Posted by inka on Mar 24, 2012 in art
, Travel tips
, Turkey Travel
Over the past couple of days I asked several of my friends if they knew what ‘Meerschaum’ is. Four out of five didn’t have a clue, but when I showed them pictures of my latest find and explained what it is used for and what it looks like, they went: Ahhh, of course! We have seen that. So that’s what it is called.
Let’s life the mystery. ‘Meerschaum’ is a German word which translated into ‘foam of the sea or foam of the ocean’. The name alone inspires the imagination. Also known as sepiolite, Meerschaum is a soft, white mineral, sometimes found floating on the Black Sea. The majority however is found in nodular masses in alluvial deposits on the plain of Eskisehir, a city half way between Istanbul and Ankara in Anatolia. More about Eskisehir in a separate post.
It’s mined there and worked into pipes and cigarette holders. The soft material hardens when exposed to sunlight and warmth and the white or grayish color changes to shades of yellow, orange or amber with use. What makes these pipes, which, at first glance can be mistaken for ivory, such amazing pieces or art is the elaborate carving. Modern pipes are a bit simpler, but, what I discovered in the Meerschaum Museum in Eskisehir, took my breath away.
The pipes on display are antiques and some of the pipes are so big, I suppose they were smoked resting on the floor or a table because you couldn’t possibly hold them up, leave alone between your teeth. The tradition of Meerschaum pipes dates back to the late 1700s and Meerschaum pipes are coveted and very valuable collectors’ items, whether you smoke or not. To give you an idea about the value: the pieces exhibited in the museum are of course not for sale, but the artists will be happy to make you a replica to order: at $5000 a piece!!! Luckily, small and modern pipes are a lot more affordable (and much less elaborate) and a small amount of jewelry and boxes would make a very pretty gift or souvenir.
A massive pipe head
A more manageable piece
Table ornaments if you don't like pipes
..or a piece of jewelery
Maybe a clock..
Posted by inka on Jul 13, 2011 in Day trips
, Travel tips
, Turkey Travel
How I love pleasant surprises. When thinking about Southeast Turkey civilizations like Hittites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Byzantine and Ottomans spring to mind but not necessarily Romans. How wrong a person can be. Thanks to my driver who took me to Mardin and surroundings, I discovered Dara, located approx. 60 miles to the south in northern Mesopotamia.
The drive alone was a great experience for me because it allowed me for the first time to literally set foot on the soil of the great biblical plain of Mesopotamia, images of thousands of years of history and culture floating around in my fertile mind. Sometimes, in very ancient places, I get these moments when time becomes totally meaningless and I could stand or sit in the same spot for hours, just dreaming.
But Yussuf, the driver, had other ideas and though he was happy to stop where I wanted and to snap some pictures with an ‘Inka in Mesopotamia’ theme, we were after all, headed for Dara. And, as I was paying him by the hour, it could have become a very costly dream.
Inka in Mesopotamia
Dara was an East Roman fortress city located in an extremely important strategic place in the conflict between to Romans and the Persians in the 6th century. Hence the city was reinforced several times with one wall after another and it’s here that the famous battle of Dara was fought between the Byzantine Empire and the Persians in 530. The Romans won against all odds, but their victory was rather short-lived.
Dara with a bit if city walls
Commander Belisarius let too many Persians escape and the victory was reversed in another battle of Dara in 604, when the Persians won and destroyed the city. Backwards and forwards it went, until Dara was captured by the Arabs in 639 after which it lost its importance.
The Byzantine emperor Justinian who ruled from 527 to 565 was responsible for the fortifications of the city and a good part of the ancient city walls can still be seen today.
Emperor Justinian in a mosaic in Ravenna/Italy
(Picture from wikipedia)
However, what makes Dara special and such a worthwhile place to visit are two things: a massive and vast necropolis for the kings and their families, a Roam necropolis being a totally unexpected sight in Turkey.
Necropolis in Dara
The second is an incredible feat of the engineers of Justinian: they diverted the river Cordes and constructed an underground cistern of huge proportions. I had so far only admired the Basilica cistern in Istanbul but this one impressed me even more.
Roman cistern in Dara
Basilica cistern Istanbul
As I have mentioned in my previous posts about Southeast Turkey, this is a part of the country rarely visited by tourists. So, I had the necropolis and the cistern all to myself, there is just one cozy café where you can sit on cushions on the floor Middle Eastern style and enjoy coffee or tea, buy a few books and other trinkets and that’s about all which caters to the trickle of visitors who find their way here.
Maybe it’s not the most glamorous trip I have ever undertaken, but certainly one which makes me jump with excitement. On Tuesday I’m off to the extreme South East of Turkey close to the border with Syria. What I’m going to see is Mesopotamia and some parts of the legendary rivers Tigris and Euphrates. These names alone make my eyes dreamy and my imagination spin. I mean, stepping onto the soil which is the very cradle of civilization, who wouldn’t be excited?
