Friday, October 31, 2008

Note to our loyal readers

There are two new posts below. For some reason, blogger posted them in reverse order from how we posted them. We just wanted to direct your attention to the short entry on Turkish Republic Day, because it has a video of the fireworks, which were awesome! It is below the first of our entries on our trip to southeast Turkey. Be sure to read everything!

Southeast Turkey: Part I


We made it back from our epic trip to southeast Turkey with a group from the RCAC. We were gone from about 5 am Saturday morning until about 1am Wednesday morning, and it was go, go, go the entire time! Everyone was exhausted by the time we landed in Istanbul Tuesday night, but it was worth it. There is so much to tell, and so many pictures to show, that we have decided to "publish" our adventure in installments. Follows here the first part: Malatya and Nemrud Dağı. (By the way, we figured out how to convert our keyboards to Turkish keyboards so we can type things correctly now!).

After a very early-morning departure from the Research Center, 18 of us boarded a plane to Malatya. The airport was tiny, but soon our bus arrived to pick us up. Our driver would make the entire trek with us, more than 1000 km over the next four days, and was very good and extremely patient. He was tipped handsomely.

Our first stop was "Eski Malatya" (old Malatya). The city used to be very important in the Christian period, when it was home to about 50 churches and at least six monasteries. There is a mosque there, Ulu Cami, that was supposed to have been built by the Selcuks in the 13th century. However, we were very disappointed to discover that it has been basically completely rebuilt in the past few years. It is still pretty, but there is nothing particularly historical about it. And, unfortunately, it was not open and there was no imam around to let us in. We spent about an hour walking around what basically amounted to a mid-sized village with not much to see at all. But here is the mosque anyway:

We then reboarded the bus for the 4+ hour trip to Nemrud Dağı. For those of you who do not know (which is probably most of you except those who have been to Turkey or seen a random History Channel special or something), Nemrud Dağı (that is, Mt. Nemrud) is a massive monument to Antiochus I, the king of the Kommagene empire, who ruled around 69 BC. "The what empire?" you might well ask. The Kommagenes were a short-lived empire in the area of southeastern Turkey who gained their independence from the Seleucids in 163/162 BC. Within a short 300 years they got too uppity and were eventually smacked down by the Romans and made a part of the province of Syria. A couple of generations before that happened, Antiochus I thought he was pretty important and had a massive burial mound constructed for himself on the top of a mountain peak, decorated with colossal statues.

To give you some idea of the scope of the project, look at the mound on top of this mountain:

It looks like a pile of sand, but is really constructed entirely of loose rock -- it's the highest burial mound in the world, in terms of its elevation. The work it must have taken to haul all of that stone to the tip-top of this mountain, the second highest in Turkey after Ararat, truly boggles the mind. It is not the largest such structure in Turkey, an honor that goes to a Lydian burial mound outside of Sardis that is so large Candace's mom was able to photograph it from an airplane last summer (we don't have that picture), but still, the fact that it is so high, in such a remote area, makes it a staggering project.

The mountain is located in a dry landscape, almost empty of vegetation, and there is nothing around except the road running to the small giftshop/rest area complex at the foot of the peak. There is a hostel a couple of miles before you reach that complex, and a few families herd their animals on the mountain or, presumably, work at the hostel or giftshop, but the area seems very, very empty. As Peter commented, he knew from descriptions that it would be remote, but he didn't expect it to be desolate. Here are some photographs, taken on the approach to the mountain and from the tomb at the top, that may help convey how bleak and awesome the terrain is:

The climb up is steep but stone stairs have been constructed, so it is a relatively easy, but tiring climb (or for about $7 you can have a local lead you up on a donkey, although that seemed like a terrifying idea since the path is so narrow and the drop so steep!).

