Along the Silk Route in Turkey

Have you ever dreamed of turning the clock back many centuries and travel like a medieval merchant on camel back? Crossing deserts, mountains and vast plains, meeting countless civilizations along the way, eating their food and indulging in their culture?
In 1997 a heavily sponsored expedition of photographers and film makers set out to do exactly that. For 14 months, they traveled on camel back, starting in China in June 1996 and ending up in Canakkale/Turkey in April 1997. The aim was to follow the ancient silk route and a rather hilarious summary can be found here.
You might not be able to repeat the experience, or even travel as part of a caravan by camel, but there are still parts and stretches of the ancient silk route to be admired in Turkey today. You can even stay in a caravanserai and let your imagination run riot.
First, let’s take a look at history and see what the silk route actually was.
History of the Silk Route
The words silk road or silk route are interchangeable. Silk route might be the more adequate name, because the ancient trade path had many side routes and diversions. It wasn’t just one more or less straight stretch which ran from East to West.

 

Branches of silk route

Branches of silk route

The beginnings date back to China’s Han dynasty and 130BC. It ended with the Ottoman Empire in 1453. The name silk route was actually coined by German historian Ferdinand von Richthofen in 1877. But it wasn’t only silk which the merchants carried on their camels but also other coveted goods from the East, like spices which were exchanged for gold from the West.
During the times of the Roman Empire, the silk trade thrived, because silk became extremely popular in Rome. Despite many attempts by the Senate to forbid garments made from silk, the Roman ladies continued to cover themselves in the diaphanous fabric.
After the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Byzantine one, silk and spices remained in high demand. So much so, that Emperor Justinian sent two monks to China with instructions the steal silk worms and bring them back.
The worms took to the climate and silk production began to flourish in Turkey, particularly in Bursa.
The caravans from China to the West took a long time for their journey and obviously, beast and men needed to rest along the way. That’s how the caravanserais came into being.
They are all built to the same blue print: huge rectangular courtyards for the camels and other animals, surrounded by several galleries with rooms for the merchants and servants. Add a mosque, kitchen and hamam and you get the picture.
Konya and Aksaray
Following trajects of the silk road brings you to some of the best and most interesting parts of the country. Not only because of the connection to the ancient trade road but also because of other historical and cultural sites.
Konya in Central Anatolia is just such a place. It was the capital of the Selcuk Sultanate of Rum from 1097 to 1243. Konya is best known as the home of Mevlana Rumi, the founder of the Sufi order and the whirling dervishes.

dervishes

He is buried in a magnificent tomb in Konya and each year a huge festival attracts thousands of visitors to watch the performances of the whirling dervishes.

Sufi student

Sufi student

From Koya, follow a part of the silk road to one of its most important stop over: Aksaray in Cappadocia.

The town is a great starting point to visit the fairy chimneys and other marvels of the region.

 

Caves in Aksaray

Caves in Aksaray

Cappadocia formations

Cappadocia formations

 

It’s also near Aksaray that you will find Turkey’s biggest and best preserved caravanserai: Sultan Han.

Sultan Han

Sultan Han

Bursa’s Silk Bazaar
Head further north towards the Black Sea region and visit Bursa, another former capital of the Selcuks. It’s here were the stolen silk worms from Emperor Justinian ended up. The climate and soil were ideal for mulberry trees which are the preferred food for the worms and for nearly 500 years, Bursa became the most important center for silk production and silk trade.

Silk Bazaar

Silk Bazaar

Koza Han,built in 1490, the impressive silk bazaar bears witness to the importance of silk for Bursa. Sadly, the silk boom is over as Bursa silk can’t compete with (get this!!) the much cheaper Chinese products. Nearly a thousand years after the ‘theft’, the Chinese get their own back. Such is history.

cay garden

action

silk

Bursa silk

Bursa silk

The former rooms of the caravanserai are now small shops which still sell the most beautiful scarves and garments. From producing to designing, silk is still very much a part of life in Bursa.
Kusadasi
From near the Black Sea head to the Aegean Sea and the lovely resort of Kusadasi. As I said before, the silk route had many branches and one of them veered towards nearby Ephesus and to the port of Kusadasi.
Apart from several other remarkable buildings, Kusadasi is home of the Okuz Mehmet Pasha caravanserai.

Karawanserei Courtyard

Karawanserei Courtyard

Port and castle

Port and castle

Much younger than the others, it was built in 1618 after trade on the silk road had been closed by the Ottomans. Kusadasi is a port town and the caravanserai catered to the sea trade as well as being a defense castle.
Here you can finally have the caravanserai experience, because it’s a hotel. In fact, one of my favorites in Turkey. The guest rooms are the former rooms of the merchants, with thick walls, small windows, carved wood, carpets and pillows galore. Don’t worry, bathrooms are modern and impeccable and there is even a mini bar.
The courtyard is a café and on several evenings you can enjoy performances of musicians and belly dancers.
The Turkish part of the ancient silk route may be comparatively small compared to the full length but it’s full of unforgettable impressions and sights. Why not make this the theme of your next trip to Turkey?

Elisabeth of Austria and Lake Geneva

Whilst researching some details about Lake Geneva, I noticed that there is a Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. So, to avoid confusion, I´m talking here about Lake Geneva in Switzerland which you might have guessed anyway because otherwise: what would Empress Elisabeth be doing in Wisconsin?

Lake Geneva is the largest French-Swiss  and covers no less than 500.000 sqm of water. Roughly in the shape of a huge banana, the lake owns much of its beauty to the surrounding Maritime Alps. Part French, part Swiss well known cities like Geneva, Lausanne, Montreux or Vevey border the lake and are connected by much used ferries.

