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)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Loss of our Cultural Heritage in the Middle-Eastern conflicts

The loss of Cultural Heritage due to war is simply heartbreaking and I don’t really know how to formulate my sadness, anger, frustration and despair about the damage done all over the Middle-East and in Syria in particular. I have voiced my concerns in earlier articles “Organized looting in Syria” and “The War in Syria, what will happen to its heritage”. That was resp. in August 2012 and May 2013; the situation has only deteriorated since and is still deteriorating. Syria is exceptionally rich in antiquities and cities built on sites that existed thousands of years ago, where painstaking excavations have brought to light so much unique historical evidence and yet it all seems to be blown away in the dust of war and pillage.

I was lucky enough to visit Syria before these conflicts broke out and I was stunned by the sheer number of antique sites, some going back to the dawn of our civilization, their state of conservation and the care taken in the reconstruction of their past. To name just a few of the oldest cities, there is Qatna (fourth millennium BC), Mari on the Euphrates (third millennium BC), Ebla (3rd/2nd millennium BC),  Ugarit (second millennium BC), while we should not forget that the origins of Damascus, for instance, go back to the seventh millennium BC and that of Aleppo to the fifth century BC. Many of these sites have been included in the List of World Heritage Sites established by UNESCO, yet even UNESCO is helpless in this situation.


 [Pictures of Aleppo from Friends of Asor, The Ancient Near East Today]

A recent article published in the BBC World Magazine shows several pictures “before” and “after” the recent attacks. They say more than words, certainly to whoever has lived, worked or travelled through that area. Some of these shots are not new, like the satellite images of Apamea of 2011 set against those of 2012 in which the looting holes look like craters on the moon. A similar picture shows the damage done at Dura Europos in 2014 as compared to the site still untouched in 2012. Dura Europos is one of those Roman lime-cities that kept the peace along the Euphrates, a marvellous and most intriguing place (see: “Dura Europos, last stop on the Euphrates”). Two thousand years later we cannot achieve what the Romans did.


[Pictures of Dura Europos from Friends of Asor, The Ancient Near East Today]

All over the Middle-East, antiquities are stolen and most of them end up on the black market; excavations are no longer carried out systematically by qualified archaeologists but fall in hands of illegal diggers in search of a quick buck; museums are wrecked and looted. Nobody knows how to stop this pillage and nobody knows how this all will end. It is a nightmare since most archaeological sites are exposed to vandalism and trafficking of antiquities as no one is in charge of their protection. No museum or other institution has any list of the collections hidden in the country or abroad, and there is no way to draw a list of the antiquities that have been stolen.

The concerns are now that after three years of war, Syrian archaeological heritage has reached a catastrophic phase. Reports of organised plundering in Apamea, Dura Europos, and Palmyra cannot be verified but are beyond proportion. A picture has reached us of a Neo-Assyrian statue from the region of Deir Ezzor being chopped to pieces with a sledgehammer. War is not about people, war is not about our heritage, but war destroys both. To what purpose, I wonder.

The dramatic situation is not unique to Syria, but also applies to many places in Libya (see: Still hope, though scant, for Libya’s cultural heritage), Iraq and Afghanistan where archaeological sites are destroyed forever.

It is evident that the humanitarian situation in Syria is extremely distressing and beyond description but at the same time the people’s inherited identity is being threatened with total obliteration. There is no end in view for the deadly conflicts in Syria or in the rest of the Middle-East – it seems only to be spreading like oil on water. It will take nothing less than a miracle to protect Syria’s priceless archaeology and only a combined action between the land that is being looted and the lands that purchase the looted artifacts could stop this destructive process. As to the antique sites and monuments themselves, we can only hope for the best and wait for a possible restoration after the war ends – whenever that may be.

There is a very interesting article about Syria with plain pictures published on the blog of Friends of Asor, The Ancient Near East Today. As to Iraq, please click on the site of The Gates of Nineveh for the heartbreaking bulldozer destruction of historic monuments in and around Mosul by ISIS forces.

[Picture of the sledgehammer destruction is also from Friends of Asor, The Ancient Near East Today]

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