The combination of cheap Eurostar tickets and an overwhelming sense of impending doom prompted me to take another quick jolly to Brussels for a couple of exhibitions and a roam about the city before we all go to hell.
Among other things, this visit took me back to the Art & Design Atomium Museum – ADAM. The last time I was there it was for some D.I.S.C.O (an enormously enjoyable exhibition), this time it’s for ‘disco’s demolition’, punk.
Punk Graphics looks at the visual of the punk and post-punk music scenes, concentrating on the design elements and graphics of the ‘art on paper’ and ephemera. A lot of this is the stuff that isn’t necessarily meant to survive – posters, flyers, tickets, fanzines – but which produced the visual language for the major sub-cultures of the period (in the UK and the US anyway).
Many of the pieces on display were created for a one-off occasion; some are pretty off the cuff and, possibly, with no thought to their continued existence even tomorrow, let alone forty years later.
The exhibits are drawn predominantly from the personal collection of Andrew Krivine, and display the key design techniques used by UK ad US producers for this type of material;
Cut ‘n’ paste collage
The ‘appropriated’ image
The comic book look
Many of the items in the exhibition cannot be assigned to a specific designer; ‘Designer unknown’ is all we get. In some cases this was because the item; poster or record sleeve, was designed by a staffer at the record company or music venue. In other cases it’s probably because the item, mostly fanzines in this case, was created by a fan and sold, informally, at the gigs and clubs.
You’ll notice that many of the more ‘informal’ items involve black print on white or coloured paper. The restricted use of coloured ink reduced the cost of production and, let’s be honest, some, at least, of the pieces may have been printed on the sly using the printer or photocopier at work. This was, undoubtedly the case for a lot of later, indie, flyers and fanzines.
We also see the webs of influence, comics and the horror genre influencing the punk aesthetic, which in turn influenced fashion and wider popular culture.
There’s a small selection of punk, and punk-influenced clothing on display.
The Katharine Hamnett, ‘Ban Pollution’ t-shirt highlights punk’s involvement in the political campaigns of the day. On display are some examples of left-wing punk’s push-back against the 1970s populism of the extreme far right. At a time when the National Front marched openly through the streets and promoted hostility towards anyone, or anything, perceived as ‘different’, many punks joined forces with other left-wing and anti-fascist groups to work and fight against them.
Andrew Krivine’s collection also seems to include a flip load of badges. This was just one smallish wall but scouring the badges for best designs took up, probably, more time than it should have.
Considering the, sometimes, chaotic appearance of the designs and the, sometimes, chaotic nature of the scene, the exhibition is very clean-lined. This contrast can make it a little difficult to really get into the punk mindset. The pieces on display do seem rather removed from their original context. I suppose that this is inevitable when the physical remains of a scene that evolved so rapidly and organically are selected for display in a wholly different, far more tidy and controlled, environment.
Still, caveats aside, I enjoyed the exhibition. I like to see ephemera and know myself the surprise, and joy, of finding some random flyer, photo or ticket for a gig that happened ages ago, and the memories that it brings back (if I can even remember it. I used to drink quite a lot of cider).
So, another short trip to Paris. They’re threatening to take away my EU citizenship AGAIN! so this might be my last visit before I’m cast adrift to become a vassal of the orange horror in the US. But, once again, Johnson and the Cons have fucked it and the shoddily laid ‘plans’ of the ‘Father-of-Lies’ have fallen through (yay!) so, for now, I’m still one of yEU.
As well as trying to catch a couple of exhibitions that were on my list (‘AlUla, marvel of Arabia‘ at Institut du Monde Arabe and ‘Paris – London : Music Migrations‘ at Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration), I also had a scout around for something a little more off the beaten track. I’ve been following a Twitter account called ‘Enlarge Your Paris‘* which is about the Paris that happens in the suburbs and the various outlying areas of the city. The city centre is comprehensively covered by every tourist website going so it’s good to find something that’s a bit different. Via this account, I found out about an exhibition that was going on outside the arrondissement – “Trésors de banlieue“
Near Gabriel Peri metro station on line 13 (the baby blue one) there’s an old market building, the Hall of Gresilles (it’s next door to Théâtre de Gennevilliers), which has been repurposed as an exhibition space, an event space, a community space. The exhibits for this exhibition are displayed in 15 shipping containers and include a range of genres and media.
Here are a few of the pieces that I particularly liked.
