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Mari & Europos-Dura sites of Euphrates Valley

Date de soumission : 23/06/2011
Critères: (ii)(iii)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
Ministry of Culture – General Directorate of Antiquities & Museums
État, province ou région :
Deir ez-Zor
Ref.: 5702

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Mari N34 33 1.11 E40 53 19.51

Europos-Dura N34 44 52.12 E40 43 48.53

The two cities of Mari and Europos-Dura were founded on the western bank of Euphrates river. The cities were at a key location, where they controlled the route on the Euphrates that connected the Mediterranean world with Mesopotamia and greater Asia.

Mari is probably the archaeological reference site that has provided the greatest amount of information useful to understand the history between the Third and the end of the Second millennia in Syro-Mesopotamia. Its situation between the two seas, the "rising sun" and the "setting sun"- the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean - made Mari an almost-obligatory passage point.

Attached to a portion of the Euphrates, halfway between the Syrian world and Anatolia on one hand, and the Mesopotamian world backed by Iran and the Persian Gulf on the other hand, Mari played a key role for almost a millennium.

Discovered in 1933, and regularly explored ever since (André Parrot, J. Cl. Margueron, Pascal Buterlin), Mari is the site of reference that makes it possible to understand the fundamental aspects of the Syro-Mesopotamian civilization of the Third millennium (early Bronze and Bronze ages). After 42 excavation campaigns, it is one of the best-known cities of the Middle Eastern Antiquity.

Mari featured a wealth of prestigious palaces and temples, and art schools where beautiful sculpture and painting works were produced, with an exceptional quantity of administrative archives dating back to the last periods of the city, during the time of the Hammurabi of Babylon; This data makes it possible to understand the economic life of this time and the management of the kingdom. Mari remains a particularly fertile area of research on the first great urban civilizations.

A total of three superimposed cities belonging to three different historical periods form the tell of Mari. This accumulation of vestiges of three successive occupation phases covers a surface spreading over more than 14 hectares and up to 14,5 m high, which is quite unique in Mesopotamia. While the monuments of the last historical phase of Mari (City III) are well known today, City II and City I are still under excavation and have not revealed all their secrets as of yet. The new discoveries will undoubtedly enrich the rich heritage of this site and will require that immediate measures be taken to allow their long-term conservation.

Mari or the emergence of an urban phenomenon
The configuration of the city of Mari is the faithful reflection of the social, political and economic system that generated it. It is a living testimony of the emergence of urban space and it wonderfully illustrates the dynamics that characterized the first urban civilizations. Mari is a new city, created ex nihilo, over a circular plan of almost 2 km in diameter and connected to the Euphrates River by a diversion canal. Two ramparts protect the city, which results from the juxtaposition of erudite autonomous units that organize and structure the urban space. The impressive defensive system is composed of an exterior dam that protects the city from exceptional ßoods and an approximately 6m-thick, 8m-high rampart, featuring towers and equipped with doors.

The development of the city of Mari was accompanied by the implementation of a monumental architecture, well anchored in the Mesopotamian constructive tradition. The greatness of the palaces, the temples and the residences conferred an exceptional character to the city.

Because it was founded around 2900 BCE, just in the beginning of the expansion of urbanisation, Mari allows the study of urban expansion in Mesopotamia, and the changes that occurred in the rapid evolution from a rural way of life to an urban way life, including all the changes related to economical, political and social organization. It is thus an exceptional resource to understand one of the crucial periods in the development of humanity, to which we are still deeply connected.

An exceptional testimony to the earthen architecture from the beginning of the Third millennium before our era 2,5 ha, with still-standing walls, 4 to 5 m-high, on the official and western quarters, featuring remarkable mural paintings and archives / office spaces. A thorough study allowed to restore a first level on the totality of the building, and to identify the original internal organization, with the different functions and sector hierarchies. This palace alone makes it possible to understand the royal architectural configurations present in the late Syro-Mesopotamian region between the 21st and the 17th Centuries BCE; it is a unique document for the research on the techniques and concepts of the architecture of time.

The palace of City II, partially released, is also a unique monument due to the quality of its conservation (6 m-high walls in certain areas), but also due to its architectural quality, as well as the implementation of a remarkable link between a large sanctuary - the "Crowned enclosure" - and the king's palace; here also, architectural concepts dealing with the organisation and the implementation of innovative techniques, in particular in the area of roofing, attest to the remarkable originality of the architecture of Mari.

