Le Clos de la Lombarde

31 July 2013

House of the Genius

Michel Gybels sent me a nice piece, with photos, of a usually closed excavation in Narbonne (France), called Le Clos de la Lombarde. In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered the foundations of houses, workshops, and a bathhouse. Later, the remains of a Christian basilica and a cemetery were excavated as well.

Go here for the story and the photos.


Lebanon, again

31 December 2012
Beirut (in the distance) seen from Byblos

Beirut (in the distance) seen from Byblos

For the second time in less than a year, I had the privilege to visit Lebanon. Starting in Beirut, where we visited the splendid National Museum again, we embarked upon a very, very leisurely trip around. At the Nahr al-Kalb, we managed to reach the inscription of Nebuchadnezzar, which is covered by all kinds of vegetation, and will soon have disappeared.

Byblos, which I could not really appreciate during my earlier visit because I did not understand its stratigraphy, turned out to be a lot more accessible now that I knew what to expect. It was interesting to think where Wen Amun must have built his tent and where the king must have had his throne.

We proceeded to the Kadisha valley, which is the heartland of Maronite Christianity. Before entering it, we visited Amioun, Bziza, and Aïn Akrine, three sites with Roman temples. In Bsharre (the town of Kahlil Gibran), we climbed to a Phoenician tomb, and had lunch with a view of the snow-covered cedar trees.

Cedar tree

After this, we visited the Bekaa valley and Baalbek. Because we had started early and had slept in a hotel in the valley, we could arrive very early in the morning, and were almost the only people at the site, except for the guards. Returning to our hotel, we passed along Qsarnaba, Niha, and Nabi Ayla.

We also saw the Palestinian refugees who had been bombed away from Damascus – but this is not the place to write about those poor people, who most certainly did not deserve this.

Sidon

Next day, it was raining cats and dogs, but we were in Sidon, where we greatly enjoyed watching how the storm pushed the surf against the sea castle. Some of the waves must have been fifteen meters high and it was really spectacular. The same can be said of the lovely mosaics in the Beiteddin palace. The last place we visited in Beirut was the museum of the American University.

There was a bonus, though: our airplane was delayed and we were unable to catch the connecting flight in Istanbul. So, our trip lasted an additional day, and we saw a snow-covered Hagia Sophia and, in the archaeological museum, the royal sarcophagi from Sidon.

Beiteddin

Beiteddin

I cannot wait to go back to the only place in the world where you can listen to “o come let us adore him” and at the same time hear a mu’ezzin’s call for prayer. My Facebook photos are here and here; and today I added photos of the temples of Aïn Akrine, the rock tombs of Amioun, the Phoenician tomb at Bsharre, the sanctuary at Bziza, and the temple at Qsarnaba. Some older stuff from Lebanon is here.


Meanwhile, in Syria

28 May 2012

Shelled: Crac des Chevaliers

There’s a civil war in Syria. I always feel it is somehow inappropriate to talk about archaeology, classics, or heritage, when people are fighting to survive. Nevertheless, I think it is not unimportant to pay some attention to the damage to the cultural damage. Here is a report by the Global Heritage Network. It’s quite depressing. Below is a quote from page six. After that, there are forty-five other pages.

Sites known to have been affected by the shelling are:

  • World Heritage Site – (parts of the) Archaeological Villages of Northern Syria, in particular al-Bara, Deir Sunbel, Aïn Larose.
  • World Heritage Site – Bosra.
  • World Heritage Site – Crac des Chevaliers.
  • Tentative World Heritage Site – Apamea and the citadel of Qal’at al-Mudiq. Also the town surrounding the citadel, which is known to date from at least the 16th century. Damage has been confirmed at the 16th century Mosque al-Tawhid, and is suspected at the Islamic caravanserai which forms the museum.
  • Tell Sheikh Hamad (Dur Katlimmu) – Assyrian temple collapsed after shell fire and the site was “transformed into a battlefield between deserters and army”.
  • Mosque of Idlib Sermin (Fatimid era).
  • Mosque of al-Tekkiyeh Ariha minaret destroyed.
  • Al-Qusaayr – Great Mosque and Mar Elias monastery damaged.
  • Mosque al-Herak in the Dara’a region.
  • Oldest mosque in city of Sermin.
  • Our Lady of Seydnaya Monastery – Earliest part of monastery dates to early Christian era (circa 547AD) – shell through back wall.
  • Tomb of the Sheikh Dahur al-Muhammad in Rityan, in Aleppo province.

