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SYRIA - A HISTORICAL AND ARCHITECTURAL GUIDE by Warwick Ball, published by Melisende

It is a peculiarity of many archaeologists that they know one site in unfathomable detail, like the body of a lover, but can remain myopically ignorant of the larger landscape. This is not the case of Warwick Ball, who though he has sunk his own share of shard-hunting trenches through the alluvial mud of Afghanistan and Mesopotamia, has studied Syria with the broad-ranging lens of an art historian. His work as a tour-lecturer, combined with a prize-winning history of Rome in the East, has kept his scholarship sharp but also provided him with an instinctive awareness of the interest levels of the general reader. His guide bowls along at great pace, neither losing the reader in a labyrinth of cross-referenced detail but yet remains alive to the underlying historical issues that animate inquiry. He is also humane enough to feel the excitement of window-shopping in the souk of Aleppo, the enchantment of the mosaics at Shahba but also realise that whatever the level of ones historical interest, the dark basalt building stone with which Bosra is constructed can also become wearisome to the eye. Given the vast density of historical sites in Syria he has had to condense some site inspections to a mere nod of recognition, though at places where it really matters (and where comparatively few foreign visitors go) such as to the castle of Marqab, or the Byzantine fortress of Resafa or the isolated temple sanctuary of Hosni Sulaiman, there is space and enthusiasm a plenty. But how will the book be used? For in many ways it stands in the middle ground between Ross Burns¹s more detailed gazeeter, Marius Kocijowski¹s collection of travel literature and Michael Hagg's fluent and opjnionated guidebook. However the publishers need not be alarmed for sales, I found Warwick Ball a most stimulating after-site read, I could check his opinions against my own and start plotting a return visit, for you soon learn to trust his judgement.

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