The unfashionable end of town

Far off towards the receding sea, a set of warehouses in Ephesus was converted to a church, probably in the 2nd century CE. That’s what archaeologists seem to believe lies below the ruins of what could be one of Christianity’s most important churches. The very long nave that one sees today was later called St. Mary’s church. If this was unfashionable in the 2nd century, it apparently remains so in the 21st. The Family and I met only a young Japanese trio examining these ruins. Signboards had pointed us along a path which brought us to the very impressive apse of the church.

Sighting down the nave I saw a baptismal font, and a door a long way off. The original church was probably rebuilt for the Third Ecumenical Council, called in 431 CE by the Byzantine emperor, to settle a fine doctrinal point. My audio guide told me that opinion came down in favour of the view that Jesus was simultaneously man and god (but this simplification could possibly have gotten me killed 1500 years ago). As a result, Mary would be called the mother of god, Theotokos in Greek. This also laid the seed of the doctrinal dispute with Islam which, when it rose about two centuries later, recognized Jesus only as a prophet. Long before that, the church was rebuilt into a grand basilica 260 meters long, and probably renamed after Mary. Over the years one part or the other of the grand church would collapse, and worship would shift to an intact part.

I walked down the long nave and past the standing doorway, and the columns which would have been just outside the old basilica. The grand looking apse which I’d entered looked really far away. There was another council held in Ephesus later to decide upon even more subtle questions arising out of such reasoning, but its conclusions were negated by later church doctrine, and led to centuries of schisms and strife. I wasn’t about to delve further into these abstruse questions. I marveled at the extremely thick brick walls and wondered how high a roof must have been held up by walls of such thickness. I couldn’t find an estimate.

There were other ruins around the church which were covered with grass and weeds. Now, in the middle of spring poppies had sprung up everywhere: pink poppies. I don’t remember having seen this colour of poppies before. The eastern Mediterranean is the original home of poppies, so it is possible that there is more variety here than anywhere else in the world. I wondered whether differences in the colours of petals are due to pigments or some other genetic changes, or due to the soil the plant grows in. I found later that poppy petals contain higher concentration of pigments than most other flowers, and that microscopic structures on the petals strongly influence the colours that we see. But whether these effects are controlled by genes or the environment is something I haven’t managed to track down. The world has so many mysteries!


The emperor comes back

The Roman emperor Hadrian was an inveterate traveler, and visited Ephesus at least twice, once in 124 CE and again in 129 CE. The carefully restored structure on the street of Curetes, which you can see in the featured photo, is said to commemorate this visit and is now called the Temple of Hadrian. The open-fronted porch with its four columns and arched entrance leads, through an inner door, into the inner chamber where, it is thought, that a statue of Hadrian once stood. An epigraph found here says that the temple was built by Publius Quintilius Galeria in 138 CE and dedicated to Hadrian, Artemis of Ephesus, and the people of the city by the Asiarch Publius Vedius Antoninus Sabinus.

The reason that this building is so carefully reconstructed is that it was disinterred in 1956, after the Turkish government passed laws against removal of archaeological remains from the country. The Austrian Archaeological Institute was involved in uncovering the structure, as well as the restoration work which ended in 2014. The keystone of the arch at the entrance is decorated with a carving of Tyche, goddess of fortune and prosperity. She is crowned with the walls of the city, in a style that dates from the high Hellenic period, but apparently popular during the era of the Roman empire.

Above the inner door is a semicircular relief featuring a woman who is now called Medusa, surrounded by scrolls and Acanthus leaves. The same leaves decorate the capital of the columns at the front. The four empty pedestals in front of the temple (see the featured photo) would have held statues of four emperors, going by the names carved on the bases. These statues have not been found yet. The structure was refurbished in the 4th century to honour the emperor Theodosius, and the reliefs along the walls were built at that time. On the day I was there, the structure was cordoned off, so I could not get a good look at them. The originals are in the Ephesus Museum in Selçuk.

I could use my camera to take a close look at two of the four panels. In the one you see above, there is an altar at the center. The figure to the left, in Roman military clothing, probably depicts an emperor. The winged figure of Victory (Nike) stands behind him. To the right are figures from mythology. The first one could be Theseus and the bearded figure next to him is Hercules. Four Amazons are shown running from Hercules. The founding myth of the city is that it was built by Amazons, but the story being told here somehow implies that they were driven away.

