We’re August 18, 1867 – and Tinco Lycklama is leaving Tehran (and will never return). He is traveling back to the Ottoman border and will then start his exploration of the northern regions of modern Iraq and Syria – the heartland of Kurdistan and ancient Assyria.
Tinco Lycklama had spent most of the year 1866 in Persia. After his a stay in Baghdad, in the first half of 1867, he returned to Persia in the summer of 1867. It was his second in Tehran – and also the last one. He used his three weeks in the Persian capital to respond to letters from Europe and Russia. Books had been sent from Europe, so that he could study the latest literature and prepare the next stages of his trip – through Kurdistan and Assyria to places such as Kirkuk and Mosul, and to the ancient sites of Khorsabad and Niniveh. Tinco also spent time in Tehran’s bazar, where he bought many more antiques and rugs that would stand pretty in his future museum.
In the fourth volume of his travel account, published in 1975, Tinco concludes his descriptions of Persia in a philosophical manner. In the meantime, the shah of Persia, Naser al-Din, had travelled Europe for the first time (1873). At that occasion, Tinco had met him several times, as well as his friends Emam Qoli Mirza (an uncle of the Shah), and Abd-al-Samad Mirza (the shah’s nephew).
“I saw them charmed by the welcome they enjoyed everywhere in Europe, and full of admiration for the wonders of western civilisation. However, it would be an error to think that, once upon his return to Tehran, Naser al-Din would europeanise Persia… To every people its own genius, its destiny, and its role in the world… I believe that Persia will always remain Persia, the way it was shaped by its history, its religion, and the nature of its people.”
Tinco is now traveling back to Hamadan, to meet again with his friend Abd-al-Samad Mirza, the “Ezz-al-Dawla“, and then to continue towards Kurdistan and Assyria – in the northern part of modern Iraq.
In Hamadan, Tinco Lycklama builds a friendship that will last a lifetime. Indeed, the young governor of the province, Abd-al-Samad Mirza, “Ezz-al-Dawla”, enjoys the company of his Dutch visitor and – a few years later – will come and visit Tinco in Cannes.
Abd-al-Samad Mirza (1844-1929) was a Qajar prince and a younger brother of Naser el-Din, the shah of Persia. At a young age, he was sent by his brother to rule the province of Hamadan. In later years, he also became governor of other provinces and briefly occupied the position of Justice Minister of Persia (1885-87).
In 1872, Abd-al-Samad Mirza, “Ezz-al-Dawla”, became chief of the Qajar tribe. It was in that capacity that he accompanied his brother on his first visit to Europe, in 1873. At that occasion, he also traveled to Cannes to meet his friend Tinco and to visit the museum that Tinco had opened in Cannes earlier that year.
Abd-Al-Samad Mirza is the common ancestor of the Saloor branch of the worldwide Qajar family.
In Tinco’s writings, the name of Abd-al-Samad is spelled differently (a typical challenge with all names and titles in the Persian Qajar dynasty) : Abdolsamad Mirza, Ez-ed-Daulèh.
Almost everything we know about the ancient civilisations of the Middle East relates to the decipherment of cuneiform script. At Bisotun, Tinco explores the reliefs and carvings that date back to the time of Darius the Great. But, not before having coffee at the Shah Abassi caravanserai.
Tinco Lycklama left the city of Kermanshah on June 29, 1867. He spent a most interesting fortnight in the company of the Turkish consul, and made new friends at the Qajar court. On his way to Hamadan, Tinco makes a stop at Bisotun. From a cultural perspective, a most interesting one.
By way of comparison, out modern knowledge about ancient Egypt owes everything to the decipherment of hieroglyphs – one of the oldest writing systems in the world. This was made possible by the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799, a piece of rock that not only contains a text in hieroglyphs (dated to the year 196 BCE) but also its translation into Greek.
Cuneiform script, which predates hieroglyphs by a couple of centuries in the 4th millennium BCE, remained a total mystery until the full decipherment of the texts at Bisotun (also called Behistun), in 1857. Like with hieroglyphs, its decipherment was made possible by the fact that the carvings at Bisotun contained the same text in three cuneiform variants – Old Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite.
