Friday, December 2, 2011

Weekend in Gaziantep: Mosaics

Two weekends ago, we took our long-awaited trip to Gaziantep, in eastern Turkey. For me, the main purpose of the trip was to see the brand-new mosaics museum; for our friends Emir and Idil, the purpose of the trip was to eat, as Antep is known for its pistachios, baklava, and meat. We accomplished both and fittingly, I thought I would divide our trip into two posts to reflect these dual missions.

We left on Friday night which ended up being fairly stressful. I had somehow hurt my back earlier in the day (I suspect it was from vacuuming) and could barely move. Then we were late arriving at the airport and in our rush, Cagatay and I left our suitcase at security. When we got to the ticket counter, we all discovered that Idil hadn't brought a photo ID...and she ended up having to fly the next morning. The now-three of us ran down to the gate and got on the last shuttle bus out to the plane -- only to end up circling the airport since Prime Minister Erdogan's plane was landed and half the runway was blocked off for security. It was a comedy of errors to say the least. :)

But by Saturday morning, everything except my back was back to normal. After breakfast, we headed to the Zeugma Mosaics Museum, which opened in September and bills itself as the world's largest mosaics museum, supplanting the Bardo Museum in Tunisia.

The museum is absolutely gorgeous; it's laid out on three levels (though you can only peek down at the mosaics on the bottom floor) and according to the Daily Hurriyet, has 2,500 square meters of mosaic on display. For the most part, the mosaics are laid out on the floor as they would have been in their original villas. There are no words to explain how amazing these mosaics are. They were created about 1,800 years ago and the level of detail - in the faces, clothes, and even borders - is stunning. (Check out the 3-D effect in the mosaic border in the fourth and last photos in the slideshow below.) How did they manage to do this - with pebbles no less?

(There is a slideshow next but you have to be on my actual blog page for it to show up; text continues afterwards...)

Created with flickr slideshow.

The mosaics come from the nearby ancient city of Zeugma, which was founded by one of Alexander the Great's generals around the year 300 and became an important stop on the Silk Road. (The famous Gypsy Girl mosaic - the eighth photo in the slideshow, the one surrounded by black - might actually be of Alexander.) Archaeologists started excavating the site in 1971; the Daily Hurriyet article cites Art Restoration Director Celalettin Küçük as saying that Zeugma had become a focus of interest "thanks to twin villas, wall paintings and the Mars sculpture that were unearthed in 2000." What he leaves out is the all-consuming floodwaters - archaeologists were basically racing against the clock to unearth the priceless mosaics before a large part of the ancient site was flooded that year due to the massive damming along the Euphrates that occured as part of the GAP irriagtion project.

As a result - despite the beauty of the mosaics and the gorgeous layout of the museum - there's a sadness to the Zeugma Mosaics Museum. Many of the mosaics have detailed informational panels, and more than a few of those lament the losses of various parts of the mosaics, either to thieves or to the flooding. The Theonoe Mosaic was revealed by the water but then they couldn't get to it and only rescued it in 2002 when the waters receded temporarily due to a technical problem; I remember another panel said that they had left another mosaic underwater thinking it would be fine only to discover later that it had been totally destroyed. Sad, no?

Slideshow in order:
1. Close-up of the Oceanos and Tethys mosaic
2. Room with frescoes
3. Achilles Being Sent to the Trojan War, my favorite mosaic in the museum
4. and 5. Zeugma Mosaic Museum interior
6.  Bust of Dionysus mosaic, my other favorite
7. Kidnapping of Europa mosaic
8. Gypsy Girl mosaic
9. Close-up of Dionysus Portrait mosaic
10. Close-up of a geometric mosaic
11. Zeugma Mosaic Museum interior
12. Pasiphae and Daidalos mosaic, with 3-D effect Pin It

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