Archaeological Museum Gaziantep: ‘just’ local stuff

The Archaeological Museum Gaziantep has a large and most interesting collection, starting with fossiles and ending with islamic artefacts from the Osmanli period. The start of the museum shows all the periods of Gaziantep history and their timelines; with the last period, the Turkish Republic, as the greatest. The Archaeological Museum Gaziantep is well designed and well organized. The objects are presented beautifully and all signs are in Turkish and English.
The collection is overwhelming in variety and quality. If you go to a Western Archaeological Museum, most of the collection derives – legally or illegally – from other countries. Not here…. Gaziantep is one of those places where civilization started at a very early age. The collection derives not even from ‘Turkey’ as a whole but from the region. Locals told me that they grew up with archeological artefacts; just by playing outside, they would regularly find old stuff. It is everywhere. So nobody will tell you about the beauty of the museum: locals consider this richness as a normal status!
You can easily spend two hours at the museum. If you can only endure one hour at most (like many people do), chose your period in advance and go to the part of the museum where that can be found.

Choice of masterpieces
I give you here some pieces that I found very interesting – remember that it is a choice out of thousands of artefacts so go and see for yourself what you like.

Neolithic prehistory: it is always nice to find a lively scene at the entry of a museum. Many evidence of early settlers (10.000-5.500 BC) were found in the Gaziantep region.


A grave that dates from the Iron Age, with gifts that indicate a belief in life after death. The necropolis at the Euphrates in Nizip showed that graves were reused multiple times throughout the years. ‘Old’ bones and their ornaments were just pushed aside to make room for the newcomer.



Kuttamuwa Stele, used in a temple where sacrifices were brought for the death. There is a video in the museum that revives the temple and the ceremonies, very nice!


Steles from the Hittites. Depicted is Teshup, the God of the Mountain, of Trade etc. Wonderful pieces!



Banquet Staged Stele, also Hittite period: if you see this 2800 year old picture, you can imagine that you would have a nice night out dining with a Hittite friend. There is no time-gap in pleasure…



Karkemish is on the border with Syria; half of the ancient city (antik kent) lies in Syria (Jarablus). I wanted to visit this but it is still closed due to the situation in Syria. Still there are active excavations and the Turkish government is preparing to reopen Karkemish as soon as possible.


The pieces are absolutely unique. For several objects, there are texts on the back side in hieroglyphs or cuneiform (both were used) and they are translated in Turkish and English on signs: extremely interesting.


Red polished ceramics of the Urartu; perfection of craftmanship and the ability to organize trade for it 2800 years ago. Design used not just by royals, also by ordinary folks. Just wow.


Urartu bracelets, have a look: the same type of bracelets can even be sold today. They have designed jewelry that passed through the ages…


Roman bracelets, made out of glass. They are so beautiful! I’d love to see those reproduced in the actual days (maybe an idea for the Murano factories in Italy?).


Notice: I skipped fossiles, beautiful iron objects, dramatic Urartu weapens, Persian statues, Commagene objects, golden jewelry… it is just too much to show here. So: go there and see for yourself.

How to get there?
Be aware that there are 3 museums in Gaziantep about antiquities. This is information that is hard to find on internet and locals generally do not know the exact details.
* Medusa Glass museum with glass and many ancient artefacts, this is a private museum next to the Castle/Kale in the center.
* Zeugma Museum for mosaics, seen from the center it lies on ‘the other/outer side’ of the former train station, a 2-3 kilometers walk from the Castle/Kale.
* Archaeological Museum, next to the Stadion (locals know the Stadion best so ask for that location). Organisationally Zeugma and Archaeological Museum belong together, in distance there is about 1,5 kilometer between them, both on another side of the former train station. Archaelogical Museum is about 1-1,5 kilometer walk from the Castle/Kale.

