Monday, June 6, 2016

The story of the Ottoman cannonballs in Nice

The story of the Ottoman cannonballs in Nice

The story of the Ottoman cannonballs in Nice
A view of the port of Monaco and the palace (R).

The current stop on our global tour is the southern region of France. We are heading from nice towards Monaco, a distance of 30 kilometers. Nice bays welcome us along the way, and we stop in each one to take photos. One of our stops is Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. The bays offer extraordinary views for their visitors. Finally we arrive in Monaco.
This is the second smallest country in the world after Vatican City, measuring two square kilometers in area. That's right -- two square kilometers. In the beginning, this seems unbelievable. This is a small country that has some tall buildings. Monaco is a member state of the UN. The population is 33,000 and its capital city is Monte Carlo.
Even though it is a small state, Monaco is able to attract a huge number of visitors every year. Banking, tourism and gambling are its main sources of revenue. The country is administered by a constitutional monarchy. The head of state is the prince of Monaco, who lives in a castle on the top of a hill. The Grimaldi family has ruled the country for seven centuries.
We leave one of the smallest states in the world and head towards Cannes, a city known for its film festivals. The population of Cannes is 70,000. The most important event in the city is the Cannes Film Festival, organized in mid-May every year in the Palace of Festivals. The scenery in Cannes is just breathtaking.

Nearly 1,400 Turks live in Cannes and Nice, and they mostly work in construction. They are doing their best to make a living. We stop by the Ala Turca kebab restaurant in Mandelieu, near Cannes. The Turkish entrepreneurs proudly offer Turkish shawarma -- a Levantine meal in which lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, or mixed meats are grilled on a spit for as long as a day -- on the southern shores of France. We enjoy freshly served dishes, and the owner and the staff love their jobs.
We return to the city of Nice where we started our tour. We are surprised to see an Ottoman cannonball on the wall during our city tour. The Ottoman army sieged the city in 1543 and used cannonballs to seize control. One of these balls has been kept on the city walls.

Back in 1543, Nice was under the control of the Germans, the archenemy of the French. The Ottoman navy was asked by the French king to rescue the city. The Ottomans took the city from the Germans in 10 days and handed it over to the French. It was almost winter; therefore, the operation was postponed to the springtime. The Ottoman navy spent the winter in another French city, Toulon, which took on the appearance of an Ottoman city. The commander of the navy, Barbarossa, became upset because the French who had asked for their assistance were not ready for war and the promises they made were not kept. He then decided to withdraw the Ottoman fleet. In April of 1544, the Ottoman navy returned home after saving the south of France from the German occupation. After the Ottomans left, the French envoy said: “There has been no complaint that the Turks hurt anybody here. They were kind and polite. They paid for everything they bought during their stay.”

The residents of Toulon told stories of the Ottoman troops who were staying in their city; they remembered the Turks praying and bringing peace to the city as well as making their city a second İstanbul. A few centuries after this incident, a glorious painting depicting the Ottoman navy anchored in the Port of Toulon was hung in the municipal palace of the city, which hosted one of the most crucial bases of the French navy. An inscription below the painting honoring the memory of Barbarossa reads, “What you see is Barbarossa and his navy, who saved us all.”
Turkish Airlines (THY) is the only airline flying directly from İstanbul to Nice, and travel between İstanbul and Monte Carlo, Cannes or St. Tropez takes only two-and-a-half hours. Turkish Airlines has daily flights to Nice because of growing demand. The number of French tourists using Turkish Airlines in Nice has increased by 80 percent over the last year.
Turks living in the region have launched an education center, which they have needed for years, to educate their children. The Etude La Fontaine education center was founded in Marseilles in 2007. In 2008, it moved to its own building, and classes began on Nov. 8, 2008. Currently, there are 60 students studying at the center. The students take complimentary classes, and in addition to basic classes they also take English lessons. Center administrators note that they instruct the classes, particularly mathematics, in the French language, to make sure that the students address their deficiencies in school. The center also offers social activities for its students, including guitar, theatre and folklore classes as well as Turkish language sessions for the French students.
Keywords: nice , travel

Monday, May 23, 2016

In search of the seven churches of Asia Minor

In search of the seven churches of Asia Minor

In search of the seven churches of Asia Minor
Güvercin Adası, Kuşadası (Photo: Pat Yale)

“Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyateira (Ahkisar), Sardis, Philadelphia (Alaşehir) and Laodicea.”
Best known as a sun and sand holiday destination, Turkey is also popular with pilgrims in search of the sites associated with the early history of Christianity in what was once Asia Minor. Some of those pilgrims take to the road following in the footsteps of St. Paul, who visited Anatolia on several occasions. Others come in search of the so-called Seven Churches of the Revelation, a phrase rich in meaning to those who know their Bible, but somewhat more mysterious to the rest of us.

So what were those seven churches and what can be seen at the sites now?

The Book of Revelation is the mystical last chapter of the New Testament. It was written by St. John of Patmos who may or may not have been the same person as St. John the Evangelist (also known as St. John the Apostle and St. John the Theologian), the close friend of Jesus who was with him at his death. If they were indeed the same person, then St. John of Patmos would also have been responsible for the gospel of St. John, one of the earlier books of the New Testament that recounts the life of Jesus.

Unfortunately, we are talking about events that took place almost 2,000 years ago, hence the uncertainty. According to some stories after the death of Jesus, St. John took Jesus' mother Mary from Jerusalem to Ephesus, by then the largest city of Roman Asia Minor. There he may have fallen foul of the authorities by refusing to take part in the imperial cult, which accorded the Roman emperor the status of a divinity. Even if St. John of Patmos and St. John the Evangelist were not the same person, it is likely that a St. John refused to sacrifice to the Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96), for which offence he was exiled to Patmos, then a desolate penal colony.

Already elderly by the time he arrived on Patmos, St. John then had a vision that inspired him to write letters to seven communities (a better translation of the Greek word “ekklesia” than “churches”) scattered around Ephesus. Those letters seem to have been intended to shore up their sometimes-wavering Christian faith.

Assuming that this letter-writing St. John was a different person from St. John the Evangelist, it is likely that he died and was buried on Patmos, reputedly at the great age of 120. If, on the other hand, he and the Evangelist were indeed one and the same person, it would appear that he eventually returned to Ephesus and took up residence on Ayasuluk Hill, now in the center of Selçuk. There, he wrote his gospel before dying and being buried on the hill where a great basilica was erected over his grave.

Today, you can easily visit all the places that received a letter from St. John. However, in the first century the Christian congregations almost certainly worshipped either in their homes or in caves, synagogues or outdoor venues. The ruined churches to be seen at the sites all date from the fourth century onward, which means that they have no direct connection with St. John.


By far the best known of the communities was Ephesus, which may already have had a population of some 150,000 in the latter half of the first century. Aside from the link with St. John, Ephesus was home for some years to St. Paul until, after angering the trinket-sellers who profited from pilgrims to the Temple of Artemis, he was effectively drummed out of town.

According to legend, St. John returned to Ephesus by floating on a cork that bore him as far as Miletus. Back in the city, he soon had problems with the temple priests who wanted him to prove the power of his god by drinking poison from a chalice. St. John supposedly made the sign of the cross over it, whereupon the poison slithered out of it in the shape of a snake, an image that came to represent the saint in later icons. He then proceeded to restore to life two criminals who had also been made to drink the poison.

St. John is said to have performed other miracles at Ephesus, including restoring to life Drusiana, his erstwhile landlady whom he caused to rise from her coffin and trot off home to cook him a meal.

For today's visitor, the most obvious reminder of Christianity in Ephesus is surprisingly easy to overlook. The ruins of a huge basilica still survive to the west of the lower gate, the entrance nearest to Selçuk. Here the first church dedicated to Mary the Mother of God was built in the fourth century on the site of an older building whose purpose is unclear. Its sheer size aside, its most striking feature was its baptistery, which is still adorned with huge stone-carved crosses. It was in this building that the Third Ecumenical Council of 431 made the decision to expel Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople, from the church, leading to a schism and the eventual birth of the Chaldean Church.


Ancient Smyrna stood on the hillside at Bayraklı, in the northern part of what is now İzmir. Although the site has been excavated, there is little to remind visitors that it once had a Christian community. St. John is said to have ordained as bishop of Smyrna St. Polycarp, who was burned to death, probably for refusing to swear an oath to the emperor as god in c.155.


Newly elevated to World Heritage Site status, the ancient city of Pergamum, north of İzmir, is best known for the fantastic Greco-Roman ruins both on the lofty Acropolis and across town where the Asklepion was a hugely important medical shrine. Many visitors barely glance at the huge but shattered ruin called Kızıl Avlu (the Red Courtyard) that started life as a temple to the Egyptian gods Isis, Serapis and Harpocrates. According to St. John, this was the very throne of the devil, so it's perhaps appropriate that a small church dedicated to him was built right inside it in the fourth century. St. John also mentions an Antipas, whom he ordained here and who was martyred for his faith by being roasted alive in a bull-shaped cauldron in 92 A.D.


