated with statues of the Nine Muses of which one solitary witness remains in situ. Across from the Triclinium lies a special room where the theme of Theseus and the Minotaur is illustrated in a spiral of black and white mosaics, enhanced with the greeting epagatho, i.e. good luck! Beautiful craftsmanship.

My walk continues over the Battus Street, an avenue worthy of a king I would say simply because the sight of all these Hermes and Heracles figures, even without their protecting roof is absolutely stunning. I can’t get enough of this! I finally reach the Agora, not exactly the wide open space one would expect for it is filled with buildings, monuments and two huge altars from the 4th century BC dedicated to Hera and Zeus. It takes some figuring out. On the right-hand side of the Battus Street, I find Battus’ tomb covered with marble slabs on the Agora-side. Nearby I’m unexpectedly confronted with a winged Nikè, almost identical to the famous Nikè of Samothrace now at the Louvre. Well, well, … Upon closer inspection, I see that this victory is standing on an elaborate ship’s bow with a very recognizable bronze ram. This Nikè has lost her wings but her tunica, as can be expected, elegantly wraps around her female body as she proudly faces the sea breeze. This ensemble is resting on the back of a cute dolphin that seems to be carrying the entire ship. It is so special to find this statue in the very place where it is supposed to be!

Opposite the Agora, I notice the round Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore (Persephone), pure Hellenistic and probably from the 2nd century BC. In spring offerings were brought here to ask for the renewal of nature – probably blood from piglets was poured through the cracks in the rock. The seated women seem to represent the priestesses of this temple in a cozy meeting.

On the other side of the Battus Street – which is now much less spectacular without its atlantes – I find three public buildings: the Prytaneum where the city council met, the Capitol from the 2nd century with annex the city archives (thousands of clay-seal that were used to seal documents were found here), and a Temple of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius from the same period. Apart from overgrown mosaics and an isolated Greek inscription, the remains are unclear. From here onwards, the Battus Street simply peters out to where the Acropolis is supposed to be and close to nothing has been excavated. Cyrene turns out to be far bigger than I ever could expect!

Back on the Agora, I pass the Temple of Apollo from the 5th century BC, although the remains are clearly Roman and date most probably from the 2nd century AD. It suddenly crosses my mind that only Hollywood could restore this square to its full glory for there simply is too much-scattered debris and the remaining buildings are nothing more than bare destitute skeletons crying for lots of imagination.

Cyrene has an unexpected grandeur and I wonder in how much the commerce and export of the magic silphium played a role. In any case, the plant was important enough for Cyrene to be represented on their coins as well as on many capitals of their columns. The old Egyptians already used silphium to prevent or terminate a pregnancy and great names as Herodotus, Strabo and Pliny the Elder tell us that is was an efficient remedy against cough, fever, indigestion, wards and all kinds of other ailments – in fact, the aspirin of antiquity. There are several theories explaining why this plant disappeared: it only grew in the wild, cattle was allowed to graze the silphium fields to obtain better meat quality, a change in climate, etc. Who knows?

Just when I think I have reached the end of my visit, I discover the Sanctuary of Apollo at my feet, lovingly spread out over the flank of the hill that slowly runs down to the seashore. It looks like a separate city altogether, as Greek as seldom encountered. What a choice location, what a view! It somehow brings Delphi to my mind, although I don’t immediately know why. Maybe it is the same feeling that only the gods can choose a spot like this. Well, in my eyes the ancient Greeks must all have been gods because local history tells us that the first Greek settlers established themselves on this hillside, next to the spring that later on will be dedicated to Apollo in person – hence the appellation Sanctuary of Apollo. The first glance is definitely very promising and very impressive!

The steep cliff to my right is filled with grave sites and tombs belonging to the necropolis - generally, square holes, decorated or not with reliefs, columns and goodbye scene, linked together by zigzagging paths. I do not go that way but instead follow the Sacred Road downhill, heading straight for the Greek Propylaea that from a distance remind me of the Propylaea at the entrance of the Acropolis in Athens, although less majestic. The four simple Doric columns with their restored friezes were built by Praxiades, a priest of Apollo, to mark the very entrance to the city. Nearby, the Romans later created a kind of fountain, the so-called Aqua Augusta, in fact, a succession of water basins cut out of the bare rock. A little further down, stand the remains of five round limekilns which the busy Byzantines built here to burn the marble that was widely available. The kilns are exceptionally well preserved.

