Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cyprus: Day 1 -- Girne and Vouni

The two of us at the site of ancient Vouni

Our second fieldtrip with the group from the Research Center was to Northern Cyprus. Originally, the plan had included a day in Greek (Southern) Cyprus. However, despite having an invitation from an academic institution on the Greek side of the island, the Turkish citizens in our group were denied the right to cross the border. Rather than split the group up, we all decided to spend the four-day trip solely in Turkish territory. This was probably the best use of our short amout of available time anyway, as the distances and driving times between the sites we were hoping to see turned out to be significantly greater than originally thought.

Peter's shot of Tsameret's young son Sheker on the bus. You can see in the reflection that he has figured out how to turn on the microphone the bus has for tourguides to use to talk to passengers. span>

We arrived in Cyprus mid-morning on Saturday and checked into our hotel in the northern coastal town of Girne. The hotel was called Club Z (or ClubZ depending on who you ask). That's short for Club Zeus, which is the casino on the hotel grounds. The breakfast they provided was good, but the rooms were shabby. Only later that evening after returning from a long day of touring would we all become acquainted with the new, small friends in our various rooms. Judging solely by the exterior of hotels in the town, this type of lodging is probably par for the course, unless you are willing to shell out big bucks to stay right on the water.

After having breakfast we walked to the harbor area of town. This area is quite pretty, with a nice walkway along the seawall in front of a Crusader fortress.

Peter inspects a Crusader-era defensive tower on the water at Girne.

Remember that young Turkish men like to pose for pictures constantly? Here, our friend Dror does the honors.

A little bit of home in Northern Cyprus. Click on the picture and check out the name on the sign over the snack stand.

A replica ship in front of the real Crusader castle walls.

We milled around a little, had some seriously overpriced tea and coffee (5 lira apiece, even for the single bags of Lipton tea and hot water), then convened at the fortress where we were met by Matthew Harpster from Middle Eastern University. Matthew is a young professor of archaeology, specializing in underwater archaeology, which he studied at Texas A&M (Gig 'Em). He had agreed to give us a guided tour of the important exhibit housed in the Castle -- the famous Kyrenia shipwreck, one of the best-preserved Greek ships ever found, and one of the first to be excavated, in the early 1960s. We were very lucky to have him with us, and the fact that he was there was a result of pure serendipity: a few weeks ago one of the Fellows, Asa, was traveling to the States for a conference and happened to be seated next to Matthew on the plane, and they struck up a conversation. When he found out where Matthew teaches, he told him that we Fellows were planning a trip to Cyprus and asked if he would come lend us his expertise for the day. Such a small world!

The exhibit of the ship is indeed very interesting. Having seen the boats at Yeni Kapı (see earlier post), we knew a bit about the process of bringing up and restoring shipwrecks, but it was quite interesting to hear about the various recovery techniques that had been planned and tried out for the first time there off the coast of Cyprus. One of the (luckily) abandoned ideas had been to lift the boat from the seafloor using a helicopter, an experiment that would definitely have resulted in the disintegration of the fragile wood. Fortunately, they had were not able to find a helicopter large enough on the island so that plan was never carried out.

The Kyrenia shipwreck.

The story of the shipwreck was also the first of many tales we heard on Cyprus in which the unfortunate conflict between Turkey and Greece plays a major role. At the time of the discovery of the shipwreck site, the island was not divided. The Greek government sunk a lot of money into raising the boat (pardon the pun), and into preparing the exhibition area in the castle and preserving all of the finds. They viewed the ship as a window into Greek culture at the height of its power in the fourth century BC. However, by the time the exhibit opened, Northern Cyprus was in Turkish hands, the Greek government was expelled, and suddenly this boat which was supposed to symbolize the essence of Greekness was located in an area occupied by Turkish military. Now it is Northern Cyprus that benefits from the tourism the shipwreck generates, but, interestingly, Greek Cyprus still uses its images on currency and tourism materials.

After seeing the shipwreck, we spent another hour or so wandering around the castle itself. The views from the top of the towers were quite impressive.

The landscape of Cyprus around Girne, from the top of the Castle walls.