On the other side of the so-called Medusa was another equally enigmatic relief. Amazons are again shown in flight. This time they are probably fleeing from a figure identified with Dionysius, behind whom stands a Satyr, in front of a figure seated on a small elephant, with a dancing Menead bringing up the rear. I didn’t get a good view of the side panels. One showed the other founding myth of Ephesus: Androclus killing a boar where the city was built. The fourth apparently shows the Christian Theodosius, who banned the worship of the old gods, with some of the banned entities. On my next visit I must go to the museum in Selçuk to see the originals.

The Odeon on Pion

Ephesus was a port city, and as the sea receded, the city kept moving in chase. The ruins that we saw near Selçuk were of the last rebuilding of the city in the 4th century BCE. There are two entrances to the site: one from below the hill, the other from above. We parked below so that we could walk back downhill when we were tired. But the civic core of the city was at the top, on the hill which was called Pion. We walked slowly up the colonnaded street of the Curetes, and almost at the top, one of the last restored buildings was the structure called the Odeon (on feast days, when it served as a theater) or Bouleuterion (when it served as the meeting place of the Bouleia, the Senate). The featured photo is a view from the street.

It was uncovered in the initial archaeological digs made by J. T. Wood in the mid-19th century CE. Much is known about it, since many epigraphs were found from the structure. I couldn’t believe it when I read that some of the epigraphs were lost after being dug out! No visitor here sees the large 12 cm high letters on a marble sheet which proclaim that the building was dedicated by Publius Vedius Antoninus and his wife Flavia Papiane in the year that we would call 144 CE, because many of the fragments are in the British Museum. Modern estimates of the population of the city run between 20,000 and 35,000. The Vedius family would easily have been in the 0.1% of the most wealthy people in the city which was by then proclaimed to be the capital of Asia by the Roman emperor.

We walked up to what would have been the stage, and saw a school tour occupying seats in the amphitheater. They unfurled a banner with the name of their school and there was much laughter as a teacher took a photo. The amphitheater would have faced a two story high stage. The outer walls have carvings of bulls’ heads on them, which you can see in the photo above. It is believed that Vedius renovated a structure which was already more than a hundred years old. There is a lot of information about the family and the public works they did. There is peripheral evidence that the works were not always received gratefully by the city. But I could not find the source of the family’s wealth. Then, as now, the 0.1% would have been discreet about such matters.

A Seljuk Mosque

We had to pass through the town of Selçuk on our way to the ruins of the Roman town of Ephesus. A quick look at Wikipedia confirmed a vague memory of reading Ibn Batuta’s account of this town, and of it having an impressive mosque. A look at the map indicated that the most important mosque here was the Isa Bey mosque, situated on the slope between a Byzantine era fortress and the site of the ancient Artemision. This would be the only example of Seljuk architecture that we would see on this trip.

Several tour buses had arrived before us and parked next to the mosque. There was a blank stone wall, three stories high, facing the road. I was taken aback. Where was the “poetry in stone” which is supposed to be the hallmark of Seljuk architecture? I took a close look at the carved stone lattice work in the upper windows. Nice, but I’ve seen more intricate work before.

It was only when I walked over to the other side, where the entrance was, that things began to make sense. The main gate was an imposing portal, topped by a beautiful design in two colours of stone, above a beautiful arch with the stalactite vault called muqarnas. This was no less elaborate than the examples I remembered from the Alhambra of Granada. The windows next to the main entrance were beautiful, and each one was decorated differently. You can see two of them in the photo of the entrance. The photo below shows details from a third.

Seljuk Turks won Anatolia from the Byzantine empire in the 11th century, and a succession of Seljuk principalities held it until the Ottoman invasion of the 14th century. Herrin writes about the gradual decay of the Byzantine empire during this time, most enduringly captured in the gradual debasement of their gold coins through the addition of increasing amounts of silver. Towards the end of this period, Isa Bey, a sultan of the Aydin dynasty, caused this mosque to be built. A little plaque in the courtyard told us that the architect was Mushaimish Dımışklıoğlu, and the church was completed in 1375 CE. Since Ibn Batuta had passed through here a generation before, this wasn’t the mosque he wrote about. Our visit was completely serendipitious!