There was a display of studies for part of a large-scale interior decorative scheme by Blasco Mentor.
And four examples of protest posters associated with the Mai 68 uprising.
Among the big-hitters present are Chagall
And Fernand Léger.
And the photographer Robert Doisneau.
As well as enjoying the artworks on display, I also really liked the space and how it was being used. It’s a big, cavernous space so it could feel cold and impersonal but I think that they’ve managed to make it fee light and airy instead, and it’s pleasant to roam around in.
I did wonder why there were potted spider plants dotted around the floor space but then I realised that this building suffers from the age-old problem: leaky roof. This is neat way to deal with the water and reduce the frequency with which visitors get dripped on.
This exhibition is on until the end of November so if you’re in Paris, pop over and have a look. It’s free. While you’re in the area, you can also make a visit to the the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestique, the Paris pet cemetery. Have a read of my previous blog post if you want to know about it or, better yet, go and have a look at it.
*Apparently, Enlarge Your Paris has been banned from Facebook because the ‘naughty step’ algorithm thinks it’s offering ‘male enhancement‘!! Random.
At Brompton Cemetery, in the chapel, a range of speakers have been exploring facets of our relationships with death and how these are expressed now and, especially, how they were in the past. One of the talks I’ve been to, ‘Walkies in the Paradise Garden‘ was about pet cemeteries and how we mourn and memorialize the animals with whom we spend our lives. Several years ago I visited the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestique, the pet cemetery of Paris. I began writing a blog post about it but the ‘feels’ got the better of me and I had to abandon it. Prompted by this talk, I decided to make a second attempt but this time I’ve had to swerve feelings and just stick to facts and photos.
A recent study has revealed that many humans actually prefer their pets to their partners*. I can’t say that I’m surprised by this. I mean, let’s face it, humans are a bit rubbish whereas pets are awesome. Don’t get me wrong; humans do have their uses. We have thumbs, we have contactless payment cards with which we can buy cat food, and some of us can play the drums. We don’t look like this though
Unfortunately, most animals don’t live as long as humans, meaning that with pet ownership comes the acceptance that bereavement is inevitable. We bury our loved-one in the garden and sob quietly to ourselves. However, for Parisians, who are always a bit ‘extra’, this simply will not do.
In a north-western suburb of Paris is one of the world’s oldest purpose-built pet cemeteries, the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestique (originally just Cimetière des Chiens). It opened in 1899 and was designed to have all the trappings, facilities and grandeur of a reasonably smart human cemetery. Before the opening of the cemetery the bodies of deceased domestic animals, even beloved pets, were treated as refuse and disposed of accordingly, but a new law passed in Paris forbade such casual disposal of animal corpses, stipulating that they must be properly buried, away from dwellings. For smart, and well-off, Parisians, the foundation of the cemetery by lawyer, Georges Harmois, and feminist journalist, Marguerite Durand, met the need for suitable facilities.
From the exterior, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between this and a human cemetery. It’s really only when you enter the cemetery that the zoological nature of the memorials becomes apparent. The cemetery was originally called the Cemetery of Dogs, as lap-dogs were favourite pets of the well-off and so were the most common animals buried there.
The saying goes that ‘you can’t take it with you’. This good Boi, Arry, begs to differ.
Some of the dogs, especially, were service animals and/or mascots. Some served during, or just after, the Great War or were the working companions of service men and women.
The cemetery also includes the prominent memorial to Barry, a Saint Bernard dog who worked as a mountain rescue dog in Switzerland and Italy before the Great War, and who was responsible for saving the lives of 40 people trapped in snow in the mountains. When he had rescued the 41st person, Barry was overcome and died, but his fame lives on. Barry isn’t buried here though. His remains are still in Switzerland.
But many other animal-types are represented. Cats feature heavily.
Including the pet lion of Mme Durand herself.
There are also rabbits and other small rodents, birds, turtles and fish
There is even a monkey and a gazelle and a fennel fox!
Perhaps surprisingly, there are also a couple of horses. On the day of my visit, part of the cemetery was blocked off as a new horse grave was being dug. Horse graves are big.
Most of the memorials echo those seen in human cemeteries; headstones, grave-surrounds, plaques and mausolea. But these mausolea differ from their human counterparts in that they represent kennels and cat-baskets.
This one even holds its cats’ favourite cushion and, in true cat style, Plume is laid to rest, sleeping for all eternity on the washing.
