Friday, November 14, 2008

An Englishman, an American and an Australian

"It's a bit like the beginning of a bad joke, isn't it?"

- The Englishman (Adam), when I step into the van and introduced myself

It was an inauspicious start. One cramped little mini-van, three guys, a tour guide, a bus driver - and three hours to kill before we got to Bergama. As Adam put it, it seemed like the beginning of one of those jokes - you know, the Englishman, Scotsman and Irishman ones....

But wasn't too bad. It was nice good, in fact. It was nice to wander the ruins of Pergamon with a handful of people. You get the uninterrupted attention of the guide. You get to take photos without having to wonder how to avoid the backs of other people's heads. And you get to stroll around the place with a certain unhurried ease. Really, it's the best of both worlds.

The tragedy of Pergamon is that the altar of Zeus was carted off to Berlin in the mid 1800s. In fact, I saw the altar a month ago when I was in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. It's a beautiful piece of architecture, and the friezes on the front are lovely, but it doesn't belong there. Certain things belong to a certain place, and that altar belongs on a hilltop overlooking the city of Bergama, under the shade of a couple of cyprus trees. It's the place where, in the Iliad, Zeus sat down and watched the Trojan War unfold. It's the place where the kings of Pergamon, who believed themselves the descendants of Zeus, build their altar to honour their ancestor. And that altar looks out of place sitting in a giant hall in a museum in the middle of Berlin. 

It's about context, you know. 

Then again, I came from Cappadocia and I've seen what the Turks can do with their historical heritage. After the Christian monasteries were closed down, and the Greek expelled, some enlightened souls decided to go up to the cave churches and hack the faces off the frescos that decorated the walls. The result is a series of galleries which are striking mainly because of what has been lost, rather than what is there. 

And the Hagia Sophia, of course. You can never forget the damage done to the mosaics of the Hagia Sophia. 

Still, there's something to be said about repatriation. Like the Elgin Marbles, like the bones of the Australian Aborigines, like the hundred and one mummies that are stuffed in the British Musuem, repatriation is the decent thing to do. They belong to their local environment, and not in some over-heated exhibition hall in the middle of a European city. 

Maybe it's a bit selfish of me. I get the biggest thrill when I walk through cities like Ephesus and Pergamon, and I realise that I'm in the amphitheatre where St Paul was nearly lynched, or where St John preached, or even where Zeus sat down with a bucket of ambrosia and watched the greatest battle in mythology unfold. 


Tim Bostelle said...

Hey Connolly, are you aware that your RSS feed points to something seriously broken?

Something called "fu*kingArsenal" and that all it generates is gibberish?

Connolly's agemt said...

When I first started, I called this blog "fucking arsenal", and subscribed to all the feeds using that name. I guess I didn't think I had to change it to "antipodean-gooner". It does explain the shockingly low viewcount I've had. Thanks, Tim. I'll have a look at it when I'm somewhere with a decent wifi connection.

P.S> While some people call it gibberish, I still call it the prettiest pink Arsenal blog on the 'net.