Forgotten cities


FORGOTTEN CITIES or DEAD CITIES were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, under the name of Ancient Villages of Northern Syria.

They are a group of 700 abandoned settlements in north-west Syria between Aleppo and Idlib. Around 40 villages, grouped in eight archaeological parks, provide an insight into rural life Late Antiquity and during the Byzantine Period.  Most villages which date from 1st to 7th centuries became abandoned  between the 8th and 10th centuries.  the settlements feature the well-preserved architectural remains of dwellings, Pagan Temples, Churches, Cisterns, Bath-houses, etc,.


The Dead Cities are situated in an elevated area of limestone known as limestone Massif.  These ancient settlements cover an area 20 – 40km wide and some 140km long.  The Massif includes 3 groups of highlands : 1st Northern Group of Mount Simeon and Mount Kurd; 2nd group of HARIM Mountains and 3rd group of ZAWIYA Mountains.

Chris Wickham (framing : The Early Middle Ages — 2006) argues that these were settlements of prosperous peasants.  The impressive remains are the result of the prosperity of peasants who benefited from a strong International Trade in Olive Oil at the end of Antiquity.

Another argument is that these prosperous cities flourished because they were located along major trade routes in the Byzantine Empire.

The majority of the Dead Cities are well-preserved and tourists can access the sites quite freely despite the on-going excavations and some restoration work, though some them are quite difficult to reach without a guide.


 ** KALOTA CASTL & CURCHES : —— The Castle was originally built as a Roman Temple during the 2nd century AD.  After converting to Christianity, the Temple was turned into a Basilica within the 5th century.  There are two well-preserved Churches near the Castle : the Easter Church built in 492 and the Western Church of the 6th century.  ** KHARAB SHAMS Basilica, one of the oldest best-preserved Christian structures, dates to the 4th century.

** FAFERTIN CHURCH : A half-ruined Roman Basilica, dates to 372AD and is located 22km north-west of Aleppo.  It is among the oldest-dated Churches in the world.  ** SURQANYA Village, located 23km north-west of Aleppo, preserves the remains of an old Byzantine settlement and with a half-ruined 6t century Chapel.


** KAFR KIRA, located 24km north-west of Aleppo, has many half-ruined Churches dating back to the 4th and 6th centuries.  ** SINHAR Settlement, known as SIMKHAR, is located 24km north-west of Aleppo, is an isolated valley.  Its Basilica is among the oldest Churches in Syria and dates back to the 4th century, while the nearby Chapel is 6th century.


** MUSHABBAK BASILICA, a well-preserved Church from the 2nd half of the 5th century (around 470) is located 25km west of Aleppo, near the town of DARET A’ZZEH.

** BARAD, an ancient settlement, 32km west of Aleppo, has many old Basilicas.

** AIN DARA TEMPLE, an Iron age Syro – Hittite Temple, dating between 10th and 8th centuries BC, is 45km north-west of Aleppo.

Many other Sites and Dead Cities in the area are located at various distances around Aleppo and Idlib..




ECBATANA (Old Persian :  HAGGMATANA literally “a place of gathering”. ) was an ancient city in Media in western Iran.  It is believed that Ecbatana is in TAPPE – ye HAGGMATANA ) near HAMADAN.

Excavations at KABOUTAR AHANG have revealed stone-age tools and pottery from 1400 – 1200 BC.  According to Herodotus, Ecbatana was chosen as the Medes’ capital in the late 8th century BC by Deioces.  Under the Persian Kings, Ecbatana, situated at the foot of Mount Alvand (11,716ft) , became a summer residence.  Later, it became the capital of the Parthian Kings, at which time it became their main mint producing drachm, tetra – drachm and assorted bronze denominations.  It is also mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Ezra 6: 1-3) under the name ACHMETHA.  In 330 BC, Ecbatana was the site of the murder of the Macedonian General PARMENION by order of Alexander the Great.


The city was surrounded by seven concentric walls.  Itself at an elevation of 6,158ft, the city dominates the wide, fertile plain of the upper QAREH SU River.  A little to the east of Ecbatana is the MUSALLA ( a natural mound ) the debris of which includes the remains of ancient Ecbatana.  The modern city is built partly on this mound.