I visited on a dull rainy day and spent most of the time there blubbing at the thought of long-lost friends. I really know how to have fun, huh?
Visiting Glasgow is always a pleasure for me. The rough-and-tumble of the city feels familiar and comfortable, and I have a long-ish history with it, largely through its music. But as well as the art galleries, architecture, music and foodie scenes, I’ve become very interested in Glasgow’s archaeology, and its industrial and maritime history. With this in mind, on a recent quick visit I boarded the (free!) ferry outside the Riverside Museum and headed over to Govan.
Govan may not be at the top of the list for many visitors to Glasgow, but it really should be on there somewhere, not least to see the amazing 10th/11th century Govan Stones at Govan Old Church. However, alongside these ancient monuments, there is also evidence of Govan’s more recent, industrial, history to be seen: Govan Graving Docks.
The docks are situated on the south side of the Clyde, just west of the Science Centre. A ‘graving dock’ is another name for a traditional type of dry-dock where the repair and maintenance of ships is undertaken. The ship is floated into the dock basin and then water-gates (or caissons) are closed behind it and the water is then pumped out of the basin, leaving the ship resting on blocks. These docks were constructed by the Clyde Navigation Trust in the late-nineteenth century, opening in stages between 1875 and 1898, and were used for the maintenance and refits of Clyde Steamers and other large vessels up until their closure in 1987.
I wasn’t sure how accessible the site would be but the gate was open, so I made my way in to the dock area where there are three large basins, a couple of derelict buildings and other bits and bobs of dock equipment.
The docks are a Category A listed monument but also on the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland. In Glasgow, as in other industrial and maritime cities, many ex-industrial sites and structures have long since been sold off to developers and now command top price as luxury apartments and high-end shopping and dining areas, so the graving docks are special; a rare survival of Glasgow’s industrial and mercantile past (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-45331246).
Some of the fragments of equipment look like winch or crane bases, haulage wheels and some lengths of track. Around the basins there are stone-cut steps allowing access to the working space around the undersides of the ships’ hulls.
This basin still has its depth-markers.
The water-gates are a bit battered but still basically intact.
After some time of wandering around and generally peering at stuff, I made my way back to the gate, only to find that it was now shut! Fearing that I would have to attempt to climb the fence (an unseemly activity for a woman of my advanced years), I tried the bolt and, to my relief, it wasn’t locked*. I did get a few funny looks from the mechanics working in the garages along by the docks but I bet I’m not the first random dock-fan that they’ve seen.
For lots of lovely information about Govan Docks, have a look at the excellent Hidden Glasgow website, where you can see photos of the docks in use. Other references are also below.
* Sam Wineburg
** Don’t worry, I made sure that the gate was shut behind me.
I was having a little look at some of my travel photos recently, ones that I haven’t posted online before and I realized that I am strangely fascinated with what I can see out of the plane window. This is slightly weird because, truth be told, flying actually freaks me out a bit, but I’ve found that focusing on the view of sites and landscapes on the ground, distracts my mind, stopping me thinking about crashing down to my death in a ball of red-hot flames.
Anyway, here are a few views from the cheap (economy) seats.
Flying over Lebanon, out of Damascus airport, I loved the ripples and curves made by the ranges of hills and mountains in the Bekaa Valley.
In Algeria, flying is pretty well a necessity. The country is enormous and the country’s history has left it with a legacy of, frankly, unsafe areas. There are still a few places where kidnapping is a very real possibility, making driving dangerous.
The distance from the Ghardaia region back up to Algiers is over 600km so travelling by road is a bit of a schlep. The flight is an hour and the views are spectacular. The landscape starts as golden desert, peppered with towns north of Ghardaia.
As you get further north, the landscape turns to lush green with lakes and reservoirs.
Flight from Ghardaia to Algiers, Barrage Bouroumi, Mahaizia
Flying into Tripoli, on the coastal plain were miles of neatly planted olive groves.
The olive trees look very sparsely planted but this is the only way get a good yield of fruit, as the tree roots need space around then.
Flying out of Keflavik Airport, Iceland, I flew directly over one of the places where I’d spent much of my time on my first visit.
This is Ásbrú, a former NATO base where the festival ‘ATP Iceland’ was held in 2015. It’s all brightly coloured, crinkly-tin shed, like many of the buildings in Iceland. Simple, functional and not especially decorative.I enjoyed the festival, and I enjoyed Iceland too.
