Summer 2001

Library Exhibition Merges Archeology and Architecture

What better way to study ancient buildings than to make one yourself. "No blueprint or picture can reveal what a building really looks like as can a model," says Prof. Arthur Segal, head of the University's Zinman Institute of Archaeology. Six years ago, he had his students put theory into practice, and the result is a unique display of perhaps the best in architecture of the ancient world in the show windows of the University Library.

The 34 models on view represent public structures that stood in Israel and the Graeco-Roman world at some point between the 5th century BCE and the 3rd century CE. Archeology and Art students at the University and Architecture students at the Technion, where Segal gave a course, painstakingly constructed them from cardboard and occasionally wood at a scale of 1:50 (some at a scale of 1:100).

The students, who worked in groups of two or three on a structure, reconstructed each structure according to the detailed plans prepared by the archeologists who excavated the different buildings. At times, they had to supplement these loose blueprints with their own sense of its reconstruction. All models were constructed under Segal's guidance.

Some of the edifices, in fact, no longer exist, even in ruins. They are known from ancient literature, which often gave detailed descriptions to emphasize the beauty of the buildings. Segal gave the example of one Pausanius, who in the 2nd century CE left a book describing many of the famous structures in Greece. Students used these descriptions to produce their models of lost structures.

The public structures in the exhibition fall into several categories. There are cultic structures - temples - as well as secular buildings, such as basilica, which were used for judicial trials as well as commercial activities.There is a rich collection of theaters; among them is one the most ancient and famous, Epidaurus in the northern Peloponnese (southern part of Greece).

The entertainment class of buildings also includes the odeum, which is a small, theater-like, roofed structure. The theater edifices themselves were not roofed. Another category of structures is the nymphaeum, decorative public fountains. The last type of structure represented is the mausoleum, examples being the Lion Tomb in Cnidos in Turkey and the tomb of Antiochus II(?) in Belevi, which is near Ephesos, also in Asia Minor (Turkey). The roofs of many of these structures are made to open to afford a view of their detail inside.

Segal points to the northern palace on Massada, built by Herod the Great, as perhaps the most beautiful in the time period covered by the exhibition. The model was constructed on the basis of both the reports of archeologists who excavated the palace and a precise description given by Josephus Flavius.

The archeologist believes that if an archeology student possesses the technical skills, this student should translate the descriptions he reads into a model rather than into a seminar paper. "He or she will learn a great deal from doing," he says, "and will gain even greater interest in the subject."

Tourists, too, benefit from such models, in his opinion. Before going to an archeological site, "they can take in the beauty of a structure from the model. They can then compare the present reality—the ruins—with the view of the building in its heyday."


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