Fruit juice and gözleme

The food writer, Diana Henry, writes “The path of the conquering forces of Islam, as they swept their way across to North Africa and up into Spain and Sicily, is marked in citrus groves.” But did the Arabs have oranges before the Turks came to the Mediterranean from the western plains of China? I wondered as I drank gallons of fresh pressed orange juice every day. I branched out into the sweet red pomegranate juice later, but the sour and sweet taste of the Turkish oranges remained my favourite. This is something I’ve enjoyed in every country which borders on the north of the Mediterranean. In Turkey I could find a little stall in every market corner of a village.

The other wonderful thing I discovered was the gözleme (pronounced goez-li-may). I first saw it being rolled when we walked along the Ihlara valley. In a little pavilion by the side of a restaurant which sprawled along the banks of the river, two ladies were hard at work rolling out these things which are like a paratha. The ladies were busy, and did not look like they would take kindly to interruption. Talking to others I figures that the dough is unleavened, just like paratha dough, and fillings can be as varied than typical parathas.

I ate gözleme fairly often later, but every time I ate them I remembered these two ladies rolling them out like a factory. I’ve had paratha adventures in Old Delhi’s streets, where potato, spinach, and meat are common, and chocolate parathas have been invented recently. Gözleme seems to have undergone a similar evolution.

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Mosaic sidewalks

Laying a mosaic is not cheap. If you wanted a mosaic made today then you would have to pay enormously for the time that it takes skilled artists to create one. The labour-intensive art of mosaics would have taken the work of many slaves in Roman times. So it is a bit of a shock to find a long stretch of sidewalk on the street of Curetes in Ephesus which is covered in mosaics.

The road was open to chariots until the 4th century CE. So, if this is indeed a sidewalk, then the mosaics date from before that. They are not as elaborate as ones found in patrician houses. There are simple repeating motifs of flowers and leaves with scroll work around it. The sheer size of it is stunning, and it does speak of great wealth in terms of skilled man-hours. Even without the evidence of the buildings in this area, the sidewalk is a good reason to believe that this part of the city was where rich families lived. Was this the work of one public spirited family, or commissioned by the Boule, the governing council? I couldn’t find an answer.

Lower Ephesus

The geography of Ephesus is a means of separating the upper classes from the rest. Simply walk up the hill to find where the upper classes lived. Much of the reconstruction of Ephesus is concentrated here. The lower levels have not been explored much. I walked through the Tetragonos Agora (featured photo, looking at the southern hills). It originated from the 3rd century BCE, was made into its present shape during the reign of Augustus (early 1st century CE), new elements were added over centuries until an earthquake in the 4th century CE brought down everything. The subsequent rebuilding brought in elements from different parts of the city.

Above the eastern end is the Marble Way. I walked into galleries under it and saw beautiful excavated pieces stored there (one example above). I guess these galleries are now being used by archaeologists as temporary storage while the tremendous jigsaw puzzle of Ephesus is reassembled. Nero had founded a court in this spot in the middle of the 1st century CE. I wondered whether the rooms date from that time.

The lower part of Ephesus, as we see it today, is shaped by two streets. The Arcadian Way (photo above) runs from the Great Theater westwards to the port. The road is named after the 5th century Byzantine emperor Arkadios during whose reign it was given its present shape. The other is the Marble Way which runs above the Agora to the east, between the Celsus library and the Great Theater. Nero’s court of justice stood here before the earthquake, so the road probably dates from after the 4th century.

The Great Theater is one of the few structures being reconstructed in the lower part of Ephesus. It was first constructed at about the same time as the Tetragonos Agora, ie, in the 3rd century CE. It was rebuilt many times until it was the second largest theater in the Roman empire. The stage would have been backed by a two-storey structure called the Skene, which has not yet been reconstructed. One of the remarkable things that you can see in the photo is two women in bell bottomed pants. When did they become fashionable again?

On my way back I took the Marble Way above the Agora. The Family had noticed interesting graffiti along this road, which we wanted to photograph. Now we noticed that the stone has been worn away in places by wheels of chariots. The road that we, and other tourists, took was used in the Byzantine era by wheeled traffic. On one side of the road we noticed a colonnaded sidewalk for the use of ancient walkers. This part has not been restored.