Perhaps the least satisfactory of the sites in terms of what there is for a visitor to see is Thyateira, which sits right in the built-up center of modern Akhisar, near Sardis. Although ruins of a building with an apse survive, no Christian artifacts were found in it, so it was probably a civic structure. Otherwise, you can see only the scant remains of a porticoed street.

Interestingly, in the Acts of the Apostles, another book of the Bible, St. Paul reports having baptized a seller of purple cloth named Lydia, a native of Thyateira whom he met in Philippi in modern Greece at the end of his second journey.


The main archeological site at Sardis is dominated by the remains of a magnificent synagogue and a huge reconstructed wall from the Hall of the Imperial Cult. However, if you look closely at the row of shops excavated beside the synagogue you'll see what appears to be a font with huge crosses carved into it, apparently suggesting that this building was at some point converted into a baptistery.

If you then walk to the separate site of the Temple of Artemis you will pass on your right the remains of a small fourth-century apsidal church with its brick dome collapsed on top of it. More impressively, on the north side of the huge temple there stands an intact church where an apse was apparently added to a basically fourth-century structure 200 years later. Afterwards, it was buried by a landslide and was only dug out again in 1912, hence its fine state of preservation


As with Thyateira, so with Philadelphia, the slight remains of which survive right in the heart of modern Alaşehir, near Sardis. The difference here is that these remains consist solely of the soaring brick columns that once supported the dome of what must have been a colossal church dedicated to St. John the Theologian. It was destroyed in 1922 toward the end of the Turkish War of Independence.


In some ways the most rewarding of the seven sites to visit nowadays is Laodicea, near Pamukkale, where archeologists have been working hard to make sense of what was, not so long ago, just a mess of fallen stones. In particular, they are meticulously rebuilding the Byzantine church in the heart of the ruins which features a lovely mosaic floor.
Keywords: churches , Asia

Monday, May 9, 2016

Around the Sea of Marmara: Exploring İstanbul’s backyard

Around the Sea of Marmara: Exploring İstanbul’s backyard

Around the Sea of Marmara: Exploring İstanbul’s backyard
Gelibolu (Photo: Pat Yale)

Racing into İstanbul in a taxi from the airport, visitors rarely have time to appreciate the lovely stretch of water to their right. Then they wake up in their Sultanahmet hotels and find that breakfast is served on a roof terrace that offers a panoramic view of what some mistakenly assume to be the Bosporus but is in fact the Sea of Marmara.

Covering an area of 11,350 square kilometers, the Sea of Marmara has always held great strategic importance as the link between the Black Sea and the Aegean via the straits of the Bosporus to the northeast and the Dardanelles to the southwest. It's named after Marmara, the largest island in the Marmara group that lies to the south of the sea. That in turn is named after the marble (“mermer” in Turkish) that is still quarried in great quantities there.

The Sea of Marmara is effectively İstanbul's backyard, yet most of the settlements along its shore receive relatively few foreign visitors despite being easy to get to. The following is a summary of what to see if you drive around the sea in a counterclockwise direction.



Heading west out of İstanbul along the northern shore of the Sea of Marmara, it takes a long time to get clear of the urban sprawl and the build-up of holiday homes, but eventually you arrive in Tekirdağ, best known in Turkey for its rakı factory but also an active fishing port where you can stroll along the promenade and watch the men fixing their nets in the sun.

The main mosque is a minor work of the great architect Sinan, but more interesting are two small museums, the first the local archeology museum which is housed in a magnificent early 20th-century building, the second a monument to Prince Francis II Rakoczy (1676-1735), a Hungarian exiled to this then-remote Ottoman town after he took part in the Hungarian War of Independence against the Habsburgs. It contains some lovely watercolors of old Tekirdağ.



If you continue driving around the shores of the sea, you will eventually reach the mouth of the Dardanelles at Gelibolu, a very pretty little harbor town presided over by a tower that has been converted into a museum to Piri Reis (c. 1465-1555), a Gelibolu-born admiral who produced the first map to show the American continent in its entirety. Gelibolu is also home to a small Çanakkale museum as well as to the largest Mevlevihane (lodge for whirling dervishes) in the world. There's a beach at nearby Hamzaköy and fish restaurants dishing up fresh sardines all around the harbor.


Biga and Karabiga

If you take the ferry across from Gelibolu to Lapseki and then continue driving round the Sea of Marmara (the road diverts inland at this point), you will come to the small town of Biga, interesting only for a couple of surviving Ottoman mansions, one converted into a hotel, the other into a museum. Here, though, you can take the road that heads north to the shore at Karabiga, where pieces of an old castle tumble picturesquely down the cliffs of a much more rugged stretch of coastline. It was near here in 334 B.C. that Alexander the Great first defeated the Persians at the Battle of Granicus.



Once a glitzy holiday resort that attracted the moneyed elite, Erdek is now a faded shadow of its old self but filled with hotels that nonetheless boast priceless sunset views over the Sea of Marmara from their balconies. The only specific tourist attraction nearby is the minor archeological site at Cyzikus, one of those places where you come to ponder the strange turns of the wheel of fortune that rendered what was once a town as rich and powerful as Ephesus an also-ran in the touristic stakes.


Marmara Islands

Erdek offers one of the main access points to the Marmara Islands throughout the summer. If you fancy a quick sun-and-sand break away from İstanbul, then these islands might just fit the bill. Mainly catering to the Turkish-family holiday market, the main island Avşa in particular is full of small family-run pensions that don't charge an arm and a leg and are often very close to the sea. Marmara island is bigger, more mountainous, and perhaps more visually enticing. The smaller, less readily accessible islands of Ekinlik and Paşalimanı are predictably more exclusive.



Continuing eastwards along the Sea of Marmara, you will come eventually to Mudanya, a ferry port that played an important role in the final events of the Turkish War of Independence as the place where İsmet İnönü met the leaders of the British, French and Italians to thrash out the boundaries of the new Turkish Republic. The elegant Mütadele Evi (Armistice House) where they did this is now open to the public as a museum and offers a chance to see inside one of the fine seaside mansions built as summer retreats by some of İstanbul's wealthiest families in the early 20th century.



Just a little further east, you will come to the lovely little seaside town of Trilye, once a largely Greek settlement known for its fine olive oil and called Zeytinbağı. Here street after cobbled street is lined with lovely old Ottoman houses in varying states of repair, the centerpiece being the grand Taş Mektep (Stone School) that started life as a seminary for priests. Also worth seeking out are three small Byzantine churches, two of them in ruins, the third restored for use as the Fatih Cami.


One of the best-known destinations on the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara is Yalova, one of the ports for fast-ferries from İstanbul and just a short bus ride away from Termal, a lovely wooded spa resort that found particular favor with Atatürk. Here you can swim in the open air in a large heated pool or sample the more discreet charms of assorted Turkish baths before taking a stroll around a large arboretum. You can also visit the newly restored summerhouse built for Atatürk, while in Yalova itself there is a more elegant sea-facing wooden pavilion for which he was also responsible. It's called the Yürüyen Köşkü (Walking Pavilion) because when the branches of nearby trees started to encroach on the view he had it painstakingly inched a little further along the coast.



Much less visited than Yalova/Termal, the small town of Karamürsel nonetheless boasts a pleasant landscaped waterfront whence you can hop on a ferry across the Sea of Marmara to Kocaeli (İzmit). Karamürsel played a walk-on part in Ottoman history as the site of the first naval shipyard founded in 1327. Accordingly, there's a monument here to Karamürsel, the admiral responsible who also designed the kadırga, the prototype of the galleys that served the navy in its early years.



Near Karamürsel is Topçular, where it's possible to hop on a ferry and cross back to the northern side of the Sea of Marmara at Eskihisar, a small town that is more or less a suburb of İstanbul now. As you approach across the water, you will get an excellent look at the huge castle that still dominates the town. It was here that the great Ottoman artist, archeologist and museum-maker, Osman Hamdi Bey, kept a summerhouse. A lovely whitewashed yalı (waterside mansion), it's open to the public as a museum that shows off replicas of his paintings, the best known of which is “The Tortoise Trainer” that is on display in İstanbul's Pera Museum. Osman Hamdi Bey is buried in a shady cemetery nearby.



Heading back to İstanbul, you might want to make one last quick stop at Hereke, once the place where fine silk carpets were woven to adorn the İstanbul palaces. Today the old factory is intermittently open to the public, who can also pause to appreciate a small yalı built for Kaiser Wilhelm II, who introduced chemical dyes from Germany to Turkey. Despite the busy main road roaring behind it, there's still a very pretty little harbor here where you can tuck into one last fish supper before returning to İstanbul.


Crossing the Sea of Marmara

Fast ferries sail from Yenikapı in İstanbul to Yalova, Mudanya and Bandırma, near Erdek ( At the Dardanelles end, car ferries cross from Gelibolu to Lapseki ( At the İstanbul end, car ferries cross from Topçular to Eskihisar every 20 minutes.

