Click on the links to get more information and pictures.
to Turkey, September 23 through October 10, 2014, was fantastic!
Was it safe? Because of certain items in the news, some friends and family thought it was
dangerous for us to go to Turkey. It was not. The troubles in Turkey are happening far away from where we
Turkey had far more to offer than I had expected. I knew Istanbul is a large city straddling Europe and Asia, that
Ankara is the capital of Turkey, that Ephesus contains excellent ruins, and vaguely that Antalya is on the
Turquoise Coast. I knew about Cappadocia because our daughter toured Turkey a few years ago. I also had
heard of the travertine pools at Pamukkale. But there was far more to experience in Turkey’s history,
culture, ancient and modern religion, and antiquities as we
joined our fellow travelers on the trip.
The group we were with was one of the big surprises. Previously we had been more or less indifferent to those who
were with us on trips. We figured we would know them for only a couple of weeks and only know them, really,
as dinner companions. But it was different in this case for a number of reasons.
First, we were only 29 persons. The group was very diversified (which is a plus for those of us who like to see the
world). Sixteen were non-native English speakers, although all the travelers were American citizens or living permanently
in the United States. Eight were of Chinese origin: two from Hong Kong, six from Taiwan. Two couples were from
India, one from the north and one from the south (which differ considerably). There was a Brazilian, a Lebanese, an
Italian, and a woman from Thailand. Also, there were two people originally from Canada and one from the United Kingdom.
In addition, people had some interesting traits. One was very loud (as she herself put it) but also a lot of fun.
Another was perhaps the sweetest person I’ve ever known; she always smiled and made people feel comfortable with
kind gestures. Another person was the most helpful person I’ve ever encountered. For example, after he overheard
me saying I really wanted a particular book, he went out of his way to look for it, and when he saw it he made a
point to tell me where I could find it.
Another factor is that thirteen of our companions were traveling as singles, three of them (somewhat unusually) men.
Probably single travelers tend to be more social.
Finally, two members had recently lost their spouses, and one of our number had to go home early. These events
brought out the strong empathy some have and heightened empathy in the rest of us; for by this time we were quite
a tight bunch, so much so that after the trip we organized an
online discussion group to keep in touch.
Turkey provided an unforgettable tourist experience. The street vendors were far less aggressive than those I
have seen in other places, and for the most part they weren’t eager to dicker, which I liked (but many don’t,
of course). The itinerary was well organized: the long bus rides were scenic and were arranged such that we
stopped for many of the included tours, so the day passed quickly. There were unexpected surprises. For
instance, at Izmir we visited an impressive and bountiful Sunday market. The food was absolutely beautiful,
and I think everybody bought some.
HISTORY AND ANTIQUITIES
Documented human presence in Turkey goes back more than 11,000 years, as we learned at the amazing
Museum of Anatolian Civilizations,
more commonly known as the Hittite Museum, in Ankara. The Empire of the
Hittites from 1750 to 1200 BC matched the Egyptians in power. At the ruins of the ancient capital
Hattusa, we walked through the foundations of the
Great Temple in
a large open-air cultural center and also saw the
The Hittites were very careful in their approach to the gods and goddesses. There
were about a hundred they acknowledged, and when they conquered a foe, just to
be safe, they adopted the other people’s deities as their own. We drove to an
the Hittites constructed (in the 2nd millennium BC) to look down into the valley and see the
foundations of dozens of smaller temples.
Less vast at the site but equally impressive was Yazılıkaya,
a sacred Hittite sanctuary with two chambers enclosed by natural rock formations with wonderful
and an astoundingly large angled flat surface carved on the rock. How did they do that in the 13th century BC,
before the Iron Age?
Another pile of rocks (to use my son-in-law’s pejorative term) was ancient
Troy. Many people don’t know that
the Trojan war was not just a legend. There were actually nine cities built on top
of one another at this site; the venue of the Iliad is at level VII. The site is
confusing but of course an unforgettable place to visit.
The Graeco-Roman antiquities in Turkey were to me the most interesting of our
experiences. For me, Pergamum
had the greatest impact. After the sudden death of Alexander the Great, the
lands he conquered were divided and ruled by four of his generals. Pergamum was
the capital of one of these empires, that of the
Attalid Dynasty. Take a look at these
Pergamum pictures, especially the
Great Altar of Zeus, which is now at the Pergamum Museum in Berlin. The city was
built on the top of a steep mountain, and one wonders how they got all the
building material up, with many huge stones weighing hundreds of tons. Nearby,
Galen, known as the father of
medicine, had his famous
Asklepeion (healing temple). Pergamum
had a library of 200,000 parchment volumes. In fact,
parchment was invented at Pergamum;
the word comes from the name of the city: (Pergamum pergaminus or pergamen parchment).
The biggest little thrill for me was the Roman theater at
Aspendos, the only one I have
seen (even in photographs) with a scaenae frons,
the building-like background which is absent in most surviving theaters. See this
set of images
of the theater. Almost as amazing was the impressive
at Aphrodisias, which
seated 30,000 spectators. In Perga, the Roman
were quite remarkable.
Ephesus is an extremely
well-preserved Roman city and a name well known to me and many others because
it was to its early Christians that Paul wrote one of his epistles. It was the
one place on our trip that was jammed with tourists, mainly from the several
cruise ships that visited that day. (Mostly, there were not that many tourists
where we went, and the weather was almost always fine.) Truly impressive at
Ephesus were the
Library of Celsius and the
Great Theater, where Paul debated the Pagans. The
tomb of St. John the Apostle
is also located in Ephesus.
