Anatolia – Places
Trabzon, ancient Trebizond, is famous for its port on the Black Sea coast, its catch of anchovies, its ability to survive numerous invasions, and its Christian population in Ottoman times. The surrounding countryside is amazingly green and hilly, and tea and hazelnuts grow in abundance. The best example of the traditional type of house of the region is the house where Ataturk used to stay. The best church is Haghia Sofya (Aya Sofya or Church of The Divine Wisdom) built between 1238 and 1263. It combines both Christian and Muslim architectural trends and has some of the most outstanding Byzantine frescos in the world. It was restored under the supervision of David Talbot Rice and David Winfield.
The name Sumela is an abbreviated corruption of the Greek Panayia tou Melas meaning Monastery of the Black Virgin. In 385 a monk called Barnabas arrived with the famous icon of the Virgin painted by the apostle Luke, and after a visitation he placed the icon on a shrine in a cave high up a sheer cliff face. The monastery developed on this spot in the 6th century, with more additions in the 13th and 14th centuries. In Byzantine times, the Comneni emperors from Trebizond held their coronations here rather than in Constantinople. The Orthodox priests only left in 1923, under the exchange of populations agreed in the Treaty of Lausanne, taking their icon with them. What they couldn’t take, however, were all the incredible frescos that cover the walls. The walk up to Sumela follows a pleasantly shaded zigzagging path.
Uzungol, or Long Lake, 99km from Trabzon and 1,090 meters above sea level, is a beautiful lake where you can see some of the wonderful timber houses common in the region. It is a good site for a picnic or barbecue, and it is possible to go trekking to the nearby peaks and glacier lakes.
The road leading inland to Ayder (1,300m) is one of the most scenic and passes through the village of Chamlihemshin and Storm Valley, where you will see the quaint traditional narrow stone bridges of the region. Zilkale Castle is nearby. Once at Ayder, you can take advantage of the thermal baths which are good for skin problems and rheumatism as well as sheer relaxation. The countryside is spectacular, and hikes in the Central Khatchkar Mountains are a good way to work off all that home-made local pastry! There are many trekking routes and if you’re interested a longer stay can be arranged.
Rize has such dense vegetation that one can see every possible shade of green. Rize is synonymous with tea, which was introduced here at the start of the last century, and has a Tea Institute where you can see the plants and taste the best teas. The hills around, which are covered with tea bushes, are also the home of the famous Anzer honey. If you are traveling on to Eastern Turkey, a winding road with spectacular scenery leads to Erzurum through the highest drivable pass in the Pontic ranges.
Erzurum is on a high plateau nearly 2,000 meters up. It was ruled by many civilizations including Byzantines, Armenians, Arabs, Seljuks, Mongols, Ottomans and Russians. The way up to the castle passes some of the oldest houses, and the best view of the city can be had from the ramparts. The Great Mosque, Ulu Cami, built in 1179 by the Saltuk (Turkish) Emir, has an unusual wooden dome. The 13th century Chifte Minareli Medrese, or Twin Minaret Seminary, the largest of its time, is known for its elaborate stone carvings. Not far away in a picturesque quarter is Uch Kumbetler, or Three Tombs, which dates from the early 12th century and has some nice decorations. Erzurum is one of Turkey’s most important ski resorts, renowned for its long skiing season and excellent slopes.
Kars, once a flourishing city founded by the Armenians, has a checkered history. It was taken by Seljuks, Mongols, Tamerlaine, Ottomans and Russians before being given back to Turkey by Lenin and Trotsky. Today it is famous for its cheese, carpets and felt. The Cathedral of the Apostles, built by the Armenian King Abbas in 937, was converted into a mosque only 100 years after its construction. The nearby Tash Kopru, or Stone Bridge, is made of the same volcanic rock as the church. The castle, destroyed and rebuilt by the Russians, is open as a park with good views of the city. The museum has an interesting ethnographic section (this region is famous for its kilims and carpets), some ancient pottery and the bell and doors from the cathedral.