In summer there are car ferries from Tekirdağ to the Marmara Islands ( All year round, there are ferries to the Islands from Erdek (

Keywords: Marmara , travel

Monday, April 25, 2016

Touring Üsküdar

Touring Üsküdar

Touring Üsküdar
(Photo: Today's Zaman, Mehmet Yaman)

The landscape of İstanbul seems more artistic if you look from Üsküdar -- that is, of course, if you ignore the freakish buildings.
We decided to take a tour of Üsküdar in the month of Ramadan. Yahya Kemal, a famous poet, favored this part of the city because it was conquered first, praising it as follows: “Üsküdar, the city of witnesses of a magic dream / Every other city envies you…” This district hosts a number of important places that make İstanbul memorable. It welcomes its visitors via Maiden's Tower, the Aziz Mahmud Hüdai Tomb, Çamlıca and Çengelköy. It is summer time. It is hot everywhere. But still we identified a route for a tour in Üsküdar to have a better taste of the spiritual atmosphere of the city. I should tell you in advance that the tour does not include certain famous places like Kuzguncuk, Beylerbeyi, Çengelköy and Kandilli. Only the destinations within walking distance are included. Well, let's get started:

Salacak and Maiden's Tower

We have a suggestion for those who would like to see the historical peninsula. At sunset, you can break your fast in a restaurant here or on the rocks looking towards the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia. The azan is filling the air. It is accompanied by a nice view of Maiden's Tower and İstanbul's historical imagery. The nice thing is that here you can't see the modern skyscrapers destroying the city's skyline.
1- Rum Mehmet Pasha Mosque
Some readers may ask whether this is the right place to start an Üsküdar tour. Let me explain. We briefly pass by a mosque named after Mihrimah Sultan, Sultan Suleiman's daughter, and the Yeni Valide Mosque built by Emetullah Rabia Gülnuş Sultan, mother of Sultan Mustafa II and Ahmed III, as they are typically the first places that welcome visitors of this part of the city. Our destination is Salacak. After passing by the Şemsi Paşa Mosque, you will see the office of the marriage registry to your right. Just there, a mosque is hidden among the trees. This mosque, built by Sulatan Fatih's vizier, Rumi Mehmed, was first used in 1471. The inner part of the mosque, reflecting the characteristics of Byzantine and Ottoman architectural practices, is cozy. I should clarify one matter: There were a lot of masjids, or small mosques, before the conquest of the city, but this is the first building made in the form of a large mosque.
2- Ayazma Mosque
Ayazma is located in a neighborhood adjacent to the Şemsi Pasha Mosque. The mosque, built by Mustafa III, was first used in 1760. The Janissary Graveyard, Italian-style tiles and its magnificent atmosphere make this a special place that must be seen. As we know, Mehmet Tahir Ağa is the architect of this building. Hopefully, public authorities will pay care and attention to the building, whose architect was Mehmet Tahir Ağa, as the mosque has been under restoration for three months.
3- Aziz Mahmud Hüdayî Tomb
After passing through the hills, our next destination is the final resting place of a fairly important person: Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi, one of the spiritual leaders in the city. Born in Ankara in 1548, Hüdayi was serving as a qadi -- a member of the judiciary who settled legal disputes in Ottoman times -- in Bursa. However, he left his post to become a student of Üftade, the saint who lived in Bursa. His tomb hosts a number of visitors every day. Hüdayi, who died in Üsküdar in 1628, was buried on the grounds of his shrine. Let us recall his prayer before leaving his tomb, which is adorned with a special and famous prayer: “Those who visit me in my tomb or recite part of Quran are ours; those who love me shall not drown in the sea, shall not suffer from poverty and shall keep their faith intact.”
4- Doğancılar Park
Well, it is now time for some rest. The road will take us from the tomb to Doğancılar Park. This is like home of serenity and peace. It resembles the large room of a palace. While here, one should also visit the Nasuhi Mehmet Efendi Mosque and the tomb right across from the park. This is also a sacred place where Miraciye, an important text describing the Prophet Muhammad's ascension to Heaven, was written.
5- Karacaahmet Sultan Tomb
Karacaahmet Sultan, one of the dervishes of Hacı Bektaş Veli, is one of the spiritual leaders buried in Üsküdar. His tomb is found in a temple serving as cemevi (house of union). We should also note that the area named after him is the largest graveyard in Turkey.
6- Valide-i Atik Külliyesi (social complex)
Next we walk towards the Zeynep Kamil neighborhood. On the left-hand side, we see Şakirin Mosque, built in a modern style. The social complex appearing in front of us is the final work of Sinan the Architect. This is the old Valide Mosque, built in 1583. The construction of the building was sponsored and funded by Nurbanu Sultan, mother of Sultan Murad III. The mosque exhibits the finest examples of İznik tiles. It is also reported that Khidr -- a revered figure in Muslim and Islam-influenced areas who is believed to be described in the Quran as a righteous servant of God -- performed prayers here. The garden of the mosque is a peaceful oasis. You should have some rest under the old trees here and, during Ramadan, enjoy a glass of tea. Those who are not overtired can continue on to the Çinili Mosque as well.
7- Üsküdar Square
We descend towards the square after visiting the social complex. On our way, we commune with the historical streets of Üsküdar. We observe a number of historical artifacts and works along the road -- baths, shrines and tombs. The first significant place welcoming us to the square is the Karadavut Mosque. If you wish, you may have some rest there. I also recommend the tea houses right behind the municipal building after your iftar, or fast-breaking dinner.
8- Fethi Pasha Grove
The time for iftar is approaching. Now we have a dilemma. The Fethi Pasha Grove is the right place for those who would like to break their fast in a green area. It is located on the right-hand side in the direction of the bridge. I should note that this place has become popular as the location of the Hüseyin Avni Pasha Mansion, which recently burned down.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Day trip Cappadocia: Güzleyurt, Ihlara, Selime and Ağzıkarahan

Day trip Cappadocia: Güzleyurt, Ihlara, Selime and Ağzıkarahan

Day trip Cappadocia: Güzleyurt, Ihlara, Selime and Ağzıkarahan
Ihlara Gorge (Photo: Pat Yale)

“Not much that's definite is known about the underground cities. Some people think the Hittites built them to hide from their enemies. Some Americans have suggested the climate got colder and people lived in them to keep warm. Some think they were built so that Christians could hide from the Romans during persecution periods.”
We're standing in the entrance to the Güzleyurt Yeraltı Şehri, one of a network of so-called underground cities that thread their way through the soil of Cappadocia, and our guide is running through what little is known about them. Then the group is off, squeezing its way down a chute that leads from the upper to the lower level of this one, the only one in which archeologists have been able to identify a toilet, despite the fact that people may have spent weeks if not months at a time hiding inside these man-made underground cave labyrinths.

Lovely Güzelyurt lies on the less-visited western side of Cappadocia and it's the first main stop on one of the day tours from Göreme. As we approach the underground city, the road winds down into a beautiful wooded valley, great splashes of greenery contrasting beautifully with the honey-colored stone of the mainly abandoned houses of old Gelveri, the largely Greek town that existed here before the Greco-Turkish population exchange of 1923.

A path trails from the entrance of the underground city to the local mosque, a grand building in a walled garden that started life as a church built beside an ayazma, or sacred spring, still accessible today down a steep flight of stairs. The original church on the site dated back to 385 when it was commissioned by the Emperor Theodosius and named after Gregory of Nazianus (329-90), a local boy who had risen to become the Archbishop of Constantinople and was later canonized. The church you see today, however, is a rebuild of 1835 that was turned into a mosque after the population exchange, with the addition of a minaret over the gate. Happily, although the walls were whitewashed to conceal their frescoes the old wooden iconostasis was reused to make an attractive surround for the new mihrab while the wooden pulpit donated by Tsar Nicholas II was left in its place on a pillar.

On a tour there's not enough time to look around the rest of Güzelyurt, but staying visitors will find that it's home to several rock-cut medieval churches as well as to a more unusual rock-cut mosque. On the outskirts, the 19th-century Yüksek Kilise (High Church) perches picturesquely on a rock overlooking a lake.


Ihlara Gorge

The church-mosque and underground city may be fascinating, but the central feature of this particular tour is a walk through the middle of the spectacular Ihlara Gorge, a 14-kilometer-long canyon carved out of the rocky landscape by the Melendiz Çayı, a river that still ripples along its bottom providing a wonderfully refreshing backdrop for the walk. You can walk the entire length of the gorge in a single day without any special training, but most tours stick with a more manageable abbreviated stroll of around four kilometers along a path that is clearly laid out and well labeled.

The 400-odd steps down from the main entrance deposited us near the colorful ninth or 10th-century Ağaçaltı Kilise (Under the Tree Church), which is particularly unusual in featuring a very battered fresco of Daniel in the Lion's Den in the apse where one might more normally expect to see a figure of the Pantocrator or of Mary with Jesus. It being August, groups were queuing up to follow us into the tiny cross-shaped church cut straight out of the rock, so off we hurried to begin out walk.