Ecbatana rug

Modern development is modest.  In summer the pleasant climate makes Ecbatana a resort, but the winters are long and severe.  The EKBATAN DAM (formerly SHAHNAZ DAM ) provides water for the city.  Grain and fruit are grown in abundance, and Ecbatana is an important trade centre on the main Tehran – Baghdad highway.  In the Iranian rug trade, Ecbatana rugs rank second to KERMAN rugs.

Sassi Di Matera

Sassi Di Matera

MATERA is a city and a province in the region of Basilicata, in Southern Italy. It is the capital of the province of Matera and the capital of Basilicata from 1663 to 1806.  The town lies in a small canyon carved out by the Gravina (a river)

Known as LA CITTA SOTTERRANEA (the Subterranean City), Matera is well-known for its historical centre called SASSI, considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1993, along with the Park of the Rupestrian Churches.  The city was allegedly founded by the Romans in the 3rd century BC, with the name of MATHEOLA after the Consul Lucius Caecilius Metellus.

Matera panoramic view

Matera has gained international fame for its ancient town, the SASSI di MATERA (meaning ” stones of Matera” ).  The Sassi originated in a prehistoric troglodyte ( a human being who inhabits a cave or the area beneath the overhanging rocks of a cliff), and these dwellings are thought to be among the first ever human settlements in what is now Italy.

Sassi Di Matera streets

The Sassi are habitations dug into the calcareous rock itself, which is characteristic of Basilicata and Apulia.  Many of them really little more than caverns, and in some parts of the Sassi, a street lies on top of another group of dwellings.  The ancient town grew up on one slope of the rocky ravine created by a river that is now a small stream, and this ravine is known locally as la GRAVINA.  In the 1950s, the Government of Italy used force to relocate most of the population of the Sassi  to areas of the developing modern city.

Matera castle

Until the late 1980s, the Sassi was considered an area of poverty since its dwellings were and in most cases still are, uninhabitable.  The present local administration, however, has become more tourist-oriented, and it has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi with the aid of the Italian Government, UNESCO and Hollywood.  Today, there are many thriving businesses, pubs and hotels there.  Matera preserves a large  and diverse collection of buildings related to the Christian faith, including a large number of Rupestrian Churches carved from the soft volcanic rock of the region.  The Churches which are also found in the neighbouring region of Apulia, were listed in the 1998 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund.

Matera cathedral

MATERA CATHEDRAL ( 1268 – 1270) has been dedicated to Santa Maria della Bruna since 1389.  Built in a Romanesque architectural style, the Church has a 52metre tall bell tower, and next to the main gate is a statue of Maria della Bruna, backed by those of Saints Peter and Paul.  The main feature of the façade is the “rose window”, divided by 16 small columns.  The interior is on the Latin Cross Plan, with a nave and 2 aisles.  The decoration is mainly from the 18th century Baroque Restoration, but recently a Byzantine-style 14th century fresco portraying the LAST JUDGMENT  has been discovered.


Two other important Churches in Matera, both dedicated to the Apostle. Peter, are SAN PIETRO CAVEOSO & SAN PIETRO BARISANO.  San Pietro Barisano was recently restored in a project by the World Monuments Fund, funded by American Express.  The main altar and the interior frescoes were cleaned and missing pieces of moulding, reliefs and other adornments were reconstructed from photographic archives or surrounding fragments.

There are many Churches and Monasteries dating back throughout the history f the Christian Church.  Some are simple caves with a single altar and maybe a fresco, often located on the opposite side of the ravine.  Some are complex cave networks with large underground chambers, thought to have been used for meditation by the monks.

TRAMONTANO CASTLE,Matera was built above a deep ravine, that divides the territory into two areas.  Matera was built such that it is hidden, but made it difficult to provide water supply to its inhabitants.  Early dwellers invested tremendous energy in building cisterns and systems of water channels.

The largest cistern has been found under PIAZZA VITTORIO VENETO, with its solid pillars carved from the rock and a vault height of more than 15metres it is a veritable Water Cathedral, which is navigable by boat.  Like other cisterns in the town, many of these cisterns were turned into houses and other kinds of water-harvesting systems were realized.  Some of these more recent facilities have the shape of houses submerged in the earth.