There is a low wall on the side of the road which overlooks the Agora. Part of the wall just consists of old pieces of sculptured stone piled up. We looked at the pieces. Some of them look like they served as the capitals of pillars. Could they be the remnants of Nero’s court? Or were they found in many places, and merely been piled here while people search for the part of the jigsaw into which they will fit?

A ghost of a gate

Old buildings and ruins are full of ghosts of people, and the shadows they leave behind. They are too insubstantial to be seen without the help of specialists: archaeologists and historians. The ghost of the Hercules Gate of Ephesus was one such. All that we see of Ephesus today is a ghost story, painstakingly put together by archaeologists over the most recent century and a half. The beginnings of this reconstruction are themselves history.

As we walked up the street of the Curetes we came across these pillars which narrowed its width by half. The fellow carved on the pillars, wearing the skin of a lion, is Hercules with the skin of the Nemean lion, which he killed as the first of his twelve labours. The carving has been identified as being from the second sentury CE. It is thought that the columns were brought here in the 4th century CE, when wheeled traffic was forbidden on this street. It looks slightly nicer than the steel bollards which serve this function on streets today.

Heraclitus of Ephesus believed that everything flows (panta rhei). It is specially true of the stones that make up cities. The pillars of the Hercules Gate were found not too far from where they now stand. But some believe that there was a pediment above it. The relief of Nike which stands a little uphill from the pillars is sometimes said to form the possible completion of the gate. This seems to be a very popular background for posts on WeChat. We admired it from some distance, before finding a little window of opportunity to dash in and photograph it between changes of groups of tourists who wanted it as a background for their selfies and each-otheries.

On the streets of Kusadasi

After a big iftari dinner in Kusadasi we decided to take a walk through the streets. Most shops had closed; their staff were off for their own iftari dinners. If it wasn’t for that, I would never have noticed this vibrant piece of art on the rolling shutter of a shop. My feelings about Kusadasi could not remain the same after this.

Kusadasi is a big town, but it is on the tourist circuit because cruise ships which come through the Greek archipelago stop here. In our three nights in Kusadasi we saw two such ships come in and leave. There is a wonderful promenade on the sea along Atatürk Bulvari, reminiscent of seaside walks on the Cote d’Azur. Behind it is a warren of streets with cheap shopping. Later, while chatting with the concierge at our hotel I would discover that British, Chinese, Russians and Indians are deemed to be the most frequent visitors. That is a mixture you wouldn’t find in most tourist destinations.

After that wonderfully wacky shutter decoration I wasn’t surprised by other business establishments. This one was shut, but the door was clearly made up to look like a cave. Roma hamami! Was this one of the Turkish hamams? There were several more hamams along the road, so it would well be one.

Further on I was reassured to find the usual internationally recognizable street art. It had an innocuous message in English. Either the youth here is not disaffected, or they get very pleasant tourists with time on their hands.

Off in a side street we came across a travel agency which advertised itself with these folksy paintings on its wall. One of them showed an embroidered head dress. Could it be traditional? It showed too much hair for a traditional Islamic woman’s headgear. But then, the Ottoman empire included Greek, Bulgarian, Albanian, Egyptian, Arab, and Irani people. The traditional Ottoman headgear could have come from anywhere in the Balkans, central Asia, or the middle east.

No conversation in Turkey is complete without çay. I saw a taxi business open late at night, with two on-call drivers whiling away their time in conversation, with cups of çay. They smiled and waved as I took their photo. Kusadasi is a base from which one can explore the major Aegean ports of antiquity: Ephesus, Priene, Miletus. We had hired a car for this leg of our trip, but if we hadn’t, then tour buses and taxis were not hard to get.

Curetes Street

The Family and I walked up the street of the Curetes in Ephesus together, looking at the same things. I read my guide book at times, and read out interesting pieces to her. She listened to the audio guide and paraphrased parts for me. But our photos are often different. All of the Ephesus that we see today is reconstructed painstakingly by several generations of archaeologists. The discipline has changed during this time: from imperial plunder to careful reconstruction. This shows in the difference between the reconstruction of various buildings along the way. The Bouleuterion was plundered for foreign museums and has not been reconstructed, but the Temple of Hadrian has been reconstructed using modern methods. The partial renovation of a fountain on the road shows the nature of the slow solution of a jigsaw puzzle, as pieces are dug up at different times.

