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Entries in Turkey (2)


Fire and War  

I haven't had a chance to update in quite a while.

On my last night in Olympos we made the climb up to Chimera, the Eternal Flame. My fever came back quite strong, but I felt so very very cold. I wore nearly all the clothes I had, and borrowed Jamie's jacket on top of that. It was so hard climbing up the mountain side, even after half a day spent sleeping, but Tamara kindly helped me and we reached the flame together. Actually it wasn't a single flame, but rather the entire mountain side was covered in small flames coming up out of the earth. They are relatively small now, but thousands of years ago they were so strong that the ancient Greek mariners used them to navigate by. I guess for us it doesn't seem too unusual to see flame coming from nowhere, but for the ancient Greeks? Surely magic was then the simplest explanation...

After Olympos we drove to Kas on the Mediterranean coast. Our first day in Kas was okay, we sailed to the edge of Kevoka Island to see an ancient sunken Lycian city. There wasn't too much to see (pretty much nothing actually), but we had a nice day lounging around in the sun on the deck of the boat on the Mediterranean Sea. Andy, Michelle and I went for a swim and it was very cold. Our second day in Kas and we had a total solar eclipse. I kept on looking up, expecting to see the moon gliding towards the sun, but nearly being in the total line, there was no light to reflect off our side. There was no sign of what was coming, even during the partial eclipse you couldn't see the indent of the moon without the thick visor. A pre-industrial viewer would have felt nothing until the three-quarter eclipse, when the day became a little bit paler, and a little bit more chilly. Still, nothing terribly unusual, and then the moon snapped in place, and the soon was replaced by a ring of fire around a black hole and a sunrise ringed the horizon (I was surprised that sunrise/sunset was still on the horizon...). Three minutes of blackness, then the sun was blazing again. No wonder people invented religion, until science becomes quite sophisticated, you would have to invoke the supernatural to explain such an amazing event. If the sun can disappear, then why not anything?

It only confuses me that people still believe this now that we do have simpler explanations...

After the solar eclipse we hit the road to Ephesus. The truck broke down halfway, so we whiled away the hours drinking the 'Stone of the Pregnant Woman' Jack Daniels which was very amusing :)


Our next stop was Ephesus (Efes), often considered to be the best preserved classical city. Ephesus was settled by the Ionians ~1000 BCE, and became a great trading and religion city. It was the centre for the cult of Cybele, the Anatolian fertility goddess who became Artemis in the Greek pantheon and Diana in the Roman pantheon. Ephesus was part of the Kingdom of Lydia, who were apparently the first to invent coins (~650 BCE), and then all types of games during an 18 year famine, to take their mind off being hungry.

During the Roman Empire Ephesus was the second largest city in the Eastern Mediterranean (after Alexandria). The city was beautiful to walk through. We entered in the top half of the city, and strolled down the main street, the Arcadian Way. The buildings were mostly made from marble, which Ephesus was famous for, supplying it to other Roman cities. The Arcadian Way is said to be the first road to have street lights (400 CE), and other streets in the city have holes in the paving where temporary street lights could be placed during festivals. The Arcadian Way was the richer area of the city, with a small covered Odeon (with 2000 people) that was sponsored by the owner of the local brothel. This upper part of the city also had the senate, and the Arcadian Way meets the Marble Way at a few steps and the Hercules Arch to prevent the traffic of the lower city from reaching the pedestrian-only upper city.

From the archway, the Marble Way ran down to the Celsuis Library, which was built in 125 CE as a tomb to Julius Celsius, the governor of the Roman Province of Asia. It wasn’t completed before his death, but was originally finished and converted to a library. It became the third largest in the ancient world, with 12 000 scrolls. Across the road from the library is the brothel. Excavators found a tunnel linking the two, and explained it by saying that the men used it as a way to surreptitiously visit the brothel, but recent excavations indicate that it is actually just part of the sewer system. The sewer system was one of the major achievements of the city, running under the road to pipe out sewage 6km away to the ocean (it was extended after several plagues wiped the city out a couple of times). Near the brothel is the Baths of Scolastica, with a frigidarium, tepidarium, caldarium and apoliterium (‘changing room’, but mostly used as a meeting area and the biggest part of the baths). The baths included a public toilet, with rows of toilet seats cut into the marble benches, so that everyone could talk to each other while going to the bathroom. There is also a larger theatre, seating 25000, and the Agora trading area for general goods, and a smaller trading area for luxuries.

