Turkey: the glorious explorations of our history, 5/98


Topkapi Palace
Seeing the Black Sea
Agatha slept here
The people
The land of the zeros
The economy



Here’s us in beautiful Istanbul.  And here’s us in impoverished Istanbul.  We are staying in a two star hotel, one that might be starless anywhere in Europe.

After a breakfast of feta, olives, bread, butter, jam, tea or coffee, (the same everywhere we went in Turkey) we encountered a time-traveler cleaning our room:  a woman dressed as she might have 2000 years ago, long cloak covering all from the shoulders down, her head covered.  Then we ventured into this new land.  It is point and click time for us, as we know not a word of Turkish and have no phrase book, nor a guide book.

Nearby and visible from our rooftop are the Blue Mosque and the harbor on the south side of the city, facing the Marmar Denizi.  This sea leads to the Med.  To our north is the Bosforo, the channel dividing Istanbul in two, and Europe from Asia, while leading to the Black Sea.

Up the steep hill from our hotel lies the fabulous St. Sofia.  It was built in the 5th C. by Constantine, and renovated in the 6th C. by Justinian.  It was subject to further repairs for damages caused by earthquakes around the beginning of the last millennium.   I think that renovations were undertaken in the 14th C.  Now they are trying to save the mosaics of the dome, some 50-75′ above.

I have never been in a building this old that is this well preserved.  Its great dimensions are overpowering, adding to its stunning beauty.  Great arches support the tremendous dome and the enormous walls that are a pink, fleshy tone on the outside.

On our way there we climb a steep hill and pass through a crumbling neighborhood.  Some work is going on but  some people living in buildings that appear on the verge of collapse.  Some are wooden houses that date from the mid-19th C.  Peg thinks they look like they could be in San Francisco.

There are very few women on the streets.  It’s eerie.


Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace, an easy walk from our hotel, served as the home of 36 sultans.  This is a huge palace built along the shore of the Marmar Denizi.  The harem, one section of the building, is where the family lived.  The family included all the wives, servants, and the eunuchs.  In the Ottoman Empire the last became politically powerful.

There is an exhibit containing:  a footstep (in mud or something) and part of the beard of Mohammed; some dust from his tomb; David’s sword with which he slew Goliath; Abraham’s walking stick; the arm and hand of John the Baptist;  a letter from Mohammed to a prince “suggesting” that he accept Islam or face the wrath of the Muslims.  The beard, footstep and letter may be genuine, but surely not the rest.  That they present these as actual reflects poorly on the curators or the Islamic faithful, or both; for this exhibit is a holy site.

We saw an 86-carat diamond, huge emeralds – one 2″ square that was about 2″ thick -, a 15″ plate encrusted with more emeralds.  Plush gardens.  Huge collections of arms.

Peg writes:

Diamonds and emeralds in gold pendants too heavy for most men to wear for long, jeweled daggers traded over the centuries between shahs, emirs and kings, fabulous caftans of fine embroidered silk, 10,000 pieces of the most valuable Chinese porcelain ever manufactured, imported over the silk road from China as early as the 16th century.

The Ottoman Empire was founded in the 1300’s and by the 1700’s it covered all of North Africa, the Middle East including Iraq, Syria and parts of Saudi Arabia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary.   The Ottomans were knocking on the gates of Vienna before the expansion was stopped.  The Ottoman Empire came on the heels of the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, which was the eastern portion of the Roman Empire.  The western portion collapsed long before, in the late part of the 5th century (476 A.D.).  I never thought about it quite like this: part of the Roman empire remained until around 1300.

The Ottoman Empire collapsed after WWI.

People we have spoken with have all related unpleasant experiences in Bulgaria so I may not want to go there at all.

Today (Monday) we signed up for a week on a sailboat in Antalya, starting next Saturday.  We will also be going to other sites along the coast and returning to Istanbul on the 31st or the 1st.  After that we are undecided.

Dinner this evening cost us $6 for the two of us at a little joint nearby.  Very good mushroom and eggplant dishes.


