Turkish Street Furniture

You might not be surprised by Istanbul’s charm. A little square between buildings in Fatih with a swing and a teeter-totter makes a decent playground for the neighbourhood’s children. A few benches are scattered around for parents who are too tired to stand. And someone has painted a cheerful canary on the blue wall of one of the buildings which encloses the area. Charming? Sure. Surprising? No.

But in Galatasaray, two dolphins rearing up on their tails holding telephones in their plastic bellies is a touch of whimsy that one does not anticipate. We’d watched dolphins fishing in the Golden Horn. Here, a kilometer or two away, a telephone company had decided to use them as a symbol. Nice thinking.

Between the two, in the Eminönü district, a tap at the German fountain still works. Tourists and locals drink the water it dispenses. There is no sign saying which sultan had it placed here, but supplying potable water to citizens was a task that the Roman empire took very seriously, where in its first capital, or in the successor capital, Constantinople. We asked the locals about the tap water. They do not recommend it to tourists, but they drink it themselves. So we followed their example now and then, without getting into trouble.

On our drive through the town of Selçuk we saw an avenue lined with lions. This was quite surprising, and I hopped off the car to take a quick photo. I haven’t come across a description of this before, nor an explanation. Is it recent? Not recent enough for it to be made of concrete poured into moulds. The columns were made of stone. Sometime, somewhere I suppose I will eventually find the history of these lions standing on two paws.

Seats and water fountains are probably as ancient as the very notion of a city. Telephones have had their day, and phone booths are now quaint reminders of the twentieth century. It was comforting to walk by the Halic and see a line of ATMs waiting patiently. I didn’t have to use them, but after spending a week wandering through Anatolia, it was nice to be reminded that one was back in a city.

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Walking through Şirince

Şirince is a beautiful village, and walking through it was a wonderful experience. I’ll let my photos of it speak for themselves.

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Turkish Coffee

I’d got to like the Turkish çay (pronounced chai) so much that I neglected the coffee for the first half of the trip. In Şirince it was impossible to neglect the coffee. Most of the restaurants in the village had tables with the beautiful pattered trays set out with the cups that you see in the featured photo. Some time in the afternoon we decided to sit down at one of these and have a coffee.

I looked inside the restaurant. A couple of old men sat there chatting. In Turkey you would probably suspect something is wrong if a restaurant or cafe does not have a few people deeply engrossed in conversation. It was the second day of Ramazan, which was probably why these two were not nursing glasses of çay. Reassured, I went out and sat down at the table where The Family had already ordered the coffee.

This style of coffee was heated in a bed of sand at the center of the tray. Clouds had come in a couple of hours earlier, and there was a slight drizzle. The day had turned cold, and it was nice to sit at a table which radiated heat. I’d forgotten how hot sand could become. In a short while the coffee started to boil, and we could pour a small shot into the little cups in front of us. We sat at our warm table, nursed the strong and sweet coffee, and waited out the drizzle. The crowd of tourists we’d seen in the morning had disappeared. Perhaps everyone had found a nice cafe to warm themselves in.

A charming market

Has Şirince village been changed by tourism? There is no doubt that it has. The village contains only about 700 people, and at least that many tourists probably come by every day. The restaurants and cafes that we saw would not have been there without the tourist trade. Most definitely the charming market that straddles the square next to the mosque is solely for tourists. However, it is charming, and many of the things we saw seemed local; we never saw them elsewhere.

Ceramics are everywhere in Turkey. We’d seen wonderful ceramics in Cappadocia, but the things we saw here were quite different. In a little shop in the market a man sat over baskets of colourful fruits. They were brightly painted ceramics (see the close up in the featured photo). I saw a little group of Russian women utterly charmed by them. They chose a few and moved on while I stayed behind to take these photos.

We kept seeing this painted blue ware in many shops. From my experience this was peculiar to Şirince. The blue and white ceramic with flowers hand painted over it was not something I saw elsewhere. The Family was quite taken by them and thought long and hard about how to carry it. Eventually she satisfied herself with taking photos. That did not turn out so well for the shopkeeper, I thought. He continued to have a smile on his face though.

A nearby shop had lovely tiles. I’m not expert enough to figure out how local these are. We saw cheerful tiles in use through the village, but were these designs local? Could we have found them elsewhere? I didn’t really keep track. I think of flower patterns in these colours as Iznik tiles. Perhaps that’s too generic, and the patterns change in detail from place to place. But with the kind of mobility and fluidity of style that governs today’s market, I would think that successful patterns would be copies quickly.