We also visited the Temple of the Great Mother Cybele, later the Temple of Artemis, and originally four times larger than the Parthenon in Athens. Antipater of Sidon (2nd century BCE) described the Temple of Artemis in his guidebook, famous as the Seven Wonders of the World: I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, 'Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught (anything) so grand. It was burnt down on July 21st 356 BCE by a man wanting eternal fame for the destruction of the most beautiful building in the world. This was the night that Alexander the Great was born, and it was said she was watching the birth and therefore couldn’t protect her temple. The Ephesians announced that his name was never to be recorded for the act, but a visiting Greek tells us it was Herostratus. After Alexander the Great conquered Ephesus he rebuilt the temple. It was later sacked by Nero, rebuilt, sacked by the Goths in the 3rd century CE, rebuilt, and finally destroyed by the Christians. When I saw it there was only a single standing column left, with a pair of storks nesting on the top.

In the afternoon after Ephesus we visited Sirince, a small Greek Orthodox village that has been there since 500 BCE. We bought peach wine, which we later drank while watching Pulp Fiction in the hotel during a beautiful sunset.

Troy and Gallipoli

The following day we drove to Gallipoli, via the ruins of Troy. We only had a little while in Troy, because Justin said it was rubbish, but I loved the time I spent there. I was cranky with Tracey at the start though, because she said that 99% of soldiers before recent times where rapists, and when I said that was incredibly unlikely (agreeing that rap was very common, just not that every solider did it) she said “well obviously we have read very different history books”. *rolls eyes at SCA member*. Anyway, there was a tacky giant wooden horse out the front (which Michelle and Tamara climbed), then we walked around the old ruins. There are actually the ruins of seven cities of Troy on the same cite, dating back thousands upon thousands of years. The Troy of fame, when Menelaus the King of Sparta destroyed Troy to avenge the slight of Paris eloping with Helen, using Odysses’ (the smartest of the Greek heroes) plan of the Trojan horse (which Cassandra foresaw, but was ignored on), was originally thought to be myth. However Heinrich Schliemann unearthed the ruins of Troy in 1871, and it is now thought that one of the cities (Troy IV) was destroyed in 1250 BCE, and was the setting for the Trojan War. With the trees mantled in spring blossoms, it was hard to picture the site of enormous carnage due to hubris.

Speaking of carnage due to hubris, we then crossed the Dardanelles to reach Europe on the Gallipoli Peninsular. The whole invasion of Gallipoli was just stupid. The Ottoman Turks had payed the British to built them two battleships to protect their empire. When WWI started, the British reneged on their contract, told the Turks they were keeping the Battleships and refused to give them their money back. They then told Istanbul to invade Germany with them. The Kaiser then treated them politely and offered them two German Battleships, and Turkey joined on the side of Germany.

Such a tragedy, in the Greek sense of the word. The British sent Battleships up the Dardanelles to scare Istanbul into submission, but the mines in the straits, supported by the forts of Gallipoli, sunk three battleships and badly damaged three more. More ships, lost than the British wanted to save, and hundreds dead. So on the 25th of April, the British and French tried to take the forts by land, to clear the way for the navy. The mostly British force, along with the French, Australians and New Zealanders landed before dawn on the small beaches, and fought against machine gun fire to take the beach heads. Tens of thousands killed in hours. It is often said that they landed in the wrong place, having to run up steep sand-dunes carrying 30kg packs and weapons, however it has been recently put forward that the Admiral in charge actually changed his mind at the last minute, and invaded there on purpose. The Turks were expecting invasion, and only the small beaches were poorly guarded.

Whatever the disregard for human life, the plan essentially worked. They took the beaches and the original positions, and pushed forward to the Nek, the highest point from where they could take the whole peninsular. The Turks were retreating in surprise until they reached Mustafa Kemal, who ordered them around with the famous orders “I am not sending you there to fight, I am sending you there to die”. Wave upon wave of Turkish soldiers went forward and died, on the bloodiest day 10 000 died.

Mustafa Kemal succeeded in holding the invasion back, and essentially during the next eight months the battle lines didn’t change again. Instead it became a slow trench warfare. The ANZACs dug miles of trenches, creating 372km of trenches along the 7km front. The Turks, to stop the shelling from the ANZACs built their trenches only 5-8m away. Close enough that they could yell at each other, and even swap food. The Turks used to throw tobacco over in return for paper, so both sides could smoke. Every night one Turkish solider walked between the trenches picking up tobacco and paper that fell in the middle. He was an icon to the ANZACs, who never shot him, until one day a new regiment moved in and killed him on their first night.

