Travel

The New Acropolis Museum Review

The New Acropolis Museum in Athens opened its doors to the public on June 20th 2009. Since then, millions of visitors have flocked to its airy halls. It was decided that a new museum was needed to replace the old nineteenth-century museum building (situated on the Acropolis) in order to house the ever increasing amount of archaeological material and to act as a fit and proper house for the marble sculptures of the Parthenon. We are so used to seeing old artefacts housed in old buildings, drowned in artificial light, but this museum, with its vast glass walls and lofty atmosphere, brings a true feeling of vitality to what it holds. It is because of this that the New Acropolis Museum is easily in my ‘Top 5 Museums’ list; how could it not be when the museum building itself is part of the attraction?

The Museum Entrance at Night-Time

The Museum Entrance at Night-Time.

One of the things that strikes me on each visit to this museum is just how much you can see in every single direction. On the first floor, you can look down and see the ruins of the archaeological site upon which the museum was built. If you look to your sides you will see ceiling-high displays of some of the finest Greek pottery. “Mind your back!” You nearly walked straight into a votive dedication to Asclepius, which thanks the god for healing an ancient Athenian’s ear, foot, and eye ailments (with the affected parts carved into the marble). In stooping down to look at some low-level displays you stand up and find yourself at the feet two Nikai statues, and if you look up, you see the ‘Bluebeard pediment’ looming where the first floor ramp meets the second floor. If you are looking for ancient Greek art and artefacts, you have certainly come to the right place!  The entire first floor of the museum is this long gradual ramp, and it displays artefacts that were found on the slopes of the Acropolis (video displays, a shop and a cloakroom fill the rest of the floor). Read more…

Never Before Seen: The Belula Pass Rock Relief

by Osama S. M. Amin April 14, 2015 Travel 0 Comments

I visited one of my relatives who resides at Lake Darbandikhan. It was a holiday. I was chatting with him about the relief of “Horen Shekhan” (Kurdish: هۆرێن و شێخان; Arabic هورين- شيخان) at Darband-i-Belula (Belula Pass). I told him that at the main hall of the Sulaymaniyah Museum, there is a large wall poster of a rock relief; the poster’s caption says that this is the “Relief of Belula Pass.” Where is this rock-relief of Belula Pass is located? He did not know the answer, but his son-in-law said that there is an ancient structure on a mountain at Darband-i-Belula (Kurdish: ده ربندي بيلوله) . “There is a sign on the road, I read it, which says that this the Akkadian relief of Belula Pass, but I have not seen that thing because it lies high up in the mountain,” he added.

Fantastic! I said: “Can you take me there, please, at least I can start from there?” He agreed. This archaeological trip was entirely unplanned but I always take my Nikon gear with me wherever I go!

Finally, we have found it! One my friends climbed up, in a very risky situation to sit down before the relief. Note the location of the relief and the very small space in front of it.

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Looking for Roman bridges in Sardinia

When I was planning my archaeological trip to Sardinia I discovered, thanks to vici.org (an Archaeological Atlas of Antiquity I have mentioned here before), that there were many Roman bridges still standing all across the country. Some are left abandoned and almost completely covered with vegetation but others are perfectly preserved. Ancient Roman bridges are an exceptional feat of Roman construction and, as I said before, I hold a certain fascination for these impressive ancient structures. I previously wrote about the Roman bridges I saw in Portugal here and in Southern France here.

Roman bridge Ozieri, dating to the 2nd century AD and restored in the 3rd4th century AD. It has six arcades for a total length of 87.50 metres (287 ft), Sardinia Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

When the Romans began their conquest of Sardinia in 238 BC, there was already a road network built by the Punic who had inhabited the island since around 550 BC. However the Punic road network was only linking the coastal towns, leaving out the interior of the island completely. The Romans built four major roads (viae principales): two along the coasts and two inland, all with north-south direction. The road network, initially built for military reasons, was then maintained and restored continuously for economic reasons.

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The Mystery & Enigma of Maya Architecture

Maya architecture has three regional styles. Jim O’Kon, a specialist in Maya engineering, and technology encounters a range of exotic animals in deepest rainforest while finding the style of the Ruta Rio Bec.

Driving across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and traversing the Maya cities on the Ruta Rio Bec is a voyage brimming with ancient history blended into the experience of traversing a jewel of a rainforest. The magnificent Maya ruins constructed in the Rio Bec regional style are situated in the midst of a Biosphere Reserve that is home to exotic species of fauna including monkeys, jaguars, crocodiles, toucans, macaws, parrots, wild boars, tapirs and dangerous snakes.