I passed this Aladdin’s cave full of ceramics and moved on. The Family was braver. She walked in. I had a long time to examine the rest of the very charming market before she emerged. I couldn’t complain. I’d done the same at the shops which sold fruit wines. There is a lot of variety, and you can spend a while in tasting.

One of the first things I noticed while waiting for The Family was this man with his cats. Before visiting Turkey I had the impression that an enormous population of cats was special to Istanbul. Not so. Cats are everywhere in Turkey. I saw them in the ruins of Ephesus, in the Seljuk mosque in Selçuk, in the streets of Kusadasi, and, of course, here. Most Turks seem to be cat persons.

The market was not very large, but it seemed to have a disproportionately large number of restaurants and cafes. There must be times when when several tourist buses arrive together and the square is very crowded. This was not one of those times. I found the cafes very charming, and examined each of them. We would have coffee at one of them later, and I had to make sure that we chose one which we found to be the most gemütlich.

In most parts of Turkey an absolutely essential ingredient in a cheerful and friendly cafe is that there should be a crowd of old men sitting deep in conversation or playing a game, usually with çay. This village was not like that. Several cafes had no locals, and the one we eventually chose had only two, but without çay. The lack of a drink was probably due to it being the second day of Ramazan, but the lack of people meant that most of these cafes were meant only for tourists. Presumably the locals gathered in a completely different place.

I walked down to the end of the market, past the last shop selling wine, past the last cafe, past even the shop with olive oil. At the end of this path was another square. This is where the local buses, dolmuş, arrive to leave and take on passengers. It should be possible to come here by dolmuş from Selçuk. I’d heard that Şirince has the best peaches in the locality. I realized that the market did not have fresh fruits. I would have to look elsewhere for the peaches, olives, and figs that the village is known for.

Two churches in Şirince

More or less at the highest level of the village of Şirince, not far from Selçuk, is the old Orthodox church named after St. John the Baptist. Entrance to it is through a courtyard which contains a bunch of shops, a restaurant, and an interesting wishing well, under a statue of Theotokos Miriam, to give the Virgin Mary her proper Orthodox name. The bottom of the fountain is lined with coins tossed in by those who need a little luck in their lives.

I don’t know how Lonely Planet found that the church was completed in 1805, because I didn’t notice a plaque. However, it is true that the church is being restored. The door was open, and we could walk right into the dim interior lit by halogen lamps. I guess smaller Orthodox churches usually have the same floor plan as this: a central dome with the main altar on one side, with secondary niches on other sides of the rectangular room.

The dome was made of brick, as we could easily verify since the plaster work here has not been completed. The simple design in the interior of the dome was also incompletely restored. There are vaulted roofs on all sides of the dome, and one end held some frescoes. I wished that the lighting inside had been neutral, because it is hard to judge colours when a painting is illuminated by halogen lamps.

Otherwise the church was bare. This simplicity actually made it look good. This niche for example, with a window which is not shut tight, was a beautifully serene space. I wonder what was placed on top of the pedestal. A baptismal font? The restoration of the church is being paid for by the Governor of Izmir province, under the assumption that this is improve tourism. I was happy to spend myu few minutes inside, adding to the statistics.

There is a road that runs on the ridge on top of the village from this church northwards. As we followed this picturesque route, a strong breeze made me zip up my jacket. The clouds were being blown away by this breeze, so when we reached St. Demetrios Church at the other end of the road the sun was out again. A battered but sturdy door stood open in front of the church, inviting us into this mid-19th century church. All that I could gather about it was that it was built after St. John’s, and that it had been used as a mosque for some years after the population exchange which came at the collapse of the Ottoman empire in 1923.

Cars parked in front of the church (I wondered how they had got up here) had prevented me from walking back to take a photo of the church. So it was fortunate that inside, propped up on a window ledge was a large fading print of a photo of the exterior at a time when the roof had caved in. At least that basic structural repairs had been completed. The sunlight seeping in from the windows and the open door in the western wall lit up the bright white interior of the church.

The sunlight was just right to give us a grand view of the incredible sight of the iconostasis, the wooden framework which formed a wall of icons which you can see in the photo above. The wood requires repair, and I wonder whether the gaps where icons once stood can be filled again. The marble floor was in very bad repair. This could very well be the showpiece of the village if only it could be restored. I looked up at the frescoes and painted plasterwork that remains in one part of the celiing. “This could become a grand structure again,” The Family said, and I agreed.

