We had done it before and we were doing it again: waiting along with several thousand other people, all of whom were eagerly and anxiously trying to walk down the staircases at the same time and disembark from the Costa Diadema at 9AM this particular Thursday morning. We had arrived at Cagliari, the port city of Sardinia, about an hour before, and we would have until 5PM to explore the island before the ship set sail again. Not a lot of time to get to our destination, the Su Nuraxi archaeological site and get back in enough time to spend a few minutes getting a glimpse of what there was to see in the very old port town. Especially since the bus ride to our destination, pretty much on the other side of the island, would take over an hour each way.
Our experience at the UNESCO site can be described in a few well chosen words: We got off the bus, and some of us made a beeline for the rest rooms. We walked into an open field, reading some of signs along the way. Somebody gave us a brief explanation about this ancient fortress, and then we wended our way through what would seem to the untutored eye to be enormous piles of rocks strewn about, up to the top of the structure, and then down again via a steep, narrow stone staircase that must have been even more difficult to transverse when it was new, 3500 years ago, before someone invented handrails. Inside, all the way at the bottom is an open area and several chambers, which we went into. More explanations, although not much about what I was seeing was sinking in.
We were not the only group visiting the site, and there was no one in charge directing traffic. So when we wanted to go back up, there was another group coming down. We had no choice but to go back into one of the chambers, let the other group descend, then pick our way through them so we could go up. And then, there was another group trying to get down; fortunately, they agreed to stop in the middle so we could get by them. Otherwise, it would have been a stalemate, and we’d all be still standing there, the two groups on the stairs and the third at the bottom. As we made our way out, I could see still another group in the open field waiting their turn to visit the site. Very popular place.
What follows next might seem to be a digression, completely unrelated to our trip – but bear with me. On two occasions in the last several years, Barbara and I had the opportunity to go on tours with our favorite tour guide, Ezra Rosenfeld of tanachtiyulim, to Khirbet Qeyafa, an archaeological dig here in the Elah Valley. With modern carbon dating techniques, using olives pits found in jugs, the site has been determined to have been from about 1000 BCE – that’s about half a millennium younger than the site in Sardinia. While no one seems to know or care who exactly built and lived in that stone fortress, the origins of Qeyafa are of intense interest to anyone remotely interested in the history of The Land.
Long story, short: there is a group of archaeologists known as the minimalists, one of whom, Finkelstein (booo!) is a professor at Tel Aviv University. His original thesis was that King David was as real a person as Robin Hood or King Arthur. When inscriptions were found mentioning the Davidic dynasty, his fallback position was, OK, there was a real David, but he was at best a minor tribal chief, ruling over a relatively small territory. Then came, among other things, the discovery of Qeyafa and the realization that it dated from the time of David. Well, said the Finkelsteinists, it wasn’t a Jewish city, it was Canaanite or Philistine or Jebusite – maybe even Aztec – but it wasn’t Jewish. No! No! No! Except that it wasn’t built like the Canaanite or Philistine or Jebusite sites that have been excavated. And then someone working with the archaeologist Yosi Garfinkel (yeah!!!!) found a highly unusual feature, a second gate into the city. Could this be the biblical city called Sharayim (two gates)? Maybe.
This site is so important that it is right now the subject of a major exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum. No surprise – The Levines were eager to see it, and so we went. As I said before, we have been to the site twice, each time with Ezra, who understood what had been discovered, why it was significant, and could explain it to someone like me. Still, I was looking – as I so often have – at piles of rocks, maybe the foundations of buildings, but piles of rocks nonetheless.
But there we were at the Bible Lands Museum, with all the artifacts found in situ in front of us, with charts and diagrams and photographs. And……. a computer generated recreation of what the site might have looked like back in the day when people lived there. Suddenly, it all came together. For the first time, I could make some sense of what I was looking at. Imagine if everyone who visited the archaeological site could see this exhibition, and everyone who came to the museum could get to visit the site!
For all we know, the family or families who built what is called Su Nuraxi were lineal descendants of Barney and Wilma Flintstone. But probably not. We have no idea who built it, and, as I said, nobody seems to really care. Nor does anybody seem that interested in how this military outpost fits into the general scheme of Mediterranean history. Still, the site is impressive enough to be considered important by UNESCO. Just that they’re not interested enough to promote the site in a real way. I don’t know who “owns” the property, but imagine if it were the folks who owned the Drach caves in Mallorca. There’d be a restaurant in the empty field and a building with some kind of impressive audio-visual presentation and the requisite gift shop. And definitely a “traffic cop,” so people wouldn’t be fighting to go up and down at the same time.
Just so you know: by the time our bus got back to Cagliari, most of us had done enough climbing for the day and were good and ready to get back on the ship. We never got to walk around Cagliari. More’s the pity, ‘cause we won’t be back that way any time soon.