Good Reading : September 2005
48 goodreading For more than 40 years photog- rapher Georg Gerster has been photographing archaeological sites from the air. ‘Distance creates an overview of the subject, and an overview creates a greater understanding,’ he says. Sometimes sites are only clearly visible from the air because vegetation has grown over them, or because contours are revealed.A bustling city can of course be experienced and felt from the ground, but from the air an incredible pattern comes to light. In The Past From Above Charlotte Trümpler introduces us to 250 of Gerster’s images, taken in more than 50 countries around the world. The photographs include a snaking Great Wall of China, medieval fortresses in Turkey, temples in Egypt, and the mysterious monumental figures etched into the earth in Peru, the USA and England.With each picture accompanied by an explanation, you gain an under- standing of the size and scale of these ancient sites and are provided with a view that allows you to see an aspect that would otherwise be hidden. Gerster’s aerial photographs ensure that many important archaeological sites around the world are preserved – at least in photographic form – for generations to come. The Past From Above provides us with a different view of the remnants of civilisations past, which will have you marvelling at our ancestors’ ingenuity. In Roman times, control over this Christian necropolis at al-Bagawat in the Kharga oasis was important as it was on the Darb el-Arba’in (Forty Day Road), a notorious caravan route. The busy trade helped the city thrive and the wealth was evident in its many temples and municipal complexes. Dating from the 4th to 7th centuries, it is one of the oldest and best preserved early Christian necropolises in the world. coffee table a bird’s eye In the mountains of northern Ethiopia, close to the border with Eritrea, the monastery village of Dabra Damo (7th-11th century AD) looks down from a height of more than 2200m on the fertile valley below. The sheer walls of the table mountain are up to 200m in height and can be scaled only by a rope 15m long. More than 1000 monks lived here at times of high feasts, not counting the women who settled at the foot of the mountain and were not allowed to enter the site. In the mid-1990s a fire destroyed the monastery library, which was centuries old, an irreplaceable loss for the history and culture of Ethiopia.