Museum shop
Both the Archaeological and Zeugma Museum have a beautiful museum shop with original products, prints of museum artefacts on magnets, booklets, cushions etc, handwoven high quality shawls or handmade bags and so on. The books they have about archaeology, economy, trade and local life are most interesting but alas only in Turkish. The cooking book of the Gaziantep kitchen would deserve a translation in the first place as this excellent kitchen is attractive for many nationalities, not just Turks. Note that the shop in the Archaeological Museum is at the entrance but they lead you out through the cafe, so for the shop you have to walk back to the entrance to find it; in Zeugma museum shop and cafe are combined at the exit (and they have good coffee 🙂

Zoo Gaziantep: lions, camels, cows

The Zoo (Hayvanat Bahcesi) in Gaziantep is rather new: it opened in 1998 and if you go there, in many spots you will see people working to make the Zoo bigger and more beautiful. There is a traditional Zoo-part where you can watch animals and a Safari-part where you can only enter in a bus. I couldn’t enter because I did not find the bus, maybe because it was winter when I visited, with few visitors at all.
The Zoo-part has large cages especially for the predatory animals, deers, camels, elephants, cangaroos and the like. Only the monkeys were in small, unattractive rooms maybe because of the winter time. The large cages outside were empty, that might be their normal homes.
The Zoo Gaziantep is a nice place to visit. It has strong educational aims, the Zoological Museum contains many examples of all kinds of animals  (be aware: all signs here are in Turkish only – either you can explain the animals to your children yourself or bring a dictionary) and it is fun to walk around.
There are a few places where you can eat or drink something – it is not allowed to bring food in the park that could be given to the animals such as grapes or nuts. Your bag will be checked at the entrance for that purpose. There is also a place to do your prayers (Mescid) and you find it on the signs (at the bottom of the picture).
The Zoo Gaziantep is large so you will be walking around to see all the animals. Think about that in the heat of the summer and go early in the morning. All places are accessible by wheelchair; differences in height might mean you need some help at certain spots.

What I liked most in the Zoo Gaziantep: the albino king snake; and, big surprise for a Dutch person to find that in a Zoo: the cow!
How to get there
Around the Zoo is an enormous park, you pay a small entrance price to get in. Follow the road through the parc and you will end up at the Zoo. The parc is a real family and friends parc with all necessary and also child-friendly facilities where you can sit, eat, sing, have a barbecue: an excellent combination with a visit to the Zoo.
The Zoo is about 15 kilometers from the center. The best is to take a taxi (cheap in Western standards) that will bring you to the entrance of the Zoo itself. Another options is what Syrian refugees do (there are many Syrian refugees in Gaziantep and they do visit the Zoo): take the tram until the endpoint Adliye and walk from there: 2-3 kilometers through the park.
See also:**

More money than ever in Gaziantep’s Money Museum

In Gaziantep’s Money Museum (Devr-i Alem Para Müzesi) you will see money everywhere. It is a private museum, very different from other money museums I visited (f.ex. my blog about Nicosia, Tunis) because it is not about showing a particular collection. It is – really, I do not exagerate – about showing money in quantities.
There is money hanging on trees. There is money in bottles along the wallsides, hanging on the ceiling, standing on a table that is almost overloaded.  
On the table alone there is 4000 kilo (!) of coins. There is a box with money that has never been used because it was not legally acquired and the ‘owners’ found no way for the necessary money laundering. There is very old money, from ancient times, and new money that could be used today but it is just there, apparently useless but not completely useless as many visitors admire the place every day and see that there are different ways to deal with money. TV-reporters from different countries have discovered the museum already; the day before I visited the museum, an Iraqi TV-channel was there.
The Money Museum is run by a local guy who worked in the Netherlands during many years and founded this museum on his return. Make sure that you speak to him because he is very much part of the charm of the museum. And most probably days after you visited the museum you still think about all the money you saw and why a place like this exists in the world – and how it is run and secured….

