A Trip to Turkey – 2014
For, me, entering the country of Turkey can be likened to entering another world. We arrived at the Istanbul airport at the end of March, 2014, having come from Rome and coming off of a 2 week Eastern Mediterranean cruise where everything you needed or wanted was attended to. Here, suddenly we were on our own and there were multitudes of people around us, pushing and shoving to get through customs. There was no orderly queue and everyone around us was speaking a different language ……………………. languages which we could not speak or understand. Following a somewhat rocky start, we checked into the Crown Plaza
which is a magnificent, regal hotel which was to be our home in Istanbul for the next four days, after which we would be joining a two week land tour of Turkey with a bus load of English speaking tourists ……………………… but for the time being we were free to explore this fabulous city of Istanbul on our own. Since our hotel was conveniently located to a number of touristy sites, we did not have to deal with the transportation issue and only had to be certain that our shoes were comfortable and that we carried with us a supply of bandaids just in case.
The Blue Mosque which was first on the agenda for places to visit and was located several blocks down the street from our hotel.
It was constructed between 1606 and 1616 in classic Ottoman design. The dome and the four minarets stand tall creating a visually elegant exterior. Only worshippers can enter the front doors; tourists have to enter by the southern door and exit through the northern door. The interior of the mosque (as are all the mosques we visited while in Turkey) is very open. Four huge pillars support the dome.
The ‘blue’ of the mosque’s name originates with the Iznik tiles that grace the walls and line the dome. Unfortunately for me, the elegance of the interior is compromised by the labyrinth of overhead wires which accommodate the lighting within the structure.
The hippodrome (where chariot races were held and probably the area where many scenes of political and military dramas took place) is located in front of the Blue Mosque. A walk down the hippodrome
takes one by the Kaiser Wilhelm’s Fountain, the tomb of Sultan Ahmet I, the Egyptian obelisk and the spiral snake column,
now headless but at one time, was topped by three serpents’ heads.
The Aya Sofya was built as a Christian Church in 537 A.D. by Emperor Justinian and remained the greatest church in Christendom until the Conquest in 1453, when it was turned into a mosque. It remained as a Mosque until 1935 when Ataturk proclaimed it to be a museum. When the Aya Sofya was changed from a church to a mosque, the Christian mosaics were covered with plaster and Christian symbols were removed. Now that it is a museum, the plaster is being removed and the Christian mosaics are being revealed.
The brilliant, glittering mosaics are numerous and depict Christ, the virgin Mary, John the Baptist, ruling Emperors of various times, etc.
The Basilica Cistern is an enormous water storage tank constructed by Emperor Justinian in 532 A.D. It is about 70 meters wide and 140 meters long and its roof is supported by hundreds of columns.
At the far end, two columns are supported by blocks with carvings of Medusa heads on them, one lying on its side and the other upside down. They were probably recycled stone blocks used for support and acquired from another place that was probably destroyed by an earthquake.
on which construction began shortly after the Conquest in 1453, was the residence of the Sultans of the Ottoman empire for almost four centuries during which time Sultans came and went, building additional courts over the years.
The last Sultan to actually reside in Topkapi Palace was in the 1800’s as the following Sultans chose to live in more European style palaces found along the banks of the Bosphorus Strait. Unfortunately time did not allow us to get into the Harem but we did get to explore the courts where many museum items were on display. Should I ever return to Istanbul, I would head straight for the Harem.
I must not forget the Grand Bazaar.
It consists of probably about 4500 shops, divided into different areas, specializing in carpets, jewellery, leather, ceramics, etc. It is a very interesting labyrinth of interesting shopping and an easy place in which to get lost if you don’t pay attention. Several visits to the Grand Bazaar yielded great finds for us.
The magnificent palaces along the banks of the Bosphorus reminded me very much of the palaces along the Neva River in St. Petersburg, Russia. I have only covered the highlights of Istanbul and there were many places that we wanted to visit but time simply ran out and before we knew it, it was time to connect with the Treasures of Turkey Tour. This is when the real education began.
Our tour guide, Atakan, (a handsome, non-practicing Muslim Turk) was a very knowledgeable, informative, caring individual who really looked after all 40 of us (Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and U.S. Americans) for two weeks. He cited History, Geography, present and past political activities, local folklore, etc. Upon leaving Istanbul, we headed toward the town of Iznik (formerly called Nicea) where we visited a building, formerly the Church Sofya of Nicea built around 600 A.D.
This is the place where the Nicene Creed was hammered out by councils of the Christian Church. It was later changed to a Mosque and is now a shared Mosque and Museum.
In Bursa, first capital of the Ottoman Empire and the burial site of many Sultans,
we entered a Green Mosque built between 1412 and 1419 whose walls were covered with beautiful Iznik tiles.
Since the 6th century A.D., Bursa is an industrial center, known for textile, silk production, and more recently, car building (Fiat).
A visit to Cumalikizik village took us back in time as it is a traditional village with wooden houses and very narrow cobblestone streets,
fascinating gravestone markers
and interesting electrical work.
