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A Brief Taste of Eastern Turkey

The Fabulous Kurdish and Armenian Legacy

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Cathedral Church in Ani

Cathedral Church in Ani

This was a bit of a challenge, as I completely ignored my usual rules of writing notes down as soon as possible. A necessary result of my increasingly decrepit memory! So much was packed into this 4 day, 3 night dash through the easternmost parts of Turkey, and nary a word did I type! Let’s see what I can actually remember. Thank goodness for my incessant clicking, it definitely helped me piece together our explorations.

Kars

After a wonderful long weekend in Cappadocia, Christa and I took off for our Eastern Explorations. I have to give a shout-out to Christa here. It was her desire to see Ani that pushed us to fit this in, and I’m so glad we did. Eastern Turkey, at least for the brief visit we had, was just as beautiful as I’d come to expect from the rest of our explorations, but somehow more wild, stark and raw. We were hard-pressed to see any other tourists on our journey, with the exception of a handful at Ani and at the Armenian Cathedral Church in Van. Driving through mostly farmland filled with crops, horses and sheep, back dropped by soaring, snow-covered mountains, with sign posts pointing the way to Georgia and Iran, time seems to have stopped, or at least slowed down here.

Mustard fields, horse and the odd ruin to add interest... fields in Kars

Mustard fields, horse and the odd ruin to add interest... fields in Kars

We arrived into Kars, a small city in the northeast of Turkey that has had many occupations: Seljuks, Karakoyunlus, Byzantines, Georgians, Ottomans, and most recently (and longest) Russians. In antiquity, its roots lie with ancient Rome and Armenia. We were met by the wonderful Celil Ersoğlu, who whisked us off to our hotel and then to tour Ani. We were staying at the very white and imaginatively named Kar’s Otel. Housed in an old Russian building, everything is painted white – floors, walls, ceiling, railings… everything! Was a nice hotel and a good location for our brief stay. After dropping off our bags, it was back to Celil and off to Anі.

Anі

The Cathedral Church

The Cathedral Church

Anі, City of 1001 Churches, was once the capital of the Catholic, medieval Kingdom of Ani and a major stop on the Silk Road. It was an important and advanced city that rivaled the greats of its time: Constantinople, Damascus and Baghdad. Now, it is an eerie, desolate, expanse of green fields, crumbling walls and ruined churches and buildings, uninhabited except for the birds, in particular hundreds of swifts, whose aerial antics provided a nice bit of life to the stark vistas.

Swifts on wing, from the Menüçer Camii Mosque and overlooking the 10th century bridge over the Arkhurian River to Armenia.  Supposedly the first mosque built by the Seljuks here in 1072, the stonework and mix of Armenian and Seljuk architecture made this large stone mosque somehow graceful.  The views were stunning too!

Swifts on wing, from the Menüçer Camii Mosque and overlooking the 10th century bridge over the Arkhurian River to Armenia. Supposedly the first mosque built by the Seljuks here in 1072, the stonework and mix of Armenian and Seljuk architecture made this large stone mosque somehow graceful. The views were stunning too!

Moving from Kars, Ani was established in 961 as the site of the new Armenian capital. It is ideally defended because of the steep valley on one side, and the Akhurian River on the other. Family succession squabbles, left the empire weak and the Byzantine’s took over the city in 1045, and then the Persian Seljuks popped in in 1064. They of course turned all the churches into mosques, until the Christian Kingdom of Georgia came over and turned them back. Then for a short time the Kurdish emirs were in power before finally Georgia started a successful restoration in 1199. Successful that is, until the Mongols arrived in 1239. The city started to decay and then the great earthquake of 1319 finished most of the remaining city off. Tamerlane 1380 completed the devastation and the major powers shifted their capitals elsewhere. A small town continued to exist behind the remaining walls, ruled by the Persian Safavids and then the Ottoman Empire, until 17th century. This once great city, with such a tumultuous history was completely abandoned in the middle of the 18th.

Our refuge! Church of St Gregory the Illuminator, after the big rain.

Our refuge! Church of St Gregory the Illuminator, after the big rain.

On our visit, it was an alternatively cloudy and thundering rain afternoon, with rays of sunshine gradually coming out. This only added to the haunted atmosphere and feeling of the place. It’s hard to describe, but we both felt the melancholy of the site. In later readings I came across an historian’s (Sibt ibn al-Jawzi) accounting of an eye-witness account to the attack in 1064 of the Seljuk Turkish army.

“The army entered the city, massacred its inhabitants, pillaged and burned it, leaving it in ruins and taking prisoner all those who remained alive...The dead bodies were so many that they blocked the streets; one could not go anywhere without stepping over them. And the number of prisoners was not less than 50,000 souls. I was determined to enter city and see the destruction with my own eyes. I tried to find a street in which I would not have to walk over the corpses; but that was impossible.”