A short video impression about the Money Museum Gaziantep:

War museum Gaziantep

Everybody in Gaziantep told me to go to the War Museum (Savas müzesi). ‘I went already to the castle‘, was my answer – the description of the independance war there is detailed and could not be improved (see my blog about that visit here). ‘But the War Museum is different’, they claimed. I did not go but in the end I happened to drink a tea with a guy who appeared to be a guard and he did not even ask me whether I wanted to go. ‘I have to show you’. And there we went. Well it was a happy surprise.
The museum situates mainly in the underground caves that were used by the Turkish resistance during the Independance War. You can experience there what life looked like for them. They made everything themselves, food, olive oil, soap, even rifles. The guy who made the rifles is shown in the picture on top and here on the sign.

Other ‘puppets’ make clear how women and even children were filling the bullets.
The story of the sewer canals is also interesting: they were used to move underground through the city without the enemy noticing anything. Knowing one’s own field has always been a decisive element in man-to-man battles. A few (entrances to the) canals can be seen on the spot. The wounds and the suffering of the heroes have been made quite explicit in several puppets. The picture here shows the underground hospital and you can see the blood run.
Most of all however, I liked the rattles. When the French started to shoot and the Turks didn’t have enough ammunition, they would play the rattles to imitate gunfire. I got a demonstration from my guard, it was brilliant – you’d really think that a well equiped army is responding to your gunfire…
Those who said `the War Museum is different` were right, it is different and it is adding some important information to what the Gaziantep castle presents. Daily life in the caves is absolutely interesting to see. And the result is also that I will never forget how brave (`Gazi`) the inhabitants of Antep are, and will be in any war in the future. The lesson is transmitted thoroughly both to visitors and to the population.

“Every Turkish city, every town and the smallest Turkish village can accept the people of  Gaziantep as examples of heroism”

Another blog about this subject:


Gaziantep castle: panorama and nationalism

Gaziantep castle (Gaziantep kalesi, also called: the panorama museum) goes a long way back: most probably the Romans already had a first fortress on this rock, followed by the Byzantines, Arab rulers, Selcuk and Mongol rulers and whoever passed by in this region: the list of different rulers is long. Going to Gaziantep castle means having a perfect panorama over the city. It is nice and well enough restaured for a good impression what the castle was like in the old days.
Moreover this castle is used as the expression of Antep’s heroism. The people of Antep played a crucial role in the War of Indepences in 1920-1921 and were honoured by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk with the title ‘Gazi’: great, heroic. The war of indepence came after that the Osman emperor and its calliphate were defeated; Turkey was attacked from all sides, by the English, the French, the Armenians, the Greek, the Russians: they all wanted their share of the remains of Turkish territory. Under the leadership of Atatürk a war of independence started and they won. This is seen as the ultimate survival of Turkey – without this war, Turkey would no longer exist and Turks would not have a land of their own. Five or six thousand inhabitants of Antep lost their lives in that war but their role was decisive. The Gaziantep castle shows this history and the pride, the nationalism of this town. Lots of kids are visiting the castle to learn about the war but also many Turks from Gaziantep and elsewhere show indepth interest in the exposition.
All the written texts are in Turkish and English, the film is only in Turkish. If you want to understand the politics and national feelings of Turks in the past and the present, this is a must-go. gaziantep castle exposition
A disadvantage is that they feel the need to copy the fights. During the whole exposition, you will hear the sounds of guns and artillery; it can make you nervous and I do not see the purpose it serves. But apart from that, I’d recommend a visit. It is another, however non-critical example of how people interprete and write their history (see my blog about the Stockholm Museum), in relation to the actual context.
More on this subject: the War Museum (Savas Müzesi) in Gaziantep