I've always loved Ihlara and even today when it is far more “discovered” than when I first saw it on my own in 1992, it still retains its charm. Reclining on cushions on a platform set up in the water, glass of freshly squeezed orange juice in hand, ducks swimming past in hope of scraps of gözleme, I felt myself in heaven, a feeling only slightly dented by the over-development around Belisirma village where everyone stops for a trout lunch beside the river.

Selime Monastery

After lunch our minivan picked us up to drive to the pinprick village of Selime at the far end of the gorge, which is dominated by one of Cappadocia's biggest and most impressive rock-cut monastic complexes (the trouble with walking the entire gorge alone is that you end up here, 14 kilometers away from your car, unless you can arrange for someone to pick you up later).

The monastery, too, is a great deal more discovered than it used to be, with a ticket booth greeting visitors, where in the past you were lucky even to find the custodian (the same ticket covers admission to both the Ihlara Gorge and the Selime Monastery -- most tour prices include entry fees). Still, this is a stunning, unforgettable place where it's hard to know which is the more memorable: the steep-sided rock-cut path wide enough only to put one foot in front of the other; the huge, soot-blackened kitchen with its soaring pyramidal chimney; the lovely carved lintel over the doorway leading into a church on two stories with Romanesque-style columns: or the so-called “cathedral,” its frescoed images of stories from the Bible so soot-blackened that unless urgent restoration is carried out they will soon be lost altogether.

Across the road from the huge rock cone of Selime is a cemetery dominated by one of the conical türbes (tombs) that are scattered across the Selçuk heartlands.

Ağzıkarahan Caravanserai

On the way back to Göreme we stopped off in the village of Ağzıkara, which is home to one of the finest of the great caravanserais built by the Selçuks right the way across Anatolia. These caravanserais were prototype hotels where traveling salesmen and their animals could put up for three days with the state bearing the cost of their accommodation. Most were built as far apart from one another as a camel could comfortably walk in a day, although the one at Ağzıkara is actually quite close to the newly restored caravanserai of Tepsidelik, now converted into a restaurant.

Ağzıkarahan is a fairly typical caravanserai, its austere, almost fortress-like outside walls cheered up only by an outburst of glorious carving around the main entrance. It was commissioned in 1231 when the great Selçuk leader Alaeddin Keykubad I was ruling from Konya and completed in 1239 by which time Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev had succeeded him.
Inside, the huge courtyard is broken up by a mescid (chapel) raised up on stone stilts, the steps leading up to it almost as elaborately carved as the entrance. On one side of the courtyard a vast, high-ceilinged stable to accommodate the camels in winter is fitted with stone ledges that could serve as beds but also made it easier to unload the animals. On the other side an open-sided arched area provided stabling in summer.

Fate has not been kind to Ağzıkarahan, which attracted quite a lot of tourists until four years ago when a bypass left it high and dry. Since then, the visitors have virtually dried up. Now it is being restored. Rumor has it that it, like Tepsidelik, will be turned into a restaurant afterwards.

On our way back to Göreme we made one last photostop in front of Uçhisar Kalesi, another soaring rock cone. Back at the travel agency, we downed a reviving drink and chatted over nibbles. It had been a long day but a thoroughly satisfactory one, of that fact we were all agreed.

Pat Yale was a guest of Heritage Travel (, tel: 0384-271 2687) in Göreme.

Keywords: Cappadocia , trip

Monday, March 28, 2016

Traveling through the emotions

Traveling through the emotions

Traveling through the emotions
(Photo: Diego Monfredini)

“Touching is everything to us. Then hearing, but hearing is not enough. You have to listen to the people, the music, the streets and even silence, because even silence tells you something.” If every city has a peculiar sound, silence is what Elena Bussino says about Cappadocia.
Bussino who travelled to Cappadocia along with seven other visually impaired tourists says: “I sense that this place is still pristine, silence is the sound of Cappadocia.” Bussino travels despite his blindness. This is pretty surprising to us given that we do not appreciate the most basic senses including hearing, touching and listening. For them, relying on these senses is just normal. They touch, listen, smell and even take selfies. Most of them do not remember how many times they have performed such a trip. Bussino lists some of the places he has been to, “Britain, Spain, France, Prague, Budapest, Ireland…” He tries to visit an English-speaking country every year because he is an English teacher and wants to remain fluent.
Bussino and his friends usually travel with family and exclusive tours that cater solely for the visually impaired is something new for them. Travel agencies tend not to pay attention to these niche events which tend to be organized by specific societies and charity groups. But the “traveling via emotions” project by Enrico Radrizzani is an exception. He believes that he is the only business entrepreneur organizing these kinds tours.

Radrizzani says, “I live wherever my suitcase is.” Cappadocia is the place where his suitcase has stayed the longest. Radrizzani who came to Turkey 24 years ago for the first time has traveled around the country a lot since then. He stayed for short periods of time in countries where he was showing tourists. Currently, he travels back and forth between Turkey and Italy. This is the second tour to Cappadocia that Radrizzani has organized for the visually impaired. The first was not as comprehensive. There were only four people in the first, but this one is totally different he tells us. His job is both hard and easy: “To ensure that they appreciate what is going on around them, we try to tell them that they should leave all other senses aside so that they grasp what their eyes cannot see. This takes a long time.” Of course, this is the hardest part, but the tourists are pretty independent and friendly, they are also pretty brave. Radrizzani, who has held countless tours so far, notes that regular tourists sometimes act childishly where the visually impaired tourists are pretty comfortable. He says: “They are pretty familiar with the idea that the cities have not been built with the needs of the visually impaired in mind and they use all of their other senses to the fullest. For this reason, they are more powerful. For instance, last week, we held a march in the full moon with a group of regular tourists. Most of them were scared of walking in the dark. But these people walk in the dark day and night. They fear nothing.”
We get to see what Radrizzani is trying to tell us first hand when we go on a nature walk in both Meskendir Valley and Mustafa Paşa. The visually impaired tourists did not complain about a thing when passing through the hardest parts of the routes. They never complained of being tired and we realized just how strong their other senses are. We want to talk to them about how they feel. Ester Tornavacca says: “We learn how to use the sense of touch at an early age. It just becomes part of your life over time. My mum taught me how to use touch since childhood. I started travelling with my mum. She told me I should touch everything during the trips. Touching is like seeing to us. I think that this sense is stronger in women. It takes some courage, that's all, true, it is hard, but not impossible.”

Tornavacca came from Turin. She works as an analyst in a company in Italy as well as teaches drama to children. She is one of the two in the group who is partially sighted. She says: “I have no vision in one eye but I do have slight vision in the other. I can just see colors and shades, no details. I know you are in front of me, but I cannot tell how close you are. I need to touch to see that.”
Tornavacca adds: “I have traveled a lot but these were standard tours organized by travel agencies without considering the needs of visually impaired people. I heard about Enrico's company last year for the first time. I wanted to join the tour to Turkey because Turkey is one of the countries I wanted to see most.” Like Bussino, she also dreams that the next stop will be Istanbul.
Tornavacca talks a lot about her mother who encouraged her to travel more: “My mum was looking for me as well, so I was also able to see things around me.” Elena Bussino believes that traveling is not a problem at all for a visually impaired people if they have somebody to accompany them. She holds that the key is scheduling the vacations and travels at the same time. Some people have children and others have conflicting schedules. Normally travel agencies do not allow visually impaired people to travel by themselves. So what they really need is somebody to walk with them.

Almost all of the guests in Cappadocia lost their vision right after birth. In addition to Elena, who has not been able to see since age 3, Consuelo Bconsu has been suffering from the same problem since he was 18. He believes that this carries some hardships: “You lose the world you are familiar with and you are aware of what you lost. Of course, remembering colors and objects makes communication with people easier. When somebody speaks about a ‘red shawl,' you have an idea of what they are talking about.”

Bconsu works in the human resources department of IBM in Italy. Like others, he travels a lot. He has memories of the places he has been to. Every city has its own voice, odor and atmosphere in his mind: “I cannot tell you exactly, but they do have them. Otherwise, every part of the world would be the same to us.”


We realized that we do not use our other senses

Radrizzani has a team of six, including himself, on the tours he organizes for the visually impaired travelers. Four young Italians contribute to the tour and he has a Turkish guide as well. Three of them accompany the tourists on the tour: “We do not do anything. They take care of everything. We just walk with them.” Valentina Coviello says, “We have learned a lot from them.” She adds: “During the valley walk, we traveled with two groups. After a while, we realized that the other people in the other group started to smell the flowers and touch stones and trees. I realized after walking with them that we use our senses pretty rarely. Now I touch, smell and listen, and sometimes I even close my eyes.”
Visually impaired tourists communicate with local people and they like to talk to others. Bussino explains why: “If you visually impaired, people around you become more curious about you. You can take advantage of this and communicate with those people and become comfortable with their culture and customs.” Paolo Rivalta, a visually impaired traveler, explains why visually impaired people rely on other senses: “I pay attention to other senses because I cannot see. You most probably ignore them because you are able to see, because eyes are the most dominant sensory organ. Maybe you think you do not need other senses.”

