British Museum reveals secrets of ancient Assyrian ruler

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Ashurbanipal hunting on horseback, Nineveh, Assyria, 645 – 635 BC. (Courtesy British Museum)
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Stone stele depicting Ashurbanipal, right, shown with a ritual basket on his head with cuneiform inscription, South Iraq, Marduk temple (Babylon), 668BC — 665BC. His brother Shamash-shumu-ukin, left, carved with cuneiform inscription, South Iraq, Temple of Nabu (Borsippa), 668BC – 655BC. (Courtesy British Museum)
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Granite sphinx of Taharqo, Kawa, Sudan. (Courtesy British Museum)
Updated 20 June 2018
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British Museum reveals secrets of ancient Assyrian ruler

  • Exhibition on King Ashurbanipal reveals treasures from the 7th-century kingdom that stretched across northern Iraq and eastern Mediterranean.
  • Director of the British Museum Hartwig Fischer: “This exhibition will bring visitors face to face with a king whose reign shaped the history of the ancient world.”

LONDON: When Daesh ransacked Mosul Museum in February 2015, the world watched in horror as cultural treasures were pushed from plinths and relics from ancient civilizations smashed to the floor. 

Priceless pieces of Iraq’s history were lost, taking thousands of years of heritage with them while the militant group tried to wipe out pre-Islamic past and destroy all memory of the ancient civilizations Iraq is built on.

Rescuing the artefacts that escaped the group’s savagery and restoring Iraq’s archaeological ancestry has become part of the healing process as the country emerges from the trauma of Daesh rule and pieces its identity back together following a decade of turmoil. 

Programs to train Iraq’s archaeologists in emergency heritage management are being supported by overseas institutions, including the British Museum in London, where a new exhibition will delve into an era when Iraq was at the center of a great Assyrian empire. 

Priceless treasures from the archaeological archives of ancient Assyria will go on display at the museum in November for the first major exhibition on the kingdom’s last great ruler, King Ashurbanipal. 

Described as the most powerful person on earth during his reign in the 7th-century BC, Ashurbanipal ruled with an iron fist from his seat in Nineveh, now northern Iraq. 

He presided over a vast territory that stretched from the shores of the eastern Mediterranean to the summits of western Iraq and was known, according to the exhibition, as a “Warrior. Scholar. Empire-builder. King-slayer. Lion-hunter. Librarian.”

A map showing the extent of the Assyrian Empire (in pink). (Courtesy Paul Goodhead)

His feats on the battlefield, which included conquering Egypt and crushing the state of Elam, established his military might but the Assyrian king also cultivated an intellectual prestige, amassing the largest library in existence to showcase his scholarship.

For Ashurbanipal, the ruthless ruler, harnessing the power of learning to build his status as “King of the World, King of Assyria,” was equally important in cowing his enemies.

Among the notable pieces in his extraordinary collection, which predated the famous Library of Alexandria, was the Epic of Gilgamesh, a poem from ancient Mesopotamia considered the earliest surviving work of great literature.

About 30,000 of these texts are in the hands of the British Museum, where they tell the story of life at Ashurbanipal’s famously extravagant court in ancient cuneiform script, hammered out on clay tablets. 

These are among the 200 rarely-seen objects due to be displayed at the museum, which has brought together pieces from across the world, from the History Museum of Armenia, Yerevan to the Musée du Louvre in Paris to supplement its existing collection of artefacts from the glory days of ancient Assyria. 

Huge stone statues, delicately-carved reliefs, rare wall paintings and elaborate armory give a sense of the opulence of Ashurbanipal’s palace, which stood as a symbol of the vast wealth and influence he wielded, flanked by expansive gardens where an elaborate canal network reached 50 kilometers into the mountains.

Recent speculation has suggested that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon — one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — were in fact those at Nineveh.

Some of the the artefacts have been brought up from a decommissioned basement gallery at the British Museum, where few have had the opportunity to lay eyes on them for 20 years. 

Brought together for the first time, they capture the scale and splendor of the era before Ashurbanipal’s empire fell to the Babylonians and recalls an era when the influence of Assyrian monarchs reached across the world. 

Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, said: “This exhibition will bring visitors face to face with a king whose reign shaped the history of the ancient world.” 

Many of the items on display originate from archaeological sites in Iraq, including Nineveh and Nimrud, cities recently ravaged by Daesh when the group stormed the ancient sites armed with sledgehammers and drills. 

Gareth Brereton, exhibition curator, said: “As present-day Iraq looks to recover the history of damaged sites at Nineveh and Nimrud, this exhibition allows us to appreciate and relive the great achievements of an ancient world and celebrate its legacy.” 


 


Cirque du Soleil prepares ground-breaking show in King Fahd Stadium

Updated 21 September 2018
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Cirque du Soleil prepares ground-breaking show in King Fahd Stadium

RIYADH: A joint press conference between the MBC Group, the General Entertainment Authority, and Cirque du Soleil was held at King Fahd Stadium on Thursday afternoon to answer media questions and give some details about Cirque du Soleil’s upcoming special performance, part of Saudi Arabia’s 88th National Day celebrations. The show is slated to be one of the biggest performed by the Cirque and their first in Saudi Arabia. It is a one-night-only, exclusive event, designed especially for this occasion.
Daniel Fortin, vice president of Creation at Cirque du Soleil, teased the audience with a few details of the upcoming show. “With a cast and crew of over 300, this is one of the biggest shows we’ve ever done,” he said.
“Without giving too much of the plot away, the story is centered around the sun, and takes place from sunset to sunrise. Everything from the costumes to the stage props was created as a homage to Saudi culture. You’ll see a lot of Bedouin influences in the staging and in the music. We drew inspiration from a variety of sources, such as traditional Bedouin tents, desert scenery, even the stadium itself.”
The show has been in development for six months, and the cast and crew have been preparing for the show at the King Fahd International Stadium since the beginning of August.
The show will contain new technology, and 16 unprecedented acrobatic acts. However, Fortin refused to share too many details. “You’ll just have to see what we have planned at the show.” He said. “But I think you will be impressed. We’re doing things we’ve never done before.”
Tickets to the show sold out in less than 48 hours after their release; an incredible feat as the show has allocated more than 27,000 seats for the performance. Abdulrahman Al Khalifa, spokesperson for the General Entertainment Authority, was pleased— but not entirely surprised— by the public’s reaction to news of the show. “We felt that variety in the types of events we brought to Saudi Arabia was important,” he said, “and we conducted a number of research workshops to determine what sort of events would be well-received by the public. Cirque du Soleil was mentioned frequently in our research, so we’re very happy to have had the opportunity to bring them here.”
MBC head of events Omar Al Radi also expects a big response to the televising of the show, which he estimates will break records. “We’re broadcasting the show live on both our local and international channels, such as those in Europe and in America.” he said.
“We’re expecting over 200 million views. Probably record-breaking numbers. MBC is proud to have been part of bringing this historic event to Saudi Arabia, and we can’t wait for you to see it.”