Friday, 11 November 2016

Jordan Trip, Day 6 (Nov 2)

This is the last day of our Jordanian adventures. We explored the Wādī Mūsā region, whose landscape is very similar to that of Petra. Another castle was waiting for us to explore! Surrounded by an impressive mass of rocks, the castle of al-Wu‘ayra occupies the zenith.  We know that the castle was in the Frankish hands from at least 1144 on and probably fell to the Muslims in around 1188. The castle preserves certain tombs that probably belonged to children and to the members of a noble family.

                                                                    Otto(wo)man at work!

We then moved to the Neolithic settlement of Bayda, located in a unique landscape. The site dates back to 9000 BC and was inhabited until 5500 BC. As we were walking to the site, with the help of the information panels on the pathway, we were reminded about the historical timeline of Jordan. Many buildings are well-preserved and following an experimental archaeology, round and square houses were so as to help the visitors to understand their size, height, building materials, inner space, function etc.   The fact that both residential forms co-exist at the same site, recalling the sites like the nearby and oft-quoted Jericho gives us a very good sense of beginning of earliest towns in this region.
Our expedition continued with a tour of Siq al-Barid, Bayda also known as “Little Petra,”as once it reminded of Petra but on a much humble size. The Nabataean site dates from the 1st century CE and was used as a station for caravans which headed to Arabia and Gaza. Among the highlights of this site was a chamber with a unique painting decoration that represents interlocking floral motifs and several putti. We later had a break for coffee and we subsequently visited two recently-excavated mosques with rudimentary construction, dating to the fourteenth century, and a rock-cut chapel (?), whose carved out apse  might hint at the fact that the building was originally built to function as a chapel.

Trail of Crusader-era scholars
                                                     Chamber with the painting and putti

                                                   Visiting the rock-cut chapel

Our last visit of the day was to the castle of Shawbak. Called Shoubak or Shawbak in Arabic was built by Baldwin I in 1115. Originally called "Krak de Montreal" or "Mons Regalis" indicating the royal patronage, the site gained its importance due to its location along the caravan and trade routes from Syria into the Arabian Peninsula. An impressive site with sturdy walls, had so much to tell us. Michalis gave us an introduction to the site and explained how the site become a locus of political revenge. Raynald Chatillon, the Lord of Oltrejordain decided to attack the Muslim caravans which were previously allowed to pass unharmed. This was untolerable for Saladin, the Ayyubid King. He besieged Montreal and after a two-year long siege, Montreal fell into the hands of the Ayyubids. As we were climbing up we noted a band of inscriptions dating to the time of Qalawun, the Mamluk Sultan who was in charge of Montreal in the fourteenth century. 

A view into the tower with the Mamluk inscriptions

Examining the church at Montreal

 There were fragments of several other sculpted pieces and inscribed fragments which we spent some time in reading and understanding. We also visited the residential complex within the castle, where we had a chance to compare and contrast other the residential complexes and their Ayyubid and/or Mamluk characteristics we have seen in Amman and Kerak. Our final stop in the castle was the Crusader church, where we spoke about how some of the local (read: late antique) structural details were visible in the church architecture of the region.

Text and Photos by Anthi Andronikou & Suna Cagaptay 

Jordan Trip, Day 5 (Nov 1)

The fifth day of our trip was dedicated to the ancient rupestrian city of Petra. The tour began early in the morning and ended late in the evening. Despite the persistent tour guides who pursued us insisting on taking us a ride on a camel or donkey, we managed to escape and found our own way to the site! We walked through the imposing gorges and with the guidance of Micaela and Ogla we were able to identify buildings and learn a lot about Nabataean culture and architecture. We admired the ancient theatre, the so-called Treasury (Al Khazneh), the royal tombs, the “Renaissance” (or Brunelleschian) tomb and the “Garden Hall,” the latter possibly bearing traces of Crusader activity. 
                                            Walking through the gorges in Petra
                                         Gil(iana) Jones and the Last SOAS/Getty Crusade! 
                                                  Doris’ triumphal advent in Petra!
               Micaela is explaining the multi-layered history of the so-called the “Renaissance Tomb”
                                         Looking for the Crusader traces at the “Garden Hall”
                                                      Scott is taking a rest at the top
                         The mosaics of the Petra Basilica: η εαρινή (spring), ωκεανός (ocean)

