A 1,500 year old mosaic floor, with a Greek inscription, was discovered this summer following groundwork for Partner communications cable infrastructures near the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.
David Gellman, the director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority said, “The fact that the inscription survived is an archaeological miracle. The excavation in a relatively small area, exposed ancient remains that were severely damaged by infrastructure groundwork over the last few decades. We were about to close the excavation, when all of a sudden, a corner of the mosaic inscription peeked out between the pipes and cables. Amazingly, it had not been damaged. Every archaeologist dreams of finding an inscription in their excavations, especially one so well preserved and almost entirely intact.”
Dr. Leah Di Segni, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the expert on ancient Greek inscriptions, deciphered the inscription. The inscription reads, “In the time of our most pious emperor Flavius Justinian, also this entire building Constantine the most God-loving priest and abbot, established and raised, in the 14th indiction”. According to Di Segni, “This inscription commemorates the founding of the building by Constantine, the priest. The inscription names the emperor Flavius Justinian. It seems that the building was used as a hostel for pilgrims.” Di Segni added, “‘Indiction’ is an ancient method of counting years, for taxation purposes. Based on historical sources, the mosaic can be dated to the year 550/551 AD.”
According to Gellman, “The Damascus Gate served for hundreds of years as the main northern entrance to Jerusalem. Knowing that, it is no surprise that this area is rich with archaeological remains. In the Byzantine period, with the emergence of Christianity, churches, monasteries and hostels for pilgrims were built in the area north of the gate, and the area became one of the most important and active areas of the city.”
The two people mentioned in the inscription are well known from both ancient historical sources and archaeological finds. The emperor Flavius Justinian was one the most important rulers of the Byzantine period, and was one of the most colorful and charismatic rulers of antiquity. Under his reign, the Roman empire was at its strongest, and its conversion to Christianity was completed. In the year 543 AD he established a
large church in Jerusalem, dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus, known as The Nea Church. This was the largest church built in Jerusalem and one of the largest in the entire empire. The abbot of the church was Constantine, whose name appears in the inscription discovered recently near the Damascus gate. Remains of this church were partially excavated in 1970, in the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, even then sparking interest among archaeologists and scholars of Jerusalem, throughout Israel and across the globe. This excavation was a part of the Jewish quarter excavations carried out immediately following the Six Day War in 1967.
According to Di Segni, the inscription found near the Damascus gate is fairly similar to an inscription found in the vaults of the Nea Church, currently exhibited in the Israel museum. The same two people are mentioned in the inscription, the emperor Justinian and the abbot Constantine. Di Segni adds, “This new inscription helps us understand Justinian’s building projects in Jerusalem, especially the Nea Church. The rare combination of archaeological finds and historical sources, woven together, is incredible to witness, and they throw important light on Jerusalem’s past.”
The new but ancient inscription was removed from its site by the conservation experts of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and is being treated in the IAA ‘s mosaic workshop in Jerusalem.
Macedonia aims to solve protracted name row with Greece
After a quarter-century-long dispute that has blocked its entry to NATO and the European Union, Macedonia seems determined to end the row with Greece over its name.
The quarrel between Skopje and Athens dates back to Macedonia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and has poisoned neighbourly relations.
From the outset Greece denied its neighbour the right to use the name Macedonia, which is also the name of a northern Greek region.
Greeks have cited concerns about historical appropriation — both sides, for example, claim Alexander the Great as their own — and that the name Macedonia implies a broader territorial claim.
Athens and the European Union recognise the small landlocked country by its provisional name, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), under which it was also admitted to the United Nations.
Skopje has long insisted that this designation was only provisional, but in June, new Social Democratic Prime Minister Zoran Zaev seemed to relax the line of his nationalist predecessors.
“With a FYROM reference we can become a member of NATO,” Zaev said on a visit to the NATO headquarters in Brussels.
As a member of both NATO and the European Union, Athens has vetoed Macedonia’s attempts to join both blocs, but a calendar of bilateral meetings is now in place to try to resolve the dispute.
