Like most sites in Beirut, the National Museum – the principal museum of archaeology in Lebanon – hides a turbulent story in the background. Inaugurated in 1942, it was severely damaged during the Civil War of the 70s since the building stood on one of the front lines that separated various military factions. As the war raged, the famous “museum alley” became a check-point for several militias, and the edifice turned into barracks for the fighters, while enduring heavy shelling. Thankfully, the ancient sarcophagi were protected with sand and concrete casings, the mosaics were covered with cement layers, and the small artefacts were whisked to the basement to evade obliteration. Despite the efforts, though, destruction was not avoided. Once the war ended and the Lebanese started putting their lives and cities together again, they discovered that the museum had flooded and the antiquities, hidden for over 15 years under inadequate conditions in the humid basement were severely damaged; the building’s walls bore the scars of innumerous bullets, and grotesque, graffiti inscriptions from the militiamen; and the lack of ventilation in the casings used for the large stone antiquities had caused significant erosion. A fire had destroyed maps, photographs, unique records, and many objects; the laboratory equipment was lost, and numerous exhibits – many of which had been transferred to Byblos or Sidon to avoid destruction – were stolen or auctioned. Despite all these challenges, today the building and its exhibition halls have been restored into a priceless bijou, and they stand as silent story-tellers of Lebanon’s colourful past. [Read more…]
It was a cold, December evening and the Nejme Square (Place de l’ Etoile) at the Centre Ville of Beirut was plunged into darkness. The somberness of the dusk was reinforced by a celestial murkiness that obscured any light, and the recent downpour had left puddles in every crack of the road. The figure of the St George Orthodox Cathedral delineated at a slightly darker shade against the gloomy background and, for a while, I attributed the silence and lack of any human presence to the weather, the late hour of the day, and the vicinity of the Beirut Souks which, with their luxurious cafes and Christmas decorations, were more joyful and welcoming.
“This place used to be bustling with life and tourists were queuing till late in the evening to visit the Cathedral,” explained the warden of the church, contradicting my thoughts. “Rafic Hariri used to take his coffee at this corner, being close to the Parliament, and this square – the most important square of Beirut – was busy and humming with activity. The tourists have not returned yet; the silence that you experience tonight is rather the norm nowadays.” [Read more…]
The fertile plains of Western Thrace extended as far as the eye could see, bathed in silver and bright yellow hues from the shimmering olive groves and the sunflower fields. It was June, and the sunlight flickered indolently on the sapphire fringes of the sea, while the imposing figure of Samothrace – the dragon-guardian of the coastline – rested content at the background. Despite the heat, the land was welcoming and alive, beckoning to us to follow the well-camouflaged paths that led into the secrets of its past.
We had only four days to spend in this district of my country that remains unexplored – at least to most Athenians who rarely venture so far away from the Cyclades islands for their summer holidays. Even though we tried, my friend and I, to make the most of our time, often limiting our meals to a souvlaki and a Greek salad while spending hours roaming among ancient ruins and trying to decipher their meaning, we only managed to scratch the surface of the rich inheritance bestowed on such a small piece of land. [Read more…]
The Citadel of Raymond de Saint-Gilles overlooks today the modern districts of Tripoli (in Lebanon), surrounded by densely-constructed, dilapidated apartment buildings that reflect little of the city’s glorious past. But this was not always the case.
The Castle takes its name from Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse – widely known as Raymond de Saint-Gilles – who was among the leading architects of the First Crusade and who, along with Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemond I, and Baldwin I, invaded in 1097 the lands of Asia Minor, Syria, and Palestine, ultimately conquering Jerusalem in 1099.
By 1103 and despite his active involvement in the broader expedition, Saint-Gilles was still without any fiefdom of his own, while the other leaders had already secured and controlled areas of importance: Bohemond was the ruler of the Principality of Antioch, Godfrey was the King of Jerusalem, and Baldwin was the leader of the County of Edessa, before becoming King of Jerusalem after Godfrey’s death. As such, Saint-Gilles focused his attention on Tripoli whose wealth had not been plundered yet by the occidental forces; he camped at the outskirts of the city and declared himself Count of the region. [Read more…]
In the beginning, it was difficult to discern the shape – even the existence – of the structures on the top of the hills. Our eyes were tired, for we had been walking against the sun after the lunch break, and the several Bedouin women and kids who emerged in the silent desert as if by magic out of thin air were buzzing around us, displaying their handmade trinkets and distracting our attention from what was unfolding before us.
The initial rock formations that we had vaguely noticed somewhere in the background of Wadi Rum’s imposing vastness turned into a cluster of round, sandstone constructions that looked like an abandoned, prehistoric village. They were the Nawamis: an archaeological site whose history is mixed with myths, legends, and speculations. [Read more…]
The island of Samothrace has a rich and long history as it has been almost continuously inhabited from the prehistoric period till nowadays. According to one theory, its name means “hill near the sea”; others, however, claim that the first Greeks to inhabit the land came from the island of Samos, so Samothrace means “Samos of the Thrace region.”
According to mythology, it was on Samothrace that Zeus encountered Electra, one of the seven Pleiades; from their liaison, the mythical siblings Dardanos, Iasion, and Harmonia (Harmony) were born. Later, Cadmus, in search of his sister Europa, traveled from Phoenicia to Samothrace, where he found Harmonia, whom he abducted and later married. The story is recounted on several findings in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, and some of the rituals seem to relate to it as well. [Read more…]