And here’s, not the Blue Lagoon spa, but a similar hot water pool.
The heated water is the outflow from the Reykjanes Power Plant nearby.
Flying down to Marseille, I spotted a very exciting looking quarry.
Flying into Frankfurt means flying over the extensive forests that surround it. I was struck by the appearance of the motorways immediately adjacent to the airport.
This is where the Bundesautobahn 5 meets Bundesstraße 43 and the Bundesautobahn 3. Not quite Spaghetti Junction, but a striking intersection nonetheless.
Living, as I do, in Olde London Towne, I generally fly in and out of London airports, mainly Stansted (because it’s the right side of town for me), Heathrow (because it’s on the tube) and City, (because it’s actually IN London, as opposed to being somewhere in a field in a neighbouring county).
This means that sometimes I get to fly up the Thames. This is absolutely my favourite, even though the approach to City is slightly terrifying. The first time that I was actually aware of this, and actually thought about it properly, was when I was flying back from Damascus. I happened to glance out of the window and thought, “that’s Southend Pier!”. And it was.
Since then, every chance I get, I try to spot cool ‘something-on-Thames’ things.
Here is one of the wind farms in the Thames Estuary
and nearby, the Maunsell Forts at Shivering Sands.
This is not the greatest photo because we were in a raging storm at the time, but this is a cluster of six, originally seven, ‘army’ style WW2 anti-aircraft gun emplacements, situated in the Thames Estuary. The seven individual platforms were originally connected by walkways and were arranged as a cluster of six, housing guns and the seventh housing the searchlight.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to get a bit closer to the forts as The Waverley does a couple of trips each autumn.
Further into town, we fly over some very familiar sights. The Thames Barrier
Canary Wharf, the Isle of Dogs, Greenwich and the O2
Just a super-speedy flying visit, but it was nice to be there all the same. But the trouble with super-speedy flying visits is that, no matter how nice they are, they always leave you wanting more. There’s just not enough time to do everything. I mean, I need to get to Musee Cluny to see the new entrance and walkways around the thermes, and for the winter expo, Naissance De La Sculpture Gothique. There’s also an exhibition at Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Le Crac des Chevaliers. Chroniques d’un rêve de pierre, examining the architectural and political significance of the Syrian crusader castle, Crac des Chevaliers. But, in the end, the short time that I had just had to be spent at the brilliant Institut du Monde Arabe for the exhibition Age-old cities: Virtual trip from Palmyra to Mosul.
The exhibition takes in four ancient and modern cities affected by recent and ongoing conflict, and presents aspects of them as they are, as they were and as they may be in the future. This is not an exhibition of artefacts but of images. Using photographs, films and photogrammetric survey footage, taken using drones (carried out by UNESCO), we get a view of the cities as they are today. The use of drones, in particular, reveals the significant damage, destruction even, of whole swathes of the urban environment, with deserted, bombed-out buildings apparently teetering on the brink of collapse and the still-inhabited areas thick with dust and debris. As I’ve been to three of the places featured in the exhibition, I’ve added in a few photos of mine, taken on my visits. Some of the other photos,which were taken in the exhibition, are a bit blurry, as they’re of moving images.
The exhibition opens with Mosul, a city which I have never visited. On entering the first main exhibition space, I walked into a large-scale panoramic projection of a fly-over of the city as it is now. Now, I’ve seen plenty of drone footage of areas affected by the ongoing conflict but, particularly on a such a large scale, these images of destruction are truly shocking.
Sitting on the west bank of the Tigris, opposite the Assyrian city of Ninevah, and around 400km north of Baghdad, Mosul has existed as a settlement, at this location or hereabouts, for at least 2500 years (Ninevah is far older). Capture by daesh on 10th June 2014 and only retaken by Iraqi forces, after heavy bombardment, on 21st July 2017, Mosul and Mosulis have suffered terribly as a result of the conflict in Iraq, with women and religious minorities particularly badly affected. The city had been known as relatively diverse, with the Iraqi Sunni Muslim majority sharing the city with Assyrians, Kurds, Turkmens, Shabaks, Yazidis, Armenians and Mandeans. Although many of the city’s Jews left for Israel in the 1950s, there was still a significant Christian population until the arrival of daesh in 2014.