Small wonder the city felt haunted!

Church of the Redeemer: This church was purportedly split in two by a lightning strike in 1957!  Made us a little nervous about the thundering we were hearing as we checked it out!  Built in 1034, inscriptions on the outside indicate it was built to house a part of the True Cross, sent from Constantinople.

Church of the Redeemer: This church was purportedly split in two by a lightning strike in 1957! Made us a little nervous about the thundering we were hearing as we checked it out! Built in 1034, inscriptions on the outside indicate it was built to house a part of the True Cross, sent from Constantinople.

Church of St Gregory the Illuminator:  We took refuge down at this church when the rain became torrential, happily briefly. Name for the Armenian Apostle, it was built in 1215 and has incredibly colourful frescoes inside.

Church of St Gregory the Illuminator: We took refuge down at this church when the rain became torrential, happily briefly. Name for the Armenian Apostle, it was built in 1215 and has incredibly colourful frescoes inside.


Beautiful art in the Church of St Gregory the Illuminator

Beautiful art in the Church of St Gregory the Illuminator

Inside the Cathedral Church: Renamed the Fethiye Camii Mosque, it’s the biggest of the buildings.  Filled with filtered light and birds taking a bath in the puddles from the rain, this Cathedral, begun in 987 was once the seat of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchae.  The most important building in Ani, it has flip-flopped between church and mosque over the ruling turmoil of the centuries.

Inside the Cathedral Church: Renamed the Fethiye Camii Mosque, it’s the biggest of the buildings. Filled with filtered light and birds taking a bath in the puddles from the rain, this Cathedral, begun in 987 was once the seat of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchae. The most important building in Ani, it has flip-flopped between church and mosque over the ruling turmoil of the centuries.


Someone like that rain shower! In the Cathedral Church

Someone like that rain shower! In the Cathedral Church

A highlight in Kars had to be the wonderful restaurant Ocakbaşi Restoran. And not for the food alone, which was fabulous – Anteplim pide (a tasty meat stuffing with nuts, cheese and egg, surrounded by a baked sesame bread), and of course their version of Iskendar Kebap – but for the wonderful service of our waiter. An older, dapper gentleman, that performed everything with a deft flourish. Place a fallen napkin back in your lap, oh no! It must be snapped fresh and clean high into the air, before floating it gently down to land perfectly on the lap. Such a fun gentleman he was. At the end of the meal, he rushed downstairs to catch us and freshen our hands with cologne before leaving.

This is a particular Turkish custom that I’ve not found elsewhere. Traditionally you would great your guest with lightly scented cologne to freshen their hands and rid them of any germs and smells from the outside. This would often be followed up by sweet, which is meant to ensure an evening of sweet conversation. The cologne offer is traditional not only for guest visits, but on bus trips and in restaurants.

Largely left off now in many modern establishments, a poor version can be found in the ubiquitous scented moist towlet packages you find everywhere you go, and certainly at every restaurant.

Tandem donkey!

Tandem donkey!

Doğubayazit

One night and packed ½ day in Anі and we were off too soon to Van. Celil helped us navigate the bus-ticket-buying and dropped us at the station. He also set us up to meet the unbelievably lovely Osman Akkuş, his friend in Doğubayazit, where we had a few hours before catching our final bus to Van. But I’m getting ahead of myself, first, the bus trip, which aside from the adventure was stunning!

On the Road

On the Road

Bus travel in Turkey is very affordable, and supposedly very efficient -- beating the train system by a large margin. We were a bit worried, when our bus was an hour late arriving, since we only had 3 hours in Doğubayazit, but not unduly. That is until we left. Now the roads, especially coming from India, are really not bad in Eastern Turkey, but this nice, brand-spanking new Mercedes bus must have been a bit delicate, because our bus driver, I swear, did not see upward of 15km an hour the entire journey! Tractors were passing us on the road!

Finally climbing down from our tortoise-like bus, our last leg to Doğubayazit was in a mini-bus/van. These 15-seater vans are used quite a lot in Turkey, and we had read they often don’t leave for their destination until full. How long would we wait? Happily not too long. Just long enough to fit 17 people into the extremely small 15-seats, plus two pigeons! They also wouldn’t load the luggage until the van was full, so we had some anxious moments wondering if the bags made it onto the vehicle at all. Though speaking not a word of English, or French, the locals on the van were lovely and trying very hard to help us, though they didn’t know what we were worried about. One elderly gentleman took a particular shine to Christa, kindly squeezing her cheek when we left! Happily not THAT cheek!

Fantastically ice-blue lake on the road.

Fantastically ice-blue lake on the road.