Faqra (Lebanon)

30 April 2012

The Small Altar at Faqra

One of the most spectacular sites we visited during our trip through Lebanon was Faqra. It is situated along the road from the coast to a ski resort with the same name.

When we visited the place, it was covered with snow.  It was the Easter Weekend (according to the Maronite calendar) and many people had a day off, which meant that they were snowboarding, picnicking, barbecuing, and even dancing at the place where – in the Summer – you would have crossed the mountain pass. To judge from the scarfs, Christians were not the only one enjoying a holiday.

Faqra itself consists of two parts. To the north of the road are four altars, to the south are two temples, dedicated to Adonis and Atargatis, and a church.

Eight small but new pages on the Livius website can be found here. Other recent pages are about the Bekaa Valley and the Lebanon, about Niha, and about Machnaqa.


Nihata

28 April 2012

The high priest Narkisos

Our visit to the temples of ancient Nihata (modern Niha) was one of the highlights of our visit to Lebanon. There are two sanctuaries, an oracle dedicated to the Syrian goddess Atargatis and a smaller shrine for Hadanares, who was comparable to the Baal-Zeus-Jupiter of Baalbek. There are two other temples, never finished, at nearby Hosn Niha.

The site must have been well-known, as it was situated along the main road from Antioch to the south: along the Orontes to Aleppo and Baalbek, and down to Tyre through the Bekaa valley. Many travelers must have seen the shrines of Nihata, and must have stayed there, as it is exactly one day from Baalbek.

My new webpages are here.


Lebanese Antiquities

12 April 2012
Photo Jona Lendering

The Great Temple of Niha

When we announced that we wanted to visit Lebanon, many people thought that we had gone mad. After all, when we in Holland read about the country of the ancient Phoenicians, it is usually because of some eruption of violence. And indeed, the last chapter of the Footprint Handbook for Lebanon is a depressing catalog of disasters.

Nevertheless, the country appears to have come to rest, and I think it is useful to write briefly about our too short holiday. We were not disappointed and have already decided to return. Lebanon has much to offer to tourists, and tourists – for example, the lovers of ancient history that read this little blog – may help the country overcome some of its traumas. I promise you: you will like it.

And related:


Lebanese Antiquities: What to see

12 April 2012
Photo Jona Lendering

The cella of the Temple of Bacchus, Baalbek

[Back to overview]

The main ancient monument in Lebanon is, of course, Baalbek. The temple of Bacchus is bigger and better preserved than the Parthenon in Athens; the temple of Baal-Zeus-Jupiter next to it must have been one of the largest shrines of the ancient world (after the Egyptian temples, of course).

National Museum

Beirut is a very modern city, which is currently being rebuilt, so don’t expect too much of the ancient ruins. This is the place to be if you like modern architecture. Still, it has two of the best museums in the Middle East: the National Museum and the Archaeological Museum of the American University.

We loved the Roman ruins of Faqra and Machnaqa, but were unable to visit Yanouh, Afqa, and Sfiré. The Roman temples at Niha were splendid – do not forget to go into the cellar of the great temple.

Photo Jona Lendering

The Crusader Castle of Byblus

To the north, there is Byblus, which has been inhabited for thousands of years. You can see Neolithic and Chalcolithic buildings, temples from the Bronze Age, Phoenician royal tombs, a Persian terrace, Greek and Roman structures, a mosque, a perfectly preserved Crusader castle and ditto church, and so on. If you go up north from Beirut, do not forget to visit the reliefs at the Nahr al-Kalb, where about every army has left an inscription – from Ramesses II to the Lebanese army that forced out the Israeli troops in 2000.

Photo Jona Lendering

Remains Tyre’s Crusader church, with pillars from the Temple of Melqart

I really loved Tyre, which offers two big excavations. At Al-Bass, there’s a hippodrome and a large necropolis, while at Al-Mina, you will see the remains of the city itself. Here are also the remains of a Crusader church, which is more or less on the place of the ancient temple of Melqart.