Across from the stunning Propylaea stands a nicely built house in the style of the Curie in Rome, although much smaller, of course. This building is called Strateghion and dates, believe it or not, from the fourth century BC when it was consecrated to the strateghoi, i.e. the civilians appointed to lead the Greek army. The Romans later renamed it donarium, i.e. a kind of treasury house. Gee, and I am not allowed inside? I wonder how much is still original or what parts have been reconstructed …

Above me lies the Baths of Paris – or not. I am told that the debate is still ongoing whether the sitz-baths found in the caves belonged to the Greeks or are instead Byzantine placed in abandoned Greek tomb chambers. Some day we may know.

By now I have reached the last water-basin of the Aqua Augusta and clearly, can hear the sound of splashing water running from a spring somewhere further in the depth of the cave. What a pleasant place! This is the famous Source of Apollo, which must have changed course over the centuries because of the repeated earthquakes but it is still in the same general area. The cracks in the cave walls letting the water seep through are covered with mosses and green hanging gardens. The water is flowing much faster than expected running down through the city. It is no surprise to see this same water flow through man made channels into the modern city later on. Time somehow has stood still, hasn’t it?

The most imposing building is evidently the temple consecrated to Apollo in person – you can’t miss it! Again I’m seeking a comparison and this time it is the Temple of Apollo in Delphi that comes to mind although many more columns are standing upright here in Cyrene. Yet both temples date from the same period and both have been repeatedly restored. Most stunning detail is that it was here that the more than two-meters-high statue of Apollo with the Lyre was found in 121 pieces that are now reassembled in the British Museum in London.

Apollo’s twin sister, Artemis had her own temple right next to her brother’s but very little remains. On this side, however, i.e. between the Temple of Apollo and the Source of Apollo, is the place to find the small Temple of Isis that held a rare colorful statue of the goddess, now at the Museum of Cyrene. A little further down is another temple, donated by the abovementioned Jason Magnus – speaking of megalomania.

It is almost by accident that I pass the Fountain of the Nymph Cyrene, a half-round basin set against a small obelisk shaped needle flanked by two lions. It is said to have been presented to the city by a certain Pratomedes in the fourth century BC. Among the profusion of rocks, column-drums, capitals and other blocks, it seems that only this fountain and the Temple of Apollo are really recognizable. I am told that past the Source of Apollo I can find the Temple of Mithras carved inside the cliff, obviously a Roman affair.

At the bottom of the Sanctuary, a huge area is occupied by the grand scale Baths of Trajan from 98 AD that were repeatedly adapted and restored since. The wide assortment of statues now in the local museum come from here, although the best pieces found their way to the Museum of Tripoli : The Three Graces, Alexander the Great, a Hermes, a Faun with Dionysus as a Child, the so-called Venus of Cyrene, etc. It is not easy to mentally reconstruct these baths with all its trimming and decorations, but worth trying. After the heavy earthquake of 365, the baths were abandoned till the Byzantines built their own version on top and in between the remains.
Here we also find the large Theatre, probably the oldest surviving construction, although this cannot be said with certainty. Originally this was evidently a Hellenistic theater, but in the 2nd century the Roman fashion for animal fights reached Cyrene also and the first rows of seats were removed to be replaced by a protection wall. A tunnel and a corridor to the podium were added, and finally, the theater was transformed into an amphitheater. Well, that is a big statement because the theater stood near the edge of a cliff and there was not enough space to add the full half circle. The result is a kind of compromise of a theatre-and-a-half. The Romans always found a solution for their problems, didn’t they? To the visitor, it looks as if the Amphitheatre lies outside the city walls, but these walls were in fact erected, later on, i.e. end 2nd/beginning 3rd century by a certain Nicodaemus who thought it was inappropriate that the view from Apollo’s Sanctuary would be blemished by the bloody fights in the Amphitheatre. A prudishness avant-la-lettre.
It is obvious that my visit predates the Revolution of the Arab Spring and its unfortunate consequences. I have no idea what is left of this proud and extremely interesting city. I can only hope that the situation will normalize any time soon and that unique sites like Cyrene will be there to see by everyone.

[Click here to see all my pictures of Cyrene]

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Museum of Baghdad, what's new?