We finally reached Doğubayazit, with about 1 hour remaining before our only connecting bus to Van. We had planned to do a tour of the small city with Osman, and were really sad we didn’t have the time. Osman owns a carpet shop – Kurdish Crafts (www.kurdishcrafts.com), not far from the bus station. Which would have been perfect if the bus went to the station. That couldn’t happen, could it? Nope, doors open, bags off, point in a direction, bus leaves. Uh huh? Luckily we were approached relatively quickly by a private taxi, who took us to the worried Osman’s shop, which wasn’t too far off.

What a lovely man! His English was excellent, as was his brother’s and Belgian sister-in-law’s. He had been talking with Celil and was very worried about us. We were sure we had no time for sight-seeing, but he said no problem and drove us up quickly to see the airy and elegant İshak Paşa Palace. Perched high above the city, with Mt. Ararat as a backdrop on one side (in clouds of course), and stark cliffs on the other. This palace, started in 1685 was built by a Kurdish chieftain and incredibly beautiful, not only for the views. I could see myself living there! When I win that elusive lottery of course.

Reception gallery in the palace

Reception gallery in the palace

After a quick run around the palace, we were off for lunch at a nice cafe across from the bus terminal, while Osman ran over to try and get us tickets. Oops, only 1 ticket left! Not to worry he says. He’ll work on it, and if all else fails, he’ll drive us to Van. He was such a gentle man, I wish I could have purchased a carpet from him! After some haggling, he procured us that extra ticket on the bus to Van, a 3-hour trip. The solution? They placed a small plastic stool in the aisle of the bus! Uhhhhh… happily the bus wasn’t full, and seating wasn’t assigned, so we grabbed a couple of regular seats and set off, saying Bye to Osman, and both hoping one day to be back in this area. Doğubayazit was a lovely, friendly, eastern Turkish town that we’d love to explore. If you’re in the area, pop in to see Osman. He’ll take you on a tour of the sights in the area, and absolutely not pressure you to buy a carpet.

Fantastical views from every angle of the palace

Fantastical views from every angle of the palace

About an hour from Van, we stopped in a small village to pick up our other passengers. An elderly man got on with his slightly younger wife and she proceeded to sit on the ‘stool’. Uh oh! Happily for us, as we were about to offer up our seat, a nearby young man did the same. All’s well that ends well!

Van

Finally in Van and checked in to our OK, but grossly overpriced hotel Büyük Asur Oteli. Van is known for the Van Cat, and the Van Breakfast – kahvalti! Funnily enough in Van we had our worst breakfast of the trip (the included breakfast at the hotel) and the best breakfast of the trip – the kahvalti. My advice, skip all included breakfasts here, it’s not worth the free-aspect, and walk over to the nearby Eski Sümerbank Sokak, a street closed to traffic with several, apparently equally good, restaurants. Kahvalti is served daily from 7am till noon and is fab! Typically you will get the local cheese (Beyaz Peynir), olives, kaymak (a divine clotted cream), tomatoes, cukes, Otlu Peynir (a tangy dip of cheese and herbs), of course the local honey, eggs cooked in a copper bowl, sausages, fresh pita and of course coffee or tea. So good!

Van Breakfast!

Van Breakfast!

Time being limited, we hired a tour guide to take us around to the many sights of the region. The area has evidence of human habitation as far back as 5000 BCE, so much to see! The hotel arranged the guide for us, and while good, was expensive, as was everything in this town.

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Cat person that I am, the first stop was to see the famous landrace (local variety of domestic animal occurring naturally) Van cat. The Van cat is an all-white large cat from the region, frequently with odd coloured eyes. The Turkish Van cat we see as a breed, and developed in the UK is not regarded as an authentic Van cat, having colour patterns on the head and tail. These cats have been declining in number, so a (so far ineffective) government breeding program has been created and we visited one of the centres. It was pretty sad actually. Although the cats seemed healthy for the most part, and their area clean, it was devoid of anything to play with, except for 1 lone plastic chair. Poor cats were so bored, they were eager to play with us through the chain fence.

Desperately in need of play :-(

Desperately in need of play :-(

Hoşap Kalesi

Hoşap Kalesi

Hoşap Kalesi

Driving southeast from Van, our next stop was the imposing Kurdish castle, Hoşap Kalesi. A fantastic castle, perched up high, as castles will do. It was built in 1643 by a Kurdish warlord, Mahmudi Süleyman. Was fun to wander the remains of this atmospheric castle but it was the visit to our next stop, the Çavuştepe Fortress and Necropolis that was the most interesting for me.

Climbing up to the top of Hoşap Kalesi

Climbing up to the top of Hoşap Kalesi


Inside the castle keep

Inside the castle keep

Çavuştepe Fortress

Çavuştepe Fortress

Çavuştepe Fortress

Crowning an imposing hill set alone in the middle of the flat fields of the Gürpınar Plain was this former home of kings from the ancient kingdom of Urartu, a prehistoric, iron-age Armenian kingdom. Çavuştepe was the 3rd largest settlement in the kingdom and built between 756-730 BCE by King Sardur II. The massive stones that remain of the walls were quarried many miles away, and fit together perfectly, without the aid of mortar. In fact it was so well built, the 30+ kilometre long, original irrigation canal built in the fields of the valley, continued to supply water to the farmers until a replacement was built only a few years ago.