Seeing the Black Sea

We took a ride  up the Bosforo on a derelict, foul-smelling ferry. About an hour and 1/2 later it dropped us for the two-hour layover.  I climbed a steep hill about 2 miles to the ruins of a castle that overlook the point where the Black Sea and the Bosforo join.  Clouds are forming low in the skies so close they seemed within rach.  Many important battles have been fought for control of this easy connection to the Aegean and Mediterranean seas.

Agatha slept here

We walked across the bridge that takes us to the newer side of town.  On the bridge there are only men, these selling small items.  One had a bathroom scale.  If you pay him a little something, he will let you check your weight.

Finally we reach the main street.  It is uninspiring but at least it is not decrepit.  There are many modern looking shops selling modern looking clothes, radios and other things, and many kabob shops selling gyros, which they call kabobs, or kabaps.

Nearby is the Pera Palace, a hotel with a 1920’s decor that claims it was made famous by the Orient Express.  The brochure says that the train stopped on the other side of the river, and the passengers were transferred up here for the night.  The room where Agatha Christie stayed is preserved.  She is said to have written Murder on the Orient Express while in residence.

We lunch at a kebab shop.  Our waiter here joked about Turkish millionaires.  Everyone is a millionaire here, he said.  A million TL is worth only about $4, enough to buy lunch at an inexpensive but decent place like this one.

The people

At 5:00 A.M. and again at 10:00 P.M. (and three times in between) we are invited to prayers by Muslims singing over the gigantic loudspeaker somewhere nearby.  You can hear the calls to prayer everywhere you go.

Women are scarcely seen, especially in the non-tourist areas.  Many but not all we see are dressed in traditional Muslim clothing.  A few times I did a double take on women dressed in black and white nuns robes.  They looked like living Marys with little Jesus’ in tow.  Men leading horses and wooden carts filled with vegetables passed through the narrow streets, shouting ‘Get your veggies…Veggie man.’  Or something like that.

The people are very friendly, perhaps too friendly.  In tourist areas the friendliness is a way to make a pitch for rugs, leather goods, restaurants or whatever.  They offer to give you directions, a ‘free’ tour of their shops, whatever.  They hustle you at every opportunity.  It can be quite annoying, especially since it takes at least three
refusals before they leave.  Only ignoring them completely keeps you out of a conversation with every Tom, Dick and Hasid.

Often the people are friendly for its own sake.  One night after dinner we asked for directions to our hotel.  The manager said it was very near and sent an employee to show us the way.  We said that this was not necessary but they insisted.  Hasid or whatever his name took me by the hand.  Not Peggy’s hand, but mine.  I bet men are not
allowed to touch women they do not know.  I gently tried to remove my hand but Hasid had a firm grip.  He walked in front of me on the narrow, construction-littered sidewalk.  Less than five minutes later we were in our hotel.  And so was Hasid. I thought he was hustling for a tip.  He was just making sure that this was our hotel.  Offering him money seemed like a cheap thing to do.  He was helping us out of the goodness of his heart.

I cannot remember the last time I held a man’s hand.  I must have been a child.  I felt uncomfortable.  Is this homophobia that I did not know I had stirred slightly from somewhere deep?

If you order from a menu, the waiter stands there right next to you the whole time.  None of this “Give us five minutes, please,” which is a way of telling the waiter to go away while you think about what you want.  They hover over you, at least that’s how it felt to me.  They do not do anything but stand there unless you ask a question.  They do not seem at all impatient.

In most countries, getting a waiter’s attention can sometimes take a few minutes.  Here they are sharply observant.  If you want something, they see you life your head up and over they come.  If a plate is empty, it is zoomed away as if a hawk were plucking a rodent from the ground.  Their philosophy, I decided, is to be there to serve your
every need.

Shopkeepers are at least as attentive.  None of this, “I’m just looking.”  If you are in their shop, they are your slaves while you are there .  They insist on serving coffee or tea in those shops that sell more expensive goods; they do everything imaginable to get your business.

I do not like the hustling salesman, the poverty, the occasional mounds of loose garbage on the streets, the endless open construction trenches (gas lines, telephone, etc.) in the streets.  Yet these are minor matters that pale in comparison to the benefits of being here with its marvelous and different architecture, culture, and people.