The colonnaded streets of Ephesus were remarkable. A degree of planning and enforcement must have gone into maintaining a straight road with buildings set back from it at a fixed distance from the edge. The construction of the Hercules Gate, which broke the original plan, also shows evidence that these plans could be revised. The buildings along the road were public structures erected by rich families. So it is quite possible that the Boule, the council of these families, was engaged in civic planning and enforcement. However, situating the public latrines adjacent to the Scholastica bath shows that ordinary people could not be excluded from the process of planning.

While we were taking some of these photos, I overheard a guide telling a group about the dynamics of the Roman empire. I tailed the group to get the whole, very interesting, argument. According to the guide, the economy of the Roman empire was based on slave labour, and, since slaves could be freed and become citizens, this drove the need to expand the empire to obtain more slaves. After Hadrian’s rule in the 1st century CE, slaves began to be granted more rights. This last incarnation of Ephesus would have been a city with many citizens, and even more slaves. As we walked among the throngs of ordinary tourists in the afternoon and saw preparations for a special iftari dinner in the square in front of the Celsus library, I was struck by the fact that the distinction between the 0.1% and the hoi polloi has persisted over millennia.

Scholastic socialization

We took a little zag off Curetes street in the ruined city of Ephesus and suddenly we were in a little maze of paths which were part of a public bath from the 4th century CE. Right next to the entrance, in a niche by itself is the headless statue (featured photo) of the person who’s said to have refurbished this old 1st century CE building into a bath: a lady called Scholastica. We wandered through the changing room (the apodyterium), the unheated room (frigidarium), the warm room (tepidarium), glanced at the pool and the hot room (caldarium).

The Family and I suddenly realized that this was a Turkish Hamam from a time before there was Turkey. The chattering classes of Ephesus would arrive, along with their attendants, and proceed to be massaged and bathed as they socialized. Must have been quite a nice investment for Scholastica. This structure was discovered in a dig in 1926. I found a little hole in the floor through which one could see part of the earthen pipes through which steam circulated. Did men and women bathe together? A long article that I found presents evidence for and against. It is interesting to read this article along with one on sexual relations during the Roman empire.

Dondurma: Turkish ice cream

The Family said “This is very different, you must try this.” She held out her cone to me and I took a bite of her double scoop of dondurma. It was very different from ice creams that I’ve had in the past. What was it? I took another bite and the expression on The Family’s face began to change. I quickly handed her cone back and thought about the difference. Nice smooth texture, but very chewy. I liked it. While looking at the recipes later, I found that this was due to two ingredients which are added into the cream and sugar: mastic and salep. I’d known about the vegetable resin called mastic, since it is used widely (although not often). But salep was new to me; it is a flour made from the tubers of certain orchids, and spread with the Ottoman empire.

In touristy parts of Turkey it is common to come across shops and carts of dondurma attended by people in colourful fez and waistcoat who keep up a lively patter as they serve Dondurma. You’ll find vendors stirring the vats of dondurma frequently to present it from setting into a solid. The texture of the ice cream allows them to play little tricks on customers. You’re usually handed an empty cone into which the server deposits a scoop using the long handled ladle you see in the photo above. The stickiness of the ice cream then allows him to snatch the cone and the scoop out of you hand, even hold it upside down. All this is done while keeping up a lively patter. If I’d finished off The Family’s cone, one of us would have had to go through this all over again.

I may not be an ice cream addict, but that never stops me from opening the cold box in a shop and admiring the sticks and cones on display. I’ve discovered interesting flavours in some countries by doing this. Turkey’s affair with dondurma does not seem to extend to commercial packaged ice cream. There was blackberry and melon, but mostly chocolate. I was more excited by the variant of Turkish ice cream called the maraş dondurma which I ate in a restaurant. It has much more salep than usual, making it resistant to either melting or cutting by spoon. I had to wield a knife to eat it!

Thalassa! Thalassa! The snotgreen sea.

Kusadasi could have made me cry out like Buck Mulligan of Dublin in James Joyce’s great novel about an evening of drunkenness. I live in a city by the ocean, and I’d been away from towns for four days. The sea front of Kusadasi had the look of laid back small towns along the Cote d’Azur, at the other end of the Mediterranean. The day had been hot, but here a lively breeze whipped up waves. I walked along the strand, on the seaward side of Atatürk Bulvari, enchanted by the light on the sea-facing buildings.