One of two sections of food storage.  Each section has 100 buried earthenware jars.  Each jar has cuneiform capacity tags and hieroglyphs. Each container had a capacity of about 1 ton of grain, and when excavated some still contained grains dated to 2700 years ago.  After excavation, the vessels were refilled with soil to protect them.

One of two sections of food storage. Each section has 100 buried earthenware jars. Each jar has cuneiform capacity tags and hieroglyphs. Each container had a capacity of about 1 ton of grain, and when excavated some still contained grains dated to 2700 years ago. After excavation, the vessels were refilled with soil to protect them.

In front of the temple was a stone used for ritual sacrifices. On a nearby circular stone, the animals were then butchered for eating, a drainage channel leading down the side of the hill.
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The base of the temple structure.  Highly polished black basalt blocks, with inscribed cuneiform that looks like it was carved yesterday.

The base of the temple structure. Highly polished black basalt blocks, with inscribed cuneiform that looks like it was carved yesterday.



On top of Çavuştepe Fortress

On top of Çavuştepe Fortress

Cathedral Church of the Holy Cross

On Lake Van at Akdamar Island

On Lake Van at Akdamar Island

Next up? Lunch of course. Had an OK, but overpriced lunch at Akdamar Camping & Restaurant. The restaurant is conveniently opposite the ferry terminal on Lake Van to take us to Akdamar Island (Aghtamar in Armenian).

The island has one of the most beautiful churches I’ve seen – the Armenian Cathedral Church, known as the Cathedral Church of the Holy Cross. It was built from 915-921, the outside façade covered in 3-dimensional reliefs of various bible stories. It was an important site for Armenian Catholics, being the seat of their power from 1116-1895 and is the only remaining building from elaborate residence of King Gagik I Artsruni (908-914). Remains of the attached monastery complex also remain.

Relief carvings on the church facade

Relief carvings on the church facade


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In 1951, the Turkish government began demolishing the church! This beautiful monument might very easily not have been there. The chapel beside the church was demolished before Yasar Kemal, a writer, managed to enlist support to halt the demolition. After controversial and massive restoration, the church was opened as a museum in 2007. Critics said the restoration, secularization and renaming was really a Turkishification of an Armenian monument. Any and all of this may be true, but all I know is we loved it! Beautiful church, grounds, elaborate tombstones, almond trees and art.

Almonds, looking almost ripe

Almonds, looking almost ripe


Old Cross graffiti left behind by pilgrims

Old Cross graffiti left behind by pilgrims


Inside the Cathedral Church

Inside the Cathedral Church


Old tombstones haphazardly placed on the grounds, a victim of vandalism

Old tombstones haphazardly placed on the grounds, a victim of vandalism


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Van Castle

Van Castle on the Rock!

Van Castle on the Rock!

Our final stop, and last major hike of the trip was to the Van Castle, on top of the imposing Rock of Van. It had spectacular views, after we’d huffed our way to the top in record time (running to close to closing as it was), of the city and lake. When you’re at the top and looking down into the fields on the southern side, you start to notice the patterns in the grass and soil. This was the foundation ruins of Eski Van, the old city that was mostly leveled in the aftermath of the chaos surrounding WWI, the persecution and slaughter of Turkish Armenians and subsequent invasion by Russia.

Old Van city foundation remains.

Old Van city foundation remains.

Van Castle itself is the largest Urartu, 9th century BCE stone fortification of its kind. It was taken over by the Assyrians in the 7th century BCE and has visible remnants of both civilisations, as well as from the Ottoman empire. Van was also conquered by that boy about town, Alexander the Great. Also here is a tri-lingual inscription by Xerxes the Great, son of Darius, in the 5th century in almost perfect condition that became the Rosetta Stone of old Persian cuneiform.

Sun on its way down over Lake Van and the Turkish Flag

Sun on its way down over Lake Van and the Turkish Flag

It was a good two days exploring briefly this region, but we were both looking forward to returning to Istanbul the next day. Van was the site of a devastating earthquake in 2011 that killed approximately 650 people and destroyed thousands of buildings. We saw quite a few temporary trailer housing sites still in use, when we drove into town that still provide housing for the dispossessed.

Perhaps because of this, we constantly felt that many of the people we encountered were out to take as much money as they could get from you. It was a bit wearing after a while. And such a shock after the other places we’d stopped along the way in Turkey. Van was also far more expensive than Istanbul or Ankara in value for money. Accommodation, food, guides, everything. Not somewhere we wanted to linger, but still happy we visited and saw its beauty.