Diego Monfredini is another member of the “Traveling via Emotions” team. He is a professional photographer and the producer of an award winning short film about traveling through emotions. He not only takes photos but helps the tourists walk, too.

‘What you see on your right-hand side is…'

Cafer Gezer is serving as a guide for tourists in Cappadocia. Traveling via Emotions, which is owned by Radrizzani, cooperates with local agencies. The logic of tourism was what drove Radrizzani to introduce this traveling through motions project. The Italian tourism entrepreneur avoids the classic tour approach in his organizations. He cooperates with local agencies to organize slow tours that give more time for the tourists to get to know the local people and their culture. In other words, it is not a standard travel tour where people have a short space of time to see as many places as possible. He had experience with visually impaired tourists for the first time in the Ancona Museum in Italy six years ago. He has received many requests since then. Over the last three years, he took visually impaired tourists to Cappadocia. Radrizzani wants to improve this project and for this reason he is open to recommendations and cooperation. He will organize a tour to Morocco and Tunisia next month but he is also considering tours in southeastern Anatolia and Istanbul. And of course, it won't be just Italians joining the trip.

This is Cafer Gezer's second experience with visually impaired tourists. He talks about his experiences: “This is just new for us. We learn together with them.” In fact, they do what unimpaired people do on a regular tour. The only difference is that he gives a lot more details. For instance, he sometimes forgets that the audience is visually impaired people, starting by saying, “What you see on your right-hand side is…” But some of the tourists just correct him, saying, “You mean what you see…”

On the Traveling through Emotions tours, visitors are able to do everything regular tourists would do, with a few added extras. Radrizzani explains: “They touch the strings and designs in the rug workshops. We allow them to touch the final product in the marbling workshop. We attended a roof wedding ceremony where they danced and talked to the people. And most specially, they touched whirling dervishes.” Of course, these were all made possible by Radrizzani's connections in Cappadocia after spending a lot of time travelling in the area. People in Uçhisar know him and his friendships and connections enable him to organize special events for the visually impaired visitors. At this point, Radrizzani says that the traveling through emotions tour is not more expensive than regular tours. He says: “People in the region are sensitive. The hotels offer their best prices out of a sense of social responsibility. The people in my crew work on voluntary basis.”

They touch while flying

Visually impaired visitors also experience the helium balloon tour, an indispensable part of any Cappadocia tour. They actually have an added experience in visiting the home of the pilot who steers the balloon. İsmail Keremoğlu welcomes his guests and gives details, including the technical information, about the helium balloon experience. Then they touch the balloon that they will be travelling in the next day. Before sunrise, they move to the spot, once again, they are allowed to touch the balloon. Then we get onboard and rise 300 meters high. Bussino and other friends stand next to the pilot and listen to Cappadocia. Another group of Italians in the balloon are busy taking photos. Those people look at the view, that is for sure, but I am not sure whether they can actually see.

We were busy with taking photos that we would share on Facebook when they were enjoying the sense of serenity and escalation. The silence is broken by a song as one of the visitors starts to sing, “La chante mi cantare.” This is followed by laughter. Our pilot is pretty pleased with the new guests and he has a surprise for them. He does something that he does not normally do and lowers the balloon to pass through trees so that his guests can “see” in their own way. The visitors touch the leaves of the trees. Our pilot turns his face towards us and says, “You will see sunrise in a moment.” And then he turns towards the other side, telling the vision-impaired guests that they will soon feel the touch of the sun on their skin. Then another little surprise follows. The balloon slightly touches a rock and this makes people pretty happy. And silence again. For some reason, I recall my forgotten senses, the ones I have forgotten to use for a long time, particularly my eyes. First, I put my camera in my bag, then I start to take a real look at what is around me. And then I close my eyes to hear the silence because they I have been taught that silence has something to tell us.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Slowly along the Turkish Riviera

Slowly along the Turkish Riviera

Slowly along the Turkish Riviera
Akdeniz (Photo: Sunday's Zaman, Selahattin Sevi)

The turquoise coast. The turkish riviera. Don't those words have a romantic ring to them? Don't they just make you want to rush out and take a holiday immediately?

The Turkish Riviera stretches all the way from Marmaris in the west to Antalya in the east. My money's on the bit in the middle though, the bit that is bookended by Fethiye in the west and Antalya in the east. Clear azure seas. Perfect rocky coves. Delightful little beaches. In the hills behind them the ruins of the lost Lycian civilization. What could be more alluring?

Here are some of the highlights of that stretch of the coast, most of them readily accessible on day trips from either Fethiye or Antalya.

Ölüdeniz and Kayaköy

Facing out over a bay full of rocky islands, Fethiye town makes a great place to base yourself with all sorts of shops and restaurants tucked away in the bazaar area along with an old hamam (Turkish bath) and a lively fish market. In the evening few things could be nicer than strolling along the harbor front and sizing up the boats that wait to take holidaymakers out on “12 Island” tours of the bay. There's even a town beach in the suburb of Çalış accessible in summer via a delightful water taxi ride from the harbor.

Çalıs, however, is fairly built-up. To stretch out on sands without a hotel looming over you, you're better off heading out to Ölüdeniz where a spit of sand juts out into a glorious lagoon. These days you'll find it jampacked with sunbeds, although an admission fee keeps things relatively exclusive. Don't fancy paying? Well, then you can stretch out on the sand for free at Belcekiz, which is where the dolmuş from Fethiye will drop you. As you snooze the day away, you'll be able to watch the hang-gliders launching themselves off nearby Baba Dağı (Mt Baba). Daniel Craig tried it in Skyfall should you fancy channeling his James Bond alter ego.

Returning to Fethiye, you can hop off the dolmuş from Ölüdeniz and hop into another one running inland to the ruins of Karaköy, the abandoned Greek settlement that provided the inspiration for Louis de Berniere's wonderful novel, "Birds Without Wings." In 1923, the Greeks who used to live here were sent to live in Greece. A smaller number of Turks “returned” from Greece to Turkey, and so the old houses were left empty. Despite frequent suggestions that they should be rebuilt, the houses and churches still stand abandoned for the time being. This is a great place to come and let your imagination take wing.

Tlos and Saklıkent Gorge

Fethiye travel agents offer combined trips to the ruins of the great Lycian city of Tlos perched partly on a dramatic plug of rock. Most of what survives today dates the later years of the Roman occupation, although the Lycian necropolis with its rock-cut tombs survives with a much-later Ottoman castle plonked down on top of it.

Tours also take in the lovely if no longer hidden gorge at Saklıkent (Hidden City). Here the canyon walls soar so high and are so close together that the sun never reaches the bottom even in summer, leaving the water running along the bottom icy cold. All manner of daredevil sports are on offer here and a string of restaurants line the banks of the river outside the gorge itself. Some tours will take you instead for lunch in nearby Yakaköy, where restaurants wrap themselves in picturesque style around trees and running water.

Butterfly Valley and Faralya

In summer, boats ply back and forth from Belcekiz beach to lovely Butterfly Valley where it's possible to camp behind the small beach off the path running inland to a small waterfall backed by soaring rocks. On top of those rocks sits Faralya, accessible by a path that only the surefooted should attempt. Everyone else is better advised to take the dolmuş from Fethiye to the hotels and pensions lined up to scoop its spectacular sunset views.

A short stop in Butterfly Valley is also a fixture on the boat trips out of Ölüdeniz, if you just want to get a quick look and move on.

Xanthos and the Letoon

Before the Romans came along, this was a part of the world that belonged to the mysterious Lycians about whom little that's certain is known. Their capital was, however, uphill from Kınık, which is easily accessible from Fethiye. Here you can admire another rock-cut necropolis as well as a strange tower-like monument that dates back to the days when the Persians had overrun the site. Most of the finest monuments from Xanthos were removed to the British Museum in the 19th century, but there's enough left here to give you a sense of what the city must have been like in the days before its menfolk killed their wives and children and set fire to the town rather than surrender to the Persians.

A little way away from Xanthos stands the Letoon, the remains of a huge temple complex dedicated to the goddess Leto and her children, Apollo and Artemis, that was the most sacred place for the Lycians. Together these two sites form one of Turkey's world heritage sites.


Of all the beaches along the Turkish Riviera none can compare with the splendor of Patara, an 18-kilometer-long stretch of sand fading on the western side into dunes planted with eucalyptuses that give off a vague whiff of Australia. Like the beach at Ölüdeniz, the one at Patara is protected with all the hotel development inland at Gelemiş. Not that keen on sunbathing? Well, the area between Gelemiş and the beach is thickly covered in ruins, some of them, such as the old Greco-Roman theater, absolutely magnificent.


