Fall 2018

PLUS260

A Virtual Tour Through the Vanishing Heritage of the Middle East (55+)

During recent conflicts in the Middle East, cultural heritage has been intentionally destroyed. Some 290 important sites in Syria have been damaged by the ongoing civil war. Devastation in Iraq since 2003 includes the looting of the National Museum, the building of an American base on the site of Babylon and the bombing of the al-Askari mosque. Yemen, among the world’s oldest continuously inhabited regions, has been tragically touched by the winds of modernity. And the ancient, sophisticated culture of Iran is seeing rapid change.

We will address the historical antecedents of the intentional destruction of cultural heritage; trace a brief account of the Middle East over time; view photographs the instructor has taken over the years of invaluable sites in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Iran; and learn about the situation in these countries today.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Vancouver 6 Peter Langer $115.00 200 -

What will I learn?

Weeks 1-2:

The Vanishing Cultural Heritage of Syria

The situation in Syria has been deteriorating rapidly, with incalculable human suffering and loss since 2010. An analysis of satellite imagery indicates that 290 cultural heritage sites in the country, whose history stretches back to the dawn of civilization, have been damaged by its ongoing civil war. To date, five UNESCO World Heritage Sites—Palmyra, the Crac des Chevaliers, Bosra, the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria and Aleppo including the Aleppo Citadel—have suffered damage and destruction.

In addition to this, ancient cities such as Ebla, Mari, Dura-Europos and Apamea, among many others, have suffered from looting, where thieves have even used bulldozers and heavy machinery to remove objects from important archaeological sites.

The Vanishing Cultural Heritage of Iraq

Since the beginning of the conflict in Iraq in 2003, its cultural heritage has been the target of intentional destruction, such as the looting of the National Museum of Iraq, the building of an American base in the archaeological site of Babylon and the bombing of the golden dome of the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra.

Attacks against the culture of Iraq have recently seen a dramatic escalation. Following the brutal destruction of many invaluable cultural items at the Mosul Museum and of the Mosque of the Prophet Jonah, and the bulldozing of the ancient Assyrian cities of Nimrud and Nineveh by militants of the ISIL, the destruction of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hatra marks a turning point in the cultural cleansing underway.

Weeks 3-4:

The Vanishing Cultural Heritage of Yemen

At the crossroads of spice and incense routes, Yemen is one of the oldest continuously inhabited regions in the world. It has now been tragically touched by the winds of modernity.

The instructor has travelled through Yemen in the past and has photographically documented this fascinating country and its people and its extraordinary landscapes, astonishing architecture, and historical sites. From these records, he has prepared a new multi-image video presentation which will take you on a musical and photographic journey that showcases sites from mountains with fortress-like villages on the top of the peaks, to picturesque urban settlements with ancient skyscrapers made from stone and mud, where people live on top of their animals. We will journey from deserts to fertile valleys, from the shores of the Arabian Sea to colorful markets filled with sounds, fragrances and faces from 1001 Nights, everywhere witnessing the ancient wisdom and art from the land of the Queen of Sheba.

Weeks 5-6:

The Cultural Heritage of Iran

The instructor travelled extensively through Iran in 1999, 2002 and 2015, astonished at the rapid change the country has undergone in the last decade, despite the imposition of sanctions by numerous governments and the UN Security Council. There has been noticeable change in the attitude of the common people and brand new modern infrastructure throughout the country.

The instructor went to Iran specifically to document many of the 19 World Heritage Sites located in the country, and in this part of the course, we explore archaeological sites of ancient Persia and Mesopotamia: Pasargadae, the first dynastic capital of the Achaemenid Empire, founded by Cyrus II the Great; Persepolis, a 2500-year-old reminder of the might of the Persian Empire; the perfectly preserved Armenian Monastic Ensembles, located in the North of the country; the beautiful Persian Gardens; and masterpieces of Islamic architecture in Ardabil, Tabriz, Yazd, Esfahan and Kashan. We also take in modern Tehran. Discover the real Iran, home of a warm and fascinating people living within an ancient and sophisticated culture.

(Division of topics into weeks is approximate.)

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material will be available online through Canvas. Information will be provided to students by email on the first day of class.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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