Thursday, November 14, 2013

Gallipoli: Remembering the Anzacs

When we realized that we could visit Gallipoli on a day trip from Istanbul, we decided it would be worth the effort.  An early morning rise and a 4-hour drive each way was required but we were keen to learn a little more about the history of this battle that is remembered in Australia every Anzac day.  Our van had a number of visitors from the UK and Australia but we realized later in the day that part of our party were going off to visit Troy and that it was just us and the other Australian couple who were going to Gallipoli.

Over the long drive south we got to know our fellow travellers.  We had some interesting conversations with Sally and Pete who were travellers from Adelaide and we found many common threads in our lives.  I am always amazed at how easy it is to connect with many of the people we bump into in our travels.  The two older ladies from the UK turned out to be sisters who were researching a book the younger of the two was proposing to write about an adventurous sailing trip she had undertaken with her dad and a friend while still a student.  Over lunch we listen in amazement to her stories.  There is also an older Italian immigrant to Australia in our midst.  He is in his early eighties and informs us he has just completed his 31st marathon!  And I thought I was adventurous…

We learn a little more about the Gallipoli Campaign, also referred to as the Dardanelles Campaign, which took place in the Gallipoli peninsula during the Ottoman Empire between April 1915 and January 1916, during World War I.  The idea behind this campaign was to secure a sea route to Russia and the British and French launched this naval campaign in an effort to force a route through the Dardanelles.  The amphibious landing undertaken on the Gallipoli peninsula was an attempt to capture Constantinople.  After 8 months, the campaign failed with many casualties amongst the Turks as well as the Allies. 

The Turkish victory was a great moment at a time when the Ottoman Empire was crumbling.  It was a catalyst for the Turkish War of Independence and resulted in the founding of the Republic of Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who had been a commander at Gallipoli.  The campaign also resulted in a sense of National consciousness and coming of age in Australia and we now commemorate Anzac Day, a national holiday on the 25th of April. 

I was surprised to learn there were Indians and Ceylonese who also lost their lives in this campaign. 

Our Turkish guide was full of information and we learnt a lot during our visit.  We got a real sense of what it would have been like to be a soldier fighting in the trenches.  It was a cold and dismal day during our visit and we wondered how anyone could stand a wet winter in a trench.  The trenches were full of water but the soldiers had nowhere else to go.  Many of the kids who fought here were young teenagers, who had left home for the first time.  Many were also under the impression they were going to fight the Germans and didn’t really know what they were actually here to do till the very stages of their journey. 

We were surprised to learn that the campaign involved the first aerial reconnaissance and mapping of the terrain as well as location of the Turkish companies by the Allied Forces.  A common story told in Australia is that the British dropped the Aussies on the wrong beach but the reality of this was a little different.  While the British indicated the stretch of coastline that was best for the landing it was an Australian general that determined the actual location and timing.  Our Turkish guide indicated this was the historical information in Australia’s own war records. 

As we visited a number of memorial sites in the peninsula we came across these words of Ataturk, which we found verymoving.  It confirmed for us there was no animosity toward the Australians within the Turkish community about what happened in Gallipoli.   

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives...You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours...You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."

My wish is that we can learn from history and eliminate war completely and find a way to resolve our conflicts through understanding and communication.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ephesus: An Early Christian Community

We have come to Ephesus to visit a place that played an important part in the story of the early Christians.  Paul lived here from AD 52-52 and possibly wrote the first letter to the Corinthians from here.  The Gospel of John may also have been written from here.  Legend has it that Ephesus was the
place where Mary spent the last years of her life and our first visit is to the house that is venerated as the place she occupied.  It is a very spiritual place especially to Roman Catholics but I am surprised to learn that one of the longest verses in the Koran is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  As we approach, I step back to take a photograph of the house.  As I look through my lens and focus, a shaft of light breaks through the leaves and shines on the door…

No photos can be taken inside the house, but it is moving to be inside.  Of course much of the house has been re-built.  It is a tiny space and people kneel in prayer for awhile and move through to light candles outside.  We pass through a wall where people stop to drink from taps of that bring the mountain fresh spring water to this place.  We continue walking through a walkway where hundreds of
pilgrims have tied ribbons requesting God to deliver their wishes.  Health, Wealth and Love seem to figure in many of the request we turn over.  I wonder why no one really asks that they may be guided to discover their destiny…the purpose for their being.  I am not sure that God is really in the business of delivering bigger cars, bigger houses or money in the bank but today, the desires of people the world over seem to be materialistic rather than spiritual and a little different to those of the early Christians who came through these parts! 

Our travels have so far taken us through many of the communities that Paul travelled to and wrote to, after the death of Christ.  Here we are today, to discover the story of Ephesus.  Ephesus was the second largest city in the Byzantine Empire.  Paul, being one of the few Greek-speaking Apostles came to this
part of the world, because of the importance of these cities.  Ephesus is in Turkey today, but back then it was part of the Greek speaking Roman Empire.  It was along the Silk Road, making it a vibrant trading city where news and goods were exchanged with travellers from further east.

