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Al-Ayn, in the northwest of our mystery country, is one of several places to see the Bronze Age beehive tombs. Although they are frequently referred to as tombs, no human remains have been found, leaving the purpose of these monuments in question. Over 100 of these structures are scattered around 3 different sites within about a 30 minute drive, as well as the remains of houses and other evidence of human settlement. At al-Ayn, Jebel Misht makes a dramatic backdrop to 21 tombs.

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Abydos

the Temple of Seti I, aka The Great Temple of Abydos

the Temple of Seti I, aka The Great Temple of Abydos

Abydos is among the most important archaeological sites in Egypt, with remains of structures and tombs from predynastic times into Ptolomaic times, 3,000 years of Egyptian history.

Abydos began as a royal necropolis of the pre-dynastic capital Thinis and cult center of the regional god Khentiamentiu. Royal burial was well-established here by the time Egypt was unified under Narmer (or Menes, possibly the same person), founder of the 1st dynasty around 3,100 BCE. The kings of the 1st dynasty and two from the 2nd dynasty were buried here before the capital was moved north to Memphis.

The local god Khentiamentiu eventually merged with the god Osiris, king of the dead. Osiris was believed to be buried at Abydos, and the religious significance of Abydos as cult center of Osiris continued after the capital moved. For thousands of years, an annual procession reenacted stories from the life and death of Osiris and drew pilgrims from all over Egypt. A Great temple of Osiris was built, rebuilt, expanded and embellished by successive pharaohs across three millennia.

Egyptians with means sought to be buried near Osiris. Short of that, a personal burial monument (cenotaph or stelae) was placed near the tomb of the god. Thousands of these cenotaphs have been found. A number of pharaohs built mortuary temples at Abydos, although entombed elsewhere. The Temple of Seti I, is one such temple, and the best preserved monument at Abydos today.

the Temple of Seti I, aka The Great Temple of Abydos

the Temple of Seti I, aka The Great Temple of Abydos

wall painting in the Rameses II Temple, Abydos

wall painting in the Rameses II Temple, Abydos

Because nearby accommodations are limited, we usually offer Abydos as a day trip from Luxor, about 3 hours drive one-way. An Abydos visit from Luxor is often combined with a stop at Denderah, which is about midway between.

 

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Angeles del Futuro is a community service project and labor of love created by Odelmis Hernández to teach young people the circus arts, such as dancing, acting, acrobatics and trapeze.

In the 1990s, Odelmis was a student at the National Circus School but was unable to finish his studies after the economic crisis brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union, a major economic, military and political benefactor of this mystery country.

In 2006, Odelmis revived his dream with the Angeles del Futuro project and today trains more than 85 students ranging in age from 9 to 17 years.

 

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Troy

archaeological site of Troy, Turkey

archaeological site of Troy, Turkey

The archaeological site of Troy is located in western Turkey near the convergence of the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles (ancient Hellespont), the strait that connects the Aegean to the Bosphorus and the Black Sea, a strategic location valuable to whomever controls it.

Excavations have revealed 9 main layers of settlement going back 5 thousand years. The Troy immortalized by Homer in the Iliad, which tells the story of the final months of a 10 year siege of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, has been placed in layer VIIa, dated to around 1250 BCE. Scholars generally agree that the Iliad is a fictionalized, mythologized account of an actual conflict, but that the war was most likely over control of the Hellespont and trade access to the Black Sea, rather than the abduction of Helen, the queen of Sparta, as Homer tells it.

Factual or not, the Iliad is full of very human characters and dramatic force that are embedded in the foundation of Western culture and still compelling 3000 years later. Troy is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world, not because of a 3000 year old dispute over territory, but because of the mythical proportions of the characters and events placed there by Homer.

So, that’s what we’re looking at in this post and the previous post, the story of Troy, the people (both mortal and immortal) and relationships that continue to give it life even now, when it physically bears little resemblance to its actual or imaginary self.

