Saturday, 24 September 2011
On my last day in Istanbul I visited the Archaeological Museum and the Tiled Pavilion. I was especially interested in the Museum’s display of sarcophagi from the Necropolis of Sidon. I had never heard of it before, but the artefacts are extraordinary. They are part of a discovery in the 19th century of the burial place of a dynasty of Phoenician (an ancient sea-faring people) royals (6th c. – 4th c. B.C.). Sidon is in present day Lebanon. How about this for an Indiana Jones type story:
On March 2, 1887 on a land being used as a quarry northeast of Sidon, a workman accidentally uncovers a tomb shaft about twenty feet square sunk to a depth of some fifty feet in the sandstone. Overcome by fear, he flees to Sidon and returns with the Reverend William King Eddy, an American missionary born in Sidon. They make their way through Sidon’s dark streets and orange groves to the site. In the flickering candlelight Eddy realizes at once that this is not an ordinary burial but a discovery of great importance. At his feet lies Sidon’s royal necropolis.
Lowering themselves by ropes down the shaft they land in front of a burial chamber. As the opening into the chamber is narrow and the ventilation poor, their candies flicker and nearly go out. Both men become dizzy and faint. Thick mud on the floor impedes their progress. Water drips from the roof.
Eddy cannot believe his eyes. Before him in the musty gloom stands a most unusual sarcophagus, the cover of which is of one piece of marble in the form of a large arch. From the four ends project lion heads. On the front end of the lid stand two figures facing each other with uplifted wings, with the body of a beast and the head of an eagle. At the rear are two similar figures, with the body of a bird and a human head. Eddy is standing in front of what is later called the “Sarcophagus of the Lycian”.
The sarcophagus is made of marble from Paros. Traces of color of various shades of red, ochre, brown and blue persist. One long side depicts a hunting scene. Two chariots drawn by four horses each bear down on a lion. Two young hunters stand in each car. The horses prance and leap in the air, of the eight, only the last one to the left has a hoof on the ground.
Read more: Phoenician Treasures
The Tiled Pavilion hosted an exhibition by belgian ceramic sculpture artist Johan Tahon, as part of Istanbul’s 12th Biannale. It was interesting to see contemporary ceramic art displayed against a background of older traditional ceramic artwork.