Chaplain leads soldiers on tours of Ur monument
December 7, 2010
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq - Often referred to as the Cradle of Civilization or the Fertile Crescent, the region of Iraq through which the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers flow is home to some of the earliest signs of human settlement. Contingency Operating Base Adder is located in this area, and is visible from the top of the Ziggurat of Ur, a stepped pyramid located in one of the earliest cities known to man.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Matthew Bonnette, a chaplain with the 110th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 224th Sustainment Brigade, 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and a Blakely, Ga., native, has been guiding soldiers with the 110th CSSB on tours of the monument and its surrounding ruins.
"It's kind of a rare opportunity we have to learn about the culture of the people who built the Ziggurat," said Bonnette.
The Ziggurat is a large structure of clay bricks surrounding a mound of earth, and was originally built approximately 4,000 years ago to serve as the cultural center of Ur, and served as a shrine to the city's patron deity, the moon god Nanna. Though impressive, the Ziggurat isn't the only noteworthy feature of the city. Ur is believed to have been the home of Abraham, the father of the Abrahamic religions, which include Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
"I don't go out there for the Ziggurat," said Bonnette. "I go out there for the culture and to walk the grounds that Abraham walked because he's an important figure that I learned about early on."
Bonnette said his favorite part is standing near the building where Abraham is thought to have lived, and reading the scripture that names Ur as his home before leaving for the land of Canaan. Bonnette has made ten trips to Ur so far, and hopes to resume making two to three trips a week for the month of December. Soldiers visiting the city can travel by bus, but an armored escort is required and service members must wear their protective equipment and carry their personal weapons. At the Ziggurat, the group is met by Mr. Dhiaf Mahsen, third generation curator and narrator for the Ziggurat, and a Tallil, Iraq, native.
"The curator is very knowledgeable," said Bonnette. "I'm always learning something new about the other sites or his culture."
Mahsen inherited his position from his father, and his grandfather was part of the original expedition to excavate the city in the early 20th century. He leads tour groups pointing out artifacts and informs visitors about the history of the site, as well as describes the cultural importance that certain areas would have had to the inhabitants. Mahsen even offers anecdotes about his time as curator under the regime of Saddam Hussein, including one incident that led to him being taken to prison when he tried to persuade authorities not to take a tourist's camera. Pictures weren't allowed at the time, but visitors now can take as many photos as they like. Taking artifacts from the site is prohibited, however. If visitors want souvenirs, they must purchase them from the small store at the site, or at a store in the COB Adder Iraqi-Based Industrial Zone, which is run by Mahsen's brother.