Country number: 73
Territory number: 79
When? August 2004
How? Minibus, plane, gulet
Who? Group Tour
‘We have on our hands a sick man—a very sick man’
Nicholas I, of Russia
In Ankara the must see is the Mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the inspirational reforming leader who was actually born in Greece. This colonnaded monument sits high above the city fiercely guarded by goose-stepping soldiers.
En route to Cappadocia there’s the Hacibektas Museum a fascinating glimpse into the Dervish sect with accompanying museum recreating thirteenth century life and another much visited mausoleum – this time it’s the Sufi saint Haji Bektash Veli. I’ve been really looking forward to Cappadocia and it doesn’t disappoint. Urgup is our base for exploring the astonishing lunar landscapes (complete with fairy chimneys) and troglodyte cave-city. This area has a history that stretches back to before the Hittites (2000 BC). Over two days we trek (its hot work) through the Kaymakli Underground City (tunnels containing stables, a church and storage places), the World Heritage-listed Goreme Open Air Museum, (Cappadocia’s main attraction, a monastic complex composed of rock cut churches, monastic buildings and wall paintings),the unique Pasabaglari Valley, (multiple fairy chimneys) and the remarkable Red and Rose (and yellow) Valleys (the highlight of an extraordinary conglomeration of strange and improbable shapes).
Next, more about Sufis, Rumi and whirling dervishes (I wish I could get to see one in action) in Konya, Turkey’s holiest city and the home of the Mevlana sect and the Mevlana Museum. South to Aspendos, a Greco-Roman city of Aspendos, known for housing the best-preserved ancient theatre (7,000 spectators they claim) via an overnight at the beautiful lakeside town of Egirdir. (This is where they grow all those Turkish roses).
Skirting the bright lights of Antalya it’s Lycian Olympos next, huge contrast with its picture-postcard setting and fragmentary remains (including a theatre of course) before we reach Kas. This port still manages to remain relatively unspoilt and not hugely different from the first time I visited in the 80s when, to my surprise, a very honest shopkeeper ran down the road after me because I had overpaid. There are a lot of confusing noughts on the lira notes. Kas is truly picturesque, with balconied old Greek houses, cobbled streets and lively pavement cafes. There is evidence of the ancient Lycians all along this coast and there are tombs scattered around the town.
Here, we embark on a gulet cruise hugging the coast to Fethiye (another charming port with a lively market square) past the blue lagoon at Olu Deniz and through the reeds of the narrow Koycegiz River at Dalyan to see more striking Lycian tombs cut into the cliff face around Caunos. There’s even a submerged village to snorkel around, en route, at Kekova, though I’m not sure you’re still allowed to do that. They’re applying for UNESCO listing.
Life on board at (very) close proximity to the group members is interesting relationship wise. You definitely find out who you get on with. On the whole, this is a jolly group and we’ve had some riotous evenings on the Turkish vino. I’ve been bunking with Sharon and Tina and we are entertained by several single men, one of whom is an important financial adviser to the New Zealand government. His name, fittingly, is Chris Money. To pass the time on deck the group have been setting me challenges. So far I’ve done the Seven Deadly Sins, with photographic evidence, (gluttony and sloth are nicely combined by lazing on the deck demanding to be fed grapes) and the Seven Dwarves. Now we’re moving on to the Big Brother nominations. The Most Useful Trousers award is hotly contested.
Pamukkale is another highlight. This area known, as the ‘Cotton Castle,’ takes its name from the travertines, white calcareous deposits made by cascading mineral springs. Over hundreds of years, a unique myriad of pools, terraces, ‘frozen waterfalls’, and crystal clear turquoise pools (Don’t Touch – Hot signs) was formed. They are truly stunning. There’s also the ancient spa of Hierapolis with a temple, holy area, monumental fountain, bath, basilica, necropolis and theatre (!). The only downside is that the whole area is overrun with tourists, many of them cruise ship Russians who are indifferent to local sensibilities (this is a sacred site) and in the main are attired in bikinis and budgie smugglers.