Mustafa Kemal won the battle, and the Ottomans lost the war. He then went back to Istanbul and lead a war of independence against the monarchy, a long bloody affair, and founded the Republic of Turkey. He is still considered to be Attaturk, the Father of the Turks, and his brooding face is common on sculptures across the country.

Gallipoli was a very moving place. Quiet and still, the entire peninsular kept as a historic natural monument. We walked along the trenches, barbed wire still lining them, visited the graves and the monuments, and Anzac Cove. In the small museum they had letters from dead soldiers, men drafted away from their families, wanting to be back with their loved ones. There were piles of bullets that were fused together, as the air was so thick with gunfire that many collided in mid-air. A skull with the bullet still stuck in the middle of the forehead. Recruitment posters “Free tour to Great Britain and Europe – chance of a lifetime”.

So hideous. I can’t consider these men to be heroes. They were victims. 500 000 wounded and 100 000 killed. Lives destroyed in such a terrible terrible waste. I just wish we could remember the horror, and never repeat it.


That was yesterday. Today I am in Istanbul. After a week of fire and war, we come to the cradle of culture. As we drove into the city we saw the Obelisk of Theodosius, the 3500 year old column taken from the temple of Karnak hundreds of years ago, were we were so recently. We all split up, and Michelle and I checked into our hotel room, then we met up at the Grand Bazaar. Michelle and I had a great time just walking to the bazaar, indulging in street food, and looking around. The actual bazaar itself was huge, a covered building housing 4500 shops. The labyrinth was built by Mehmet the Conqueror in the 1450s as a mini-city walled off, covering 50 acres and 65 main streets. We spent all of our money, Michelle buying an old prayer necklace from an antique store, me buying a shirt and a couple of old Russian and Turkish coins. Just as well, because I lost my wallet afterwards, and I only wish I had spent that last $40 too :) We had a great dinner out, although I did get worried when Michelle didn’t come home to the hotel room – she stayed out too late and got locked out, and had to spend the night in the truck.

Today Michelle, Tamara and I explored Sultanahmet, the centre of the city. We started with the Topkapi Palace, built by Mehmet the Conquor in 1453. The Sultans lived in it until the 19thcentury, and it housed 40 000 people (175 acre complex). The complex was huge, with the most beautiful buildings. We walked though the Harem, and visited the museum where hairs from the beard of Muhammed, along with his bow and sword, and the swords of his successors, the first four Immans, were kept, with a rotation of mullahs constantly praying over them. We also visited a museum with the costumes of the Sultans, preserved thanks to the tradition of packing away the clothes of each Sultan when he died to preserve them (no Sultana clothes are there, because these were considered their private property to be given to relatives when they died, rather than belongings of the state).

After the Topkapi Palace we walked through Aya Sofya, the Church of the Holy Wisdom. It was built in 532 CE by Emperor Justinian, and was the largest church in the world for 1000 years. It has a massive dome and four minarets (added 1000 years later when it was converted to a mosque), although much of the original gold and marble was plundered during the Forth Crusade. Wandering around inside it is amazing at just how huge it is. Rooms that would be the size of a Cathedral in England are simply balconies overlooking the main congregation underneath the dome. Westminster Abbey would probably fit inside the main room. It isn’t so much a beautiful building, being rather crude and blocky in a way, as awe-inspiring in its sheer size.

After Aye Sofya we visited its sister shrine, the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque is very similar in design, just across the a boulevard with a fountain from Aye Sofya. It was built during 1609-1619 by Sultan Ahmet I and his architect Mehmet Aga (he was the Sultan who caused a scandal by entering into a monogamous relationship and having multiple children from the same woman). It has seven slender minarets (there was only meant to be six, but he built a seventh to make up for an insult to the authorities at Mecca), and thirty domes and half domes, but with one main dome like Aye Sofya. The blue tiles were made in the famous Iznik factories, and Sultan Ahmet banned them from making titles for anyone else. It was an active mosque, so we didn’t feel comfortable interrupting people’s prayers, and quickly left.

After an exhausting week we frittered away the afternoon sitting in cafes and drinking many litres of water.


