IMPRESSIONS FROM A TOUR OF SOUTHEAST ANATOLIA WITH NOVITAS TOURISM
June 2001 (Translated from Turkish, September 2001)
Wednesday, 20 June 2001
Joi (my friend Jaideep Chakrabarti) and I met with the tour group at İstanbul – Atatürk Airport. Threw ourselves into the airplane, for the 07.00 am Diyarbakır flight, in a grumpy early morning mood..!
Landed in Diyarbakır’s small airport, modern-looking for its size, met with the other tour members coming from İzmir and Ankara (it added a cheerful colour for us and Gülgün to greet each other, waving arms and hands in recognition from a distance, on the runway where we got off our planes simultaneously), and boarded our tour bus, specially driven in from Antakya (antique Antioch).
Short info as bus took off
Diyarbakır City Walls: These are said to be one of the most complete and well-preserved city fortifications in the world. Built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. Diyarbakır is the second place in Anatolia, after Urfa, where Christianity first appeared. After the 1950’s, with the DP (Democratic Party, the first right-wing political party in Turkey, which supported heavy development in towns and cities) government, the city underwent much expansion, beyond the old city walls.
The most typical feature of Diyarbakır’s architecture is the black-and-white stone masonry on walls and windowframes, made of the dark basalt stone..The city walls are also made of basalt. The city’s Roman name was Amit; then became ‘Kara Amit’ or ‘Black Amit’, possibly due to the colour of the basalt stone. The current name stems from ‘Bakr’, the name of an invading Arab tribe.
Great Mosque (Ulu Cami)
Said to be the first mosque in Anatolia (starting to get uncomfortable with this type of deterministic statements; for instance, the book we bought in Harran claims the same status for the Great Mosque there as well. Maybe this mosque in Diyarbakır was the first mosque converted from a church…).
An Arabic style mosque, built by the resident Arabs. Composed of a group of low and long buildings, lined adjacently around a central courtyard. We entered the main prayer hall, ladies covering their heads with scarves, and saw that contrary to what we more commonly see, it was in the ‘trancept’ style, i.e. the hall stretched horizontally to the left and right of the ‘mihrab’ (niche facing direction of the Kabah, where the ‘imam’ stands for the sermon). We are informed that all mosques are fashioned after the shape of Mohammed’s house, and the way it was used for prayers. This was a rectangular space, on one side of which Mohammed sat, and everyone sat facing him, in rows repeating toward the back of the house; when the praying group became too crowded, rows would continue outside the house, on the porch. To shelter the praying people from the hot sun, a roof would be added to the house, held by posts. This model of a shade was later developed into a ‘revak’. As the adaptations of mosque shapes diversified with time, Turkish (Seljukid) mosques preferred the ‘basilica’ style, were the prayer hall stretches vertically in the direction that the ‘mihrab’ faces.
The mosque experienced a fire, and was consequently rebuilt; in that instance, the columns which used to be inside were placed on the exterior facades of the buildings facing the courtyard. Also located on these facades are the ‘kitabe’s (inscriptions) informing of restorations made, their dates and who did them. The building is actually a conversion from a church. Different religions and sects were provided with their own praying spaces in this complex. Evidence of a culture of tolerance.
Cahit Sıtkı House
House where the nationally known poet, famous for his poem about death and mortality, and the lines ‘The age is 35; halfway down the road’, was born and lived a part of his life, when he was not in Sorbonne, in Paris. The house shows the typical use of bazalt; this also lends good climatic conditions due to stone’s porosity, withholding moisture and cooling the air in the summer, and holding in heat in the winter. We saw a special room called the ‘soğukluk’, or the ‘cooling room’, where a small pool is located in the center.
Hasan Pasha Khan
Columns and dome with Byzantine influence. Use of tiles. A ‘şadırvan’ (large type of fountain) / masjid (small prayer hall) (?) in the middle of the courtyard. Must be typical in khans and caravanserailles, we had seen this layout before in Ağzıkarahan, a khan on the way from Ankara to Cappadocia. The dome has been badly resotred, heavy with cement.
A small Bazaar getaway in the meantime
We got a bag of homegrown tobacco for only 750.000 TL (less than a dollar), been smoking it for weeks since then, bit by bit (now I’ve given up smoking so got some left on my hand, do you want it Joi?? ?), it’s very nice if you inhale strongly. It’s also important to wrap it right, you might either not get any flavour in at all, or you might get quite high! In the bazaar, there were both authentic, local goods, and absurd and kitsch stuff, like plastic household items, etc.