When we left off in the last post, the assembled Greek warriors had just set sail for Troy, having purchased good winds with the life of Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia. They’re headed to get Helen, wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta, back from Paris, prince of Troy, who took her.

Paris was exceptionally good-looking but not particularly courageous. What made him think he could get away with stealing the wife of a king? Aphrodite, goddess of love, that’s what, or who. I don’t mean in a metaphorical “love will find a way” sense but in a literal sense, at least as literal as it gets in the realm of myth and legend. Here’s the story: Eris, the goddess of discord, was bitter because she was not invited to the wedding party of the hero Peleus and the sea-nymph Thetis. Eris was a troublemaker by nature. She took her revenge by tossing a golden apple into the party inscribed with the words “for the fairest.” The apple was instantly claimed by three goddesses – Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, all very beautiful and vain. None was willing to defer to another, so they took the case to Zeus. Zeus was far too smart to get involved, especially considering one of the goddesses was his wife Hera, so he appointed the unsuspecting mortal Paris as judge. The three goddesses appeared before Paris in a field, where he was tending sheep, and lobbied hard for his vote. Hera promised to make him the king of Europe and Asia. Athena offered to make him a great warrior. Aphrodite vowed to give him the love of the world’s most beautiful woman, Helen of Sparta. You know how that contest ended. Aphrodite was declared the fairest and the fate of Troy was sealed then and there. Not only was Paris about to bring the enmity of Greece down on his city, but the wrath of two goddesses as well. Troy was doomed. But it wouldn’t be a quick and merciful end.

The siege of Troy lasted 10 years. Paris fought for his city but his brother Hector was by far the nobler warrior and man. Considering all the trouble Paris had caused, you can’t blame Hector for being hard on him, which he was, in a brotherly way. Mostly, Hector was busy trying to save the city and his family. Most of Troy called for the return of Helen to Menalaus. Unfortunately, the big softy King Priam supported his son’s desire to keep Helen and treated her as a daughter.

Meanwhile, in the Greek camp Agamemnon and the great warrior Achilles squabbled over Briseis, the queen of a Trojan ally captured in battle, and endanged their cause in the process. Briseis belonged to Achilles and Agamemnon took her, so Achilles refused to fight. He was the Greek’s best warrior and in his absence they lost a lot of ground. After his friend Patroclus was killed by Hector, Achilles returned to the battlefield in a fit of grief, mowing down Trojan soldiers until the river ran red with blood. Eventually he met Hector and killed him.

Greek vase painting of the battle of Hector and Achilles

Greek vase painting of the battle of Hector and Achilles

Greek vase painting of Achilles dragging the body of Hector. photo from www.theoi.com

Greek vase painting of Achilles dragging the body of Hector. photo from http://www.theoi.com

That’s pretty much the end of the Iliad but from other sources we learn about the wooden horse and the sack of Troy. Odysseus, the wily King of Ithaca, devised the plan to hide their best fighters inside a giant wooden horse, leave it at the gates of Troy and sail away. The Trojans fell for this and brought the horse inside. After dark, the hidden Greeks came out of the horse and opened the gates to the entire Greek army, which hadn’t sailed away very far. That was the end of Troy.

replica of the wooden horse, Troy, Turkey

replica or the wooden horse, Troy, Turkey

Greek vase painting of the sack of Troy

Greek vase painting of the sack of Troy

Paris and Hector had been killed on the battle field, along with many other Trojans and allies of Troy, and most of those who survived the siege died in the sack of the city, including King Priam. Agamemnon survived the war and returned to Mycenae only to be killed by his wife Clytemnestra, who hated him for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia. More about that in my previous post. (That family’s tragedy goes on and on.) Menelaus and Helen returned to Sparta.

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

 

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

To visit Troy, spend the night in Canakkale, about a 30 minute drive away. Many people find the site disappointing. It does take some imagination, and a good guide, to connect with the history of the place but I wouldn’t miss it, especially if you’re a nerd for the Classics.

Click to see tours that include Troy on our web site.