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Petra – The Rose-Red City

11 Apr

In the country of Jordan, one of the ancient world’s most beautiful cities is still visible today. The entire city, known as Petra, was carved into the side of a cliff-face, and it has been nicknamed the ‘rose-red city’. This is because most of the rock that it was carved into is a light red color. The city is also famous for its evidence of an ancient water management system.

Location of Petra in Jordan

Location of Petra in Jordan

Here’s some photos of Petra:

Al Khazneh - 'The Treasury'. Credit: Berthold Werner

Al Khazneh – ‘The Treasury’. Credit: Berthold Werner

Al Dier - 'The Monastery'. Credit: Dennis Jarvis (http://www.flickr.com/photos/archer10/2217568198/)

Al Dier – ‘The Monastery’. Credit: Dennis Jarvis (http://www.flickr.com/photos/archer10/2217568198/)

Credit: Berthold Werner

Credit: Berthold Werner

Close-up of the detail on Al Khazneh. Credit: Bernard Gagnon

Close-up of the detail on Al Khazneh. Credit: Bernard Gagnon

So, who built it?

Petra was built around 2000 years ago to serve as a capital city for the Nabataeans. The Nabataeans were an ancient Arabic people, and they established trade ties with many other groups at the time. Later, during Roman times, Petra was considered to be the capital of the Roman-Arabian world. During this period, the Petra Roman Road was constructed. This was the main entrance to the city, and featured enormous gates.

The Roman gates leading up to Petra. Credit: David Bjorgen

The Roman gates leading up to Petra. Credit: David Bjorgen

Unfortunately, during the period of Roman rule, Petra rapidly declined. In 363 AD, an earthquake destroyed a large proportion of the city, and it eventually fell into ruins. ‘Rediscovered’ by the Western world in 1812, it has been a popular Jordanian tourist destination ever since. It has also been classified as a World Heritage site, and it is quite vulnerable due to erosion/weathering and tourist damage. I hope that it can be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

To learn more about this amazing site, visit: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/326

Leptis Magna

5 Apr

All throughout Europe, there are many beautiful ancient Roman ruins, but there are equally-magnificent and lesser-known ruins on other continents too. A good example of this is Leptis Magna. Leptis Magna is the remnants of a once-great Roman port city, and is considered to be one of the most impressive and unspoiled Roman ruins in the world.

The city ruins are near the coast in the African country of Libya, around 80 miles from its capital, Tripoli.

Location of Leptis Magna in Libya

Location of Leptis Magna in Libya

Here’s some pictures of the city:

Leptis Magna's arch of Septimius Severus. Credit: David Gunn

Leptis Magna’s arch of Septimius Severus. Credit: David Gunn

The basilica of Septimius Severus. Credit: Sasha Coachman

The basilica of Septimius Severus. Credit: Sasha Coachman

Close-up of part of the basilica of Septimius Severus. Credit: Sasha Coachman

Close-up of part of the basilica of Septimius Severus. Credit: Sasha Coachman

The city was founded by the Phoenicians around 3000 years ago, and was originally called Lpqy. During the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, it became a thriving trade city. Then, from the year 193 onwards, it became one of Roman Africa’s most prominent cities. This was because the Roman Emperor at that time, Septimius Severus, was actually born in Leptis Magna, so he naturally favoured his home-city over others. Severus enlarged the city, and as a result Leptis Magna contains many Roman-inspired buildings; forums, a theatre, public baths, marketplaces and monuments, to name a few.

The theatre. Credit:(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Man)

The theatre at Leptis Magna. Credit:(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Man)

Another view of the theatre. Credit:(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Man)

Another view of the theatre. Credit:(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Man)

An entrance to the theatre. Credit: Sasha Coachman

An entrance to the theatre. Credit: Sasha Coachman

View of the marketplace in Leptis Magna. Credit: Sasha Coachman

View of the marketplace in Leptis Magna. Credit: Sasha Coachman

Public baths in Leptis Magna. Credit:(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Man)

Public baths in Leptis Magna. Credit:(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Man)

Eventually, the city was ransacked by the Vandals, and later by the Berbers. Byzantine Empire general Flavius Belisarius tried to re-establish it as a provincial Byzantine capital, but the city didn’t recover from the destruction that previous raiders had caused. By the year 650 AD, the city was mostly abandoned.

