Travel

Visiting the Ancient City of Kish

by Osama S. M. Amin November 24, 2014 Photos, Travel 0 Comments

After visiting Babylon and Borsippa, I planned to visit the ancient city of Kish in modern-day Iraq. I had an obstacle; how to get there? It is not a typical site for tourists or the public. The site was an American military base for a few years after the US-led invasion in 2003. After they withdrew from the site, the Iraqi army prevented people from going there, because, simply, it is a target for looters and illegal excavations!

I drove my car and kept my fingers crossed. The ancient city of Kish lies about 12 km to the east of Babylon. I took my uncle and cousin with me. I’m not familiar with the area, but we found it in the end. A security checkpoint stopped us… no way to Kish! My cousin made some phone calls to certain people; bingo, we could go in!

The most striking thing you encounter when you visit Kish, is this; ruins of a ziggurat.

The most striking thing you encounter when you visit Kish, is this: ruins of a ziggurat.

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Visiting the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

The National Archaeological Museum of Athens can effortlessly lay claim to being one of the very greatest museums in the world. It can do that because it is literally jam-packed with most of the most famous art objects from ancient Greece, so much so, a first-time visit here is a strangely familiar experience. From the towering bronze Poseidon to the shimmering gold mask of Agamemnon, the antiquities on display here provide the staple images of ancient Greece; adorning guidebooks, calendars, and travel agents’ windows around the world. Familiar many of these works might be but the wow-factor is certainly no less for it. Wandering around the museum one has a constant urge to re-trace one’s steps for just one more glimpse of a stunning piece before moving on. As everything is arranged in chronological order, your tour of the museum gives you a perfect vision of the evolution of Greek art and there is even an Egyptian section as an added bonus if your senses have not already been blown away by everything on the ground floor.

The bronze Antikythera Youth c. 340 BCE.

The bronze Antikythera Youth c. 340 BCE.

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Visiting the ancient city of Babylon

by Osama S. M. Amin Photos, Travel 0 Comments

We had a 4-day national holiday. Meaning what? No clinic and no hospital! I said to myself, “It’s been a long time since I have visited Babylonia.” I drove my car for about 11 hours, continuously. Finally, I was there. I went to my uncle’s house, which lies about a quarter of hour from the ancient city of Babylon. The ancient city lies within modern-day city of Hillah, the center of Babel Governorate, Iraq, about 83 kilometers south of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital city.

After the US-led invasion in 2003, the American and Polish armies established a military base within the ancient city. God only knows what happened there during their presence! A British Museum report has found that extensive damage was done to the site by this military occupation. In 2009, the local government of Babylon opened the city to the public.

It was a very sunny and hot day in mid-July, with temperatures exceeding 55 oC (131 F). I took 8 bottles of cold water with me!

A general view of the ancient city of Babylon. The picture was shot from Saddam’s Palace, which lies on a mound which looks over the city. The South Palace of Nebuchadnezzar lies on the right. Babylon, modern day Babel Governorate, Iraq.

A general view of the ancient city of Babylon. The picture was shot from Saddam’s Palace, which lies on a mound which looks over the city. The South Palace of Nebuchadnezzar lies on the right. Babylon, modern day Babel Governorate, Iraq.

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Pondering Britain’s Stone Circles

Grand, centuries-old cathedrals distinguish Great Britain’s cities and towns, providing spiritual nourishment to those who visit. These places of worship seem ancient almost beyond imagination. But long before Gothic cathedrals…long before recorded history even, Britain’s stone circles were this land’s sacred spots.

Visitors to the Avebury circle — which encloses nearly 30 acres — are free to revel among the stones. (photo: Rick Steves)

Visitors to the Avebury circle — which encloses nearly 30 acres — are free to revel among the stones. (photo: Rick Steves)

Stonehenge is the most famous of these — and has a new visitors center to serve nearly one million annual sightseers. As old as the pyramids, this site amazed medieval Europeans, who figured it was built by a race of giants. Archaeologists think some of these stones came from South Wales — 150 miles away — probably rafted then rolled on logs by Bronze Age people.

Most believe stone circles functioned as celestial calendars, and even after five thousand years Stonehenge still works as one. As the sun rises on the summer solstice (June 21), the “heel stone” — the one set apart from the rest — lines up with the sun and the altar at the circle’s center. With the summer solstice sun appearing in just the right slot, prehistoric locals could tell when to plant and when to party.

Despite the tourist hordes, Stonehenge retains an air of mystery and majesty (partly because smartly designed barriers, which keep visitors from trampling all over it, foster the illusion that it stands alone in a field).
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Visiting the Ancient City of Borsippa

by Osama S. M. Amin November 11, 2014 Photos, Travel 0 Comments

Borsippa lies about 11 miles southwest of the ancient city of Babylon. It is a Sumero-Akkadian city and was built on either side of river Euphrates. It lies within modern-day Babel Governorate, Iraq. There is a road, which takes you directly near the city. It is not a desert.

