Monday, October 16, 2000

TR Istanbul Part 2

10/11 –10/19/00

Now where did we leave off in report #1? Oh yes! We were getting ready to depart for the Aegean Coast. Why the Aegean Coast? To answer this question I need to backtrack a few days. Since we had no set plans and not much knowledge of Turkey I simply gathered as many tourist brochures as I could find from local travel agencies and reviewed the canned tour packages. These not only told me what the most popular destinations were but what attractions or sites they offered. Most of the tourist destinations seemed to be located on the Aegean and Mediterranean Coasts with the more important historical and biblical sites being on the Aegean. Our choices were to take a canned package or do our own thing. After experiencing the traffic, driving and communication problems in Istanbul I was concerned that they might even be worse in the rural areas, so I opted for a tour. However it was off-peak for tourists and most tours were only one or two days so I put together a proposal for a three-day custom tour and asked three agencies to provide quotes. They ranged from expensive to exorbitant in price; hence my visa charge for 1,000,000,000+ TL mentioned in the previous report. By the way my visa bill arrived and I am happy to report that you can go ahead and spend that $50,000,00 y’all had set aside for me –you did set it aside –right? But I will admit it is a nice way to travel!

The agency arranged everything- booked our air travel to Izmir and reserved the hotels including one at the airport in Istanbul for an overnight stay before leaving for Switzerland. A tour guide met us at the airport in Izmir with a car and driver and they baby-sat, er, I mean escorted us around for three days. Our first stop after arriving in Homer’s birthplace (Izmir) was the ancient ruins of Ephesus. But on the one-hour drive to Ephesus our real education of Turkey began. I had some idea beforehand of the many ancient Greek and Roman ruins – but I had no knowledge (or had forgotten) how much biblical history there is in Turkey. Since I will talk about both throughout the report I need to provide a bit of a prelude on the Biblical history.

The land of ancient Asia Minor or Anatolia is today’s Turkey. The biblical history starts in the Old Testament (Genesis 2:14) with the Tigris and Euphrates, two of the four rivers that flow through the Garden of Eden. These rivers rise from the mountains of Eastern Anatolia. Mount Ararat (Agri Dagi –16,800 feet) is in Anatolia. It is believed that Ararat is the place where Noah’s Ark landed and his son Japheth and his descendents populated Anatolia. And the biblical history terminates at the end of the New Testament (Revelation 16:12:15) again with the Euphrates where it dries up to allow the crossing of the forces of the nether world before the final battle at Armageddon. The Seven Churches of the Apocalypse are all situated in Anatolia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum,Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Did you know all that? No? Then read on to begin your history and bible lessons!

On the way to Ephesus I noticed that the geography and topography of the region were similar to California. The coastal highway reminded me of Hwy #1 from LA to San Francisco- beautiful ocean scenery on one side and scrub mountains on the other. When you pass over the mountains there is a very fertile valley where the majority of Turkey’s fruits and vegetables are grown. Our guide stopped at a few roadside stands to buy us some samples of the local produce. We followed the rule ‘If you can peel it, it is safe to eat’ and had no problems.

And finally we were in Ephesus. There have been four cities built on the same site/area dating back to 3,000 BC. We were visiting the ruins of the second city built and inhabited by the Greeks and Romans from 300BC through 800AD.
At its peak it had a population of 250,000. The city had been built on the confluence of the Aegean Sea and a river for easy transportation. But the ruins are now located about 3 miles from the Coast because of the silting of the river over the past 2,000 years. Only about 10% of the ruins have been excavated to date. A few buildings such as the Library of Celcius – the fourth largest library in the world at that time- have been partially restored and are quite impressive. Across the street from the library was a brothel. It had it’s own indoor hot pools and bathrooms (with running water no less). But the most ingenious feature was a secret tunnel that ran under the street to the library. When an angry wife came banging on the door of the brothel demanding that her husband come home she was informed “her husband was at the library”. Meanwhile hubby would beat a hasty retreat through the tunnel and magically appear coming out of the library with the book of the day. Things haven’t changed much in 2,000 years have they?
The city also contained the Great Theatre, an amphitheatre with a seating capacity of 24,000 – the largest in Anatolia. There were several temples and statues dedicated to the Gods including one to the Goddess Nike. And stupid me didn’t even know that they had running shoes back then?

Just down the road from the ruins at Ephesus were the ruins of the Temple of Artemis (Goddess of Fertility), one of the ‘Seven wonders of the Ancient World’. All that is left is one column – the rest were taken to Istanbul to be used in the remodeling of St Sophia and other mosques. Remember that information from the first report? No? You forgot? Can you remember what the other Six Wonders of the Ancient World were? OK, they are: the Pyramids of Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Colossus of Rhodes and the Pharos of Alexandria.

After a nice Turkish lunch we continued on to ‘Meryemana’ or the ‘House of the Virgin Mary’. At the crucifixion Jesus assigned the care of his mother to the Apostle John (Jn 19:26-27). John brought her to Anatolia and he and his disciples built her a house on the top of Mt Solimus very close to Ephesus where they could protect her. She lived the rest of her life there. The house has been restored and converted to a small chapel and shrine.