Zeugma museum: presentation matters

The Zeugma Museum in Gaziantep, Turkey, is said to be the largest mosaic museum in the world. I am not sure whether that is true when it comes to the ‘amount’ of mosaics, but it certainly is the greatest mosaic museum when it comes to presentation. The finest mosaics of the region are shown here under perfect light, in a large and beautiful hall that is made in such a way that spectacular mosaics can be seen from nearby ànd above. This is how the best pieces of art are honoured; those who designed the Zeugma Museum were respectful to the mosiac works, visionary in what they wanted to created and ambitious in their goals. They have succeeded to give a life long impression to the visitors – who were almost exclusively Turkish by the way. I have not seen any other foreign tourist beside myself which is remarkable for a museum that deserves world fame. It must be its location, 30 miles from Syria, that is avoided rather than visited.
They got some cool stuff, for example this corner where you can see the mosaics better by the use of mirrors. Also they have touchscreens where you can look up the mosaic you prefer and watch it in detail; or another touchscreen where they show you ‘land’ and you have to guess which mosaic lies under the ground. The only thing lacking is the translation of Greek texts: some mosaics show texts and you’d like to know what they say. You’d expect a museum to explain that to its visitors…
As it is impossible to describe it all, here my top three of the many spectacular mosaics:
1. The Gypsy Girl, who has somehow become the symbol of Gaziantep; she is everywhere in the streets, in shops, on the airport. They gave here a special place in a dark room where no one enters without the presence of a museum guard. And there she is, in the dark, brilliant and mysterious in the same time, uniquer than unique among all the mosaics. Indeed it is a masterpiece. While I was standing there alone in the dark, she seemed to look right through me…
2. The Galateia mosaic, seen from above. Some mosaics have more worked out details or fuller images. I liked this one because of the balance and the colours. A description of the Galateia story can be found on the website of the museum (in English and Turkish, if you like), here

3.The out-of-the-box mosaic. I haven’t got a clue what it is but I adored it immediately. It is one of the more recent mosaics. Apparently, in that period, they started to put images in the mosaics just where they wanted – at random – no apparent rules were followed any more. I imagine that it was a breakout from all the detailed work that was done during ages; and how free it felt and how it was criticized by traditionalists and knowledgeable people and all those who feared that craftmanship was now about to disappear, to be replaced by art work that ‘even my three year old son can make’.

Gaziantep has a lot to offer, apart from the Zeugma Museum. Still, the Zeugma Museum is all by itself an excellent reason to go to Gaziantep. You will not be disappointed.

Link to my blog about the Bardo Museum in Tunis, the other mosaic museum with world fame and Zeugma`s competitor in volume – quality: Bardo Museum wowowow

Other interesting museums about ancient times in Gaziantep:
the Medusa Glass Museum (in fact a private archaeological museum)
the Archaeological Museum

1000’s of years old boots, toys, breast pumps…

3000 years ago someone made the ‘boots’ you see here; they are rhytons, drinking vessels or horns, and date from the Urartu (read more about Urartu here). You can find them in the Medusa Glass Museum, also called the Medusa Archeological Museum in Gaziantep, Turkey. This museum is richer than most archeological museums, yet rather small in size and hidden in a back street.
If you look around in the Streets close to the Kale, the castle of Gaziantep, you can find it and most people know it so just ask around; they will show you. This museum is so much worth a visit! It is most wealthy in its collection; amazing both in the amount and the quality of its artefacts. These objects would be worth a national museum with lots of space for individual pieces. More than anything this museum shows the ‘normality’ of super ancient artefacts in this region.
If you think like me, that ‘old’ starts at least in the era BC, this museum is your place to be! Some examples: they got a range of children’s toys (‘cars’) from the early bronze age (3000-2000 BC). The picture shows 2 of them. They got lots of gold from 100 BC (Greek). While I was watching it, I looked around full of sorrow: was this place really well protected? The Medusa museum gives you the idea of a home, rather than a museum with full security equipment… I thought (you never know).

And what about this strange object that is apparently from a very old age; it is exhibited in between a marvellous Hittite stone piece and several tablets with cuneiform writing. Alas the lack of information makes you wonder without finding the answer…
Moreover there are some figurines from 6000-5400 BC; this means among the oldest findings ever. They reminded me of findings in Malta, where the same kind of mother goddess or fertility statues were found and nobody can explain what culture they belonged to, what they mean. There is a similarity with the figurines shown in the Medusa Museum which would support the theory that in ancient times certain places served religious rituals with regard to fertility and/or the female godess.
These are just some examples. The museum is full of comparable pieces, and glass work, stone and glass jewelry that I do not show here. To finalize: there is some amazing Roman stuff (more recent, 100-200 AC):
– ‘sexual objects’ that I do not show so you have a reason to go there.
– a breast pump (really!) made out of glass. All kind of ideas came to my mind when I watched it.
For those who love ancient times and who think `ancient` goes further back than the Middle Ages, the Medusa Glass Museum in Gaziantep is a dream – you have to go there. The title `glass museum` is misleading: there are indeed many glass objects, but even more impressive is the collection of unique non-glass pieces that deserve a full presentation (it reminded me of the Archeological Museum in Amman) – more room than there is now for them.

