Travel

Finding the hidden Naram-Sin rock relief in Iraq

by Osama S. M. Amin February 23, 2015 Photos, Travel 0 Comments

I was chatting with my uncle about the archaeological reliefs in the Governorate of Sulaymaniyah. The Governorate is part of Iraqi Kurdistan and is about 400 km north-west of Baghdad. He said that he saw a relief in the year 1985 on a top of a mountain, south-west of the city of Sulaymaniyah. The name of the relief, as the local villagers call it, is Naram-Sin (Arabic: نارام سين ; Kurdish: نيرام سن). This happens to also be the name Sargon the Great‘s grandson; Naram-Sin of Akkad (reigned 2261-2224 BCE). Interesting!

Ok, let’s go. I drove my car and in about 2 hours, I reached the area my uncle had talked about (there is a road from the main street up to the top of the mountain, which was made by the local government). After that, I had to use my feet. From the top of the mountain, I descended down into a valley-like crevice. It is not that dangerous if you are familiar with hiking. Finally, there you are!

The dead silence of the mountain top, together with the wind and the sound of the tree branches, make you feel the history and smell its 4000 years’ scent.

The rock relief lies on the cliff side of Darband-i-Gawr (which means the pass of the pagan). This pass is part of the south-eastern side of the Qara Dagh (also written Kara Dagh) mountain range. Qara Dagh is a Turkish term which means the “black mountain.” It is a double range of cretaceous limestone, reaching a height of more than 1,700 meters above sea level.

This is where the road ends. I had to descend through this slit (on the right of the viewer) which leads to a valley within the mountain top, Darband-i-Gawr.

This is where the road ends. I had to descend through this crevice (on the right of the viewer) which leads to a valley within the mountain top, Darband-i-Gawr.

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The Fratricide and Architecture: The Cendere Bridge

In the southeast of Turkey, not far from the city of Adiyaman,  there lies a Roman bridge. It is one of the best preserved Roman structures in Turkey. The restoration was done in 1997, but even before that, the bridge was still in use by vehicles. Today there is a modern bridge that serves the traffic; there are more stray dogs than people visiting the old bridge.

Cendere bridge; columns dedicated to Septimius Severus and Julia Domna; photo by Mina Bulic

Built between 198 and 200 CE by the XVI legion (XVI Flavia Firma) based at Samosata, the bridge crosses the Cendere River at its narrowest point. The Cendere Bridge was probably built as part of construction efforts to facilitate the military campaign of Septimus Severus in the Parthian Empire and Mesopotamia.  The 118 m long bridge used to have four Doric columns with statues, two on each side of the bridge, inscribed with dedication texts. The first pair was dedicated to Emperor Septimius Severus and his wife Julia Domna. Read more…

The Byzantine “Bird Mosaic” from Caesarea, Israel

A stunning mosaic floor referred to as the “Bird Mosaic” was uncovered by accident in 1955 on the outskirts of Caeserea in Israel, outside the walls of the ancient settlement. With no budget available for its preservation, it was covered over again until the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Director of the Caesarea Antiquities Preservation project decided in 2005 to preserve the unique find and to reveal it to the public. Lying in situ, the Bird Mosaic offers a rare glimpse into the lives of a wealthy Byzantine-era Caesarean who commissioned this ancient work of art.

6th century AD Bird Mosaic, of a large villa or mansion, Caesarea, Israel © Carole Raddato

During the excavations of 2005 archaeologists determined that the ‘Bird Mosaic’ was part of a Byzantine palace complex dating from the 6th century AD. During the Byzantine period, the harbour city of Caesarea flourished and expanded as much as 800 m inland. This palace complex, covering an area of nearly 1 acre (4,000 sq. meters), was probably owned by a reputable and wealthy family. The “Bird Mosaic” adorned the floor of a large open courtyard, the atrium, with a portico along the western and southern sides.

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The Intensity of Hebron, in Palestine

This worshiper has a view of Abraham's burial site from the Jewish side of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. (photo credit: Rick Steves/Rick Steves’ Europe)

This worshiper has a view of Abraham’s burial site from the Jewish side of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. (photo credit: Rick Steves/Rick Steves’ Europe)

Walking through the Hebron market, I dodged the head of a camel dangling from a chain. I love traveling through Palestine. It’s filled with vivid memories and startling moments. I had no idea the people of Hebron had a taste for camel. But I was told that people here appreciate a nice fresh camel steak because of their Bedouin heritage. And the butcher shops seem to follow that Bedouin tradition: They butcher whatever they have to sell and it hangs on their front porch until it’s all gone.

Today, with about 250,000 people, Hebron is the largest Palestinian city and the commercial capital of the West Bank. It’s a commotion of ramshackle commerce as its population generates about 30 percent of the West Bank’s economy. Just about an hour’s drive from Jerusalem, it’s a rewarding place to visit.