The modern-day name of the city is Birs-Nimrud (Arabic: برس نمرود). Local people think/thought that this is the place where king Nimrod ordered the burning of Prophet Abraham. A nearby shrine can be found and is linked to Prophet Abraham.

The city of Borsippa is marked by this survived ziggurat and temple of God Nabu. The so-called tongue tower lies on the top. People thought that these are the ruins of the Tower of Babylon

The city of Borsippa is marked by this survived ziggurat and temple of God Nabu. The so-called tongue tower lies on the top. People thought that these are the ruins of the Tower of Babylon

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Timeless Travels Magazine Review

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TT_LogoTimeless Travels is a new free online magazine designed specifically for iPad and Android tablets, but also viewable on PC/Mac. It’s an excellent combination of history, narrative, and practical travel information. The layout is attractive, the texts are informative and enjoyable, and each article includes stunning photographs that not only supplement the texts but can also stand on their own as beautiful images. Read more…

Exploring Aelia Capitolina, Hadrian’s Jerusalem

With thousands of archaeological sites, Jerusalem is one of the most excavated cities on the planet and to walk its streets is to walk through thousand years of history. This ancient city has been fought over more than any other place. It has been conquered, destroyed and rebuilt many times and Hadrian played a significant role in Jerusalem’s physical development.

In AD 130, on his grand tour of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, Hadrian visited the devastated city of Jerusalem, accompanied by his young lover Antinous. He established a new city on the site of the old one which was left in ruins after the First Roman-Jewish War of 66-73.

The new city was to be named Colonia Aelia Capitolina.

Aelia is derived from the emperor’s family name (Aelius, from the gens Aelia), and Capitolina refers to the cult of the Capitoline Triad (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva).

Drawing of the reverse of a coin from Colonia Aelia Capitoliana, depicting Hadrian as founder of the colony

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Visiting the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

Processional Street

August 11, 2014. It was a partly cloudy day. I arrived at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin around 10 AM. I found a long queue . . . Average waiting time: two hours! I asked a guard about this. He said, ”This line is for holders of priority pass tickets and pre-booked tickets.” I said, “OK, where I can buy this priority pass ticket?” The answer was, “You have to join this long queue, and once you enter into the museum’s main reception, you can buy this type of ticket.” The ticket costs 24 Euros; it is valid for three consecutive days, and you can use it to enter the other museums at “the Museum Island in Berlin” and other museums within the city of Berlin. It’s an excellent deal!

Finally, I went upstairs and found myself within the Processional Way of ancient Babylon. What a feeling I had! The Ishtar Gate faces the Processional Way. I walked back and forth, through the gate and the street, maybe ten times. I said to myself, “Nebuchadnezzar and his army walked through this gate!” Read more…

Greece’s Top Ten Stops

Vathia by Rick Steves

The fortified ghost town of Vathia, on Greece’s Mani Peninsula, was once as wild as our Wild West. (photo: Rick Steves)

I was in Athens, on a rooftop restaurant under a floodlit Acropolis, marveling at how a Greek salad never gets boring. It was the last day of a long trip. I was reviewing, as I always do after completing an itinerary, how effectively our time was spent. We had kept our focus more on seeing historic sights on the mainland rather than luxuriating on Aegean Islands. Given that focus, here are the top ten stops — in itinerary order — that make what I consider the best two weeks Greece has to offer:

Athens, a big ugly city, has obligatory ancient sights (the hilltop temple of the Acropolis, and the ruined forum of the Agora); an extremely touristy old quarter (the Plaka); and fine museums — the best in the country. Its four million people sprawl where no tourist ventures, including new immigrant zones with poor yet thriving communities. The joy of Greece is outside of Athens. See it and scram. Read more…

10 Must-See Ancient Sites in Provence, France

Pont du Gard 
© Carole Raddato
Interactive Map of Ancient Sites in Provence

Interactive Map of Ancient Sites

Provence has inherited a rich legacy from antiquity, boasting some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in Europe. In the second century BCE, the Romans began their conquest of the region and called it “Provincia Romana,” giving us the region’s present name, “Provence.” Thanks to the Pax Romana, which was to last for several centuries, the province, later renamed “Gallia Narbonensis” (after its capital “Narbo Martius” which is present-day Narbonne, France), experienced a period of unprecedented growth. Roads, bridges, and aqueducts were built to eliminate the isolation of the conquered territories, and there are hundreds of ancient sites in Provence. Additionally, replicas of the major monuments of Rome were raised in many urban centers.

Scattered throughout Provence, there are countless antique monuments that have survived the centuries, allowing us to enjoy what was once a vibrant part of the Roman Empire. On a recent trip to Provence, I followed Roman roads, crossed Roman bridges, and marveled at Roman theaters, arenas, and temples. Here is a list of 10 must-see ancient sites in Provence, France. Read more…