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Al-Thaura

There is something rather pathetic about seeing a new rise up out of the sand. And when it is an administrative and industrial town that must be "operational", as they say, even before it is finished, there is little point in dwelling upon aesthetic issue: it has all been aligned by surveyors, and concrete reigns supreme. But one can already feel life beginning to take hold of the anonymous blocks, to flow through the oversized arteries and along the brand new railway.

Al Thaura, "the Revolution", is the capital of the Euphrates Dam.

Here when people talk about "the Dam", they do not only mean the huge dike holds back the Euphrates: 4,500 meters long, 60 meters high, 512 meters wide at the base, 41 million cubic meters of rock, earth and clay. The Dam is also the lake, Al Assad: 80 kilometers long, 12 million cubic meters of water; and the hydroelectric power station - 1,100,000 kWh at present -; and the 1,500,000 hectares of agricultural land brought under cultivation. The Dam means the whole social life of the peoples of the Euphrates Basin, which is destined to undergo the most sweeping changes in less than a generation.

Gone already are the fears of devastating floods. Experimental farms and agricultural colleges are pointing the way to the future.

The plain is scattered with new villages. Over here, the houses are single-story blocks, white as dominoes placed onto the sand; over there; other dwellings built of the traditional clay are built in the "sugar-loaf" shape so ideally suited to the climate of the area. Sometimes the two designs are intermingled. There are several of these new housing areas to be seen between the Aleppo-Raqqa road and the lake.

A problem of a different kind raised by the filling of the reservoir was satisfactorily solved thanks to effective international action, called for by the Syrian Government and coordinated by UNESCO, backed by the experience gained in saving the monuments of Nubia. Inventories were drawn up and a number of archaeological sites along the banks of the Euphrates were excavated and surveyed before they were finally submerged, and a number of interesting monuments from the reservoir zone were rescued, either by protecting them or by transplanting them. The exercise, and the remarkable results achieved between 1967 and 1974, are illustrated in one of the rooms of the Aleppo Museum.

Out in the field, the visitor can see at leisure three typical edifices that have been quite literally saved from drawing: the citadel of Ja’abar, the Maskana minaret and the minaret of Abu Hurayra.

From the top of the dam, in the distance, on the other bank, a pink fortress can be seen with its reflection in the blue water of the lake. It is the Ja’abar Citadel (Qalaat Ja’abar) surrounded by two walls broken by thirty-five towers of different shapes: four, five, six, eight-sided or half-moon shaped. Today it stands on an islet and the architecture, dating from the time of Nour ad-Din (12th century), is unique in its kind. The facades of the towers are richly decorated with ornamentation and inscriptions. The citadel, which has been cleared, strengthened, restored and protected from damp from the lake, can be visited. There will be a museum here where objects found in the region of the lake will be displayed.

The Maskana Minaret is a brick tower 27 meters high. It was first scaffolded up by the Department of Antiquities and then cut into segments which were transported to the edge of a cliff overlooking the lake, near the new village of Maskana, at an altitude of 345 meters; there the segments were reassembled.

The same exercise was undertaken for a similar minaret, this time only 18 meters high, which was transported from the place called Abu Hurayra, near the village of Krein, to the center of the new town of Al Thaura, thus establishing a link between a rich past and a promising future.

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