صور لبعض المدن والآثار المذكورة في كتابي عن الأندلس

بمناسبة مشاركة كتابي “الأندلس: تاريخ الشتات” والصادر عن دار الربيع العربي في معرض القاهرة الدولي للكتاب الذي يبدأ اليوم، يسعدني أن أشارك معكم بعض الصور التي التقطتها في المدن المذكورة في كتابي، بهدف مساعدتكم على تخيل أجواء تلك المدن وتشجيعكم على اقتناء الكتاب. الصور خاضعة لقانون الملكية الفكرية ، وبإمكانكم استخدامها لأغراض غير تجارية شريطة ذكر اسم صاحب حقوق الملكية الفكرية (محمد الرزاز). أرجو أن تنال الصور إعجابكم، مع العلم بأنني سأقوم برفع المزيد من الصور لاحقاً

Bosnia: Sarajevo at the Crossroads of History

The story of Sarajevo unfolds in its historic centre, where Ottoman omnipresence and Austro-Hungarian elegance fuse with an unmistakable Balkan twist. The city is surrounded by hills and mountains from which the Serbs and their allies once poured hell on the helpless civilians. Such is the sadness of geography for a country that has paid a hefty price for its genius loci, always stuck between superpowers and hostile sides.

The historic city centre around Baščaršija (Sarajevo’s Old Bazaar) shows all the ‘usual suspects’ of an Ottoman city, and it should come as no surprise: the city centre is the brainchild of one benevolent and visionary ruler, namely the Ottoman Gazi Husrev Beg, sanjak-beg (district ruler) of Bosnia. Born to a Bosnian father and an Ottoman mother (and grandson of Sultan Bayazid II), his ensemble (architectural complex) includes a mosque, a madrasa, a library, a clock tower, a tašlihan (caravanserai or merchants’ inn), a bezistan (covered market), a hamam (bath), an aqueduct, fountains, to the end of the long list. More than just an ‘Ottoman fossil’, almost all these monuments are still functioning, whether serving their original function or recycled into a relevant use.

I started my day with some cheese-filled burek for breakfast. Walking down the Ferhadija Street (which was conceived around the Ferhad Pasha Mosque), I had a first stop at the Gazi Husrev Beg’s Mosque to admire the beautiful wooden Shadirwan (fountain) and the harmonious interior, before paying a visit to the Madrasa and Haniqah across the street. At the Sarači Street, I could not resist the coffee temptation. A little detour and I found myself at the heart of the Morića Han (Roadside Caravanserai) where I had my first Bosnian coffee (served in a copper-plated pot with a long, decorated neck, called a džezva, with a side cup containing sugar cubes and rahat lokum, better known as Turkish delights). Following the crowds, I ended up entering the busy 16th-century Bezistan, a roofed market lined with shops and workshops selling souvenirs and traditional products (mostly, metalwork, tablecloths and scarves). Back to daylight, I started zigzagging the narrow alleys around the Bezistan, had another coffee, then headed to the Pigeon Square, which seems to be whirling around the emblematic 1891 Sebilj (Public Fountain).

Following this overdose of Ottoman architecture and a hearty ćevapi lunch (a Bosnian variation on kafte and kebab served with traditional bread and chopped onions), it was time for something different, and the Austro-Hungarian splendour was just around the corner. As I crossed the river Miljacka to the other side, I could admire some interesting facades, but the real deal was the group of rather decadent buildings and villas with clear Vienna Secession touch at the nostalgic Petrakina Street. Unfortunately, time has not been so kind to them, but their charm lives on.

The city has many other gems to offer. A Jewish synagogue, a beautiful old orthodox church, and, saving the best for last, the spectacular National Library. Shelled on purpose during the Bosnian War, it was resurrected into its former splendour, having lost over one million books! The pseudo-Moorish façade striped in yellow and red is a visual reference of the city, but once inside, I was swept away by the incredible feat of architecture: arcades, half-domes, glass windows, calligraphy bands…all conceived to perfection. I don’t know how much I spend there, but I finally came back to my senses after walking out reluctantly from this oasis. As I crossed the Latin Bridge, I stopped to read a plaque explaining how a nationalist Serb assassinated the Archduke of Austria nearby, triggering WWI.

Far beyond the Old City, I came across bullet-riddled buildings, abandoned houses and ghastly reminders of the Siege of Sarajevo and the Balkan War: The Children Memorial, the Unitic Towers, the Snipers’ Alley, the Tunnel of Hope, and cemeteries wherever you look. That will be another story, another blogpost. Enjoy the photos and click any of them to enlarge it.