Tinco spent the night at the local chapar khaneh, the courier station where he got fresh horses and provisions for his team. The station has disappeared today, unlike the nearby caravanserai of Shah Abassi, where Tinco went for coffee with an Englishman named Fowl. A happy encounter, but Fowl’s principal reason for staying at Bisotun was business, as he was a telegraph engineer. He did not share Tinco’s interest in the cuneiform inscriptions, located at the foot of the Bisotun mountain.
The inscriptions at Bisotun where carved between 522 BCE and 486 BCE, during the reign of Darius the Great. They contain historical information about the dynasty and the Persian empire. Though the inscriptions were known for centuries, it was Sir Henry Rawlinson who, in 1835, made transciptions and casts and proceeded with the first full decipherment of the Old Persian texts. Understanding these texts, and of the other two writing systems, took another two decades. (See a history of the Behistun inscriptions on Wikipedia…)
Hence, when Tinco Lycklama visited Bisotun in 1867, the world’s knowledge of cuneiform script – and the secrets it was holding – was still at a very early stage. The translation of clay tablets and rock inscriptions only progressed slowly, and full-scale scientific research only took off in the early 20th century.
As a result, Tinco Lycklama couldn’t tell us too much (and certainly not with full certainty) what the inscriptions meant at the ruins and monuments of these ancient civilisations. He could only admire the craftmanship of the people that produced these carvings, thousands of years ago, and provide insights in the general knowledge that was available about these civilisations through other sources such as oral transmission and ancient Greek chronicles.
Who knows what the cuneiform tablets in Tinco’s collection hold? They have never been translated.
Stone with cuneiform inscriptions (Lycklama Collection, Musée de la Castre, Cannes)
Tinco Lycklama is having a most interesting time in Kermanshah, as the special guest of Seyid Djouab. The Ottoman consul is a most entertaining host and takes Tinco along for wonderful horserides around the city, exploring the ancient monuments of Kermanshah – which was once a capital of the Persian Empire. Tinco also meets the Qajar rulers of Kermanshah, and discovers their keen interest in photography – and strawberries.
At the time of Tinco’s visit, the governor of Kermanshah was Emam Qoli Mirza (1814-1875), a Qajar prince with the title of Emad ed-Dauleh who occupied this position since 1852. He was an uncle of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, the Persian “King of Kings”, whom Tinco met in a private audience in 1866, in Tehran. Emam Qoli Mirza was a son of Mohammad Ali Mirza Dowlatshah (1789-1821), who had been governor himself and who was a son of the second Qajar King, Fath-Ali Shah (1772-1834). The Qajars in Kermanshah formed the prominent Dowlatshahi branch of the dynasty.
Fath Ali Shah (1772-1834)
Mohammad Ali Mirza Dowlatshah (1789-1821)
Ali Qoli Mirza (1814-1875)
Emam Qoli Mirza courteously offered several gifts – including a waterpipe and family portraits. These belonged to Tinco’s most prized objects in his museum in his native Beetsterzwaag (NL), and later in Cannes (F). This was not the only time that Tinco met the governor. In 1873, Emam Qoli Mirza became Minister of Justice and travelled along with Naser al-Din Shah on his first visit to Europe. Tinco joined them during their Paris stay, in July 1873.
The governor had several sons. One of them was Murtaza Quli Mirza, Mansur us-Sultana (who died in 1905). In 1894-95, he became deputy Governor-General of Kurdistan. Murtaza Quli Mirza owned a very beautiful private park just outside Kermanshah, and he took Tinco there for a ride. He also introduced Tinco to Persian strawberries. Though Persia has a relatively large production of strawberries today, they were an extreme and exquisite rarity a hundred and fifty years ago.
It was another son of Emam Qoli Mirza who grabbed Tinco’s attention even more. The governor’s oldest son, Ali Quli Mirza, Sarim ud-Daula (who died in 1872), had been a deputy governor of the Luristan province, and governor of the Kubai tribe of Kurds. But, besides that, he was also an avid photographer.
The Qajars had a fascination for photography, and they were extremely well equipped for that time. They shipped photographic material from Europe and built enormous collections of photographs (only few of them are digitally available, unfortunately).
When Prince Ali Quli Mirza invited Tinco to join him at his Kermanshah palace, he had asked him to come dressed in the Arab costume he had bought in Baghdad (news travelled fast, even about clothes). The reason was that he wanted to take pictures of Tinco, which he did. Whereas he kept several pictures for himself, Ali Quli Mirza also gave Tinco copies of his own portrait, plus those of a few of the prince’s family members.