The land of the zeros

This is not only the land of the hustler, this is also the land of the zeros.  The smallest bill is 50,000 TL (Turkish lira).  Since there are 250,000 to the dollar, 50,000 is worth $.20 (twenty cents).  This is the price of admission to many toilets, where occasionally you have to do the Turkish squat.  !00,000 ($.40) buys a liter of water.  We buy these often; although the water supply is safe, it does have a bit too much chlorine.  250,000 TL ($1) buys admission to most museums and monuments.  One million ($4) buys most meals – delicious meat, wonderful and very well cooked veggies, with very good bread.

Our hotel lists its rooms for 15,000,000.   Do the math quickly, in your head, just divide by 250,000, go on, yeah, you got it!   Or you can multiply 15 times 4 and get the same answer, since 1 million is $4.  In dollars the cost is
$60, but you could probably get them down to 7,500,000 with a little bargaining.  One man we spoke with got a room at a Best Western, arenovated San Francisco looking building, for $40 per night.

Some merchants put the money they want us to pay for, say, bananas (grown in Turkey) on the counter.  All you have to do is match it .   Others write it out.  Some say it in English.  Point and click at work in its many forms.

The economy

The average income is about $3600 per year.   Inflation is running between 75-100%!  Keeping much money on hand is stupid even for travelers here for only a week.  Despite the high inflation, there are plenty of goods on hand, and thus there is little hoarding.  In fact, there is too much around for it all to be sold.

Many prices here are quoted in dollars or marks rather than TL.   Many consumer items are not marked, saving the shopkeepers from having to remark the prices constantly.  This makes shopping more difficult and ripens the environment for gouging the unaware.   It means that shopkeepers must be with you to tell how much things cost.

Telephone calls are very cheap, even between provinces.  For telephone booths, you buy a card and stick it in the phones.  The phone system was installed under a contract with Telefonica of Spain, my old friends.  In Istanbul we saw many using mobile phones.

Turkey manufactures F-16’s for the U.S.  It produces more figs than any other country,

Everyone is bargaining here, often even for petty things.  One night we were walking along the south shore his restaurant.  He offered us a free drink.  The meal prices are often negotiable in the fish restaurants.  We were not interested and wandered off.

Shortly we entered an area with about 10-15 seafood restaurants lined up.  Each had a man stationed in front.  As we walked through, each of them approached.  By the time we got to the end, we felt like we had run the gauntlet.  The last guy made an extra hard pitch and Peg told him that 35 people (an exaggeration but it felt that way) had already hustled us.  He said that maybe he should move his restaurant to the beginning of the row.  I was very annoyed.

I learned a lesson.  If in the future I saw a setup like this, where there were many ‘sale events’ in a row in such a narrow passage, I would try to avoid passing through.

The food

The tourist literature focuses attention on the complexity, diversity and tastiness of the cuisine, with good reason.  We have had eggplant (here called “aubergines”) several ways; the literature says there are over 50.  Eggplant is always cooked till it is completely soft, as are most of the vegetables.  Most eggplants, other vegetable and many meat dishes are casseroles.  They are flavored and colored with paprika, and paprika is on every table along with the salt and pepper. Vicky Terhorst aptly calls Turkish food “orange food.”  It is orange from the paprika.  There is lots of olive oil.  The Turks have huge olive harvests annually.

Kabaps (kebabs, gyros) are common.  The machine was invented, I think in Turkey, about 100 years ago.  A fellow noticed that the nomads sliced a piece of meat and stuck it on a sword.  They held the sword over the fire to cook it.  So the ubiquitous kebab machine was born to duplicate this tasty act.  The fire is on the side and not underneath the meat, and in Turkey is turned manually in most places.  When a piece is cooked, it is sliced off.  We saw not only lamb and beef combinations, but also chicken kabaps.

In many inexpensive places you pass by the food as you enter, laid out on a counter, under glass and kept warm.  You point to what you want, and click.  It then is carried to the table you choose.

We learned to ask the prices of things as some things did not look expensive but were.  This is a hard habit to get into.  But you will feel ripped off if you do not.