Other monuments, houses or temples, deserve the same interest: all necessary measures must be taken to protect and preserve the fragile architecture of Mari.

A very early example of urban planning
In order to secure a central position on the major commercial axis between North-western Syria and the Persian Gulf, Mari had to undergo a rapid regional development on a large scale, with the installation of a system of irrigation canals, partially dependent on a reservoir lake and on the implementation of a ship canal 120 km in length. The evaluation of the importance of this installation would give us an idea of the technological advancement of Eastern populations in the beginning of the urban era, and would help us understand how they conceived the world in which they wanted to live.

Europos‐Dura represent another great archaeological find of historical and artistic interest. The very extensive site comprises Hellenistic and Roman ruins enclosed within massive city walls, being situated on the right bank of the middle course of the River Euphrates, about 90 kilometers along the road from Deir ez-Zor to the Abu-Kamal Bridge and the present-day border with Iraq.

Europos-Dura has been discovered in 1920, explored from 1922 to 1924 by a French expedition led by F. Cumont, from 1928 to 1937 by an American-French expedition led by M. I. Rostovtzeff and since 1986 by a Syrian-French expedition founded by A. Mahmoud and P. Leriche and now led by A. Al Saleh and P. Leriche.

Covering about 140 acres, Europos-Dura was founded around 303 B.C. as a stronghold with military function by the Seleucids on the route along the Euphrates. The city itself created around 150 B.C. was constructed mainly as a means to deter Parthian attacks while simultaneously supplying goods to the Seleucid army.

In 113 B.C., the Parthians took the city from the Seleucids. They remained in control for three centuries, minus a brief Roman interlude from A.D. 115 to 117, after which they resumed power. The Parthians maintained a similar governmental system to that of the Seleucids. The titles of "strategos and epistates" continued to appear in inscriptions of the third century A.D. By this time, the strategos, formerly a military official, was the head of a city order that was drawn from the big, relatively wealthy families who themselves as Greek and continued to dominate local politics. During this time, Dura becomes kind of a frontier-ish town, or at least a city which is towards the western edge of the Parthian Empire.

In the 165 A.D., aggressive Roman wars against the Parthian empire led to the permanent seizure of Europos and parts of Mesopotamia to its north. From the early 200s, it became a major forward base for repeated Roman aggressions against the crumbling Arsacid power. It was abandoned in 256 A.D. after a siege by the new Sasanid Empire.

Europos' location was ideal because it was very well protected by a very steep drop down to the river. Its building as a great city after the Hippodamian model, with rectangular blocks defined by cross-streets ranged round a large central agora, was formally laid out in the middle of the 2nd century B.C.

Although outwardly a Greek city, the history of which was always dominated by distant imperial powers based in the Mediterranean or Iran, nonetheless much of Dura's population, and much of its culture, clearly belonged to the local Syro- Mesopotamian peoples themselves. The city measures roughly a kilometer from the northern to the southern ravines, and is up to 700m from the river cliffs to the 'desert' wall, an area of over 70 hectares 140 acres). An extensive necropolis of elaborate tombs sprawled across the plain to the west of the town. Outside the Palmyrene Gate lay a huge rubbish dump.

The site is what remains of an ancient city, surrounded on three sides by defensive walls, with the east-facing fourth side overlooking the great river from a height of over 40 meters, an escarpment that offers a spectacular view both of the fertile alluvial plain stretching away to the horizon and of the powerful vertical structure of the dramatically poised ramparts. On the northern and southern sides the walls follow jagged lines along deep ravines scored into the earth by watercourses flowing from the steppe lands of the plateau down to the river. On the western side the wall runs straight for almost a kilometer, punctuated by fourteen towers and pierced by the "Palmyrene Gate", which is flanked by two more tall towers.

The three successive phases of investigations in Europos-Dura have been one of the richest sources of historical information about the events and aspects concerning the civilizations, arts and religious cults that flourished in the Middle East in the five centuries and more between the end of the IV century BC and the middle of the III century AD in an area that was especially permeable to contacts and interchanges between the Mediterranean and Asian worlds...".

Over the first three centuries of its existence, Europos grew to be a major regional urban centre, probably less the ‘caravan city' it was once held to be, and more a centre of manufacture, trade and administration for the rich Mesopotamian agricultural lands just across the river, the smaller settlements along the Middle Euphrates, and the pastoral communities of the steppe. Europos gradually expanded to fill its great wall-circuit, with residential streets and administrative buildings around the central market, and many temples scattered across the town.

