Posted by inka on Sep 12, 2012 in Day trips
, Turkey Travel
In recent posts I have been talking about Selcuk and Ephesus and a sanctuary, called Mary’s House or Meryemana fits right into the picture. Driving up a very steep and winding mountain road from Ephesus or Selcuk you reach a place of utter beauty and serenity. Surrounded by a park an old stone house stands, with an adjacent church and chapel as well as a sacred spring and a long wall where thousands of petitions and prayers are tagged to the stones, left there by believers and pilgrims. On the road up to Mary’s house you find a gilded statue of the virgin, donated by an American.
According to legend and some descriptions, the Apostle John, over whose tomb the basilica of St. John in Selcuk was erected by the emperor Justinian in the 6ht century, took Mary out of Palestine on a long journey to what is today Turkey to ensure her safety and to find a place for her where she could live in peace for the rest of her life. A stone house was built and she remained there until her Assumption.
What’s legend and what is truth? No scientific evidence has ever been found to confirm that the Virgin Mary lived here. However, the stories around Mary’s House are fascinating.
In 1881 a French priest discovered a small stone house on a mountain overlooking the Aegean Sea and located close to Ephesus. A German nun, Anne Catherine Emmerich, who was semi illiterate and has never left Germany, described Mary’s House as it appeared to her in her dreams. These descriptions were published by the German writer and poet Clemens Brentano and they matched exactly what the French priest had found. However, his discovery was no taken seriously.
10 years later, two Lazzarist missionaries from Smyrna (today Izmir) were wandering around in the area and driven by thirst, asked locals where they might find water. They were guided to a ‘sanctuary’ and discovered a spring under an old stone house, the exactly same one the German nun had seen in her dreams. They knew about the book by Clemens Brentano and so did another nun, sister Marie de Mandat – Grancey. It further came to light, that the place was a site of pilgrimage since the 12th century and sister Marie was responsible for the acquisition and restoration of Mary’s House until her death in 1915.
Two popes, Leo XIII in 1896 and John XXIII in 1961 gave the place their blessings and it was recognized as the ‘official’ site where the Virgin Mary spent her last days on earth by transferring the plenary indulgences from Jerusalem to Ephesus.
John the apostle wrote his gospel on the island of Patmos, just off the coast from Ephesus and is believed to have died in Ephesus. Given that Jesus entrusted his mother to John, supporters of the theory hold that he would never have traveled without her and hence had taken her with him to the house in Ephesus. Is this a story or what?
Mary’s House is an extremely beautiful and serene place, surrounded by a wonderful park. It’s venerated by Muslims too because of the spring to which healing qualities are attributed. You can visit the old building which is separated by a red line from the restored part, wander around the grounds, drink from the well and leave your message or prayer at the stone walls. It is totally irrelevant whether there is scientific evidence or not, Mary’s House has no doubt a very special aura which makes everyone walk around silently and in a very contemplative mood. Another beauty in the area of Ephesus/Selcuk which should not be missed.
I love to visit Selcuk, because within a radius of a few miles you can literally wander through thousands of years of history. In Selcuk you’ll find something for every taste and interest. From the ancient site of Ephesus to Mary’s house, from the Byzantine basilica of St. John to the Isabey mosque, from the massive Selcuk castle to the formidable Ephesus museum which exhibits all the treasures found in Ephesus and even reserves one room to the sculptures and paintings of modern Turkish artists. Not to mention great food and shops and stalls which sell really pretty souvenirs as opposed to the usual junk.
And then there is the cave of the Seven Sleepers, somewhat off the beaten path. It’s a well enough known site, but the access road is pretty narrow which means that not all of the usual tourist coaches which ‘do’ Ephesus include the Seven Sleepers.
Three days ago, my friends and I went, yet again, on a private day trip to enjoy another whirl of Selcuk. We have been several times and never tire to return because there is always something else to do and see.
This time, a more thorough visit to the Seven Sleepers was on the agenda. The story behind it, is a fascinating one. According to the earliest source, the writings of the Syrian bishop Jacob of Sarug (450-521), seven youth who lived under the reign of Emperor Decius around 250 AD, were persecuted for their Christian faith. As they refused to decant their belief and were therefore in mortal danger, they found refuge in a cave in the mountains near Ephesus where they fell asleep. They didn’t wake up until some 300 years later, when they wandered into Ephesus and were surprised to see churches and crosses everywhere. By then Emperor Theodosius II ruled and the Christian faith was the established religion.