To me a museum is like a shrine where our heritage and history is being safeguarded and I feel it at a personal loss when this building and/or its contents are threatened and damaged.
Iraq was once part of Alexander’s empire and the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad is one of those places where I expect to find many artifacts related to Alexander and the land he conquered, once occupied by great civilizations as the Sumerians, the Assyrians and the Babylonians.
Lately I came across this article that appeared on the internet site of Asharq Al-Awsat, a highly inspiring exposé which I like to share here: 

“Revealed Iraqi archaeological researcher and new information concerning the theft of the Iraqi Museum, which he described as 'crime of the century'. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, on what he suffered the museum during the chaos, she said that documentary evidence reveal deliberately neglecting the occupying powers to the looting and destruction of the Iraq Museum, and fatal errors accompanied the vaccinated from thefts, as there are points of organization was behind the stolen, and that the Iraqi investigative committee charged detects theft since 2004 have yet to disclose the results of the investigation for unknown reasons.

Dr. Lamia Kilani specializing in cylinder seals of the Covenant Old Babylonian, and archive documents relating to the museum Iraqi since its inception, and the first Iraqi woman involved in archaeological excavations in 1962 confirmed in her «Middle East» that «tragedy of the Iraqi Museum began before 2003; because theft got first it in 1991 after the Gulf War, and was nine out of 13 museums museum in the whole of Iraq to steal, including museums Assyria and Wasit, Ekrkov and Babylon, looting organization.

She pointed out that attempts modest carried out by the Department of Museum Iraqi Department of Antiquities and Heritage for protection, moved to urban area (western Iraq), while stored manuscripts in the province of Kirkuk, the clay tablets with language cuneiform, was stored in Dohuk, but Museum Kirkuk was looted completely , and threw its contents on the road, and was only part of the manuscripts to the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, and was the other part of the loss.

Clay tablets found difficulty in the basement of the Iraqi Museum, which turned into the headquarters of the military command in 1991. And archaeological expert, Donny George is found first, and remember that the effects transported back to the urban area being developed effects stolen Kuwaiti Bdelha! And founded the Iraqi Museum in 1923 in the fitness of the Karkh district of Baghdad, the design resembles building the world of museums, which includes 18 Hall of historical periods many, such as the Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian, in addition to Islamic Arts, and the effects of prehistoric, and contains approximately 170 thousand artifacts tell the story of Iraq with civilization.

And on the theft of antiquities during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 says Kilani: «got a breach of the most important conditions for the protection of international museums, the first: the importance that the State protects invasive effects of the occupying power, in addition to the need to not use the occupying state archaeological sites to protect themselves, and what happened to the U.S. government The creation of a number of committees to prepare for after the occupation of Iraq, including aspects of education, health, agriculture and industry, but forgot to include the Committee of the effects! And dealt with the matter that is quite important to the occupation of a country like Iraq. This is the first evidence (lie monument protection) in the country; any that American troops deliberately exposing the Iraqi Museum of looting, and there was a clear shortened by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, which did not know who to call in order to protect her effects.

It showed Kilani that «the first blow suffered museum was faced First, blow gun hand gate Assyrian documented pictures, but disappeared now that were carried out rehabilitation museum, and I wish to remain a living witness to target museums by the invading forces, and that was On 7 and 8 April 2003, and on 9 and 10 of the same month Museum robbed.

And was amazed Kilani not expect workers in the Ministries of Tourism and Antiquities, foreign or Iraqi defense, stealing the museum, and thus a hedge, as stated in the preliminary investigation of the incident theft of the museum, and that all of the museum include the fear of being bombed.

She explained that «Initial investigations revealed that the hedges security of the Iraq Museum were not enough, it was funny, too, and there are big mistakes and negligence in the matter of immunization is open from theft, since it is not dealt with doors fortified as in most museums of the world under the pretext of the lack of adequate budget , and also did not close a section of the doors function in the museum grounds linked system of electricity that feeds the museum, and one of the doors leading from the museum's Hall of the Islamic Museum was disabled, as well as doors store old, while she was there to protect the effects displayed only, and neglected effects found in stores » .