We passed through the door into the courtyard. Otto-Dorn writes that this is the first mosque in Turkey to have an enclosed courtyard and a colonnade. We could see the its remnants in the columns around the courtyard. The plaque told us that the colonnade was destroyed in two earthquakes that occurred in 1653 and 1668. We saw a single minaret above the entrance, covered in a wooden frame for restoration. Apparently the mosque was built with two minarets, and the other had collapsed after these earthquakes. Extensive restorations were done and the mosque was reopened in 1975.

I walked into the cool interior of the church mosque. The wooden minbar looked small and ordinary; apparently the original grand minbar has been taken away to a museum. Looking up at the octagonal base of one of the domes, I saw the tile work which is supposed to be special to Seljuk mosques. Some of it had fallen off, perhaps the work on the minaret will eventually extend here. There was a round of restoration work in 2005. I wonder whether it reached the interior of the mosque. This wall shows other characteristics of the Seljuk style: the use of bricks, the use of rubble as filling in the walls, and its decoration with a layer of finely prepared stone. A closer look at the tiles (featured photo) showed the painted work, known today as Iznik tiles, from before it developed the current repertoire of Ottoman motifs. We left the carpeted and cool interior, back through the courtyard and its fountain, through the arch of the entrance and the scaffolding enclosing the minaret, to our car.

A Turkish Iftari dinner

When I discovered that our holiday in Turkey spilled into the month of Ramazan, I was very happy. Each ethnicity of muslims have their own special food at Ramazan, and I was eager to discover Turkey’s. On the first night of the month we were in Kusadasi. Walking along the sea front, looking for a place for dinner we came across a lively and pleasant restaurant. We later realized that it was part of a big Turkish chain.

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The menu advertised an Iftari dinner. Could I do justice to it? Travel is always an adventure, and you have to jump in. It was the first of Ramazan too. I ordered my three course meal. It came with a glass of the thick buttermilk which is called ayran in Turkey. The first dish was the usual platter which breaks a fast. There’s always a date, some nuts and more dried fruit, olives, some fresh vegetables. I was disappointed that the platter did not have any cheese; I’d begun to expect a Kashar (cow’s milk cheese) or Tulum (goat’s milk cheese) on every meze platter.

A little break, and then the çorba arrived. It was a tomato soup, served with croutons and grated Kashar. There was a long break before the main plate arrived, giving me enough time to regret ordering such a large meal. The main plate was a tremendous serving of kababs over a lavaş (pronounced lavash, meaning a nan). I would become very fond of the seared vegetables that accompany a kabab in Turkey. There is also always a serving of chopped garden salad on the plate with it.

When I eventuially finished the meal, I realized that it was difficult to work your way through a meal like this unless you had fasted during the day. The çay was needed at the end of such a meal.

Goodbye to Cappadocia

At first sight Göreme was charming. The village emerged from caves carved into cliff-sides, fairy chimneys dotted about the town! After spending a few days in Cappadocia, I thought it wasn’t nearly as lovely as I’d first thought. The town was a typical tourist hub, full of cheap things, lots of hotels and tour agencies. But then on my last evening I was charmed again by the cars I saw while walking around town.

The parked one was a beauty. But earlier in the evening, while searching for a place where could taste the Cappadocia wines, we’d come across another beauty. A 1953 Studebaker Starlight coupe? Not quite that classic, but a beauty nevertheless. I passed another classic convertible. I may sometimes miss a car, but a convertible makes The Family stop and look every time. This was no exception. I also admired the look of the Göreme Cafe; there was not a single person there below the age of seventy. This wasn’t the place we were looking for.

Later, after a tasting a couple of wines we walked back to our hotel. Most shops had closed. We passed one of the many carpet shops in the town, just as it was about to shut. The next day would be the beginning of the month of Ramazan, a time when nights become more lively. Very early the next morning I heard drums on the road announcing the approach of sunrise. This is an old Turkish custom, warning people during Ramazan that they have to finish their pre-dawn breakfast, Sehri, before the sun rises.

I could get another hour of sleep before leaving to catch our flight on to Izmir and the Aegean coast. I caught a breakfast at a small kiosk (a word which changed meaning as it came into English from Turkish through French) at the airport. After choosing a freshly pressed orange juice, a coffee, and a fresh-baked pretzel I stepped back to take a photo. The shop had everything that a traveler might need: food, souvenirs, even some luggage. I clicked a photo of a charming piece of luggage elsewhere in the airport and sent it to the Youngest Niece. Her instant response, “Cute!” She’s at the age when this word is over-used.