Peter atop the castle walls.

Inside some of the towers were some prime examples of displays of mannequins which the Turks so love. These showed the historical usage of some of the rooms in the fortress, although there was very little explanation given about the particular time periods that were being represented. Also, the exhibits had apparently not been so much as dusted in who knows how long, and were getting pretty shabby, which only added to their weirdness. The most disturbing of the exhibits were in the so-called dungeons, where startlingly graphic scenes of nude mannequins being tortured were exhibited. They are probably best not posted here, but if anyone is interested, I can send them.

A Venetian soldier mannequin makes gunpowder.

There was really not much more to Girne than that, at least what we saw. There was one amusing street sign though. "Watch out for old people"(?):

Slow Waaaaaaaaaay down. (Yavaş yavaş!)

After the castle, we all piled into a bus that was WAY too small to accomodate us, and drove to the site of ancient Vouni, which is high in the hills above the coastline. None of us knew much about the site, besides that it was a settlement of the Greeks(?) who were pro-Persian, and that it dates from the 5th century BC. Apparently the palace there was modeled on the Persian palace at Persepolis in Iran, although there was really nothing visible at Vouni that could illustrate that to the casual viewer. And like most archaeological sites there was little to no information given on the signage, so it was not as enjoyable as it could have been if someone had had time to do research and make a presentation as we often do on these trips. We did not spend much time there, as it was already getting dark. In fact, the sunset on top of the mountain was the best part of that visit.

The landscape at the site of ancient Vouni:

Peter's picture.

Candace's picture. Aren't we supposed to be taking photos of the historical stuff?

OK, there's one. Something cult-related at Vouni.

Soooo thrilled to be there!

Sunset over Vouni

We headed back to ClubZ for the dinner they had prepared for us. It seemed alright, especially because we were all hungry since there had been no lunch worked into the schedule for that day! It was not until later days in the trip that the food at the hotel would take a turn for the worse, but when you travel you have to be able to find humor in every situation, which we definitely tried to do. But that is a story for a later post.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas at the Patriarchate

Candace's actual birthday happened while we were in Cyprus. We will write about most of that trip in the next few posts, but we want to tell a little bit about what happened that day because it explains some of what we did on Christmas Day as well.

One of the many sites we visited in Northern Cyprus was the monastery of Apostolos Andreas. This is a very important, though not much-visited religious site. It is a Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to St. Andrew, the patron saint of sailors. Located near the very eastern tip of the Karpas peninsula, where the island narrows to a long, thin point, the monastery is effectively cut off from the rest of the island by long stretches of desolate wilderness.

Apostolos Andreas was once a flourishing monastery, and still enjoys an influx of visitors during twice-yearly pilgrimages of Orthodox faithful from Southern Cyprus and the Greek mainland, in August and November. Regular services are held here throughout the year, but the location is so remote that almost no one attends.

In 1974, when the Turkish military seized the northern third of the island, their paratroopers dropped in well to the west of Apostolos Andreas, near modern-day Girne. Apparently, by the time word of the invasion reached the middle of the Karpas peninsula, it was too late for the small Greek community of Rizokarpaso there to evacuate with the majority of their countrymen. As a result, there are still about 350 Greeks living there. It may have taken even longer for news of the events to reach the tip of the peninsula, where the monks and nuns of Apostolos Andreas were tending the monastery. Or perhaps they knew what was happening further inland but made the conscious decision to stay at their holy site rather than flee. In either case, the result was a Greek Orthodox monastery in Turkish Muslim territory, cut off from the vast majority of its faithful.

Because of the ongoing political situation in which Northern Cyprus is recognized as a sovereign nation only by Turkey, but viewed by the rest of the world as military-occupied territory, the Orthodox church cannot assign new monks or nuns to the monastery. Over the last thirty years, all of the monastics living and worshipping there have passed away, leaving one sole caretaker: a ninety-two year old nun named Sister Vespina.