Revealed Kilani secrets room mission in Iraq Museum were stolen, carrying number 104, which was originally temporary room in the museum, management sometimes storing effects temporarily pending allocated halls suitable or deposited maintenance or insert information about them, have forgotten concerned at the museum closed before War and stayed open, and he was «Guitar Orr» and «Warka Girl», two of the most important effects of the museum. Also remained puzzle keys doors Museum vague so far; because investigations revealed steal some models keys; because some halls and cabinets and found open after stealing where without breaking it, means that Sariqha holds the keys of origin, and there keys were found after theft and were lying on the land, and other keys lost of thermoplastic owners themselves, according to their testimony.

And the proceeds of thefts effects said Kilani: «outcome proved displays 42 impact of the theft from the museum, except thousands of stores, and has been restored 15 thousand impact only, including a statue (Antmina) who was broken after having been smuggled to Syria, as well as (the Lion of Babylon) who found the door of the temple in Diyala province; because the thieves could not move and they cut off his head, as well as the case with (guitar Orr) that stole her arms Almusnoatan of pure gold, as well as the head, and rehabilitated again.

The (Warka Girl), which was in room No. 104 was later found buried under a palm tree in a remote area. As stolen all the pieces of ivory in the museum, a cut is unprecedented in the whole world, and stole also 5000 seal cylindrical no longer them but less than a thousand seal, thanks to the return of 800 seal of the Director of the Italian Cultural Institute Paulo Ptinwa which he bought from a vendor in popular market near the museum. She survived 10 thousand specie in the museum of the theft because the thieves missed keys to safes, as evidenced by the investigations; because the keys found under the ruins of some of the effects of near coins. Strange that more pieces returned returned after a short period of war, while lagged recovery operations later.

And Izzat al-Kilani reasons steal the museum, according to the book of expert effects French and named Pkdanos, said that thefts museum got because of an organized criminal network was found near the scene before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the proof is that antique dealers were informed definitely they will receive before the stolen originally. There is another type of indiscriminate thieves who did not distinguish between the important pieces from other desks and computers in the museum. Can not ignore the contribution of former regime officials antiquities smuggling operations, and sell them abroad.

During his intervention during the seminar, said the senior adviser to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities Iraqi Bahaa Mayah to the latest statistics on the subject of recovery effects of the Iraq Museum was on December 13 (December) past; since recovered 4310 artifacts, and other pieces that do not belong to the museum, and this more b 30 times the rate of recovery in the Iraq Museum, and this means that there is an organized crime of theft, and was finally set 600 artifacts smuggled by Iranian smugglers.

He described Mayah steal the museum «crime of the century», which did not take the maturity of the investigation so far, stressing that Iraqi antiquities still suffers steal a large number of them in the absence control them, and what has been retrieved from the stolen antiquities is only less than a third of what amount of thefts.

The student Mayah the importance of exchanging information internationally about the details of effects contraband, and how it gets to destinations thief to see extensions organized gangs in Iraq and thus arrested, in addition to the application of the Treaty of UNESCO on as the transfer of property antique to a foreign country is illegal, as well as respect for the cultural heritage of the country signatory to the Convention, and to take all measures to ban the import of cultural property in the territory.

Mayah focused on the problem of recover internationally effects, and because of that some developed countries (including the EU) is not cooperating, as described.

And on the importance of lawyers to take lawsuits to seek restitution of Iraqi antiquities and circulation and trade embargo, Mayah said: «strive for that, but it costs a lot of money, but it is the most appropriate solution for us instead of foreign lawyers.

And about the reasons for not opening the Iraqi Museum to the public and visitors, despite the passage of ten years on the close, and the promises of rehabilitation continuing, said Mayah: «recognize that the time is long overdue, but it opened without completion of rehabilitation and protection in a way a court of any theft means a great risk». He added: «Museum was not originally designed according to court bases for surveillance; where monument cameras and tighten exhibition halls; as some halls have not yet been rehabilitated due to lack of funds, and what happened rehabilitated so far been foreign aid.

Turn expressed Culture Minister Iraqi former useful Algerian Prime Iraqi Association for Support of Culture, was surprised to hide the results of the investigation on the subject of theft the museum, which was formed in 2004, which lasted for many months, and reached conclusions and extracts important in the investigation in cooperation with foreign bodies.

He said: «The ten years to close the museum for a long time, It's funny that we do not have the funds to re-qualify each halls or even judge security control.