The watermelons of Diyarbakır are said to be irresistible, our mouths watered at these and other fruit like cherries and strawberries.
A Kildani (don’t know English name of sect) and an Armenian church whose names I can’t remember.
Kildani Church: Zekeriya Bey (Bey: something like Mister), charismatic and dominating man. He insisted on our cell phones being switched off. He informed us the church was built in the 4th century AD and that about 30 families are using it.
Armenian Church: Near the Kildani Church. A large, mostly ruined structure. Outer walls are in better shape, but wooden ceiling collapsed with the effect of time and heavy storms. The beams of the ceiling are still intact above, but the mudbrick infill material is on the ground, and has caused a heightened and uneven ground surface.
In all churches we see, there are ‘help boxes’, which we try not to leave without contributing something.
Hotel Caravanseraille (Kervansaray) / Deliller Khan
Restored and converted to a four-star hotel by one of Diyarbakır’s wealthy businessmen. The courtyard is wonderful, breezy and nicely adorned with plants and seating, also contains a model of the building in a glass case, and a city plan of which we took photocopies. We appreciated their efforts for providing information.
Following the City Walls
Almost got run over by a speeding truck while watching the walls. We dwelled around Mardinkapı, one of the city’s seven main gates.
‘Ribs’ (kaburga) at Selim Usta’s Table
Interesting dish! Rib meat cooked for nine hours to be softened. In the restaurant, a large commemorative photograph was framed and hung on a wall, for Gaffar Okkan, the chief of Diyarbakır police, assassinated in previous months in this city. The caption read ‘condolences, we will miss you’; he was well-liked by the citizens, and a huge outcry occurred after his assassination, thought to be linked to extremist – fundamentalist groups. The waiter spoke good English. Still in the process of getting introduced to everyone in the tour group, we met an elderly couple, who happened to be relatives of one of my father’s colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The social composition of our group is mostly doctors, academics, and Istanbul residents of high socio-economic background. This high quality was later acknowledged among us, also in connection with Novitas Tours only giving ads to the Cumhuriyet newspaper, an intellectual, left-wing paper getting more and more marginalized in the current populistic scene of the Turkish press.
We tried to reach the excavation house at Hasankeyf, where we would head afterwards, but the phone didn’t answer. It turned out that the team, with whom we were acquainted from office work, were only starting the dig that Friday.
Journey to Hasankeyf
Tomb of Zeynel Bey
Different from the tombs found in Anatolia, with their polygonal plans and conical roofs, this structure had a circular plan and a dome with a Persian influence. It was embellished with beautiful ‘çini ‘ (blue tile decorative art derived from Chinese roots) works. Normally in tombs, the body of the person is buried underneath the ground, and a symbolic ‘sanduka’ (coffin / chest) is placed over it. Here we saw no sanduka, so perhaps it was stolen. The local children accompanying us told the story of the tomb, how Zeynel Bey’s daughter fell in love with a shepherd, eloped with him, got killed (?), and so on…. Beautiful pomegranate trees are around.
Ascent to the Citadel
The children are speaking one or more of Arabic, Kurdish and Turkish languages, or a mixture of them, among themselves. Now English has been added to them! ‘Hello’ in Kurdish: Keremka.
As we climbed the hill of the citadel, we saw:
The Gates: There are three of these on different levels. Our firm already documented these, along with the excavation site uphill, and the whole town of Hasankeyf. So the sight of the gates was very familiar. We even saw the old target papers attached to the walls that are used in all our documentation works.
Cave Dwellings: People have been living for centuries in these spaces which are naturally climatised; one of the Turkish presidents of the 1950’s or 60’s came up with the idea that ‘my people cannot live like cavement’, which resulted in Hasankefy residents being deported(?) to new urban quarters, made of concrete boxlike buildings laid out in a grid plan and completely lacking insight into local age-old wisdom.
The Little Palace: Quite a rundown structure, the form of which is not clearly legible.
The Great Palace: Also a little illegible, mixing in with stone masonry / rubble around. All colours around us are of sand tones, forming a desert-like feel, to me personally. Gives it a mystical air, too.
The Great Mosque (Ulu Cami) at the top. Inside, we could read out two different building periods, from the layers of wall fabric built one over another. This mosque is also in trancept fashion, like the one in Diyarbakır. The decorative carvings on the mihrab are new, indicating a recent repair, and a recent intervention on the whole structure.
We also entered a subsidiary structure on the way up, with a circular plan and decorations depicting tulip figures.
On the edge of the citadel overlooking the Tigris river, we took photographs of the medieval bridge remains.