Roman aqueduct

From the Agatha hotel we walked about a mile to the Roman aqueduct.  We go back across the bridge to get there.  By the time we arrive it is raining, so we rest in a little hotel.  It is hidden by the weeds that they don’t find the time to cut down or remove.  Inside everyone is busy standing around; no wonder they can’t find time to deal with the weeds.  They are friendly as we drink a little Indian Tonic Water tonic water with a little lemon, use their rest rooms, and wait for the rain to stop, which it doesn’t.

Finally we emerge to look at the aqueduct.  It is remarkably well preserved, especially when you consider that thousands of cars, buses and trucks pass under it everyday.  Its large arches are on two levels.  The upper level is offset from the lower one, giving it an awkward look.  The stones are evenly and smoothly cut and laid without
mortar, as was the custom.


Turkey: Our life in ruins

At 8:00 P.M. last night we boarded the bus for Cappadocia, which became part of the Roman Empire in the first century B.C.  Along the way, the attendant gave us water and coke, and squirted a cleanser in our hands.  The cleanser smelled like the moist towelettes we use in the States.  They did not give you anything to wipe your hands on, so maybe they did not intend for us to get our hands clean.   Our attendant was very attentive, regularly circulating with the above items.  Considering the bus ticket is only about $8, it is amazing that there is an attendant.  We were later told that these are the luxury buses.  The cheaper ones are not new like our bus, and there are no attendants.

The 12 hours, 300 or so mile journey from Istanbul to Nevesehir (pro Nev-e-she-here) included stops every four hours.  We slept little.  This leg of our journey has taken us to Cappadocia, an ancient name that means Land of the Beautiful Horses.

By the time we arrived the rain stopped, but cold wind whipped through our thin clothing; El Niño follows us still.  We are met at the bus station by a young man whose round face is shaped like the Sultan in paintings we have seen.  He took us to a modern four star hotel.  Peg and I rested in the lobby from about 6:30 until 8:30
when the room became available.

After a wash up, Mr. Sammy called us down.  He will be our guide for the next two days.  We have never used a guide before so we are wondering what this will be like.  Mr. Sammy leads us to a Mercedes van with seating for 6.  It is just Peg and I today.  Tomorrow, another couple is supposed to join us.

Our first stop is Göreme.  Göreme, now an open air museum, means ‘nothing to see’.  This refers to the fact that the dwellings in the mountainside were invisible from the outside.  This old town was dug out of amorphous rock produced by one of many now dead volcanoes in this part of Turkey.  The caves were inhabited, and had been occupied for at least the last 2000 years, when the deaths and injuries lead to the condemnation.   They collapsed from combined action of the digging of the caves, which weakened the mountains of amorphous rock, and the forces of erosion.  Mr. Sammy said the government compensated the owners.

When you look at the cave dwellings, there appear to be some windows and large caves dotting or covering the mountains.  What you are seeing are not windows but shelves that were cut out of living quarters inside the caves.  The shelves were used for food storage or as a place to put statues or other items.  When that part of the
mountain collapsed, the backs of the shelves were shorn, and then you have what looks to like windows. The areas that now look like caves were just larger openings, such as living rooms, meeting halls, etc.

Most of the caves were dug by the early Christians.  They fled the Holy Land due to persecution by Roman authorities.  They took refuge here because they could hide for long periods in the cave dwellings already in existence, and they could dig more.  Before the collapses, you could not tell that there were any dwellings inside the mountains.  They looked like normal mountains.  There were surface dwellings as well but these were deserted when enemies were sighted. Underground there were adequate supplies of food and water.  The cries of children and the sounds of animals could not be heard.

The people in this area still grow grapes for wine and raisin production, potatoes, beets and pumpkins.  The wine is very good.  We have been sampling red ones that sell for about $2 or less in the restaurants.

Twenty-five minutes farther we visit Derinkiyu.  Along the way we see a grave mound from the 6th or 7th century B.C.  The people who made this mound are called the Tmulus and King Midas is their best known personage.  There is a 9th century Greek church in town.