We subsequently climbed up rocky hills and reached the archaeological remains on the mountain top citadel of al-Habīs, where once again, we were given an excellent tour by Micaela. There lie the enigmatic ruins of a small Crusader fort, built around the 1140s. The castle dominates the field around it and offers stunning views of Petra and its surrounding mountains. The bravest of us -no names mentioned!- have climbed the summit while the others stayed downstairs taking pictures and enjoying the scenery. After lunch, we had free time to wander around the site. Some of us chose to visit the so-called monastery (El Deir), while others walked up to the Petra basilica with its early Christian floor mosaics representing the four seasons and various animals. This is the church in which the famous papyri were discovered (the ones we had a chance to observe on our first night with Dr. Porter of ACOR) in a room located to the left of the nave. Another group chose to continue with the royal tombs (among them the Urn Tomb),  then visit the museum of Petra.

Late in the evening the team gathered at the hotel’s meeting room, this time to hear Dana’s and Anthi’s presentations. The session started with a talk by Anthi who probed the complicated nexus of relations among the southern Italy, Cyprus and the Holy Land and proposed alternative methodological approaches in the way we discuss similar imagery from diverse regions. Anthi’s presentation was followed by Dana’s, which probed Crusader identities in Medieval Sicily by focusing on an exciting manuscript by Peter of Eboli (c. 1196-1220) in combination with hybrid buildings of Byzantine, Islamic and Western visual cultures such as the Cappella Palatina. Both talks triggered a productive discussion vis-à-vis the cultural exchanges between southern Italy and the Levant in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The day closed with a lovely dinner at a traditional restaurant in Petra. 

Text and Photos by Anthi Andronikou & Suna Cagaptay 

Jordan Trip, Day 4 (Oct 31)

Our fourth day was mostly devoted to the examination of the iconic Kerak Castle. We had the honor to be accompanied and guided by Dr Micaela Sinibaldi and Dr Dino Politis. Before climbing up the castle, we made a stop in a traditional café by the castle and there, Gil and Pagona offered us an impressive and extensive introduction of the history and architecture of the castle. Pagona in particular, was very keen on presenting us the churches of the site and implored Gil not to enter into the details of “her churches”! We ascended the castle, where Micaela gave us an in-depth tour of the site.
                                                          View of the Kerak castle
                              Pagona’s and Gil’s introduction to the history and architecture of the castle
                                                          Scott is making a new  friend!

                                                               Color Coordinating...

Initially occupied by a Christian community, the location of Kerak has been transformed into a castle in 1142 by the Crusaders. Ten years later, part of the castle (a tower and a barbican) was conceded to the Hospitallers with the aim to reinforce its defense. A well-know story which is described by chroniclers says that when Saladin was sieging the castle in 1177, the wedding day of Isabel, King of Jerusalem sister and Humphrey IV of Toron was taking place. Eventually, the castle fell to the Ayyubids in 1188, while in 1263 (until 1517) it was conquered by the Mamluks with their leader Baybars starting off an ambitious building campaign. Save its defensive character, the castle also had an administrative and economic importance. Among others, in our long and exciting visit, we had fruitful in situ discussion on the castle’s two churches, the stable, its vaulted halls and its peculiar arrow slits. Enigmatic was also the initial entrance to the castle, which was most probably accessed via a drawbridge. In addition, a series of rosettes, recalling the ones on the facade of Mshatta, in one of the churches made us ponder on their initial function and placement.

A Phantom Edna at the Kerak Castle

                                                            Gil’s tour at the Reception Hall

                                                                 A view into the castle
                                                                  Nabataean spolia!

Following our visit to Kerak, we headed toward the Jordan Valley in the region Ghawrs southeast of the Dead Sea. The “Lowest place on earth” is 400 m below sea level and thousands of years ago it comprised the bottom of the Dead Sea. While admiring the breathtaking scenery, we listened to the thorough introduction of Dr Politis about the history, topography and geography of the region. We arrived at the sugar factory complex of Ghawr as-Sāfī (Zoara) which had its heyday during the Mamluk period, from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries. Dr Politis offered us a great tour of the site and he elaborated on the technological advances of the era as well as on the irrigation system. The factory complex is remarkably well-preserved and the visitor can discern the remnants of fortification walls, a large pool, columns, remains of presses with arched aqueduct, water-channels, crushing chambers and subterranean vaulted rooms. People from the local village joined us in the tour whereas the children of the neighborhood were following us enthusiastically. After the tour to the site, we visited the “Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth” at Safi, where Dr Politis showed us the finds of the sugar factory and other exciting exhibits of the museum such as ancient Greek inscriptions and textiles. Among the highlights were sugar pots and a dusut, that is a large mould-made copper cauldron.
                                        (lit.)“The Lowest Place on Earth”

                                 At the sugar factory complex of Ghawr as-Sāfī (Zoara)

                                   Dr Dino Politis is guiding us through his excavations at the sugar factory

                                                    Remains of pools and presses

                                                       Our little friends’ farewell!

