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Seeing Turkey

Note: I got these pictures off the Internet, but they are very much like what I saw.

I saw Turkey in October 2008 as part of a Mediterranean cruise that also went to Italy and Greece. Our ship went up the western coast of Turkey and stopped for a day each at three cities: Marmaris in the south, Izmir (Smyrna) in the middle and Istanbul (Constantinople)  in the north. From Izmir I took a bus to Ephesus.

Turkey is way richer and more orderly than I expected. From the looks of it, it was richer than Greece or Naples but not as rich as Rome. In America you get this idea of Muslim countries as being poor and disorderly.

Another thing that surprised me is that the Turkish men looked just like I imagined: thick black hair on top, thick black eyebrows, a long nose and a thick black moustache (pictured). Kind of like George Orwell. Not all of them, of course, but way more than I expected.

Marmaris looks like a Greek city: streets of white houses with red roofs down by the edge of the sea, down by the ships, mountains in the background, some of them green or blue, some of them bare and grey. Inland it reminded me of southern California with its mountains and lines of planted fruit trees. But then you would see a silver mosque or a red Turkish flag and know you were somewhere else.

Like in Greece, dogs run free and you hear the sound of scooters in the distance. But unlike Greece – or southern California – the men still hold hands with their women when they walk down the street. Nearly everyone dressed in a Western style. They had BP, Nokia, McDonald’s and iPhones.

Even down in Marmaris, Istanbul is seen as the Big City.

Izmir is about the size of Philadelphia or Melbourne, the biggest city after Istanbul  and Ankara, the capital. It is a port with ships and factories and highways and apartment buildings (pictured). It seems much richer than Naples. The infrastruture looks American.

I did not spend long there since I wanted to see Ephesus, the biggest city in these parts back in Roman times, back before the rise of Constantinople. It lies in a shallow grave an hour to the south by bus. I saw it and, on the top of a hill, the Virgin Mary’s house (pictured), but I will not go into that here since it requires a separate post.

Istanbul seems as big and modern as New York. You would think you were in Europe if it were not for the huge mosques and the loud call to prayer. I wanted to see the Hagia Sophia, the large, beautiful church from Byzantine times, but we missed the tour bus, so we went to the Grand Bazaar (pictured) instead – thousands of little shops under one roof. No set prices: the shopkeeper names a price that is five times too much and you must talk him down to something reasonable. My wife loved it.

– Abagond, 2009, 2016.

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Ephesus is an ancient Greek city about halfway down the western coast of what is now called Turkey. It is where the Ephesians of the Bible lived. Paul preached there. It is where John wrote his gospel and they say that it is where the Virgin Mary went up to heaven. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus comes from Ephesus.

In our time Ephesus is just some broken-down remains of ancient buildings near the sea.

In Greek and Roman times, Ephesus was:

  • The centre of the Roman slave trade from -100 to +100;
  • The centre of the cult of Diana, the virgin goddess, known as Artemis to the Greeks;
  • One of the main ports of the Mediterranean Sea;
  • The main city in Ionia;
  • The capital of the Roman province of Asia.

It reached its height about -150 when it had 300,000 people – a giant city in those days, though not as big as Rome or Alexandria.

Giant is right: it had the largest theatre in the Roman empire, one with 50,000 seats. And its Temple of Diana was huge too. One visitor said it “mounted to the clouds”. It took 120 years to build.

The Temple of Diana was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was the centre of Diana’s worship. Inside the temple was a big black rock that fell from the sky. (The Kaaba, that square building in Mecca, also has such a rock.) The temple of Roman times was built in -550, but there had been a temple there since the days of Troy.

The temple is gone. In the 300s the Roman Empire became Christian, so the temple was shut down in 381 and destroyed in 405. And then, in 431, all the top bishops of the Church came to Ephesus for the famous Council of Ephesus. In order to stamp out Nestorian Christianity, they said that the Virgin Mary was the “Mother of God”. (The Nestorians said that made no sense, but that is another post.)

Not only is it strange how the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, took the place of Diana, a virgin goddess, but even the old name of the city, Apasas, means “city of the mother goddess.”

The Virgin Mary and Ephesus: When Jesus was on the cross he gave the care of his mother into the hands of John. That much is in the Bible. But there are old stories that go on to say that he went to Ephesus to live and brought Mary with him. And so there is a house on a hill near the city that they say was hers. It has become a place where both Christian and Muslim pilgrims go. August 15th is a special day there – the day they she went up to heaven.

Ephesus was killed by mud, malaria and Christianity: without the temple one of its main industries was lost. Then mud filled up the river on its way to the sea, creating a marsh that spread malaria. The rise of Constantinople to the north did not help either.

– Abagond, 2008.

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Turkey (1923- ) is what remains of the Ottoman Empire, which once ruled the Middle East. It lies in Anatolia, the land between the Black and Mediterranean seas.

It is not the only country with Turks. To the east there are others: Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. But Turkey is by far the largest and richest of these.

Turkey stands between two worlds: Muslim and Western.

It is a Muslim country yet its people wear Western clothes, write with Roman letters and take part in parliamentary elections. Religion is kept out of government and even the women are not allowed to cover their heads in public like they do in other Muslim countries.

Turkey belongs to NATO, the Western military alliance. This means the second largest army in NATO is Muslim.

But Turkey is not part of the European Union (EU). It is not for want of trying. For years it was kept out because it had a bad record on human rights and its army had too much power in government.

Now that Turkey is changing its ways, the EU has begun talks for it to join, maybe in 2013. But the talks are going badly and Sarkozy, the president of France, is finding excuses to slow them down.

Even though Europe is no longer strongly Christian, many seem to be against Turkey joining the EU simply because it is Muslim. Turkey may seem Western on the outside but it is still Muslim on the inside.

Although Turkey has long been a friend of America, the two do not agree on Iraq: partly because Turkey is becoming more of a democracy and the people are against what America is doing in Iraq; but also because America turns a blind eye to Kurdish fighters crossing into Turkey from Iraq.

Turkey killed more than a half million Armenians in the early 1900s and later fought against Kurds in eastern Turkey. It was trying to make everyone in Turkey into Turks.

Anatolia was once a Christian land full of Greek towns and farms. It was the heart of the Byzantine empire. Between 1000 and 1500 the Turks uprooted and destroyed all of that. They marched on Constantinople and overthrew it, giving it a new name, Istanbul. The Ottoman Empire was born.

When the empire reached its height in the late 1600s it ruled the Arab world, Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Armenia and other nearby countries. Its armies got as far as the gates of Vienna. Two hundred years later the empire began to fall apart. In the early 1900s the First World War delivered the death blow.

After the war in the 1920s Ataturk made Turkey more Western.

Turkey stayed out of the Second World War. It still had one of the largest and best armies in the world, but it did not have the tanks and fighter planes it took to fight a war. But it did join America against Russia in the Cold War that followed.

– Abagond, 2007.

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