Herzegovnia: From Mostar to Blagaj

The Stari Grad (Historic City) of Mostar is relatively small. Seen from a distance; one quickly comes to understand the significance of the city’s most celebrated icon: The Stari Most (Old Bridge) which, at 25 meters high above the River Neretva, seems to defy gravity, but not time.

The impressive hump-backed bridge connecting both sides of the city is actually less than 20 years old. The original 1566 bridge commissioned by the Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent at the request of the city’s inhabitants and built by mimar Hayruddin was completely destroyed in the 1993 War and had to be reconstructed from scratch.

An icon of Mostar’s identity in every sense of the word, the bridge’s importance surpasses its architectural style and its functional significance: there is so much intangible heritage attached to the bridge in a way that is always present in popular memory and imagination. For centuries, it had inspired songs, paintings, poems, legends, love stories and even traditional sporting skills like high-diving.

Hanging around the bridge and contemplating the mesmerizing views of the river and the cityscape seems to be the national sport here, but as I gazed at the river banks, I realized the bridge was only one part of the story, or better said, the centerpiece of the greater architectural ensemble that appears on the UNESCO World Heritage List: fortifications and towers on bother sides of the bridge, cobblestone walkways, an Ottoman mosque here, another there; I finally decided to climb the highest minaret that dominated the horizon, and it was worth every step up the stairs!

From the top of the pencil-like Ottoman minaret of the 17th century Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, the old city unfolded before me like a dream; the hypnotic gift of Herzegovina to the world. Roaming beyond the Od City, one comes face to face with devastated and abandoned buildings; a sad reminder of the war toll in this peaceful part of the world.

It was lunchtime and, fortunately, I decided to head to the nearby village of Blagaj by the crystal clear karstic spring of the River Buna, so clear that you can actually drink its water. The landscape here is one of ravishing beauty: tender cataracts, green hills, and a dramatic rock wall embracing a serene white building hanging on the water. The building is the Ottoman Tekke (Takiyya) of Blagaj, the equivalent of a monastery hosting Muslim mystics and dervishes.

Dating back to the Bektasi Order of the 15th century, it eventually hosted followers of the Qadiri, Refai, Khalwati and Naqshabandi Orders (Tariqahs). The ensemble of the Tekke includes a musafirhane (guest room), abdesthane (washroom), hamam (bathroom), courtyard, kitchen, prayer rooms and turbe (tombs). The interior of the Tekke offers a little oasis over the river for the pilgrims of beauty: windows command soothing views of the river, a stairway takes you all the way down to the cold spring water, and the decoration of the rooms is both pleasant and elegant.

A great lunch of fresh trout by the river then back to Mostar to catch the Old City in a different light, that magical light that makes the city unforgettable forever after.

 

 

 

The Tomb of Ramses VI: Heaven Underground

Light years away from our daily sorrows and fears, there are unperceived moments which always last.

The most incredible tomb in Luxor’s famed Valley of the Kings is neither that of Tutankhamen nor that of Horemheb, but rather a tomb usurped by the XX dynasty pharaoh, Ramses VI.

An otherwise insignificant pharaoh, Ramses VI will always be remembered for this unearthly tomb where one comes face to face with one awe-inspiring corridor after another, all adorned with fantastic depictions of scenes from the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Day, Book of the Night, Book of the Caverns and Book of the Gates. Then comes the burial chamber with its unique astronomical ceiling showing the constellations, the decans and the daily journey of the solar disc through the body of the goddess Nut: the Netherworld was never so serene; the sky was never so vivid, even if it is a motionless starry sky. Is it any surprise we are made of star-stuff?

There were no other visitors; I had the place for myself. Alone in the burial chamber, I spent an eternity contemplating the celestial splendor at the heart of an underground tomb: a true theatre of heavenly delight, where the mortal and the divine are in perfect harmony, and where my light is the shadow of Ra’s might.

Ramses VI Tomb 1

Astronomical Ceiling of Ramses VI Tomb

Ramses VI Tomb 2

Panoramic View of Ramses VI Tomb

Ramses VI Tomb 4

Tomb of Ramses VI – 1

Ramses VI Tomb 5

Tomb of Ramses VI – 3

Ramses VI Tomb 3

Tomb of Ramses VI – 2

Sun sets over Luxor Temple

Sun sets over Luxor

Relief of Thutmose III at Luxor Museum

Thutmose III

Medinet Habu: Splendor of the Pharaohs

Having contemplated the ‘House-of-Millions-of-Years’ (mortuary temple) of Ramses III from a hot-air balloon earlier today, it was time to explore it on foot. As I approached the temple, walking through the migdol (Asian-style fortress-gateway), I finally came face to face with the warrior-king: Ramses III –in the fashion of his predecessors- grabs his enemies by the hair as he raises the other hand to smite them with a club, to the satisfied look of Amon-Ra and Ra-Horakhty. Such is the iconographic program of the first pylon at the Temple of Medinet Habu, but it gets much more interesting at the second pylon.