In everyday conversation, Greeks usually refer to the neighbouring country as “Skopje”, the name of its capital city.
Back in 1992, a million Greeks — one tenth of the population — took to the streets in protest over the name issue in Thessaloniki, the main city in the Macedonia region.
Tensions grew in 2006, when Skopje airport was named “Alexander the Great”. The building in 2011 of a huge monument of the warrior king on a horse added fuel to the fire.
Under international pressure, the statue in central Skopje was officially named “Warrior on a horse” but that did not deceive anyone — especially as, a year later, authorities inaugurated a giant statue of Philip II of Macedon, Alexander’s father.
The issue remains hugely sensitive on both sides.
Greece’s migration minister Yiannis Mouzalas last year faced calls to resign after referring to the country as “Macedonia” instead of “FYROM” during a television interview about the migrant crisis.
Mouzalas quickly apologised “for this error, which does not reflect my position and my convictions on the subject of FYROM”.
On Tuesday, the Greek women’s handball team was punished at the European Championship after refusing to play in Skopje against Macedonia’s team wearing national logo bearing that name.
In Zaev’s bid to end the row, he has spoken by telephone to his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras.
The Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov was in Athens in mid-June and his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias is going to Skopje later this month.
There is a “certain mobilisation,” a Greek diplomatic source told AFP, noting “some signs” of good will in Skopje.
But the source said it was now necessary to “wait for action”.
A top official in Zaev’s SDSM party, who also asked not to be named, warned that Greece “could keep the same position for two centuries. We should find a solution to deblock the process of integration with NATO and the EU”.
But, in the fragile country of about two million people, the official warned it would be necessary to reach a political “consensus” and to back up any decision with a referendum.
Many Macedonians are against a name change but some say they want a way out of the tiring row.
“We are Macedonians, we cannot name ourselves differently,” said Mirjana Jovanovska, 47, a dentist in Skopje.
She admitted, however, that “it would not be so terrible if a prefix was added to the name Macedonia”.
Suggestions to emerge in conversations include “Northern Macedonia”, “New Macedonia” or even “Vardarska” after a river that runs through the country.
The incumbent Greek government has not yet made any proposals, waiting for negotiations to resume before unveiling their game. In 2007 the government at the time proposed “a name with a geographic prefix”.
Upon an agreement, entering the 29-nation NATO is a much more likely prospect for Macedonia than the 28-country EU, which has frozen all enlargement until at least 2020.
“The question is: what is the price of joining the club?” asked Toni Deskoski, a law professor in Skopje.
The Greek government is requesting that the decades-long issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece be part of the Brexit negotiations citing EU treaty law, according to the Telegraph.
European Parliament member Stelios Kouloglou has called on the Commission to include the thorny issue in Brexit talks. “Brexit negotiators must take into account the need to protect European cultural heritage… The Parthenon Marbles are considered as the greatest symbol of European culture. Therefore, reuniting the marbles would be both a sign of respect and civilised relationship between Great Britain and the EU, and much more [than] a legal necessity.”
In response, an European Commission spokesperson said he believed that the Brexit team is not legally obliged to address the issue, citing Articles 3, 50 and 167. “The Parthenon Marbles were removed long before this date, and the EU has no competence in the matter,” Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport said, referring to a directive on the return of unlawfully removed cultural objects which applies to items removed after January 1, 1993.
For over three decades, Greece has repeatedly called on the British Museum to return the 2,500-year-old marble sculptures that once adorned the Parthenon and have been the subject of dispute since they were illegally removed and sold by Lord Elgin to the British Museum in 1817.
The Benaki Museum exhibition “Ghika – Craxton – Leigh Fermor: Charmed Lives in Greece” sheds light on the special friendship that bound the three emblematic figures of 0th century art and literature, against the backdrop of the amazing places that inspired them: Hydra, Kardamyli, Crete and Corfu.
Through works of art by Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika and John Craxton, and writings by Patrick Leigh Fermor, but also letters, manuscripts, publications, photographs and tributes, the exhibition also highlights their love for Greece.
