The Mediterranean, which the Romans sometimes called Mare Nostrum ("Our Sea") or Mare Internum ("Inland Sea") is one of the great crossroads of history. The land bridges formed when its water level fell during the Ice Ages were crossed by the early hominids from Africa, and later some of the world's oldest cities such as Byblos in the Lebanon and Cadiz in Spain grew up on or near it. Its shores gave birth to outstanding civilizations whose influence spread far and wide, helping to shape many features of the modern world. From the Greco-Roman and Christian heritage arose the civilization of Western Europe and the vast Byzantine-Orthodox world which would stretch beyond the Urals. And Islam, born on the periphery of the Mediterranean, would develop brilliantly throughout the region, as far as such European countries as Spain where it left a profound imprint.
But the existence of a diversity of civilizations that were in some cases mutually hostile did not prevent the emergence over the centuries of a distinctive "Mediterranean" way of thinking and living born of the long interpénétration ofcultures and rooted in the geographical realities of the Inland Sea.
This issue of the Unesco Courier is an attempt to chart the essential features of the Mediterranean ethos. In the lead article, one of the world's great specialists in Mediterranean studies, the French historian Fernand Braudel, paints a general historical portrait of the region, while other specialists look at such major aspects as the habitat, urban civilization and marine ecology.
But steeped though it is in ancient history, the Mediterranean basin is a region whose European, African and Asian constituent parts are today in the throes of change, a region where conflicts involving democratization, development and national and cultural identity often arise in acute form and where the industrial world and the developing world coexist, often within a single country (to the point that some consider the region to be the Third World of Europe). On the one hand it is, perhaps, a region of friction and imbalance; on the other it is fertile terrain for the mutual knowledge and collaboration between different worlds that Unesco and the United Nations system as a whole seek to encourage, a fact which explains Unesco's profound and longstanding interest in the region.
Ever since Homeric times and the ancient Egyptian "Book of the Dead", the Mediterranean has also been an area of intense literary creativity. As a symbolic and admittedly inadequate tribute to this flowering we also present in this issue a garland of texts and poems by Mediterranean writers past and present.
Editor-in-Chief: Edouard Glissant