Libya isn’t the easiest country to visit due to its political instability, but Leptis Magna would certainly be a wonderful place to see. Archaeologists have still not finished excavating the ruins, so it will also be interesting to see what else ends up being discovered in the future.

Derweze – The Door to Hell

31 Mar

In the Karakum (or ‘Black Sand’) Desert, which covers much of the central-Asian country of Turkmenistan, one of the strangest-looking natural gas deposits in the world sits outside of Derweze village. It is a large crater, with a diameter of 230 feet.

Location of Derweze in Turkmenistan

Location of Derweze in Turkmenistan

It is known to the locals as the ‘Door to Hell’, for reasons that become quite obvious when you look at it. The area also smells quite strongly of sulphur, which is quite a ‘hellish’ smell. Here’s some pictures of it:

Distant view of the crater. Credit: P. Lechian

Distant view of the crater. Credit: P. Lechian

Credit: Tormod Sandtorv

Credit: Tormod Sandtorv

If there actually was a doorway to hell, then this place really does resemble how most people would picture it. Why does it look like this, though?

Turkmenistan is known for its natural oil and gas reserves. In fact, it has the fourth-largest natural gas reserves in the world. In 1971, some scientists investigated the field near Derweze to see if they could drill for oil. Upon realising that the field was actually a very large natural gas field, they decided to store the gas, and started drilling operations to get to it. Unfortunately, the ground that they were drilling collapsed and formed a large crater, which released methane gases into the air. Worried that the methane would affect the local population and nearby environment, the scientists decided to burn the gas off. This was considered to be a normal way of getting rid of dangerous gases, and they figured the burning would only last a few days.

It didn’t burn for a few days, though, in fact, it kept burning for 40-odd years. Even today, it is still burning! The hole really does look like some kind of doorway to a fiery underworld, especially at night-time.

The crater as seen at night. Credit: Flydime (http://www.flickr.com/photos/flydime/4671890969/)

The crater as seen at night. Credit: Flydime (http://www.flickr.com/photos/flydime/4671890969/)

So, now you know why it looks like this. I think it would be a great place to visit, but I might never be able to. This is because, as of 2010, Turkmenistan’s government is taking measures to have the hole closed so that it doesn’t influence other natural gas drilling efforts in the region. Either way, the ‘Door to Hell’ is still probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen!

The Antikythera Mechanism

24 Mar

The Antikythera shipwreck, discovered off the Greek coast by divers in 1900, has yielded several artefacts that have been dated back to just over 2000 years ago, including coins and statues. The most important find, however, was something that is now known as the ‘Antikythera mechanism’.

antikythera1

The mechanism as it appears today

This mechanism has the honor of being known as the world’s most ancient analog computer. Archaeologists and other researchers examining the mechanism have been astounded, claiming that technology didn’t even begin to approach the same level of complexity until 14th century AD Europe. That’s an enormous gap in time! But, what was it actually used for?

antikythera2

Computer-generated model of what the mechanism’s front side would look like today

Scientists have found that it was used for more than one purpose, and research is still being conducted today to find out any other uses. Basically, it was used as an astronomical clock; it could determine the relative positions of the sun, moon, stars and even some planets, and also predict things like eclipses. The mechanism showed the sun revolving around the Earth on a 24-hour dial, although as we know now, it is the other way around.

It was also apparently used as a calendar, but not just your typical one-year calendar; it showed four-year cycles, each divided into one year each. This is thought to have represented the Olympic Games of the time, which occurred in two and four year cycles. On top of this, it also tracked something known as the Metonic calendar, which is a period of 19 years used by ancient astronomers for astronomical and calendar studies.

Overall, the Antikythera mechanism is definitely high on my list of the most fascinating archaeological discoveries of the ancient Greek world. Many people seem to think that complex technologies couldn’t possibly have been used by ancient peoples, but this artefact would certainly prove them wrong.

For a more in-depth discussion of the mechanism, check out the articles in Nature science journal.

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