The TRAMONTANO CASTLE, begun in the early 16th century, is probably the only other structure that is above ground and of any great significance outside the Sassi.  However, the construction remained unfinished after Count Gian Carlo Tramontano’s assassination in the riot of the 29th of December, 1514.  It has three large towers, while 12 were probably included in the original design.  During some restoration work in the main square of the town, workers cane across what was believed to be the main footings of another Castle tower.  However, on further excavation, large Roman cisterns were unearthed.  Whole house structures were discovered where one can see how the people of that era lived.  Found under the main square was a large underground reservoir, complete with columns and a vaulted ceiling.

Because of the ancient primeval-looking scenery in and around the Sassi, it has been used by filmmakers (as the setting for ancient Jerusalem).  Some of the following famous Biblical period motion pictures were filmed in Matera : (1964) The Gospel According To Saint Matthew.—- (1985) King David. —-  (2004) The Passion of the Christ. —— (2005)  Mary.  —– (2006) The Nativity Story.

Acoma Pueblo

Acoma Pueblo

ACOMA PUEBLO is a native American Pueblo.  The word “pueblo” is the Spanish word for “town” or “village”.  It comes from the Latin root “populus”.  The Word “Acoma” is from the Acoma word ACOMA or ACU which means “the place that always was” or “people of the white rock”.

Acoma Pueblo is approximately 97km west of Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The historical land of Acoma Pueblo totalled roughly 5,000,000 acres and the Acoma have continuously occupied the area for more than 800years, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States.

Acoma Pueblo scenery

The Pueblo lies on a 365ft MESA.  The isolation and location of the Pueblo has sheltered the community for more than 1,200years, which sought to avoid conflict with neighbouring Navajos and Apaches.  Francisco Vazquez de Coronado’s expedition (in 1540) described the Pueblo as “one of the strongest places we have seen”.  Upon visiting the Pueblo, the expedition “repented having gone up to the place”.  The only access to the Acoma Pueblo, during this time, was a set of almost vertical stairs cut into the rock face.

Today about 300 two and three-storey abode buildings are on the Mess with exterior ladders used to access the upper levels where residents live.  Access to the Mesa is by a road blasted into the rock face during the 1950s.  Approximately 30 or so people live permanently on the Mesa, with the population increasing on the weekends as family members come to visit and tourists, some 55,000 annually.

Acoma Pueblo streets

Acoma Pueblo has no electricity, running water or sewage disposal.  A reservation surrounding the Mesa, totalling 1,600  Tribal members live both on the reservation and outside it.  Contemporary Acoma culture remains relatively closed, however.  According to the 2000 Us census, 4,989 people identify as Acoma.

The buildings here are constructed  from abode bricks with beams across the roof that were covered with poles, brush and then plaster.  The roof of one level would serve as a floor for another.  Each level is connected to others by ladders serving as a unique defensive aid.  The ladders are the only way to enter the buildings, as the traditional designs have no windows or doors.  The lower levels were used for storage.  Baking ovens are outside the buildings, with water being collected from two natural cisterns.  The Acoma also has 7 rectangular KIVAS and a village Plaza which serves as the spiritual centre for the village.

Acoma Pueblo houses

Before contact with the Spanish, Acoma people ate corn, beans and squash, primarily .  MUT-TZE-NEE was a popular thin corn bread.  They also raised turkeys.  They hunted deer, rabbits and antelope.  Wild seeds, berries, nuts and other foods were gathered.  After 1700, new foods are noted in the historical record.  Pudding, corn mush, corn balls, wheat cake, peach-bark drink, flour bread, wild berries and prickly pear all became staples.  After contact with the Spanish, goats, horses, sheep and donkeys were raised.

In contemporary Acoma, other foods are also popular such as apple pastries, corn tamales, green-chilli stew with lamb, fresh corn and wheat pudding with brown sugar.
Irrigation techniques such as dams and terraces were used for agricultural purposes.  Farming tools were made of wood and stone and harvested corn would be ground with hand and mortar. Today, the Acoma produce a variety of goods for economic benefit.  Agriculturally they grow alfalfa, oats, wheat, chillies, corn, melon, vegetables and fruit.  They raise cattle and have natural reserves of gas, geo-thermal and coal resources.  Uranium mines, in the area, provided work for the Acoma, until their closings in the 1980s, after that, the tribe has provided most employment opportunities, however, high unemployment rates trouble the Pueblo.  The legacy of the uranium mines has left radiation pollution, causing the tribal fishing lake to be drained and some health problems within the community.