Ani, which succeeded Kars as the capital of Bagratid Armenia, was once a very wealthy city with a population of 100,000 and was known as the city of 1001 churches. Today, having been deserted for over 300 years, it is a huge open-air museum of the finest Armenian architecture. The Lion Gate was added by the Seljuk leader Alp Arslan, and there are many churches and mosques to explore. The Church of the Redeemer (1036) was cut in half by lightening in 1957. The Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator (1215) is the best preserved one, with animals in relief on the outside and beautiful frescos on the inside, and some of the scenes depicted, such as the life of Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, originate from apocryphal texts which were part of the Armenian Bible. The largest of Ani’s buildings is the Cathedral of the Apostles (1010), and it is unusually positioned on a north-south axis so that light would flood the church only at midday. Menucehir Mosque (1072), said to be the earliest Seljuk mosque in Anatolia, was possibly a former Armenian palace.
The road to Dogubeyazit passes through the foothills of the extinct volcano, Mount Ararat, which at 5,165 meters is the highest point in Europe. According to Christian tradition, Noah’s Arc came to rest here when the flood subsided (Muslims believe the landing site was further south on Mount Judi). For Armenian monks, this permanently snow-capped mountain was sacred and climbing it was forbidden, and even today with its peak often hidden in cloud it still has a mystical aura. On the slopes of the mountain is the underground Ice Cave with beautiful stalagmites and stalactites, and 35km east of Dogubeyazit is a huge 60m deep and 35m wide crater left by a meteor impact in 1913. In this region, villagers migrate to the high plains every summer with their livestock, where they live in their traditional goat-hair tents.
Ishak Pasha Palace
This spectacular 17th century palace was built on a 2,000m high plateau by Ishak, an Ottoman governor, to imitate Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Often referred to as the Taj Mahal of Turkey, this palace has 24 rooms devoted to the harem where the women and children lived a sheltered, protected and luxuriously centrally-heated life. The gold-plated doors may have been removed by the Russians, but they couldn’t carry of the beautiful tree-of-life motifs on the fountain in the inner courtyard. A 16th century mosque from the reign of Selim the Grim and an Urartian fortress can be seen in the distance.
Van was founded on the lake shore by the Urartian king Sarduri I in the 9th century BCE. The modern city, a few kilometers away, was rebuilt after World War I. At the Rock of Van, the ruins of the ancient Urartian citadel has many inscriptions in Assyrian cuneiform and Urartian hieroglyphics that have filled in many gaps in history, and the world’s best collection of Urartian artifacts can be seen in the museum in Van: Urartian gold jewellery, bronze belts and terracotta figures are accompanied by Mesolithic rock carvings (9,000-8,000 BCE) that remind one of Van’s prehistoric roots.
Lake Van is the world’s biggest alkaline lake (3,713km2), and is the largest lake of Turkey. It is so deep (1,646m) that locals believe a creature like the Loch Ness monster in Scotland lives in the depths; they call it Van Dam!
During Ani’s halcyon days, a separate Armenian state, Vaspurakan, flourished around Lake Van, and its greatest king, Gagig Artzruni, built a palace and monastery for himself on this island in 921. The only part remaining today is the Church of the Holy Cross. It is a wonderful example of Armenian church architecture: the outside walls are completely covered with awesome reliefs from the Old Testament such as Jonah and the Whale, Abraham and Isaac, and David and Goliath, as well as mythical animals and Armenian inscriptions.
Chavushtepe, 22km SE of Van, is the site of the 8th century BCE Urartian palace and city of Sardurihinili, and is where the best Urartian artworks were found. It was built by Sardurill in honor of the War God, Haldi. An inscription states that it arose where nothing was before – a feat made possible by the construction of the 80 km Menua irrigation canal which brought water to 5,000 hectares of land; it is still in use today, nearly 3,000 years later!
Hoshap, meaning Beautiful Water has a castle built by the local Kurdish despot Sari Suleyman in 1643. The enormous iron doors reveal the ruins of the council room, baths, prison cells and harem. The keep has watch towers and places from where boiling hot oil was poured over the enemy.
Hasankeyf was originally founded by the Romans at the eastern-most point of their empire on the banks of the Tigris. The ruins of the palace and the old city date from the 12th century when it was the Artukid Turkoman capital. Many of the ruined houses have interesting decorations, and the 15th century Zeyfelbey Turbesi is a red-brick onion-domed tomb decorated with colored tiles.