We had a small discussion with Joi while wandering around the Citadel, on what could and should be done to the site, e.g. an archaeopark / open-air museum, how much to intervene and how much to leave it to its natural state / course, etc.
We drank some tea / ayran (yoghurt drink) as we were going back down. The children sold us books.
Over and over, we heard from the kids in their local accents,‘Abla (‘older sister’), want me to tell you the history of this place?’ Of course they were expecting some payment in return for their effort, so we felt a little obliged.
Gülgün accidentally missed the group going up the Citadel, so decided to go around the lower neighbourhood adn take pictures there. We also went through that part when leaving with the bus. It will be a great pity when (/ if??) this will be submerged by the dam waters.
Journey to Mardin
After a 1.5 hour bus journey through the land’s dark yellow hues at sunset time, we reached Mardin, and settled in Bilen Hotel. Our room with Gülgün, just below the terrace restaurant, contained in its balconies the huge and boisterous air-conditioning machines used for the restaurant, which made it a bit hard to sleep.
We had dinner in the same restaurant hall, which looked like it was converted from a sports hall, with unpleasant fluorescent lighting. But we were too tired after the day’s tripping to really focus on complaining. All in all, a good finish to the first day.
Thursday, 21 June 2001
Journey to Midyat
Our guide, Gülsen Hanım (Hanım: something like Madame), told us that up until 2 years ago, this was PKK territory (i.e. high risk of terrorist events); the Gendarme forces still patrol the region often. But now it has opened up to tourism, and is much more laid-back. The practice of tourism police has started.
Mor Barsovo Monastery
Midyat is known for its Süryani (Syrian / Syriac Christian) population and churches, and this is a principal one of them. A young priest is in charge. A community of 300-350 people live in Midyat, but about 100 of them come to pray. (This information contradicts what is later said in the church in Mardin.) The priest told us of fasting practice; their offerings are never of animal products. The Süryani’s have historically held the silversmith’s, woodworker’s / carpenter’s and stonemason’s professions. Now only the silversmiths are left. (But looking at the abundance of silver jewellers at the bazaar, one sees that this tradition is still alive and well.) Many of the Süryani’s are migrating out of their homeland now, mostly abroad.
We strolled in the streets of old Midyat, and saw stunning examples of stonework on wall facades, windows, balustrades, etc. of houses. We entered a grand-looking example of these houses, looked around the courtyard and inside the house. The family in residence said they were looking after it for a ‘gavur’ (non-Muslim in colloquial language) family. A gorgeous little girl with blonde hair and bangs and blue eyes, called Hulkiye, became the object of everyone’s viewfinder.
House of the District Governor
This mansion is undergoing a great program of restoration currently, with joint support from the district governor, and from ÇEKÜL, a prominent foundation devoted to protecting the cultural heritage. It is clearly a high-quality restoration job. There is bathroom rehabilitation, stonework renewal involved, using natural material, i.e. local stone. The district governor, due to his good performance, is said to have been posted to Kastamonu, a town known for its high content of historic housing stock. This house was initially planned to be a state guest house, but the workers said that later it was decided to be used as a prvate hotel. This change of plans struck us as disappointing, and we talked about this a little bit with Gülsen Hanım, i.e. how ÇEKÜL and its director Prof. Dr. Metin Sözen (who is Gülsen Hanım’s doctoral thesis supervisor, by the way) have this tendency to ‘confiscate’ historic buildings without enough consideration for keeping authentic and public functions intact, for example in the case of the Mardin post office.
Shopping at the jewellers
There were many of these in number, and they constituted the main theme of our shopping.
As happened everywhere, here also the children stuck to our tail. I gave a couple of them a million TL each, and felt stuck between regret and satisfaction. Some of the boys were showing gestures of threat and brute force to the girls, and this pissed me off greatly, as a result of which I shouted at a boy. We later talked about the subject of patriarchal culture with one of the ladies, whose husband had done government service in such underdeveloped regions of the country for years. She told of depressing anecdotes and gave the message that the situation has been and still is quite grave.
Return to Mardin
Lunch at Cercis Restaurant
A nicely decorated, generally nicely restored historic townhouse, serving traditional dishes, and managed by a young woman called Ebru. The içli köfte (stuffed meatball) and yoghurt soup with onions were especially memorable. We were not very happy with the toilets, though; they should be more spacious and better placed.
Afternoon tour around Mardin City Center
Sultan İsa Madrasah Three storey structure, with terraces and domes as notable features. Beautiful, large spaces giving off a feeling of peace and free air. From the terrace, we observed views of the city of Mardin on the hilll slope and of the plains around the city, leading to the visible Syrian border and Mesopotamia beyond.