A big hit with the British, many of whom have set up home here, Kalkan was once a small fishing village, the memory of which still hangs about the harbor front where chi-chi restaurants compete to see which can vanish beneath the thickest coating of bougainvillea each summer. It's a pretty place with not a great deal in the way of sightseeing on offer. Make it your base, then venture out to explore on day trips.

Kaş and Kaleköy

Built on a hillside that slopes down to another colorful harbor, Kaş offers a great mix of gourmet dining and boutique shopping with a smidgen of local sightseeing and plenty of options on the watersports front. It's also the best base for visiting the delightful offshore village of Kaleköy, one of the prettiest places in all Turkey with yet another Lycian necropolis to explore and a row of fish restaurants lining the waterfront. From Kaş you can also hop across to the Greek island of Kastellorizo (Meis) where a gyro for lunch might make a welcome change from yet another döner kebap.

Demre and Myra

Approaching the small town of Demre, you will be amazed at the serried rows of plastic-wrapped greenhouses. Behind this not very appealing façade, however, there's a town whose life revolves around the ruins of a Byzantine church thought to have housed the bones of St Nicholas, the prototype Father Christmas (Noel Baba), until they were stolen by 11th-century pirates and carried off to Bari in Italy. That aside, the church is worth visiting for its wonderfully colorful frescoes and mosaics. A quick kilometer's walk away, there are also spectacular remains of a Greco-Roman theater and -- yes, you've guessed it -- another picturesque rock-cut Lycian necropolis.

Olympos and Çıralı

Treehouse or eco-pension? Your answer to this accommodation question will dictate whether you're better off heading for Olympos, where most of the treehouses these days are really more like chalets, or to Çıralı, a small beach resort where most of the accommodation has been designed with an eye to protecting the environment (although these days there's a great deal of it). Whichever you choose, you'll have on your doorstep the romantically ramshackle ruins of ancient Lycian and Roman Olympos and the eerie Chimaera, an inextinguishable flame that flares from the mountainside and makes a great sight either during the day when the path will seem less scary or in the dark when the hooting of the local owls will add to the sense of awe.


Close to Antalya with its choice of beaches (including a new women-only one), its marvelous walled Ottoman enclave (the Kaleiçi) and its superb museum lie the ruins of Phaselis set right on the beach so that you can visit them, then take a dip afterwards. Come soon since a planned new hotel development will almost certainly detract from the glory of the erstwhile untouched woodland setting.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Out and about from Trabzon

Out and about from Trabzon

Out and about from Trabzon
Sumela Monastery (Photo: Sunday's Zaman, Pat Yale)

Way down towards the far eastern end of Turkey's black sea coast the great port city of Trabzon has an illustrious history that is somewhat belied by its workaday modern appearance. It was to this distant outpost that the Byzantine emperor fled in 1204 when the army of the Fourth Crusade overran what was then Constantinople (today's İstanbul).
Even after their rivals for the throne managed to seize the city back in 1261, the rulers of the breakaway Empire of Trebizond stayed put here. It wasn't until 1461 that the Ottomans pushed them out and seized it for themselves.
But Byzantine culture had left a lasting mark on Trabzon. It wasn't until 1924 that the last Greeks were forced by the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne to “return” to Greece, while Turks from Greece came to take their place.

For centuries, Trabzon sat at the end of one of the Silk Road trails, its port bustling with merchants exporting the silks and spices of the East and dispatching by road the less exotic produce of the West. Right into the 20th century, camel trains were still a common sight around town.

Today Trabzon is an exciting, energetic city brimming with self-confidence and with a distinctive atmosphere born of its long contact with Russia and the Caucasus. The exquisite Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia (now converted into a mosque) and a pair of elegant museums aside, the town center is not big on historic sightseeing. Very little is made, for example, of the role once played by the Fatih Cami as the Church of Panagia Khristokefalos where the breakaway Byzantine emperors were crowned; most other reminders of the Byzantine era, including the old palace, go utterly ignored.

But Trabzon remains a great place to stay with lots of pleasant local restaurants and tea gardens, and a lively bazaar to discover in between trips out to explore the surrounding area.

Sumela Monastery

The number-one drawcard that pulls tourists by the busload into this area is the Sumela Monastery, clinging like a limpet to a rock-face deep in the glorious pine forest of the Altındere National Park. After the last of the monks left at the time of the population exchange, the once-flourishing monastery fell into ruins. Recently, though, it has been effectively rebuilt, which makes it easier to imagine how life might have been lived on the mountainside if harder to remember just how old the original building was.

To understand that, you need to step inside the rock shelter at the back of the site and look up at its colorful Byzantine frescoes. For it was here that in the fourth century Saints Barnabas and Sophronius claimed to have found an icon of the Virgin Mary painted by St. Luke, one of the four evangelists who had been born in what is now Antakya. Despite the difficulty of reaching the site, a shrine rapidly grew up here. Work on expanding it continued well into the 19th century as can be seen from the somewhat battered frescoes adorning the outside wall of a smaller church on the site making it look rather like a church from deepest Transylvania.

To get the most out of a visit here, it's probably best to come alone so that you can take your time over the climb up to the monastery, then take a good look round before perhaps pausing for lunch in the national park.


Second in popularity only to the monastery as a day-trip destination is Uzungöl, the “long lake” that nestles in the mountains to the east of Trabzon, inland from the small town of Of, known mainly for the piety of its residents. Uzungöl is often promoted as a second Switzerland, evoking images of pretty, pointy-roofed chalets grouped picturesquely around the water. Unfortunately, reality comes with a great deal more concrete, although recent years have seen an attempt to improve things by wood-facing some of the older buildings.

These days, Uzungöl finds particular favor with visitors from Saudi Arabia; “they love the greenery and the rain,” a local hotel receptionist explained.


If you're staying in Trabzon for a few days, you might want to head out west to visit the small town of Akçaabat, which is best known for its tasty köfte, served with aplomb at a string of large sea-facing restaurants along the main road.

For most people, that's about as far as a trip to Akçaabat goes, but really the thing to do is to struggle up the steep hill behind the town center in search of the lovely old Ortamahalle, the part of the town where the Greeks used to live in delightful wooden-framed houses clustered around the early 14th-century Church of the Archangel Michael.

As with Trabzon, so with Akçaabat as it appears that the locals have preferred to forget their Byzantine past: On my most recent visit, the church was open to visitors, although nothing had been done to protect its beautiful mosaic floor or provide any information about it. On the other hand, the lovely houses were being restored and will no doubt provide wonderful new homes with sea views for better-off Akçaabatlıs. In due course, no doubt the church, too, will receive more attention.


Vakfıkebir is known throughout Turkey for producing mouth-wateringly delicious bread in loaves the size of cartwheels. If you are in Trabzon on a Monday, it's worth popping out here to take a turn around a sprawling riverside market. Then you can treat yourself to a sandwich you won't be forgetting in a hurry.


Beyond Akçaabat and Vakfıkebir is the small town of Tirebolu where a castle, probably built by Genoese traders in the 14th century, perched on a rock, dominates a pretty fishing harbor. It won't take long to look around here, which means that you can come by bus, then hop on and off at Vakfıkebir and Akçaabat on the way back to Trabzon.



The Black Sea Highway roars along the eastern Black Sea coast, a boon to truckers in a hurry to get to Georgia, a nightmare for more or less everyone else. The highway was built on reclaimed land, a fact that's easy to forget when you're in the towns along the way, but that becomes more obvious if you side-trip east to Sürmene to visit the stunning Memişağa Konaği, a huge mansion with a wooden-framed superstructure attached to a stone ground floor, that is known locally as the Kastell. When it was built in the 19th century, the mansion would have sat in enviable tranquility with its wooden shutters opening onto a glorious vista of the Black Sea. Now it's stranded inland astride a bluff above the highway.

The Memişağa Konaği is theoretically open to the public, although you may have to ask around for the caretaker. Inside it showcases marvelous examples of the sort of painted woodwork that once adorned the walls and ceilings of the homes of the Black Sea wealthy. Stroll back in the Trabzon direction towards the center of Sürmene, and on the outskirts you'll find a cluster of the sort of solid wooden mansions that would have been the homes of the more middling class of merchant. Now, of course, they're expensive to maintain and most are standing empty.


Beyond Sürmene lies Rize, the capital of Turkish tea-growing country with a museum to show off all the fine packaging that has been used to market the product since it was introduced to the area in the 1930s by Zihni Derin, whose bust sits outside the Tea Research Institute to celebrate his achievement. Like Trabzon, Rize is a town that is more focused on looking forward than back, but the tea museum is housed in a fine restored Ottoman house in the town center and the remains of a castle still protect the western flanks of the town. Come here to get a taste of the Laz and Hemşin cultures that live on in the coastal towns and hidden valleys beyond Rize, quite literally if you order one of the tasty local delicacies, lahana çorbası (cabbage soup), mıhlama (cheese fondue) or mısır ekmeği (cornbread).

