The land that is today Turkey was not originally so. Any student of history will tell you that what was called Asia Minor prior to the arrival of the Turks in the late part of the first millennia was inhabited by ancient tribes who had organized empires more than 4000 years ago. Indeed the history of this land is indeed long and much troubled indeed.
For since the times of the Assyrians and Hittites, empires had risen and fallen (sounds like those online games?) on this tongue of land. There is so much to read and write about that this blog cannot accommodate.
Recall Troy and Helen whose face launched a thousand ships? Well it has been unearthed and made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998. And it seems that there were 9 such cities, each one built above the other dating the first one to nearly 3000BC!
Remember that the history of Anatolia is very much linked to that of Greece. In our country log (read here), we had shared that Greek culture had spread far and wide even to the black sea.
Indeed our journey had only brought us only to the western half of Anatolia and not even to the Black Sea unless being in Istanbul counted. So here is how our itinerary went:
Istanbul, Constantinople of the past
The story of this city really began to take off when the emperor Constantine decided to move the capital of the Roman Empire eastwards. The choice was a city that commands entry into the black sea. In fact it had sat exclusively on the European mainland side, strongly fortified that will protect the city until 1453.
We stayed in the city for only 2½ days and covered the main touristic sites.
What stood out for us was how secular and outwardly European the city was, contrast to the images we had of strong Islamic culture of women covered up in the Hijab. For the city felt almost like any other in Europe, especially when foreign visitors outnumber locals. Even in Taksim square (no relation with the former Thai Prime Minister), the boutiques and cafes might had tricked us into thinking we are in Germany or France.
Definitely should have extended our stay here, because Mel came upon the largest silverware market he could find so far (except the London Vaults)…wanna come back again!
Grecian & Roman culture along the coast
To save time, our tour flew from Istanbul to an airport in the small city of Denizli. Not that it will likely grace the list of most desired destinations, the salt flats as we landed impressed us! The real prize was the cascading thermal pools at Pammukale. Sure there was the temples and ruins of old Grecian cities, but soaking in the warm water was our aim.
For us Ephesus was a repeat visit, so we veered mostly away from the guided tour to search for photographic angles that we missed the last time. And the most important thing to remember is : try to be at the Celsus library before noon time, unless it is a cloudy day. The high noon sun makes for challenging photo taking…
If one was to scour the southern coast of Turkey, you will no doubt discover numerous relics of Grecian and Roman civilization. From the large Roman theatre at Aspendos to the sunken city of Myra, there is much to see and do. We even took a swim in the Mediterranean sea (quite cool in October) and covered ourselves in mud from the Sultaniye hot spring.
The great interior and Ancient cave cities
If one leaves the coast and head for the interior, the first thing you will notice is that the landscape changes dramatically. Geologically the country’s central part is a massive plateau, getting more rugged the further east one goes. The coast plains that we had just concluded our visit is very narrow, perhaps just 20-30km from the coastline.
Forests give way to sparser vegetation and eventually grasslands appear.
Not being a pastoral folk after settling in Anatolia, the Turkish people has converted the plateau lands for agriculture. Did you know that Turkey is one of the world’s largest producer of Pistachios and Almonds? We got to buy lots of figs and apricots too…
Which brings us to one of the other highlights of any journey to Turkey – the cave cities at Cappadocia. Now we are not going to steal the thunder from the actual story we will tell about our adventures, so this will be rather brief. Spending a full two days is rather rushed but in a group tour where every activity had been planned out for you, it is just sufficient.
From the sky it will appear that an entire region comprises of such cave cities both above and below ground. And you know those mushroom looking rock structures? They make homes in them too…
Eastern Turkey used to be on our list of to-do destination. However with the current instability of that region bordering the Iraq and ISIS occupied territories, we tend to avoid taking on a risk. For now at least.
Consider this : the lands that is now Turkey was one of the terminal points of the ancient silk road. There is such a wondrous treasure trove waiting to be discovered – well at least by a couple of Singaporean flag bearing handprinters…