The statues at the top represent the King Antiochus I and several gods. Since he considered himself a god as well, he had himself shown here, in matching statues on both sides of the mountain, seated in a group with other deities. There are also reliefs which were at one time installed down each side of the monument, showing Nemrud shaking hands with each one of the gods. The gods are a mix of traditional Roman and Eastern gods. So, for instance, there is Apollo-Mithras (Apollo is the Roman god of the sun, but here he is also Mithras, an Eastern god the Roman army started to worship after they learned about him during their tours), Zeus, and Hercules, as well as a representation of Tyche, the empire (and Fortune) personified as a woman. You can also see eagles and lions of course. As you can see from the pictures, the heads long ago fell off the statues, and archaeologists have lined them up in front of their bodies, which is slightly bizarre:

Top: The statues with their heads in front; Bottom: Peter's more artistic picture of it.

Peter with Apollo/Mithras on the East Terrace

Candace with Zeus on the West Terrace

Zeus and Antiochus, East Terrace

And just for Candace's mom, we will mention that there is a very strange conspiracy theory, based on the fact that one of the statues looks like Elvis, that Elvis was actually King Antiochus reincarnated. Problem: the one that looks (arguably) like Elvis is not the portrait of King Antiochus, but of Apollo/Mithras, as indicated by the type of Eastern cap he is wearing. Anyway, you can decide for yourself:

We were lucky enough to arrive just before sunset. Sunrise and sunset are touted as the best times to visit the monument because one set of the colossal statues is located on the east side, and one on the west, so the rays of the rising or setting sun strike the rocks and the statues and make them seem to almost glow. I can imagine that in the middle of the summer these are also very busy times to visit. Not a lot of tourists make it out to the site because it is so remote, but there is a fairly steady stream. We had hoped to be alone on the peak, but there were a good number of people there, even though as the sun went down it got quite cold. We were very surprised to see some fairly old women up there.

The descent was more difficult than the ascent. The way down from the west side is much more harrowing than the climb up -- for some reason there is no real path from the west platform so everyone was just making their way down the steep slope of loose rock until we joined the stone pathway about a quarter of the way down. So basically, the steepest bit of the descent was just loose rocks and gravel and a fairly steep grade. The two older Turkish ladies were in front of us (in long skirts and loafer-type shoes, completely inappropriate for that type of climbing). I'm putting a picture in because it is somewhat amusing that she is standing right in front of the sign that says don't do what she's doing!

Just after starting down, she actually did fall. Luckily the mountainside was so steep that she didn't really have very far to fall backwards before sitting down. We helped her up of course, and then Amanda, who was the closest to her in the line, gave her her arm and escorted her the rest of the way down. Meanwhile, the man who was with the two older women just walked on by as if nothing had happened! Peter offered his arm to the other woman, but she was insistent on going it alone, and made it down ok, thankfully.

Overall, Nemrud is definitely worth seeing, although it takes some effort. But somehow it wasn't as...big as we expected. It is, however, the most-photographed site in southeast Turkey, but even that has not been enough to attract the level of crowds that can spoil other sites. Go if you have the chance!

Group shot of the RCAC Fellows on top of Mt. Nemrud:

Sunset from Nemrud Dağı:

Another sunset pic: From left, Candace, Ivana, Amanda F.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Turkish Republic Day

Two days ago was the 29th of October, which is Republic Day (Cumhuriyet Bayrami) here in Turkey. It is the day that the Turkish constitution was amended (in 1923) an act that abolished the Ottoman Empire and brought the Turkish Republic into existence. So, basically, it's the Turkish 4th of July.

As on the 4th in America, there was a fireworks display here in Istanbul. They were shot from the Bosphorus bridge, between Europe and Asia. Several of us living at the Center met up on the roof terrace to watch the show, but discovered when it started that a building next to ours was just tall enough to block our view. So, we climbed a spiral staircase that goes up off the roof (to nowhere, actually) and watched from there. It was a bit of a precarious perch, which is why my pictures and video of the fireworks are shaky -- I had to hold the camera with one hand while holding on to the pole in the middle of the staircase for balance.