Demetrios was Greek by birth, died in the early 4th century, and was beatified soon after. In medieval times he came to be associated with the same function that Demeter performed in ancient Greece: farming and cattle. Until the population exchange, this church was the starting point of an annual pilgrimage, on August 15, up to the so-called house of Mary in Selçuk. The drive would be less than half an hour today, but on foot this could take several hours. There was a cafe right next to the church, but I wanted to move down into the shelter of the village, and out of the breeze.

Ancient Graffiti

Archaelogists seem to use the word graffiti in the same way that all of us do, to mean art that is made in a public place, usually without the sanction of city authorities. You can see quite a bit of graffiti etched into stone in the lower part of Ephesus. I suppose this is one way of figuring out that this part was not where the rich lived or cared too much about. The two main streets in this part are the Marble Way, connecting the library and the circus, and the Arcadian Way, leading to the docks.

The flagstones of the Marble Way show ruts of chariots, so making graffiti in the road here could get you knocked over. The fact that someone bothered to carve a foot and the faint outline of a woman into it (featured photo) means that they deemed it important. The building next to it was a Roman brothel, so this could have been a sign. The cross on the side wall of the road (photo below) seems to have been made over an older sign. There was an Egyptian temple here, so I wonder whether the Christian symbol was made to erase an older Egyptian symbol of an Ankh. This could be a territory marker. The photo of the circle with spokes comes from the Arcadian Way. I found this symbol in other ruins also, so this could possibly signify another cult. I wish I knew what it meant. Surely someone must have compiled a dictionary of Roman symbols. Otherwise there is an opportunity waiting for a historian.

In a city of about twenty to thirty thousand people, with a mass of sailors coming and going, why did we see so little graffiti? After all, the patricians did not seem to care too much about policing little acts of vandalism. Perhaps most graffiti was like today’s: painted or written. This would not have survived the millennia. Only the few etched into stone would not be washed away by half a million days of rain.

A famous unknown village

It had been a long day, so, on our first night in Kusadasi we decided to sleep late and spend the next day doing something fun and easy. A quick search showed us that the right thing was to visit a village called Şirince thirty kilometers away. In recent years it has become famous as a casual day trip out of Kusadasi or Selçuk. We left late in the morning, drove through Selçuk, and turned on to a charming country road. The village sits at the tip of a hill and is surrounded by farms. The history that we read claimed that the village has been occupied since the early Ottoman times, perhaps the 15th century CE, and that in the 19th century CE it was mostly an Ottoman Greek village. During the Balkan wars of the early 20th century the villagers sided with the Greeks, bringing down on them the full force of the Ottoman empire. A post-war settlement forced an exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece. The village was then settled by Macedonian Turks.

Cars are not allowed into the village. We parked in one of the several large parking lots just below the start of the cobbled roads. Near the parking lot we saw a familiar car: a Tata Xenon. India and Turkey do significant trading these days. We had sturdy shoes which had taken us through Ephesus, and they were certainly even more useful on the steep paths of this village. It seems that you can hire a horse or a small cart if you want, but to us it looked like it would be difficult to negotiate parts of the village if you have difficulties walking.

One of the intriguing things about this village is that it is known for its fruit wines. About 4000 Turks from Macedonia were settled in this village after a piece of rebranding. Apparently the village used to be called Çirkince (meaning ugly). In 1926 the governor of the province, Kazim Dirik, renamed it Şirince (beautiful). Still, there wasn’t much of a life to be made here, and many families moved away over the years. In the 1993 an Armenian Turkish linguist, Sevan Nişanyan, settled in this village and began to restore it so that tourism from nearby Ephesus could be tapped. He has been stunningly successful, as we saw. It is due to his efforts that the village is now a national heritage site. His own story does not end too well; he was jailed in 2012, escaped, and is now a political refugee in Greece.

This village of about 600 to 700 people is utterly charming. Of course, the local population is completely outnumbered during the day by visitors, so don’t go looking for authenticity. We had a very relaxed day walking about, having lunch, and coffee, and, most important, trying out the many different fruit wines that they have. They are all very sweet, of course, but one can think of lots of uses for them. I would have liked to carry several bottles, but The Family pointed out that we had limits on how much weight we could take with us. Too bad. I’m talking to you, airlines management.

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?

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.