An extended weekend in Athens amidst the Norwegian winter is surely a pleasure for the skin that craves for sun, the bones that like the warmth, the eyes that long for the bright day light.
The sunny weather was a most welcoming aspect for the three visitors from the north that came to the Greek capital to present African archaeology including Nubia and Sudan in the colloquy that was organized at the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art in the frame of the exhibition of photographs “From Nubia to Sudan through the eyes of the Greek-Norwegian Archaeological Mission“.
Walking from Syntagma Square to Kerameikos with professor Timothy Insoll on our way to the lectures on Saturday morning, it was nice to see him recognizing the Ottoman style of the Tsisdarakis Mosque that stands beside the metro station at the Monastiraki Square. Talking about the bits and bites of Ottoman Athens that are still visible, we reached the Benaki Museum and admired with the British professor its architecture.
The inside of the museum is even more attractive. The third floor displays a reconstructed interior of houses in Cairo and was a very inspiring space to present the lectures of the day. Surely, the audience profited greatly from Insoll’s presentation of the examples of current research on his speciality, namely archaeology of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as future potential for this topic.
The museum curators were very pleased and profited from this meeting too; for Insoll not only expressed his deep impressions from the top quality of the Benaki Museum’s collection of Islamic art, but he also helped with the identification of the nature of an object exhibited in the first floor of the museum: one of the stelae inscribed in Arabic of the early Islamic period was initially a grinding stone. He had earlier presented in his talk one example of such secondary use from Western Africa and the example found during the detailed tour that followed was a precise parallel from Eastern Africa that is exhibited in the first floor of the museum. It is no surprise that we remembered similar stelae found in Eastern Sudan…
(Images and detailed comments on this case study in a future entry)
…for Sudan was not absent from Insoll’s lecture, since he referred to both Laurence Smith’s project on the Red Sea port of Suakin and the GNM’s project on Medieval Sai in very honoring terms; and Sudan was of course the focal point in the presentations of Henriette and Alexandros that followed.
Leaving the museum we threw a glance back to the space that hosted some of the most interesting activities that the Greek-Norwegian Mission organized this year under the auspices of the Organization for Greek-Norwegian cooperation in the fields of culture and humanities. It was a strange feeling to leave the Benaki Museum without knowing if our photo exhibition will still be there, when we return…
What is more, these days in Athens were an opportunity for the leadership of the Organization to meet some of the Greek members and discuss practical matters and future plans. Some of the final decisions took place on the excellent roof terrace of Amalia Hotel, where we were hosted during this extended weekend.
And now we are back to Bergen, to the snow-covered north, and appropriately, snow is falling on Medieval Sai Project again…