Seven wonders of the ancient world

The tourist guide books of ancient Greece took the form of a list of wonders to be seen. When Antipater of Sidon put together the first such list in the 1st century BCE, the Alexandrian conquests had made it possible for Greeks to travel over most of the eastern Mediterranean. From the descriptions, these seven things were wonders because of their size. Only one of them, the pyramid of Khufu, is still intact. We visited the ruins of the temple of Artemis (Artemision) in Ephesus, in the modern day town of Selçuk in Turkey.

We pulled into a car park which was mostly empty, except for a large bus. About a hundred tourists had come to see the site of this ancient wonder. From the edge of the parking lot you can see the whole site (photo above). It was not clear to me why this was a wonder. Only when I walked to the base of the single remaining pillar did it became clear why. The pillar was tall, perhaps 20 meters high. The temple could have been one of the tallest in the world of the 1st century BCE. There were earlier temples at this place dating as far back as 8th century BCE, but the wonderful one was post-Alexander. It probably continued in use, despite mishaps, until the worship of Greek and Roman gods was banned in the 5th century CE by the Byzantine emperor. In the 6th century rebuilding of the Hagia Sophia some of the columns came from the Artimesion, and eventually the whole ancient wonder was dismantled.

The site was rediscovered in the late 19th century, and most of remnants were taken off to the British Museum. The memorial column was put together out of disjoint pieces of columns, up to a height which reproduced what we know from old records. A White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) nests there every year. White Storks are winter visitors to India, but from a different subspecies which breeds further to the east. This was my first sighting of the subspecies Ciconia ciconia ciconia. Apparently the temple lies inside a major corridor for migratory birds. Spring and autumn in this area are great times for bird watchers.

Derinkuyu overground

The village of Derinkuyu seemed a little schizophrenic. On the one hand there was the ancient underground city, and on the other the Greek orthodox church, both abandoned in the 1920s. The underground city is one of the major tourist draws in Cappadocia, but very few walk the few steps to the church. Between the two there seems to be a dividing line which cuts through the village. On the side which contains the entrance to the underground city a market place has come up; there are cafes (featured photo), and even a little hotel.

On the other side the village seems to be crumbling and falling apart. Crumbling, derelict places hold a special fascination for travel bloggers and photographers, it seems. My companion for the hour was a keen photographer, and he turned out to be a blogger as well. We walked towards this other side of the village first. The ignimbrite which has been carved into villages and troglodyte cities for millennia also seems to give blocks of stone to build houses with. Some of it was rough, and not very handsome to begin with.

Other houses had been made with care and love. The relief work in the stone above windows, and the niche, would have been part of the facade of a beautiful house once upon a time. Now it looked like an abandoned mess. A hole had been bashed into one of the stone block, probably to provide an opening for a pipe. And now the whole frontage had begin to crack.

I zoomed back a bit to take a photo of the surroundings. You can see two houses, standing side by side, each of which would have looked pretty once upon a time. Both households would have had some pride in living so close to the town’s church. Now the wall of the lower floor is crumbling. A hole gapes in one of the walls; perhaps a door frame and lintel have been removed. The facades are cracked and sagging, and will not last much longer.

Round the corner, and right outside the church I saw this small house. It hadn’t started crumbling yet. Still there were signs scrawled over it: Satilik (meaning “for sale”) and Satilik Ev (Turkish for “house for sale”). What happened to this side of the town? The Greeks who lived here left a century ago, why have the houses been put up for sale now?

The other side of the village doesn’t look rich, but at least it is not deserted and crumbling. I saw lines of cafes. Some were closed, but the chairs and the table outside seemed to indicate that the closure was temporary. Later in the day, probably, the cafe would reopen. The dappled sunlight looked cheerful.

Next to it, other cafes did some business. Each of these establishments had one occupied table. An old man sitting alone did not want to appear in the photo, but was not bothered enough by me to either tell me to stop or to walk away. You can see him holding up a napkin to cover his face. People at other tables are not bothered by me. This village sees a lot of tourists, and the locals pay them little heed, unless they are in the tourist trade.

An abandoned church

Most tourists who come to Derinkuyu spend their time underground. I abandoned this tour fearing for my back and had to spend an hour or so overground, waiting for The Family to return. Although I do not play the lyre, I did not turn to look behind me as I climbed up. I don’t know whether that was the reason, but The Family did return above ground soon. In the hour I had, I walked around the market square of the village, and found a structure which looked like an abandoned Greek Orthodox church which I could explore.