We enjoyed the morning tea as it was cool outside during the early morning hours and the morning we were there it was very early.
On the way to Ankara, capital of Turkey, we stopped at the tomb of King Midas (Mound of Midas) at Gordion, the Phrygian capital sometime between 750 and 300 B.C. This was a surprise for me as I had not known there was actually a King Midas in the annals of history. Phrygian burials together with grave offerings were in wooden chambers built in rectangular pits with the roofs being added after the body had been placed in the chamber. The wooden chambers were packed in the earth surrounded with rocks and great heaps of rubble earth and clay. We were able to enter the mound by an excavated passageway to view the actual wooden burial chamber. These mounds reminded me very much of the Viking burial Mounds which we visited near the University of Upsula in Sweden.
In contrast to the tombs of ancient kings, excavated ruins and the Hittite Museum, we visited the modern day capital of Turkey, Ankara, where we viewed the mausoleum of Ataturk,
As we drove through the countryside we saw many flocks of sheep always with a herder,
often right next to tall apartment buildings which dotted the horizon.
We visited a carpet weaving factory,
a ceramic and pottery making factory,
a whirling dervish ceremony, a folklore show in a cave setting. The underground cities of Cappadocia were both fascinating and mysterious.
We visited Goreme’s rock-carved churches,
mushroom shaped ‘fairy-chimney’s of the Pasabag Valley
the underground city of Kaymakli.
Before arriving at Konya, Turkey’s most religious city, we stopped at a Caravanserai which served as a safe, over-night rest haven for travelers, merchants and traders during the 13th and 14th centuries.
While in Konya we visited the Mevlana Museum, with its beautiful fluted turquoise dome, the mausoleum of the mystic sect of whirling dervishes,
and were interviewed by two young girls engaged in a school project.
Aspendos, which is considered to have the best preserved Roman Theatre anywhere in the world, was a disappointment as it was under restoration and blocked off to tourists.
Aspendos, at its peak had a population of 150 000 with the Theatre seating capacity at 15 000. Sections of ancient aqueducts from the 2nd century which would bring water from the mountains to the city are still standing.
Perge, old city from the Hellinistic and Roman Age, dates back to a time before Christ and after the 3rd century A.D. it became a very prosperous inland city and a city where the apostle Paul preached.
The ruins of Perge are extensive but only about 15% of the old city ruins have now been exposed.
Evidence of 3 types of decorative carvings ……….. the ionian,
and the corinthian
……………. can be found adorning the various pillars and columns. Chariot ruts can be seen on the street as one walks along the uneven stone slabs.
A Sunday afternoon boat ride on the Mediterranean Sea, was both refreshing and relaxing
after a week of visiting mosques, ruins, museums, etc., and much needed to prepare oneself for the week of many more ruins to come.
The ruins of the sacred city of Hierapolis
are famed for its thermal hot springs. Located next to the ruins there are the glistening white terraces of Pamukkale
where pools of warm, light blue water, cascade down a hillside from one basin to the next.
The ruins date back to the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.
Many Christian symbols have been found at these ruins
and it is in recorded history that the apostle Philip preached in this city.
The ruins of Aphrodisas were next …………. named after the Greek goddess of love. Very impressive at this site is the evidence of the three different sizes of gathering places which existed in each one of these old cities ……………. the odeon
which was used for gatherings and city council meetings would seat up to about 700; the amphitheatre which was used for musical concerts, gladiator performances, etc. would seat up to approximately 15 000; and the arena
where chariot races and athletic events were held would have a seating capacity of approximately 30 000.
Near to the coastal town of Kusadasi is found the ruins of Ephesus, one of the world’s finest archeological sites. On my previous visit three years ago, the Library of Celsus
was blocked off to visitors as it was being restored. On this trip, we were able to explore that area and appreciate the size of the pillars and splendor of the facade.
We then walked along the Arcadian Way alongside the agora where St. Paul the apostle would have preached to the Ephesians.
Before leaving the ruins, we sat in the Amphitheatre and listened to the imagined cheers from the crowds of imagined spectators as gladiators performed.
In Pergamon, we paid a quick visit to the tomb of St. John, the apostle who tended to Mary, mother of Jesus,
in the latter years of her life. St. John was the only apostle who was not martyred. More ruins on our agenda included a stop in Pergamon to visit the Asklepion, one of the most famous shrines and therapeutic centres in the ancient world. Patients at this centre would have included people suffering from stress, mental disorders and psychiatric problems.
The ruins of Troy were very interesting as restoration on this area has hardly begun. At Troy, we viewed the ruins of nine cities built one on top of each other. Earthquakes were the main reason for the ruination of these large cities. There also stands the enormous reconstruction of the famous wooden horse.
After crossing the Dardenelle Straits by ferry and visiting a commemorative World War I site and the Lone Pine Cemetery, we returned to another two full days of exploring the city where we began this wonderful adventure ……………… Istanbul.