See also:


Visages villages: brilliance of the normal

In the film Visages Villages two outstanding artists, 88 year old filmmaker Agnès Varda and 33 year old photographer JR, show the brilliance of the normal in a way that has not been done before. In JR’s van that is equiped to produce on-the-spot photo posters they cross villages and a harbour in search of people to photograph – and spots to present them on. The effect of their method is outstanding from the point of view ‘art and creativity’ and most moving for the individuals that are touched by their initiative.

The woman ‘who was just a server in the restaurant’ becomes – through her poster on the wall of a house – the most photographed woman of the village; the wives of the tough men working in the harbour are drawn out of the shadow into the light, both vulnerable and strong; the only inhabitant left in mine workers houses, almost forgotten by the world, becomes a monument of resistance; and so on. What is absolutely unique about this road movie that could also be called a road documentary, is the normality  shown in its full brilliance. It shows that normality can be infinitely more interesting and great than the special.

While creating all this, the dynamics between Agnès Varda and JR in and outside JR’s van follow their own road, interesting in itself. These people that differ so much in age find common ground in ambition, personal traits and mutual respect. From a vivid wheelchair run through Musée du Louvre in Paris to sharing sadness and perspectives on life: it forms one breathtaking story for the spectators.
Visages Villages seems to be composed out of many different elements without too much connection. Yet this film shows you life like it is and life seated still sit in your cinema chair, long after the subtitles have gone; thoughtful, amazed, and happy.

Prix Festival de Cannes: L’œil d’or pour Meilleure Film Documentaire

Trailer Visages Villages

Other reviews


Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

  Today, November 12 2017, the well-known presentator Leila Prnjavorac read a great Good Night Story for Rebel Girls in a gigantic bed in the Public Library of Amsterdam. It was a great act to observe, especially at the moment that all the children imitate the ‘camouflage’ that Queen Nanny (1686 – 1733) taught the Marrons at Jamaica to protect themselves from the English ennemy. See and enjoy the youtube I produced about that particular story (in Dutch, click on the image):

The book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls has now been translated for Dutch children under the title Bedtijdverhalen voor Rebelse Meisjes. The stories of 100 special women are described in a nice, easy-to-go way in combination with beautiful and colorful images.
Is it possible to be inspiring and practical on a simple page? Yes it is.
For example the book describes the story of an Irish girl who wanted to be a sailor and a pirate. When her father told her that her long read hair would get stuck in the ropes of the sails, she just cut her hair off, leaving her father no other choice than to take her onto the ship. Girls learn that there are solutions to problems they might face and that they can take action all by themselves. And they see what can be achieved. The Irish girl ended up being personal friends with the Queen of England she initially fought against. It is a joy to read the different stories of the book, with women from all over the world, from many cultures.
No shortcomings in this book then? Yes, but just one. The choice was made to describe also the stories of women still alive. That always comes with the risk that they might still do less heroic things after the story was written. For example Myanmarese Aung San Suu Kyi is in the book as a Nobel Price winning political hero. However at this very moment her Nobel Price is heavily discussed due to her negative role in the immense drama of ethnic cleansing of the Rohinya in Myanmar – not exactly the good night story one would choose for one’s kid to tell…
However, this is a minor shortcoming that still leaves 99/100 inspiring stories in the book. Therefor I warmly recommend it for all rebel girls >>> and their mothers!