Having confronted the Nubians to the South and the Libyan to the West, the real threat came from the North and the East: the Bronze Age Vikings of the Eastern Mediterranean, known as the Sea Peoples (a heterogeneous coalition of Aegean populations), swarmed Egypt during the reign of the XIX Dynasty Pharaoh, Ramses III. The clash was so intense that the walls of the second pylon of the Temple of Medinet Habu still echo the carnage. Picasso should have found inspiration here for his cubist style: the captives depicted are shown with the feathered helmets typical of the Sea Peoples, with arms bound over heads and behind their backs in a rather ‘modern’ composition reminiscent of Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’, only thousands of years older. The images are exceptional in both their quality and their style, as some of the captives (Peleset and Tjeker) are shown frontally, an anomaly in Ancient Egyptian art.

Elsewhere, the walls of the peristyle halls are covered with horrific reliefs showing intense battles, scattered bodies, mutilated captives and severed hands and genitals; a grim reminder of the fate that awaited the enemies of Egypt. This, obviously, is not why Medinet Habu, the best-persevered mortuary temple on the west bank of Thebes, is also the most impressive. Why then?
The second court’s portico holds the answer: winged cobras and solar discs adorn ceilings and doorframes, while colored columns and pillars present a radical aesthetic shift from the rest of the scenes in the Temple. The colors glow as the continuous interplay between light and shadow lends this portico a sense of serenity rarely seen anywhere else in old Thebes; art for eternity, eternity in the memory of stone.

Following a quick stop to greet the seated statues of the XVIII dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III (Colossi of Memnon), we proceeded to visit the incredible Theban Tombs of Sennedjem and Ramose at Deir el-Medina. The best was yet to come at Valley of the Kings, but that is another story.

Medinet Habu Temple 5

Medinet Habu Temple 3

Enemies of Egypt - Sea Peoples

The Sea Peoples on Second Pylon

Medinet Habu Temple 7

Medinet Habu Temple 5

Medinet Habu seen from Hot-Air Balloon

Medinet Habu seen from Hot-Air Balloon

Medinet Habu Temple 3

Medinet Habu Temple 2

Medinet Habu Temple 1

Medinet Habu Temple 1

Medinet Habu Temple 2

Medinet Habu Temple 4

Enemies of Egypt

The Enemies of Egypt on First Pylon

Heading to the Colossi of Memnon

Colossi of Memnon

Medinet Habu Temple 6

Medinet Habu Temple 6

Karnak: Epitome of Cosmic Harmony

Like a good son of the Nile, I headed to Luxor to visit the ‘Hidden One’ and to pay tribute to the immortal Theban Triad. The attendants of stars had explained to me how the Temple of Karnak, being a solar temple, was aligned with the winter solstice sunrise; they had explained all about the heliacal rising of Sopdet (the name given by the Ancient Egyptians to the star Sirius), but I had to see it for myself. I had to come and meet Amun, Mut and Khonsu.  

I walked into the Temple of Karnak as a pilgrim of passion, just like many other times when I sleepwalked into Karnak in some of my dreams. Ancient Egyptian temples were more than just symbols of power or places of worship; they represented a microcosm, a realm of order in an ocean of chaos embodied by the outside world. The pylons (entrance gateways) marked the transition from chaos to order, but it does not end here. The monumental gateway is reminiscent of the hill that emerged from the primordial lake; the one on which the ancestral god Atum created himself. And because one layer of meaning is never enough, you can also think of the two flat towers flanking the gate as symbols of the two hills between which the sun first rose. How many pylons have I walked through in Karnak? I lost count, but I knew I was walking right into a time machine, as the innermost pylons are the oldest.

Then came the most splendid part of the temple, charged with cosmological symbolism: the Great Hypostyle Hall. A forest of 134 pillars, this mammoth structure commissioned by the XIX Dynasty Pharaoh Seti I utilized a New Kingdom signature element: the papyriform columns, all with closed-bud capitals except for the two central rows which, standing higher than the other columns, end in open-umbel capitals at a height of 21 meters. Closer to the sun, they are blessed with the gift of Ra, and the buds are no longer closed, but are rather open to embrace the sunlight. The papyrus plant must have grown around the primordial pond, the way they still grew along the shores of the Nile.

