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Sunday, August 31, 2014

OFF ON ANOTHER ADVENTURE

Tower Bridge
 
 


Here I go today, August 31, off on another adventure.  My first stop is London where I always stay at the Indian Y.  Right across the park is the home of Virginia Woolf. And it's close to walk lots of places for sightseeing.
 


Virginia Woolf's House
 

I'll only spend 1 day there and then I'm off to Wales, on Sept 2.  Going to visit my Welsh cousins in Caerphilly. And of course, my usual inspection of my castle.


Caerphilly Castle
 

Then it's back to London for the Historical Fiction Writer's conference on Sept 5, 6.  This trip is part book promo and this is a great opportunity for me to make myself known and show of my copy of SHADOW OF THE LION: BLOOD ON THE MOON  (I'll be staying in a univ. dorm near the new Globe Theatre.


Then I'm back to the Indian Y one more day and I'll take one of my favorite walking tours. (Not sure which one yet)

Flying to Greece on Sept 8.  I'm looking forward to seeing all the gang at To Kati Allo and my friend Carol where I'll be staying at her Villa Olympia funky B&B.

The To Kati Allo Gang



On Sept 10 I'm heading up to Thessaloniki by train to attend Manolis Angelasaki's poetry presentation and to drop in on the Society of Macedonian Studies with my book.  I intend to visit the archaeological site of Pella,  the Royal City which is one of the settings in SHADOW. 

 
ALEXANDER
 

Then I'm going to a beach resort at Asprovalta from where I can take a short trip up to retrace my research of Amphipolis, where much of the second volume of SHADOW takes place. Here is where they have just discovered an amazing tomb, likely one of Alexander' generals. I plan to snoop around but probably won't be able to get too close.  The Lion of Amphipolis that stands by the roadside is thought to have once guarded the tomb.


The Lion of Amphipolis


Then it's back to Athens on Sept 14 and lots to do there seeing old friends, revisiting favorite sites, and exploring new gentrified areas and venues to add to the Athens Guide e-book I'm working on.



I'm doing a reading of my book at the Athen's Centre on Sept 24.  Then I'll take the train up to Larissa, Thessaly for another reading at the World Poetry Conference Sept 27.  Looking forward to meeting new friends at these. 



From then on to Oct 8 when I leave Greece, I will play it by ear,probably visit an island or two and just have some fun.
 

View from my friend Chris's house in Salamina
 

Oct 8 I arrive in Frankfurt and will meet up with my friend Patrick and spend some time with him at Meinz where he lives.  Flying home Oct 11 with lots of travel adventure tales to tell you

























Wednesday, August 27, 2014

ALEXANDRIA: PEARL OF THE MEDITERRANEAN


I had always dreamed of visiting Alexandria, the fabled city on the Nile delta established by Alexander the Great back in 332 BC. While I was researching my novel SHADOW OF THE LION, I delved into the history of this remarkable city. When I was invited to Egypt last March on a travel writer’s press trip, I told the organizers about my novel and the research I had done about the founding of the ancient city. Because of this I was given a special two-day tour of Alexandria, with an escort of three handsome Egyptian men, one of the highlights of all my travel experiences

Me, Peter from Egyptian Tourism and Magdi the driver
 
Marko, Magdi and Peter, My Escorts
 
 Alexandria is a setting in the story. Ptolemy, Alexander’s illegitimate half-brother returned to Egypt after Alexander’s death to oversee the building according to Alexander’s wishes. Ptolemy Soter became the first of the Ptolemaic dynasties of Egypt that lasted up until the era of Cleopatra.

It is said that Alexander had a dream in which he recalled the lines from Homer’s Iliad of ‘an island, Pharos, by the surging sea.’  Alexander had come to Egypt to drive out the Persians and to him, this dream was an omen. He wanted to build a new city by the sea, and chose this location near a small village called Rhakotis. He ordered his architect and city planner Dinocrates to design and build it but Alexander died before its completion. After Alexander`s death, Ptolemy hijacked the funeral carriage when it was being transported from Babylon to Macedon and brought the body to Egypt where, it is said, Alexander had wanted to be buried. It was interred first in Memphis, then when the temple for Alexander`s friend Hephaestion was completed, Ptolemy had Alexander`s body laid there where it remained at least until the arrival of the Romans, because it was visited by Julius Caesar and Cleopatra.

Under Ptolemy, Alexandria became a center of Hellenism.  It was the home of many Greeks and also home of the largest Jewish community in the world. It took over the trade and commerce of Tyre between Europe and the Arabian and Indian East and soon expanded until it was the largest city in the world, second only to Rome. Over the years, Alexandria was visited by Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Nelson, Napoleon, and was home of others such as Archimedes, Euclid, Mohammed Ali Pasha and the Greek poet Cavafy.