Sister Vespina arrived at Apostolos Andreas fifty years ago. For the last half-century she has maintained a spartan existence there -- electrical lines finally reached the monastery a mere three months ago! Her only regular company are Turkish police officers who have installed an office in one of the rooms of the monastery. This is probably a small consolation since they cannot communicate -- she has never learned Turkish. The priest also comes to the monastery church to perform services two days a week, but for the rest of the time, Sister Vespina is alone.

We arrived at the monastery shortly after 5 pm. Because it was the 21st of December, the Winter Solstice and longest night of the year, it was already dark. Strong, cold winds accompanying one of the rare rainstorms on the island were churning up the waves along the rocky coast at the foot of the church. Sister Vespina had retired for the night, but when Alessandra knocked on her bedroom door and Ivana explained to her in Greek where we had come from and that we would really like to see the church, she came out. First she went to another room in the monastery complex and retrieved a huge, ancient key for the church door. Then she led us to the church.

Sister Vespina unlocks the door of the monastery church.

The wind was blowing very hard, and the sounds of it and the crashing waves were loud as we walked, but the moment we passed through the portal of the church, we entered into complete silence. The smell of incense from the last services held there was still strong.

Sister Vespina lit some candles, and there was enough light to see the icons hanging high up on the screen in the east end of the church. For once, we were experiencing an Orthodox church as it was meant to be experienced -- without electricity, flickering candlelight illuminating the gold leaf on the images of saints that gazed down from shadowy corners of the building. For a few minutes we stood silently contemplating the small building. Several of us dropped money onto the offering plate and lit candles.

Sister Vespina helps Zeynep, the daughter of one of our Turkish friends, light a candle in her Greek Orthodox Church. We feel that this picture is a strong statement of the potential for understanding and reconciliation.

It is difficult to explain how powerful and moving an experience it was for many of us.

As Sister Vespina blew out the candles and Ivana helped her walk back to her room, she asked repeatedly for the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church. "Tell Bartholomew he must come and visit us." She has either forgotten or prefers to ignore that fact that it is impossible for the Patriarch to visit her. As the head of all of the Orthodox faithful in the world, he cannot appear to legitimate the situation in occupied Cyprus. But Ivana assured her that we would do what we could to make him aware of her situation. Before leaving, we took up a collection of snack food from our bags and presented a grateful Sister Vespina with an offering of crackers, chocolate bars, and fruit -- small luxuries that she has limited access to in her remote location.

I think more than a few of us were introspective during our long, dark ride back down the peninsula. On that far point of the island where you are more likely to encounter, as we did, a herd of shepherdless sheep and a pack of wild donkeys than you are to see other people, the military and political problems that afflict the rest of the island seem so remote and senseless.


This brings us to our experiences on Christmas Day here in Istanbul. Some of us had talked amongst ourselves since our visit to Apostolos Andreas and decided that the best thing we could do for Sister Vespina would be to present the Patriarch with some of the pictures we took of her and of her church. We did not have time to print high-quality images, so we decided to collect photographs taken by the Fellows in digital form, and Peter burned them to a CD. Then on Christmas morning a small delegation of us (Peter and I, Ivana - who is Serbian and therefore grew up in the Orthodox Church, and our Georgian Fellow Nino) attended the Christmas liturgy at the Patriarchate, where we were going to make sure the CD made it into the hands of the Patriarch's secretary.

Note: from here on, the pictures were not taken by us. Very regrettably, we neglected to take our cameras! But we wanted to include some photos we found on the internet, to give an idea of the church and the service.

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople (New Rome) and leader of the Orthodox Church.

The service was really an amazing experience. It lasted over three hours, but we did not arrive until the last hour. Because the Patriarchate of Constantinople is the highest ranking church in the Orthodox world, attending this service was similar to attending Christmas Mass at the Vatican, with the Pope presiding. There were several hundred people there, although it did not seem overly crowded. This is in part a sad testament to the small number of Greeks left in the city of Istanbul.