Architecturally, the difference in height between the two central rows of columns and the rest allows for opening clerestory windows that let in just the right amount of light that would respect the mystery of the temple’s interior, off limits to the public. Whatever happened inside the temple was the priests’ business and theirs alone (and the Pharaoh’s). Is it any wonder that the name of Amun means ‘the occult’?

Long gone is the roof that the columns once supported, but fortunately, some of the architraves are still there, giving us an idea of how the roof was once supported. What was once the most sacred part of the Temple (Holy of Holies) is now empty; the god no longer resides here.

Another clear solar symbol in Karnak are the obelisks of Thutmose I and Hatshepsut (the later weighing over 300 tons!). These are ‘petrified sunrays’ that adorned Ancient Egyptian temples, usually staged in pairs.

Rows of ram-headed sphinxes mark the processional avenues outside the temple. How many devout followers must have petitioned these rams (representations of Amun) to convey their prayers to the great Amun? How many times must have these rams witnessed the procession of the sacred barque carrying the statue of Amun during the annual Opet Festival?

Many are the Pharaohs that embellished this complex, each leaving his/her mark on this eternal and sacred cult centre from the XI Dynasty onward: Seti I, Ramses II, Ramses III, Merenptah, Nectanebo I, and the list goes on. Only during the reign of Ramses III, the Pharaoh dedicated 240,000 hectares to the cult of Amun, as well as 32 tons of gold, 1000 tons of silver and 2400 tons of copper to the Temple of Karnak.

Returning to the Temple at night for the Sound and Light Spectacle, one wonders whether this Temple was built or whether it had descended from heaven. On a clear night, the priests must have been able to observe the night sky reflected on the still surface of the Sacred Lake. I thought nothing would impress me more in Luxor. Luckily, I was wrong.
Ram-Headed Sphinxes at KarnakAvenue of the Ram-Headed SphinxesKarnak 2Karnak 6Karnak 4Karnak 1Karnak 3 The Mammoth Central Columns
Sun sets over Karnak

Dubrovnik in Photos

Beyond the massive tourism that has both plagued and blessed Dubrovnik, something extraordinary awaits any visitor with the slightest interest in history, culture or natural beauty. This city is the reincarnation of the old Republic of Ragusa which, through exemplary and peaceful diplomacy, managed to maintain its independence during some four centuries in the shadow of such giants as Venice and the Ottoman Empire. It was here that slavery was first abolished long before Great Britain ever thought it was a good idea.

Once you overcome the initial charm of the old port, the elegant piazzas, and the elegantly restored Stradun with its limestone and marble paving and its noble palaces, you start scratching beneath the surface and enjoying the ‘beat’ of the side streets. Surprisingly, and despite its relatively small size and tourist-trodden tracks, the Old Town is not lacking in idyllic corners where you have it all for yourself and where you take every photo imaginable.

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why Dubrovnik is considered the world’s most fabulous medieval walled city. Once you do the inevitable and magnificent tour of the city walls, you realize it’s not just the walls that are fascinating, but also the views of the cityscape that the walls command: Ahead of me, an entire city unfolded. I could contemplate all the houses, all the rooftops; I could gaze at the sea and at the nearby Island of Lokrum. King’s Landing in all its grace! Is it any surprise that this extraordinary city served as the setting for Game of Thrones’ most important city?

The most memorable view though is not one you enjoy from the city itself, but rather from the top of Mount Srd, which you reach through a short yet joyful cable car ride. Only from the top can you enjoy a view of the entire old town of Dubrovnik, as well as an unforgettable sunset if you’re there on time. Back to Dubrovnik, one can roam around the port forever. At the legendary Buza Bar, I stared at the Adriatic waters, imagining a Ragusan merchant ship heading to the Black Sea and how the voyage must have been like (Ragusa was the only European city allowed by the Ottomans to conduct trade in the Black Sea).

The pleasures of the Dalmatian Coast is complemented by the temptations of the Dalmatian gastronomy, and Dubrovnik is a perfect place to experience the Mediterranean cuisine with a Dalmatian twist: the brodet (fish stew), the octopus salad and the smoked swordfish Carpaccio are just a few examples.

Another priceless advantage of Dubrovnik is the fact that it serves as a base camp for tens of maritime adventures and island tours, and I don’t think I would be able to forget the natural beauty of Mljet or Lopud any time soon. I will let the photos do the rest of the talking.