In the market I met another photography enthusiast from my bus who had remained above ground. We walked to the church together. Later I would find that this is the Üzümlü Kilisesi (Grape church), and maybe should be called St Theodoros Trion Church. The weather was very fickle. When we walked into the church yard through a gate below the elaborate bell tower the sun was bright. This photo from the south west corner of the yard shows the arcaded main entrance.

There was a very rusty door set into the southern facade. Around it was a beautiful low-relief sculpture of a stylized vine with leaves. From a distance I’d thought that this was made in terra cotta, but closer up I was not sure. These vines give the church its local name, the Grape Church. Most accounts say that this church was built in the 19th century CE. One source claimed very specifically that it was built during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Abdulmejid.

Some accounts claim that the church may have been used by ethic Turkish Orthodox Christians who used the Greek alphabet (they were resettled in Greece in 1923), but there is an absence of definitive information. In any case, the church was clearly abandoned, but still in pretty good shape. In spite of a severe economy with decoration, the front facade was beautiful, with symmetric arcade arches that you see in the photo above.

The doors here were spectacular even in their rusted and neglected state. The beautifully carved curves in the stone above the door caught my eye. The lemniscates on the doors have the symbolic meaning of regeneration and endlessness, a meaning that predates its modern use in mathematics (and general culture) as the symbol for infinity. Although this church is said to have been built long after the symbol took on its modern, more mathematical meaning, its use on the main door into the church refers back to the earlier symbolism.

The arch above this doorway was spectacular. You can see the wonderful depiction of vines laden with grapes. On the outer edge of this band is another vegetable motif: is it sheafs of wheat? The rectangular panels inside the arch are not as well-preserved. I could see a human figure riding some animal in the panel on the left, but the one on the right has been defaced. The central panel is clearly symbolic: the largest piece has birds, and there are cattle below it. Some part of the panel may have broken and was replaced by a plain stone block at some point.

A keyhole in a door has been enlarged into a larger hole. I peered through it. The interior of the church seems to have the same elegant simplicity as the exterior. Light streamed in from open windows. There are cruciform windows on the sides (you can see one in the featured photo). When I looked in through this peephole I saw that the apse had several more of these windows. I regretted that the church was closed, and my regret became sharper later when I found that it is sometimes open, and a previous lucky visitor has posted photos of frescoes from the interior in TripAdvisor.

We completed our circuit of the church. A drunken local had led the way in. A couple of other visitors had walked in and out. Now we saw an old lady walk in. She seemed to have been here before; her walk was confident, she knew where she was going, and she did not bother to gawk at the church. I wondered whether she would open the church, but she was only there to rest for a while. From this end I could see the three cruciform windows in the apse which illuminated the inside. We completed our circuit and walked away.

Imagination Valley

We reached Zelve open air museum in the afternoon of a lovely day. The sun was warm, but the air was fresh enough that walking was pleasant. One of our target areas was a set of interconnected chambers cut into the rock, from two stories above the entrance level to a story down. Unfortunately some workers decided to burn plastic trash in this region, and the smoke drove us all away. That’s the smoke you can see in one of the photos in the gallery below.

The day was too pleasant to remain annoyed. We found a nice double tower which had been turned into a house by carving out rooms inside. The windows in the tower were painted in decorative patterns. Apparently this area was inhabited until 1952, when the frequency of rock falls and subsidence increased to the point that the population of these villages were evacuated. The earliest inhabitants probably came here during the centuries of the Arab-Byzantine wars, somewhere between the 7th and 10th centuries CE. A thousand years of human habitation is quite as impressive as the landscape through which we walked. Spring brings flowers and butterflies. I managed to take a few photos of a Painted lady, Vanessa cardui. This is often called the most common butterfly in the world; it is found on all continents except Antarctica. Can you help me with an identification of the flower?

After a break for coffee and ice cream we went on to see the fabulous landscape of the Devrent valley. This is popularly known as Imagination valley because of the interesting shapes that erosion has created. The easily eroded Cemilköy ignimbrite is overlaid by the harder Kizilkaya ignimbrite. This more recent layer was laid down in volcanic activity about 4.3 million years ago. In all the interestingly named shapes that you see below, you can see a thin layer of Kizilkaya icing over the Cemilköy cake.

Camel – Imagination Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey
Two dervishes – Imagination Valley, Cappadocia
Lizard – Imagination Valley, Cappadocia