Unfortunately, we have no trace of these pictures. There is a solid chance that they could be found in the well-preserved photo collections of the Golestan palace in Tehran. Who knows, perhaps one day?
Since he arrived at Kermanshah – on June 12, 1867 – Tinco Lycklama has been under permanent guards by Turkish soldiers. In fact, when he was approaching Kermanshah, he was met by a military detachment of twenty-five heavily armed men who escorted him into the city. These things happen – except that Kermanshah is not Turkish – it’s in Persia.
In fact, it was Tinco Lycklama’s new powerful friend Namik Pasha – the Ottoman viceroy of Baghdad – who had made these arrangements. Remember that Tinco enjoyed significant priviliges when he stayed in Baghdad the previous winter, such as access to the military arsenal of the city and special escorts during his excursions to Babylon and Najaf.
The Ottoman Empire and Persia were not necessarily on friendly terms, but they maintained diplomatic relations. In fact, both empires were coping with external (European) influence and interference, especially from the British and the Russians.
The Turks seemed keen to please Tinco. Namik Pasha had instructed his consul in Kermanshah, Seyid Djouab, to treat him with the utmost deference.
Tinco had the choice of two houses offered by the Turks, where he could stay for the duration of his visit to Kermanshah. He chose the little townhouse, which came with a nice courtyard and a big garden. What’s interesting is that, after spending months traveling the deserts and often sleeping in tents, Tinco had started to adopt the customs of the region. Hence, he decided to pull up his tents in the gardens and, during his two-week stay, it’s in these tents that he worked and received his visitors – like a real sheikh of the desert.
It’s also with Consul Seyid Djouab that Tinco explored some very interesting sites in and around Kermanshah, such as the Taq Bostan rock reliefs. These are monumental sculptures dating from the Sassanid dynasty that ruled the Persian Empire from 226 to 650 CE. Kermanshah was a capital city of the Sassanids in the 4th century. In October 1866, Tinco Lycklama had seen similar rock sculptures from the earlier Sassanid rulers, near Persepolis.
Regardless of all the good efforts by the Turks to please Tinco during his stay at Kermanshah, he is also getting back into “Persian mode”. Over the next few days, he will meet up with the Qajar rulers of the city.
Time flies. It feels as if it were yesterday, but Tinco Lycklama arrived in Baghdad in December 1866, five months ago. Now it’s time again to move on. In style…
As it was the perfect custom for a gentleman in those days, Tinco Lycklama spent his last few days on goodbye visits to the people he had acquainted. Little time was lost on ‘Europeans’ (by which he certainly meant the personnel of the foreign legations) – with whom he had spent little time. But he had grown fond of the Carmelite priests, the people of the trading house of Weber, Jaeger and Wartman, and the Tonietti, Asfar, and Hanousche families (Levantines). They had done their utmost to make his stay in Baghdad comfortable and interesting. They had become friends.
Of course, he also visits Mehmed Namik Pacha, the powerful Ottoman viceroy of Baghdad. A direct relationship of mutual respect had grown between the two men. It had given Tinco a few privileges, such as special protection on some of his excursions to places like Babylon, Najaf and Karbala. As Tinco was about to continue his travel through Mesopotamia for a short return to Tehran (Persia), and then back through the north of modern Iraq towards Erbil and Mosul, the viceroy obliged again and provided Tinco with a passport and a special letter of recommendation. (In 1868, Tinco Lycklama and Mehmed Namik Pacha will meet again in Constantinople).
And, Tinco decided to leave Baghdad in style…
We know from Tinco’s travelogue that he never travelled alone. He hired servants to assist him with practicalities – from cooking and washing clothes, to delivering messages, conversing and negotiating with locals, and protecting Tinco and his possessions.
“Je permets au lecteur de s’égayer à mes dépens ; je ris encore moi-même quand je me vois, par le souvenir, marchant en tête de cette caravane, d’une composition, néanmoins, absolument orientale.”
He never was short of servants as he had the money to pay them – and pay them well. But, he reflected that it would make sense to expand his team. “The reader is entitled to cheer at my expense; I’m still laughing myself, remembering how I was leading this caravan which, by the way, looked perfectly oriental.” Indeed, he left Baghdad with…
Jussouf – a schismatic Armenian
Betros (Pierre) – a catholic Chaldean
Naoum – a catholic Chaldean
Djamoun (Simon) – a catholic Chaldean
Reza-Kouli – a chiite Persian
Iskender (Alexander) – a chiite Persian
Abbas – a chiite Persian
Naguy – a sunni Kurd
Three mule-drivers – all arab muslims
9 Arabian horses
2 English dogs
… and of course his faithful Vashka – the dog that had joined him in Tiflis.