Our last night we had a fabulous dinner at Tamara Ocakbaşi in the Tamara Hotel. A bit difficult to find in the dark, hallways of the hotel, it was such fun! Each of the tables had their own grill (ocak) and you select your meat, and of course selection of mezes, and grill your meat at the table. Very good! We went up to select our food and meat, helped by two lovely servers, gamely working to translate what it was we’d be eating if we selected each item, that is until… “what’s that?” I ask. Both men look at each other, and there’s an audible delay before one blurts out “eggs” Now, I’ve had eggs a few times in my life, and this did not match up to my expectations. I looked at Christa and we tried to puzzle out what it was. Looked a bit like a large, flat scallop, but more chicken-like in colour. OK, we selected our other food, and then thought, what the heck, let’s have some “eggs”!

Happily grilling away, and enjoying all our food, including the delicate flavoured eggs, whose texture turned out to be somewhere between firm tofu and crème caramel. One of the fellows came over to see how we were enjoying our meal and I had him type in the Turkish equivalent for the “eggs” in my Google Translate to check later at the hotel. Turns out the translation was 'eggs'. OK, finally got an answer from a Turkish friend and ‘eggs’ turns out to be a local delicacy… lambs balls! Oh dear…

Cooking our dinner, complete with 'eggs'

Cooking our dinner, complete with 'eggs'

After a foggy airport delay, we were back to Istanbul for a last few days – chatted about in my first Turkey blog installment. What a wonderful country, full of wonderful people, interesting and stimulating history, well looked after ruins and monuments, and fabulous adventures with food. A pretty-near-perfect mix in my book! Till next time Turkey!

On our way back to Istanbul, the fabulous mountains of Eastern Turkey

On our way back to Istanbul, the fabulous mountains of Eastern Turkey

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 06:58 Archived in Turkey Tagged mosque ruins church forts palaces medieval armenian armenia kurdish iron_age urartu van_cat Comments (2)

Travelling in the Footsteps of Giants! Exploring the Aegean

Following the Coast from Izmir to Selcuk to Ephesus to Pergamum

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Theatre at Pergamum with Temple of Trajan above it.

Theatre at Pergamum with Temple of Trajan above it.

One of the great crossroads of the ancient world is a broad peninsula that lies between the Black and Mediterranean seas. Called Asia Minor (Lesser Asia) by the Romans and Anatolia by the Greeks, this place was phenomenal for a history-junkie like myself!

We landed in Izmir, a very cosmopolitan city, with a large population of ‘Levantines.’ This term seems to refer to anyone not of Turkish-Muslim heritage. We only had a night here, but stayed at the super luxurious Swissôtell (pronounced Sweeeeese-ôtel), happily at a nicely discounted rate, courtesy of Michelle’s connections. A nice stop before heading on our Aegean adventures.

Rolling Aegean coastline from the car.

Rolling Aegean coastline from the car.

The next morning we were up bright and early for the road trip to Selçuk, gateway to Ephesus! Driving through the rolling hills and fields that were filled with poppies and other spring flowers, I would find myself thinking of what it might have been like when Alexander, Marc Antony, Cleopatra and other amazing historical folk passed through this way. The interior is a high arid plateau, about 3,000 feet (900 meters) in elevation, flanked to the north and south by rugged mountain ranges. Within the plateau a number of ranges enclose broad, flat valleys, where several salty lakes have formed.

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Our Hotel, the Kale Han was lovely, very reasonable and super helpful and the town small, picturesque and surprisingly friendly given the amount of tourists that pass through on their way to the famous sites in the area – over 3 million people were reported to visit the sites of this area in 2012. Gerly, a friend of Michelle’s joined the group and then we were off to explore. Guided by Michelle’s handy GPS system, we drove through farm villages to the historical hotspots: first up – Didyma!

Temple of Apollo in Didyma

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This was the site of the 4th largest temple in the known world – the Temple of Apollo. The earliest temples here were dated to the 8th century BCE, with the final and most important being complete in 331 BCE. (It was, at 124 columns, only 5 columns smaller than the nearby Temple of Artemis, which was one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.) At the site’s natural spring, Leto is said to have given birth to Artemis and Apollo – the mythological twins (didymoi in Greek). The spring is said to have flowed until the temple was betrayed to, and destroyed by, the Persian Darius in 493 BCE. Restoration began in 334 BCE and the spring is said to have started flowing once again after a visit from Alexander the Great. The oracle here was the most important in Asia Minor, consulted by all the greats of the time, including Alexander and Croesus.

Steps from the cella (courtyard) to the sanctuary platform.

Steps from the cella (courtyard) to the sanctuary platform.


Beautiful Bull! and wings of a griffon. Was the former capital of one of two columns.

Beautiful Bull! and wings of a griffon. Was the former capital of one of two columns.