                                        The dusut, i.e.  a large mould-made copper cauldron.

The day concluded with our “advent” at Petra. All of us were exhausted but greatly impatient for the day to come which would be dedicated to the Nabataean…and of course Crusader Petra!

Text and Photos by Anthi Andronikou & Suna Cagaptay

Jordan Trip, Day 3 (Oct 30)

We started our third day in Jordan.  Our peregrination started in the Ajlun castle. This was an important site for us with multiple layers of occupancy dated to the Ayyubid, Mamluk and Crusader periods. There, Heba Mostafa gave us an introduction to the history of the site. The castle was originally built by an emir of Saladin, the Ayyubid king. One of the tools for us to understand the multiple phases of the castle was the careful examination of the different construction techniques for the arrow slits- among them was the portable arrow slit detail that was inserted into the window opening at the time of attacks. We approached this interpretation with a certain amount of doubt after strolling through the castle and identifying them on the walls of the towers, we came to a conclusion that this usage would not serve any logic.

                                   Heba explains the history of Ajlun in front of a city model

                                      Approaching the castle with an imaginative cart!

                                                     The beginning of our tour to Ajlun
                                                                Viva la Heba!

                                                        View from the Ajlun castle

Then we drove up to Madaba, a town that was an important early Christian settlement. Our key building was not a Crusader monument but it was an important monument of Byzantine Art and architecture in Jordan. We were quite impressed by the floor mosaic of the Church of Saint George. This one of its kind mosaic depicts a geographical map of the Holy Land by identifying the settlements with their built environment. While the Jerusalem and Bethlehem occupied the central parts of the floor mosaic, we also observed the cities that were located in Jordan and Palestine as well as the geological features such as the rivers of Jordan and the Nile as well as the mountain ranges.

                                 Observing the Madaba floor mosaic up close and personal.

The last stop for the day was the archaeological site of Tell Hisban. It had a lot to offer us. A site which has been excavated extensively and thoroughly published, with Edna's help we were able to study the patterns of inhabitation in the Roman, Byzantine as well as the Mamluk periods. Edna explained to us the role of the site in the sugar trade.

                                       Edna and Suna finding their way at Tell Hisban

                                                      The basilica at Hisban

In the evening we had the presentations by Ebru and Suna. Their theme was “memory.” Suna, in her opening remarks for the session, defined how they applied the word memory to their session. Their aim was to examine how the art and architectural historical information was “encoded, stored and retrieved.” Ebru talked about St. Nicholas, a monumental figure in Byzantine art and his reception and perception by the Crusaders in the eleventh century and afterwards. She elaborated on the Crusaders’ plot to transport his relics from Myra to Italy namely, Bari and Venice. Using manuscripts and other art historical media as well as the material she has worked on at the excavations of myra, Ebru gave us the story of the aftermath of the transportation of the relics. Following Ebru, Suna presented on the Isa Bey Mosque, a fourteenth-century building of the Aydinids, a principality ruled in western Anatolia. Providing us with the character and context of the building she gave us an alternative interpretation of the utilization of the 8th-century Damascene building in the medieval Anatolian context.

Text and Photos by Anthi Andronikou & Suna Cagaptay

Jordan Trip, Day 2 (Oct 29)

It was a day fully dedicated to learn about the fascinating history of Amman.  Our day began with a lengthy and much-needed visit to the Jordan Museum. There, we took a step away from the Crusaders and instead had the opportunity of immersing ourselves into the rich historical layers of Jordan, from prehistoric up to the Islamic period.  The highlights of our trip to the museum were the Qumran scrolls, a set of papyri scrolls found by accident in caves at the site of Qumran and the fascinating material culture of the Nabataeans.

                                 The iconic plaster statue of Ain Ghazal, note the coffee-bean eyes...