This caravan may have been perfectly oriental, but with a somewhat excentric Dutchman in the lead it must have been a pretty interesting sight!
Why did Tinco grow his team even though he didn’t need the extra manpower? Let’s assume that, carrying a precious recommendation from the viceroy of Baghdad, Tinco must have felt that he had to live up to his new status. And, as we’ll see later, word about Tinco’s activities in Baghdad even reached Tehran: his journey through the Orient got noticed!
However, there is also a very practical reason, and the answer lies in the enumeration of the various religions in his team. As a rule, travellers in the Orient were advised to hire people from different backgrounds, so that they would look at each other rather than turn against their paymaster. Tinco admits that it sounds ‘Machiavellian’, but it may have been a wise decision.
On a seperate note (and, admittedly, it’s very trivial), one may wonder where the cat came from. In fact, Tinco informs us that the cat was a gift from someone in Tehran. That means that he has been travelling no less than seven months with a cat, without telling us! We already know that the story of his dog Vashka is exceptional, as no other dog in history has seen as many remnants of antiquity (Persepolis, Babylon, Nineveh, Palmyra) or ancient places such as Aleppo, Damascus and Jerusalem. Now, we’re finding that he also had a cat with him when climbing the stairs of the palace of Darius and walking the streets of Baghdad. We have no clue, however, about the greyhounds and the English dogs. Perhaps he took them along as gifts for his friends in Tehran?
30/04/1867 —– Yesterday, Tinco Lycklama left Baghdad for an excursion to the ruins of antique Ctesiphon. It’s not just for touching another remnant of antiquity. He is also going to herd sheep and experience life in the desert. And, he’ll learn how the bedouins make coffee. Real coffee.
The Tigris was still flooding part of the city, and the main roads were impractical, so Tinco and his companions used quffa boats to move themselves and their horses out of town.
The trip was organised by Hanouche Asfar, a prominent christian merchant from Damascus who lived close to Tinco in Baghdad. Asfar had to inspect his flock of over 2,000 sheep, at his desert camp about an hour south of Ctesiphon. He brought along his two sons – Djabouri and Rhedzouk.
The party was joined by Father Damien, one of the missionaries of the Discalced Carmelites who had become close friends with Tinco. Our research tells us that father Damien was actually Pierre Batailley, a young French doctor from the Faculté de Médecine in Paris. When Father Marie-Joseph de Jésus, in his previous life Gustave Cancel, became the superior of the Baghdad mission in 1858, he briefly returned to France to find an assistant. He met Pierre Batailley by chance, and it was a godsend for the future of Baghad. Father Damien became the most prominent doctor in the city – and for over thirty years (until his death in 1898) he helped rich and poor through the many sanitary challenges of Baghdad in those days.
Father Damien thought of himself as a good huntsman, and he joined the excursion for a little break of desert hunting. Tinco amusedly reflects that Father Damien’s hunting skills were probably limited to rabbits and low-flying birds.
Tinco’s five-day trip to Ctesiphon – the ancient capital of the Sassanids – was instructive, not only for the opportunity to witness again another remnant from antiquity, but also because it was his first real experience with the bedouin life and a true immersion into their culture. The herdsmen of Hanouche Asfar were genuine Bedouins – a world apart from the people in the city.
The juxtaposition of the simple life of the bedouins, in the shadow of the monuments that ruled the Orient over two thousand years ago, was a striking sight to Tinco Lycklama.
The Sassanid Empire (224-651) had its origins at Estakhr, the lost city near Persepolis which Tinco Lycklama explored in October 1866. King Ardeshir I soon moved its capital to Ctesiphon, where the Sassanids rule until the dawn of the islamic period. At times, the empire covered the whole of the Middle East as far as modern-day Egypt, Turkey, Yemen and Afghanistan.
Ctesiphon was already a capital in the preceding Parthan Empire (247 BCE – 224 CE). Its real history started about 120 BCE around what was originally a military encampment near the old regional Parthian capital of Seleucia. It became the empire’s capital around 58 BCE.