The church of the Patriarchate is a relatively new building, having been built only in the 19th century. Peter and I had never attended an Orthodox service before and we were surprised by how relaxed it was. This is not to say that the liturgy itself was anything but solemn -- the rich vestments worn by the officiating clergy were gorgeous, and the singing of the monks was beautiful. But the people attending were strolling around the church, conversing with one another -- even answering cell phones! Ivana told us that this is the usual practice for Greek Orthodox churchgoers, although she said that in the Russian Orthodox church they are much more rigid and traditional. We watched the service for an hour, Peter and I from the third-level gallery where we could see everything that was going on. We were sprinkled with holy water by a deacon, and at the end of the service we lined up with hundreds of other people to receive a benediction and a piece of bread from the Patriarch, and to kiss his hand. This in itself was an amazing experience, but it is a very formal process, and everyone is moved through in a matter of seconds (or else it would take all day).

As the service was drawing to a close (but still going on!), Ivana walked us around the church and pointed out the most important relics kept there, including some of the bones of Saints John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nazianzus (two of the most important Church Fathers, who wrote in the fourth century). The most important and interesting relic in the church is the Column of the Flagellation, which is built into the wall of the South aisle. This is supposedly the column to which Christ was tied when he was beaten prior to the Crucifixion. Whether it is or is not that very column, it is one that was brought to Constantinople in the fourth century by the mother of Constantine, and has been revered by thousands upon thousands of Christians for the past 1700 years. Unlike most of the important relics in the Vatican, this column is available to be seen, touched, or kissed:

Subdeacon Maximus of the Patriarchate touching the Column of the Flagellation.

We still had our mission to accomplish, so we found a deacon and asked to see the Patriarch's secretary. We were told that he was not there, so we asked who we could leave our CD of photographs with to make sure that the Patriarch would receive it. To our surprise, the deacon told us to wait to one side until the Patriarch exited the church in procession, and that we could give it to him ourselves!

The Patriarch of Constantinople is an extremely important world figure. He is the head of all of the Orthodox churches (Greek, Russian, Romanian, Bulgarian, American, etc.), and so the spiritual leader of approximately 300 million Orthodox faithful. He was included by Time magazine on their 2008 list of the 100 most influential people in the world, probably for his work to reconcile the Orthodox church with the Vatican, or for his struggle for the recognition of the history and traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church by the Turkish government. We had not really expected to be able to talk to him personally.

The Patriarch and the Pope in 2006, at the Patriarchate here in Istanbul.

We waited for awhile until the Patriarch came out with a group of deacons and monks from the behind the screen that closes off the east end of the church and began the ceremonial procession down the main aisle. We had expected Ivana to speak with him and pass the CD to him, but when he was a few steps away from us she suddenly turned to me and said, "Candace, I cannot, I cannot! I can't speak to the Patriarch! My legs are shaking! You have to do it!" It was probably best that she waited until the last moment, so I didn't have time to become nervous. I just stepped up quickly and told him who we were, where we had been, and that we had pictures of Sister Vespina for him. He nodded and said, "Oh yes, Apostolos Andreas." Then he took the CD and passed it to one of his attendants, stopped for a moment to bless the four of us and wish us Happy New Year, then continued on out of the church. It was all over in half a minute, but we will certainly remember it for a long time!

This experience definitely made for a special Christmas, and we feel good knowing that we did what little we could to bridge the sad gap, caused by divisive politics and violence, between Sister Vespina and the head of her church. Although it does not seem likely that the political situation will allow His All Holiness Patriarch Bartheolomew to visit Sister Vespina in the near future, Ivana will write her a letter now telling her that we spoke to the Patriarch about her and gave him pictures of her and her church; hopefully that will provide some comfort to her.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Candace's Birthday Party

Candace and her Cakes (Peter picked them out)

We just got back from Northern Cyprus, and we know some of you want to hear about that, but first we wanted to share some more time-sensitive things. This first post is really just an easy way to share some pictures with our family.

Just before we left for Cyprus last Saturday, Candace had a birthday party (her 32nd) on Thursday up on the rooftop terrace of our building. Several friends from the Fulbright program came, as well as Marco and Karen (our friends from the State Department), and a few other people that we have met since coming to Istanbul. And of course most of the Fellows were there as well. It was cold but fun! We only have a few photos, but here they are:

Us with our friends Volkan and Janset (Mom and Dad will recognize Volkan!)