The show was incredible. The fireworks were continuous and huge. One of the Turkish Fellows said he had read that the show was put on by the same company that did the fireworks for the opening of the Sydney Olympics, and that they cost 5 million Lira! There was a lot of red (the color of the Turkish flag of course), and so much smoke was generated by the constant explosions that at some points we couldn't even see the fireworks anymore. It was almost like the finale of most U.S. Fourth of July fireworks shows, but it went on for 15 solid minutes. I have attached a video here, under the pictures, which is something I have never tried before. It looks like a regular picture except it has a bar at the bottom with a play button. This was not the most impressive part of the show, but it was the only one of the three videos I took that was not too large to attach. To play it, you should just have to click the forward arrow at the bottom left of the square. Please let me know if you can or can't see it!:


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Some time at "home"


First of all, here's a delayed picture of Candace and Ambassador Ross. Also pictured are some other Fulbright-associated people. Beside Candace is Joan Gawrych, the wife of a military history professor from Baylor, Candace's alma mater, who is a Senior Researcher on a Fulbright this year working on a book on Ataturk. To the Ambassador's left is an English Language Fellow named Patreshia, who is teaching in Denizli and Elizabeth, a geology professor from the University of Texas teaching in Ankara.

It's been a while now since we made a new post, but things have been very busy here. Candace has been working on fellowship applications that have to be sent out in the next week or so, and Peter had started some new art projects. But we've also been enjoying our first full week of being at home in Istanbul with no traveling.

Last weekend was the birthday of one of the senior fellows here, Dror Zeevi, who is an Ottoman historian from Ben Gurion University in Israel. He's lived in Istanbul before so when some of us offered to take him out to dinner, he suggested a traditional Ottoman restaurant in our neighborhood. It's actually one of the oldest continuously-operating restaurants in Istanbul. It's alled Haci Abdullah, and was quite good. Some of you have been asking about our new friends at the RCAC, so here's a picture of the group that went out that night, who are some of the people we have been spending the most time with. Starting with Peter and I and going down the table, there is Rossitsa Gradeva, a professor of Ottoman history from the Institute of Balkan Studies in Bulgaria. Across the table is Dror, the birthday boy. To his left is Alyson Wharton, a Junior fellow from the University of London who works on late Ottoman architecture, then Amanda Flaata from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She is one of only two other Fellows besides Candace who work on classical archaeology (all Junior Fellows) -- she studies the worship of Meter, the Mother Goddess (some of you might know her as Cybele). Like Candace she works on Ephesus, and there is a slight chance she might also sign on to work there this summer, which would be great. The other young lady, Ivana Jevtic, is one of the Senior Fellows, a professor of Byzantine Art History from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, but she hails originally from Serbia. They are all extremely nice and interesting people, and we really like them!

After dinner Dror wanted to go out for a drink, and he wanted it to be on one of the beautiful terraces that are on the tops of the Ottoman buildings in our neighborhood. Normally this would not be a problem, but unfortunately it was a Saturday night and, to make things more complicated, Turkey was playing in an important football (soccer) match. So we went to place after place only to find out there was no room on the rooftop terrace. This would not have been such a big deal if it weren't for the fact that to get to each of the roofs requires a climb of 90-100 stairs! We were all pretty winded by the time we finally found a place to sit down, and several people had knee and leg pain complaints the next day (neither of us thankfully), which reminded us all of what poor health we academics are in! Interestingly, we did finally end up on a wonderful rooftop terrace overlooking the city (on top of a building with an elevator, thankfully), only a block from the Research Institute, and it happened to be the one rooftop terrace bar that Candace had ever been to in Istanbul. So, Dan and Christina, do you remember when Evren's cousins took us out two years ago? Well, if you do, now you know basically where we live. If anyone comes to visit, we will definitely take you there! Here is another picture of the group of us, enjoying that rooftop, although the person who took the picture for us somehow cut Alyson and Peter off of the ends.