Post Office Entrance floor courtyard leading with grand staircase to second floor, where large arches with stalactite-style stone ornaments in the middle, stood in front of eyvan-like (iwan, or semi-open vaulted chamber) spaces This was where we had our talk with Gülsen Hanım.
Great Mosque (Ulu Cami) We reached this building through the bazaar; some of the group went in, while a part of us sat at the courtyard, in the shade of some creeping vines; I chatted with Mehmet Bey and Figen Hanım from İzmir, about planning and development legislation, and the importance of interdisciplinarity in areas like law.
Well-known, grand madrasah building. Large pool in the courtyard. This time we were assailed by crazy girls selling their handmade embroidery!
We went once more to Cercis Restaurant for some after-dinner treats and terrace ‘keyif’ (pleasure) under the sparse urban lights ahead toward Syria, and the dense stars of the Mesopotamian sky above..! We were waiting for a local specialty called mırra (dense coffee) but they were out of it; instead we had regular Turkish coffee with kakule (bitter cardamom seeds) and some sorbet.
Friday, 22 June 2001
‘Deyr-ül Zafaran’ means ‘The Place of Saffron’ in Arabic.. This is a famous monastery about 7 km. from Mardin. I loved the priest! He teased me saying, ‘weren’t you going to stay with us and become a nun?!’. The most tolerant priest, and the one most full of joie de vivre, that I ever saw.
The rooms inside the building were very fancily decorated, taking many minutes to observe all the details. There were 400-year-old wooden doors with painted decorations. In the large square-planned room where we stayed most, a very high dome caught our attention. It is customary to whitewash the walls, after they have been darkened by the soot from the candles being lit. An example of some maintenance solutions developed over the centuries. Another practice is to paint stone elements so as to give the effect of marble.
Below the monastery building, there was a Sun Temple, with ceiling stones standing intact since 2000 BC, without any mortar but the sheer force of leaning toward each other in an intertwined pattern of rows with sections of 6 stones, and a thickness of 7 m.
Stopped over at the local ÇATOM, an abbreviation for ‘multi-purpose social center’, mostly designed to support women socially and economically, providing with shelter, job skills, etc. A group of NGO’s have set up this network of ÇATOM’s in various cities and towns in the Southeast, including Diyarbakır also; they have multiplied rapidly in a few years, with thousands of women benefiting from their activities. A few of us were highly interested in this, and upon our insistence, our tour guide shared a part of the info from the brochures we collected in the center over the microphone. It is also good to relate the art history and heritage with the present socio-economic conditions.
History of Urfa en route to city of Urfa
Urfa is a holy city for all three of the monotheistic religions, but particularly for Islam. The story of Hz. İbrahim (Abraham the prophet) is important: Abraham fell at odds with the pagan King of Urfa (Edessa then?), who worshipped the moon god Sin, by smashing the idol figurines and starting to preach about belief in one God. He is thus sentenced to death, and a catapult is prepared for his execution, planned to send him flying onto some logs on fire, below the slopes of Urfa citadel. As he falls onto the fire, the flames turn to water, and the logs to fish. (That is why the huge, well-fed carp fish today are thought to be sacred and left undisturbed.) When Abraham survived the execution, his death sentence was abolished.
Another story: In the 1st century AD, St. Thomas was martyred in India, and his bones were brought to Edessa.
A monk from Spain came to these parts, and wrote his travel accounts, mentioning Abraham’s house in Harran, St. Thomas’s remains, and Sultan Abgar (ruler known as Abgar the Great, or Black Abgar). The Abgar dynasty founded and ruled a kingdom in the Urfa region from BC times to the 3rd century AD. This kingdom is said to have accepted Christianity even before the Armenians.
The story of the ‘mendil’ (handkerchief in Turkish): It was called ‘mandillion’ in Roman times. This is important in Christian history. A local ruler / aristocrat is said to have fallen ill, and asked Jesus to come to visit him and heal him; Jesus does not visit, but instead sends a handkerchief / mandillion, which he has rubbed on his face. The image of Jesus’s face is imprinted on the mandillion, and it heals the ill ruler. Having such powers, the mandillion is entrusted to missionaries (?) to be taken from Edessa to Bizans (Byzantine lands) and then to Europe. On the way, a storm breaks out in present-day Konya (in central Anatolia), and the couriers decide to preserve the mandillion among the tiles of the city walls. The imprint of Jesus’s face passes on this time to the tiles; thus the place where this takes place is called Iconium, after ‘icon’, or depiction of a saint’s face. The name Konya as you may notice is a derivation of this name.