The ancient Greek city had three regions, The Brucheum, Royal or Greek quarter which formed the most magnificent part of the city. The Jewish quarter formed the northeast and Rhakotis, occupied mainly by Egyptians. The city consisted of the island of Pharos which was joined to the mainland by a mole nearly a mile long. There stood the famous Great Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, 138 meters high, a project begun by the first Ptolemy and completed by his son. The lighthouse was destroyed by an earthquake in the 14th century and was replaced by an Arab fortress using some of the original bricks.

I was curious to learn how much of Alexander still exists in Alexandria, the city named for him.  As the van approached the outskirts the first thing I saw was a monument of Alexander riding his horse.  At our first stop we were greeted by a young tour guide, Sarah, who showed us around an extensive excavation known as Kom al-Dikka, which has revealed many Roman era ruins including a theatre. We didn`t have time to visit the catacombs which are located near Alexander`s best-known monument, `Pompey`s Pillar. The catacombs, known as Kom al-Soqqafa, are a multì-level labyrinth reached by a spiral staircase where there are dozens of chambers with sculpted pillars and statues, burial niches and sarcophagi.
 
KOM AL -DIKKA

 

 


Our next stop on the tour was the Qaitbay Citadel, built on the site of the ancient lighthouse, and established in 1477 AD by the Sultan Qaitbay.  It was one of the most important defensive strongholds on the Mediterranean coast.




Unlike Cairo which is densely packed between the Nile River and the vast expanse of Sahara desert, Alexandria sprawls out along the seacoast, a sparkling bright city surrounded by the verdant Nile Delta, the ancient’s ‘Land of Goshen’. 

The Nile Delta
 

 It is the second largest city in Egypt. The city is divided into six neighbourhoods, each with a large population. Alexandria is an important industrial area and Egypt’s largest seaport with two harbors, one facing east, the other west.


There is evidence of the ancient harbour on the edge of the island of Pharos, but little else remains except what the underwater archaeologists have discovered under the sea. Some of these finds can be seen in the Alexandria Museum and on display outside of the new Alexandria Library.

Outside the Museum: Peter, Sarah, me and Marko

 
The Alexandria Museum contains a number of exhibits dating back to the Ptolemaic dynasty as well as Roman. What I found most interesting were some of the relics that have been brought up by the maritime archaeologists in the harbor which reveals details of the city both before Alexander’s time and during the Ptolemaic dynasty. Where is Alexander`s tomb?  Most likely at the bottom of the sea. Evidently they have discovered parts of Cleopatra`s palace and in the front of the new library is a tall weather-worn statue of one of the Ptolemys brought up from the seabed.

After my tour of the Roman ruins and museum, I was taken to my hotel by the seaside, surrounded a beautiful 350 acrew park of palm trees and flowering bushes, the Montazah Palace Gardens. The elegant Helnan Palestine hotel was built in 1964 to accomodate guests of the Second Arab Summit. It is on the grounds next to what was King Farouk`s summer palace. Farouk became king at the age of 16 and lost his throne at the age of 32 in 1952 It made my visit even more special to know I was on royal territory.


The Hotel Helnan Palestine
 



Night View from My Hotel Window

 The Bibliotheca Alexandrina
 

 


The next day was the highlight of my visit when I was taken to the New Alexandria Library, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which opened Oct. 16, 2002.  It`s an immense cylindrical shaped modern structure separated from the University of Alexandria by a wide concourse where I posed under a bust of my hero, Alexander.  The library is spectacular in its design with constant light filtering through the specially curved domes.  It houses over 8 million books.
The first Library of Alexandria was created by Ptolemy I Soter in the 3rd century BC. Most of the books were papyrus scrolls on great value. It was dedicated to the Muses and functioned as a major center of scholarship. Many of the most famous thinkers of the ancient world studied here. It was in Alexandria where Euclid devised geometry and Herophilus discovered that the brain, was the seat of thought, not the heart. A wealth of works from the classical world were housed in the old library, including those of Aristotle and Plato, original manuscripts of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, Egyptian treatises on astronomy and medicine; Buddhist texts, original Hebrew scriptures and many of the works of the lyric poet Sappho.
In 48 BC when Julius Caesar laid siege to the city, a fire was set and the library was partially destroyed. Later there were other attacks until finally the library was in ruins and thousands of ancient works were destroyed.  I wondered what Ptolemy would think now, if he saw this amazing work of art which has replaced the library he first created.



The new library features a museum dedicated to science and history. There is also a large planetarium at the entrance. There are all the modern amenities such as Internet Archives, several specialized libraries, academic research centres and various permanent exhibits. It is also the home of several institutions including The Arabic Society for Ethics in Science and Technology, the HCM Medical Research, the Anna Lindh Foundation for Dialogue Between Cultures and many others.