What’s even more interesting is the fact that the same story is told in the Koran. The people of Makkah had challenged the prophet Mohammed as to his authenticity and he recited the story as an example of unwavering faith in the Lord. The Koran version also mentions a dog which accompanied the young men and stood watch at the entrance to the cave the entire time. A very resilient mutt, I dare say.
Hence the cave of the Seven Sleepers has become a place of worship and pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims alike. Many people wanted to be buried there and when climbing up the hill towards the cave you can see tombs, caves, niches and graves. It’s one of those places where legend meets history and your imagination is allowed to run free.
When the sleepers finally woke up, they were, not surprisingly, hungry and ventured into Ephesus in search of food. After our visit to the cave, we felt compelled to do exactly the same.
At the entrance to the site we found an absolutely romantic place. Women were making gözleme and bread and we devoured a freshly baked round for starters. Then we made our way into Selcuk which has a lovely pedestrian zone, right opposite the road which leads up to the castle, the basilica and the mosque. One restaurant after the other, interspersed with shops line each side of the pedestrian zone and we enjoyed some very succulent Turkish dishes.
Refreshed and fortified we were ready to visit the mosque and to spend time in the museum.
Posted by inka on Sep 8, 2012 in Day trips
, Travel tips
I used to love airports. I’m old enough to remember the days when you actually walked across the tarmac to the waiting plane, climbed the gangway, open door beckoning, smart flight attendants greeting you with a welcoming smile. Casting one glance back, then turning your nose into the wind, ready for a new adventure.
I still get a kick out of take off, but otherwise everything that comes before has become a nightmare. When setting off for the airport today, I feel as if I’m preparing for battle. What with the multiple security checks, harassed check in people, being told (not politely asked) what to do and what not to do..it’s no fun. Luckily, there are still a few airlines around, Turkish Airlines and Emirates among them, which treat passengers like cherished customers, but otherwise…
The worst are the so-called low cost airlines. The tickets aren’t that cheap to start with and then they proceed to get as much money out of you as they possibly can. You can’t print out your boarding pass before hand because you don’t have a printer? You pay. Your luggage is one ounce over the limit You pay. You want more leg room? You pay. You fancy a stale, lousy sandwich? You pay, at the price of gold! And on and on it goes. If you total it all up, you end up paying more than you would have for a regular ticket..without all the above rubbish.
But, I digress. Back to airport nostalgia like in the olden times at the private airport in Selcuk. Selcuk is a town close to the famous historical site of Ephesus, so everybody who visits will come through Selcuk. That the town does have an airport is not common knowledge, certainly not among tourists because you don’t land there unless a) you have a private plane or b) you are a dignitary or head of state come to visit Ephesus.
When driving towards Kusadasi or Selcuk itself, I have come past the airfield many times, seeing the gleaming small and not so small planes at a distance. I always wanted to visit, but didn’t know if a Jane Nobody like myself would be allowed even close. The only way to find out was to give it a try.
The airfield in Selcuk
This oldie sits at the entrance
Yesterday, my friends and I went to visit the Seven Sleepers (which is another story to be told later), the Ephesus Museum in Selcuk and, on our way back, turned into the road towards the airfield. This fabulous old plane sits at the entrance and certainly feeds your curiosity.
Mustafa, our driver, approached the gate and asked nicely and in Turkish, if we could visit. Lo and behold, the gate rose and we drove through. What excitement to see the planes parked around the perimeter up close, the tiny VIP hall with deep leather armchairs and a few people milling around.
The helpful Mustafa
But, would we be allowed to leave the car? Thanks to Mustafa, we were. A security guard turned up and was only too happy to accompany us and show us around. Like kids in a toy shop, we rushed from plane to plane, opened doors, glanced into cockpits and posed for each other like lunatics.
My friend, the VIP
Have to get my pilot licence
The biggest model around
Don't my friends just look the picture??
The airport has a pilot and parachuting school attached and several of the planes belong to the school. The guard proudly told us about the highlight of his professional life: looking after Bill Clinton when he came to visit Ephesus, flown into Selcuk airport.
A tea in the VIP lounge rounded out a trip down air travel memory lane. If you want to visit, you’ll just have to try and ask nicely. Unless you have business there, it seems to depend on the guard of the day, but it certainly helps if you have a Turkish speaker with you.
I have mentioned it before, Ayasuluk Hill in Selcuk near Ephesus is a history fan’s dream .One single hill is home to no less than four important sites, spanning several thousand years: the temple of Artemis, the Isa Bey Mosque, the Basilica of St John and, on top of it all, the massive Selcuk castle. And yet, many tourists rush through Selcuk on their way to the site of Ephesus without realizing what they are missing.