It is noteworthy that Dr. Lamia Kilani was born in Baghdad, holds a bachelor's, master's and doctorate from the University of Cambridge and Edinburgh and London, began its work in effects in the early sixties of the last century, the first Iraqi woman involved in archaeological excavations in 1962, and published a lot of articles and research in journals many , also contributed to writing a book on cylinder seals in Tel sound near a dam Hamrin, and wrote a book titled «first Arab» in conjunction with Salem Alusi, has left Iraq in 1970, and worked adviser in the Ministry of Culture after the fall of the regime in 2003, and consultant in the British Museum in 2003.”
This is the link where I found this article.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Minaret of Djam by Freya Stark

The Minaret of Djam, an Excursion in Afgfhanistan (ISBN 9781848853133) is another typical book by Freya Stark, written once again in the style that is so much her own with vivid depictions – rather paintings – of the scenery around her. With a minimum of words she manages to draw a full scale picture. This time she takes on a trip through the very heart of Afghanistan in search of the Minaret of Djam, roughly halfway between Kabul and Herat. It seems as if she travelled in a time beyond time, most probably before the Soviet invasion of 1979.

She writes in a most pleasant way, taking the reader by the hand to uncover the secrets of the hidden landscapes and remote populations. She was quite an adventurous lady whom I admire greatly, especially when you realize that she travelled in times when roads were still very primitive and when definitively no lady would venture on her own into those remote corners of the world although I suppose that before the Soviet invasion the British were still seen as frequent travelers over there. Strangely enough, Afghanistan was still a pleasant place to be.

In any case, this is an adventure by itself for few people have ever seen this minaret and still lesser have crossed the area. She manages to make it through the summer heat, in a Land Rover that serves as sleeping quarters under most primitive conditions, but she always remains optimistic and is so blessed with that British phlegm that makes it all bearable and possible. An admirable woman on an admirable journey, to say the least.

But in the end, it is all about the Minaret of Djam, the second tallest brick minaret in the world. Set in the remoteness of the Afghan slopes between the two highest peaks of the Safed Kuh, 3525 and 3416 meter. The minaret stands alone dressed in brick-color against the perfect blue sky which I now can imagine in the light of my travels through Uzbekistan where similar intricate stone patterns have also been used. It belongs to the fertile years of Islamic art from the 11th and 12th century and must be quite a sight. I’m surprised though that she didn’t climb the one hundred and eighty steps of the double staircase to the top. I would – I think. She mentions a nearby inscription by Sultan Ghiyath al-Dunya, fifth sultan of the Ghurid dynasty, who ruled from 1163 till 1203, and that is all we know of its history.

After finishing this most pleasant and interesting book, I needed to investigate further on this Ghurid Dynasty, totally unknown to me. It turns out that it was very short lived, existing for just over sixty years although they had ruled an empire stretching from eastern Persia all the way to northern India. They even conquered Bamyan and Balkh as well as territories beyond the Oxus River. Their capital city was Firuzbuh, i.e. where this Minaret is still standing. I find it exciting to learn that they lost territories to the Khwarizm, of which I heard for the first time on my recent trip to Uzbekistan! Here too, it was once again Genghis Khan who finally destroyed the cities and probably killed the entire population. Amazingly the Minaret of Djam has survived!

[picture from the UNESCO site]

In order to make this story complete, I would encourage everybody to read the article “Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam” in which UNESCO puts the minaret on the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Alexander's Feast by Georg Friedrich Händel

Well, well, I must admit that I expected Händel one of the last composers to be interested in Alexander the Great! His interpretation of history is apparently reflected by his own time-frame, making Thais Alexander’s mistress.
The piece is set at Persepolis, where Alexander organizes a banquet that is being enhanced by songs and lyre-playing by his court-musician Timotheus, a famous aulos (double-flute) player. After taking Alexander through different moods, the music finally leads to the burning of the Palace of Persepolis to revenge his soldiers who died in the conquest of Persia.
The work was composed by Händel in January 1736 and premiered at Covent Garden a month later. It was a great success and eventually led Händel to writing English choral works instead of the Italian operas as he had done till then.
I found this highly praised performance of the entire work on YouTube.
For those who want to watch closely how the story according to Händel evolves, the lyrics can be found on this link.
I’m convinced that even in his wildest dreams Alexander would never have expected to hear his beloved lyre occupying such a prominent place in a composition written two centuries after his death!