                                       Scott’s name written in the Nabatean and Aramaic scripts

                                                      The Qumran Scrolls

After spending our morning at the museum, we climbed up to the citadel.  There, we saw the Roman Temple of Hercules, as well as the Byzantine basilica, and the Umayyad Mosque and the palace which was built around the 730s.  Our fellow friend, Heba Mostafa who specializes in the Umayyad period, introduced us to the enigmatic façade design of the Umayyad mosque-palace complex. From the site, we walked down to the Jordan Archaeological Museum. This was the moment where we turned to our roots, Crusader that is... There, with the help of Edna Stern, we learnt about the intricacies of studying the Mamluk and Crusader ceramics. Edna specifically mentioned talked about the spectra of the ceramics found at the sites with Mamluk and Crusader phases. One detail that came out of her presentation was that not only glazed but also hand-made tableware with painted decorations were major items of ceramic production and consumption.

                                              Ready to discover the Amman citadel

                                    Heba’s tour in the palace and mosque of the Umayyad period

                                                           A Reception Hall fit for the Caliph

                                         Our group photograph in front of the Umayyad mosque

                  Studying the intricacies of Mamluk and Crusader-period ceramics with Edna

In the evening we reinitiated first pair of the thematic presentation by the junior scholars. Tonight, Nicholas Melvani and Rebecca Darley had the theme of “spolia.” Nicholas, probed the objects that are taken as spolia from Constantinople into Venice after the Fourth Crusade.  He adduced a set of thought-provoking examples, from the well-known Pala D’Oro to the so-called Pilastri Akritani. Nicholas’ talk was followed by Rebecca’s more theoretical approach toward the definition of spolia. She talked about the ways to differentiate the talismanic spolia from that of the victory spolia by using a wide array of examples from the Mediterranean world. The presentations sparkled numerous questions and comments. The common reactions and inputs were related to definition of the term “spolia,” and the polyvalent application of the term in the contemporary scholarship.

                             Nicholas and Rebecca are  getting ready for their presentations

Fellows’ presentations were followed by a dinner at a traditional Jordanian tavern. There, in an environment surrounded by the black and white photos of the Egyptian singers and actors whose fame spread beyond Egypt, Doris gave us a scoop of the particularities of each character.  Combined with delicious local food, good company, and just the right amount of arak –if in fact there is such a thing!– we reflected more on our day in the old city of Amman and the museums.

Text and Photos by Anthi Andronikou & Suna Cagaptay

Jordan Trip, Day 1 (Oct 28)

The team reunited after six months. Our new stop was Jordan.  We kicked off our first day in Amman with an informal yet stimulating lecture by Doris Behrens Abouseif of SOAS. In her talk, examining a set of key Mamluk monuments from Cairo, she brought in new ideas to look at the monuments of the Gothic Europe and Norman Sicily. In this lecture, Doris Abouseif introduced to us the alternative ways to look at the Mamluk architectural and decorative idiom.

                                             We are impatient for Doris' lecture!

After the lecture, we moved ahead to discover the scholarly scene in Amman. Our first stop was the British Institute in Amman (BIA). There, we were greeted by Dr. Carol Palmer, Director of the Institute who kindly gave us an informative tour about the history and the current projects of the BIA.  She also kindly guided us through the library and research collections. Keeping up with the tradition of the BIA, at the end of our trip, we had a group photo with Dr. Palmer.

                                                 Dr. Palmer is sharing the history of the BIA

                                              A group photograph on the stairs of the BIA

Seeing one center was not enough for us! In a country like Jordan, where international institutes and scholars collaborating with the local specialists, our introduction to the academic scene in the city would not be complete without a trip to the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR). This time our host was Dr. Barbara Porter, who gave a thorough tour of the center. There, we had a chance to learn about the history and the legacy of this center, as well as meeting with three of the current fellows. Among others we had the privilege to see the legendary Petra Papyri dating back to the 6th century AD. We were very much impressed by their state of preservation. These scrolls papyri pieces were preserved by a team of archaeologists who have already published four volumes (with two more in progress) on the textual analysis of the papyri.

                                          Dr Porter guiding us through the ACOR’s library

                                  Introducing ourselves with a … we cannot reveal!

Dr. Porter very cordially hosted us in her residence after the visit. There, we had a chance to meet the scholars teaching at the universities, and local and European archaeologists conducting fieldwork in Jordan. For us, it was a memorable night in many respects. We believe that we will cherish this moment for many years to come!

Text and Photos by Anthi Andronikou & Suna Cagaptay