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 Ladstatter also allowed both of us access to anything we wanted to look at in the Team's library, including unpublished excavation materials, which will be very important to Candace's dissertation.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.
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...