Monday, February 15, 2016

From Harput to Lake Van, Erzurum and Trabzon with Henry Fanshawe Tozer (2)

From Harput to Lake Van, Erzurum and Trabzon with Henry Fanshawe Tozer (2)

From Harput to Lake Van, Erzurum and Trabzon with Henry Fanshawe Tozer (2)
Akdamar Church, Van

Disembarking at the Black Sea port of Samsun in the spring of 1879, the British geographer Henry Fanshawe Tozer made his way southwest over several mountain chains to the Central Anatolia plateau. Here he explored the fascinating remains around the Hittite capital of Hattuşa, east of Ankara, before riding southeast to the crucial trading hub of Kayseri. After a quick detour west to the fairy tale landscape of Cappadocia, Tozer and his party headed northeast to Sivas, then southeast across the biblical Euphrates to Harput (outside modern Elazığ).
From Harput onward, the territory the curious Tozer would venture through was inhabited largely by Kurds and Armenians. It was a remote and mountainous region that the Ottoman authorities were struggling to keep a firm grip on -- especially in the wake of the crippling 1877-8 war with Russia. Britain, motivated by its own interests in the region, had stepped in to help Ottoman Turkey against imperial Russia. In return, the ruling sultan, Abdul Hamid II, had been forced to accept the presence of British officials roaming at will over Anatolia -- handy for British travelers' such as Tozer in the short-term, but the resentment caused by this partial ceding of independence to a foreign power was to eventually have devastating consequences for Anatolia's Christian population.

From Harput to Muş

From Harput, Tozer headed east to the today little-visited town of Palu. Here he was shown some rock-cut chambers in the Urartian fortress, which his guides informed him “were the dwelling place of St Mezrop, the Armenian saint, who invented the Armenian alphabet about 406 AD.” The party then skirted the mountainous Dersim region (today the Munzur Mountains around Tunceli). Having mainly fraternized with Turks, Greeks and Armenians up until now, the party had their first contact with Kurds. The group they met “hardly spoke a word of Turkish, so that we had difficulty communicating with them, and we found them very suspicious, and demanding high price for articles such as milk and cheese, which we bought of them, and demanding the money be paid on the spot.”

Today the Surp Garabet Monastery on the Muş Plain, the party's next destination, is completely ruined and desolate. Tozer reached it on Aug. 24, 1879 and found this important monastery -- believed by Armenians to contain a very holy relic, the body of John the Baptist -- and pilgrimage stop “full of men, women and children … picnicking on the ground. … Some of the women had one nostril pierced for a silver ornament.”  The monastery was then home to 20 monks, the head priest of which spoke fluent French, and 180 lay brothers.
The town of Muş was quite the contrast to the monastery, being “quite the filthiest town we had met with in Turkey … the pavements were broken and ragged; every street was an open drain, and the stenches were fearful.” After lodging in Muş with a well-off Armenian, the travelers set-off the next morning on fresh horses for Bitlis, nestling deep down in a valley below Lake Van. Here they were hosted by a well-known American missionary, Reverend George Knapp, who was working with the local Armenian community. According to Tozer, Bitlis -- today a fascinating place clustered around its imposing old citadel -- consisted of “3000 houses, 2000 of which belong to Kurds, 1000 to Armenians, 20 to the Turks and 50 to the Syrians.”

Up Mount Süphan and by boat across Lake Van

Every traveler to eastern Turkey today longs for their first sight of Lake Van. Back in 1979, Tozer first saw it following a five-hour ride from Bitlis. “A beautiful view, owing to the numerous bays, the succession of headlands, and the finely cut outline of the ridges.” The party rode around the north shore of the lake to Ahlat, famed for its Selçuk tombs and gravestones, before reaching the pretty settlement of Adilcevaz. Having conquered Mount Erciyes outside of Kayseri, the lure of the even higher Mount Süphan, a volcanic cone towering above the village, was irresistible. Despite camping 7,000 feet up on the slopes of the peak and leaving at 3 a.m. the next morning, Tozer, who was weakened by the journey, failed to reach the summit. He did, however, enjoy the splendid lake and mountain views from the rim of this crater-topped, 4,058-meter-high peak.
Tozer and his companions reached Van by sailing from Adilcevaz and lodged in the old, walled town at the foot of the dramatic Rock of Van. Today Van is an undulating sea of rubble, bar a couple of well-restored Ottoman mosques and the scant remnants of a church and a couple of caravanserais, but it then had a prosperous population of some 30,000 “of whom three fourths are Armenians.”

The Rock of Van

Eager to explore the Rock of Van, Tozer first had to get permission from the commandant of the Ottoman garrison then stationed atop it. Then, as now, the view from the summit of the sheer, 100-meter-high, 1.5-kilometer-long rock was spectacular: “The panorama from the highest point was enchanting, for on one side lay the expanse of the blue sparkly lake, with its circuit of mountains, among which Siphan [Süphan] and Nimrud Dagh [Nemrut] were conspicuous, while on the opposite direction the broken Varak Dagh [Erek] formed a noble object.”
The oldest historic remains on the rock are now known to be Urartian, a unique civilization centered in Van between 900 and 600 B.C. At the time of Tozer's visit, they were thought to be Assyrian and the cuneiform inscriptions that mark the rock-cut tomb of Urartian King Argishti I that Tozer saw were “still a riddle to philologists.” Before leaving Van, Tozer visited another American missionary promoting the Protestant variant of the Christian faith to the sometimes unwilling Apostolic Armenians led by Dr. Reynolds.

Üç Kümbetler, Erzurum (Photo: Cihan)

Past Kurdish encampments and a biblical peak to Erzurum

They left Van on Sept. 6, riding north along the eastern shore of the lake and then following the gorge of Bendimah River. Led by a local, they overnighted at a Kurdish encampment “with numerous tents forming a long line, some large and black, others smaller, round and white. The men who were hanging about them were a wild and surly looking set, with hair streaming down in long locks … all of course were armed. Their possessions might be seen about the encampment -- sheep, goats, oxen and cows, herds of horses, big mastiff dogs, and greyhounds clothed in small coats. The whole formed a highly picturesque scene.”

Avoiding Doğubeyazıt, which according to the locals had been ruined in the war with Russia, they headed across high, volcanic peaks to Diyadin -- today known for its hot springs -- reveling in the fine view of 5,165-meter-high Mount Ararat (Ağrı Dağ) en route. From Diyadin they continued westward towards Erzurum, passing “a long line of 170 laden camels.” Tozer was impressed with Erzurum as they approached, noting, “As seen from without, it seemed the most imposing city, with the exception of Amasia, that we had reached on our journey, owing to the numerous minarets and other striking buildings that rise from its midst.”
In Erzurum they were “received with the greatest kindness by our consul, General Major Trotter, who entertained us during our stay.” Trotter had been in the city during the recent Russian siege during which the strategically crucial outpost nearly fell, and according to Tozer, the population had fallen to around 20,000 as a result of the recent difficulties. Tozer reported that the whole region was in disarray as the Kurds were taking advantage of the lack of central control (the Ottoman troops had not been paid in four years) to pillage the Armenians. Worse, the Circassians (Çerkez) who had arrived as a result of Russian advances “came with nothing but their arms … they follow no pursuits save those of highway robbers and petty pilfering, and being well-armed with rifles, revolvers and swords, whilst the Zapitehs (Ottoman police) often have nothing better than flintlock guns.”

Uzungöl, Trabzon (Photo: Cihan)

Over the Pontic Alps to Trabzon

From Erzurum Tozer's party headed north, over the Kop Pass, to the top of the Pontic Alps from where they “looked down into a deep valley, in which were cheerful, well-built villages, with walls of stone and red-tile roofs; beyond this rose forest clad mountains … delicately cut ridges … the snow-topped mountains of Lazistan and, completing all, the expanse of the soft-blue Euxine (Black Sea).” The cultural, topographic and climatic contrast between the arid Anatolian Plateau and the Black Sea hinterland still shocks travelers today, how much more marked it must have been in Tozer's day.
Tozer waxed lyrical about their next stop, the famous cliff-hanging monastery of Sumela, then still inhabited by Greek Orthodox monks. They were hosted by the gracious monks and as they left the next day for Trabzon the normally reserved Brit was moved to write that it was “one of the loveliest spots we had ever seen.” It remains a picturesque place with the monastery recently restored. The monks, though, are long gone, prey to the post-WWI population exchange between Greece and Turkey.
Finally they reached Trabzon, or Trebizond as Tozer knew it: “We came in sight of the city, which was the term of our wandering. We had concluded a ride of 1,500 miles, which had been accomplished without illness or incident of any kind.” It was indeed quite an achievement. In Trabzon they explored the various Byzantine churches turned mosques, but couldn't gain access to the famous Haghia Sophia (Aya Sofya) as it “had been appropriated for military purposes.” Then on Sept. 27 Tozer and his companion, TM Crowder, boarded a French steamship bound for Constantinople.

