Sailing to Byzantium

TRAVEL UPDATE - Marlinda Angbetic Tan (The Freeman) - August 14, 2014 - 12:00am

I remembered this poem by William Butler Yeats that my English professor Resil Mojares took time to discuss in class.  It is about growing old and the yearning to go back to that gilded era of wisdom, to be fused into the realm of intellect as the worn body aches for a reprieve...

“There is no country for old men. The young

In one another's arms, birds in the trees

– Those dying generations  – at their song,

...But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, passing, or to come.”

So when an old friend in the travel industry, Dave de Jesus, called me for an afternoon presentation about Turkey, I immediately re-arranged my schedule so I could attend. At once, my mind filled up with the richness of the Topkapi Palace, the wonder of the Blue Mosque and the Byzantine splendor of Hagia Sofia – all in one place, Istanbul. 

What is significant with Istanbul is the fact that it straddles between Asia and Europe, with the Bosphorus – the strait that connects the Black Sea (Asia) and the Mediterranean (through the Sea of Marmara).  Hence, Istanbul, the ancient capital of Turkey, is the gateway between Europe and Asia.

In the 7th century B.C., Istanbul was called Byzantium by Roman conquerors and it was the largest city in the Europe of that time.  By 330 A.D., it became known as Constantinople, the capital city of the Holy Roman Empire.  After the schism of the Roman Empire, it became the center of the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire with Greek Orthodox Christianity as official religion. The seat of the religious head (like the Pope in Rome) was in Hagia Sofia (“Holy Wisdom of God”), the largest cathedral in Europe which was transformed into a mosque by Sultan Mehmed II after the Muslim conquest in 1453, and making Istanbul the capital of the Ottoman Empire.  The intact Hagia Sophia is now a museum, near the equally magnificent Blue Mosque.

Sultan Mehmed II started the Topkapi Palace in 1459, with terraces overlooking the Bosphorus.  Sultan Suleyman (1520-1860) made renovations to the palace at the height of the Ottoman Empire.  This is a must-visit place in Istanbul.  This was even the title and the location of a movie thriller in the late 50s or early 60s. The palace can be accessed through a number of gates that open into impressive courtyards with various functions, like parks with charming fountains, breath-taking terraces overlooking the sea, or as the Imperial Mint, as parade grounds, or as a harem hall with peacocks and gazelles.  It was here that I saw the fourth largest diamond in the world, and later viewed the “beard” of the prophet Mohammed (or some strands of it!), his worn sandals, his cloak – all on exhibit for all believers to view in reverence, while an imam recites verses from the Koran.

The Republic of  Turkey came to be in 1923, with Ankara becoming the new capital city.  The Turkish War of Independence led by the military commander Mustafa Kamal on September 18, 1922, established a new parliament that abolished the existing sultanate; thus, ending the 623 years of Ottoman rule in Turkey.  Kamal became the first president of the republic and was later conferred the honorific surname “Ataturk” (Father of the Turks) in 1934. In 1930, Istanbul became the official name of the ancient capital, replacing Constantinople.

Anatolia occupies most of modern Turkey and it was known in the ancient world as Asia Minor.  Cappadocia, in central Anatolia, is a plateau with volcanic formations.  It has become a tourist attraction because of its “fairy chimneys” so called because they resemble chimneys in various natural formations.  It is also known as a “land of beautiful horses.”  Its rich cultural heritage is another tourist attraction.

Let me share the package on offer:  Explore Beyond Borders

Day 1 – Istanbul: Topkapi Palace (lunch/dinner)

Day 2 – Canakkale/Pergamum:  the city of Troy where the Trojan horse used in the blockbuster movie of Brad Pitt is on display (donated by the producers to the city)/Asklepion – the first hospital in Anatolia (breakfast/lunch/dinner)

Day 3 – Kusadasi/Pamukkale:  the house built by John the Apostle for the Virgin Mary is the highlight of the Kusadasi visit; the Seven Churches of Revelation in Ephesus; extant structures of ancient eras/ UNESCO World heritage protected site of white limestone terraces and thermal springs in Pamukkale (breakfast/lunch/dinner)

Day 4 – Konya/Cappadocia:  blue-green domed Mevlana Musuem, the ancient school of the whirling Dervishes (male performers in long white attires who twirl in a traditional prayer-dance)/Sultanhani – extant ancient inn in Anatolia (breakfast/lunch/dinner)

Day 5 – Cappadocia:  Underground City of Kaymakli, one of the largest in the world; Goreme Open-Air Museum; Uchisar-an ancient village with dwellings carved into rocks;  carpet factory visit; hotel dinner with belly dancing and Turkish Folk Dances (breakfast/lunch/dinner)

Day 6 – Bolu/Ankara:  lunch at Ankara, the capital city; Ataturk Mausoleum; overnight in Ankara (breakfast/lunch/dinner)

Day 7 – Istanbul: on the way is a coastal drive along the Sea of Marmara, city tour including the Blue Mosque – largest mosque in Istanbul and Hagia Sophia; shopping in a covered Grand Bazaar (breakfast/lunch/dinner)

Day 8 – Istanbul:  Bosphorus cruise in a private boat, then airport transfer (breakfast)

My dream visit is to Pamukkale, World Heritage protected site since 1988.  It is in southwestern Turkey, always with a temperate weather even in winter. It has awe-inspiring terraces and frozen fountains of white carbonate deposits from the flowing volcanic waters (35 degrees celsius-100 degrees celsius).  Nearby is the Hierapolis, a Greco-Roman Byzantine city built on top of a promontory 8,660 feet. long, 1,970 feet. wide and 525 feet. high.  It is now an archaeological museum.  It was a spa since 2nd century B.C., with sarcophagi in a huge necropolis, underground niches for baths, a library and a gymnasium.

If you want more information on Turkey, contact the Philippine representative in Manila, Dave de Jesus (+-63916-3536545/+-63925-3284335).  For bookings, call your friendly travel agent here in Cebu. Almost all known agencies attended the presentation.

Travel safely; travel well!

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