This was only a selection. If you want to see all sights mentioned by Guillaume Gernez and Ingrid Périssé-Valéro, you will need about two weeks.

[Back to overview]


Death of a Museum

16 December 2011

Today, the authorities of the Dutch province of Gelderland decided to terminate their support of Orientalis near Nijmegen, a beautiful, century-old museum park, dedicated to the cradle of monotheism. To renovate the park and make it ready for another century, 14 million euro were necessary and had been agreed upon: 2 million from private donations, 6 million from provincial funds, and 6 million from state funds. The Dutch government, which is trying to save on museum expenditure, had already decided to stop paying, while the province cannot pay an additional 6 million.

The end of one the most lovely “living history” parks in the world does not come as a surprise; still, it is a shock. Of course, a state monument is just a monument and 6 million is a lot of money. They could throw away only a few billions to bail-out our banks. Below, you can find an article I wrote in happier days.

****

Synagogue, reconstructed

Sometimes, the history of a museum is as interesting as its collection. The Dutch Museum Orientalis near Nijmegen was founded almost a century ago -in 1911 to be precise- and was meant to offer a taste of the Holy Land to Christians who were unable to travel to the Levant.

It was unique. Of course, there were other living history parks, like the Pompejanum (1848), the Saalburg (1897), the Kerylos villa (1902), but these were inspired by Greece and Rome. The Holy Land Foundation, as the Dutch museum park was originally called, concentrated on Palestine. In an age in which Catholic art was inspired by the Neogothic architecture and the Beuron Art School, it was revolutionary to show Christ as a human being living in Palestine.

My parents took me to the Holy Land Foundation in the early 1970’s. You could see a Jewish village with a synagogue (photo above), reconstructions of the Sanhedrin and the Palace of Pilate, Golgotha and the empty tomb. In the late afternoon, we attended a passion play. Although I was six or seven, I thought it was too pious, too devote.

Roman street

It must have been one of the last passion plays to be performed over there, because at that moment, the original museum park was already changing. It had been intended to bring people closer to Christ, and give them more love in their heart. There is nothing wrong with that. But the old kind of devotion was no longer popular. Instead, the museum started to stress the Jewish-Roman environment in which Jesus lived. For example, a nice street in Roman style was added (second photo), with expositions in the houses. From a visit in the 1990’s I remember beautiful models of Deir el-Medina, the Athenian Acropolis and Jerusalem.

The Temple, model from Orientalis

Nowadays, the museum park is meant as a meeting place, where people can learn about the three main monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. You can see some multimedia presentations about, for instance, religious dress, food, and habits, and about more serious themes like religious hatred and religion as source for peace. The oriental landscape serves, as the museum says, as background for a “meeting of minds”.

Reenactors

Some time ago, I was in Nijmegen and made a walk though the park. It must have been my fourth or fifth visit. I was amazed by the high quality of the earliest reconstructions. The men who designed it, had travelled widely through the Middle East, and their Jewish village is an exact copy of a Palestine town.

Of course, we can now see that their orientalist philosophy was wrong: they believed that modern Palestine could help us understand the life of Christ, which implied that they thought that nothing had really changed over there – a rather unkind vision on the creativity and originality of the people living in Palestine. Still, their idea to put that Jew of Nazareth back in his original context, instead of reducing him to a European, artistic icon, is worth consideration, and I am glad that the old buildings are now on the Monument List.


2300 Ancient Sites on Google Earth

1 November 2011

Kampyr Tepe (Uzbekistan)

On several occasions I have blogged on the possibilities of Google Earth and its online spin-off, Google Maps. My last blog on this topic was a bit over half a year ago, when I had some 1700 items available. In the meantime, I have added more than 550 ancient sites to my list, from all quarters of the ancient world. The grand total now is 2375.

The online version is here and the masterfile can be downloaded here. If you use the latter, do not forget the directory NEW/OFF-TOPIC, which contains many others, still unqualified markers.


The Byzantine Empire

31 October 2011

The eagle of the Byzantine Empire

Some pages ought to have been added to the Livius website long, long time ago, but were never written, usually because I didn’t have sufficient time. I am glad that Mrs. Karin de Leeuw wrote a nice page on the Byzantine Empire, the successor state of the Roman Empire.