Most of the rest of the week, as already mentioned, has been taken up with work. But we have found the time to try out some of the restaurants around us. In particular, we have experimented with some of the non-Turkish cuisine, which has been interesting. There is a Chinese place just up the street from us a ways which turned out to be quite good. They even gave us chopsticks (the brandname was "Golden Smell"!), which we were a bit surprised by. The directions did say "Welcome to Chinese Restaurant. Please try your Nice Chinese Food with Chopsticks the traditional and typical of Chinese glonous history and cultual" -- not quite 100% on the English there, but pretty much what you would expect in the US!

We also tried a Thai place, along with Amanda and Ivana. We had a great time and the food was pretty good, although not traditional Thai. Next on our list is the Mexican place we found a few blocks away from the Research Center. The name sounds good but judging by the description on their own sign, we aren't expecting too much (click on the picture). We'll keep all you Texans posted on that anyway.

Other than our culinary adventures, the main news from this week is that Candace is now officially a resident of Turkey. It only took two rather grueling trips to the Emniyet Mudurlugu (or, as it is translated into English somewhat threateningly, the "Police Department for Aliens") to get it done, and it was basically painless. Plus it was a great chance to see Ottoman bureaucracy at work. A representative of Koc University met us there -- we went in groups of four. We met him at 7:30 am, but he had been waiting there since 7:00 to make sure we were the first in line. The first line was only to get called through security and have our passports checked. Once we were through that line we were escorted to a second line where we stood to get up to a kiosk where we were given our tickets that had the numbers that told us where to stand in the NEXT line. So Candace was line 10, spot number 2 and others were line 13, spot number three, etc. There seemed to be no relation between what number you were in the second line and the number you got in the third line, so when the 150 or so people who had been in the first two lines made it into the room with the REAL lines, we all had to find the correct window (Banco), then compare our little tickets and get ourselves in the correct order. Then we all waited, crammed in like sardines, on one side of a bank of windows for the clerks to prepare our papers. They were supposed to start work at 8:00, which is when we were all lined up in the room, but instead they all got their coffee and simit (Turkish bagels) and sat down at the desks behind the windows, literally 12 inches from the people in line, and calmly ate and drank...then drank more...then had a third cup...then, about 20 minutes after they were supposed to start working, they VERY slowly started looking through the papers of the first person in line. You can imagine how long this process took for all of us to get through, and how frustrating it was. But at least now we know why there are so many stores that are dedicated to selling nothing but stamps and ink pads -- every piece of paper had to be stamped, then signed, then stamped again.

After making it through that first long appointment with multiple lines, we were told to come back in a couple of days to pick up our completed paperwork. Of course this involved more standing in lines, and more people pushing and shoving. At one point it seemed like some sort of Monty Python skit. A policeman with dozens of people standing in front of his desk waiting to be told what to do next calmly took out a massive stack of paperwork and lined the individual sheets up in several overlapping lines on his desk, made sure all of the edges were nice and neat, then slowly stamped them all down one side (stamp, stamp, stamp, stamp, stamp, stamp, stamp), then signed each one of the stamps, then got two MORE stamps, lined them up with each other, and stamped each of the pieces of paper UP the other side (stamp, stamp, stamp, stamp, stamp, stamp), then just put them back in a big pile on the other side of the desk and looked at all of us like "What are you doing here?" It was pretty incredible. But, the important thing is that at least one of us is legal now. For Peter we will plan to leave the country every three months, cross the border to Greece (or somewhere else) and come back in so he can get a new tourist visa. Without a studen status through Koc, the resident paperwork is just too much of a nightmare.

