Friday, November 7, 2008

Southeast Turkey: Part II

We're trying to catch up with blogging about our trip, but it's been slow going because we have been busy here as well. But here's another stab at it:

On the second day of our trip, we drove a couple of hours from our base in Urfa to Zeugma. The landscape along the way was extremely dry, and the day was so dusty that during the morning drive we could see only a few feet away from our van.

Besides pistachio trees planted along the road,
everything seemed quite desolate, until we neared the Euphrates river, along whose banks there is more vegetation:

After our very dusty drive, we arrived at the site of Zeugma, which was also cloaked in dust and mist. Zeugma was an ancient city which, like many cities in Asia Minor, passed through several successive periods of history: it was a Hellenistic city founded by one of the generals of Alexander the Great, and was later given by the Roman general Pompey, comrade and later rival of Julius Caesar, to our friend from Part I, the Commagene king Antiochos I. Remember the representations of Antiochos shaking hands with several gods? Copies of those reliefs were set up in the city of Zeugma so the residents there would understand just how awesome their new ruler was.

Zeugma saw its highpoint under the Romans, though. It was a prosperous port city, as the remains of luxurious houses near the water show. There was more room to build in this area than in other ancient cities of comparable wealth, such as Pompeii or Ephesus (which was much, much larger but much more crowded), so the houses of the rich at Zeugma were quite large. They were richly furnished with beautiful mosaic floors, many of which have been removed to a museum and conserved. One of our fellow fellows, Amanda, gave a talk here to fill us all in on the history of the site and its importance. There was a small group of schoolchildren there on a fieldtrip, and one of the little boys, about 10 years old. just barged right into our group and kept talking to Amanda while she was giving her presentation. He probably wanted to know what she was talking about, or where we were from, but he didn't realize that we did not know Turkish, and that he was interrupting. It was a bit annoying, but she made it through.

For many reasons, Zeugma is an important city for archaeologists studying Roman Asia Minor, but there's more to the story than that: over the last decade, the Turkish government has put into action a plan called the GAP Project. GAP is short for Güneydoğu Anadolu Projesi, or "Southeastern Anatolia Project." The purpose of this project is to divert the waters of the nearby Euphrates river by means of a series of dams, to carry water to the farmlands of southeastern Turkey, thereby increasing agricultural production and, they hope, making this one of the richest areas of the country. (The Syrians, by contrast, have complained that the Turkish dams have cut in half the amount of water now reaching them via the Euphrates). Several of the dams have created vast reservoirs, and one of them is directly on top of the ancient site of Zeugma. Once it was determined that Zeugma would be covered by water, an international team of archaeologists undertook "rescue excavations." These very fast excavations, carried out under the gun, were aimed mostly at retrieving the gorgeous and important mosaics from the rich houses. Of course, much more of interest was lost, or at least is submerged for the time being:

Now it is possible to take a "tour" of the city by boat, which is horrible because the motor of the boats and all the motion of the water they make is undoubtedly disturbing the archaeological remains below the shallow water!

We had an hour or so to climb around in the site and get a feel for the landscape, and see some remains of houses that were uncovered by the excavation but are still above the waterline:

Perhaps in the future, as the water level of the reservoir recedes as is planned, more of the site will be excavated, maybe this time more slowly and carefully, and we will learn more about this important site.

After leaving Zeugma, we continued on for another hour or so to the modern city of Gaziantep. The original name of the city was just Antep, which means "beautiful spring." In 1920 the appellation "Gazi" or "Warriors of God" was added to commemorate the fact that the men of the town were able to resist a 10-month siege by the French army. Of course, it was the French. But still...

Gaziantep, also sometimes called just Antep, is most famous for its pistachios, which are supposed to be the best in the world. In fact, the Turkish word for pistachio is "Antep fistiği", or, literally, "Antep nut." We found it difficult to argue with this assessment! Along with the wonderful pistachios came unbelievable baklava. Unlike the heavy, syrup-soaked baklava most of you are probably familiar with from Middle Eastern or Greek restaurants in the States, the baklava in Gaziantep that we had when we stopped for lunch was fresh from the oven and made from layer upon layer of light, buttery pastry, stuffed with those amazing pistachios, and lightly drizzled with a delicate syrup. Yum yum yum! (An amusing note: One of the Fellows in our group, Ivana, loves to say "yum, yum, yum!" Imagine her surprise when she found out in her Turkish class a few weeks ago that "Yumyum" means "cannabalism" in Turkish!)

After lunch, we all went to the museum that was newly-built to house the Zeugma mosaics. It is the second-largest mosaic museum in the world, after one in Tunisia. The space is great and the mosaics are gorgeous. Here are a few examples:

Although this picture is not great because the lighting in the museum has to be so low to protect the art, you can see that they have reconstructed the floorplans of the houses in the museum so visitors can see what the mosaics looked like where they were found.

This is the most famous of the mosaics, a fragmentary piece of a floor called the "Gypsy Girl" because of the scarf tied around the head, and the hoop earring. Others think it is actually Alexander the Great, but we will probably never know for sure:

Here also is an amazing bronze statue of the Mars, the Roman god of war, recovered at the site:

Also, here is a picture of a photo in the museum that shows the site of Zeugma, at night, before the mosaics were removed and the site was flooded:

Before we made it in to see the mosaics though, we were greeted with a suprise at the gate of the museum. There in front, along with his little sisters, was Amanda's "friend" from Zeugma! He was so excited to see her again! Of course pictures had to be made:

After the museum, we all split up to spend the afternoon exploring the city. Some of us went to one of the many baklava stores in the old area of the city to buy some to take home. This was a great process, because of course we all had to sample the various types before selecting our purchases. Much tastier than carpet shopping!

Gaziantep is a very pleasant and friendly place. There was much more to see than we had time to see, so we mostly spent the time strolling around enjoying the atmosphere and talking about how much we would like to go back sometime. (Oh, and eating baklava and pistachios). About a week before we left on our trip, Candace happened to run across a Travel Planet article online about 10 places in the world that are not visited very often by travelers, but should be, and Gaziantep was on it. Based on our experience, this is a great suggestion. Beautiful architecture, a wonderful museum and amazing food make this a place worth returning to!
The Byzantine Kale (Castle) of Gaziantep.

1 comment:

Dan N. said...

I saw a documentary about the rescue excavations. Awesome that you were able to see those beautiful Mosaics in person!

By the way, we had our first snow flurries here yesterday. Yuck!