I also added a little page on the river Elbe. Not terribly important, to be honest. Read the page on Byzantium first, because it’s more interesting.


Gur-e Dokhtar

13 October 2011
Photo Patrick Charlot

Gur-e Dokhtat

I have never met Mr Charlot from France, but he occasionally sends me photos from Iran, where he visits places that I never visit: Kurangun, Guyum, Qadamgah, Sarab-i Bahram, and Sarab-e Qandil. Last month, he sent me several photos of Gur-e Dokhtar, where an Achaemenid tomb can be seen. The small monument is remarkably similar to the more famous mausoleum of Cyrus the Great in Pasargadae, but is interesting in itself.

You can read Mr Charlot’s article here.


Zone

26 July 2011

A satyr on a panther

I have never been to Zone, in the northwest of Greece, but I recently received an article and some photos from Mr Michel Gybels from Belgium. The town was settled in the seventh century BC by people from Samothrace, served as port of trade for the Thracian hinterland, and floutished in the early Hellenistic period. I loved the figurine of the satyr on the panther shown to the right: it’s perfect and beautiful.

The new webpage is here.


Mainz Pedestals For Sale?

12 July 2011

One of the twelve reliefs

Of course, the Mainz Pedestals are not for sale. They are safe in the Steinhalle in the Landesmuseum in Mainz, and although the room itself is currently under reconstruction, there is no reason to despair about the museum’s finances. Nevertheless, here is the text of an e-mail I received this weekend:

Hello

Am Mr Roy and am inquiry into your company about Mainz Pedestals? And i will like you to get back to me with the types,sizes and prices of them so  i can proceed with the one am ordering.And i will like to know if you do Accepts major credit card as the mode of payments,And try and include your contact details  when getting back to me , so i can give you a call as soon as possible,

your Prompts response and assistance will be much appreciated,

Thanks, Roy

I confess that I was tempted to reply to Mr Roy that I would love to buy the famous sculptures.


Kavar Bridge

1 April 2011

Kavar Bridge

The Sasanian bridge south of modern Kavar is not exactly Iran’s most important archaeological monument, but I had passed along it several times without properly visiting it, so last month, I decided to stop over here and take photos. I immediately discovered that this was a serious error: the road, which connects Shiraz to Firuzabad, is quite dangerous, and I do not recommend a visit. Look at the brief notice here instead.


New items on Livius.org

26 March 2011

The stele of Marcus Valerius Severus in Volubilis. Photo Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum

I have been abroad for some time and it was difficult to add things to the Livius website, but there are some additions that you may or may not find interesting. Bouke Slofstra wrote about the ‘Libyan’ Inscriptions in Numidia and Mauretania: an interesting subject I did not know about. Bouke also wrote a piece on the stele of Marcus Valerius Severus in Volubilis (in what is now Morocco).

I also made available a double review of the recent book on Alexander the Great by Heckel and Tritle. In the first part, I judge it as a historian, and conclude that it is “a state-of-the-art series of articles”; in the second half, I look at the book from a more general point of view, and I conclude that the art itself is seriously in decline. The book is better than average, but for a discipline that is no longer what it should be.

Other stuff: some photos from Israel, illustrating 1 Maccabees 9, the career of Pilate (the stadium of Caesarea and the famous inscription), king Agrippa II, the legions IIII Scythica and VI Ferrata, and – from Iran – the river Araxes.


Iranian Panoramas

22 March 2011

During our visit to Iran, my sister Maria Kouijzer, who is a professional photographer, made these two nice panorama photos.The first one shows Persepolis from the southeast…

Persepolis

… and the second one the great square of Isfahan, taken from the terrace of the Ali Qapu Palace. From left to right you can see the entrance to the bazaar, the Lotfollah Mosque, and the Shah Mosque.

Isfahan


Persepolis 2011

19 March 2011

The Cyrus Cylinder in a Crystal Ball

A visit to the ruins of the palaces of Persepolis is always a pleasure and a prerogative. There are two hotels in the close neighborhood, which make it is easy to spend the two days you need without being forced to return to Shiraz. Compared to last year, the visit is even more delightful, because some shops have been reopened and there’s a new, small pub next to the Queens’ Quarters. The old pub, beyond the Treasury, used to be closed but is now a restaurant.

