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Landscapes and monuments: Iran to Spain


Garth Fowden is a historian of first millennium CE Eurasia, who in pursuit of his interests has travelled extensively in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa. For the greater part of his career he has lived and worked in Greece. This site presents a digitized version of the photographic archive he developed while conducting research on the landscapes and monuments of these regions.

Fowden was born in Norwich in 1953. He first visited the Middle East - Lebanon and Jordan, especially Jerusalem - in 1966 when his father was working in Beirut. After completing his secondary education he spent a year (1970-71) in the employ of the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, George Appleton. A few photographs survive from this early experience of the landscapes, archaeology and religious life of Jerusalem and Palestine. In 1971 Fowden embarked on his undergraduate and then doctoral studies at Merton College, Oxford. From 1978 to 1983 he was a research fellow at Peterhouse and subsequently at Darwin College, Cambridge. He briefly taught Byzantine and Modern Greek History at Groningen, and in 1986 moved to a research position specializing in the Greek East at the Centre for Greek and Roman Antiquity, National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens. In 2013 he became the first holder of the Sultan Qaboos Chair of Abrahamic Faiths in the University of Cambridge. The social aspect of intellectual and religious life in late Antiquity has been a permanent focus of his books and articles, but always informed by his interest in the material culture, archaeology, art and epigraphy of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, especially Athens, Lycia, Constantinople, Greater Syria and Egypt. More recently, the rise of Islam in relation to the ancient cultures and empires of Iran and Rome has become the main focus of his work. All these concerns are documented and illuminated in the archive here presented.

From 1977 Fowden began to travel systematically in the Middle East including Turkey, but photography did not become a priority until 1986. The latest items in the archive date from 2007. The main regions covered are Greece, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Iran and Yemen, and less extensively Spain, Italy, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt. The strengths of the collection, reflecting Fowden's research and teaching interests at different periods, are: 

- the relationship between settlement and landscape; 

- fortification, and the evolution of the urban tissue, especially in the late Roman period; 

- religious architecture, especially the conversion of holy places, monasticism, and the emergence of Islam; 

- art and epigraphy preserved in architectural or archaeological contexts;

- traditional  domestic architecture. 

Within each site, the photographs are arranged in a sequence designed to convey some sense of a physical visit, sometimes starting and/or ending with more general shots of the surrounding landscape and of the routes that traverse it. Photographs taken on site are occasionally supplemented by items from museums or print publications designed to make the collection more suitable for teaching purposes.

The documentation of Palmyra, Aleppo (where Fowden spent the first half of 1996 as the guest of the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim), and the Yemen, has particular value and poignancy in the light of recent events. Even more than war, though, it has been urbanization, the construction of dams, and the extensive irrigation of formerly arid areas, that has transformed the region in recent decades. Many of the places recorded will be inaccessible to foreign visitors for the foreseeable future, and are anyway changed beyond recognition.

For a brief introduction to the archive’s background and themes, and a sampling of its contents, click here.