The jungle route affords the traveller the opportunity to view an incredible array of towering rainforest trees, a variety of exotic carnivorous plants, orchids of different species and myriads of insects. As you traverse the Maya sites it seems as though you are alone in the jungle and entering a state of suspended time. On the Ruta Rio Bec you will find yourself in mysterious places, zones of lost time and an enigma of otherworldly design.

Hormiguero Structure

Hormiguero Structure. Photo © Jim O’Kon.

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Ring Around the Ring of Kerry

One of Ireland’s most popular destinations is the Iveragh Peninsula — known to shamrock-lovers everywhere as “The Ring of Kerry.” The Ring, lassoed by a winding coastal road through a mountainous, lake-splattered region, is undeniably scenic. Visitors since Victorian times have been drawn to this evocative chunk of the Emerald Isle, where mysterious ancient ring forts stand sentinel on mossy hillsides.

A drive along the Ring of Kerry presents classic views of the Irish countryside. (photo: Pat O’Connor)

A drive along the Ring of Kerry presents classic views of the Irish countryside. (photo: Pat O’Connor)

It seems like every tour bus in Ireland makes the ritual loop around the Ring, using the bustling and famous tourist town of Killarney as a springboard. I skip Killarney, whose main attraction is its transit connections for those without cars. Instead, rent a car and use as your home base the tidy town of Kenmare (yes, it’s actually won Ireland’s “Tidy Town” award).

While in Kenmare, druids seek out the town’s ancient stone circle (with 15 stones in a circle 50 feet wide), one of 100 little Stonehenges that dot southwest Ireland. Fitness buffs enjoy horseback riding, boating, hiking, and golfing (one way to experience Ireland’s 40 shades of green).

Before or after the day you tackle the Ring, explore these sights near Kenmare: a mansion, open-air museum, and sheep farm. Muckross House is perhaps Ireland’s best Victorian mansion. Queen Victoria really did sleep here for three nights in 1861 — on the ground floor because she had a fear of house fires. Adjacent to Muckross House is a fascinating open-air folk museum that covers Irish farmlife from the 1920s to the 1950s. Talk with the docents who remember the year 1955, when electricity came to rural dwellings. Farmers would pull on Wellington boots for safety, then cautiously turn on the switch that powered the one bare bulb hanging from the ceiling.

Between Muckross House and Kenmare is a scenic mountainous chunk of Killarney National Park (great views at Moll’s Gap) and the Kissane Sheep Farm, a real working farm that offers demonstrations of hands-on sheep shearing and expert sheepherding. You’ll be wowed by the intelligence of the family dogs.

Ready for the Ring? Touring the Ring takes a long but satisfying day by car from Kenmare. Smart travelers get an early start (by 8:30), working their way clockwise to escape the tour-bus procession heading counterclockwise.

The 2,000-year-old walls of Ireland’s Leacanabuaile Ring Fort have withstood the test of time — without the aid of mortar or cement. (photo: Rick Steves)

The 2,000-year-old walls of Ireland’s Leacanabuaile Ring Fort have withstood the test of time — without the aid of mortar or cement. (photo: Rick Steves)

The laid-back town of Sneem (yup, funny name) is worth a stop. The square on the east side of town is called South Square and the one on the west is called North Square. When it comes to giving directions, the Irish march to their own beat.

Stop at Staigue Fort, an imposing sight rising out of a desolate high valley. The circular drystone walls were built sometime between 500 B.C. and A.D. 300 without the aid of mortar or cement. About 80 feet across, with walls 12 feet thick at the base and up to 25 feet high, this brutish structure would have taken a hundred men six months to complete. It’s thought that during times of tribal war, locals used the fort as a refuge, bringing their valuable cattle inside to protect them from rustlers.

The Derrynane House, just beyond the Staigue Fort, was the home of Daniel O’Connell, Ireland’s most influential pre-independence politician. His tireless non-violent agitation gained equality for Catholics 180 years ago. See the 20-minute audiovisual presentation on O’Connell, along with some of his belongings, including pistols from a duel and a black glove — which the remorseful O’Connell always wore on his pistol hand when he went to Mass. He was forced into the duel, killed the man who challenged him, and regretted it for the rest of his life.

Approaching Portmagee, you’ll see the striking silhouette of the island of Skellig Michael. Visit the Skellig Experience Centre, which tells the story of the island — the Holy Grail of Irish monastic island settlements. During the so-called “Dark Ages,” its monks helped preserve literacy and sacred texts. Hardy hikers can take a boat to the island and hike 600 vertical feet to the monastic ruins.