Urfa’s history actually goes a long way before the birth of Christianity. The name ‘Urshu’ is seen in Sumerian and Eti (archaic indigenous culture) records as a strong kingdom, later detroyed by the Hittite king Shuppiliuma. The Hittites reign for some time here, followed by the Mithanni’s. The Persians, Alexander’s groups and Seleucids also rule.
The name Urfa stems from the word ‘Orhai’. The name Edessa is given in Roman times. In the 14th century, Urfa gets reclaimed by the Moslems. The Church of Hagia Sophia (one of several namesakes to the great one in Istanbul) is built; the city becomes a centre of faiths and cultures. A priest from Nisibis (present Nusaybin) establishes a school. Seljukid, Armenian, and Sasani rules take place; in 1098, Urfa becomes a Crusader stronghold. Later an Atabey from Musul takes over. After terrible massacres and raids, Christianity ebbsin the region. [There are still other periods which were mentioned, but I missed.]
Today’s Urfa is growing rapidly, and is under much speculative development. It is said that there is no more land left for sale.
The Fish Pool (Balıklı Göl)
This complex, the most important tourist site in the city, is composed of the 12th –13th century Mosque and Madrasah of Halil-ül Rahman; and the 18th century Rızvaniye Mosque.
We ate some kebab at the tea garden / restaurant complex by the pool with the fountain. (In the meantime, we also drank some unbottled water from a caraffe, paying the price for this carelessness later with our stomach problems..!) We did not forget to purchase some ‘pushu’s, i.e. the typical black&white or red&white headdress of Arabs, from the vendor children.
Settling in Harran Hotel
For some reason, this hotel reminded me of Dallas, the TV series! I got wrapped up in a sweet nostalgia of kitsch!
Short Bazaar visit
Gülgün, Joi and I toured the (Gümrük?) Khan in record time. We were faced with choosing between fabrics, scarves, carpets, silverware, dry fruits, etc. of all colours and sorts.
Journey to Harran.
On the bus, Fikriye Hanım the pediatrician put on a cassette she bought, with traditional Wedding Songs.
As we cross the Harran Plain, we are informed that land irrigation has developed well as a service, but because of misguided practice, too much irrigation is done resulting in salination of the soil.
Temple of Sin + Caravanseraille + Madrasah
This conglomeration is an impressive, sand-coloured hill structure, but has been subject to an unharmonious repair job made with white tiles. The temple structure contains several layers built in different time periods. Many dramatic pictures were able to be taken here. The main part of the structure is a series of spaces with large arches as entrances. In one corner, there was a watchtower which many of us climbed and viewed the surrounding landscape, with tumuli in the distance.
Conical Earth Houses (Topak Houses)
These houses are mostly what makes Harran famous, with their special conical structure. I have just read in some notes at home that they are made with the ‘bindirme’ or corbelling technique. One of these houses stands next to the Temple of Sin, along with a rectangular earthen structure adjacent to it. A small facility has also been created under a tent for serving tea, where we sat to have some tea after going around the temple. As Özgen Acar (a journalist friend writing on issues of archaeology) had warned us, the scarves and books on sale were indeed very overpriced, but we bought some anyway. (The tourist disease!) A boy sang us a what is called ‘yanık’, i.e. ‘burnt’, mournful, heartbreaking, traditional song (‘türkü’). On Fikriye Hanım’s insistence, he then sang a more cheerful wedding song, a little bit as if he had a hard time with it. A married couple from our group, Mustafa Bey and Beyhan Hanım, found some traditional embroidered wedding robes, and putting them on, lived their second wedding day!
Out of the other houses that make up the Harran settlement fabric, only one is presently ‘alive’, i.e. in use of any kind, as a museum or ‘model Harran house’, where information is given about the houses and handicrafts are sold; all the other houses have been evacuated. I was quite shocked and saddened by the way the local people rejected this centuries-old type of living space, having believed that they would not resist storms, and the way the authorities could not understand that these houses could only be conserved, and kept strong and resistant, if somebody really lived in them… I argued about this a little bit with the locals around us, and with our tour guide Gülsen Hanım, questioning the reason why, when they have been inhabiting these houses with natural air-conditioning / heat conservation abilities for ages, suddenly they are unable to do it any longer, as if the storms have suddenly increased or something… One can comfortably reside there with the right maintenance regime… Sülün Hanım and Figen Hanım understood what I was trying to say, and we talked for quite a long time with Figen Hanım about it inside the model house, next to the handicraft sale tables; in fact, so long that the rest of the tour group were meanwhile busy taking a group photo..! I took some passionate notes about this incident later on the bus:
‘I can’t believe what happened to the Harran houses… John Hurd’s views are still so valid, and his teaching still so needed… False beliefs, the need for training to undo them… How can they leave those natural adobe houses and move to those concrete boxes around them? Courses on architecture should also be given at the ÇATOM’s… I am completely absorbed with this issue right now. I think I spoke a bit fiercely. There were supporters, though. ? ‘
Great Mosque (Ulu Cami)
Fantastic ruins. Joi was very impressed by them, and said that their significance seemed to be underrated, especially compared to Nemrud. The structure dates from the Emevi period. It used to be a medieval university (?). A university dating from before Christ is also said to have been here, but its traces have not yet been found. There is a very tall tower among the ruins.