Opening hours are Wednesdays to Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to midnight and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission costs 7 euros, while guided tours are available.
Benaki Museum, 1 Koumbari & Vassilissis Sofias,
tel 210.367.1000, www.benaki.gr
A little over two years ago, the mayor of the island of Milos, Gerasimos Damoulakis, visited the Louvre Museum in Paris to see the Venus de Milo – the Aphrodite of Milos – up close. But upon entering, rather than asking for a ticket, he said: “I am the mayor of Milos. I do not accept that I should have to pay for a ticket as I came to see one and only one exhibit, the Aphrodite of Milos, which belongs to my island.”
After they’d received this sudden request, the museum’s operators held an impromptu meeting and decided to agree and invite the mayor and his entourage to enter for free. The doors of the museum opened and the Greek mission headed to the big hall which houses the famous statue. They sat for a while to look at it in awe and then left with the promise that one day they would not have to undertake such a long journey to admire it.
Two-and-a-half years later, the Milos mayor’s efforts to have the marble sculpture returned to the island have intensified. “The issue has tortured me for 15 years [a photograph of the statue can be seen on the municipality’s website], but now the time is ripe. We have now a documented legal position that states when the statue was taken from the island there was no business transaction, but there was an act of war.
“The statue was taken by a French naval officer and loaded onto a French warship. At that time, we were in a period of war,” says Damoulakis. He has already set up a bidding committee, which has taken care of the request to collect a million signatures so that the matter can be taken up in the European Parliament. “Some on Milos thought I was joking, but I always meant what I said. Work has already begun on the restoration of an old girls’ school in Plaka, the capital of the island, where the Aphrodite’s permanent home will be.”
The sculpture, which symbolizes female beauty and femininity, is carved out of Parian marble. It is 2.02 meters tall and weighs 900 kilos. It dates back to around 100 BC. It was unearthed by a farmer named Giorgos Kentrotas in 1820. The Aphrodite was in two pieces and her hands were missing. According to one interpretation, a French officer, Olivier Voutier, who was wintering in the port with the warship Estafette, realized the value of the statue.
He informed the French consul in Milos, who returned to buy it. News of this, however, got out and other potential buyers rushed to the island. The French appeared to bargain better with the Ottomans, and they ended up leaving with the valuable “commodity.”
On March 1, 1821, the French ambassador Charles Francois de Riffardeau, Marquis de Reviere, gave the statue to King Louis XVIII as a gift to be displayed in the Louvre, where it remains to this day.
Hidden among popular Sydney golf courses is a little remembered graveyard populated by smallpox victims.
Hidden amongst the finest golf courses of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs is the Coast Cemetery, an aging graveyard that remembers a time when the whole area existed solely to house smallpox victims.
In 1881, Sydney fell victim to an outbreak of smallpox, a highly infectious disease for which began tearing through the local population. Thus a makeshift city was built near the coast, removed from the Sydney city center to prevent its spread by quarantining any sufferers far away from the general population. As the outbreaks continued, the permanent Coast Hospital was built, including its own cemetery where any patients that died of the disease were required to be buried.
The hospital and cemetery continued to be used into the 1900s with outbreaks of the bubonic plague, typhoid fever, and leprosy infecting the city. In 1934, the hospital was renamed the Prince Henry Hospital and in 1946, the majority of deadly outbreaks staunched, it became a teaching hospital.
The cemetery is quite unique as the people who were buried there, some 2,000 patients and nurses of the hospital, having been relocated to the isolated hospital, are not necessarily from the area.
The site today is often overlooked in favour of the nearby suburb, the historically significant La Perouse. But this site offers something different, a snapshot of a very real, very frightening part of Sydney’s history reflected in the quiet, and often haunting, graveyard. Know Before You Go
Follow Cape Banks Road until you reach a small trail named “Cemetery Trail.” There is just enough space to leave your car at the start of the trail and then you must walk the rest of the way.