Bedtijdverhalen voor Rebelse Meisjes
Geschreven door Elena Favilli en Francesca Cavallo
Uitgegeven 2017 door Rose Stories

Graveyards as symbol of ethnic conflict

graveyard symbol ethnic conflict

Graveyards have a role of their own in ethnic diverse regions. Remembering the dead in dignity is important, and almost symbolic when it comes to ethnic conflicts.
I have written about the bad state of the Greek-Cypriot graveyards in Northern Cyprus in 2011 and that drew the attention of M. Thorsten Kruse who works at the Institut für Interdisziplinäre Zypern-Studien at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster. We exchanged information about the status of cemetaries in Cyprus. It is moving to see that M. Thorsten Kruse, a person with scientific ambitions has taken this heritage on as a subject.
Recently M. Thorsten Kruse has published his findings in his article “Zwischen Politik und Religion – Der Umgang mit den griechischen und muslimischen Grabstätten Zyperns nach der gewaltsamen Teilung der Insel 1974 [Between Politics and Religion – The handling of the Greek and Muslim Cemeteries in Cyprus after the Division of the Island in 1974]” in which he used photographs I made in Northern Cyprus. The article is publiced in this book: A. Berner, J.-M. Henke, A. Lichtenberger, B. Morstadt, A. Riedel (Hg.), Das Mittelmeer und der Tod – Mediterrane Mobilität und Sepulkralkultur, 2016. Please find the book at the publishing house. If you like to contact M. Thorsten Kruse directly, do so as he is willing to answer your questions!
One of the themes in his article is the fact that in the North of Cyprus (the Turkish side), the Greek graveyards may have been destroyed deliberately as they are all in a devastating state. The situation for Turkish cemetaries in the South of Cyprus (the Greek side) is different, he says. This raises questions about why this is the case and M. Thorsten Kruse comes – roughly – to conclusions as I formulated in a blog about the difference in approach of history and heritage between Greeks and Turks. The Turkish Cypriots were making up for a future in the North without the Greek Cypriots, leaving everything in the South behind with little care for Greek Cypriot heritage in the North while the Greek Cypriots were making up for a future where Turkish Cypriots will return and things will go back to the situation as it was before. This fundamental difference would lead to destruction of Greek graveyards in the North but maintenance of Turkish graveyards in the South.
I have to say here that the historic context as approached in this study mainly considers 1974 (when the Turks landed in Cyprus and took hold of the Northern part) as the turning point, while Turkish Cypriots would place that date much earlier (1963). There was destruction of Turkish Cypriot heritage in 1963. It is clear circumstances in Cyprus are very difficult to pursue a scientific study for his subject. Any choice made is not just a scientific choice but also a choice that might be seen as a cultural or political move, the expression of an opinion, a way to choose sides. This makes the job of M. Thorsten Kruse very challenging; however it is a necessary and important job. If you have ideas or funds to realize continuation, do not hesitate to contact him.graveyard symbol ethnic conflict


Investeer in jouw inclusiviteit!



Niet jouw intenties die ongetwijfeld goed zijn, gaan het verschil maken voor inclusiviteit maar je deskundigheid en je vaardigheden.Investeer daarin!