Many are seen on the plains in the distance.
In the evening, in Harran Hotel poolside buffet dinner where Pfizer medical company members were having some kind of celebration, we created our own belly dancing feast next to the ‘chanteur’ musicians. Gülsen Hanım firmly established her leadership in this area as well, with her nimble dance moves, but I was not far behind myself in throwing myself in the center! All of us who dared to get up and dance were all worthy of praise!
Interesting discussions took place at our table. Particularly Mehmet Bey’s ideas on the importance of synthesizing knowledge (with an example from his observations of Italian, British, German and American ships anchored in the port of İzmir whose styles of construction he liked to compare), on architectural education and the lack of fundamental science classes such as geometry, on the state of the country, and on other subjects, were listened to with interest. Mehmet Bey also enlightened me a little about my problem with the Harran houses; according to him, people were made to evacuate these houses, which are linked to each other organically through tunnels, because of the security problem during the period of terrorism in the region and the difficulty of isolating any suspects within that network of houses. This point of view seemed very interesting to me.
In the meantime, the waiters were practically beating us up while ‘serving’… Raki and künefe (a delicious dessert with cheese and much sugar and oil) were not absent from our tables.
Saturday, 23 June 2001
Longer, collective visit to the Bazaar
We drank some coffee in ‘Şener Şen’s coffeehouse’, sitting on the special local stools resembling miniature saddles.
Great Mosque (Ulu Cami)
We made it to the mosque courtyard through narrow side streets, then crossed it to head for another gate linked to yet other streets in the old quarters.
Stroll in Streets of the Old Quarters
Among things that caught our eye were triangular decorative + structural stone elements at corners, and the dense, diagonal wooden hatching as window shutters, typical in the region. Handpainted decorations are common, among these the depictions of the Ka’bah on tin sheets placed above doors.
Gülizar Guest House: This small place is also included in the celebrated booklet ‘Turkey’s Best Small Hotels’. It features slightly hippy-esque rooms where one can both sleep and eat in, as well as fountains in the courtyard and many flowers that add to a refreshing atmosphere.
Fish Pool Bazaar
Stopping by the bazaar next to the Fish Pool site and done in a modern interpretation of the traditional bazaar arcade form, we also visited Hotel Edessa, which was the other option for accommodation that Novitas Tours uses.
Journey toward Atatürk Dam
ADIYAMAN – KAHTA – NEMRUD
Atatürk Dam – 16th Regional Directorate of the State Water Works (DSİ) (Reminds me of the 16th Legion; they were also stationed in this region!…)
Large electricity production center with facilities for 2.000 personnel and virtually having become a small settlement in its own right.
Induction Seance: The man in charge of receiving us took us to a seminar room and through a computer screen projection on a screen, gave us some basic statistical and graphic information on the Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP), the major development enterprise in this region since the early 1980’s, built by Turkish engineers and featuring many dams for hydroelectric power and irrigation. Afterwards we asked several questions about the project, to which the answers he gave were really unsatisfactory. Our questions included Fikriye Hanım’s question on a possible leak from Şanlıurfa’s sewage system into Atatürk Dam, my question on GAP’s administrative structure, and cardiologist Mefkure Hanım’s question on how to prevent misuse of irrigation canals by farmers. We also wondered about the dam’s lifespan, but didn’t manage to ask it. Our concerns about cultural heritage and drinking water remained unaddressed and unresolved.
Looking at the Dam from the viewing terrace: Here, before us, stood the ‘real thing’, the actual dam which was represented in a model in the DSİ facilities. They really found a good place to set up a viewing terrace. Later we also drove down to the dam side, and watched the level and colour of the water, the small water sports facilities, and the huge control lids to adjust water flow.