The most incredible sight we encountered was
an underground city in
Cappadocia built right into the
tufa, malleable volcanic rock
that formed in the region about 2,000 years ago. There are a number of these villages,
one with fourteen stories underground. In addition, there are hundreds of other
tufa dwellings in the lands roundabout, which may at one time have housed as
many as 20,000 people. Nearby is the
Open Air Museum,
where eleven monastic churches
are cut into the side of the cliff. At that time (10th – 12th centuries),
monks living in the area based their religious practice on the fact that Jesus
had twelve disciples: a lead monk would have had twelve followers, and each of
these groups would carve their own church from the rock. The church
are very impressive. Some of the churches are very small, the size of a garage, but one,
is relatively spacious.
An unusual geological feature of the Cappadocia region is the strange rock formations
fancifully called fairy chimneys.
These striking cone-shaped formations come in a variety of lively
colors. They are abundant and are formed from the same geological material as
the underground city and churches.
Classical architecture abounds in Turkey. The first building most people will think of is
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, which was first a church,
then a mosque, then a museum. Nearby is the
Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque,
famed for its blue and white
which cover most of the walls and domes. Also in Istanbul is the fabulous
palace, a city-palace that served the Sultans between the 15th and 19th
centuries and is now one of the world’s richest and most extensive museums.
A TOUR OF TURKISH CITIES AND SITES
Izmir was the city I liked
best. Formerly called Smyrna, it lies on the Aegean coast. The Graeco-Roman
(marketplace) was just one of the many surprises we encountered in Turkey. It
not only had the “rocks” we encountered elsewhere, but also an extensive
underground level with large stone supportive arches. People lived in here in
prehistoric times, and the city was established by the third millennium BC.
Pamukkale is the home of the
pools. Ancient Romans came to nearby
Hierapolis to enjoy the hot
springs as part of a health resort. I hoped to do the same, but the pools were
crowded and a bit slippery, so I contented myself with pictures. I had to console
myself by lounging in the warm spring water at the hotel.
Antalya is a beautiful city on the Turquoise Coast of the Mediterranean. We stayed in a
built on the brink of a 150 foot cliff. The hotel has a 200 yard long “garden”
behind it. One night we walked along a path there and it looked like there was
no safety rail seaside. We never went back to check during the day. Anyway, you
have to take an elevator to get down to the beach, which is really a rocky
shore with very nice bathing facilities; there is no sand there.
Antalya boasts a splendid archaeological museum.
The chief attraction in Konya is
the mausoleum of the famous 13th century poet and mystic
Rumi. The tomb is housed in a
beautiful mosque within the
Mevlana museum. The
whirling dervishes order
of Sufi Muslims was founded in Konya by Rumi’s followers. Later in the trip we witnessed the
ceremony of their twirling meditation called
sama. It took place in a beautiful
The Cappadocia Region
On the way from Konya we stopped at a very old caravanserai. These were fortifications
for the protection of merchants traveling the
As seen above, Cappadocia is full of extraordinary geological and historical wonders. There
are other attractions as well. In
Avanos we visited a textile factory and watched carpets being hand woven. These were silk
carpets, and we had the opportunity to observe how silkworms are used as well
as to see the marvelous carpets. We were also able to visit
Chez Galip, a renowned pottery school and
the home of a hair museum,
surely one of the world’s oddest museums.
Though we didn’t go, our friends told us about their experience “Ballooning Over
Moonscape.“ This optional tour offered “a new perspective on the intriguing tufa landscapes” while providing “a
panoramic view of the strangely shaped pillars and cones,” the fairy chimneys.
Another noteworthy visit was to
Uchisat Kale, a fortress from which you can see for miles and miles. It too is a
tufa hill. Oh, by the way: we had dinner one night in a restaurant inside a
tufa hill. Elsewhere, I walked into a hotel “in tufa.”
Finally, before we left Cappadocia, we stopped by
Pashabag, which features conical formations capped with basalt that are still used as
storage units today. Plus, we saw a police station there neatly ensconced in a “fairy chimney.” No kidding.
Turkey's capital, long famous for Angora
goats, cats, and rabbits, is a fine modern city. It is also very old, founded
in 2000 BC. With beautiful
administrative buildings built by the Germans in the early 20th century, it has
a rich history, numerous archaeological sites and several museums.
mausoleum in Istanbul, Anıtkabir,
was well worth the visit.Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey, is revered by the Turks. He commanded the Turkish forces at
Gallipoli in 1915 and led the Turks against the Greeks and Armenians in the
Turkish War of Independence
(1920-1923). He served as the first President of the secular
Republic of Turkey until his death in 1938. In the Atatürk Museum there is a vast panorama of the important World War I
battle of Gallipoli,
which resulted in victory for the Turks and the beginning of Atatürk's rise to power. The battle itself
was between the Turks and British / ANZAC
and New Zealand Army Corps). The Turks consider both sides to have been very valiant. We visited the
memorial at the battlefield in the
Dardanelles. There is a good
movie about the Gallipoli engagement.
It was fascinating to see how modern Turks live. In Istanbul there is a huge
selling the many spices Turkey is known for. The cavernous indoors
which attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors a day, has marble drinking fountains and a
Turks are 98% Muslim. Due to the fact that Turkey has been a secular republic since 1923,
are very different from others in the Middle East and elsewhere. For example,
the majority of women do not cover their heads, but you do see a considerable
number of women in different sorts of the
customary Muslim garb.
In most ways, though, it is East Meets West in Turkey. In the areas we passed through,
most Turks looked like typical Europeans. The female fashion industry is as
large as any other in the world; this set of images will give you an idea of the
variety of women’s Muslim dress.
It was near Troy that we enjoyed a home-hosted lunch with a Turkish village family.
Neither the grandfather, the grandmother, the mother, or the three girls spoke
English, but we all enjoyed the simple meal very much.