Mardin and Deyr-az-Zaferan Monastery
The view of Mardin, a picturesque hillside town with many old Arab houses, is magical. There are a few old mosques and even the odd church hidden in the backstreets. Mardin was once the home of the Syrian Orthodox (Jacobite) Church. The founder of Syrian Orthodoxy, Jacobus Baredeus, was a 6th century bishop in Edessa who rejected the belief of the two natures of Christ, emphasizing instead the oneness of the humanity and divinity. The monastery of Deyr-as-Zaferan, founded in 762, was the seat of the Syrian Orthodox patriarch from 1160 until 1922. One room contains the sedan chairs used by the patriarchs, another is their mausoleum, and in the chapel the patriarchs throne is carved with the names of all the patriarchs since 792. The history of worship at the site goes back even further, as an underground vault is said to have been used for ritual sacrifices by sun worshippers 4,000 years ago.
Collapsed Armenian Church:
One of the last Armenians of Diyarbekir:
This city of a quarter of a million people on the banks of the Tigris claims to be one of the oldest settlements on earth, and 5,000 years ago was part of the Hurrian empire. The city’s 6 km long black basalt walls are mainly Byzantine. Hasan Pasha Hanı, a striped 16th century caravanserai, is now the home of some interesting carpet and handicraft shops. Ulu Cami (1091), the oldest place of Muslim worship in Anatolia, was founded by the Seljuk Sultan Nalik Sah on the site of the Syriac Cathedral. Parts of the adjacent courtyard and the Mesudiye Medrese (1198), the first Turkish university of Anatolia, were added by the Artukids. The most fascination point to notice about these buildings is the use of pillars from former ages: each column and capital is different and Greek designs and inscriptions are found alongside decorative Arabic script. The Syrian Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary, once part of a 17th century monastery, is also interesting to visit. If you want your wish to come true, you need to crawl 7 times under the four-legged minaret which stands in the middle of a road in the town centre.
Çayönü is a Neolithic settlement in southern Turkey inhabited around 7200 to 6600 BC. It is located forty kilometres north-west of Diyarbakır, at the foot of the Taurus mountains. It lies near the Bogazcay, a tributary of the upper Tigris River and the Bestakot, an intermittent stream.
Çayönü is possibly the place where the pig (Sus scrofa) was first domesticated. The wild fauna include wild boar, wild sheep, wild goat and cervids. The Neolithic environment included marshes and swamps near the Bogazcay, open wood, patches of steppe and almond-pistachio forest-steppe to the south.
According to Der Spiegel of either 6 March or 3 June 2006, the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne has discovered that the genetically common ancestor of 68 contemporary types of cereal still grows as a wild plant on the slopes of Mount Karaca (Karaca Dağ), which is located in close vicinity to Çayönü. (Compare to information on cereal use in PPNA).
The periods of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), and the Pottery Neolithic (PN). The stratigraphy is divided into the following subphases according to the dominant architecture:
- round, PPNA
- grill, PPNA
- channeled, Early PPNB
- cobble paved, Middle PPNB
- cell, Late PPNB
- large room, final PPNB
Urfa, ancient Edessa, is important for both Christians and Muslims because of the cave where the prophet Abraham was born. Nearby is the carp-filled Pool of Abraham: according to Muslim tradition, when the Assyrian King Nemrut attempted to burn Abraham for destroying idols, God intervened, turning the fire into water and the firewood into fishes. An additional biblical connection is that the locals believe this region, on the edge of the Mesopotamian plain, was the original Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve lived.
Gobekli Tepe, the World’s First Temple. Archaeologically categorised as a site of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A Period (c. 9600–7300 BC) Göbeklitepe is a series of mainly circular and oval-shaped structures set on the top of a hill.
Harran, one of the oldest settlements on earth, has been inhabited for at least 6,000 years. Abraham lived here for several years, and it prospered as an Assyrian trade colony. Under the Romans it became an important centre for learning, and after the Arab conquest, the first Islamic University was founded here. Today, it is famous for its beehive houses and the remains of its fortress.
