One of the Golden Mummies. Creative Commons photo courtesy Roland Unger.
As I mentioned in my last post, I recently visited Bahariya Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt. The oasis became famous in 1996 with the discovery of a series of tombs of the Greco-Roman Period (332 BC-395 AD). They were found accidentally when an Antiquities Guard was leading his donkey on a sandy stretch near the Temple of Alexander the Great when the animal’s hoof broke through the surface. Once he extricated the donkey, he peeked inside and saw an underground chamber.
Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass excavated the site and found several tombs, removing more than 250 mummies. Many had gilded masks like the one pictured above, and the site soon became known as The Valley of the Golden Mummies. Hawass believes that he has uncovered only a tiny fraction of the tombs. A few are on display in Bahariya, including the one above, but photography is forbidden, so I wasn’t able to take any shots for you. How Roland Unger got this shot I’ll leave as a riddle unsolved.
Bahariya was an important place in Greco-Roman times, having good agricultural land that could be cultivated year-round, instead of the Nile valley that flooded every year. Thus it was a good spot for growing grapes to make wine.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been blogging about the sights of Málaga, Spain, most notably the popular castles of Alcazaba and Gibralfaro. Less well-known to casual visitors is the Ifergan Gallery, a private collection of ancient art collected by local wealthy collector Vicente Jimenez Ifergan.
I’d like to meet Ifergan, because if I ever get to be rich, this is something I’d do — collect ancient treasures from a dozen different civilizations and open a museum to show them off. The museum, while rather small, has some choice finds from Greece, Rome, Egypt, Iran, Mesopotamia, and more. The most interesting room showcases a large collection of Phoenician terracotta votive statuettes from the 9th to 3rd centuries BC.
Last week I wrote about the Alcazaba Castle in Málaga, Spain. As I mentioned, it’s only one of two castles protecting the Mediterranean harbor. Up the hill from the Alcazaba, on top of the Gibralfaro Mountain, is Gibralfaro Castle.
The summit was originally home to a Phoenician lighthouse, hence the name in both Arabic and Greek, gebel-faro meaning “rock of the lighthouse”.
In 929 AD, Abd-al-Rahman III, Caliph of Cordoba, built the first castle here. It was later expanded in the 14th century by Yusef I, Sultan of Granada. He also connected this fort to the Alcazaba by adding a double wall down the slope to make one continuous fortification. You have to buy a ticket for each, though. Poor old Yusuf is spinning in his grave.
In last week’s post about Zaprice Castle, Slovenia, we looked at a well-preserved Renaissance fortification protecting the important crossroads of Kamnik. Two earlier castles can also be visited in this town, is an easy day trip from the capital Ljubljana.
Mali Grad (“Little Castle”) is an obvious landmark visible from most of Kamnik. It’s situated atop a small hill overlooking the town. All that remains today is a reconstructed tower, a few foundations of walls, and a medieval chapel.
Mali Grad is first mentioned in 1202 but dates to perhaps a generation or two before then.
Thus I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Slovenia a few years ago. This compact little country is affordable, easy to travel around in, and has a lovely stretch of the Alps. More importantly, it has heaps of historic buildings, including an estimated 700 castles.
Zaprice Castle is one of Slovenia’s most famous and most visited. It’s located in Kamnik, a small town at the foot of the Alps just 45 minutes from the capital Ljubljana. The castle stands on a hill at the edge of town, making it a clear landmark.
On a recent trip to Bologna in northern Italy, I got to admire the city’s famous medieval towers and beautiful churches. The city’s medieval and Renaissance history is everywhere. What is less apparent is that it was a major center for Etruscan civilization. No Etruscan monuments survive in the city itself, so it’s fortunate that the Museo Civico Archeologico has an excellent Etruscan collection. This is thanks to several pioneering archaeologists in the 19th and early 20th century who excavated numerous Etruscan buildings and tombs and carefully preserved their findings.
In the North Holland province of the Netherlands stands the atmospheric ruin of Brederode Castle, a battered survivor of a violent past.
Unlike the more popular Dutch castle Muiderslot, which I’ve also written about here on Black Gate, Brederode is mostly ruins but still makes a rewarding day trip from Amsterdam.
Brederode started as a bailey and square keep built in 1282 by Willem van Brederode to guard an important coastal road. In 1300 the original fortification was rebuilt with a large keep with three square and one round tower at the corners. A moat surrounded the entire structure. In 1351, it was the scene of fighting in the so-called Hook and Cod Wars. This was a struggle over the rights to the title of the Count of Holland. The “Cod” faction was mainly made up of city merchants and was called this by their enemies in the landed nobility because a cod will continue to greedily eat and grow as long as there’s food to consume. The traditional nobility called themselves the “Hooks” because, of course, that’s what you use to catch a cod. The Brederode family was part of the Hook faction but this proved to be a bad decision because a Cod force besieged the castle in 1351 and destroyed it.
The Church of St. George, cut into the bedrock at Lalibela
Last week I discussed the unique blend of Baroque and Abyssinian styles that created the Castles of Gondar, Ethiopia. I’ve also written on the splendid ancient civilization of Axum in the same country. But Ethiopia has a lot more to offer than that. The most famous historic sites, and certainly the most impressive, are the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.
In the late 12th century, much of what is now northern and central Ethiopia was under the rule of the Zagwe dynasty. Ethiopia had been Christian since 330 AD and had developed its own liturgy, practices, and traditions. Like with all other Christian lands, many Ethiopians dreamed of going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. For some time this was possible, although it involved a long trek overland to catch a boat on the Red Sea, then another trek across the desert to get to the holy cities. But as the Crusades turned the Holy Land into a battleground, it turned a difficult journey into an impossible one. The rulers of the Zagwe dynasty came up with a unique solution.
The building in this photo looks a bit strange. It appears European but also has a style uniquely its own. One might be excused for thinking that this is European Colonial architecture in some far-off colony, but in fact it was built by one of Ethiopia’s most anti-colonial emperors.
The Emperor Fasiladas reigned from 1632 to 1667 and was a strong ruler right from the start. Like the Merovingian kings and the Moroccan sultans, Fasiladas had to contend with powerful noble families who had close connections to their local tribes and clans. Ethiopian emperors would spend much of their time in the saddle, going on “visits” to their provinces with large armies in tow.
Happy New Year! Or Sana Sayeeda as they say in Arabic! I’m back from another trip to Morocco, and this time besides staying at our usual place in the medina of Tangier, I and my wife also visited the ancient city of Lixus on Morocco’s Atlantic coast.
Like many cities of Roman Morocco, it’s been inhabited since prehistory, and became a Phoenician colony starting around the 8th century BC. The Phoenicians called Lixus Makom Shemesh (“City of the Sun”). It is believed to be their southernmost colony, but considering the many good bays and coves that stud the Atlantic coast to the south, I’m wondering if an archaeological survey might uncover more.
The ruins stand on a hill overlooking Oued Loukos estuary and the city was an important fishing port as well as a fish processing and salt panning center, the products then being shipped to the Mediterranean. Salt is still being panned in this region today.