Twilight Cities: Lost Capitals of the Mediterranean

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Kelly Macquire
published on 05 July 2024
Twilight Cities: Lost Capitals of the Mediterranean
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Title: Twilight Cities: Lost Capitals of the Mediterranean
Author: Katherine Pangonis
Audience: General Public
Difficulty: Easy
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Published: 2023
Pages: 254

"Twilight Cities: Lost Capitals of the Mediterranean" by Katherine Pangonis takes you through the long histories of five cities of the Mediterranean from their humble beginnings to the modern day. As a combination of personal experiences and historical narrative, the reader is left with an in-depth knowledge of the cities of Tyre, Carthage, Syracuse, Ravenna, and Antioch and the interconnectedness of these capitals throughout their histories.

Twilight Cities: Lost Capitals of the Mediterranean is Katherine Pangonis’s second book, with her first being Queens of Jerusalem: The Women Who Dared to Rule (2021). Twilight Cities is dedicated to the history of five prominent and "lost" cities from history: Tyre, Carthage, Syracuse, Ravenna, and Antioch. This book seamlessly blends Katherine’s personal experiences and travels through the modern areas and ancient remains of these once glittering jewels of the ancient and medieval world, and the sweeping histories of each of the cities from their inception to their decline and transition into modern spaces. Interwoven through the historical and archaeological evidence for these places are the myths and legends, most significantly their founding stories and legendary figures associated with them. Katherine’s sparking prose sweeps the reader along for the ride as if you were walking alongside her.

This book was beautifully written (and narrated), bringing these once glorious cities back into the limelight.

The book has been dedicated both to the people of the Mediterranean that Katherine came across on her travels, but also to those who lost their lives and livelihoods during the devastating earthquakes of 2023. This catastrophic event that rocked the city of Antakya (ancient Antioch) is often referred to through her own personal experience with the natural disaster and essentially becomes another layer in this long history of the city. It gives the reader a feeling both of sadness and heightened awareness of the ‘sameness’ of the ancient world and the modern.

The names of Tyre, Carthage, Syracuse, Ravenna and Antioch have endured, but the true reality of the ancient cities have been lost. These cities are not the same as they were, and their glory has dimmed. But a city only dies when the ideas it was built with fade, as much as when fires tear down its walls or earthquakes shatter them. The ideas of these cities have persisted. Their memories remain. Not always necessarily in the minds of the residents, but preserved in texts, and the stone monuments that still grasp the earth around the Mediterranean. The air in these cities hang heavy with legend. (254)

Each chapter, which is dedicated to a different city, begins with Katherine’s personal history of the city. This includes her first visit to the city (such as her first visit to Syracuse at the age of 21) and also gives the reader an insight into the city today and what you might expect to see if you were to visit. Then, each city is explored chronologically, starting with the founding of the city (both real or mythological), and then moving through time to the present day. By the end of a chapter, the reader is left with an intimate knowledge of the changes the city has gone through, its periods of strength and weakness, and all of the different groups of people who one called it home. This breadth of information is conveyed through the use of surviving texts with the archaeological remains of the cities.

The book is supplemented with a map at the beginning to orient the reader within the wider region, the geographical spread of the five cities of interest, and an insert of colour images depicted some of the key places and people explored in the book. Additionally, each chapter starts with a quote to set the scene, and a lovely illustration. If you listen to the audiobook (well-narrated by Katherine herself), a PDF is also supplied with these supporting graphics.

This book was beautifully written (and narrated), bringing these once glorious cities back into the limelight. Their long, and sometimes arduous histories, are recounted in a way that lets each city have its moment to shine, but also highlights its interconnectedness with the other cities featured in this book (as well as the wider Mediterranean world). Many figures pop up numerous times and some events are mentioned in multiple chapters which allows the reader to grasp how interlinked this part of the world is and has always been.

This review was first published at Kell-Read.

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About the Reviewer

Kelly Macquire
Kelly is a graduate from Monash University who has completed her BA (Honours) in Ancient History and Archaeology, focussing on iconography and status in Pylos burials. She has a passion for mythology and the Aegean Bronze Age.

Cite This Work

APA Style

Macquire, K. (2024, July 05). Twilight Cities: Lost Capitals of the Mediterranean. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Macquire, Kelly. "Twilight Cities: Lost Capitals of the Mediterranean." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified July 05, 2024.

MLA Style

Macquire, Kelly. "Twilight Cities: Lost Capitals of the Mediterranean." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 05 Jul 2024. Web. 18 Jul 2024.