Metropolis - The Power Of Cities

Carthage – City of Sailors

Authors: Hannes Schuler, Manfred Baur. No genre - ZDF/ZDF Enterprises/Discovery - 2003 - 45 min

These cities thoroughly localize the knowledge and culture of yore. The metropolises of the Mediterranean region constitute the centers of power, religion and trade. Social and political trends reflected in spectacular architecture, outstanding, technical inventions and magnificent rituals.

The series Metropolis – The Power of Cities takes us to the very heart of urban life in the Mediterranean area, the hub of the ancient world. The mighty metropolises of antiquity evolved here from a scattering of settlements. And not one city is like the next. Each developed in its own characteristic fashion, each uniquely marked by its geographical location, its cultural environment, and the prevailing historical circumstances.

Athens gave the world its modern political system – the birth of “democracy” is a long and complicated yet utterly galvanizing process. Even the Gods have a say in worldly doings. The city beneath the Acropolis becomes the very cradle of western culture.

Alexandria, a royal Greek city in the land of the Pharaohs. Along the sandy banks of the Nile delta on the African Mediterranean coast, the most powerful metropolis of its time rose from virtually nothing. The Hellenistic culture mingled with the legacy of the Pharaohs and bore the fruits of a glorious new heritage.

Carthage came into being as a Phoenician trading base, its strategically favorable location eventually allowing it to develop into a major center of trade and seafaring. Carthage, Rome‘s fierce adversary, is the gateway to the treasures of Africa.

Rome would never have made it into the history books without the backing of its huge military apparatus. The life and the incredible luxury the ancient city of over a million inhabitants enjoyed was only made possible through the exploitation of its colonies, a course of action that never would have been possible without its troops.

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The series Metropolis - The Power of Cities examines a crucial step in the history of civilization and culture. Mankind has advanced to a settled lifestyle, allowing him to organize large social alliances which extend far beyond family and clan. The consequences are critical changes in all facets of life; providing for these cities and city-states now becomes the overriding focus. Hundreds of thousands of people now living together necessitated immense administrative effort, master builders had to shoulder the full responsibility for a city’s architectural urban planning, and order and justice had to be ensured. People became specialized, professions came into being and as they did, so did social differences: Kings, priests, craftsmen, farmers and warriors. Suddenly, there were major assets to defend. Our series examines this historical change of mankind banding together using the example of the great metropolises in the Mediterranean region.

With the help of lavish CGIs Carthage is resurrected from its rubble, Alexandria regains its library and lighthouse, and Athen´s Akroplis as well as Rome´s Coliseum appear in their original splendor. They are the stage for four featurettes about individuals living in this magnificent cities which build the narrative backbone of our programs. This allows us to spotlight the past centers of culture, religion and power in all their pomp. We witness a fantastic episode from the life of a human goddess in Athens, pick our way through Rome’s narrow crooked lanes at nightfall tracking down a fraudulent merchant, get a glimpse behind the secret port of Carthage, and ascend the seventh wonder of the ancient world, Alexandria’s lighthouse. We experience the everyday life of the common people, encounter invention and innovation, drink in the joy and constraints of ancient life. Making everyday life of former times come alive and real, portraying how people congregated and lived together in these centers of power, that is the underlying objective behind the series Metropolis – The Power of Cities.

And yet, modern research work will be part and parcel of our films in order to complete the scenery of the metropolises and to enhance detail. Filmed images of contemporary engravings and artwork are as much a part of the whole as restoration- and research work on ancient monuments and buildings, and state-of-the-art research employing computer tomography and gene technology.

How did the people in these ancient metropolises live? What were their driving worries, fears and hopes? What did they do for entertainment, how did they earn their keep? What did it mean to live in such extremely crowded conditions surrounded by hundreds of thousands of other people? What opportunities came out of this for the development of civilization, what were the risks involved, and what price did the individual citizens have to pay for all of it?

A glimpse at the inner workings of the ancient metropolises is in many ways a reflection of the hopes and fears we have at the beginning of the third millennium in the face of today’s ever more unchecked megacities. Cultural life pulsates vibrantly, the wheels of the entertainment machinery spin at full speed, and new technologies help us maintain an urban lifestyle. While the downside is ever scarcer living space, a marked discrepancy between rich and poor, a threatening collapse of traffic systems, and festering seats of crime. In many areas of our modern world, drinking water and energy supplies have already become an acute problem.

What solutions did our ancient ancestors devise? Could they be an orientation for us today? In Metropolis, we’ll realize how some concepts which seem novel and promising to us today are actually ones which had their rudimentary origins in antiquity – in Athens, Alexandria, Carthage and in Rome.