Cyrus Cylinder, ‘The First Bill Of Rights,’ Tours US

The famous Cyrus Cylinder, a baked clay tablet from the 6th century B.C. that’s often called the “first bill of rights,” has made its U.S. debut at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The Cyrus Cylinder was deposited in the foundations of a building in Babylon during the reign of the Persian king Cyrus the Great. It commemorates his conquest of Babylon and announces religious freedom for the people displaced by the Babylonian king Nabonidus. Among them were the Jews, who had been in captivity in Babylon. Many Jews soon returned to Jerusalem and built the Second Temple.

While Cyrus’ announcement and inscription isn’t unique for that time, the cylinder became instantly famous upon its discovery in 1879 because of its connection to events that are mentioned in the Bible. Ever since, Cyrus has been considered the model of a just king ruling over a diverse empire.

It’s the centerpiece of a new exhibition titled “The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning,” which examines the religious, cultural and linguistic traditions of the vast and powerful Achaemenid Empire (539–331 B.C.) founded by Cyrus the Great.

The exhibition runs until April 28. After the Smithsonian, the Cyrus Cylinder will tour the U.S., stopping at Houston, New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. You can see the full details of the schedule here.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Battle of Marathon to be fought again

While the U.S. is having lots of Civil War reenactments lately, it’s not the only country where avid hobbyists like to refight old battles. This year Greece is marking the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, an epic clash between the Greeks and Persians that saved Europe from invasion and allowed Greek culture to thrive. To commemorate the battle, there will be a reenactment on the actual battlefield.

The battle was a desperate attempt to stop the Persian Empire, the major superpower of the day, from invading Greece in 490 BC. The Greek city-states of Athens and Palataea blocked the passes leading out from the Persian beachhead on the Plain of Marathon. Even though the Greeks were outnumbered two-to-one, they attacked and routed the Persians, ending the invasion.

There’s a legend that an Athenian named Pheidippides ran from the battlefield to Athens to announce the victory and died from exhaustion right after he gave the good news. The distance from Marathon to Athens is, of course, about 26 miles. This actually never happened, but it makes a good story.

From September 9 to 11, hundreds of reenactors from around the world will converge on the battlefield for a day of sham fighting and historical demonstrations. The Greek side will include many Greeks, while the Persian ranks will have many Iranians. Dozens of other countries will contribute people as well. Events will be centered on a reconstruction of the Greek military camp and there will be archery demonstrations, ancient music and dancing, and much more.

At least 200 warriors will duke it out on the original battlefield, but there won’t be any blood spilled. The Greeks will have dull spears and the Persians will be firing rubber-tipped arrows. I bet this poor fellow pictured here, a Greek casualty of the real battle, wished there were rubber arrows back in his day.

[Photo courtesy Keith Schengili-Roberts]

Who are the friendliest people in the world? Iranians

Who have you found to be the friendliest people in the world? According to Will Hide, the answer is Iranians. He and his female friend Annette toured Iran for 10 days where they met up with experiences I’d call delicious. Delicious food, delicious scenery, delicious things to see, and the type of hospitality where people invite you to tea all the live-long day.

As Hide says, everywhere they went people offered them tea and often tossed almonds and dried fruit into the hospitality quotient. In this engaging article in The Times, Hide gives a rundown of their trip. The sidebar on the last page gives useful information for anyone looking for an Iran experience.

As a note, he and Annette had a tour guide. I think that would be the way to go if I were to take such a trip. Every time I’ve hired a personal tour guide, even if it was just for a day, my understanding of a place and the pleasure I’ve had traveling is multiplied.

Keep reading for Hind’s trip highlights.

[The photo by Hamed Saber is of a party attended by friends. If you click on the enlarged photo, you can see who all the people are.]

Some highlights of Hide’s 10-day trip:

  • Tehran where they visited the palace grounds of the former Shah.
  • The journey across the Zagros Mountains to Shiraz where he and Annette saw the tombs of the classical poets Sa’di and Hafez.and were allowed to go in the Mausoleum of Shah-e Cheragh if Annette put on a chador and they didn’t go into the main shrine.
  • The ruins of Persepolis, the city destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 B.C.
  • Esfahan-known for its beautiful architecture
  • The holy city of Qom,
  • Village of Imamzadeh Bazm where they stayed at Mr Abbas’s B&B and ate “aubergines mixed with yoghurt and mint; mushroom and barley soup; pickles; lettuce dipped in vinegar; and, for breakfast, tea and fruit followed by cheese with chopped walnuts.”

Check out some of these other wacky laws, place names and signs from around the world!

Top tourist sights Americans can’t visit

As you might realize, there are certain countries that are considered “no-go’s” for American travelers, be it for political or economic or other reasons. Publication Foreign Policy took a closer look at this question of prohibited places, recently creating a list of the “Top Tourist Spots Americans Can’t Visit,” a rundown of the top tourist attractions in otherwise “taboo” locations like Iran, Somalia, Burma and Cuba. Who knew Mogadishu had coral reefs teeming with fish just off the shore? Too bad you’re likely to be kidnapped by warlords if you try to visit.

While this sort of list is a deterrent for many, others eat common sense for breakfast, bringing back some fascinating stories in the process. It’s not that they can’t see the danger – these countries can be violent, unstable, and often downright nasty places. But that doesn’t mean they have nothing to offer. Many have distinguished histories as centers of culture, great monuments and great natural wonders. As Foreign Policy points out for instance, the vast ruins of Persepolis in Southern Iran offer a breathtaking view of the tombs and palaces of Persian rulers Xerxes I and Darius the Great. In Cuba, the settlement of Baracoa was the colonial home of Spanish Conquistadors, and also one of the first places Columbus set foot in the New World.

Check out the list. Nobody is suggesting you should/can make a visit, but these places can offer us further insight into the many subtleties that truly define a location’s identity.

The world’s dirtiest cities

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Pink Floyd Fans in Iran

These days I feel as if I’m obsessing over any and every travel tale coming out of Iran. Until I get there on my own, I’ll envy everyone who goes and comes back to share their experiences with me. I want to see it for my own, walk it on my own, breathe it on my own and hear Pink Floyd fans in Isfahan recite lyrics on my own…. Sigh.

In the latest issue of Perceptive Travel, Roy MacLean recounts one of his stops during his retracing of the Asia Overland “hippie trail” that was popular with Westerners in the 60’s & 70’s. Roy talks about times when English girls could hitchhike alone across Iran and when free-spirited teens from Berlin and Boston were both welcomed on Baghdad. The times have changed, but Pink Floyd obviously still remains. As the author tries to find the moment of ‘rare absolute peace’ as described by travel writer Robert Byron he is distracted by young Iranian Pink Floyd fans. They go on and on reciting lyrics from Dark Side of the Moon and question their new Western friend on some of the albums tracks. Although Roy makes his own suggestion, no one sounds very sure and just as soon as the young men had come they were off again.

Oh, to have been Roy on this day or even a fly on the wall, or maybe when I go I’ll run into some Bob Marley fans. I’d love to sit and chat about the Marley man in Iran.