A very early example of religious development in Syria
The ruins reveal the historical and political influence this settlement had in the region. The importance of the site was the discovery of the synagogue and of the house converted in to a Christian chapel the earliest recognizable Christian cult center in Syria, the temple of Bel and the Mithraeum all richly decorated with wall paintings.
In the course of the excavations, over a hundred parchment and papyrus fragments and many inscriptions have revealed texts in Greek, Latin, Palmyrene, Hatrean, Safaitic, and Pahlavi. The excavations revealed temples to Greek, Roman, Palmyrene and others Semitic gods. Different building materials are used in different periods. These include very hard siliceous limestone, ashlars of gypsum, djuss (a local plaster made of gypsum cooked at a low level and mixed with few organic and clayish materials), sandy or clayish mud bricks and baked bricks. The walls were always plastered with mud or djuss.

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionnelle

The two sites represent the best-preserved remains of ancient times complete with its environment. This makes them a valuable component of Syria's cultural heritage well worth preserving.

Criteria (ii) Mari and Europos-Dura display a mixture of influences which has created a unique architecture, culture and townscape, with exceptional buildings of Palaces, public and religious buildings of different faiths, with reflections on urbanism, fine arts, and based on a prosperous trading economy.

Criteria (iii) Mari and Europos-Dura represent exceptional examples of trading cities in Mesopotamia, forged from the mercantile, religious and cultural exchanges' of several civilizations (Sumerian, Greek, and Roman), with each culture having left its imprint on the built and living environment.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité

The remaining of Mari is still impressive in height and material (the mud brick construction can be easily appreciated). Currently a French and Syrian team is applying a mud plaster to the walls as a conservation measure, in an attempt to prevent further loss.

The conservation activities in Mari covering the safeguarding site of mud brick archaeological site play an essential part for the implementation of the recommendation of regional seminar on conservation of earthen structure in the Arab states held in Masqat on December 2003.

Also the re-examination of Europos site is currently underway through the work of joint Franco-Syrian Expedition one of whose more urgent tasks is to stop the damage in the site.

The Jury of the International Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens has unanimously decided that the twenty-Þrst of these annual awards (2010) went to Europos-Dura.

The legal protective structure and management system are adequate, as both properties exhibit a good state of conservation. The two cities are protected and listed under the category of archaeological sites, with a registration decision issued by the Minister of Culture. DGAM specify the boundary of the both sites along with the boundary of its protected area and the building system for buffer-zone located outside the respective site.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

In Syria the comparison would be in the light of the political and historical situation in Mesopotamia in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, These come from a variety of geographical locations, including Ugarit, Ebla, and Mari as sites within Mesopotamia proper.

Mari and Ugarit were in any case well known to each other. Zimri-Lim's legendary palace had inspired other monarchs of the region to extend themselves in the designing and furnishing of their own palaces. The splendor of the royal residences was constantly subject to revision. It is like the residence at Ugarit.

The excavated ruins of the ancient cities Ebla and Mari bear witness to their closer relation-ship as vital cities of one of the oldest civilization on earth. A Semitic empire that had reached its peak in c. 2500 BCE. Both Mari and Ebla have left extensive libraries of clay tablets giving a remarkable record of history, daily life and a comprehensive insight in to the culture of the period.

We can see a new face to the relationships between the cultures and peoples that were caught in this ancient clash of civilizations. Europos-Dura in the East and the city state of Palmyra to the West. Each city provides unique examples of the combined influences of Rome and Mesopotamia and how these influences interacted with local civilizations to create two unique cultures. Hellenistic architecture mixed with Mesopotamian, families dressed in the garb of warring empires for portraiture among many other examples of this exchange. But through this cultural attention, both Europos-Dura and Palmyra kept their cultures alive and in some cases were able to see them grow within the context of cultural syncretism.

Although Mesopotamian and Greco-Roman culture had strong, very evident effects on Europos-Dura, the influence of these cultures were never able to suppress or replace the local culture of either Europos-Dura or Palmyra. The appearance of Mesopotamian and Greco-Roman culture manifested through art, inscription, or architecture was viewed through a kaleidoscope by the citizens of Europos-Dura and Palmyra. Instead of being dominated by either culture, these cities took from both East and West to create their local culture.