Acoma Pueblo pottery

Tourism is a major source of income for the tribe.  In 2008, Pueblo opened the Sky City Cultural Centre & Haak’u Museum at the base of the Mesa, replacing the original which was destroyed by fire in 2000.  Films about Acoma culture are shown and a café serves traditional foods.  The complex is fire-resistant, unlike traditional Pueblos, and they are painted light pink and purple, to match the landscape surrounding it.  Traditional artwork is exhibited and demonstrated at the centre, including ceramic chimneys crafted on the rooftops.  Arts and crafts also bring income into the community.

Acoma Pueblo women

The Acoma Pueblo has a Casino and a Hotel, the Sky City Casino Hotel which are alcohol-free and it is maintained by Acoma Business Enterprises, which oversees most Acoma businesses.  Acoma Pueblo is open to the public by guided tours for most of the year.  Photography of the Pueblo and the surrounding land is restricted.  Tours and Camera permits are purchased at the Sky City Cultural Centre, while photography may be produced, with permit.  Video recordings, drawings and sketching are prohibited.

Murad – Janjira Fort

Janjira Fort

MURUD – JANJIRA is the local name for a fort, situated on an island just off the coastal village of Murud, in the Raigad District of Maharashtra, India.

The word JANJIRA is not native to India and may have originated after the Arabic word JAZEERA (Island). Murud was once known in Marathi as HABSAN (of HABSHI or ABYSSINIAN). The name of the fort is a concatenation of the Konkani and Arabic words for “island” (MOROD and JAZEERA). The word MOROD is peculiar to Konkani and is absent in Marathi.  
Janjira Fort
Murud – Janjira Fort is situated on an oval-shaped rock (instead of the “oblong” and “square-shape”) off the Arabian Sea coast near the port town of Murud, 165km south of Mumbai. Janjira is considered one of the strongest marine forts in India. The fort is approached by sailboats from Rajapuri Jetty.
Janjira FortThe fort has 26 rounded bastions. Now in ruins, the fort in its heyday was a full-fledged living fort with all the necessary facilities —— palaces, quarters for officers, mosque, two small 60ft-deep natural fresh water lakes. On the outer wall flanking the main gate, there is a sculpture depicting a tiger-like beast clasping elephants in its claws. The four elephants symbolize Shivaji’s major enemy dynasties on which he possessed control, whereas he tiger-like beast symbolizes control of Shivaji on these. There are prominent Ashoka Chakras on all the major gates of Janjira Fort.
Janjira Fort
A special attraction of this fort are three gigantic cannons named KALALBANGDI, CHAVRI & LANDA KASAM. These cannons were said to be feared for their shooting range. Another gate to the west is sea-facing, called the DARYA DARWAZA.

There is also another fortress, named GHOSALGAD, which is located on top of the hill around 32km east of Murud – Janjira, that was used as a outpost for the rulers of Janjira.

Janjira fort, built at the end of the 17th century, is almost entirely intact even today, despite the ravages of wind and tide, a testimony to the marvels of ancient engineering. According to all accounts, the JAL – DURK (Sea Fort) could not be conquered by any of the Kings ruling the neighbouring territories. Surprisingly, not even Shivaji could acquire the fort despite 13 expeditions to conquer the fort. His son, Sambhaji, tried a unique approach to capture the fort : digging an underwater tunnel to enter. But, he too failed in his attempt. Not to be deterred, Sambhaji constructed another fort just across the bay, called KANSA. Most of the earth that was dug up to build the tunnel was used in the making of this 2nd fort, which was to be the base for future attacks on the Sea Fort of Janjira. It took 22years to build Kansa, and it is constructed on 22acres of land.
Visitors can gain access to the Janjira Fort from Rajapuri. The fort wall is about 40ft high and has 19 rounded porches or arches, some of which still have cannons mounted on them. Inside the fort walls, the ruins of a mosque, a palace and bath with water channelled from streams, tell of ancient times when royal ladies occupied the quarters. The deep well with cold and sweet water —- a wonder of nature in the midst of the saline sea, still provides water to quench the thirst of the weary visitor. This invincible fort remained unconquered until it became part of the Indian Territory after Independence from the British in 1947. 