It was fabulous! At first glance, it seemed to be little more than a platform with fallen columns and large chunks of marble strewn about a field, but walking down one of the two tunnels on either side of the front platform, and you are in the massive temple proper, with all four walls still standing. It was incredibly beautiful and easy to imagine what it must have been like when the prophetic oracles were there to give out advice.

Central courtyard (cella) of the Temple of Apollo

Central courtyard (cella) of the Temple of Apollo

Theatre in Miletus

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A short drive on and we arrived at the ancient town of Miletus in the middle of vast fields of cotton. All that’s left of significance here is the Great Theatre, which is fab! You can see it in the distance as you approach and its size and relatively good state of repair let you imagine how great this city once was. Miletus was a major port city from 700 BCE to 700 AD until silt brought the harbour too far from the city. The 15,000-seat theatre, was reconstructed heavily in the 1st century AD and in really good condition. It was also virtually deserted so we were able to clamber about and explore freely.
Corridor to your seating

Corridor to your seating


Thespian Pup

Thespian Pup


From the top of the Miletus theatre

From the top of the Miletus theatre

Priene's City and Temple of Athena

Mount Mykale behind the Temple of Athena's columns

Mount Mykale behind the Temple of Athena's columns


Our final stop for the day was at Priene, and it was also our favourite. High on the forested slope of Mt. Mykale, the ruins of the city leading up to the temple almost completely deserted, with a local goat herder leading his goats home through the ancient streets, filling the air with beautifully resonant goat bells. With its extensive ruins, the 300 BCE city showcased a small 6500-seat theatre, gymnasium, temples, hospital, Byzantine church and stadium. When the city was originally established it was on the sea coast and the temple built on an ocean-side cliff. Today it overlooks a patchwork of farm fields.

Fountain at Priene

Fountain at Priene

The pièce-de-résistance of this lovely ancient city was the Temple of Athena, which was perched on the very edge of the mountain, overlooking the plains below. Alexander the Great actually “cut the ribbon” of this temple, that he funded the construction of, and gave the dedication at its opening. Five of the columns had been reconstructed but the rest were strewn around the temple platform in a beautiful, almost artistically arranged way. We all loved this place and could have spent hours wandering and exploring, but, the sun was going down so we hiked back down to our car and head back to town. This trip was rapidly turning out to be almost as much climbing as Peru and the Incan cities!

Plains laid out below the Temple of Athena

Plains laid out below the Temple of Athena

Dinner was at the fascinating Ejder Restaurant, seated outside under Roman Aqueducts. The area is famous for its çop şiş -- a kabob of small pieces of lamb. The food was really good and the family so engaging, but the really fun thing was seeing the book of notes, signatures and mementos left by past guests. There are several volumes and people leave some really strange stuff, like their hair and belly button lint! We signed in too and taped a Cdn coin, Air Canada napkin and an old, now defunct, Turkish Lira from Christa’s trip in 1990. They proudly showed us the comments from Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter as well.

Fabulous Ephesus!

Downtown Ephesus

Downtown Ephesus

It was Saturday and we were off to Ephesus! This was one of my “must sees” so was looking forward to it with palpable excitement. We met up with our guide and set off to what is described as “the best preserved classical city in the eastern Mediterranean and Europe.” And, it didn’t disappoint, although the crowds seemed overwhelming at times after our quiet explorations of the day before. Still, we were apparently lucky. It wasn’t quite high season yet and our guide told us that there are often 5-6 cruise ships docking each day, sending busloads to the site – that day there were none, so yay for us!

Temple Cat

Temple Cat



Once the Roman capital of Asia, Ephesus (Efes) had a population of over 250,000 and was founded in the 10th century BC by the Ionians. Alexander the Great was there in 356 BC and the Virgin Mary and St. Paul were purported to live here for 3 years. By the 6th century BC, the harbour was so filled with silt, the city began to be forgotten.

From the top of the Odeon looking down the colonaded street to the Temple of Domitian.  This was right next to public bath houses and a main entrance to the city.  New arrivals were expected to clean up before proceeding to the city.

From the top of the Odeon looking down the colonaded street to the Temple of Domitian. This was right next to public bath houses and a main entrance to the city. New arrivals were expected to clean up before proceeding to the city.

Only 20% of the city has been excavated to date, after nearly 150 years of archeological work and still you can get such a good idea of how the city would have been, strolling streets paved with great slabs of marble or more elaborate mosaic sidewalks and lined with the ruins of shops, temples and statues; visiting the terrace housing of the city’s rich and powerful; meandering through the baths and latrines; standing in front of the library’s impressive façade where 12,000 scrolls were once stored, the world’s 3rd largest; climbing up the 5000-seat theatre known as the Odeon, which held municipal meetings; exploring the hospital or Asclepion, complete with the snake ‘pharmacy’ symbols inscribed on stone that we still use today; seeing the clay pipes that supplied fresh water to the city, looking so similar to our own; and joining masses of tourists climbing the Great Theatre, which once held 25,000 people. Although its condition was not as impressive as at Didyma, it was still a sight to see.