I am amazed to learn that 2000 years ago, the city was also at the mouth of an incredible harbour.   2,000 years of unsustainable agricultural practices, and the destruction of natural vegetation in the catchment has resulted in more than 8 km of the river that once flowed through here being completely silted up.  We stare at the valley in disbelief, while our guide tries to explain this could be a natural process! 

Paul spent about 2.5 years in Ephesus.  The Apostles John and Philip also passed through this place.  Growing up I have heard versus from the Ephesians read many times in Christian gatherings but until Household Code and instructions on many relationships including that of the male/female and master/slave. 
now, I never realised the historical context of those letters.  Back then, Paul was writing to a trading community who had recently converted to Christianity and he urges them to live a Christ inspired lifestyle.  He also gave them a

I sit back and reflect.  Not once in any of the Bible studies that I had attended in the past had we ever discussed what Paul might have written today.  2,000 years have passed since those letters were written and eventually translated to the version that is read and re-read by millions the world over.  The Ephesian’s of today are a completely different people.  The number one money-spinner of their economy today is tourism followed by agriculture.  People everywhere are looking to make a quick buck from the thousands of visitors to this special place.  The surrounding valleys have been totally cleared to give way to rows of oranges, figs, cotton and other crops.   The river is completely silted up.  If Paul were writing those letters today, might they also have included a message of about sustainable agricultural and environmental practices that would ensure human behaviour did not alter natural cycles. 

Ancient Roman ruins are fascinating places.  As I travel through Europe, the Middle East and Asia Minor I am slowly getting an appreciation for the extent of this vast Empire.  Much of the research Steve is engaged in is about the issue of private and public space and the business that is carried out in these spaces.  Our visit to the public toilets in the ruins of Ephesus is cause for a bit of mirth and a few squirms in our group.  The long row of squat toilets is evidence that men would seek out the public toilets just so they could sit within elbow reach of each other, chatting about politics and religion while they did their business.  The issue of privacy in this domain did not exist for a man.  In fact I am quite amused to find that back then men could actually do two things at one time!

The library is one of the most impressive of the structures that are in existence in Ephesus.  It stands right opposite to the brothel, just down the street from the hamman (Turkish bath).   These were of course the favourite pastimes of the men of those days.  Their leisure and pleasure activities all within a stone’s throw of each other.   The prostitutes, just like almost 90% of this population were all slaves.  The Ephesians were a very hierarchical society and the women had no place in the public domain.  An interesting sign engraved on the road from what was then the port points towards the brothel. 

Later we visit an area where once existed the Temple of Artemis – yes the one that was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  Today, there is lone pillar and crumbling blocks of marble to remind us of this once incredible structure.  In the distance we see a Church dedicated to the Apostle
John, a mosque and a castle.  These three structures have been built with the marble from the ancient Temple of Artemis.  Both the rulers of the Byzantine & Ottoman empires ransacked the Temple of Artemis to build their temples.  Given their common beliefs, the Ottomans did not destroy Byzantine structures but anything considered ‘pagan’ was considered fair game by both sets of rulers.  “It was a giant re-cycle”, says our guide.  “But what about heritage”, I ask.  Of course heritage was not considered something of value back then…

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Ephesus.  It was an amazing experience to be in such a historic place and to get a sense of what life was like for those early Christians.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pamukkale: A Cotton Castle in Southwestern Turkey

While in Istanbul, we have decided to visit Pamukkale meaning ‘cotton castle’ in south-western Turkey.  Terraced pools, mineral forests, petrified cascades - did we detour to the moon? No - this is a little village called Pamukkale where waters full of calcite from springs in the cliffs above have surfaced through a fault line to create this unreal landscape. The ruins of the Greek town and thermal spa called Hieropolis can also be seen here and was once built on top of the cotton castle. The hot springs were used as a spa since the 2nd century BC. Ancient legends say that St Phillip came here to convert the locals and was crucified here.

Sadly, the pools are running dry as the natural cycle of the underground springs has been altered partly I think because of the construction of the spa in ancient times and deforestation through the ages. The park authorities now divert water artificially to keep sections of this place wet, alternating water flow throughout the week. I notice that the cliffs above are devoid of any vegetation. I wonder if they focused on planting (rather than plumbing) and improved infiltration in the aquifers in the eroded cliffs above if those underground springs would run freely once more?

It is a stunning place and visitors are allowed to walk in the pools as long as they take their shoes off.  The water is not as hot as I would have accepted but the landscape is stunning and I enjoy walking around taking photos as much as I enjoy relaxing in the pools!  

