The wealth of provincial Rome

belkis1Old name: Seleucia

In 1985 the existence of Belkis-Zeugma, the riverside site of a hugely wealthy Roman city, had long been known even though it had never been excavated. Faced with the need to provide irrigation for southeastern farmers and electricity for everyone else, the government decided to build a dam at nearby Birecik which would inevitably flood the site.

It was only when the dam was nearing completion that there began a desperate mission to rescue what could be snatched from the site before the waters closed over it.

The story is well known: how the archaeologists uncovered many gorgeous floor mosaics and wall paintings; how one particularly lucky man discovered a statue of the war god Mars, his brow creased in anger over eyes piercing enough to chill the heart of any onlooker; how the finds were removed to Gaziantep where they are now housed in the snazzy new Zeugma Museum.

Such was the publicity attached to the rescue dig and the new museum that it would be easy to assume nothing remains of Belkis-Zeugma itself. However, a relatively short deviation north from the main Gaziantep-Şanlıurfa road along the banks of the Euphrates soon brings you to the site buried amid pistachio trees near the small town of Nizip. belkis2

Here the remains of the so-called houses of Dionysius and Danae, named after mosaics found in them, are now protected inside a fine metal shelter. When you step through the door the initial impression is stunning, with the ruins climbing up the hillside in a mass of rooms, columns and geometric mosaics. None are labelled but that doesn't really matter. 

At the entrance to the site there is a simple cafe and in the field beyond it more ruins along the waterline which you are not actually meant to approach. They include the remains of a market building and an archive room as well as of a circular temple.

On the edge of the site what look like caves turn out to be tombs built into the old necropolis. 

Several villages were also drowned by the Birecik Dam. Most villagers moved into nearby towns although there is a Yeni Belkis in the hills. I didn't go to look at it, having been too upset by the sight of Yeni Halfeti a day earlier. 

belkis3As for the pistachios, those grown here are harvested when they become red between late-August and late-September. They are sent to local factories where they are salted. These are not the pistachios used for making baklava.


The best places to stay in the area are in Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa although there are also hotels in Nizip and Birecik. 

Transport info

From Gaziantep or Birecik you can get a minibus to Nizip where you can pick up a taxi to Belkis-Zeugma.

Read more: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-349696-left-bank-right-bank-along-the-shores-of-the-euphrates.html


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