Two ancient Maltese pillars have been reunited for an exhibition in Abu Dhabi after being apart for 241 years.
Commemorating the anniversary of the 50-year diplomatic relationship between Malta and the United Arab Emirates, the pillars, also known as Cippi, carry great historical value as they were once used to decipher Phoenician script, Heritage Malta said on Friday.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Cippi are small pillars that are usually inscribed and were used in ancient Rome and Greece as gravestones or landmarks.
Dating back to the second century BC, this pair of ornamental Cippi sit upon rectangular bases which, for both pillars, carry the same inscription in Phonecian with an ancient Greek translation below it.
The reunited Cippi tell the story of two brothers making a sacred offering to the Phoenician God Melqart, Heritage Malta said.
The agency explained that while it is unclear when the Cippi were first discovered, they were first mentioned in 1694 as part of the Ġan Franġisk Abela collection, they said. But, back then, they had yet to be fully translated as the Phoenician language had not been totally deciphered.
In 1782, French epigraphist Abbot Jean-Jacques Barthélemy cracked the Phoenician code when copies of the inscriptions were sent to France for academics and scholars to look at.
Just like the Rosetta Stone which became a household name after it was used to help crack Egyptian hieroglyphics in the 1800s, the Cippi now had their own claim to fame.
So in 1782, as thanks to the French, Grand Master de Rohan of the order of St John gifted one of the Cippi to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belle-Lettres in Paris where the transcriptions were deciphered, Heritage Malta said.
82 years later, the gifted Cippi was transferred to the Louvre Museum in Paris while its counterpart remained in Malta, eventually ending up on display at the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta.
Finally reunited after 241 years, the Cippi are currently on display at the Louvre in Abu Dhabi, where cultural talks and presentations are explaining their historical and archaeological significance.
Speaking at the launch of the exhibition, Maltese Ambassador to the UAE Maria Camilleri Calleja emphasised how the recoupling of the pillars is a sign that, with effort and dialogue, there are always ways to bring each other closer.
Heritage Malta CEO Noel Zammit echoed a similar sentiment, focusing on the relationship between Malta and the UAE and how both nations have continued to strengthen their cultural diplomacy over the years.
“Additionally, this marks the first time that Heritage Malta is partnering with the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and it is hoped that this collaboration will foster a promising future for the relationship between the two entities,” he said.