Places

Rust and Dreams on the Beirut-Damascus Railroad

Rust and Dreams on the Beirut-Damascus Railroad

Built with a third, toothed rail to help it over the mountains, the railroad between the capitals was a world-class engineering feat of the late 19th century. It ran for 80 years, and hopes for its revival may yet be gathering steam.
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Mesopotamia’s Art of the Seal

Mesopotamia’s Art of the Seal

Compact in size yet complex in the scenes they depict, stone cylinders—many no larger than your thumb—were a popular medium for Mesopotamian artisans talented enough to reverse-carve semiprecious stones and produce unique, often mythological tableaux in astonishingly sensitive, naturalistic detail. Their craft gave each seal’s owner a personalized graphic signature for use with the most popular media channel of the third millennium BCE: damp clay. Seal impressions certified ownership, validated origins, attested to debts, secured against theft and more. Many seal cylinders were drilled so they could be strung and carried as amulets and status symbols—uses that may find echoes among today’s compact, personalized communication devices.
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The Liverpool Effect

The Liverpool Effect

Around the turn of the 20th century, an acrobat from Morocco named Achmed Ben Ibrahim settled near the thriving port of Liverpool, UK. Forgotten until the recent discovery of his 1906 tombstone, his story foreshadows the cultural impacts of the city’s most famous 21st-century resident—Egyptian soccer star Mohammed “Mo” Salah.

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Pinisi Boats Sail into the Future

Pinisi Boats Sail into the Future

Masterpieces of a wooden-boat tradition from the center of the 5,200-kilometer-wide Indonesian archipelago, pinisi schooners are both unique and related to the Arab dhows and European sailing ships that preceded them on the waters that link the region’s thousands of islands. Using memory, 
not blueprints, pinisi shipwrights build each boat by hand.
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Shanidar Cave Yields New Signs of Neanderthal Emotions

Shanidar Cave Yields New Signs of Neanderthal Emotions

Traces of flowers in a Neanderthal grave found 45 years ago in northern Iraq led to a theory that even the earliest humans may have expressed emotions in ritual. In 2016 archeologists returned: Could new finds lend support to the theory, or not?
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The Alhambras of Latin America

The Alhambras of Latin America

From the 1860s to the 1930s, architects throughout South America and the Caribbean took inspirations from the Islamic design heritage of southern Spain, where the most inspiring building of all proved to be the Alhambra palace.

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Britain’s Muslim Heritage Trails

Britain’s Muslim Heritage Trails

Not far from London, newly inaugurated walking routes trace some of the first Islamic patronages and cultural contributions to the UK. The trails start at the country’s first purpose-built mosque and lead to two cemeteries—one dedicated to nearly forgotten Muslim veterans and the other the resting place of several dozen British Muslims, more than a few of them leaders in their fields. While the sites owe their origins to a 19th-century linguist, the trails have come about through collaborations among a local journalist, the London-based nonprofit Everyday Muslim and the town of Woking. All have teamed up so visitors can walk the paths of stories that hold “the potential to change Britain’s popular historical narrative.”

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Greetings from Cairo, USA

Greetings from Cairo, USA

Westward expansion of the United States in the 19th century coincided with the popularity of all things Egyptian. Beginning in 1808 some 25 villages, towns and cities throughout the country were named Cairo. Of them, Cairo, Illinois, became the largest, although today it is Cairo, Georgia, whose nearly 10,000 residents gives it that title. Five of the “American Cairos” produced picture postcards, mostly during the early 20th century: These included both Cairo, Illinois and Georgia, as well as the Cairos of West Virginia, New York and Nebraska. Today these postcards record what these communities—distinct in geography, economy and history but united by a name—regarded as points of pride.

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FirstLook: Hambori, Mali

FirstLook: Hambori, Mali

I have many memories of road trips where the possibility of stopping for a casual photo was impossible. I’ve passed by landscapes, seascapes, storefronts, bazaars, people and events where I didn’t have the time to capture images.
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