Derinkiyu is our destination because here there is an underground city, also carved into the volcanic rock.  The city has a depth of eight stories.  The first two were dug by the Hittites around 1500 B.C., the rest by the early Christians.  We are taken into both large and small chambers used for living rooms, bedrooms, storage, and mangers for the animals that they brought down during times of danger.  We pass through some steep, narrow passages.  For air they cut ventilation shafts whose exits at the surface were concealed.  There are many exits to the surface.

Archaeologists have found tunnels, some stretching for miles, that lead to other inhabitations.  They have discovered twenty-eight similar cities thus far.  Sammy said that after not too many years this site will become unsafe.  More than 100,000 visitors come here every season.  That is too much wear, tear and humidity for the rock.  The authorities are not worried.  There are twenty-seven more like this one!

Then we went to a gorge called Pigeon Valley, which was formed by an earthquake long ago.  Volcanoes in the area produced additional earthquakes in the third through the 5th centuries A.D.  People then used the caves in the area to house pigeons, thus the name Pigeon Valley.  There are about 250 steps down to reach the valley floor.  After 10-15 minutes we came upon a church carved out of the rock.  Inside were the remnants of icnographic paintings.  They are unguarded and unprotected in any way.

We headed for a nearby village.  When we were within a mile or so, a little girl on a donkey came to meet us.  She offers tired tourists a ride for 4M TL ($1).  She was very cute and friendly, and knew how to control the donkey.  Her parents think that she will become very successful in business.

We stopped for an excellent lunch in a restaurant along the stream. There is a tiny village on the other side.  Some of its dwellings are about 50′ up, on the side of an outcropping.  A man and a child take their cow to the stream for a drink.  On the way back, the cow rushes ahead, arrives at the gate to their house, and moos to be let in.  We laugh.  The old man laughs.  The kid laughs.


Sammy explains that guides are licensed in Turkey.  This means that they must pass a difficult exam both in history and in, say, English, to be admitted into the school.  Then there is an intensive, eight- month course with an exam at the end.  He says most of what he tells us is what he learned from the literature.  He has also leared a great
deal from interviewing many older people, looking for and sometimes getting answers he could not find in the literature.  His father wrote a book.  Sammy wants to become minister of the interior and try to better protect Turkey’s marvelous ruins.  He gives us a brief on the history of Cappadocia.  Some notes:

Timeline: history of the region

2500 B.C. – 1250 B.C. Hittite period, so some cave dwellings we were in may have been 4500 years old.
1900-1800 B.C. during excavations in the 1960’s, found 3000 tablets with writing on them.
1000-900 B.C. nothing known; King Midas, he of the golden touch, lived in this era.
700-600 B.C. textile production began, first carpets, coin production, gold.
549 B.C. Persian period
333 B.C. Alexander the Great; he went next to Egypt
200 B.C. Cappadocian Empire began.  Later attacked by Armenians, and sought protection from the Romans around 100 B.C.

100 B.C.- 395 A.D. The Roman period.  In 395 the Empire was divided into western and eastern (Byzantine) portions.

395 A.D.- 11th century Byzantine period in Cappadocia.

1095 First crusade passed through.

1100- 13th century The Seljuks conquered the area and remained in control until the Mongolians took over.

1204 Constantinople conquered by Crusaders during the 4th crusade.

1403 Mongolian invasion

1433-1919 Sultan defeated the Mongols.  Ottomans took over and ruled until after WWI.  The Ottomans sided with the Germans in that war.

1919- 1923 War of independence led by Ataturk against the occupying western powers.  Founded Republic of Turkey.  Modernization program began.  Turkish language reborn, replacing Arabic, I think.  French linguists brought in to help decide what words to use for things that had no name in Turkish, like airport.  Thus we see many French words in Turkish.

It is very important to note that the spice route passed through Cappadocia, coming from the Far East.  This accounts for the many spices used in the cuisine, and the importance of Turkey, aka Asia Minor, in history.

Most of the frescoes we see are from the 11th century A.D.  There was a period before that when the Christians prohibited the depiction of any images.  Many faces have no eyes.  There are two possible explanations: 1) converts to Islam thought that removing the eyes would prevent the spirits from following them; they were particularly fearful of this possibility after the mass conversions from Christianity to Islam 2) some people thought that if you mixed the removed material with water you could use the result to cure ailments.  Both these explanations came, I think, from old people Sammy interviewed.