The reopening of the pub was long overdue. You cannot spend several hours on a site without having a cup of tea or coffee. The souvenir shop – well, let’s be honest: most of the objects are crap, and it is only rarely that they are so tasteless that they get a campy beauty of their own. I am glad I saw that replica of the Cyrus Cylinder in a crystal plastic ball. (Interesting question: Shi’ites and Roman Catholics have produced the most beautiful art – how come that in Iran and Italy, they also sell the most terrible kitsch?)

Still, it is better if they sell ugly objects and outdated books than nothing at all. Of course, I would prefer that they had a decent bookshop where you can buy, say, an excavation report (compare the Museum of Tabriz), but crap is at least something. People do take those souvenirs with them, will laugh about them at home, but will also say that Iran is a beautiful country where you can see, for example, the most splendid tile work in the world. They will add that the Iranians are friendly and courteous, that the landscape is incomparable, and that they had a superb holiday. They will show photos, and will convince others that Iran is not the terrible place it appears to be in the western media. This will – I hope – convince others to visit Iran. Postcards may have the same result, and fortunately, they are now for sale.

I will leave it to pundits to discuss the political benefits of people losing prejudices, and just mention that the road to good bookshops and nice souvenirs starts by creating a larger market. Persepolis is back on track.

Yet, much needs to be improved. What greatly disturbed me was “The World Heritage, Introduction Salloon” in front of the entrance. I passed along it, and there were loud sounds coming from it; an English voice explained the significance of the site, making several exaggerated claims. Now I can live perfectly with that; the Greeks believe they’ve invented about every art you can think of, in Syria they claim to be the cradle of religions, and I won’t even mention Israel, so the Iranians may boast a bit too much as well. But what I find unacceptable is the noise. Even when we were watching the Gate of All Nations and the Apadana, we had some difficulty to talk, because of the loudspeakers. I got the impression that no one entered the World Heritage Introduction Saloon, and it is not hard to understand why.


Qasr Bshir

25 November 2010

Qasr Bshir

A visit to Qasr Bshir ought to be obligatory to any visitor to Jordan. The Roman castle, founded at the end of the third century, is not a ruin, as so often, but is almost intact. It is a square limes fort of about 50×50 meters with four towers, so that it is often typified as a “quadriburgium”.

The most amazing aspect of the best-preserved Roman castle in Jordan, however, is that you will be alone. For those who cannot believe that, I will repeat it: you won’t find a soul at a site that is arguably the kingdom’s third archaeological site, after Petra and Jerash.

This is all the more surprising because Jordan’s Castel del Monte is situated almost next to the Desert Highway, the main road from Damascus to Amman to Saudi Arabia. To reach it, go from Qatrana to the north. At your left hand, you will pass the “Petra Tourist Complex” (terrible coffee); after this, take the first asphalt road to the left. It is perpendicular to the highway, leading almost straight to the west. After you have passed the first of two electricity lines, the road turns to the right and winds itself to the northwest. After some eight minutes, you will see the fort to your right. The walk to the castle takes about 15-20 minutes and is easy.

Your satellite photo is here and the new Livius page is here. It’s page #3500, by the way.


1600 Ancient Sites on Google Earth

14 October 2010

The center of Alexandria

What you are looking for, is here.


Iwan-e Karkheh

14 September 2010
Visitors

One of my colleagues, hiding behind her camera

Iwan-e Karkheh” is the modern name of the ruin of a Sasanian city, largely unexplored by archaeologists, founded by Shapur II after the sack of Susa. It was surrounded by a large wall that is still visible over large distances. The archaeologists also found a building, perhaps a palace, with a cross-vault of a type that was to become popular in churches but has not been attested earlier than Iwan-e Karkheh.

We were attracted to the site, which must have resembled Bishapur, because we had read that it had been converted into a garbage dump, and wanted to see it before it would be destroyed. But the site turned out to be not threatened at all. In all countries of the Near East, people throw away their waste along the roads. Garbage can be seen everywhere, and I have heard in both Syria and Iran the joke that it’s not garbage at all – the farmers are just cultivating plastics. Iwan-e Karkheh is not exceptionally dirty; in fact, it seems to be well protected by a nearby police post.

Your satellite photo is here and the new webpage is here.


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