Part of the basilica
Entrance to Isa Bey mosque
My friends and I went to Selcuk the other day to thoroughly explore the sites of the hill. Whereas the mosque, the basilica and the castle are clearly visible, you need a historian’s eye and imagination to conjure up the image of the Temple of Artemis. Built in 305BC by King Croesus of Lydia, the temple was one of the Seven Wonders of the World in antiquity. 106 columns, soaring up 60 feet and made of marble circumvented the 425 feet long structure. Dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of hunt and fertility, it was an extremely important center of worship.
Statue of Artemis in the Ephesus museum/Selcuk
Along came Herostratos, a young man obsessed with self glorification and the need to make his name known forever. On the night of 21st July 356 BC, he set fire to the temple which was completely destroyed. How exactly he managed to burn down a temple made of marble I don’t know, but this is what happened. He didn’t hide or try to escape, oh no, he boasted about his nefarious deed. Of course, he was executed and on top of it, any person who even mentioned his name was arrested on the spot and put to death too. Despite the threat, Herostratos’ name survived and became a synonym for destruction for the purpose of self glorification.
Legend has it, that Alexander the Great was born in the night of the fire and he endowed the rebuilding of the temple with vast amounts of money. The new temple even surpassed the burnt down one in glory, only to be destroyed by the army of the Mongol ruler Tamerlane in 1402.
Today, nothing is left of the Wonder of the World than one miserly column, now even an intact one, but fragments of columns stacked one upon another. But still it’s a thrill to be standing on a site like this and with enough imagination you can conjure up the magnificent image of the great temple. What can I say but: sic transit gloria mundi!! Makes you humble and contemplative.
Posted by inka on Nov 7, 2011 in Animals
, Turkey Travel
Camel wrestling season is upon us. From November to January, championships take place in the Aegean region of Turkey, namely around Mugla, Izmir and Selcuk. A traditional Turkish winter spot event with all the ingredients of a great festival: entertaining, hilarious, colorful, noisy and dirty. No blood shed, no injuries, except maybe the odd spectator getting kicked in the butt if a camel has had enough and runs off into the crowd. Oh yes, before I forget, plenty of food plays an important role too. I just say one word: camel sausage!
Sadly, I can’t go this year because I’m leaving for Miami, bit I went last year and had a great time. Camel wrestling has an over 2000 year tradition in Turkey. The nomadic life style of ancient times would not have been possible without camels. When the female camels are in heat, the males fight over her and that’s where the camel wrestling sport comes in.
During the first years of the Turkish republic, camel wrestling was not encouraged but over the last decades it has seen a revival. It is however, rather a rich man’s sport. There are no financial rewards, no big price money awaits the winner. A good camel is expensive, the animal costs between $10.000 and 15.000 and the upkeep doesn’t come cheap either. Unlike bulls for Spanish corridas, wrestle camels cannot be bred. Either they have the spirit, or they don’t. Owners of a good camel are immensely proud and consider their treasure a member of their family. For the wrestling event, the camels get all dolled up with pompons, bells and colorful halters.
The halters are tight to prevent them from biting each other. Then, cheered on by the owners and the crowd, two males have a go. Spittle flies, camel dung drops, grunts sound and the knocks and bumps are fierce. One ‘session’ lasts about 10 minutes and ends, when one camel is either on the ground or runs off. Sometimes into the crowd, so you better watch out.
The biggest championship takes place in Selcuk on the third Sunday in January. If you happen to be around, don’t miss it. It’s not only the competitions as such which is so much fun but also the camel wrestling enthusiasts who attend by the thousands. Spreading out blankets, breaking out their picnics and adding camel sausages which sizzle on the many grills, their strong aroma teasing your nostrils.
Watch this video to get into the spirit of things!
This year’s championship had an added attraction. For the first time ever, a camel beauty pageant was held. Decked out in their finest, the beasts paraded in front of the judges and I can tell you, they knew how to toss their heads and wriggle their butts!!
Combine the wrestling event with a visit to Selcuk, its castle and the St. John Basilica and a trip to nearby Ephesus and you have a unique Turkey experience. An added bonus is that it’s winter and you can enjoy the fabulous sights of Selcuk and Ephesus without the crowds which clutter the views in the summer. And without the summer heat.
St John's Basilica Selcuk
Library in Ephesus