Umaid Bhawan palace

Umaid Bhavan Palace

UMAID BHAWAN PALACE, located at Jodhpur in Rajasthan, India, is one of the world’s largest private residences.  A part of the Palace is managed by Taj Hotels.  Another part of the palace houses a museum.

It was called CHITTAR PALACE, during its construction, due to use of stones drawn from the CHITTAR HILL where it is located.  Ground for the foundation of the building was broken on the 18th of November, 1929 by Maharaja Umaid Singh and the construction was completed in 1943.  The Palace was built to provide employment to thousands of people during the time of famine.

 Umaid Bhavan Palace

The history of the building is linked to a curse by a Saint who had said that a period would follow the good rule of the Rathore Dynasty.  Thus, after the end of about the fifty- year-reign of Pratap Singh, Jodhpur faced a severe  drought and famine condition in the 1920s for a period of three consecutive years.  The farmers of the area, faced with famine, sought the help of the then King Umaid Singh, who was the 37th Rathore Ruler of Marwar at Jodhpur, to provide them with some employment so that they could survive.

The King decided to build a lavish Palace.  He commissioned Henry Vaughan Lanches, who was a contemporary of Sir Edwin Lutyens, who planned the buildings of the New Delhi Government Complex, by adopting the themes of domes and columns.  The Palace was designed as an extraordinary blend of Western technology and many Indian architectural features.  About 2,000 – 3,000 people were employed.  However, the actual occupation of the Palace by the Maharaja came only after its completion in 1943, very close to the period of India’s Independence.

Umaid Bhavan Palace

The site chosen was on Chittar Hill, in the outer limits of Jodhpur, where no water supply was available nearby and hardly any vegetation grew, as the hill slopes were rocky.  The building material (from sandstone quarries) required were quite a distance.  The Maharaja built a railway line to the quarry site to transport the building material.  Donkeys were inducted to haul soil to the site.  The sandstone transported was dressed at the site into large blocks with interlocking joints, so that they could be laid without the use of mortar and thus create a wonderful edifice.

The Palace was built with dun-coloured (golden-yellow) sandstone with two wings in an area of 26acres of land, including 15 acres of well-tended gardens.  The interior central dome sits above a sky-blue inner dome.  The inner vaulted dome rises to a height of 103ft in the interior part, which is capped by an outer dome of 43ft height.  Makrana marble has also been used, and Burmese teakwood has ben used for the interior woodwork.  When completed, the Palace had 347 rooms, several courtyards and a large Banquet Hall which could accommodate 300 people.  The architectural style is considered as representing the then in vogue BEAUX Arts Style, also known as INDO-DECO Style.  However, for many years, the Palace did not function fully on account of many tragic events in the Royal family.  Umaid Singh, who stayed in the palace for only four years, died in 1947.  Hanumant Singh who succeeded him also died at a young age  ——- he had just won in the 1952 General Elections and was returning after this win, when his plane crashed and he died.  Gaj Singh –II, who succeeded his father, then decided in 1971 to convert a part of the Palace into a Hotel.

Umaid Bhavan Palace

The Hotel wing of the Palace is run by the Taj Group of Hotels.  It has 79 guest rooms, including the luxurious Regal and Vice Regal Suites and the fabulous “Maharaja” & “Maharani” suites, and the latter is fitted with a bath-tub that is carved from a single block of pink marble, said to be the only one of its kind in India.  The Maharani suite has a parquet flooring and a terrace.  The bedroom has an attached kitchen and the furnishing here is in pink and peach colours.  The bed is also fitted with an art feature of a woman sitting on a lion.  The Maharaja suits has furnishings in leopard skin and black marble flooring and a curved mirror dome.  Both the suites are decorated with murals.  The Banquet Hall of the Palace now forms a large restaurant.

Umaid Bhavan Palace

The Museum has exhibits of stuffed leopards, a very large symbolic flag, gifted to Maharaja Jaswant Singh by Queen Victoria in 1877, an impressive “quirky” collection of clocks in windmill and lighthouse shapes and photographs of the elegant art-deco interior of the palace.  The Classic cars of the Maharajas are also on display in the garden in front of the Museum.  Glass, porcelain ware, memorabilia and information on the building of the Palace are also part of the exhibits.