Six small islands lie in the lake, which is fed by the river Rhone, the best known home to the water castle Chillon. The most eye catching attraction is no doubt the huge Jet d´Eau, a fountain in the lake just off shore from Geneva which launches its spray up to 140m into the air.

JetEau

Geneva was the last destination of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who in her later years was much given to travel. She was a complex personality, not unlike her beloved cousin and best fried King Ludwig II and, ironically, just like him she found a violent death on the shores of a beautiful lake.

On 10th September 1898, Elisabeth, accompanied by her lady in waiting Countess Irma Sztavay, walked along the promenade from her Hotel Beau Rivage to catch the steamboat for Montreux.

262px-Erzsebet_kiralyne_photo_1867

Suddenly, a young man approached, tried to peer under her parasol and made a sweeping movement with his hand, then ran off.

The empress stumbled, but before anyone realized what had happened, she grabbed the arm of her lady in waiting, walked some 100 yards and boarded the steamship before she collapsed and lost consciousness. As she was incognito, the captain didn´t know who she was and advised Irma to take her back to the hotel. The whole story is really lurid and hard to understand until Elisabeth was finally carried back to the hotel on a makeshift stretcher, her clothes cut off and people who attended her  realized that she had been stabbed. It was in fact due to her tight corset that the bleeding from the wound was hardly noticeable and that she lived as long as she did.

What had happened? An Italian anarchist by the name of Luigi Lucheni  had travelled to Geneva to kill the Duque of Orleans, but when he found out that the pretender to the throne of France had left the previous day, he deiced to kill any sovereign he could find. Unfortunately for her, it was Elisabeth whose true identity had been revealed by a newspaper.

`Ì came to Geneva to kill a sovereign`, he said, ´as an example to those who suffer and those who don´t care about their suffering`.

And like Ludwig, Elisabeth got a statue on the place where her murder occurred. Another story which combines the beauty of a lake with violent death.

Photograph of Jet d ´Eau by Roland Zumbühl under GNU Free Documentataion Licence.

Did he drown or was he murdered? King Ludwig II and Lake Starnberg

In my last three posts of the ´lakes series´, I told you about three lakes in Turkey remarkable because of their location and beauty.

The next two, Lake Starnberg in Germany and Lake Geneva in Switzerland are equally beautiful, but their names are forever connected with tragedy, mystery and death.

Relaxing at Lake Starnberg

Relaxing at Lake Starnberg

The first, Lake Starnberg, located in the southwest of Bavaria is Germany´s fourth largest lake. 120 m deep at the deepest point it is a lake famous for water sports and up market communities at its shores. A small island, Roseninsel, lies in the middle of the lake, with a royal villa on it which belonged to King Ludwig.

On June 13th 1886 at 6pm, the deposed King Lugwig II of Bavaria and his personal physician Dr. Gubben went for a walk along the shore of Lake Starnberg, in pleting rain!

The young King Ludwig II

The young King Ludwig II

Three hours later, both men were found in waist high water, dead. Dr. Gubben had ijuries to his neck and shoulders and the king lay face down in the water.

To this day it remains a mystery what really happened. The day before,  King Ludwig who had been declared insane and suffering from paranoia because of his outrageous spending on his castles and other artistic projects.  Deposed, had been taken into custody and imprisoned in Berg Castel  the day before. Dr. Gubben was to look after him and to take care of his health.

After an autopsy it was officially declared that the king has committed suicide and it was hinted that he might have attacked Dr. Gubben. But.. no water was found in the king´s lungs and drowning therefore seems unlikely.

Other theories indicate that Ludwig tried to escape and was murdered during the attempt. The mystery remains unsolved and so the king´s own words are fulfilled: Ì want to remain an eternal enigma to myself and to others.`

Visitors are reminded of the tragedy by the King´s cross, always decorated with flowers because Ludwi g , the fairy tale king and creator of such castles as Neuschwanstein and Herrenchiemsee remains popular to this day.

Ludwig´s cross

Ludwig´s cross

 The photo of Ludwig´s cross is by Nicholas Even, Dallas under Creative Common Attribute Share Licence

Erik the Red – a medieval PR pro!

In my previous post about my visit to Greenland, I explained, that the name ‘Greenland’ was an invention by Erik the Red. Whilst researching this, I have to admit that I got hooked by Erik’s personality and I thought it would make a nice follow up to the previous post to tell his story.

Born in 950 in Norway, Erik was probably called ‘the red’ because of his hair color. His father was banned from Norway for killing a man and the family settled in Western Iceland, farming and doing quite well for themselves. But, feuds erupted and in the process, Erik, just like his father, killed two man and was sentenced to be banished from Iceland for three years. Having an inquisitive mind, Erik had heard of mysterious islands west of Iceland and, in 982, he set sail with a crew and a few ships to explore what lay further west.

He landed in Julianehab, then rounded the southern tip of Greenland, explored Erik Fjord and several smaller islands. His three years of exile were spent exploring the ice and glaciers, but he also found the green fringe quite fertile.

In 985, he returned to Iceland, but found that he still had a lot of enemies. Erik wanted to start a new life and settle in a place where he would be surrounded by friends, not enemies and he thought up a scheme to entice friendly settlers and farmers to come with him. Correctly thinking that the idea of living on eternal ice would not find many enthusiasts, he called the island Greenland’in hopes that the new name would conjure up images of fertility, farmland and new opportunities. He specukated correctly and managed to assemble some 500 settlers and 14 ships which all set sail for a new life in Greenland.

For some years, the settlers did quite well, but then excessively cold winters got the better of them. Some returned to Iceland, some died of epidemics and some, it will appear, were murdered by the Inuit. In effect, the Norseman vanished forever from Greenland after having been the first settlers.