Zeugma Museum – the best mosaics ever!
I visited the Zeugma Museum on my weekend in Gaziantep. Prior to seeing this museum, Volubilis, in Morocco, had the most striking mosaics I had ever seen. Although it’s neat that at Volubilis the art is preserved in its original place, the Zeugma Museum has such an incredible collection that it easily surpassed Volubilis. It’s billed as the biggest collection of mosaics in the world – pretty impressive, eh? So, all of the these pictures were taken with my iphone, since my good camera was permanently water-damaged on an unusually rainy day at Volubilis (everything always comes full circle). I’ve ordered a new one, and in one week to two months, the pictures on this blog should improve dramatically. As you’re looking at the pictures, don’t forget that these scenes and designs are comprised of tiny tiles!
The museum is very modern, with interactive displays and a layout that doesn’t bore. I have to admit, I get major museum-itis after about 45 minutes, which is why I’m always thankful when museums are small, have cafes, or frame beautiful views, so that I can take a break from looking at things. Although I’m happy to spend an entire day being fascinated, I’m also amazed at how tiring simply checking things out can get.
But back to Zeugma – along with some fun interactive stuff, the museum has a clear layout, great signage, some projections that enhance understanding, plexiglass bridges that allow you to walk right over the mosaics, and multiple levels in which to view the art. A bunch of tiles look really different when viewed up close and from far away, and only the most intricate are clear when you’re standing right in front of them. I have a couple of close-ups below so you can see the effect. The museum treats the big prize, Gypsy Girl, like the Mona Lisa, in its own special darkened room with music playing and a guard to ensure you don’t get too close to its multiple layers of security. I’m not sure if any of this is required for the preservation of the piece, since it’s obviously survived the elements for so many years, but it does place the museum-goer in a position of wonder and respect when viewing it. Plus, of all the mosaics, copies of “that girl with creepy eyes that are always looking at you”, as my friend Emily described her, adorns a wall in almost every business in Gaziantep. She’s impossible to miss or forget. Her eyes did follow as I walked the arc in front of her – creepy indeed.
Zeugma was a really old town, thought to be founded by a general of Alexander the Great somewhere between 400-300 B.C. That’s right, the Macedonian civilization, one that I’m embarrassed to admit that I forgot about when discussing whether Macedonia was ever a real nation at my Balkans Class last week. Remember both Alexander the Great and Philip the Macedon – yeah, they hail from Macedonia. Some of these mosaics are older than the civilizations that we all studied. It’s amazing that anything remains. Zeugma was strategically located at one on the easiest fording spots of the Euphrates River and quickly became an important part of the east-west trade route. Over time it grew dramatically, even to the point where it rivaled Athens during the Hellenistic heyday, and with its wealth numerous palaces were built.
In 2000, Turkey started construction of several dams along the Euphrates River. This in turn spurred a rash of excavations of areas along the river known to contain this art before they were flooded forever. Unfortunately they didn’t get to everything, and excavation continues, when there’s money and the water levels are low enough.
My favorite part of the museum was the cheeky descriptions of mosaics found around Turkey. For one, Gaziantep has incredible excavators, and other excavators always have to call them in to rescue a mission. The signs always said: “Thank god for Gaziantep!” Second, there’s frequent talk of looters, robbers, and thieves – before the museum was founded those who had the public’s interest at heart were in constant battle against the various elements of the underground. Many mosaics were destroyed by those looking for treasure under fish or other motifs in the designs.
Here’s a video you can watch to get a better idea (except that the narration is in Turkish). Still, the scenery and pictures are really interesting.