Around the fourth century of our common era, the city of Ctesiphon measured about twice the size of Rome. It is also around that time that the remaining and remarkable archway of Tāq-i Kisrā was built. After the start of the islamic period, much of city was taken down for use as building material to construct the new Abbassid capital of Baghdad in the 8th century CE. Ctesiphon became a ghost town.
It is under the Tāq-i Kisrā archway that Tinco Lycklama is having coffee today – in the manner of the desert people.
In terms of constructions, the Taq-i Kisra is about the sole building that subsist from the old Ctesiphon. Tinco saw more of it than visitor’s can see today. Indeed, the northern façade collapsed in 1888 due to flooding by the Tigris river. The archway, with its monumental height of 37 meters, was the largest construction of its kind when it was built. The fact that it still stands is a witness to the incredible craftmenship of its architects.
Genuine excavations of the Ctesiphon site were only conducted for the first time in the late 1920s and early 1930s. in 1867, Tinco was keen to undertake some digging himself, understanding the potential of what he saw as an ancient graveyard nearby. But, he didn’t have the tools nor the skilled manpower to undertake it, and contented himself with a few objects that he found laying bare in the sand.
But, for Tinco Lycklama, the experience of the desert life at Ctesiphon proved to as fascinating as the sight of the ancient site. He share the meals with the bedouins, saw them at work with the herds of sheep. He saw how different the people were, both physically and culturally, from the citizens of Baghdad. He reflected on the different roles of women. For their hard labour, women had far more value here in the desert than in the city. As a result, bedouin parents prized themselves when having many daughters, whereas parents in Baghdad were keen on raising many sons.
At Ctesiphon, Tinco also tasted the best coffee he ever had in his life. And, no doubt having us in mind – 150 years later, he even shared the recipee for making the best coffee – the bedouin way. Courtesy of Djérif, a sixty-year old chief herdsman at the service of Hanouche Asfar.
In a nutshell, here is how you must make your coffee:
Prepare three coffee pots of different sizes.
The largest pot holds the used coffee of the previous day. Boil it slowly.
Put a layer of freshly grinded coffee in a second, smaller pot, and pour the old coffee over it. Boil it for another fifteen minutes.
Then pour what you have into the third pot, the smallest one, and let the water evaporate as much as what suits your taste for stronger or lighter coffee.
Tinco Lycklama calls this the ‘quintessential coffee’ which has nothing to do with what we erroneously like to call ‘good coffee’. Just don’t drink it before you go to bed, he says.
Let’s assume that Tinco must have delighted his guests in Cannes, later in life, when serving coffee the bedouin way, after a delightful meal.
Ten soldiers were awaiting Tinco Lycklama as a guard of honour at the gates of Karbala. This was arranged by the Turkish kaymakam (governor) of the city who, impressed by the instructions of the Viceroy of Baghdad, did his best to please this special guest – a ‘simple tourist’ from The Netherlands. Karbala was very busy, as tens of thousands of pilgrims had descended on the holy city for religious celebrations. Including the heir to the Indian Kingdom of Oudh, as well as a rebellious Qajar prince-in-exile from Baghdad.
Tinco Lycklama had truly enjoyed his travel from Najaf (the other Shi’a holy city) to Karbala. He could actually claim to have done something quite unique: for thirty-six hours, he had sailed the deserts in a boat! Indeed, because of the most severe flooding of the century between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, the deserts had become a gigantic lake – and the only way to reach Karbala was by sailing the sands.
The city of Karbala dates from the earliest days of islam, built around the shrine of the Imam Hussain – son of Muhammed’s daughter Fatimah and her husband ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib – the first Imam of all muslims in the Shi’a belief system. After the deaths of both his father and his older brother, Hussain became the third Imam.
Imam Hussain became a martyr when he died in battle at Karbala, in the year 680 CE. Hussain is a key figure in the original split between Sunni and Shi’a islam. And it explains why Karbala, like Najaf, are so important no only to the Iraqi Shia’s but also to Iran, which is largely Shi’a.
In fact, Karbala was essentially a Persian city in Iraq. At the time of Tinco Lycklama’s visit, most of the pilgrims travelled aal the way from Persia. Even by the end of the 19th century, it is estimated that seventy-five percent of the population was of Persian origin.
