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The East African : Sep 26th 2015
The EastAfrican MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 26 - OCTOBER 2, 2015 VII st fo≥eve≥ to humankind The Colonnaded Esplanade as seen in 2008. Picture: Dana April Seidenberg Missing only was the genie in the brass lamp. Conventional wisdom always sets Palmyra at the crossroads of the Roman Empire and later the Silk Road. Although Palmyrenes were people of the desert, their merchant seamen with their strong seafaring boats anchored in ports along the Persian Gulf carried on a vibrant trade with ports around the Indian Ocean. Statues of the owners of these vessels, which carried wood, cotton, lapis lazuli, ivory, pearls, gold and turquoise from the Gulf to East Africa and India and back — could still be seen in situ. East African and Indian merchants also travelled to the Gulf ports; inscriptions have been found attesting to this trade. By the 8th century, Palmyrene trade with the Far East was also flourishing, and relations with China — becoming increasingly significant. As if transported directly from medieval Indian/ Persian/Arab literature, the surprise appearance of a Sindbad, our host’s cousin and a ship captain, testified to was the institution where arts of antiquity were enlarge, well-preserved semiitheatre, drama, poetry and rowds as the literary sensincients revolved around the nd Roman classics that are e g day. re built in the 2nd century o many in the Greco-Roman a free-standing ornamental h rising tiers of seats an an a for choral performances. facade of pediments and hian columns are some of eco-Roman elements that interpreted in Nairobi as tails on City Hall, the Railstration building and the l. ooming, we found ourselves n-lit intimacy of our host’s comfortable shop. A brass coffee pot bubbling on an iron stove provided endless cups of coffee while the smoky warmth invited camaraderie and the storytellers’ art of retelling history in engaging anecdotal form. Life in the Old Levant was a favoured topic. Freed from grievous 20th century mental prisons concocted out of European colonialism and the artificial construction of geopolitical nationalism, the inhabitants of the borderless Old Levant of myriad ethnicities and religions all lived peaceably enough together. In this atmosphere of Assyrians, Kurds, Yazidis, Druze and Jews with further divisions into overlapping Christian and Muslim sects, the Old Levant was re-envisaged as a model for a new inclusive future. The congenial setting of Bedouin carpets piled high against walls lined with familiar brass and copper coffee pots, incense burners and filigreed Yemeni jewelry also located Palmyra at the northern edge of the Indian Ocean world. old civilisation In glorious Syria, nothing was outside history. Its perfectly preserved cities and towns were as one woven matrix of urban threads whose pattern was seamless continuity. These threads run from the present to the earliest Tigris-Euphrates Rivers farming communities with civilisations layered over time in continuously occupied cities such as Damascus. Dominating the chain of civilisations was the multiethnic empire of Assyria (c. 1400BC to 600BC). Influencing Africa with its own architectural treasures of the Nile Valley civilisation, to Iran, Assyria was all over the map of the Ancient World. this time-honoured North-South trade and travel. He docked his lateen-sailed, motorised jahazi (dhow) at Doha, Qatar and regaled us with his voyages over A Thousand and One Nights from the Gulf to Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. His thought-world and adventures were preambles to scholarly works yet to be written. In the 3rd century AD, Palmyra was ruled by Zenobia, the clever warrior queen who fought off Roman conquest and almost defeated the army of the world’s mightiest empire. Ultimately captured, she was paraded through Rome with Queen Zenobia in gold chains as a stern warning to those in other empire provinces who dared resist Roman control. In glorious Syrian, othing was outside history. Its perfectly preserved cities and towns were as one woven matrix of urban threads whose pattern was seamless continuity. These threads run from the present to the earliest TigrisEuphrates River farming communities with civilisations layered over time in continuously occupied cities such as Damascus. Dominating the chain of civilisations was the multiethnic empire of Assyria (c. 1400BC to 600BC). Influencing Africa with its own architectural treasures of the Nile Valley Civilisation, to Iran, Assyria was all over the map of the Ancient World. Along the eastern Mediterranean coast, the ruins of the city-state of Ugarit date to 4000 BC. Of particular note is the remarkably Statues like this have been vandalised or stolen. Pic: File preserved city gate, while low-lying wall foundations, broken columns and remnants of a drainage system are scattered around the terrain. More significant are clay tablets on which the world’s first alphabet was inscribed; Ugarit was a vast empire with connections to African Egypt. The presence of splendid alabaster bowls for food (1450-1365 BC), ivory beetle seals, goblets and glass beads all attested to a brisk trade with the Nile Valley civilisation.
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