Een vreemd verschijnsel in de organisatiewereld van diversiteit en inclusie is de wijdverbreide aanname dat het wel goed komt als je maar van goede wil bent. Geen enkele organisatie zou zijn financiële huishouding overlaten aan de goede wil van medewerkers alleen – er zouden meteen zorgen opkomen over de juistheid, de volledigheid, de rechtmatigheid van de financiële acties. Ook voor de juridische afdeling, de ontwerpers of de onderwijzers wordt het volkomen normaal geacht, zelfs een harde beroepseis, dat deze medewerkers een opleiding en/of ervaring in hun vakgebied hebben, vaak in combinatie met bij- en nascholingen.
Helaas komt het bij diversiteit & inclusie regelmatig voor dat dergelijke eisen niet gesteld worden. Er zijn benoemingen van diversity managers puur gebaseerd op de betreffende medewerker’s interesse voor het onderwerp; echt, dat is geen uitzondering. Blijkbaar wordt zoiets niet ingeschat als een risico voor de organisatie, en de keerzijde van die gedachte is dan ook dat het goed inzetten van diversiteit & inclusie niet kritisch is voor het succes van de organisatie. Toch is dat wel zo…
Deze blog is te beperkt voor het noemen van allerlei voorbeelden die dat aantonen. Mijn boek Voorbij het Verschil geeft er wel veel. Je kunt dat boek kopen en wellicht spreekt het je zo aan dat je mee wvoorbij het verschil coverilt doen met de masterclass Inclusief Leiderschap op 11 september a.s. In deze masterclass lopen we de hoofdthema’s van inclusief leiderschap door en is er veel ruimte om – vertrouwelijk – de casuïstiek van de deelnemers te bespreken. Daarom is de groep niet groot; bij veel aanmeldingen wordt niet de groep uitgebreid maar een extra datum gepland zodat de persoonlijke aandacht maximaal blijft.
De ambitie is om van diversiteit & inclusie het vak te maken dat het daadwerkelijk is; daardoor neemt de effectiviteit van interventies aanzienlijk toe! Zo creëren we organisaties waarin medewerkers van alle soorten en maten kunnen en willen werken; organisaties die het effect sorteren waar onze maatschappij blij van wordt…

Travels with Herodotus

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski is an amazing book that was given to me as a second hand book by a friend already years ago. It ended up at a pile and stayed there for years. However since I travel a lot for my work in the Middle East these days, I am reading book by book through that pile while waiting at airports or flying in airplanes.
Travels with Herodotus is one of those books that I should have read earlier and that I couldn’t let go once I started reading. It is not a new book (published in Dutch in 2005 already) but who cares, nor is Herodotus who lived in the 5th century BC.
Kapuscinki proves that Herodotus has not lost any of his actuality in 2500 years for 2 main reasons:

1. He is the first known author to check and double check his stories, indicating for his readers how (im)probable the history he offers would be; that is tremendously interesting. His way of operating is amazing, checking stories in the 5th century BC cost him years but that didn’t stop him at all. He must have felt that he was not just writing for his contemporaries but for the entire humanity. So as readers in the 21st century we can follow pretty accurately the games of power of the ancient world.

2. Herodotus shows with facts the extreme cruelty of the rulers of his time – and of their advisers, family and the like. They make you think of some 20th century dictators; indeed not mankind has changed but the possibilities individuals get to apply their cruelty in daily reality. Herodotus describes the cities of Athens and Sparta as cities with a democracy where power was limited or should we say: diffuse, divided; no one was able to rule through fear and cruelty to the extent that it was found among Persians, Assyrians, Parths and many other people where the power was in the hands of one person or family. Somehow it is the system that allows humans to be cruel – or stops them. In the light of today’s debate about the value of democracy, these are intriguing thoughts.
The division of power leads to endless discussions, even on the battle field where the Greek leaders fight although the Persians are near. It is fun to read for those who have experience with democracy; nothing changed in the ‘way it is done’. And the surprise is that small Greek states without apparent unity win the war over well organized Persians who outnumber them and do not loose time in discussions about strategy. The book proves that it would have changed the course of history in Europe, had the Persians won the war. It is an encouragement to proceed on the way of checks and balances in the institution and execution of power!

Travels with Herodotus is not just about Herodotus, it is also about the author Ryszard Kapuscinski himself. He interwaves his personal story as travel journalist with Herodotus’ book Histories in an interesting and also meaningful way. I think Kapuscinski saw this book as his personal life story. On his first foreign trip that he undertook while he had always lived in closed communist Poland, Herodotus’ book accompanied him and did so on many other journeys that followed. It was not just a source of inspiration but also a method and a continuous challenge for reflection. Kapuscinski shares a lifetime outcome of that with his readers; this book has a depth that is rarely seen. It is a gift for humanity: buy it, in a second hand bookshop if no longer available, who cares.

Travels with Herodotus is a must-read for anybody who is interested in:
– (the development of) democracy versus dictatorship
– Asian and European ancient history
– travel journalism, both content/stories and methodology
– philosophy, politics, culture and anthropology.

Useful links: (in Dutch)