The Manar al-Athar website http://www.manar-al-athar.ox.ac.uk/, based at the University of Oxford, is the inspired creation of Judith McKenzie (1957-2019). It provides high resolution, searchable images for teaching, research, and publication. These images of archaeological sites, buildings, and art, will cover the areas of the former Roman empire that later came under Islamic rule, such as Syro-Palestine, the Levant, Arabia, Egypt and North Africa, as well as some bordering regions, such as Georgia and Armenia. The chronological range is from Alexander the Great (i.e., from about 300 BC), through the Islamic period.
Photographs are freely available for use in academic and educational publications simply by acknowledging the source. They are downloadable as high resolution tifs for publications and research, or as smaller jpgs for PowerPoint presentations and teaching. Images of each building are placed in a visual sequence that easily conveys the contexts of details.
Information about each image is included in metadata fields, so that the captions, etc., are stored and downloaded attached to the image for future reference. Making the tifs freely-downloadable, without the form-filling usually required for publication, ensures the continued availability of the images without on-going labour costs arising from processing permission requests. All the material is labelled in both Arabic and English, while the instructions are also available in some other languages to facilitate use across the world by students and the public, as well as colleagues. The IT development is being carried out by Jeremy Worth (ICT Manager, School of Archaeology.
Sponsors and Development
The pilot development of this website, which was launched in 2013, was part of the project at the University of Oxford, Late Antique Egypt and the Holy Land: Archaeology, History, and Religious Change (Principal Investigator: Neil McLynn) which was funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant. Thus, there is a focus on late antique sites which have undergone conversion from paganism to Christianity, and sometimes, in turn, to Islam. The Oxford University Press (OUP) John Fell Research Fund supported further IT development and acquisition of images, especially of late antique art in Egypt and Syro-Palestine.
The first stage of development was done using digital photographs of Syro-Palestine taken by Judith McKenzie, Emilio Bonfiglio, and Sean Leatherbury on study trips in 2009 and 2010. This is augmented by further images of conversion sites in Syro-Palestine and Egypt taken for the Leverhulme project by Ross Burns (Sydney), Joseph Greene (Harvard), Mohamed Kenawi (Alexandria), Andres Reyes, Elias Khamis, and Sean Leatherbury. The sheer volume of high-quality material collected thus far required additional funding to edit and label it. Funding was secured from the Wainwright Fund for Sarah Norodom to process conversion sites in Lebanon; from the Craven Fund to increase the sites in the Holy Land covered (especially from the Roman period); and from the OUP John Fell Fund for Tiffany Chezum to edit Ptolemaic and Roman Egyptian temples.
Grants from the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research (OCBR) enabled Leatherbury to identify and label his corpus of photographs of late antique mosaics in Syria and Tunisia. The latter were edited by Meseret Oldjira in the Semitic Museum of Harvard University. She and Marlena Whiting identified and edited photographs of Roman and early Islamic sites in Tunisia and Libya taken by Leatherbury, Kenawi, and Burns. The Wainwright Fund and a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant supported the scanning of all of Judith McKenzie's black and white negatives of the architecture of Petra, Alexandria, and related sites, which are now available in the photo-archive. OCBR supported the acquisition of images in Armenia, to be edited by Miranda Williams. The further expansion of the archive includes material in Morocco, Algeria, the South Caucasus, and the Balkans. Consolidation of the second phase of expansion of the archive is funded by the Classics Faculty, the OUP John Fell Fund, Americans for Oxford, and the Friends of Manar al-Athar.
As a collaborative enterprise, other team members have also received funding in support of their work on the project: Director Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis (the Provost's Research Fund of the City University of New York), Kenawi (the Barakat Trust), and Reyes (the Dillon Fund of Groton School). The Semitic Museum of Harvard University is providing support in kind.
The website is in continuous development. Current strengths include Late Antiquity (250–750 AD), the period of transition from paganism to Christianity, and then to Islam, especially religious buildings (temples, churches, synagogues, mosques) and monumental art (including floor mosaics), early Islamic art (paintings, mosaics, relief sculpture), as well as Roman and early Islamic (Umayyad) architecture, and evidence of iconoclasm. Classical reception in early Islamic art can be seen in the wall-paintings of the bathhouse at Qusayr Amra and the stuccos from Khirbet al-Mafjar, both substantially covered by the collections available through Manar al-Athar. Such material forms part of the ERC Advanced Project The Monumental Art of the Christian and Early Islamic East
Director: Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis (The Graduate Center, the City University of New York)
Oxford director: Bryan Ward-Perkins
Deputy director: Miranda Williams