This helps to explain why Tinco met with an Indian prince from Oudh and a Qajar prince from Teheran. When Tinco heard about the presence of Birjis Qadr in the city, he promptly sent a message and asked for an audience with His Majesty. No way that Tinco would miss the opportunity to pay his respects to a crown prince who had just lost his last chance to recover his kingdom.
In 1856, the Lord Dalhousie, Governor General of the East India Company, deposed Wajid Ali Shah, the last king of Oudh (or Awadh), and his rich kingdom was annexed to British India. The princes and kings of Oudh had their origins in Persia and were followers of Shi’a islam. After the British annexation, Birjis Qadr, the son and heir to the deposed King, went into exile.
At the time of Tinco Lycklama’s visit, prince Birjis Qadr was living in Nepal. But, in 1867, as a devout muslim, he did his pilgrimage to the holy shrines in Karbala. There he was joined by Ilkhani Khan. This is how Tinco calls him, but the latter’s full name was Amir ‘Allah Quli Khan-e Qajar Quyunlu (1821-1892), and he was the Ilkhani (or ‘head’) of the Royal Tribe. A cousin of the Persian shah Naser al-Din Qajar, he was considered somewhat rebellious and sent into exile to Baghdad in 1846 (he returned to Persia in 1870 and occupied various posts as provincial governor).
There was a special relationship between the Kingdom of Oudh and the city of Karbala. The Oudh Bequest was a rich endowment by the kings of Oudh to the cities of Karbala and Najaf to meet the expenses for upkeep of the holy Shi’a shrines. Needless to say that prince Birjis Qadr was a most significant guest at Karbala.
Tinco Lycklama has fond memories as the guest of Birjis Qadr and Ilkhani Khan. In fact, their encounter was so gracious and friendly that he was invited to stay at their palace. Unfortunately, Tinco’s stay was short, so he had to decline the offer (and he was staying in quarters arranged by the governor of Baghdad, and refusing that honour would have been a political ‘faux-pas’).
By an interesting twist of coincidence, Tinco would later befriend another Earl Dalhousie in Cannes. James Broun-Ramsay, the Lord Dalhousie and British governor-general in India, had died in 1860. His cousin Fox Maule-Ramsay was the heir to the earlship of Dalhousie and a prominent guest in Cannes, where he attended Tinco Lycklama’s famous ‘bal masqué’.
We’re in the last days of the ramadan in 1867. After exploring Babylon and the remnants of its ancient civilisation, Tinco Lycklama immerses himself into religion and visits the holiest of shrines of Shi’a islam. And, at Najaf, he leisurely walks across the world’s largest cemetery.
Leaving the ruins of the ancient Babylon (near modern Hillah) behind him, Tinco travels towards the town of al-Kifl, where he visits the tomb of Ezekiel, considered a prophet by both the Talmud and the Bible as well as the Quran. The monument is a fascinating sight, covered with both hebrew inscriptions and islamic decorations.
The region south of Baghdad is highly significant to Shi’a islam. Whereas Mecca and Medina are the holiest of shrines to all muslims, next in line for the Shi’a is Masjid Ali, the tomb of Hazrat ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammed and – according to the Shi’a – his true legitimate heir. In Sunni islam, it is considered instead that Muhammed’s successors have to be elected by his followers. This conflict of opinion is a major factor in the religious strife in the Middle East until this day.
On April 13, 1867, Tinco travels down the Euphrates from al-Kifl to Kufa, where he is the guest of Emir Effendi, the governor of the city. After a few hours of rest, he travels straight to Masjid Ali, which is located in the modern town of Najaf. It is here that the ayatollah Khomeini spent most of his years in exile before leading the Iranian revolution of 1979 that overthrew the monarchy of Shah Reza Pahlevi in Tehran.
At the time of Tinco’s visit, we’re in the last days of the ramadan, and the city of Najaf was extremely busy with pilgrims from both Iraq and Persia. Non-muslims are not allowed to visit the shrine and – being the only European in town – Tinco was looked upon with suspicion. Fortunately he was escorted by soldiers and by Emir Effendi himself, but these were all Turkish and sunni – and the Ottoman rulers were careful enough not to upset the local population. Tinco did not even attempt to enter the Mashid Ali.