Umaid Bhavan Palace

The Darbar Hall, which is part of the Museum, has elegant murals and a substantial number of miniature paintings, armour and an unusual collection of household paraphernalia that was in vogue in the 1930s, which were costly and then not found in India.

October to March, during the winter season, are the best months to visit the Palace and the Museum.



CRAIOVA (KRA’YOVA) (Romanian pronunciation : KRAJOVA).  There are possible etymology for CRAIOVA : Old Slav KRAL (King), which has been borrowed in Romania as CRAI and Slav KRAJINA (border or edge)Since no source prior to 1475 mentions the city, it is impossible to tell which of the two words is the real etymology.  The name is probably of Bulgarian or Siberian origin, due to historical minorities in the area.

Craiova bridge

CRAIOVA is Romania’s 6th largest city and Capital of DOLJ County, and is situated near the east bank of the River JIU in Central OLTENIA.  It is a longstanding political centre and is located at approximately equal distances from the Southern Carpathians (north) and the River Danube (south).  CRAIOVA is the chief commercial city west of Bucharest and the most important city of OLTENIA.  The city prospered as a regional trading centre despite an earthquake in 1790, a plague in 1795 and a Turkish assault in 1802 during which it was burned.

Craiova park

In the first two decades of the 19th century, Craiova was characterized by economical growth, multiplication of its habitants’ pre-occupations in the areas of trade, commerce and public services.  In comparison with other great urban centres, Craiova is situated as a commercial, administrative and cultural knot of prime order.  In 1832, there were a number of 595 shops, of which “187 of wood and 398 of stone wall”.  It was exporting to Austria and Turkey ——- cereal, skins, wax, animals, tallow and cervices.  In 1846, the first Romanian Society on Shareholders for cereal transport by ship on the Danube was established.

Craiova fountain

Around 1860, there were 4633 buildings, of which 3220 were houses, 26 Churches, 11 schools, 60 factory-workshops.  There were also approximately 90 establishments with an industrial character of which : 12 windmills, 3 beer factories, 2 gas and oil factories, 4 tanneries and 2 printing units.  Craiova was a city that had small factories and workshops with chemical products, agricultural machines, graphics art, textiles, tanneries and construction materials.

Craiova cathedral

CATEDRALA STANTULUI DUMITRU ( Saint Demetrius Cathedral) is a Romanian Orthodox Cathedral.  There was likely a Church on the site by the 1490s, renovated in 1651 and having fallen into disrepair, demolished in 1889.  That year, work on a new Church began, and this was completed and sanctified in 1933.  The earlier Church’s proximity to the headquarters of the  BAN od Craiova, gave it importance in the city’s political life, as well as a defensive purpose, while the modern building’s role ensures its continued significance.


NICOLAE ROMANESCU PARK ( formerly BIBESCU PARK) is the largest and most well-known park in Craiova.  Plans for the Park were awarded the Gold Medal at the 1900 World Fair.  Work began in 1901 and was completed in 1903.

GRADINA BOTANICA din CRAIOVA (Botanical Garden) is a scientific organization, where plant specimens are collected from different regions of the country and preserved as reference material, but also as study material for the students of University of Craiova.  The garden occupies a large area in the centre of the city, covering an area delimited by streets and at an altitude of about 99metres.  It is also referred to as a local park for the citizens of Craiova and a tourist destination.

Craiova University

CASA BANIEI : the Ethnographic Museum of Craiova is located in the historic city centre and is located in the town park.  The building, known as CASA BANIEI, is one of the oldest, non-religious monuments of medieval architecture in Craiova.  It was built in the 15th century, but was partially destroyed.  In 1699, it was restored by Prince Constantin Brancoveanu.  From the original building, there are preserved only the underground parts with arched brick walls.  Over the years, CASA BANIEI re-purposed repeatedly, but since 1966, it houses the ethnographic collection of the Museum of Oltenia.  Among the exposures, there can be seen restorations of household articles with the characteristic region pottery, textiles, costumes, musical instruments and ritual objects.  There are organised puppet shows and workshops for children in the building, as there is housed the first Museum of Puppet Theatre in Oltenia.