There was also a bit of sightseeing done this week. While Candace was hard at work, Peter took a very long walk through the Fatih neighborhood (the same neighborhood with the Police Department for Aliens) to see some of the old mosques, a nicely-preserved Roman aqueduct, and some of the remaining Byzantine walls. If you have been to Istanbul and driven or walked around this part of town, you would probably remember it as the area where the gypsys live, some of them basically camped out with their horses tied in the shadow of the Byzantine walls. It is one of the more traditionally Muslim areas of the city, as you can see from this picture:

One of the most interesting things was a statue of Mehmet the Conqueror "flying" through the gates of Byzantium when he took the city from the Christians:

We were also finally able to get into Hagia Sophia, which Peter had yet to see. There are still a lot of tourists here this time of year, but there seemed to be a lot less than there were a few weeks ago, which was nice. Here are a few photos of that, including the obligatory cat photo:

The stained glass windows and shrine (sorry, I don't know what it's called) were added by the Muslims at some point after 1453:

Cat (Kedi in Turkish)

Oh, and we noticed something new about Hagia Sophia. Those of you who have been in, I wonder if you have seen this? It's a bit hidden. Behind the big roundels with Arabic script on them, there are areas of the wall on the level of the second-floor gallery that are painted like this:

But when you look up at them from the floor, they look like this (the arch on the right that's a duller color than the others):

Pretty cool, huh? It's amazing that even in such a massive open space, the people who were painting the walls (in the Islamic period) decided they had to use a visual trick to make it look even MORE open!

Here's one more nice picture Peter took -- it's the inside of the Yeni Mosque (New Mosque) which is right by the Golden Horn, next to the Spice Market:

And one more thing that's kind of amusing. We went into a huge junk store, and at the back they had a used book section. Who knew that there were Muslim "New Age" books in used book stores over here? I guess no one can escape it!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Land of 1,000 cats (a.k.a. Ephesus)

Last week, as most of you know, we spent in Selcuk, the small town that is home to the archaeological site of ancient Ephesus (or Ephesos for the really historically correct), which plays a major role in Candace's dissertation research. We had both been before -- Peter almost 8 years ago, and Candace twice in the past two years -- but this was a special trip. We were hosted by the Austrian archaeological team (Candace is officially a team member this year, although not working for the excavation, but on her own research). They gave us a room in the dig house ("Kazi Evi" in Turkish, the two magic words that get you an all-access pass to the site of Ephesos, the museum, etc.), and surprised us by feeding us three really excellent meals a day. We were there during the Bayram holiday, the days that celebrate the breaking of the month-long Ramadan daily fasts, so the majority of the Turkish workers and staff were absent, and most of the 180 or so members of the scientific team(!) had already gone back to their respective countries to start the new academic year. This meant that we had a very relaxing time at the Kazi Evi, and were able to really talk to those team members who were still there. This was an excellent opportunity for both of us to benefit from the expertise of some of the archaeologists, at least one of whom has been working there since the 70s.

The director, Dr. Sabine Ladstatter of the Austrian Archaeological Institute, was incredibly friendly and accomodating. She had readily agreed almost a year ago to include Candace on the paperwork for this years team (to secure her access to the site and the team's excavation records, a necessary step in Turkey, where archaeological sites are under strict governmental rules and are attended by a government representative at all times). Shortly after we arrived she told us that she is very interested in Candace's project because she wants to begin a large-scale research project at the site next season that will look at the relationships between the various cult sites in Ephesus. This is very good news because it means that there will be new excavations, and new information coming to light soon. Dr. Ladstatter also allowed both of us access to anything we wanted to look at in the Team's library, including unpublished excavation materials, which will be very important to Candace's dissertation. Without going into too much detail, the visit was more successful and more beneficial than we could possibly have imagined it would be!