Journey to Nemrud, via Adıyaman – Kahta
I still haven’t made up my mind on whether to call it Nemrut or Nemrud… The town of Adıyaman looked quite spoiled and dull, but Adıyaman as a province is full of green hills and beautiful countryside; very different from the brown and earthy tones we had been seeing in the previous days.
Info on the Kommagene Kingdom on the way: This state was Greco – Persian in origin, as a result of Alexander the Great’s clash with the Persian troops on his voyage to conquer the East. Taking a wrong turn and losing half an hour, we got to drive by the Karakuş Tumulus. After finding the way again, we climbed toward our mountain motel, seeing some ghastly examples of kitsch ‘mountain motel’ architecture.
Arrival at the mountain motel
After settling down in our own motel, Euphrat, we took a short siesta and met about an hour later to have watermelon on a terrace overlooking the mountains. Joi and I did some philosophical thinking on the concept of the mountain, i.e. the untouchability, inaccessiblity of mountains, and the way they give one peace and solitude, etc.
Minibus ride toward Mount Nemrud
This is the most practical way to reach the site entrance. En route we saw amazing views of lakes, rivers, mountains…
At the entrance, Joi and I each paid 20 million TL for a slick book on Zeugma (Özgen Acar later told me we were slandered there, too, and that the same book could be obtained in Ankara as part of a promotion campaign). Then we started a difficult ascent.
Arrival at the Tumulus
We first reached the Eastern Terrace, then crossed along the northern side to reach the Western Terrace. On the Eastern Terrace, we were consumed with gazing at down among the giant pieces of statues and seyre daldık. Antiokhos, Tykhe, Zeus, Apollo, Hercules (plus the Persian-origined names of these figuers should also be cited but I can’t remember them all now); bodies and heads of lions and eagles… It was very windy, and the Western Terrace was crammed with people –a big crowd perched on the rocks making lots of noise, singing loud and off-key folk songs, and seriously damaging the sacred atmosphere of the hierothesion, as it is called (‘sacred place’ I think) located on the terrace. Trying not to get too irritated, we were informed by Gülsen Hanım on the astronomical / historical / mythological meanings of the famous Lion Horoscope. The time when the stars depicted on the horoscope stele took those locations was also supposed to be when Antiokhos met the gods. Other steles showed the handshakes of Antiokhos, ‘ass-kisser of the Gods’ (!!) with various deities…
We watched the dramatic sunset, accompanied by the cans of beer that we ‘smuggled in’ from the entrance and the rolled tobacco.
On the way back to the motel, two young soldiers also rode our minibus, and we chatted with them a little. Coming from western and southern provinces and doing their military service, they complained that there was nothing important to do up there on the mountain, and that they were put up there like some sort of boredom punishment..! We tried to make them see the bright side, i.e. at least they saw a beautiful monument every day. They said that the sunrise was much better than the sunset, but even more crowded. I think we were all sizing up the possibility of a sunrise go as well, but without much confidence..!
After sunset, we had a quick dinner at the motel restaurant, and threw ourselves onto the terrace where we had sat in the afternoon, this especially being done to escape the ear-scratching noise of the ‘electro-saz’ (a degenerated version of the traditional guitar-like instrument) being played inside (a total misunderstanding of the touristic value of local culture). We gazed at the carpet of stars which were crazily scattered onto the sky, and experienced how exciting this could be.
With the combined effect of our bittersweet impressions from the congested terraces on Mount Nemrud, our being quite tired, and me spraining my ankle while Joi, Gülgün and I were walking on the mountain road and looking up at the thousands of stars – strikingly visible against the pitch-black night sky, free of any urban lights –, everybody decided to forego a trip for viewing the Nemrud sunrise. Ezgi, the 16-year-old daughter of Mefkure Hanım the cardiologist, was planning to make it with her mother, but when her stomach got violently upset, no one was left to represent us at the event. We were not really feeling so disappointed, though… I guess we had our share of another full day.
Sunday, 24 June 2001
Departure from the mountain motel in minibuses
KAHTA – KOMMAGENE
Remnants of Kommagene Kingdom
We briefly toured each of the other sites within the Nemrud Dağı National Park.
Arsameia: It looked like a city set up on a mountain precipice. There were steles in relief, showing handshaking scenes like the ones we saw at Nemrud; a mysterious (!) tunelled entrance leading down in a sharp angle to a suspected cult chamber, a giant rock surface with a large number of lines with inscriptions, and an impressive handshake stele next to it that was placed upright again after being found. We were informed that these handshake scenes had a special name, ‘dexios’, derived from the Greek word for ‘right’, as in right hand.