Aphrodisias, another Greco-Roman site has a temple to Aphrodite (hence the name), a huge athletics stadium, some fine sculptures (mainly in the museum) – and a theatre. As you might have gathered, I’m getting theatred out. But Ephesus and the famous Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, has the granddaddy of them all. Much here has been well preserved in the dry climate and the most photogenic building is not the famous temple, but the wonderfully restored façade of the Library of Celsus.
The roads are fair and the olive groves pretty (if unrelenting). North to Pergamum, more Greco-Roman remains and the place that gave its name to the word ‘parchment’. The Turks invented parchment—paper made out of calfskin—when the Egyptians stopped exporting papyrus to Pergamum, because they were afraid that Pergamum’s library would become larger than the library at Alexandria, the world’s largest at the time. Then, the ancient site of Troy, renowned for the ten year Trojan War immortalised by Homer. Here, nine ruined cities, one on top of the other, have been uncovered, going back some 5,000 years. There’s also a huge wooden horse (I’m fairly sure it’s not the original).
We visit the Gallipoli Peninsula and view the heart-breaking memorials to the dead of 1916, when, the ill-fated Allied campaign, utilizing the ANZAC troops, was forced to concede victory to the Turks and withdraw. We then cross the famous Dardanelles by ferry, before following the shoreline of the Sea of Marmara to Istanbul, (previously incarnated as Byzantium and then Constantinople), yet another memorable highlight. It is the world’s only city spanning two continents. Non negotiables are the iconic Blue Mosque, the opulent Topkapi Palace (during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, there were 1,000 women living in 250 rooms of the harem here), the historic Sultanahmet area and views of the boats and bridges of the Bosphorus. Leonardo da Vinci submitted plans to build a bridge across the Straits in 1503, but the Galata Bridge wasn’t actually constructed until 2001. We also wander into the impressive sixth century (floodlit) Sunken Palace cisterns and the Hagia Sofia, (a mosque for a time, now a museum but for 900 years the greatest church in Christendom). As you would expect, this is a vibrant and multi-faceted city, but my favourite stop (more than once) is the Grand Bazaar, with its tempting glass lamps and pyramids of bright ceramic balls. It’s said to be the world’s largest outdoor market, with 64 streets, 4,000 shops, and 25,000 workers.
With its cafe culture, Istanbul is also a great place for a final sample of mezze and kebabs and the salty yoghurt drink called ayran, The Turks boast that their cooking is second only to French. It is very good, but I don’t think I will be squaring up to aubergines for a while after I get home.
The name of Turkey is thought to come from Turchia, the word Italian observers used to refer to Anatolia.
While nearly all of the Turkish population is Muslim, Turkey is not officially a Muslim country. Nevertheless, Turkey has 82,693 mosques, more than any other country per capita in the world.
The stones found at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey mark it as the world’s first temple and one of the most important archaeological sites ever discovered. Carbon dating shows they may be as much as 13,000 years old.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is the father of the modern Turkish nation. When he rose to power in 1921, he lifted the ban on alcohol, adopted the Gregorian calendar instead of the Islamic, made Sunday a day of rest instead of Friday, changed the Turkish alphabet from Arabic letters to Roman, and mandated that the call to prayer be in Turkish rather than Arabic. He even banned the iconic red Turkish fez hat.
Most Turks did not have surnames until a law was passed requiring it in 1934.
Turkey is the birthplace of such historical figures as Aesop; Homer; St. Paul; King Midas; Galen, noted physician, surgeon, medical researcher, and philosopher in the Roman Empire; and Herodotus, the father of history. Santa Claus, also known as St. Nicholas, was born in Patara, Turkey, in the 3rd century A.D.
Turkish Delight, or lokum, is one of the oldest sweets in world history, dating back 500 years.
To see more of my photos of Turkey, visit this page.