Us again, with Candace in the cute hat and gloves Volkan and Janset gave her as a gift.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bayram and Topkapı Palace

This past week was one of the most important Muslim religious holidays, Kurban Bayramı. This Bayram commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son. In the Muslim tradition, the son that he was commanded to sacrifice was Ishmael, as opposed to Isaac as in the Biblical version of the same story. For devout Muslims, participating in Kurban sacrifices indicates their willingness to make sacrifices in the name of Allah. Although the meaning is figurative -- that is, they are signaling their willingness to sacrifice money, time, pride, and other intangibles, the sacrifices themselves are very real animal sacrifices.

Because Candace's dissertation deals with the sensory experience of the worship of the Roman emperors, which included blood sacrifice, this Bayram presented an amazing opportunity to really experience animal sacrifice in a way that is not possible in the United States. One of the Senior Fellows, Sait, was kind enough to arrange for a representative from the Department of Health, which oversees the sacrifices, to take us to one of the sacrificial sites.

Due to the graphic nature of the sacrifices we have decided not to blog about them. If anyone is interested in knowing more about it, or seeing pictures, let us know by email or posting a comment here.

Besides the sacrifices, Bayram is also a week-long holiday from work and school, and our neighborhood is a very popular one for holiday shopping and hanging out. Locals and tourists from other areas of Turkey come to Istanbul for the holidays, and many of them visit our street. Here are a couple of pictures to show the number of people that were here on our street over the last week!

Besides Bayram, not a lot has been going on here. The break was a good time for both of us to get some work done (Candace on her research, Peter on his artwork).

We also wanted to share some of Peter's pictures from our visit to Topkapı Palace a few weeks ago. Topkapı was the home of the sultans and their families from the 16th through the late 19th centuries, and is the location of the famous harem of the Ottoman royalty. There is much to see there. Besides the gorgeous architecture, Topkapı is the location of the treasuries that house the collections of jewels and other luxury objects collected by the sultans, as well as religious relics of Mohammad and other figures revered is Islam (such as Jacob and John the Baptist). There are also displays of armor and weapons of both the Ottoman armies and their historical allies and enemies. Rather than writing a lengthy discussion of the palace, we thought we would just post a few photos of our visit.

Main gate of the palace.

A model of the palace complex.

Tower on top of the divan, the room where the sultan and his advisors made governing decisions and received ambassadors.


The "throne room."

An interesting architectural design.

A luxurious room that includes typical examples of Ottoman stained glass, tilework, and woodwork inlaid with mother-of-pearl..

Interesting shadow on the tiles.

A passageway.

Candace in the interior courtyard of the harem. Τhose of you who have visited Topkapı realize how AWESOME it is that there is no one else in this picture!

One of the "harem women."


A man where he belongs!

Candace in the passageway outside the kitchens.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Bulgarian Border-Run

The picturesque Turkish-Bulgarian border.

As some of you already know, we just returned from spending a night in Bulgaria. We had to leave the country so that Peter could re-enter with a new visa, good for another three months. It was definitely an interesting experience.

We took the bus from Istanbul to Edirne, which is a town that boast 5 borders: two with Bulgaria and three with Greece. We were to cross the border at the point called Kapikule on the Turkish side, passing into the checkpoint known as Capitan Andreevo on the Bulgarian side. Our original plan involved catching a bus from Edirne to the small Bulgarian town of Svilengrad, near the border, where we had booked a hotel room for the night. Things did not go according to plan.

We arrived in Edirne without incident, then asked for a bus to Bulgaria. We were told to take a dolmus -- a van that is sort of a shared taxi that runs on a regular schedule -- into the center of Edirne and that we would be able to get a bus from there. When we got to the city center we asked for a bus to Bulgaria and were quickly herded onto yet another dolmus which took us to the border and put us out. Rather than waiting for a dolmus to take us back into town and attempting to find an actual bus into Bulgaria, we decided to make the crossing on foot.