Although the Bald Ibis is now technically extinct in the wild in Turkey, the surviving birds are bred in semi-captivity at their natural home in Birecik. The Turkish government runs this site and spends over $1,500 a month feeding them on a mixture of fat-free mince, special bird food, boiled eggs and grated carrot. For local people, the arrival of the Bald Ibis every February was a cause for celebration, and one day it is hoped that this tradition will resume. Unfortunately, as long as the birds encounter hunters and negative environmental conditions on their migration route, releasing the few remaining bird would mean complete extinction.
Gaziantep museum holds the mosaics uncovered in the last-minute excavations at the Roman city of Zeugma, a site now under the waters of the Birecik dam. Among the many mosaics on display are Zeugma’s ‘Mona Lisa’, with staring eyes that follow you wherever you go, and Achilles being recruited to fight in the Trojan War. These superlative mosaics are a wonder to behold, and one can only imagine about the other incredible mosaics that have been lost forever.
Yesemek was the stone quarry and sculpture workshop of the Hittites. It was most probably set up under Shuppiluliuma I in the 14th century BCE. Today, more than 300 finished and unfinished statues and reliefs carved out of a mauvish-grey basalt are spread over a large area. From studying these remains we know something about the sculptors’ techniques: firstly the forms were roughly chipped out, then detailed carving and polishing was carried out, and lastly the final polishing was done. No one knows what happened to these craftsmen when this vast studio was invaded by Sargon II at the start of the 8th century BCE. Maybe they were carried away to work as slaves for their new masters.
On top of Mount Nemrut lies the final resting place of the Commagene kingdom’s most famous and egocentric ruler, Antiochus I, a tomb beneath an artificial mountain peak of piled stones. Archaeologists have yet to discover a way to open the “tomb to rival that of Tutankhamen” without destroying everything. The Eastern Terrace, from where one can watch a miraculous dawn, has five sitting statues of Antiochus I and his celestial relatives, who each represent both Greek and Persian deities. Further around, the western temple has further statues, reliefs and inscriptions, including the world’s first horoscope: that of Antiochus on the coronation of his father, Mithradates, on July 14thy 109 BCE. This site is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
The road up to the summit passes the Karakush (Blackbird) Tumulus of Antiochus’ wife, the 2,000 year-old Roman Cendere Bridge, and Arsameia, the ancient capital of the Commagene kingdom with the famous relief of Hercules and Mithradates I Callinicus shaking hands.
The Neo-Hittite fortress of Karatepe is second in importance only to Hattusha in terms of the reliefs and artefacts discovered. Karatepe was founded in the 8th century BCE by the Hittite King Asitawanda, who ruled the Adana plain and made Karatepe his summer home. Statues of lions and sphinxes protected the citadel, and the reliefs on display show musicians entertaining, a mother breast-feeding her baby, and even the king at dinner with a monkey under the table waiting for crumbs. The bilingual texts found here, the first examples of Hittite hieroglyphic writing, were key to deciphering Hieroglyphic Luwian.
Antakya, ancient Antioch on the Orontes, was founded in the fourth century BCE by Seleucos Nicator. By the second century BCE, it was one of the largest cities in the ancient world, with a population of over half a million. This was undoubtedly one of the reasons why Saint Peter the apostle came here with Saint Paul and Saint Barnabus to found one of the first Christian communities. The word Christian was coined in this city, and the cave church where Saint Peter preached his first sermon is still here, with a facade added in the thirteenth century by the crusaders.
Antakya’s Archaeological Museum holds the world’s best collection of Roman mosaics. They are just incredible, with subjects from abstract designs similar to those on today’s Turkish carpets to scenes from everyday life and Roman mythology, including the Rape of Ganymede, the Marriage of Tethys and Oceanus, and a rather fearsome rendition of the evil eye.
At Harbiye there is a beautiful grove with mesmerizing waterfalls. This is ancient Daphne, where Anthony and Cleopatra were married and the home of the Antioch Games, which became more famous and important than those at Olympus. One thing you won’t see is the magnificent temple of Apollo, which was dismantled by Christians who used the stones to build their churches.
The mountain-top monastery where Saint Simeon stood on his pillar has spectacular views of the sea coast, and down on the sea front, once the ancient port of Seleucia ad Pieria, is the famous Tunnel of Vespasian, a feat of engineering that prevented the harbor silting up. There’s also a unique Roman cave graveyard carved out of the rock near the tunnel.