But I’m back in the car, heading on to two more ring forts: Cahergal and Leacanabuaile. Because this region had copper mines, it has a wealth of prehistoric sights. Copper melted with tin yielded bronze, the Bronze Age (2000 to 500 B.C.), and sturdier weapons and tools. The many ring forts and stone circles reflect the lively trade and affluence created by copper.

As I pull into Kenmare, the lush green landscape seems to glow as the sun sets. While the ancient sights are fascinating and the history is educational, the best reason to come here is the eternal beauty of the Irish landscape. If you go to Ireland and don’t see the famous Ring of Kerry, your uncle Pat will never forgive you.

Visiting the Paikuli Tower Built by the Sasanian King Narseh

by Osama S. M. Amin March 12, 2015 Photos, Travel 0 Comments

While I was photographing two large blocks at the main hall of the Sulaymaniyah Museum, I read that these blocks were part of the Sassanian tower of Paikuli. “Paikuli”(Arabic: بيكولي; Kurdish: په يكولي): a new name to me! I went home and surfed the net trying to find out what this tower represents. After getting the information, I phoned Mr. Hashim Hama Abdullah, the director of the museum. “Please, guide me on how to get there,” I asked him. He replied positively.

It was a very sunny and hot day in mid-summer, and it was a holiday. I took a relative of mine, who resides near Lake Darbandikhan (Arabic: دربندخان; Kurdish ده ربنديخان), about 80 km south to the city of Sulaymaniyah. We drove south through Bani Khellan (Arabic: باني خيلان; Kurdish: باني خيلان) and then turned west to the foot of Paikuli pass to reach Barkal village (latitude 35° 5’53.91″N; longitude 45°35’25.95″E). The latter lies very near to the ruins of the Paikuli Tower. The ruins can be seen on a hill at the right side of our road.

I used my car to ascend to the top of the hill through a narrow path. A mountainous range looks over the hill. At last, here it is!

Paorama view of the Paikuli tower's ruins. This is the base of the tower and is surrounded by stone blocks. The blocks have been rearranged in situ by the Italian archeological team. The tower was build on the top of this hill and there were no foundations beneath the earth, as the Italian team has concluded.

Panorama view of the ruins of the Paikuli Tower. This is the base of the tower and is surrounded by stone blocks. The blocks have been rearranged in situ by the Italian archaeological team. The tower was built on the top of this hill, and there were no foundations beneath the earth, as the Italian team concluded.

Let the time machine take us back. In the year 293 CE, Narseh (also written Narses), brother of the Sassanian king Warham II (also written Barham II) and son of King Shapur I, was in Armenia, very far away from the Sassanian capital of Ctesiphon. In the same year, Warham II died and his son, Warham III, succeeded him and reigned only for few months. Several nobles and notables considered Warham III too weak to rule the Sassanian Empire and supported his grand-uncle, Narseh, in ascending the throne.
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K2 Friday Night Revelry at the Rubin Museum of Art

K2Lounge

On Friday evenings from 6:00-10:00 PM, the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City becomes a lively social venue with a full bar, series of special public lectures or tours, and complimentary gallery admission. In January, Ancient History Encyclopedia’s Communications Director, James Blake Wiener, partook in the museum’s end of the week festivities and learned a curious thing or two about Tibetan art along the way.

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Exploring the Dakhla Oasis

The Dakhla Oasis lies west of the Nile river, between Cairo and Luxor. Egyptologist Garry Shaw follows the trail of one of the earliest visitors to the Oasis, Archibald Edmonstone, around Egypt’s ‘wild west’

It was dawn when I left the White Desert for Farafra. The rising sun had already revealed the petrified zoo of chickens, horses, and sphinxes that had commanded my attention the previous evening. Eroding limestone giants, stretched and unfolded themselves for the new day. The desert foxes, gaunt-faced and curious, had long since scurried away, fed, if not full, from scraps of bread offered by Saleh, my driver. White, jagged splats of limestone appeared like frozen waves upon a yellow ocean. The air was crisp.

The Haggar Temple

The Haggar Temple

A short drive later and I was in Farafra, a half-finished vision of a Wild West outpost, where Saleh, paid and pleased, dropped me off and departed back for Bahariya Oasis, performing an illegal-in-forty-countries U-turn in the process. There, following true Western movie convention, as a stranger in an unfamiliar town, I was immediately picked up by the local police and questioned on my reasons for being in the oasis; more importantly, they wanted to know when I’d be leaving and suggested that I take the 2pm bus.

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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…