Sümela Monastery, Trabzon (Photo: Cihan)
Henry Fanshawe Tozer's “Turkish Armenia and Eastern Asia Minor” can be read online at
Keywords: Tozer , Turkey

Monday, February 1, 2016

From Samsun to Cappadocia and Beyond with Henry Fanshawe Tozer. Part 1

From Samsun to Cappadocia and Beyond with Henry Fanshawe Tozer. Part 1

From Samsun to Cappadocia and Beyond with Henry Fanshawe Tozer. Part 1
Hattuşa remains (Photo: Sunday's Zaman)

When Henry Fanshawe Tozer embarked on a long journey across Anatolia in the spring of 1879, the fascinating region that was then the heartland of the Ottoman Empire was on the edge of crisis.
Muslim refugees had flooded in from the Balkans and Caucasus, victims of the expansionist policies of imperialist Russia. Their arrival upset the natural balance of the longer-established Anatolian people -- Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Kurds and other ethno-religious groups. In 1874 a major famine had decimated the population, state taxes went uncollected.
The sultanate was in disarray with Abdul Aziz forced to step down in 1876. His successor, Murad V, had a nervous breakdown and was deposed later the same year, paving the way for the paranoid Abdul Hamid II to take over the ailing empire. The war with Russia, which began in 1877, was to have disastrous consequences as well. Faced with the loss of vast swathes of territory, the Ottomans had no choice but to accept the help of Britain, who in 1878 obtained the island of Cyprus in return. The sultan also agreed to respect the rights of the empire's substantial Christian population and British officials penetrated the remotest parts of Anatolia to supervise the implementation of the agreement.

Amasya’s famous apples (Photo: Cihan)

Over the mountains from Samsun to Amasya

Given the parlous state of Anatolia in the 1870s, it's no wonder that Tozer cancelled his original trip, scheduled for 1874, and waited until the final year of the decade to set out into Anatolia. Like so many travellers' before him, he made the first part of the journey -- from Constantinople (İstanbul) to Samsun -- by boat. Tozer's travelling companions were TM Crowder, the bursar of Corpus Christi, Oxford, and a Greek dragoman whom Tozer noted with faint praise as “a rough and far from first-rate travelling servant, but hardy and healthy, and possessing a thorough knowledge of Turkey.”
Tozer was less than enthusiastic about the Black Sea port of city Samsun when his ship docked, writing: “Samsun is inconsiderable in size and by no means imposing in appearance. … There are few minarets and the most conspicuous building is a church of recent construction.” Rather like a backpacker today setting off for some less visited part of Turkey, Tozer sought information about the lay of the land from other foreigners who had been there before, in his case the French consul in Samsun. His words were a stark warning: “You must not think of starting for several days; you must wait until a caravan is formed. … The roads are thoroughly unsafe owing to Circassians and other brigands.”
Undeterred, Tozer eventually managed to scrape together five horses for the journey and set-off at three o'clock that afternoon. “Fortified by a firman from the sultan,” Tozer and his companions were officially sanctioned to roam across Anatolia and were able to enlist a couple of military guards, one Turk and one Circassian to accompany them. A “post boy” also accompanied them to care for the steeds as Tozer had persuaded the official postmaster in town to provide him with horses -- Samsun then being the last stop before Constantinople on the postal route between the Baghdad and the Ottoman capital.
Four mountain chains and one “verminous inn” later the party reached Amasya. They stayed in a caravanserai right by the turbid Yesilırmak river, opposite the chief draw of the town even today, the “famous ‘Tombs of the Kings,' which were the principal object of our visit.” Equally exciting to the Oxford-educated geographer Tozer was that he was now in the birthplace of one of the most famous geographers in antiquity, Strabo (63 BC-AD 24), “to whom everyone who is interested in ancient geography is so much indebted.”

En route to visit another foreign consul stationed in Anatolia high up above the river, Tozer “stopped to admire the magnificent view… the town lying beneath you, with its trees and minarets, the river spanned by several bridges, the rocky heights on both sides.” For the British academic this was heady prose and praise indeed, as rarely did the phlegmatic Tozer allow romance to colour his descriptions.

From the land of the Hittites to Kayseri

Next the party rode across yet more mountains to Çorum and then onto Alaca. Today the impressive pair of Hittite-era sphinxes flanking a gateway there are replicas, while the originals are on display in Ankara's splendid and recently renovated Museum of Anatolian Civilisations. Tozer was privileged to see the originals still in situ, noting, “It was impossible not to feel astonishment at these strange objects lying in such a remote place.” Archaeology was very much in the embryonic stage at the time of Tozer's travels, so it is not surprising that at the party's next goal, Boğazkale, there is virtually no description of the extensive remains of the former Hittite capital of Hattuşa. It had simply not been uncovered. Tozer did manage, however, to view the delightful relief-carved scenes of Hittite warriors and deities at nearby Yazılıkaya.
Continuing their journey southward, the party reached Yozgat, then a settlement of “3,000 families, 50 of whom are Greek, 1,000 Armenian, the rest Turkish” and were struck by “the unusual cleanness of the town.” Tozer attributed this to the wealth generated by Yozgat's principal product -- Angora wool. Their next destination was Kayseri, a four days ride away. There they lodged in the Armenian quarter, hosted by Kerope Yakobian, a protestant pastor who had spent two years undergoing training for his ministry in Scotland. Today booming Kayseri has a population of well over 1 million. According to Tozer, in 1879 it comprised just 60,000 souls of which 16,000 of were Armenian, 4,000 Greek and the remainder Turkish.
Like many visitors to Kayseri both before and after him, Tozer was fascinated by the spectacular volcanic peak of Mount Erciyes, rising above the city in unearthly, snow-capped splendour. Unlike the vast majority of travellers, however, Tozer was determined to climb this 3,916 meter high-peak. Guided by an elderly Armenian called Stephan the party camped at 2,700 meters. The next day they rose at 2 a.m. and carrying only “a piece of meat and some bread each” made their way up a snow-filled gully to the summit ridge, which they reached at 6 a.m. They reached the actual summit well ahead of their guide, who struggled up manfully behind them. The spectacular views were “as wonderful a sight as can be conceived,” allowed the normally guarded geographer.

Cappadocia (Photo: DHA)

From Cappadocia to Sivas

The next day they headed west to Cappadocia. Today this unique and beautiful region is so rammed with boutique cave hotels and overflown by squadrons of hot-air balloons that it's hard to imagine it as the little-visited backwater it was at the time of Tozer's expedition. They lodged in Ürgüp with a Greek called “Capitan Oglu” who took them to Göreme the next day. Tozer described the area as “a valley, perhaps three-quarters of a mile in length, which has been scooped out to a depth of five hundred feet. … The cliffs fall steeply on both sides, sometimes with sheer descent, sometimes in a succession of terraces… and about these terraces… were pinnacles, obelisks, pyramids and broken towers of tufa, presenting the wildest scene of confusion.” At least Cappadocia's topography has changed but little since Tozer's day.
The party returned to Kayseri before setting out on the four day ride northeast to Sivas. En route they visited the Armenian monastery of Surp Garabed, passed a salt lake and explored the famous caravanserai at Sultanhanı. The village surrounding it is still a scruffy sort of place, out of keeping with the grandness of the remains of the caravanserai. Even back then it was “a small, poverty-stricken village.” Of Sivas itself Tozer had little to say, but he used the time he spent there to talk to the locals and reflect on what they thought of the current state of affairs in Anatolia. “The opinion prevailed that the present regime was intolerable. On this subject there was no difference; Mahometans and Christians, natives and foreign residents, all thought alike.”

Çifte minareli medrese, Sivas (Photo: DHA)

Across the Euphrates to Harput

Tozer and his entourage left Sivas on Aug. 12 and after a further four days riding they reached the Euphrates, always a thrilling moment for the traveller, especially a geographer. The famed river presented “a wild but most impressive scene” being “about 300 feet wide…the current strong.” Tozer wasn't so impressed by the craft that would take them to the eastern shores of the biblical river for “it was of extremely crude and primitive construction… 30 feet long by 15 feet wide, flat bottomed…had it been roofed over, it would not have made a bad Noah's Ark.”
They overnighted at Keban, today best known for its dam. Even then the silver mines, which had previously brought much prosperity to the settlement, were exhausted. They lodged at the house of a wealthy Armenian before riding on to Harput. Today a rather forlorn collection of ruins outside Elazığ, Harput was then a flourishing Armenian town and a centre of American protestant missionary activity in Eastern Anatolia, well-known for its theological seminary and English language school (renamed Euphrates College not long after Tozer's visit), but is now completely destroyed.
Tozer was enchanted by Harput, writing of the panorama from the ruined castle at its heart. “After the dreary scenery of the Anti-Taurus, I hailed with delight the change to bold, sharply cut mountain outlines and brighter colouring… we now seem to have reached a new and more romantic land.”
For Tozer, the real adventure was about to begin.
Henry Fanshawe Tozer's “Turkish Armenia and Eastern Asia Minor” can be read online at

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