Karakuş Tumulus: We stayed here very shortly. The tumulus was raided in the Roman period, and the stones of the tombs inside were reused in the constructionn of the Cendere Bridge (see below). Antiokhos’s wife, children, sister (Laodikeia, who was married to the Persian king and was assassinated along with her children) and her children used to be buried in the tombs.. Three pairs of columns stood on three sides of the tumulus, on top of which eagle, lion and bull statues were placed. Today they are mostly missing; we could only see one column, with an intact eagle statue. (The name ‘Karakuş’, which means black bird in Turkish, was perhaps later given by the locals who saw this bird!..)
Cendere Bridge: Emperor Septimus Severus had the 16th Legion build this bridge, located right at the dramatic opening of a very narrow canyon onto a river basin. There used to be four columns at the corners, for Septimus Severus, his wife Domna, and his sons Caracalla ve Geta (?). Caracalla later had his brother killed, and his brother’s column removed (talk about sibling rivalry…). Thus we only see three columns today. The bridge had on eye. In the distance, we saw some people washing their cars with the river water, as well as people washing themselves.
Also in the distance, a little bit later, we saw petrol pumps. Petrol is extracted in this region. The husband of an acquaintance stayed for some years in this region, working for the state petrol institution; now I see the connection.
Somewhere along the route we met up with our main tour bus and boarded it again.
Journey to Gaziantep
On the way to Gaziantep, I phoned the numbers that Özgen Acar had given me, and talked to a gentleman called Yusuf Yavaş. He informed that the excavation at Zeugma was over, and he had been in İzmir since a week ago, and also that there was nothing to see at the site right now and all the findings, along with the mosaics, were in Gaziantep Museum.
We stopped at a large and fancy restaurant called Mazıcıoğlu, where the best meal of the whole tour was eaten! An incredible soup! An extra guide and friend of Gülsen Hanım, Özgür Bey, joined us for this stretch of the tour.
We saw mosaics, statues, and other finds. Özgür Bey told us of a method of detaching and carrying mosaics, which ironically was learned from looters! The back surface is softened, so that the mosaic pieces become loose; the front surface is covered with glue, then covered with cloth, whereby the pieces stick on the cloth in the same pattern as originally. When the glue hardens, the cloth can be rolled up like a carpet ad taken away… As this was explained, we stood in front of the mosaic of Metiox and Parthenape?, called the Romeo and Juliet of antique times, which was smuggled to the US in the 1960’s, and retrieved in the 1990’s. The mosaic was covered with special protective glazing in the American museum where it stood, and Özgür Bey expressed his regret that none of the other mosaics were protected this way, due to lack of funding as I understood it. We also saw the famed mosiacs of the ‘Gypsy Girl’, or the ‘Mona Lisa of Zeugma’, of Oceanus ve Tykhe, and of Minos, Daedelus and Ikarus. From the ribbons stretched around the central mosaic in the room, we observed that the museum was not too well equipped!.. A new museum building is under construction adjacent to this one, being made with support from HP (Hewlett Packard).
Journey to Zeugma
Info on Gaziantep, Kilis and Nizip on the way: Gaziantep is the sixth largest cit of Turkey, with a population of 1 million. It is also the country’s largest center for sheep / goats, and contains three organized industrial areas.
After parking the bus, we walked a little bit along the dam side. We saw a Roman villa on the shore, but it wasn’t very impressive, with only some sand-colored walls left of it. But the view of the dam is beautiful, and encourages one to use one’s imagination to guess how it once must have been like here. We came across another villa, a little higher up, and looked through a window into the room where mosaics were stolen. The guard here told us some of his opinions: It wasn’t like how the media made it out to be, i.e. it wasn’t one third of the city that was submerged, but only around 1%. The rest was waiting under the pistachio trees, designated as an archaeological site. The state can expropriate this land, and enable excavations to continue under state patronage.
Journey to airport
In the airport, we noticed that a ‘superguest’ was boarding the same plane with us: Sevda Demirel, a media-friendly ‘artist’ of some sort, perhaps a milder version of Cicciolina! We debated mischievously among ourselves about what she might have come to this city for, and continued our silly gossip after the plane took off, wondering what happens to silicone breasts at high altitudes, do they explode, etc..! What can you do, we were having a little bit of fun. I actually thought she had very good poise and charisma. You got to hand it to her. As to her travelling companion, a homosexual-looking man who seemed to have leaped out of the Grease movie with his red trousers, black leather jacket with perked-up collar and gelled hair, was another sight to behold… Anyway, I may have gone on too long about these guys…
We parted with the Istanbul people at the airport in İstanbul, among hugs of affection. A fulfilling trip!