Warm up your Magic Carpet! I am inviting you to join me once again in Turkey, ancient and today’s world. Leaving Cappadocia and the fairy chimneys, we drove south on portions of the ancient Silk Road, past caravanserai (ancient wayfarers’ inns) through Konya, home of the Whirling Dervishes, to Antalya, which is nestled on the Mediterranean Sea. Nearby we explored the two ancient cities of Aspendos with its huge amphitheater, and Perge, founded in the 5th and 4th centuries BC respectively.
We clambered down the stone stadium seats and entered a maze of small rooms where they kept animals; wait for it…to fight with each other and people. Yikes! I could hardly imagine what it must have been like. In an odd way it reminds me of our political arena sans animals.
As with many old towns, we could only reach our hotel on foot, but once we checked in, we found the rooms magnificent, with giant bathtubs and a view of the harbor on the Mediterranean Sea. I especially remember the lamb dinner enjoyed on the patio by the pool with the stars twinkling overhead. Next, we explored the lush pine forest around Antalya where there were ruins of an agora (central gathering space) with shops, drainage channels, sarcophagi (stone coffins) and mosaic floors of long-lost homes around every corner.
Beyond the sheer beauty was the visceral feeling I felt walking where people lived, worked and raised their families thousands of years ago. It was fascinating and eerie at the same time.
We boarded a gulet (refurbished fishing boats) that provided private cabins and bathrooms, plus a charming staff to feed and care for us in the tradition of the sea. For 6 days we cruised among the Turquoise Coastal islands of Turkey and Greece, visiting small ports along the way for exploration of deserted villages, goat enclaves, burial caves and small- and medium-sized villages. An entrepreneurial local family boated out to us from shore with gozleme (traditional Turkish flatbread, made of hand-rolled leaves of yufka dough that are lightly brushed with butter and eggs, filled with various toppings, sealed, and cooked over a griddle). This particular treat on that day was filled with bananas and chocolate…yummy.
From the sea, we viewed watchtowers constructed by the English knights of St. John along the coastal mountains to protect the Christian denizens from marauding pirates. The Greeks built villages, notably Kayakoy, which was abandoned in the 1920s.
We also came across Roman roads, bridges and water pipes, all constructed to facilitate settlement throughout their empire. Once again, the diversity of cultures showed the importance of the Turkish region positioned at the crossroads of many cultures throughout history.
After a breakfast that included warm bread freshly-baked in a stone oven, we swam in the chilly water of Cleopatra’s Bath. Legend says that Mark Anthony gave the entire Turquoise Coast to Cleopatra as a wedding gift. How lavish! We visited the home of St. Nicolas, also known as Santa Claus, who was notable for being the patron saint of children.
Every day our trek on the water was filled with archaeological treasure hunts, hikes through pine forests, farms and sign-language conversations with local folks since many didn’t speak English. The last night on the gulet, we ate freshly caught fish while being entertained to music and dancing by our talented crew. What fun!
We docked at Marmaris, which is normally a bustling seaport. But since we were near the late-fall travel season, many places had already closed. The “rich and famous” had left for warmer climes on their luxurious monster sailing boats. Luckily for us, that was the beauty of the times as we roamed through Ephesus with only a few other adventurers on that rainy day. I still remember walking over the marble pathways imprinted with the grooves of ancient carts and thinking about Paul and other Biblical folks as if we might see them materialize at any moment. Our guide completed his Ph.D. dissertation here, so we were able to explore several local archeological digs that were not yet open to the public.
After a turn in the path, we suddenly encountered the façade of the famous Library of Celsus, which was built in 135 A.D. to store 12,000 scrolls. Breathtaking! The interior of the library and all its books were destroyed by fire in the devastating earthquake that struck the city in 262 A.D. Only the façade survived, which by the way, was completely destroyed by a later earthquake, probably in the 10th or 11th century, and rebuilt by archaeologists in the 1970s.
Finally, we returned to Istanbul for our flight home with so many memories pouring through my mind. I still get shivers when I look at my photos of the Hagia Sofia or the library façade at Ephesus.
In my next installment, I want to switch continents and take you on a magic carpet ride to Patagonia, located in the southern regions of Chile and Argentina. You do know, of course, that magic carpets can be persnickety, so we will just have to wait see!
"I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” Susan Sontag