One of the specific structures zoomed in on was the al-Nuri Mosque. Famous for its leaning minaret (possibly due to the effects of thermal expansion caused by the sun’s heat), the mosque was the focus of pilgrimage and veneration for 850 years. It was the site at which the daesh leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self-declared the (so-called) “caliphate” and the daesh flag was flown from the minaret. The mosque was destroyed during the Battle of Mosul in 2017, although there is some disagreement over whether it was destroyed by daesh or by the forces liberating the city.
Still from drone footage of the al-Nuri Mosque, Mosul.
There is really very little left of the mosque, just the ruin of the domed central hall and the stump of the famous minaret. All the rest is rubble.
As part of the film, we witnessed the digital ‘reconstruction’ of the site. These images are built up using recent photographs from all angles, often people’s holiday snaps (I actually sent some photos of a site in Syria for exactly this purpose), which are digitally stitched together to create a 3d image.
Still from drone footage of the digital reconstruction of the al-Nuri Mosque, Mosul.
Aleppo Citadel. Photo taken 5th November 2009.
Moving on to Aleppo, again drone footage lays bare the scale of destruction. We tak a fly-over, and through, the ancient souks, part of the ‘Ancient City of Aleppo’ World Heritage Site, now severely damaged,
…and up the ramp to the Citadel.
This really brought back memories of my time there, when it looked very different.
Aleppo Citadel. Photo taken on 5th November 2009.
The walls of the Citadel have clearly sustained damage, and it looked like parts of the interior space had too, although I found it a bit difficult to orient myself in this complex site.
The section on Leptis (Lepcis) Magna was less of an agony for me. Although there has been some illegal digging and looting at the site, local residents, working in militias, have tried to stave off the worst of the lawlessness, and there hasn’t been the kind of occupation or intensive bombardment that we have seen at the other sites showcased.
The images I saw looked pretty similar to the way that it looked when I was there 10 years ago. The ancient structures are partial and the site is, largely, a ruin, albeit a very impressive one, but there weren’t obvious signs of recent extensive damage. Nevertheless, the fly-through of the macellum (marketplace) and the virtual reconstruction of the Severan Basilica was pretty impressive and provided a little respite before the final key site featured, one which I knew I would find hard to witness.
Temple of Bel, Palmyra. Photo taken 8th November 2009.
When I visited Palmyra, and the modern town Tadmur, in late 2009, it was an impressive, pretty well kept ancient site. The main site itself was open for visitor to wander in and look around and it was possible to wander pretty far, as it’s a very large site.
Some people in my hotel were getting up before dawn to go on a camel ride. I, being less interested in camels, got up at the same time and accompanied them for a little way on foot before heading off into the low hills on my own. These hills are the site of the necropolis of Palmyra and I was fortunate enough to have these evocative tower tombs all to myself in the silent, pink, early morning. *
Several of these tombs were destroyed and/or damaged by daesh in 2014/15.
One of the other notable instances of willful vandalism was the dynamiting of the Temple of Bel (above) and I found myself feeling particularly sad at the images of the theatre and the Temple of Baalshamin, when I found myself standing, virtually, in the rubble of the building.
This was a building in which I had stood, gazing at the beautiful decorative friezes and the carved columns, and thanking my good fortune at having the opportunity to be there.
Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra. Photo taken 8th November 2009.
Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra. Photo taken 8th November 2009.
But I couldn’t help but think past the structural damage and the willful and shocking destruction of the ancient temples, to the devastation wrought on the people living in the modern Palmyrene town of Tadmur. I couldn’t help thinking about the people murdered by daesh in the theatre, including Palmyra’s Head of Antiquities, Khaled al-Asaad (January 1932 – 18 August 2015).
Throughout the exhibition there are short films, talking heads and personal accounts of the effects of all of this destruction on the people living in these cities but, particularly as a visitor whose French is a bit shaky, the focus of the exhibition really is on the effects of conflict on the built environment.The images recorded by drones are largely devoid of people, the streets thst I remember as bustling and busy with the usual comings and goings of the city, are eerily empty of life.A notable exception is a short film documenting the filmmaker’s return to Aleppo to speak with the people still living there.
He meets the shopkeeper who, despite being surrounded by the dust and debris of countless explosions, still diligently cleans his stock before putting it on display. And there’s the young woman recording a video message on her phone, to send to her sister, who is not in the city.
The young woman doesn’t say anything of any importance, just chats and reads the news and laughs and hopes that she will still be alive tomorrow.
The exhibition ‘Cités millénaires Voyage virtuel de Palmyre à Mossoul‘ is on at the Institut du Monde Arabe until 10th February 2019.