It’s quite an expedition too, as the areas I’m going to visit are definitely not on the ‘must see’ itinerary of most visitors to Turkey. Everybody has heard about Cappadocia, but, do Mardin, Urfa and Hassankeyf ring a bell? I thought so and that’s why I am going.
As usual, my preferred means of transport is by coach and that’s a 22 hour ride from where I live to Mardin via Ankara, Konya and much more, about 2/3 during daylight which is good, so I can see where I’m going.
All I’ve booked so far by way of accommodation is the beautiful Zinciriye Hotel in Mardin, located in one of the old stone houses. Mardin itself combines influences of many cultures and from there you can overlook Mesopotamia and Syria.
Next stop is Hassankeyf, an ancient city on the shores of the river Tigris. A bridge, a fine example of medieval architecture spans the water, palaces are to be seen as are caves in the surrounding mountains. All of these wonderful sights are in danger of disappearing under the waters of the Ilisu Dam, once the project is completed, so it’s now or never to go and see.
That’s actually the furthest east I’m heading before turning around and back to Urfa, another wonderful city, home of the most skilled filigree silver and goldsmiths and of the sacred fish. According to legend, Nimrod had Abraham immolated on a funeral pyre, but God intervened, turning the fire into water and the wood and coals into fish which are still swimming in the sacred pool at the pilgrimage area.
Apart from history, religion and architecture there is the famous cuisine to be sampled, a mixture of Turkish and Arabic influences with a great variety of kebabs, so the glamour granny will throw calorie counting in the wind and indulge in a feeding frenzy.
I continue in a western direction towards Tarsus and Erdemli with a thick folder of what to do and see, provide by a Turkish friend with a bottomless knowledge of history and culture. Given that on the 18th of June I am headed for Athens , I will have to decide when and how to embark on my return journey to Didim, to give me a few days at home to freshen up and repack. But all in all, an exciting summer lies ahead and I can’t wait to take tons of pictures and write all the stories that are waiting to be told about great cultures and ancient lands.
Photogrpah from wikipedia
Posted by inka on Mar 12, 2011 in Turkey
, Turkey Travel
Where ever you see brochures or guidebooks to Turkey, there are bound to be three pictures which document the image of the country:
a) The Blue Mosque in Istanbul
b) The bizarre moon like landscape of Cappadocia and
c) Images of whirling men, white skirts spinning, hand raised to heaven apparently spinning themselves into a trance.
The Whirling Dervishes
Whereas the first two are self explanatory, the dervishes are some sort of mystery and general assumptions of what they are all about differ widely. Living in Turkey part of the year, I finally had the opportunity to attend the great Sufi Festival which takes place each year in Konya, which is the ancient Selcuk capital, located at the foot of the Anatolian mountains.
My means of transport of getting there from the Aegean coast where I live was a coach by the company Kamlicoc which I always choose because they serve the best snacks. This is an important criteria because the journey takes some 12 hours and although there are three ½ hour stops, the time is a bit short to run to the ladies’ room (Turkish coaches don’t have a WC), have a tea and try to get some food which involves standing in line for a token first, then getting in line again for your hot sandwich. The coaches are a story all by themselves, because they pull out on the dot and the attendant starts counting heads AFTER the coach is already halfway back to the motorway. But, I digress.
Arriving in Konya for the festival already got me into the spirit of things. The city was packed, visitors and worshippers everywhere, singing and dancing in anticipation of the numerous performances of the Whirling Devishes which take place in a hall located in the awesome green and gold Mausoleum of Mevlana.
Let me explain about Mevlana, Sufism and Sema.
Originally from Persia, the great philosopher, thinker, poet and Sufic saint, Mevlana Rumi is the founder of the Mevlevi order, to this day represented by what is known in the Western World as the “Whirling Dervishes”.He came to Konya on the invitation of the sultan where he taught and died, highly revered, in 1273. The annual festival commemorates his death and is a religious Islamic festival not only attended by thousands of followers of Sufism but also by travellers to Turkey who are in the know.
Mevlana’s teachings have a wide spread influence on Turkish culture which persists through the centuries. His basic philosophy was complete tolerance and love as the essential and in fact only human condition and emotion to attain God. Music and poetry play a great role in these achievements.
The ritual dance, called Sema, which is the “whirling” has ceremonial meaning from dress to movements to the accompanying music.
The festival lasts four days with the final day and dance representing the reunion with God. Each dance is performed by 12 dancers and 12 musicians with the prevailing instrument being a reed pipe or ney. Their cone shaped hat symbolised a tombstone, the black cloak is a symbol for the coffin and the white skirt for the shroud the body is wrapped in. Despite the sombre meaning of the costume, the ceremonial dance is an act of joy and love, a spiritual journey to attain God..
