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)

Friday, August 29, 2014

More temples in Sicily to be proud of

Because of its high concentration of temples, the Valley of Temples in Agrigento is a most striking and best known collection in Sicily. But obviously there are many more temples on other sites and this somehow leads to confusion and makes it often difficult to pinpoint which temple is standing where. They all belong to the sixth and fifth centuries BC, the heydays of Magna Graecia, yet each one is very unique.

Take for instance Segesta, located inland of northwestern Sicily, beautifully nestled amid the rolling hills covered with olive trees and vineyards. It is one of those places of which you could say it was chosen by the gods - that is, Greek gods of course!

This temple definitely fits my earlier description of The perfection of a Greek temple. Yet the strangest thing about this temple is that it was built only to show off; it was never finished and it was never used. It seems it was constructed in a hurry to impress the Athenian ambassadors on which the inhabitants were counting for support in their war against Selinunte and Syracuse. All they wanted was the Athenians’ support. Today the many tourists are still impressed!

The temple lies on a low hill on the loveliest spot you can imagine amidst the spring flowers set against the darker wooded hill in the background. Although we do not know to which god or goddess it was dedicated, it is generally assumed to be the work of a great Athenian master. Dating from the period 426-416 BC, it is one of the grandest monuments in Doric style, covering a surface of 58x23m. The 9 meter-high columns with a base of two meters in diameter were never fluted, but one hardly notices this detail when admiring the still standing 36 columns with the entire entablature and pediments. It could have been built just yesterday, more so since the bosses used to lift the blocks of stone have not been removed. It is sad though that the temple has been fenced off for security reasons for it adds so much to the general atmosphere to actually walk inside its walls.

The picture of Selinunte on the other hand, is entirely different as this city counts two separate groups of temples dating from the same period but still unidentified and for that reason simply referred to by a letter. Most of the sanctuaries have collapsed due to repeated earthquakes or have been handily plundered for reuse in other structures.

Temple E, probably dedicated to Hera, is the first one I see. It looks pretty much complete for at least all the columns of this Doric building of 490-480 BC are standing (re-erected in 1958). Parts of the entablature and the inner cella walls have also been preserved. Temple F, just behind Temple E, is the oldest one on this hill, dating from circa 560-540 BC and was probably dedicated to Aphrodite. Next is Temple G, perhaps dedicated to Zeus and with its 110x50m hardly smaller than its namesake in Agrigento (110x53m). This temple of Zeus counts however more columns, i.e. 8 by 17, which in turn is the same number of columns present at the Parthenon in Athens. It was left unfinished when Hannibal destroyed Selinunte in 409 BC. It was of colossal proportions for the columns were 16 meters high and the diameter at the base was 3.4 meters. And if that is not enough to convince you of the shear size, each drum weights about 100 tons! How the craftsmen in those days were able to move and hoist such blocks is baffling.

On top of the Acropolis there is another group of much smaller temples of which less is remaining. Temples A and O have very much the same size and count the same number of columns (6x15) although the lay-out is hard to figure out. The much larger Temple C with colossal monolithic columns is no more than a heap of rubble piled up on top of the crepidoma. This situation also applies to the other Temples B and D. All in all, the Temple of Hera (E) is the most representative and best preserved here at Selinunte.

As I said above, it is extremely difficult to imagine the procedure and process of temple building. So I am extremely happy to visit the quarries of Cave di Cusa, roughly 18 kilometres away from Selinunte

This is not just any quarry but one where work was unexpectedly interrupted the day that Selinunte was attacked by the Carthaginians in 409 BC. This is a unique opportunity to follow the entire cutting procedure, since nothing has been touched or moved since that date some 2,500 years ago! The entire process of quarrying can be followed here, from the initial vertical drills in the rock along the previously drawn circle that was a little larger than the final diameter of the drum, to the round column drums still attached to their base. There is a space of just half a meter for the stonemason to move around the cut the column. It is believed that the largest drums measuring 3x2m were intended for Temple G, the one that was probably dedicated to Zeus. In any case, I am dwarfed next to any of these drums. Some have rolled downhill and lie where they stranded so many centuries ago and never were taken to the construction site where they would have been adjusted and hoisted into position. What a way to visualize this backbreaking work!

[Click to see all the pictures of Selinunte; here for all the pictures of Segesta; and here for all the pictures of Cave di Cusa]

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