A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

odds and ends

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 30, 2008

Its 8:30 am by the airport clock and not quite that hour by my body clock, so I’m killing time on my laptop until my next flight home to Beirut. Oh, and watching a self-important Indian man try to unplug the mobile phone I am charging in one of the available outlets. He reminds me of the Lebanese men who change the channel on the televisions at the gym without first asking whether I am watching (usually, yes). In a way its heartening to see that sexist, arrogant men are not exclusive to Lebanon.

I’m editing the photos I took this weekend, which led to the unhappy realization that I abandoned our Beiteddine jaunt without talking about the mosaics – especially this one:

See diamond? H said when we passed this mosaic. I told you Lebanon had lions and tigers back in ancient times

He did indeed, although to me this looks like a leopard. Still, I wouldn’t have been any more pleased to encounter a leopard on our Metn walk than a lion or tiger.

And this mosaic (in the same room as the houses of Lebanon and the lovely gunshot door) does look more tiger’y:

The scary beast mosaics were part of a massive collection of mosaics of all sizes, which filled the stables of the palace. Many were of animals – including a surprising number of chickens and roosters. Perhaps the Romans saw more in them than we do today?

Others were stunning geometric designs that to my eye looked incredibly modern, like this one:

According to a tri-lingual, rather outdated Xerox-behind-plastic wall text, the mosaics are all from a late antique Roman church excavated in 1987 from the sands of Jiyyeh:

On the one hand, its refreshing to know that Jiyyeh’s sands have been good for something more than beach clubs. On the other hand – why not build a museum around the mosaics in situ, as Jordan did with Madaba?

There must be more to this story – and there must be more to the story of the church, as well. There were a lot of mosaics in the Beiteddine stables. Not one, not two – upwards of 20 full floor pieces, and at least as many more smaller ones.

This church must have been the largest thing for miles around ancient Jiyyeh – and its trustees must have controlled a huge chunk of wealth, if they were able to afford the cost of commissioning so many stunning mosaics. I knew the late antique period was one of great richness, metaphorical and literal, but seeing its evidence at Beiteddine was eye-opening.

One Response to “odds and ends”

  1. S. Worthen said

    Ancient Rome had lions. That doesn’t mean they were natives. The importation of exotic animal goes back a long way. I don’t know if ancient Lebanon had native wild cats or not, but they certainly could have imported them just as easily.

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