Ephesus plumbing, nothing is new!

Ephesus plumbing, nothing is new!


Greek Goddess Nike

Greek Goddess Nike


Looking down the street of Curetes to the Celsus library

Looking down the street of Curetes to the Celsus library


The public toilets.  Patron would send their slaves in ahead to warm the seats!

The public toilets. Patron would send their slaves in ahead to warm the seats!


Checking out the activity on the Mosaic paved sidewalk

Checking out the activity on the Mosaic paved sidewalk


Amazing mosaics inside the Terrace Houses excavation

Amazing mosaics inside the Terrace Houses excavation


How the elite would live, Terrace Houses

How the elite would live, Terrace Houses


Who needs carpets! Terrace Houses

Who needs carpets! Terrace Houses

Love those poppies!

Love those poppies!

After spending hours, exploring and photographing this magnifiscent city, we drove over to the nearby Meryemana (Mary’s house) site, where the Virgin Mary was supposed to live at the end of her life. Considered a sacred sight for this, especially for Catholics, there’s no proof she actually lived in this spot. It’s based on a nun’s vision, and was subsequently authenticated by Pope Paul VI in 1967, however, the oldest evidence of the ruins date back only to the 3rd century AD. Still, nice forest it sits in.

House of the Virgin Mary

House of the Virgin Mary

Temple of Artemis

Melancholy ruins of the Temple of Artemis

Melancholy ruins of the Temple of Artemis

Our last stop for the day was the Temple of Artemis – one of the original 7 Wonders of the Ancient World and where Cleopatra’s half-sister Arsinoe was banished after trying to overthrow her sister’s rule. Public sentiment in Rome at the time saved her life and forced Caesar to send her to this temple sanctuary. She lived here for a few years before Cleopatra was able to persuade Marc Anthony to end her life. She was forcibly removed from the temple in 41 BCE and publicly executed on the temple steps. This violation caused a huge scandal in Rome at the time.

Temple goose

Temple goose

Apart from knowing the history of the site, it was quite sad to see it. Very little remains here – only one of its 127 columns still stands, reconstructed to give you an indication of its once massive size. This temple was a major stop and the largest in the world, beating even the Parthenon in Athens. Where did it all go? This once most important of locations now held a melancholy and wearied air to Christa and myself as we strolled across the grass.

After an exhausting day of sightseeing and ancient wonders it was off for an Efes beer and dinner at Selçuk Köftecisi, touted as one of the best Kofta places in the area to eat at. It was very good, if pricey for this typically cheap fare (think the recommendations are pushing the prices up) but the best was their dessert – The Temple of Artemis. There were only two left, so we quickly grabbed them and shared. Was rather like a really good crème brule flavoured with almonds, vanilla and tahini. Best dessert we had in Turkey.

Ancient City of Permagum

Next day we packed up early and hit the road for the drive to Bergama, a beautiful little town with winding hilly and narrow picturesque streets. There has been a town here since Trojan times and evidence of this is everywhere.

Bergama Fixer-upper!

Bergama Fixer-upper!

We stayed at a marvelous new B&B, the Hotel Hera. Set in an historic building, with massively thick walls and a really good ancient cellar converted into a very decent wine room. Our friendly and super helpful hosts happily showed us around and we picked a wine to enjoy on the terrace overlooking the town – really reasonable prices for the wine here too! In the courtyard, ancient inscribed tablets and pots, found during the restoration of the house are displayed and arranged among pots of flowers.

Lost in thought

Lost in thought

Asklepion

After dropping our bags off, we set of to see the Asklepion ruins. This ancient medical centre is one of the most important hospital sites of the ancient world and the destination of all the who’s who of the time: visitors included Marcus Aurelius, Caracalla and Hadrian. It was originally set-up by a local man, Archias, as a holistic healing centre and more spa-like than hospital, offering mud baths from the sacred pools, music concerts and dream analysis (in the Telephorus) – people believed dreams were the result of a visit from the God Asklepios, and held the key to curing illness. To the western world, however, it really became famous in the 2nd century AD under Galen, a physician to Pergamum’s gladiators, who is recognized as perhaps the greatest early physician. His expertise was based on the research he was able to do from the many victims in the gladiatorial arena and his work was considered the authority for western medicine till as recently as the 16th century.

The chambers in the Temple of Telephorus

The chambers in the Temple of Telephorus


Underground passageway to the hospital temple of Telesphorus

Underground passageway to the hospital temple of Telesphorus


Cool frogs everywhere around the Sacred Well

Cool frogs everywhere around the Sacred Well


Temple Chicks

Temple Chicks

In addition to the ubiquitous theatre, agora, and shop remains, there were sacred wells and a circular Temple of Asklepios, where the dream analysis was conducted. The Sacred Way once led all the way up to the Akropolis of Pergamum, which you could see in the distance.