Afterwards we went to the Göreme Open Air Museum.

Here there are more cave dwellings that were last inhabited by Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Muslims.  They lived peacefully together in different sections.  Residences and the different sections of the city were connected by tunnels.  Standing in what was a kitchen, Sammy pointed out that there was no chimney.  Where did the smoke go?  I guessed correctly that it just went into the ceiling.  The material is porous.  Therefore, the smoke collected along the ceiling and was absorbed.  By the time it reached the surface, there was only colorless, odorless gas remaining.  Therefore the people who lived in the caves could cook even while surrounded by enemies without being detected!

He took us through a pitch black passage way.  I began to feel claustrophobic, but I fought off the panic.  If I had been in there another 10 minutes or so, I might not have remained calm.

This  reminded me of how many things they do here that would doubtless lead to the successful prosecution of a lawsuit in the U.S.  Here I noticed steep stairs well above the ground without an adequate rail and no warning signs.  Warning signs?  They do not know what they are!  As we were driving away, I saw a man, his wife and child on a moped driving on the main road.  The child was sitting in front of the man on the gas tank.  No helmets.

I learned a great deal from Mr. Sammy.  When you are on your own, you don’t always know what you are seeing.  You don’t always know how to get to where you are going and you waste time.  Sammy obviously knew this area well, having been a guide for more than ten years.  His English was not perfect but he was always understandable.  We did the things we were told we were going to do, maybe even a bit more and always on schedule.  He seemed quite knowledgeable and he was very enthusiastic.  Sammy earned his money.

More notes from our time with Sammy:

Ertogul’s successor “Osman,” (an alternate name of Ottoman) declared himself Sultan.  This was, I think, in the 13th century

1402 Sultan Beyazit was defeated and taken prisoner by the Mongol Timar-Leng (Tamer Lure?) at Ankara.

1413 Mehmet I reestablished the Ottoman Empire after 10 years of  fraternal strife.

1453 Mehmet II Faith conquered Constantinople (Istanbul)

1517 Selin I became the Caliphate, the spiritual leader of Islam, after conquering Mesopotamia, Syria, Lower Egypt, Mecca and Medina.

1520 -66  S leyman II the Magnificent conquered Baghdad, Belgrade, Rhodes, most of Hungary, Georgia, Azerbyjan (sp?) and parts of North Africa.

1529 First siege of Vienna

1683 Second unsuccessful siege of Vienna.  The Ottoman Empire is at its height.  From here on, it is on the defensive, retreating.

1699 Loss of Polish territories, Dalmatia, Hungary, parts of South Russia.

1718 More losses in the Balkans.

1768- 1812 Russo-Turkish War.

1829 Greece becomes independent

1839 Period of legal reforms begins.

1853- 56   Allied with western European nations against the Russians in the Crimean War.

1876 First constitution.

1878 European powers further reduced size of the Empire, following another war with Russia.

1897 Greeks declare war on Crete.  Turks lost after the western powers intervened.

1903- 18   Baghdad rail line built by Germans under contract.

1911- 12   Libya and Dodecanese fell to Italy, with little resistance by the Ottomans.

1913 end of Balkan War, Ottoman Empire lost the last of its European holdings.

1914- 1918 Allied with the Germans in WWI.

1915- 16   successfully defended the Dardenelles with the Germans.

1918 Turkey occupied by western powers.

1919- 20   Treaty of Sevres.  Unacceptable to the Turks, as Greece was to occupy Smyrna.  The government accepts the terms but nationalists do not.  The leader of the nationalists is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

1921- 22   Victory over the Greeks and the western powers.  Sultanate abolished.  The Ottoman Empire is no more.

1923 Treaty of Lausanne regulated population exchange between the Greeks and Turks.  Many Greeks in Turkey moved to Greece and vice-versa.