Next our guide took us to a museum located in the current city of Ephesus. Up until 1923 most of the antiquities found in Turkey were taken to other countries. But when Mustafa Kemal (‘Ataturk’ –the father of the Turks) took control of the country in 1923 he ruled that no more antiquities could leave the country. And he did a smart thing by building museums in each local community so that the treasures and antiquities found in that region could be displayed for the locals to see as well as tourists.
In Ephesus we also saw the ruins of churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the Apostle John as well as the prison where the Apostle Paul was held for starting a riot.
Our final stop in Ephesus was a government co-op where they trained women-young girls actually- to weave carpets. They were one of the government controls and distribution centers for Turkish carpets and their prices were about 1/3rd those in Istanbul. So yes! We broke down and bought a carpet made in the Bergama region. That region is noted for it’s earth tone colors because they use tobacco plants for their dyes.

Our guide then took us to our 5-star hotel in Izmir and made sure we were given a room overlooking the main square and the harbor on the Aegean Sea. Izmir was founded by Alexander the Great and is Turkey’s 3rd largest city (3,000,000). The city had just refurbished the harbor area and there were lots of new restaurants and shops and most importantly a new park along the harbor with a dirt running trail about 1 ½ miles long. I had to run up and down this trail several times each morning to get my training runs in –I didn’t dare use the roads since very few have sidewalks!

The following morning our guide collected us and headed north to Bergama. We passed through Smyrna (another Church of Revelation) on our way to the ancient Roman city of Pergamum. Pergamum was the Roman capital of the Aegean region even though it was smaller than Ephesus. It was built on the top of a mountain for defensive purposes. Initially the Romans were able to supply the city with water from wells and catch basins that they built into the side of the mountain. But as the city grew they had a water problem. How did they solve it? Good question. The emperor declared a contest and the winner who could provide the best solution would marry his daughter. The solution was to build an aqueduct to another mountain range 35 miles to the west that had snow and much more rain. Since that range was 2,000 feet higher, gravity and water pressure would force the water to the top of the city. However there was a major problem. The water pressure on the route up the mountain was too high for the clay pipes to handle. So they wrapped the clay pipes in a lead sheath and encased those pipes in solid rock. Examples of those pipes still remain at the ruins. I was intrigued by how an engineer had solved the puzzle 2,000 years ago. And did he marry the emperor’s daughter? The story goes that he got so excited when the system worked that he fell off the defense walls and was killed! I guess they had nerds in those days too?

Pergamum had the usual temples, baths and amphitheatre and the second largest library in the world (200,000 books). Only the library in Alexandria was larger and when it burned down the Romans sent books from Pergamum to replace some of those destroyed. The most interesting attraction in Pergamum was the Aesculapium or ancient medical center built in the name of Aesculapis, the ‘God of Medicine’. The Romans used herbs, venom from snakes and insects, and thermal water and muds for treatments. They also used psychology in their healing: the medical center had it’s own theatre to offer comedy and music, the library only contained books of comedy and poetry –no drama. The wards even had acoustic pipes or channels built into them so that the doctors could whisper to the patients while they slept to reinforce that they were getting better. We also saw examples of medical and surgery instruments that were used at the Aesculapium. Once again it doesn’t appear that much has changed in 2,000 years. I think that Jason could have spent $5 for admission to Pergamum and learned as much as he has at med school – and saved $100K!

From Pergamum we toured the city of Bergama with stops at the Church of St John’s (another Church of Revelation) and the local museum to view many of the artifacts excavated at Pergamum. Then it was back to Izmir and another good dinner overlooking the harbor. I ordered a pepper steak assuming that it would have the normal peppercorn sauce. Wrong! The sauce was made from local Turkish peppers and was the hottest/spiciest thing I have ever tasted. So I had the waiter run a hose to the beer tap and I managed to keep the flames doused while I enjoyed every bite! The meals were a bit cheaper in Izmir – 22,000,000 TL ($33 US) for two with wine and lots of beer.

On our third and final day in the Aegean region we headed inland about 150 miles to Pamukkale. Our driver knew the back roads and took us through many small villages and towns so that we got a good look at how the country folk really live. I was somewhat surprised to discover that everyone had tractors and modern farm equipment. There were a few donkey and horse carts but they were the exception. While driving through one village we passed a funeral procession where the men were carrying the deceased wrapped only in a blanket and laid out on a wooden cot that they carried on their shoulders as they paraded solemnly through town.
Finally after a very long drive we arrived at Pamukkale or the Cotton Castle, a beautiful and spectacular natural site, unique in the world! The waters of thermal springs laden with calcium carbonate have over the past 14,000 years, formed a dazzling white petrified cascade of stalactites called Travertines ( Pamukkale in Turkish) flowing over the edge of the Salpak Mountains into a series of basins and pools.

The Romans believing in the healing powers of thermal water built a city named Hierapolis on the site in the 2nd century BC. They had several bathhouses and pools spread around the city and built an aqueduct or pipe system to channel the thermal waters to the various sections of the city. They also directed the outflow to various sections of the mountain resulting in the Travertines being spread over about two miles of the mountain. This aqueduct system is still being used today to direct the flow of the thermal waters. Hierapolis also contains a Necropole that is one of the largest ancient cemeteries in Anatolia. The Martyrium of the Apostle Philip is in Hierapolis where he taught until his death and was martyred in 80 AD.

Now it was time for our babysitters to return us to the airport in Izmir for our return flight to Istanbul. After a pleasant dinner and a good night’s rest we were ready to leave on our next adventure to Switzerland. But that is another story.

In summary Turkey was interesting but a land of many surprises. It is not as poor and undeveloped as I expected. It certainly is not as cheap to visit as I expected. And there is a lot more history to learn and enjoy than expected. I would go back but then there are lots of other places that I want to see first.

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