Zeugma mosaic museum — works of great mastery

In Gaziantep city of Turkey, the gypsy girl seemed to be everywhere. As a symbol of the Gaziantep city, on the brochures of the Zeugma Mosaic Museum and its tickets, in pictorial illustrations of art history of the region, on picture postcards and tourism souvenirs, the museum website, and right beside the doorway leading into the massive museum building itself. If only she could know how she had been immortalised...!

Zeugma mosaic museum — works of great mastery

Considered one of the world's biggest and most important institutions of its kind, Zeugma Mosaic Museum is spread over a massive 20,000 square metres. And it houses many superb exhibits but the Gypsy Girl with her magnificently arresting eyes, dishevelled hair and poignant expression is the most famous one. She is sometimes referred to as the Mona Lisa of Turkey or Zeugma. This work is also known as the Mosaic of Maenad.

The Zeugma Mosaic Museum is located in Gaziantep city in the eponymous province which is in south-east Turkey. The museum's displays cover and ancient era — pre-Hellenistic cultures and the Greek and Roman empires. A modern museum with spacious and impeccable interiors, it has a well-maintained exterior area and state-of-the-art technology. It showcases mosaics which are around 2,000 years old. The mosaics are displayed over an area of around 2,5000 square metres.

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Repository of art

Interestingly, another museum in Turkey called Hatay Archaelogy Museum also houses superb mosaics. Located in Antakya city, Hatay, it is spread over 32,000 square metres and hence bigger in size, explained our guide Shehzat as he led us into the Zeugma Mosaic Museum. Together, both institutions are precious repositories of great art and must-go destinations for art-historians, archaeologists and art-lovers interested in the region's cultural history.

The ancient city of Zeugma was founded by Seleukos Nikator, a general of Alexander the Great in 3rd century BC. Located on the Euphrates river, it flourished under Greek and then Roman rule before it was destroyed in the 3rd century AD during an invasion. These mosaics became buried under the rubble and water. However, they have retained their splendour.

The walk through the museum was a fascinating experience. On display were magnificent mosaics unearthed at the Roman site of Belkıs-Zeugma before the construction of the Birecik Dam resulted in a permanent flooding of most of this archaeological site. These Roman-era artworks would have once beautified the interiors of Zeugma's many grand Roman villas and palaces, we were told by our guide Shehzat.

Zeugma mosaic museum — works of great mastery

Historians hold that the mosaics were commissioned according to the individual tastes of the wealthy home-owners and nobles/politicians, hence the variety in the subjects of the mosaics. Experts deem that some of the displays at this museum can be counted among the finest specimens of Roman mosaic work in the world. They are now on view for the whole world thanks to extensive work by archaeologists and restoration experts under the supervision of the Turkish Government.

There were mosaics both on the wall and the floor. The museum had other elements too. The Roman fountains, several columns, limestone sculptures, sarcophagi, grave steles, and a relatively small but exquisite bronze statues of Mars on a centrally located pedestal, all held us in thrall as we walked around taking a journey back in time.

These ancient treasures are stunningly lifelike. The colour schemes also are imaginative. The other well-known pieces besides the Gypsy Girl and Mars statue here are of Fertility Goddess Demeter, Dionysus, Akratos, Okeanos, Euphrates, Eros, Tethys, Perseus-Andromeda, Herakles, Helios, Telete, Skyrtos, Ariadne, Psyche, Metiochus and Parthenope.

Smuggled out

Each mosaic has a fascinating story. For example, archaeologists discovered fragments of the Gypsy Girl mosaic decades ago while excavating the remains of the Zeugma city. Sadly, however, several pieces had already been looted by thieves and smuggled out of Turkey. They found their way to the U.S. and were bought by Bowling Green State University in Ohio, U.SA. Turkey asked for their return in 2012, and after five years of talks, the university returned them as a goodwill gesture thus giving the story a happy ending.

Zeugma mosaic museum — works of great mastery

Historians say that Zeugma's ancient art has been scattered around the world. The official archaeological excavations at the site began around the late 1980s where Roman mosaics and inscriptions had been found. However, by then, illegal excavations, looting and smuggling out of many pieces had already happened. This not only resulted in loss of precious treasures but also damaged the remaining mosaics.

The museum complex consists of three units. The main building exhibits the mosaics that have been found at the ancient city of Zeugma. In the second building we find a display of a unique collection of Late Antiquity church mosaics originating from the vicinity of Gaziantep. The third building houses the executive offices and conference rooms. The museum is open now for online viewing as part of the initiative by Turkey and countries around the world to open their museums for free online viewing.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 7:07:34 AM |

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