Kusadasi is a port of call for many cruises in the Aegean, and the Aegean itself is one of the most widely traveled seas in human history. On World Oceans Day (June 8) it is interesting to think about the ecology of the Mediterranean. There are only about 17,000 different marine species in this sea. That is about 1% of all marine species. And it seems that many of them are endangered. The 1988 Convention on Biological Diversity was followed by a setting of targets; one aims to protect about 10% of all seas and oceans. Until now about 7% of the Mediterranean is protected (but see this contrary article).

Driving into Kusadasi earlier, we had passed a wild stretch of land on a cliff high above the sea. This part of the world is beautiful in the middle of spring. The air is cool, wild flowers cover the ground. The setting sun painted everything in shades of gold. We stopped to take photos of the green land and blue sea. A postcard put out by the UN for World Oceans Day reminds us that 70% of the earth’s area is covered by oceans and seas, and that 70% of the oxygen comes from there. All the oxygen in the air is due to plants, created by photosynthesis, as they soak up carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen. It seems surprising that the oceans contain proportionally as many plants as the land. We do not see a green ocean, after all. But these numbers are not lies. Contrary to the evidence of our eyes, the sea is green. Maybe even snotgreen.

The library of Celsus

The Family took the high road and I took the low road, quite literally, to the library of Celsus, the centerpiece of the reconstruction of Ephesus. As a result, I walked through an ancient gateway and was surprised by crowds before I realized that I was in front of the library. The Family had a good view of the reconstructed facade before coming down to the square in front of the library. It was the first of Ramazan, and tables were being laid out, possibly for an Iftar dinner for the big brass of Selçuk, We joined the crowd of visitors gaping at the facade which had been reconstructed during the 1970s. Bits and pieces of it had been excavated over the years and taken to museums in Vienna and Istanbul, so the reconstruction had to use the remaining pieces and fill in the rest with reproductions. The result looks glorious, as you can see in the featured photo.

There was a single large room behind the facade, with a semicircular niche in the far wall. Below this is the burial chamber of Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaenus, the Proconsul of Ephesus in 92 CE, the first Greek to hold such a post. The library was built by his son in his memory over the crypt. From the room you can see that the building material included bricks, rubble, dressed stone as well as marble. I was using an audio-guide which told me that there are two interesting things about this structure. The first was that in Roman times people were not generally allowed to be buried in the city, so the existence of the crypt was a mark of singular honour. The second was that this was the third largest library in the empire, after Alexandria and Pergamon. I was struck by the fact that such a large room, and its upper floor, together held only thirty shelves, each of which could hold only 400 scrolls. In the times before printing, the number of books was remarkably small.


The facade is elaborate, with beautiful double rows of marble columns framing three entrances. Between then in four niches stand the (reproductions) of four statues: Sophia Celsus (representing wisdom and learning, whose name gives rise to the word philosophy), Arete Celsus (representing the fulfilment of learning), and headless statues of Ennoia Phillipi (who represents thinking and understanding), and Episteme Celsus (representing provable knowledge). These are categories of knowledge which had been discussed and debated by many philosophers by the 2nd century CE when the library was built.

From the evidence of the decorations in the portico of this building it seems that the family of Polemaenus was superlatively rich. There are complete epigraphs on the facade which have been studied quite extensively. A little search brought me to extensive modern historical literature on the career of Celsus. He was born in Sardis, into a rich family, studied law, did military service in Alexandria in the legion commanded by Vespasian (who soon became emperor). Then in quick succession Celsus became a senator, a judge (Praetor) in Rome, an imperial Legate in Cappadocia, Bythina and Cilicia, then a Consul, a Curator (responsible for the finance and organization of imperial building projects in Rome), and finally Proconsul of Asia.

The library burnt down in 262 CE. In the intervening years Ephesus, the capital of Roman Asia, was a bustling cosmopolitan port city. There is evidence of early Christians living here (including the apostles Paul and John), an Egyptian quarter with temples of the ancient Egyptian gods, and, from the evidence of a menorah carved into the steps of the library, clearly also an orthodox Jewish population. The Mediterranean was a diverse place two thousand years ago.