From the moment we passed the first Turkish checkpoint, things began to look a little like the movie "Mad Max." The area between the borders is barren and desolate, with run-down, empty buildings on either side and a lot of construction. Apparently there will be, at some point, some very nice parking and shopping facilities, and multiple high-tech booths for cars to pass through customs and visa control. But for now there is only a lot of scrap metal, mud, and a series of small shacks staffed by Turkish border patrol who seem to have very little to do. There are no pedestrian lanes. Actually, there are no lanes at all, just a big open area that cars and buses occasionally pass through, so we had to watch our backs and be on the lookout for vehicles while we walked. We thought it was probably best not to be strolling through snapping lots of pictures of the border area, but Peter snuck a couple that give some idea of what it is like:

Empty checkpoints on the Turkish side of the border.

There was not really much to see on the Turkish side, other than a burning trash dumpster (see picture at top).
There is a duty-free shop, but the prices are as high or higher even than in regular stores in Turkey, so there seems to be no point to it.

After walking about a mile we reached the last Turkish checkpoint, only to be told that we had somehow missed an important earlier checkpoint and had to go halfway back to get our exit stamps from one of the little border patrol shacks. We finally made it to the first Bulgarian checkpoint, where the border guard did not want to give Candace an entry stamp because he did not recognize the additional visa pages that had been added to her passport. Luckily he was able to find a bare spot large enough for his stamp on one of the pages that had already been technically filled, or otherwise we might have had a problem! We are a bit nervous now that that might be an issue again in the future, but we don't really know what to do about it -- when your passport is full but not expired, the US government just adds the official additional visa pages, so what do you do if you travel so much? Maybe it was just that this particular border is not one where American citizens pass much so they did not recognize what they were seeing. We hope!
(We'll get back with you on this when we go to Cyprus in two weeks).

Once we made it through the Bulgarian checkpoints we were not sure how we would get the last 18 km to the town of Svilengrad. But there were several local men hanging out just inside the border, asking if we needed a "taxi" into town. Of course they were not really taxis, but we took one of them up on the offer since there were no marked taxis around. Our Bulgarian friend Rossitsa had told us that this might be a problem since very few people make the crossing on foot (we certainly didn't see anyone else doing it), and that the people waiting with cars at the border would try to charge the "stupid tourists" much more than a taxi would for the same ride. We are sure that this man did. We ended up paying 20 Bulgarian leva (about $13). However, in a country in which the average monthly income is about $400 U.S. dollars, we did not mind, for once, playing the role of "stupid tourist" and giving what was for us a small amount of money to someone who needed it much more than we do.

We made it into Svilengrad earlier than we had thought we would, since we made the crossing faster as two weirdos on foot than we would have as two of thirty people on a bus who all had to have their papers checked. This meant that we had plenty of time to stroll around the town and see what there is to see. That would be pretty much nothing.

The nicest building we saw in Svilengrad.

Svilengrad seems to be a dying city. There were few people walking around. Many buildings are derelict. There is quite a bit of new construction, mostly of cheap apartment complexes, but the overall feeling of the city is such that the buildings that are half-built seem less like they are being constructed than that they have decayed to that point. The general depressed air of the the town is greatly heightened by the tradition of hanging black and white posters all over town with the names and pictures of people who have recently died. They were tacked to houses, trees and telephone poles, and taped to fences. There were dozens and dozens of them, everywhere. Other examples of what make the town so strange and slightly creepy must be accidental. We can only assume that the name of this building is a mistranslation of "hostel":

The hotel that we had booked a room in turned out, on inspection, to be of questionable character. It's not just that it was not clean, but that it seemed to be a place where certain unsavory business transactions probably take place. We declined the room and found a vacancy in what is surely the nicest hotel in town. It set us back a mere $35 or so. That was the one good thing about Svilengrad -- everything is ridiculously cheap. Our meals cost about $7 for the two of us. A beer was $1. Candace even bought Lindt chocolate bars for about $.75, and socks for the same price. Yes, it is a little weird that we went sock-shopping, but clothes were SO cheap but yet we were going to have to carry everything we bought for the next 24 hours, so socks seemed like a good thing to pick up.

The next morning we got a real taxi back to the border. We noticed that the meter had only reached about 7 leva just shy of the border, when the driver suddenly turned the meter off, but again we did not balk when he asked us for 12 leva. "Stupid tourists" once again, we even tipped him an extra 2.