Asklepion theatre and start of the road to Pergamum

Asklepion theatre and start of the road to Pergamum


Roman Bazaar Street (The Sacred Way), leading from the Asklepion to Pergamum on the hill, you can see the theatre near the top

Roman Bazaar Street (The Sacred Way), leading from the Asklepion to Pergamum on the hill, you can see the theatre near the top

The Akropolis!

Monday came and too quickly our last day in the Aegean region. Early in the morning we set off for the Akropolis. We ended up doing things a little backward, which made for some impressive climbing and sweating! Following the lonely planet’s guidance, we found a small hidden passageway that took us to the incredibly steep, in fact the steepest ever built, theatre.

Starting down the stairs to the theatre

Starting down the stairs to the theatre


.. and in the stairs

.. and in the stairs


Vertigo Inducing Theatre and Bergama below

Vertigo Inducing Theatre and Bergama below

The 10,000-seat theatre was set into the hillside and had an incredible view, but the steepness was surprisingly dizzying. After checking out the upper levels, we clambered on down, sections of which seemed to drop off into nothing. Finally reaching the bottom, taking a quick peak at the adjacent Temple of Dionysus, we set off down the hill on a barely-there path through fields of flowers and grass and fun critters; past temples, city ruins and pillars of old Pergamum town to an excavated house with bizarre but beautiful mosaic carpet of contorted faces. Then…. We climbed back up! So pleased with ourselves, we rewarded ourselves with ice-cream!

Wildlife portion, loads of cool bugs walking down from the theatre

Wildlife portion, loads of cool bugs walking down from the theatre


Hey, cool! Dung beetles! oh, and dung...

Hey, cool! Dung beetles! oh, and dung...


Amazing butterfly that looked kinda like a dragonfly

Amazing butterfly that looked kinda like a dragonfly


Fantasical mosaic carpet in the middle city

Fantasical mosaic carpet in the middle city


Some details...

Some details...


Pergamum cats like pistachio ice-cream too!

Pergamum cats like pistachio ice-cream too!

Most of the Akropolis site is in ruins, but the some areas were very interesting. The Temple of Trajan, built during the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian was in pretty impressive shape, and to stand in front of the spot where the library stood, formerly the 2nd largest in the ancient world, was similarly imagination-filled. Especially when you learn that Marc Antony stole all the scrolls as a wedding present for Cleopatra. So romantic!

Temple of Trajan

Temple of Trajan


Trajan Accolytes

Trajan Accolytes


Temple of Trajan

Temple of Trajan


Nice pied bird

Nice pied bird


...more poppies!

...more poppies!

After Pergamum, we popped into the massive and atmospheric === Red Basilica ruins===. Originally a giant temple to Egyptian gods Serapis, Isis and Harpocrates and built in the 2nd century AD, it was a major pagan site, cited by St John the Divine as one of the 7 churches of the Apocalypse. Supposedly the throne of the devil! My kinda church ;-) Christians later built a basilica inside the walls.

Red Basilica

Red Basilica


Inside the Basilica Christians built inside the building

Inside the Basilica Christians built inside the building


At the Red Basilica

At the Red Basilica

We stopped into a cute winding little town called Sirence for lunch. More beautiful rolling hills and cobbled streets, famous for fruit wines, which of course we had to investigate.

Street in Sirence

Street in Sirence

New ideas for planters at our fab restaurant in Sirince

New ideas for planters at our fab restaurant in Sirince

This ancient wonders trip too quickly over, we were on the road back to Izmir and our flight to Ankara. On the road, a dung beetle hitched a ride and was climbing up the back of Gerly’s seat! Quick to the rescue, and wanting something more stable than my phone, I grabbed the ‘kitty’ purse – a ubiquitous flying carpet-styled little purse we used to hold our joint moolah – to lure the beetle onto and then put the industrious bug out the window. Michelle, rather obviously I thought, said, “Don’t throw the purse out the window!” “ Ha Ha” say I, as I roll the window down on the highway to let the creature fly free… along with the purse! Letting out a little shriek, I squeaked “I did it!”

Not sure what the locals thought of a car backing up along the highway and a silly foreigner walked alongside scanning for our purse. Which, when located on the road, was immediately run over by a passing vehicle. Safely back on the road, money safe-n-sound, but zipper and purse pretty banged up, all was good! Except for the drama-filled re-enactments of my ‘friends’ that continued... for the entire trip!

At the back of the old Pergamum city walls, with an incredible view

At the back of the old Pergamum city walls, with an incredible view

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 19:29 Archived in Turkey Tagged history ruins turkey roman greek ephesus temple_of_apollo efes temple_of_artemis trajan bergama priene temple_of_athena miletus pergamum asklepion asia_minor Comments (0)

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