The Zodiac Arch
British explorer and travel writer Dame Freya Stark (1893-1993) was a remarkable woman for her time—or any time. After university studies history, Arabic and Persian, years of travel took her from North Africa and the Mediterranean through the Middle East and as far as Afghanistan. In Iran and in the Hadhramaut in southern Arabia, she explored sites where no Westerner had gone. She wrote more than two dozen books about her journeys. The Zodiac Arch is a collection of 34 essays, most no longer than eight pages, originally published in periodicals over nearly 50 years, beginning in 1919. In 1967 she gathered the essays into this book, linking those with common themes. Some are autobiographical; others are philosophical social commentaries on such topics as silence, greed or the meaning of life. Most, however, are about her travels—descriptions of landscapes, histories, economies and sometimes-whimsical stories of encounters with people, their animals and their customs. "The Golden Domes of Iraq and Iran” offers an example of her sometimes-surprising historical insights, in this case that the first domed mosques were inspired by the architecture of Byzantine churches.