1928- 38   Abolition of the Caliphate.  Turkey modernizes under Ataturk. Turkish is revived as a language.  French linguists brought in to help choose words where none existed in Turkish, which had been dormant.  Women given legal rights.  Traditional dress no longer required of them.  Turkey became a secular state.  Education      system established.  Turkey now has a 90%+ literacy rate. Ataturk is now widely revered.  Statues and busts of him are in every town we have seen.

1929- 45   This time the Turks guessed right and sided with the Allies against Germany.

1950 Victory of the Democratic Party.

1952 Joined NATO

1960, 1971, 1980 Military took over.  Democratization continued.

Some important facts from the web, the Lonely Planet site I think:

Area: 779,452 sq. km (483,260 sq mi), Population: 63 million, Capital city: Ankara (pop 3.2 million), People: Turks (85%), Kurds (12%), other Islamic peoples, Armenians, Jews;

Language: Turkish, Kurdish Religion: Muslim Government: Parliamentary democracy

It’s a 1700km (1050mi) drive from Edirne on the Bulgarian border to Kars on the Armenian border and a 1000km (620mi) hike from the Black Sea in the north to the Mediterranean in the south. Ticking clockwise from the northwest, Turkey shares borders with Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. The country is no
desert-and-palm-tree album either: mountains, rolling steppe, meandering rivers, rich agricultural valleys and a craggy, beachy 8400km (5200mi) coastline all muck in to keep Turkey interesting.

There are still considerable forests in eastern Anatolia, the Black Sea area and along the Mediterranean coast, west of Antalya. Great swaths of wild flowers over the steppes in spring making fine splashes of color. Turkey has similar animal life to that in the Balkans and much of Europe: bears, deer, jackals, lynx, wild boars, wolves and
rare leopards. The beautiful Van cat is a native: it has pure white fur and different-coloured eyes – one blue, one green. You’re more likely to see cattle, horses, donkey, goats and sheep though. Turkish shepherds are proud of their powerful, fierce, Kangal sheep dogs which guard the flocks from wolves.  Bird life is exceptionally rich, with a
squawking mess of eagles, vultures and storks staking out airspace, as well as rare species such as the bald ibis.

The Aegean and Mediterranean coasts have mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. In Istanbul, summer temperatures average around 28 to 30° Celsius (82 to 86° Fahrenheit); the winters are chilly but usually
above freezing, with rain and perhaps a dusting of snow. The Anatolian plateau is cooler in summer and quite cold in winter. The Black Sea coast is mild and rainy in summer, and chilly and rainy in winter.  Mountainous eastern Turkey is very cold and snowy in winter and only pleasantly warm in high summer. The southeast is dry and mild in
winter and very hot in summer, with temperatures above 45° C (113° F)
not unusual.

Turkey’s first known human inhabitants hung out in the Mediterranean region as early as 7500 BC, and the cycles of empire building, flexing, flailing and crumbling didn’t take long to kick in.

The first great civilisation was that of the Hittites, who worshipped a sun goddess and a storm god. The Hittites dominated Anatolia from the Middle Bronze Age (1900-1600 BC), clashing with Egypt under the great Ramses II and capturing Syria, but by the time Achaean Greeks attacked Troy in 1250 BC, the Hittite machine was creaking. A massive invasion of ‘sea peoples’ from Greek islands and city-states put untenable pressure on the Hittites and a jumble of smaller kingdoms (amongst them Phrygians, Urartians and Lydians) played at border bending until Cyrus, emperor of Persia (550-530 BC) swept into Anatolia from the east. The Persians were booted out by Alexander the Great, who conquered the entire Middle East from Greece to India around 330 BC.

It’s those Celts again!

Still from the web:

After Alexander died his generals squabbled over the spoils and civil war was the norm until the Galatians (Celts) [Gary writing: Do you remember Paul’s letter to the Galatians?  The same people established a capital at Ankara in 279 BC, bedding down more or less comfortably with the Seleucid, Pontic, Pergamum and Armenian kingdoms.

Gary again:

So little I knew of Turkey.  I know a little more now and my appetite is whetted for more.  Finding stuff to read now is difficult.  Travel stimulates but being in one place where there is a good library is necessary for further learning.  Perhaps a true educational journey with time for lectures would be as good, maybe better, than learning
on your own.

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