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
. Thoughts are rushing through my brain, tumbling helter-skelter, pushing each other aside – I have to straighten this out! Cyrene
So, I pick up Alexander after the siege of
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
. Lecture of 24 November Egypt 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 . Besides, in spite of above information, I had no idea that Cyrene was that big – huge excavations works have been widely rewarded! Cyrene
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 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 Athens 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.
[For further reading, click here:
[Click here to see all the pictures of Cyrene]