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 Roman architecture – one of the most important legacies of the Roman Era – evolved echoing the character of its creators and their need for organised structures, practical solutions, and flamboyant celebrations of the Empire’s grandeur. Influenced by the Egyptian and Greek architecture, the Romans adopted the elements that best reflected the requirements of their new society, discarded any minimalistic features (like the Dorian style) that were too plain to the Roman eye, and invented the vaults, domes, and arches which were to define Western engineering for the centuries to come. Roads and major traffic arteries, bridges, aqueducts, arenas, and public baths further complement the construction designs and networks that dominated a large part of the antiquity’s known world. The essence of all this glory is still palpable, especially while rambling around the currently turf-covered remnants of the Roman cities that dot the lands of the once-mighty empire.
As a rule, most urban planning outside Rome followed a similar pattern: two wide axis streets (a north-south one known as the cardo, and an east-west one called decumanus) with the town center located at their intersection; a forum; temples, theaters, and public baths; some well-developed villas; and many ordinary, mud-brick abodes.
Leaving aside major, well-known metropoles, there are five Roman towns outside Italy worth exploring in depth. [Read more…]
While walking amidst the bustling streets of Athens’ modern neighbourhoods, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the traffic and noise or distracted by the stores’ flamboyant windows and, hence, miss some of the city’s most precious gems. But if, when ambling down Panepistimiou Str., a stroller cranes to look a bit higher than eye-level, she will discover the arched verandas with the Ionic colonnades and painted ceilings that decorate the façade of one of Athens’ most beautiful 19th-century mansions: “Iliou Melathron”.
The name translates into “The Palace of Ilion” – “Ilion” being the pre-classical name of the city of Troy in Asia Minor. Although today the building acts as Athens’ Numismatic Museum hosting one of the most interesting collections of coins in the world, it was originally built at the end of the 19th century by the German architect Ernst Ziller to house the family of another German, Heinrich Schliemann. [Read more…]
It is impossible – almost absurd – to travel to Tuscany without visiting a few of its wineries. In an area where wine producing is an art embedded deeply into the DNA of the land and the people, the dozens and dozens of wineries represent a manifestation of life expression and not just a business or a touristic destination. The choices are endless – the Chianti region alone has 380 – and most are picturesque with high-quality produce and an exciting story in the background. During my recent trip, I visited only three: however, they were carefully selected and so unique that one should definitely add them to the itinerary while roaming through the Tuscan villages. [Read more…]