Then it was back across the border on foot. There was much more traffic passing from Bulgaria into Turkey, probably because Friday was the first day of the Bayram weekend. We will write more about the Kurban Bayram holiday after we really experience it this coming week, but it is a HUGE travel time for Turks, and there are many Turks living and working in Bulgaria and elsewhere in eastern Europe, who make their way back to family in Turkey for the week of Bayram. Whereas we had seen one or two cars the day before, there were 15 or 20 now waiting in the various lines at the border. Because there are no lanes dedicated to pedestrians, we had to stand in line between vehicles, just as if we were a car. Some drivers were happy to wave us in front of them, but others would have cheerfully run us down to keep their place in line, so we had to be very cautious.

So it was back across the border in reverse. Bulgarian exit stamp: check. Duty-free shop: check. Burning dumpster: check (yes, still burning). New Turkish visa for Peter: check. On the Turkish side it was easy to catch the same dolmus that had dropped us at the border the day before and make our way back into Edirene.

We made it back into the city by mid-morning and had plenty of time to look around. Edirne is a very pretty and interesting city, and well worth spending a day (or two). It was the capital of the Ottoman empire until the Turks captured Constantinople and moved their capital there, and many of the Sultans continued to spend time in Edirne even after the capital was moved. There are several very important and beautiful buildings there. In ancient times this area of Turkey, and into the southern Balkans, was known as Thrace. The men were world-renowned as expert horsemen. The Thracians were also highly prized fighters, and slaves taken here by the Romans were often trained as gladiators for the arena. The "Thracian" was even the name of a type of gladiator who fought with a curved sword or dagger and a small shield, whether they were actually from the geographical area or not. Spartacus, the gladiator who led the somewhat successful slave revolt against the Romans in 73 BC, proving that the Roman army was not invincible, was most likely a Thracian.

Ancient Edirne was founded by the Roman emperor Hadrian and named for himself -- Hadrianopolis. The only remains of the ancient city are part of the Roman wall, including a defensive tower:

Part of Hadrian's city wall. The top section of the tower is an Ottoman addition.

The area is technically an archaeological park, but is not frequently visited and was locked up when we arrived. We were peering through the gate when the caretaker showed up, let us in, and gave us a tour. There is really not much left to see, and what is there was built over in the Byzantine and modern periods, but there are the foundations of a church and a couple of Byzantine pottery kilns. After showing us around the small site, our guide took us to the mosque next door, which is called Üç Şerefeli Camii, or "Mosque of the three balconies" because one of the minarets has three separate balconies with three separate stairways so that three muezzins can stand on them at the same time and harmonize the call to prayer (although this is no longer done). You can see the tower with the three balconies behind the Roman tower in the picture above. The mosque was built in 1447 and is quite pretty on the inside, though heavily restored:

Interior of the Üç Serefeli Mosque

Our guide spent quite a bit of time telling us the history of the mosque, and we thought for sure he was going to expect some money for his trouble, but it turns out that it is the mosque where he and his family worship, and he just wanted to make sure that we saw it. After showing us around he happily went back to guarding the Roman ruins.

We visited two more mosques next. The Eski Camii (Old Mosque) was the first mosque of the city (built from 1403 to 1414). The decoration includes large calligraphic renderings of the names of the Mohammed and his followers. It was Peter's favorite:

Calligraphic decoration in the Eski Mosque.

The Dome of the Eski Mosque.

There is also restoration work going on on this mosque. The men were busily at work:

Next we visited the Selimiye Mosque. This is an extremely important building because it was built by the greatest of all Ottoman architects, Sinan, who also designed the Suleimaniye Mosque in Istanbul, as well as dozens of other buildings and bridges throughout the Ottoman empire. He considered the Selimiye his masterpiece, having designed it towards the end of his career when he was 80 years old (he lived to be 98). Although it is nowhere near as large as Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Sinan was able to make the dome a few centimeters greater in diameter than the dome of that famous building, an accomplishment of which he was justifiably proud. It is an impressive building. The other buildings in the complex house two museums with collections of Turkish calligraphy, metalwork, etc.

