Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Backtracking: Turkey Part 1

A couple hours in an airplane changed the dynamics of our surroundings drastically, as we hit the ground running seeing the sights in Istanbul, Turkey. The first afternoon we saw a couple sights, including the Blue Mosque (not pictured) and the Basilica Cistern. That latter sight (pictured below) was one of those places I’ve always wanted to visit, since seeing a movie at a young age that featured it. In this case, the movie in question was “From Russia With Love”, and the cistern totally did not disappoint.

It was then off on a whirlwind trip of western Turkey over the next three days. The first stop was the World War 1 battlefield on the Gallipoli Peninsula. We mostly visited the more northerly sights, including this small graveyard near ANZAC Beach, with “the Sphinx” in the background. Visiting here reminded me of the battlefield at Gettysburg, with lots of much-fabled locations and names and events that took place during the battle. While this is not a battle that is paid much mind in the U.S., having lived and worked around plenty of Aussies and Kiwis, I understand why it figures so importantly in the relatively brief histories of their countries.

The next day we visited a place some guy named Homer (not Simpson) wrote about a few years back: Troy. Yeah, Troy. This is a real sleeper of a destination. It’s not the most visually striking or breathtaking, but it really felt like a very special place. Nestled amongst sleepy farmlands, this multi-layered city is still just hanging out there with its record of ancient human habitation through the ages. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have someplace like this just hanging out in the neighborhood. It was pretty cold that morning, so there was frost on the grass in the shaded areas and frozen pools of water in the hollows atop some stone pillars.

In the afternoon of the same day, we visited the Acropolis of Pergamon looking over modern-day Bergama. This set of ruins was home to the famous Pergamon Altar, which now resides in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany. It also sports one of the steepest amphitheaters of antiquity, and a masterful work of engineering in just the foundation to support the Temple of Trajan there.

And then we had to wait a few hours overnight before seeing another fabulous set of ruins in Ephesus, a bit further south. This Roman city has a bunch of public buildings in pretty good condition, which reminded me much more of Jerash in Jordan than Pompeii in Italy. It also, like Troy, used to be on the coast, but a couple thousand years of silt now leave it quite far inland. The third Ancient Wonder of the World was visited here, too. All that remains of the stunning Temple of Artemis at Ephesus is a single column, capped with a stork nest and flanked by a gaggle of honking geese.

We're getting there; one more post should do it.

"Sing, goddess, of Achilles ruinous anger
Which brought ten thousand pains to the Achaeans,
And cast the souls of many stalwart heroes
To Hades, and their bodies to the dogs
And birds of prey."

~Homer, “The Illiad”