In Hergé’s, ‘Cigars of the Pharaoh’, Dr Sarcophagus an Egyptologist made a deep impression on me in my childhood. Perhaps it was the word ‘sarcophagus’, which evoked visions of sepulchral quietude, sinister plotting and funereal insinuations of the netherworld. Or it was perhaps just an overworked hyperactive imagination always obsessed with the eerily morbid and mysterious.
At the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul, located in the outer garden of the Topkapı Palace , a museum that was originally built to accommodate the sarcophagi discovered at the Necropolis at Sidon (which is now a part of modern day Lebanon), you can also find among the exhibits, sarcophagi from Egypt, and some Anthropoid ones sculpted by Ionians from Anatolia.
The ones that were large and heavily sculpted were the Alexander sarcophagus, considered to have been created for the then king of Sidon, Abdalonymus or perhaps for Mazaeus , a Persian noble and governor of Babylon. ‘The sarcophagus of the mourning women’ depicts beautifully detailed, placidly sad women.
Scary stories about sarcophagi abound, most famous among them being the opening of Tutankhamens tomb in 1923 by Lord Carnarvon. Although these sometimes magnificent receptacles are fertile ground for stories inciting fear, the ones placed in the Archaeological Museum instil awe.
Perhaps at Hierapolis, which is the best preserved Necropolis in Turkey, while you walk on a starlit night among the various sarcophagi, one of which is that of Marcus Aurelius, it would evoke such sentiment as it did in me, of walking in a mausoleum of untold and unknown tales of antiquity.