There is an international spirit in the Bibliotheca just as there was back in Ptolemy’s time. Italians and Egyptians work together preserving rare manuscripts; Greeks help with antiquities; French are in charge of the science museum and Americans are the computer experts.
The famous burning of the ancient Library of Alexandria became the symbol of the irretrievable loss of knowledge, but the new Bibliotheca Alexandria has revived that legacy and the staff works together to maintain this great Temple of Learning.
After our library tour Sarah took us to a pleasant seaside restaurant so we could relax, enjoy the beautiful shoreline view and taste some delicious Egyptian cuisine.
 Marko and me
We had a dinner guest.
Not only was this two-day visit to Alexandria, one of the most memorable times of my visit to Egypt,  but I enjoyed the company of my Egyptian travel escorts and especially the lovely young woman who was my tour guide, Sarah Ibrahim. I felt such warmth from her that we immediately bonded. She had read all about me on the internet and knew an amazing number of stories about me from my blogs.  So I would certainly love to return there someday to see my new friend and visit more of this wonderful country that is so rich with history and its warm, friendly people.

 

 

 









Sunday, August 10, 2014

MORE TREASURES OF ANCIENT EGYPT: SAQQARA AND MEMPHIS

 


SAQQARA

Most of the remnants of ancient Egypt lay scattered on the desert plateau south of Cairo. After visiting the amazing pyramids of Giza we went to see the amazing necropolis at Saqara and the Step Pyramid of King  Djoser that was 'built to last til the ends of time'. This is the largest necropolis in Egypt, extending for almost five miles. It's a collection of pyramids, temples and tombs including the Mastaba tombs where the high officials of the Pharaohs were buried. These are comprised of several chambers with walls covered with reliefs that detail scenes of hunting and fishing and everyday life in ancient Egypt.


 
Step pyramid

The step-pyramid  is the oldest pyramid found in Egypt, over 2,000 years. What was amazing to me is that it reminded me of the type of pyramids you find in Mayan ruins in Mexico, with steps leading to the top. Although the third dynasty began with the Pharaoh Sanakht the real founder is considered to be Djoser, a name derived from "geser" meaning "sacred"  Just as Ramses II is associated with Abu Simbel, Djoser is identified by Saqqara's architectural monument. It is the oldest structure in the world build entirely of stone. It is 62 metres high and the base measures 109 by 125 metres. The burial chamber of the Pharaoh was located at the centre of the pyramid at the bottom of a large vertical shat 28 metres deep. From here a labyrinth of rooms, corridors, chambers and passageways protected the tombs



Cobras decorate the roof
Burial chambers


MEMPHIS
 



You know that song "We're going to Memphis"? Well Memphis, in ancient Egypt was once the capital city. According to legend it was founded by pharaoh Menes around 3000 BC and was the capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, remaining an important city throughout history. During the 6th dynasty it was a centre for the worship of Ptah, the god of creation and artworks. There is an alabaster Sphinx guarding the Temple of Ptah that is a memorial of the city's former power and prestige.

 
 

alabaster statue of Ramses II

 
 

I was particularly interested in visiting this ancient city, because it was where Alexander the Great came after he had successfully driven the Persian out of Egypt.  Part of the mystique of Alexander is his connection to Nectanebo II, a shaman pharaoh of Memphis who had fled to Macedon to plead with Alexander's father Philip II to help drive the Persian out of his country.  Rumours abounded for most of Alexander's life that he was Nectanabo's son because during the Pharaoh's stay in Macedon, Alexander's mother, Olympias, then a young bride of Philip, may have had an affair with the pharaoh. She was reputedly told by him that she would be visited by the golden snake of Ammon and give birth to a miraculous son.  After Philip was assassinated and Alexander became king, he led his army south down the coast of Asia Minor, across Gaza and successfully vanquished the Persians. He was honored by the Egyptians and crowned pharaoh in the Temple of Ptah, ushering in the Hellensitic period. . From then on he wore the Horns of Ammon on his helmet. After his famous visit to the oasis shrine of Siwah where he would consult the oracle about his birthright, he learned information that he wouldn't even indulge to his best friend but said he'd wait til he got back home to discuss it with his mother.


Alexander wanted to establish a city in Egypt. Memphis was too far inland, south of the delta, so he chose the site by the sea that is now Alexandria. When Alexander died in 323 BC, his illegitimate half-brother Ptolemy came to Egypt to establish the city of Alexandria. For a time he kept Alexander's body at Memphis but it was later moved to the new city. This began the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt. Ptolemy established the cult of Serapis in Egypt at Saqqara.

Memphis thrived until the arrival of the Romans when it lost it's importance in favour of Alexandria.

 
NEXT: At Last, ALEXANDRIA!