The Selimiye Mosque built by Sinan

The interior and dome of the Selimiye Mosque.

After that mosque we visited the archaeological museum. It was interesting, but nothing was particularly spectacular, compared with other archaeological museums in Turkey. After viewing it, we took a dolmus out to another neighorhood to visit the mosque complex of Beyazit II, built between 1484 and 1488. The mosque itself was empty and we had it all to ourselves. More interesting than the mosque, though, is the rest of the complex. It was constructed as a hospital and medical school, and it is now a Museum of Health. The rooms are filled with dioramas showing the original usages of the spaces. The tableaux are based on illustrations in Ottoman medical textbooks from the 15th century. Here are a couple of examples:

An Ottoman doctor operates on the head of a boy who has encephalitis.

Making a viper bite a rooster, which will then become the test case for perfecting an anti-venom.

It is really cool! The most interesting space is a large centralized hospital for the insane and depressed. It was the first centrally-planned hospital in the world, a design that allowed for greater efficiency on the part of the staff. It also meant that the central area could be filled with a fountain and an area for musicians to play, because the doctors thought that the sounds of water and music would soothe the "lunatic" patients. They were probably right, at least in some cases. Here are a couple of pictures of the crazies:

An insane patient.

A "lunatic" patient.

We highly recommend the museum to anyone who goes to Edirne, although it is a bit off the beaten path.

After taking a dolmus back to the city center, we traded it for yet another dolmus that took us outside of town in a different direction to Thracian University's campus, where there is a memorial commemorating the Turkish soldiers and civilians killed in and near Edirne during the Balkan Wars in 1912-13. It is particularly meant to commemorate 20,000 soldiers who were left to starve in nearby Sarayiçı:

The memorial is interesting, and the main building of Thracian University is the old Edirne train station, which is worth seeing:

An old Turkish train in the station. Can you find Candace in the picture?

After looking around, rather than catching a dolmus back to town we took advantage of the pleasant weather to walk about a mile and a half back, down a tree-lined street with farmland on either side. We stopped at the river and had tea overlooking a bridge built by Sinan, then caught a dolmus the remaining half-mile back into town. We made a quick stop in the covered bazaar (also designed by Sinan) to buy a local trinket -- a broom with a mirror and evil eyes on it. Edirne is still the nation's center for traditional broommaking and they attach mirrors to decorative brooms to further ward off evil. Here is a statue in the city center of a man performing traditional broom making, which apparently requires so much strength that the artisans must chain themselves to a fixed point in order to exert enough force to bind the brooms!

It was also in Edirne that we finally learned why it takes packages to and from Turkey so long to get to us. Check out the Turkish UPS truck:

After a quick dinner we got on yet another dolmus to ride out to the otogar and catch our bus back to Istanbul. All in all, we rode 9 different buses that day, which must be some kind of record! But we could leave saying that we really felt like we had seen Edirne. It would be worth going back to though.

What we were NOT expecting came at the end of the trip. Our bus to Istanbul was about 45 minutes late. Anyone who has done bus travel in Turkey knows that this is highly irregular. Usually the buses run like clockwork and if you are only halfway in when the bus is scheduled to leave, the driver will take off with you trailing out the door. But this time it was very late. When we arrived back in Istanbul a couple of hours later, we saw why. There were literally thousands of people at the bus station taking buses to visit their families for Bayram. We sat in lines and lines of buses, creeping towards the station, for hours. When we finally got to the main bus station we had to get on yet another bus to go to a smaller bus station to catch a dolmus to get back to our apartment. This is a process that normally takes 30 minutes, 45 at most. This time it took almost 3 hours. You just can't imagine the people! And of course everyone was making it worse by wandering all over the road on foot, or driving on the wrong side of the road to get ahead of traffic. It was a nightmare. We highly suggest that anyone traveling in Turkey try to avoid traveling on the first day of a Bayram. We certainly learned our lesson!

But we did make the trip successfully, and got Peter's new visa, which was the important thing. Now we have two weeks to rest before our next trip, to Cyprus.