Underground cities


Yesterday we drove from Syria to Turkey. Turkey probably has the longest modern history in Europe, with cities in Turkey for over 9000 years, which were ruled as city states until united by the Hittites (2000 BCE to 1200 BCE). After the Hittite Empire splintered up, Turkey remained seperate cities until it was united by the Greek and Roman empires. The Roman Emperor Constantine founded a new city at Bysantium, later named Constantinople, then Istanbul, in 330 CE, which became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and the centre of the Byzantine Empire for 1000 years. The Christian Byzantine Empire was reduced in size with the Seljuk Turks gaining land in Turkey in 1071, and then the Fourth Crusade (‘the Crusade that went wrong’, as if the others didn’t) plundered Constantinople and the Mongol invasion by Ghengis Khan destroyed the Seljuks. Osman (1258-1326 CE) founded the Ottoman Empire which took over the entire country will the fall of Constantinople in 1452, expanded throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire was reduced in size by the independence movements started by the French Revolution (giving seperate states in Eastern Europe), and was reduced to Turkey after defeat in WWI (would have been absorbed into Greece except Mustafa Kemal lead a War of Independence, finished in 1923) and became a Republic.


We spent today in Cappadocia, a region of Anatolia (Asian Turkey). Cappadocia has really interesting geology, tufta (very soft pre-sandstone rock) with coloured clays, limestone and basalt. The uneven erosian has given a bizzare landscape, with natural minarets, cones, spires and fairy chimneys up to 20m high, all crowded together to look like domed rooves of a crowded city. We camped in Urgup, which is very close to some ancient villages in the Göreme Valley (which have been occupied for at least 5000 years). The different houses are carved straight into the rock (it is so soft to cut out). We walked in one valley, beautiful with the apricot and walnut trees in bloom for the beginning of spring, with windows and doors cut into the walls of the valley, 100m straight up the rock face. We climbed up to a ground floor set of rooms, with a shared kitchen for the community. From the kitchen led several family rooms, and a narrow chimney leading up to the second floor, with hand-foot holes carved in the chimney so we could climb up (Michelle was very happy at all the climbing). The view from the top rooms was amazing. We also walked through a low tunnel to come out in another valley, having walked straight through the mountain. It was very impressive. The area was Christian after the 4thcentury, so there are more than 400 churches, hermitages and small monasteries in the area, all carved into the rock.

After sipping a beautiful Tukish lemon tea, we visited a pottery factory, and watched them make pottery in the old Hittite style and the Ottoman style.

Next we visited Kaymakli. Kaymakli is a huge underground city that was carved into the tufta by the villagers, so they would have somewhere to hide when war came to them (which it did often, being surrounded by Hittites). The city was started over 5000 years ago, and had been continually added to. There are eight underground cities in the region, all linked by kilometres of tunnels, with escape holes to the various villages. Over 5000 people could live in the underground cities for months on end, with the stores of grains and oils, wine presses, bread ovens, fresh water piped in, and 100m deep ventilation tunnels to bring fresh air to the deepest parts of the city. It really was amazing, an entire city inside the mountain, which could only be accessed by climbing down the 100m ventilation shafts, or walking crouched through the long enterance tunnels (only 1m high), which could be sealed off from the inside with large stone wheels. It really was staggering (and so much fun to explore), and I never had any idea the place even existed before this. It is also nice that unlike a castle, which can be used to protect and to dominate, this was simply a retreat of the peaceful away from war.

According to Herodotus, in the desert near here, round the city of Caspatyrus and in the country of Pactyica, the tribes have a novel way of finding gold. They go out into the sandy desert where there is a kind of ant of great size, bigger than a fox, though not so big as a dog. These creates as they burrow underground through up the sand in heaps, accumulating the gold. Unfortunately the ants smell intruders, and at once give chase; nothing in the world can touch these ants for speed. So the trick is to ride in with three camels, a male on either side, and the gold collector in the middle on a female who has just given birth. They come in during the morning, when (unlike the rest of the world) the sun is hottest, collect the gold and escape as fast as they can. The male camels get tired and are left behind, but the female camel keeps going hard by the memory of her young who were left at home, and thus a great lead is achieved before the ants muster their forces. Oddly enough, this is thought to be true, which the key mistake being that the Persian word for “mountain ant” is very close to “marmot”, and the local marmots do indeed bring up to the surface sand rich in gold dust. We saw lots of marmot holes in the ground in the Göreme Valley, but no piles of gold :)


Tonight we are going to Konya, for a cultural dinner. Konya was the capital of the Seljuk Turks, and is where the Whirling Dervishes where founded in the 13thcentury by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. He believed that an ecstatic trancelike state of universal love could by induced by whirling around and around (like the universe). So with our mezze dinner, we have whirling dervishes and belly dancers.