Mevlana teaches that the fundamental condition of our existence is to revolve. The sun revolves around the earth, the stars revolve around each other , everything big and small, is in cyclic motion.
The dance follows a strict sequence and is divided into several parts. The sheik or master is the centre of the circle and the dancers, as they increasingly reach trance, revolve around themselves and, at the same time, move forward anti clockwise without colliding.
To begin with their hands are crossed as they salute each other as kindred souls.
The music increases and so does the pace of the dance, with one hand pointing heavenwards seeking reunion with God through prayer and spirit and the other hand points towards the earth symbolizing the flow of pure love from God to mankind.
At the end of each dance, reunion has been achieved and is celebrated by joyful music, a reading from the Qur’an and a prayer before the dancers depart.
The influence of the Mevlevi order, which was held in high esteem during the Ottoman Empire, on Turkish culture, be it music, poetry and the visual arts is unabated for 700 years.
I pushed my way through the throng and took a seat in the hall watching the performance. The music which accompanies the dance is eerily enticing and really pulls you in. The crowds are hushed, not a word is spoken as the breathlessly follow the crescendo. As a result of this unique experience I read several books about Sufism and started to wonder how one religion can have such extremes as the teachings of Mevlana and the excesses of the Fundamentalists.
If you don’t have the chance to watch the festival, you can go and see performances of the Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul and now you know what they are all about.
Posted by inka on Feb 9, 2011 in museums
, Turkey Travel
Those who follow me, may recall that part of the year I live in Turkey on the Aegean coast about 150 miles south of Izmir. The advantage of my location is, that I am literally surrounded by some of the most awesome sites in Turkey, like Ephesus, Miletos or the Didim Apollo temple. All of which makes for nice daytrip. If I wish to dip my toes into ancient history, all I have to do is hop on a bus and be off.
South from where I live is another one of those sites, Bodrum. The modern town of Bodrum sits on top of what was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the mausoleum of Halikarnassus. The mausoleum was a tomb and something like the Taj Mahal in reverse: Built between 353 and 350 BC, the monument was ordered by Artemisa of Caria II, the wife and sister of Mausolos, a satrap of the Persian Empire.
So heartbroken was she after her husband’s death that she vowed to create the most splendid tomb to bury him in and remember him by and the result was a magnificent tomb, 45 meters high and decorated on four sides by the sculptures and carvings of the most famous Greek artists of her time. Ever since, huge tombs are referred to as mausoleums.
But, over the centuries, several devastating earthquakes first tumbled the columns, then the golden chariot on top and finally the entire structure and next to nothing is left today. More damage was done by the Crusaders at the end of the 15th century, when the basic structure of the mausoleum was still intact: they decided to built a massive castle to protect the important port of Bodrum and made use of the elaborately carved ‘rubble’ from the mausoleum. So did many other people and that’s why today you can see many colored marble pieces intermingled with ordinary bricks in the walls of quite a few houses in Bodrum and in the Crusader castle too.
Windblown at Bodrum castle
The castle overlooking the port is huge and impressive, but what this article is really about is a curiosity: how often do you find a Museum of Underwater Archaeology in a medieval castle? Not often I guess, but that’s the case in the Bodrum Castle and the museum is one of a kind.
It’s a vast and beautifully displayed collection of artifacts and every day utensils as used in ancient Greece and all recovered painstakingly from the bottom of the sea. The museum gives you a rare view and insight of what life was like for the traders and fishermen who shipped their wares, mostly olive oil and wine in relatively small boasts all over the Mediterranean and how they lived on board ship.
The castle’s many rooms lend themselves to this kind of museum and each room has a different theme. Entering from the port level and climbing up through the castle wall, the path is dotted with urns and amphoras until you reach a higher level and the entrance to the museum proper.
Doesn't it look as if it had a face?
Amphoras every where
Part of the mural
The port as it looked in ancient times
Hard work to make oil
And this is the real thing
Murals in vivid colors depict the making of wine and olive oil as well as how these people built their ships. Then you continue on and enter the different rooms. My absolute favorite is what I call the ‘glass room’: bathed in mystical light, the showcases contain vessels, jewelry, plates and.. a 5 inch long needle, made from blue and white glass and unbroken after thousands of years resting at the bottom of the sea.
There are also chunks of `raw`glass in the most vivid reds, blues and greens and fresh as if they were made yesterday ready to be crafted into more plates and glasses.
Another room contains a cut in half and reconstructed boat, complete with figures and depicting a scene of how people lived, slept and cooked in cramped conditions because most of the space was reserved for their wares.
There are many more and you can stroll around at your leisure. In the middle is an open courtyard with a tiny waterfall, tables and chairs from a café and shade is cast from hundreds of years old trees, populated by rare birds.
On the way down
One of the finest museums I have ever visited because it so beautifully combines history, art and simply an enjoyable day out with spectacular views over the sea from the height of the castle.
Bye, bye Bodrum