We also made some new friends on the team, including a couple of the conservators who are working on reconstructing and conserving the houses that have been uncovered in Ephesus in the past few decades. They will both be coming to Istanbul in January for an Ephesus conference (as will Prof. Ladstatter), so we look forward to seeing them again. Here's another new friend:

Also, just by happenstance, while we were there the excavation team also hosted two other guests, a couple of ladies originally from Vienna (although one has lived and taught as a professor of anthropology in Canada for 25 years) who happen to be the great-granddaughters of Otto Benndorf, the very first archaeologist to excavate at Ephesus, back in the late 19th century. Neither of them had ever been to the site before, although their family owned the dig house until just a few years ago, when they donated it to the Austrian government. One of them (the professor) spoke English well, the other one only a little. We spent quite a bit of time with them over the course of a day, seeing sites that we all wanted to see. We shared a cab up to the so-called House of the Virgin Mary, then made a quick trip to Izmir to the archaeological museum and ethnography museum there. They were happy to travel with us since we knew Turkey a little, and could speak a little Turkish, always a benefit when using the bus system here! It is, quite possibly, the most user-friendly bus system in the world, if you know how to work it. For instance, we were riding to Izmir with a man who works for the excavation who was going to pick someone up from the airport to bring back to Selcuk. That meant that we would be dropped off at the airport, which is quite a ways outside of town, and have to find our own way into town, which is possible of course, but time-consuming. However, on the highway on the way there he happened to see a big bus headed in to the city center from some other city, got in front of it, put on the brakes, and waved it over to the side of the road, then put us out and left us to get on it! Can you imagine something like that working in the US? It's all part of the adventure here.

Here are a few pictures from those two museums, both of which are interesting -- the archaeological museum because it has a good collection, the ethnography museum for the entertainment value, and for what it could teach us about camel wrestling.

Archaeological Museum:

Ethnographical Museum:

There was one highly annoying thing about the archaeological museum though. The major reason for making the trip there was so Candace could see and photograph an important statue of an imperial cult priest from Ephesus. The museum, which has relatively few visitors, has a lighting system that leaves all of the lights off until a visitor walks up to an object, then automatically turns them on. But there was one sensor in the museum that was not working, of course, so the light for the imperial cult statue would not come on to allow for a good photograph. Oh well! At least it wasn't covered in scaffolding...

Besides that day of playing the tourist, most of our time was spent at the site of Ephesus, climbing around everything, and photographing and studying the various buildings Candace is working on for her dissertation.

The most interesting experience was probably our trip to the Vedius baths and gymnasium, which are not open to the visiting public (picture below is the Stadium, by the Baths). They have not been worked on by the team for years, and are quite overgrown. It was very interesting to climb around with no tourists (or anyone, actually) around, and to really feel like we were exploring. Luckily, we saw only one snake, although we were careful to try to make enough noise to scare off anything that might have been hiding in the brush.

We were also given a tour of the third-century houses that have been excavated over the past few decades. They were destroyed in an earthquake, are in really remarkable shape, and are open to the public in a limited fashion. We had full access however, to wander through them as we pleased and check out the mosaics and frescos. Here are a few images:

This is a hypocaustic floor-heating system.

On our last day, before catching the night bus back to Istanbul, we decided to take a trip up into the hills around Selcuk to the old Greek village of Sirince. When Peter was here 8 years or so ago and visited it, there was nothing touristy about it, and it was difficult to find a bus to take to get there. Now it is, unfortunately, much more of a tourist destination, but it's still very interesting. We had a nice snack at a small restaurant where the owner took our order for a gozleme (kind of like a Turkish quesadilla), and rolled out the dough and cooked it on the old-fashioned stove top right in front of us. We noticed when she was serving us that she had henna on the palms of her hands, which is something the women in Anatolia do to celebrate weddings. Candace asked her if she had been to a wedding and she said "No. Muslim boy, 10 years old...pee-pee...SNIP!" And this came with a pantomime just to make the meaning extra clear. So now we know what ELSE they use henna to celebrate! Here is a picture taken from the terrace of her restaurant. Gorgeous!

It was really a great trip, but we are very glad to be back in Istanbul. There's still so much we want to do here, and we've barely settled in! We'll keep everyone posted on more adventures as they happen...