For updates on the current situations in these regions, follow: @AinSyria and @AinIraq
*I had the tombs all to myself except for the small child who chased after me for about half a mile asking for sweets. I had no sweets with me so I gave him a pen. He seemed satisfied with this alternative. I wonder where he is now, and I hope he’s ok.
The Netherlands is home to some cracking museums; the Rijkesmuseum, Rijkesmuseum van Oudheden, Allard Pierson, the museum at Castellum Hoge Woerd and many more.
But I’ve never been to the north of the country, so I had no idea what was up there. That is, until, a Twitter post by @FollowingHadrian about an exhibition of Iranian (Persian) archaeology and artefacts at the Drents Museum in Assen. As I’m always on the lookout for exciting things of an archaeological bent to do and see, and as I was actually due to be in the Netherlands (albeit much further south) over the August Bank Holiday, I immediately set about working out how I could fit in a very quick trip north to have a look.
Artefacts in the exhibition were on loan from the excellent National Museum of Iran, which I visited when I was in Tehran in 2015, so I was very keen to get another look at them. As well as artefacts that I remember seeing, there were ones that were either not on display, or which I just didn’t see or notice, so there were plenty of ‘new to me’ things to see.
The Drents Museum was purpose-built as a museum in 1854, but the exhibition was in the newer extension, opened in 2011. The exhibition space, downstairs, is quite large, although not huge, open and nicely lit and there seemed to be a good number of people visiting the exhibition, including groups, although it was not packed (this was a Monday* lunchtime, so I wouldn’t have expected it to be really packed).
The exhibition, Iran: Cradle of Civilisation, takes in a really broad sweep of Iranian/Persian history, including prehistoric artefacts dating from as early as 7000BCE right into the Islamic period, ending in about 1700CE.
Prehistoric culture is represented by some really beautiful and delicate pieces. I was particularly struck by this small stone bowl (it’s about 4-5 cm in diameter). It’s carved out of a piece of the darker-coloured stone in which there are lighter bush-coral inclusions.
2600-2400BCE, Shahdad, National Museum of Iran, Tehran
This terracotta bowl is decorated with a painted frieze of dancing figures. Perhaps commemorating a particular occasion or a festival of some sort.
4800BCE, Chogha Sabz, National Museum of Iran, Tehran
4800BCE, Chogha Sabz, National Museum of Iran, Tehran
I was particularly fascinated by this clay ball, as it brought to mind the stone balls seen in collections in the north of Britain (have a look at the Huntarian Collection in Glasgow for some examples).
Clay Bulla, 3200BC, Susa, National Museum of Iran, Tehran.
It isn’t really known what the balls found in Britain were for but the accompanying film explained this Persian ball. It’s a seal!
The ball is covered with figures of human and animals.
I stood in front of the screen filming the whole video because it really explained this artefact very well. You can see the video here: Clay Bulla (message to anyone from the Drents Museum: If you would prefer it if I took this video down, please let me know and I’ll do so).
The two objects below, although not particularly fancy looking, are evidence for the technological development of the region. The first a rather mucky-looking footed-dish, is actually a crucible in which copper was smelted.
Clay crucible 4000-3700BC, Tappeh Qabrestan, National Museum of Iran, Tehran. When copper ore is heated to a temperature above 1084c it will melt and can then be poured into moulds. At first only pure copper was melted, but the coppersmiths gradually started to mix it with other metals. One of those experiments lead to the discovery of bronze (copper and tin).
The second, a mould for casting a copper axe-head. Found at the site of Tappeh Ghabrestan, northwest of Tehran, which is known for its finds associated with copper-working, with furnaces and moulds dug into the ground as well as these smaller, terracotta moulds.
Terracotta mould, 3500-310BCE, Tappeh Ghabrestan, National Museum of Iran, Tehran
Although these not the fanciest exhibits in the exhibition, they are hard evidence of technological development and expertise in the region.
So what are the fanciest artefacts?
From the third millennium BCE, comes a gorgeous selection of carved soapstone vases, pots, cups and bowls. Soapstone is soft and relatively easy to carve, so it lends itself to these kinds of intricate, detailed designs. The imagery include real and imagined creatures, demons, deities, scroll-work and complex, interlocking geometric designs. I spent a long time admiring these wonderful artefacts and wanting so badly to be able to touch them.