But, even the exteriors of the shrine were impressive enough to satisfy Tinco’s curiosity, and he was allowed to explore the surroundings in all safety. He also mentions leisurely his visit to the local cemetery, the Wadi al-Salaam. Tinco doesn’t expand on this cemetery, and it is quite possible that its true significance was lost upon him. The Wadi al-Salaam is today the world’s largest cemetery, counting over five million bodies and in operation since fourteen centuries. It is thought that every single Shi’a muslim has at least one relative here, as such is the wish of true believers who consider it the highest honour to be burried close their religion’s first imam.
April 11, 1867. Yesterday, Tincy Lycklama arrived at Hillah, the modern town that lies near the ancient city of Babylon. Today, Tinco proceeds with excavations in the Omran section of Babylon’s ruins. He proudly adds many interesting artefacts to his collections. Some, it seems, have disappeared. Tinco also misses the opportunity of a lifetime. He could have made archaeological history – if only he had dug deep enough and found the Cyrus Cylinder.
When Tinco reaches the rubbles of Babylon, he concentrates on three major sections: the Omran mound (known today as Tell Amran-ibn-Ali ), the Kasr, and the Umdjelibeh fortress. For guidance, he brought along the books written by previous archaeological explorers such as Austin Layard and Henry Rawlinson, who did extensive surveys of the site in 1850 and 1853, respectively.
The Omran mound was identified as a place of burial. Tinco Lycklama made the sensible assumption that he could make some discoveries here. Early in the morning, his five hired hands started digging – including Youssouf, the teamleader who had worked for Rawlinson fourteen years earlier.
Let’s be fair. The Omran mound is huge. But, it is here that Hormuzd Rassam would discover the Cyrus Cylinder in 1879. This cylinder with cuneiform inscriptions provides us with considerable insights into the Achaemenid dynasty (c550-330 BCE). The great Cyrus started his empire from Pasargadae, before Darius built the new and magnificent capital of Persepolis. The cylinder is also considered as the first attempt to establish a universal declaration of human rights. To the Pahlevi in the 20th century, it was the embodiment of a Persian monarchic continuity that lasted since 2,500 years.
Tinco Lycklama was not equipped to undertake serious archaeological work. Nor did he plan to stay more than two days at Babylon. He was however, the only westerner to visit and examine the site between 1854 and 1879. His observations were valuable to others. Upon his return to Europe, and throughout the 1870s, he travelled several times to London, and it is quite possible that he met with officials at the British Museum, including Hormuzd Rassam. Finally, it was Rassam who found the Cyrus Cylinder and brought it to the British Museum (where it is still on display today).
Tinco didn’t leave Babylon empty-handed. Quite the contrary! The first inventory of his ‘Oriental Museum‘ (in his native Beetsterzwaag) has no less than 206 entries from Babylon. It includes statues, coins, jewelry, tablets, and pieces of pottery. He also unearthed two rare terracotta bowls with Aramaic inscriptions, which are significant for understanding elements of the judaic belief system. However, besides a few exceptions, the vast majority of Tinco’s artefacts from Babylon have never been analysed by scientists. The true value of Tinco’s finds remains unknown.
The most puzzling story about Tinco’s excavations at Babylon concerns two stone coffins. Following his instructions, his team dug deep and uncovered two untouched tombs. The coffins held human remains and a variety of funeral objects. One of the skulls carried a headband in goldleaf, which broke into fragments when Tinco examined it. He kept the fragments in a paper envelope, but also decided to take both coffins and their content with him. It took two mules to carry both coffins back to Hillah.
There is no trace of these coffins at the Musée de la Castre – the municipal museum in Cannes (F) that houses the Lycklama collections. Actually, there is mention of them either in the afore-mentioned inventory of 1871.
We know that Tinco entrusted his agents – the Swiss merchants Weber, Jaeger & Wartman in Baghdad – with the warehousing of the heavier objects, before shipping them to the Syrian city of Aleppo, where Tinco was heading later in 1867. From there, he would then organise transportation to Europe through the Messageries Impériales, via Beirut.
It is quite possible that the coffins never made it to Europe. However, Tinco’s secretary Ernest Massenot travelled to Beirut in December 1873 to recover a number of unidentified objects that had been stuck there because of the Franco-Prussian war. Also, Tinco talks openly about the coffins in the third volume of his books, published in 1874 – and nothing indicates that they might have been lost.
These lost coffins could have been significant treasures in the Lycklama collection. Their story adds to the many other mysteries surrounding Tinco’s life.