Beyond ‘Turkish delight on a moonlit night’
PAINT A PICTURE - By Katrina Ann Tan (The Philippine Star) - October 26, 2012 - 12:00am

What took me so long? I thought to myself in the middle of my two-week tour of Türkiye (“land of the Turks”) with my family where we went on a 3,000-kilometer whirling dervish of a road trip circling the Western half of the country from Istanbul (the only city embracing both Europe and Asia), through the ancient civilizations of the Aegean Sea, inland towards the rock wonders of Cappadocia, then westward through the nation’s capital of Ankara and back to Istanbul. I don’t know why I had previously overlooked such a beautiful destination with people so open and warm, but I’m certain that travelers who continue to take Turkey for granted (which is quite likely as it’s often overshadowed by high-profile EU neighbors) are missing out big time on a unique array of both natural and man-made treasures as well as sites significant not only to the history of the Anatolian people, but also to world history. In a lot of ways, the history of Turkey is the history of mankind.

You know more about Turkey than you think

The Blue Mosque in red: Whenever I travel, I like to sketch and see how the universal language of art makes people come together.

Initially, I was convinced all I knew about Turkey was its Byzantine past (I did a report on it for my liturgical arts class), the song on my ‘50s hits LP Istanbul, Not Constantinople, Zildjian cymbals and Yilmaz Bektas. But then, as our tour progressed and as our expert guide (who’s also an archaeologist) mentioned one proverbial place and historical character after another, I realized there’s a good chance an average person knows more (albeit random stuff) about Turkey than he gives himself credit for. For instance, there’s Troy. Chances are you’ve done a book report on Homer’s “Iliad.” If not, who hasn’t seen the movie with Brad Pitt as Achilles? Or perhaps the Trojan Horse virus got into your computer at one time just as it had entered and eventually annihilated King Priam’s powerful walled city, making it the first recorded account of human deception. Also in the Aegean region is Ephesus which was once the most prominent city of Asia Minor or Anatolia. Saint Paul wrote his “Letter to the Ephesians” to the people of this metropolis. The house that John the Apostle built for the Virgin Mary after the crucifixion of Christ is also in the area, plus the site of the Temple of Artemis (burned in 356 BC on the same day Alexander the Great was born) which is considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world along with the Great Egyptian Pyramid of Giza and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in Iraq. Moreover, there’s Mount Ararat where Noah’s Ark came to rest, Santa Claus (kids, he’s not a North Pole native) and King Midas whom I thought was a mere fictional character. I remember when I was five, before I quit preschool (yes, I was a kindergarten dropout), my class went on a fieldtrip to see the classic cartoon The Golden Touch. Curiously, the river Pactolus where Midas bathed is known for its gold and electrum deposits.

‘Tis the season of promo fares and discounted tours. For the traveler who’s also a nature lover and an art and history nut, here are places in Turkey you shouldn’t miss:

• Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet Mosque, Topkapi Palace, The Bosphorus (all in Istanbul): Constantine the Great’s iconic Hagia Sophia or Church of Divine Wisdom is known for its massive dome and gold mosaics. Right across is the Sultanahmet Mosque erected during Ottoman rule also called “Blue Mosque” by tourists because of its remarkable collection of blue interior tiles that showcase the exquisiteness of Islamic art. The Topkapi Palace houses some of the world’s most fascinating relics including the staff of Moses, sword of David, saucer of Abraham, skull and arm of John, turban of Joseph and hair from Prophet Mohammad’s beard. A relaxing cruise along the Bosphorus connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara is a must.

• Troy: This archaeological wonderland has nine layers. It’s being disputed whether the Troy of Priam, Hector and Paris is on layer six or seven.

Not snow, but natural travertine pools in Pamukkale — among the world’s most unique swim spots

• Ephesus: Apparently, there are as many (if not more) surviving Greek structures in Turkey than in Greece. Ephesus is one of them. Marvel at its towering Ionic and Corinthian columns, and its old-fashioned toilets — marble slabs with holes arranged alongside each other (must’ve been a challenge for ancient Ephesians not to stick their nose in other people’s business!)

• Aphrodisias: If you open an art history book and see a Hellenistic or Roman sculpture, it’s likely that it’s made out of yellowish Aphrodisian marble. Alexander of Aphrodisias (philosopher and foremost commentator on Aristotle’s writings) is also from here.

• Pamukkale: Take a therapeutic dip in one of its cascading calcium carbonate pools or simply behold the breathtaking sight of this natural wonder (it’s probably what the Banaue rice terraces would look like if we had winter in the Philippines).  Then explore the necropolis of Hierapolis dotted with ancient sarcophagi and if you’re not very ticklish, enjoy a pedicure care of a school of Garra Rufa or “doctor fish.”

• Sultan Han (in Aksaray): This is Turkey’s biggest caravanserai (inn with stables for camels used by travelers along the Silk and Spice Roads). Caravanserais along a trade route are conveniently spaced 30-35 kilometers apart — the distance covered by a camel in a day.

• Konya: Once the city of Iconium (attributed to Perseus’ slaying of Medusa), it’s also the home of dervishes — monks who whirl as a form of meditation.

Hot air balloons flying over Cappadocia at sunrise

• Cappadocia: The best way to start the day here is by taking a hot air balloon ride to watch the sun rise over its fairy chimneys. Underground villages and dwellings carved out of magnificent rock formations were the camouflaged homes of early Christians who evaded Roman persecution. Then, visit the inspiring Cappadocian carpet weavers. What makes a Turkish carpet distinct is its use of Gordion knots, a type of double knot. One fine silk rug can contain up to 1,600 knots per square-inch and take up to three years to make (tsk, and I complain when a painting takes me months to complete). Also, have a master-potter teach you how to make Hittite pottery.

• Museum of Anatolian Civilizations (in Ankara): Among other artifacts, it houses the Neolithic mother goddess of Catal Hoyuk — the world’s first organized village.

• Gordion: The tumulus (burial mound) of King Midas is in this ancient Phrygian capital.

• Bursa: This city by the legendary Mount Olympus of Mysia is famous for its Ipek silk scarves with intricate designs that are delightfully Turkish.

***


Travel is something you buy that can actually make you richer.— Anonymous

 

 

BLUE MOSQUE BULL CAPPADOCIA EPHESUS HAGIA SOPHIA KING MIDAS SULTANAHMET MOSQUE TOPKAPI PALACE
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