Soapstone pot, 2600-2400BCE, Jiroft, National Museum of Iran, Tehran
2600-2400BCE, Jiroft, National Museum of Iran, Tehran
2600-2400BCE, Jiroft, National Museum of Iran, Tehran
Soapstone vase, 2600-2400BCE, Jiroft, National Museum of Iran, Tehran
Soapstone dish with an image of a ‘scorpion-man’, 2600-2400BCE, Jiroft, National Museum of Iran, Tehran
2600-2400BCE, Jiroft, National Museum of Iran, Tehran
2600-2400BCE, Jiroft, National Museum of Iran, Tehran
Soapstone weight, 2600-2400BCE, Jiroft, National Museum of Iran, Tehran
From the 6th until the 3rd centuries BCE, the first Persian empire, the Achaemenids, founded by Cyrus the Great, dominated this part of the world. This dynasty, which included the other Persian ‘Greats’, Darius, and Xerxes, is notable for, among other things, its fine gold work. Examples in the exhibition also include beautiful vases and drinking horns (rhyton).
Gold cow, 559-331BC, Hamadan, National Museum of Iran, Tehran.
Gold rhyton, 559-331BC, Hamadan, National Museum of Iran, Tehran.
And one of the many highlights of this exhibition, this wonderfully weird pottery jug. Fashioned in the form of a man tending his bird-beaked pot-beast 😀
Pottery jug 850-550BCE, Kaluraz, National Museum of Iran, Tehran. This jug appears to have a spout in the shape of some kind of beak. Such beaked jugs were used for special wine ceremonies at burials. The Kaluraz cemetery is well known for its beautiful pottery vessels. This is the finest example – functional and yet artistic.
And there were even some reliefs from the imperial city of Persepolis.
Relief, 559-331BC, Persepolis, National Museum of Iran, Tehran.
Relief, 559-331BC, Persepolis, National Museum of Iran, Tehran.
Many reliefs at Persepolis show representatives of the 23 peoples of the empire, who came to the imperial city to pay tribute to King Darius. on the left, a gift-bearer climbing the stairs and on the right, a ma presenting a gift of arms to the King.
A whole wall of the exhibition space was transformed into a famous and spectacular monument, the original of which is situated at the World heritage Site of Behistun in north-west Iran (there are several spellings of this: Bisotun, Bistun or Bisutun).
The life-sized figure holding a bow, as a sign of kingship, is Darius the Great, beneath his foot is a figure, possibly the pretender to the throne, Gaumata. Behind him are two attendants and facing him are bound captives representing the conquered peoples. The symbol above the scene is the Faravahar the central symbol of the Zoroastrian religion.
The text, is written in three ancient languages; written in three different cuneiform script languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian (an Akkadian dialect) and it provided the key to the decipherment of cuneiform, in much the same way the The Rosetta Stone was the key that unlocked Egyptian hieroglyphs. The inscription begins with the biography of Darius the Great, for whom the monument was created, and the history of the empire following the death of its founder Cyrus the Great. It describes the battles fought and won, and the rebellions put down by Darius and the generals subjugated.
This life-sized replica, measuring 15 x 6 metres, was created especially for this exhibition and installed at the same height as the original would be viewed. This gives a good idea of how the original in-situ would be seen, although, obviously, in a very different location.
When I was looking at visiting this exhibition, one of my burning questions was how on earth it had come about. I assumed that there must be some professional connections between curators in Assen and Tehran that had enabled the Drents Museum to secure such an amazing array of loans. Handily, the exhibition included a film answering this, and other questions, and the curatorial connections between the museum services has resulted in this exhibition and a return exhibition of Dutch art and archaeology now on display in Tehran. You can watch a mini-doc about the exhibition here: https://drentsmuseum.nl/en/exhibitions/iran
Gold applique, 2200-1700BC, Tappeh Hissar, National Museum of Iran, Tehran.
This is certainly one of my exhibitions of the year and I would love to visit again, but I doubt that I’ll be able to get to Assen again before the exhibition closes on 18th November. However, I think I’m going to have to plan a return visit to the Drents Museum in the not-too-distant future, for the next exhibition, ‘Nubia – Land of the Black Pharaohs‘ I just wish that exhibition catalogue was available in English. If it had been, I would have snapped it up.
*I should say that the Drents Museum, just like pretty well every other museum in the Netherlands, isn’t generally open on Mondays. I was lucky in that I was visiting at the end of the school holidays and it happened to be open on the day that I was able to get there.