Hebron is an ancient city with archeological finds going back some 5,000 years. And for thousands of years it’s been a city of great religious importance. In the hierarchy of holy religious cities, Hebron makes the top four for both Jews and Muslims.

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Bethlehem’s Mix of Christians and Muslims

In Bethlehem, the Mosque of Omar with its towering minaret shares Manger Square with the Church of the Nativity. (photo: Rick Steves)

In Bethlehem, the Mosque of Omar with its towering minaret shares Manger Square with the Church of the Nativity. (photo: Rick Steves)

Lots of tourists go to Palestine, but I’d estimate that 90 percent of them do it in a rush from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square. (Bethlehem is just over the wall that separates Israel and Palestine, about six miles away.) They then return directly to Israel without spending a single shekel in restaurants or hotels in the West Bank. Obviously, there’s much more to experience in this country.

While the region’s hardscrabble vibe may be a bit too edgy for some Americans, it’s amazing how after a couple of days in Palestine, you feel right at home. Walking through the wall from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, all you need is your passport. Palestine uses Israeli currency. Just cross the border and haggle with the taxis…and after spending about $5 and 10 minutes, you’re looking at the spot where Jesus was born. If there were no border or traffic to deal with, you could bicycle from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 15 minutes.
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A Pilgrimage to the Sea of Galilee

For years, my travels have caused me to think about organized religion. (When I got my history degree in college, one of my favorite classes was “History of the Christian Church.”) And for years, I’ve believed that those who enjoy getting close to God should pack their spirituality along with them in their travels.

Christians from around the world come to Yardenit near the Sea of Galilee to be baptized in the River Jordan. (photo: Rick Steves)

Christians from around the world come to Yardenit near the Sea of Galilee to be baptized in the River Jordan. (photo: Rick Steves)

In Israel, religious tourism is a big part of the economy. And much of that is Christian tourism: bus tours of believers visiting sights from Jesus’ three-year ministry — places they’ve imagined since their childhood Sunday school classes. While Jerusalem is the major stop, they generally make a quick visit to Bethlehem (in the West Bank), and loop through the north to stop at several sights near the Sea of Galilee.

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Fabled Jerusalem

Before Columbus, many maps of the world showed Jerusalem as the center of the world. Jerusalem — holy, treasured, and long fought over by the three great monotheistic religions — has been destroyed and rebuilt more than a dozen times.

Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock marks the site where Jews believe Abraham was preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac and where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad journeyed to heaven. (photo: Rick Steves)

Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock marks the site where Jews believe Abraham was preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac and where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad journeyed to heaven. (photo: Rick Steves)

Its fabled walls corral a tangle of colorful, holy sites, and more than 30,000 residents — most with a deep-seated reason to live so close to their religious ground zero.

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Finding Roman Bridges in Provence, France

“Pontem perpetui mansurum in saecula mundi” (I have built a bridge which will last forever) – Caius Julius Lacer, builder of the Alcántara Bridge

Ancient Roman bridges represent one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world. They are an exceptional feat of Roman construction and I hold a certain fascination for these impressive ancient structures. Naturally, I always look for traces of Roman bridges while travelling. It was in Portugal that I really got excited about these engineering marvels. The country is indeed filled with perfectly preserved Roman bridges (see post here).

Last summer, I travelled to Provence in France and was asked by Ancient History Encyclopedia to write a piece on the 10 must-see ancient sites in Provence. Here I want to talk about the Roman bridges in this southern region of France where many have survived the centuries. Some are still in use today, some 2,000 years after they were built.

The Pont Flavien

The Pont Flavien, with its surviving triumphal arches at each end, is one of the most beautiful surviving Roman bridges outside Italy.

The Pont Flavien, Saint-Chamas © Carole Raddato

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The Nervan-Antonines in Cologne

Built in 1974 over the remains of a Roman villa, the Romano-Germanic Museum in Cologne houses an extensive collection of Roman artefacts from the Roman settlement of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (named after Agrippina the Younger, born in Cologne), the capital of the Imperial Province of Germania Inferior. The museum houses the largest worldwide collection of Roman glasses including the Cologne cage cup and the miniature portrait of Emperor Augustus in turquoise glass. It is also home to the world famous Dionysus mosaic and the Sepulcher of Poblicius.

Reconstructed plan of the Roman city of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (Cologne) in the 3rd/4th century AD, Romisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne © Carole Raddato

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A journey to Terracina on the Riviera of Ulysses

Following my visit to Minturnae (see previous post here), I continued my journey north along the Appian Way to reach Terracina, a picturesque town on the Tyrrhenian coast situated approximately half-way between Rome and Naples.

Legend has it that Odysseus sailed here on his travels and surrendered to Circe’s enchantment. Circe is said to have lived on Mount Circeo, a promontory stretching-out into the sea best visible from Mounte San’t Angelo above the town of Terracina. Nowadays the area is called the Riviera of Ulysses.

Mount Circeo as seen from Terracina, Italy

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