With her messy hair, her strong cheekbones, and haunting eyes, the Gypsy girl became the “face of Gaziantep” in a very short time.
The eyes remain, framed by locks of chestnut hair. On one ear, a hoop gold earring; on the head, a green-gray scarf. There is a flush of red where the hair touches the cheek, deep color rising slowly to the cheekbones. She looks startled; the silent shock of a deer locked in place. Her look turns inward, fear sliding to thoughtful resignation and perhaps fatigue.
She is sometimes referred to as the Mona Lisa of Turkey or Zeugma. This work is also known as the Mosaic of Maenad.
The Gypsy Girl mosaic was discovered beneath a fallen column in 1998 during rescue excavations of the second-century Roman settlement, Zeugma, on the banks of the Euphrates River, when the site was about to be flooded with the construction of the Birecik Dam in southeastern Turkey.
The rest of the mosaic pieces which were not under the column had been found by some people while making unauthorized excavations in the 1960s and those parts were smuggled abroad.
Years later, it was found that the mosaics were being exhibited by Bowling Green State University in the U.S., and the university had bought the mosaics for $35,000.
Research conducted by Stephanie Hooper in 2012 revealed that the mosaics were originally from the Turkish ancient city of Zeugma.
After five and a half years of negotiations with the university, the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry and Bowling Green State University signed a protocol in May this year regarding the return of the mosaic pieces.
Copies of 12 pieces of the “Gypsy Girl” mosaic, brought from the US to southeastern Gaziantep in Turkey in 2018.
The mosaic was on the floor of a dining room of a Roman villa and captivated many visitors for its bright depiction of the wide-eyed “Gypsy Girl” with disheveled hair and earrings.
The “Gypsy Girl” has become a symbol of the city and of Turkey’s classical heritage. Her eyes are reproduced on countless posters and souvenirs, looking on through millennia.
The old city of Zeugma, located on the banks of the Euphrates River, flourished under Greek and then Roman rule before it was destroyed in war in the 3rd century AD. The 15-square-meter Gypsy Girl mosaic is the most prominent symbol of that history.