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  • Originally published 08/02/2013

    Italian police seize huge haul of illicit antiquities

    Police in southern Italy have seized a large haul of well-preserved artefacts that were illegally excavated between the two southern towns of Benevento and Foggia, near Naples. A total of 584 antiquities were recovered, estimated to be worth around €2m and intended for sale on the black market.Investigations are ongoing, but so far 21 tombaroli, or graverobbers, have been identified by police, while a 46-year-old man from the area has reportedly been charged with handling stolen archaeological objects after investigators searched his property in the nearby town of Castelpagano.The artefacts are reportedly in very good condition and range from a large ancient Greek krater estimated to be worth around €150,000 to small pieces valued at around €1,500. The collection includes other Greek objects, including a group of fourth-century BC ceramic bowls decorated with red figures, various Etruscan and Corinthian objects, a set of 340 rare coins, many Roman lanterns and a particularly well-preserved helmet....

  • Originally published 07/09/2013

    Colin Thubron: When the Ruins Were New

    Colin Thubron is the president of the Royal Society of Literature. Among his books are Mirror to Damascus, The Hills of Adonis: A Quest in Lebanon, Jerusalem, In Siberia, and, most recently, To a Mountain in Tibet.
 (January 2012)In February 1862 the eldest son of Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII, embarked on a four-and-a-half month journey through the Middle East. The royal party followed what was on the face of it a conventional itinerary, sailing from Venice down the Dalmatian coast on the royal yacht Osborne to Alexandria, cruising up the Nile to Aswan to view the sites of ancient Egypt, crossing to Jaffa for a tour of the Holy Land, then returning to England via the Ionian islands and Constantinople.Among the party—included at the last moment—was the photographer Francis Bedford, who in over 190 prints produced one of the earliest photographic records of the region. These sepia studies, soft-lit yet rich in detail, were achieved with a cumbrous caravan of lenses, tripods, chemicals, plates, and a portable darkroom. His subjects were mostly but not all the sites of ancient or biblical significance that Western visitors already favored: the ruined survivors of a stupendous past that they could half claim for themselves.

  • Originally published 05/06/2013

    Syrian castles serve as fighting positions

    Beirut — A Shiite king ruled northern Syria more than a millennium ago from behind the towering walls of the citadel in the city of Aleppo. In later centuries, Arab armies repelled medieval crusaders from the hilltop fortress, Mongol invaders damaged it and Ottomans used it as a military barracks.By 2011, the citadel had settled into what seemed a comfortable retirement as a UNESCO world heritage site and tourist attraction, illuminated at night by artistic ground lights and surrounded below by the bustling cafes of Aleppo’s old city.But today, in the third year of a bloody civil war that has killed more than 70,000 Syrians, the hulking citadel has resumed its strategic role of earlier eras. President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have taken position in it to shell their enemies, and Syrian opposition fighters say they are desperate to capture it. For both sides, what was true in war then is true now: Those who control the citadel have the power to alter the front lines....

  • Originally published 05/01/2013

    Greeks to stop Qatari nude cover-up

    Nudity is an all or nothing kind of thing, as Qatari authorities recently discovered. Seek to drape the naughty bits of a pair of ancient sculptures of nude male athletes, and you end up with no nudes at all.This is precisely what happened at Alriwaq Doha exhibition space. Having loaned the gallery the two sculptures for its Olympics Past and Present exhibition, Athens preferred to see them returned than exhibited with their modesty veiled.The Qatari anxiety about displaying the naked body has a different root — but is no more or less valid — than that which saw thousands of statues suffer the chop across the history of the Western world....

  • Originally published 04/05/2013

    Bringing Babylon back from the dead

    (CNN) -- Babylon was one of the glories of the ancient world, its walls and mythic hanging gardens listed among the Seven Wonders.Founded about 4,000 years ago, the ancient city was the capital of 10 dynasties in Mesopotamia, considered one of the earliest cradles of civilization and the birthplace of writing and literature.But following years of plunder, neglect and conflict, the Babylon of today scarcely conjures that illustrious history.In recent years, the Iraqi authorities have reopened Babylon to tourists, hoping that one day the site will draw visitors from all over the globe. But despite the site's remarkable archaeological value and impressive views, it is drawing only a smattering of tourists, drawn by a curious mix of ancient and more recent history....

  • Originally published 04/01/2013

    Historic synagogue in Damascus damaged, looted as violence rages nearby

    DAMASCUS, Syria — A Jewish synagogue in Damascus believed to be thousands of years old has been damaged and looted as clashes have consumed the surrounding neighborhood, a Syrian official and an anti-government activist said Monday.Damage to the Jobar Synagogue, which tradition holds was built by the biblical prophet Elisha, is the latest example of Syria’s rich cultural heritage falling victim to the civil war between President Bashar Assad’s regime and rebels seeking his ouster.Syria is home to thousands of years of civilizations at the crossroads of the Levant and boasts important cultural sites dating back to the Bible, the ancient Roman empire, the Crusaders and the arrival of Islam....

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Encroachments on Egypt's archaeological sites continue

    Al-Hamam Antiquities Inspectorate has succeeded to remove encroachment on Al-Bordan archaeological site, located on Alexandria-Marsa Matrouh highway, in collaboration with Egypt’s tourism and antiquities police. The site includes remains of Graeco-Roman fortresses, roads, temples and cemeteries.The encroachment on the Al-Bordan archaeological site, located on kilometre 67 on Alexandria-Marsa Matrouh highway, started Friday when a large truck invaded the site with a construction bulldozer, which on its turn damaged a cluster of authentic structures that date back to the Graeco-Roman era, according to director of Marina Al-Alamein Antiquities Khaled Abul-Magd. Abul-Magd accused Yasser Khalil, owner of a contractor company, and truck driver Mohamed Abdel Sattar of violating and damaging the archaeological site. The tourism and antiquities police arrested both accused, but they denied all charges. Both are in custody until the completion of investigations....

  • Originally published 02/13/2013

    Syrian rebels loot artifacts to raise money for fight against Assad

    MAFRAQ, Jordan — To the caches of ammunition and medicines that they lug each day from this border city back into their homeland, Syrian rebels have added new tools to support their fight against President Bashar al-Assad: metal detectors and pickaxes.The rebels, struggling to finance their effort, have joined an emerging trade in illicitly acquired Syrian artifacts and antiquities, selling off the country’s past as the war for its future intensifies....

  • Originally published 02/13/2013

    Syrian official warns of trafficking in antiquities

    AMMAN, Jordan — A Syrian government official warned Wednesday of rampant trafficking in antiquities from his country and appealed for U.N. help in halting the illicit trade that has flourished during the nearly 23-month-long civil war.Syria’s turmoil has increasingly threatened the country’s rich archaeological heritage but the issue of smuggling artifacts has taken a back seat to more dramatic images as some of the most significant sites got caught in the crossfire between regime forces and rebels.President Bashar Assad’s troops have shelled rebel-held neighborhoods, smashing historic mosques, churches and souks, or markets. Looters have stolen artifacts from archaeological excavations and, to a lesser extent, museums....

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