Istanbul: East Meets West

It is exciting to be back in Istanbul, re-visiting the land that straddles two continents.  It is one of my favourite cities and I am back here almost 3 years to the day.  With almost 14 million residents, Istanbul is one of the largest cities in the world.  It is the heart and soul of Turkey, with loads of culture, history and trade to keep you occupied for weeks.  We will be here for 10 days but will use the time to visit surrounding cities as well as to soak up the atmosphere of Istanbul. 

The city is huge but it isn’t just the historic old city that has a heart.  There is plenty of atmosphere to be found elsewhere and it is a fun city to get lost in!  We spent our first day visiting the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.  The Hagia Sophia was undergoing major maintenance work and the scaffolding did spoil us getting a true sense of this magnificent structure.  As Empires changed hands, it went from being a Greek Orthodox church, a Roman Catholic cathedral, to a mosque before it was finally converted to a museum by Ataturk.  There are symbols from both faiths all over the structure including an iconic painting of the Virgin Mary surrounded by Arabic writing above the main alter.

As we visited the Blue Mosque and saw a diagram that illustrated the genealogy of Muslim prophets that began with Adam and Eve and went on to include Abraham and Moses that we realised how many
similarities there were between the two faiths.  The two faiths share a common origin in the Middle East and Muslims consider Christians and Jews to be People of the Book.  While many of the Old Testament teachings remain the same there are some major differences including the fact that Islam does not consider that God is a Trinity or that Jesus was the Son of God.  It was also interesting to be inside both the Blue Mosque as well as other local mosques and see how different the practice of the two faiths are especially with respect to how men and women are able to worship. 

We also had fun visiting the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market.  The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with approximately 61 covered streets, 3,000 shops and a visitor count that could reach 400,000 on a good day!  It certainly has a very special atmosphere and but what I loved was grab a seat at a café and people watch while sipping a nice glass of hot apple tea.  It is also a great venue for street photography if you are able to get a good vantage point amongst the throngs of people who frequent this place.  The Spice Market is also full of colour and I loved photographing the piles of different coloured spices for sale.  It was historically the centre of the spice trade in Istanbul although today this might be changing.

We were also able to visit a couple of the palaces in Istanbul.  Perhaps the most impressive was the
Dolmabahce Palace, situated on the European banks of the Bosporous.   It has been home to six sultans who preferred the comforts of this palace as compared to Topkapi Palace.  It is a museum today and a reminder of the excessive lifestyles of the rich and famous! 

A tour of the Bosporous is a great way to experience Istanbul but unfortunately for us the weather turned and our day out was a little ruined by the harsh weather.  I braved the cold to take some photographs on the top deck but eventually caved in and went downstairs.  We finished the day at a great lookout spot from where we caught a cable car down to the buses waiting for us at the foot of the hill.

We also crossed the Bosphorus by bus to visit the Asian side of Turkey as well as to have a look inside the Beylerbi Palace.  This summer palace was considered to be cooler but not as lavish as Dolmabahce hence the reason it was only used as a summer escape.  It did however have an indoor pool, which would have been a huge extravagance back then.  We finish the day at the top of Çamlıca Hill, sipping hot chocolates and enjoying the spectacular views of Istanbul. 

On our last night in Turkey, we splurged on a Turkish Bath.  After a little searching we found a hammam that gave us a more local experience with one difference – it was mixed.  Generally, the
Turkish bath houses are strictly separated by gender (or men and women visit at different times) so it was an unusual experience to sit in the sauna with both sexes!  I have had a Turkish bath previously but this was Steve’s first experience and we enjoyed it immensely.  You start by relaxing in the steam room, move on to a more private room to be soaped and scrubbed and then after a shower enjoy a wonderful massage!  It was a wonderful way to say goodbye not just to Turkey but to our European adventure and we finished the day by treating ourselves to a truly authentic Aussie pizza!

 We were not flying till later in the afternoon of the next day so we wandered into the old city in time to see some of the runners finish in the Istanbul Marathon.  This is the only marathon in the world that is run across two continents so I guess it would be high on the bucket lists of many marathon runners. 

During our time here we also visited Pamukkale, Ephesus and Gallipoli but I will blog about each of these places separately. 

It seems we timed our departure from Europe perfectly.  The last two days have been freezing and we went from T Shirts to 4 layers in one day!  So it is timely that we are flying off to a beautiful tropical island, 6 degrees north of the equator to spend Christmas with my friends and family.  Our journey through Europe gave us far more than we could have ever expected. We come away with beautiful memories, deep connections and friendships with locals in almost all of the countries we visited and photographs to cherish and sort through.

We are looking forward to a bit of rest to reflect on and make sense of what we have learnt and to ponder what it means for the year ahead. We will always be grateful to all of the 'strangers' (strangers no more of course) who invited us to their homes & lives and who shared their stories and their cities.