Nestled in the heart of Gaziantep, Turkey, the Zeugma Mosaic Museum stands as a testament to the grandeur of history. This sprawling museum, encompassing an impressive 1700 square meters of mosaics, is a treasure trove of artistry and culture. In this article, we embark on a journey to explore the rich tapestry of Zeugma’s past and the remarkable significance of this mosaic-laden sanctuary.
Zeugma, with its roots tracing back to the early 3rd century BC, was established by Seleucus I Nicator, a successor to Alexander the Great. Located strategically with the Euphrates River flowing beneath its first bridge, Zeugma swiftly rose to prominence. In 64 BC, the city came under the sway of the Roman Republic, evolving into a bustling metropolis that housed up to 70,000 residents. It flourished as a hub for both military might and bustling commerce, making it a jewel in the Roman Empire’s crown. Despite adversities, including its destruction by the Sassanids in 253 AD, Zeugma endured, its resilience testament to its historical importance.
History and Abandonment of Zeugma
As late antiquity unfolded, Zeugma found itself in the annals of the early Roman church. However, the looming shadows of Sassanid Persian and Umayyad Caliphate raids in the 7th century cast a pall over the city, leading to its eventual abandonment. Yet, Zeugma refused to fade into oblivion. Arabs, too, left their transient imprints on its history during the Middle Ages. By the 17th century, the Ottoman Turkish village of Belkis emerged near the ruins, keeping the spirit of Zeugma alive.
Flooding of the Archaeological Site
The story of Zeugma might have been one of untold loss if not for a fortuitous turn of events. In the year 2000, the imminent flooding of the archaeological site due to the construction of the Birecik Dam sent shockwaves through the archaeological community. With only a fraction of the site excavated, the fate of countless mosaics hung in the balance. It was a race against time, but salvation came in the form of American philanthropist David W. Packard. Moved by an article in The New York Times, he generously donated USD 5 million to fund an emergency excavation. This noble act allowed archaeologists to safeguard the mosaics that would otherwise have been lost to the depths of the dam’s waters.
The Zeugma Mosaic Museum
Today, the Zeugma Mosaic Museum stands as a monument to preservation and history. It opened its doors to the public on 9th September 2011, unveiling a staggering 30,000 square meters of space, including an awe-inspiring 2,448 square meters of mosaic artistry. In a remarkable turn of events, it surpassed the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, emerging as the largest mosaic museum worldwide.
Seleucus I Nicator
The museum’s collection predominantly centers around Zeugma itself, harkening back to its origins as Seleucia, founded by Seleucus I Nicator. This founder of the Seleucid Kingdom had once served as a hetairoi military officer in Alexander the Great’s army. These treasures, including the mosaics, remained relatively obscure until the year 2000. The impending construction of dams along the Euphrates threatened to submerge much of Zeugma, but it also unearthed its hidden treasures. As of 2011, many mosaics still await discovery, and dedicated teams of researchers labor tirelessly to uncover Zeugma’s secrets.
The Earthquake of 2023
The Zeugma Mosaic Museum faced its ultimate test of resilience in 2023. The Mw 7.8 Turkey–Syria earthquake wreaked havoc, leaving much of Gaziantep in ruins. However, the museum building and its priceless artifacts emerged unscathed, defying the odds. Miraculously, all the museum staff survived the earthquake’s fury. This triumph over adversity saw the museum reopening its doors just two and a half months after the catastrophic event, reaffirming its unwavering commitment to preserving history.