EUROPEAN ADVENTURE 1999
Githio, GR to Didim, TR
October, 13 to November 1, 1999
28,082 miles (45,293 km) cumulative
Continue an olive and citrus grove filled exploration of the Peloponnese.
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
After several weeks hugging the beautiful Peloponnese coast with its fabulous blue/green crystal clear water it was time to head inland to see some of the mountains. The road climbed gradually from the coastal city of Githio past the ever present olive groves up onto the central plain of the Arcadia region. The borders of the Arcadia just about match the borders of the ancient Sparta realm. In just about the dead center lies the modern city of Sparta which was built right on top of the ancient ruins. There's not much remaining of the Sparta ruins, I suppose they were so busy concentrating on being warriors that they never had time for creating the magnificent buildings found in other cities. But the legacy of the Spartan regime is well known even today. Imagine, newborn babies found too weak were left to die of exposure. Boys from age 7 were taken from their mothers to begin training as a warrior. Training consisted mostly of learning to deal with depravation. They ran around barefoot, summer and winter, and were kept in a constant state of starvation which forced them to steal to survive. Boys caught stealing were flogged, not because they stole but because they got caught. Women went through rigorous physical training to ensure they bore healthy, strong warriors. You can easily understand why this life would lead to one bunch of mean, tough dudes. I think I would have preferred living in Athens where art, literature, philosophy, and science reigned.
Although the Spartan ruins may be a bit, well spartan is the best word to use, the Byzantine ruins of the fortress and towns of Mystras more than compensate. Just a few km west of the modern city of Sparta lies a high, dunce cap cone shaped hill whose peak must be more than 100 m above the surrounding valley. The eastern edges of the cone are covered with tumbled stone walls and several complete churches left over from the upper and lower towns of Mystras. The many monasteries and convents are nearly intact. Each has the sandy brown colored walls and bright orange tile roofs so common to churches in this area. The tops are circular in shape and the tile roofs are formed into shallow domes. Inside, frescos from the 15th through 17th centuries still grace many of the walls. Lacking any of the phenomenal marble carvings of the more northern European churches, the frescos were added to create a sense of splendor. Every wall, nook, cranny, ceiling was stuccoed and then painted with some holy representation or another.
Despite all the fabulous churches and eerie walls and vacant buildings scaling the hillside, the crowing achievement of those early 13th century builders is the fortress. Set smack on top of this nearly vertical cone are the enormous serrated walls of the Frankish castle. It was built by Guillaume de Villehardouin around 1240 AD and became the seat of government for much of Morea. Views from its walls were outstanding, extending down the Sparta valley to the south and north as well as across to the mountains in the east and west. We scrambled up the steep hill to the castle immediately upon our arrival at the site, to get there before the tour groups. As we sat upon the fortress walls, looking straight down at the modern houses below, up comes a short brown haired man bearing a small daypack. He walks up to the wall opposite where we were sitting and extends his arms in both directions trying to take in the spectacular scenery. Plopping himself down on the wall, he promptly proclaims that this would be the most beautiful spot he has ever eaten breakfast in his entire life. Out of his pack comes a small handkerchief, instant table cloth, loaf of bread, jelly, and chocolate spread. He slices a few pieces of bread, spreads it across the kerchief, and takes a picture. A memento of his breakfast on the high walls of Mystras. We asked if he wanted the photo with him in it. "No, never me. It'll break the camera," he said. He was right, it was a most spectacular spot in which to dine on breakfast.
Modern Sparta is a bustling, busy town. Recreated in 1823 under the orders of King Otto, it was designed by a German architect to have a rectangular street pattern with wide avenues. It should have been able to handle lots of traffic. However, Greeks being rather cavalier about parking regulations, tend to double or even triple park where ever the mood suits them. Consequently traffic snarls are quite common. The corresponding danger to cyclists is the frequent opening car doors along the sides of the road. Brian very nearly got caught by someone flinging open a door without looking. We quickly learned the way around the main center of town along the more quiet back alleys. As we rode out of town we were quite overjoyed to get away from the central traffic mess.
Sparta is located in a wide agricultural filled valley ringed by mountains on the east, west, and north. To ride anywhere usually entails a climb up some steep grade. For one afternoon, we mounted the bikes and took off down some back road making a good attempt at getting lost. Small dirt or paved roads lead everywhere. Within a few short kilometers we'd climbed well above the surrounding city, even above the towering fortress of Mystras, to find ourselves among tiny villages clinging to high mountainsides. Looking back down across the lower foothills and the valley we got a bird's eye view of all those little back roads snaking their way among the numerous citrus and olive groves. Greece is mountain biker's paradise just begging to be discovered. Yet, hardly anyone rides bikes among the hills. One Italian acquaintance said, "Greeks don't like to do anything that requires sweat." Still, there's a book on on and off road biking in Greece just waiting to be written. A full book could be written just on the Peloponnese alone.
From Sparta we headed north to the large town of Tripoli. Within 5 km of leaving Sparta we began what was to be a 20 km steep climb followed by a 2 km descent and another 10 km climb. Sparta, we believe, has an elevation of around 1000 ft. To climb nearly constantly for a good 30 km would put us at close to 5000 ft or more. That makes for one tough long climb for the day. Tripoli must be at an elevation of around 3000 ft and is situated in a high and wide mountain valley. It is surrounded by gray barren mountain peaks that give way to huge apple orchards in the valley. Apples are a big crop for the area and several well stocked apple stands greeted us as we rode towards the city. Each stand has one attendant, usually the lady of the house, who has to sit all day waiting for the occasional customer to stop. They didn't seem to be doing anything except sit. I think I'd at least find something to keep me occupied. We already had our apples for the next day's breakfast and since we had a few more km of climbing ahead, we chose not to stop.
Before hitting the traffic congestion of Tripoli, we turned right to head into the apple fields. Passing the town of Alea we were amazed to see the toppled rocks of the former Greek temple of Athina Alea just sitting there in the center of the town. Apart from a chain link fence and one sign saying what it was, there was no ticket booth, no tour buses, no tourists of any kind. That's one thing that's so incredible about Greece, there are so many ruins scattered about that you're bound to come across something dating from over 2000 years past in some of the most surprising places. A few km later we rejoined the main road headed to Argos having managed to bypass Tripoli all together. Our experience with riding through Greek towns having over 10,000 inhabitants has not been overly pleasant so finding a route around one is a definite plus. We climbed one more rise to cross the mountain peaks that guard the eastern portal to Tripoli's fertile valley and then proceeded to look for a campsite.
Free camping in the mountains of Greece is a bit of a challenge. There are plenty of places that are relatively uninhabited and the people are so friendly making security not an issue. It's just that it's often difficult to find a spot that is reasonably flat and is not covered with large, sharp boulders. The Peloponnese is a rocky, rugged mountainous peninsula. We left the main road, which continued its climb along the edge of the mountain, to follow a quiet rural road that dipped back into the valley. We didn't want to descend too far as the more we went down the more we'd have to climb the next day. Stop after stop we searched for some not too rocky, flat campsite. Finally, a couple of km down, we located a recently tilled olive grove in which to pitch our tent. It wasn't the flattest spot we've ever found, but certainly the dirt was soft and there were no boulders. It also looked as though we'd have the entire place to ourselves, or so we thought. We set up the tent, pulled out our plastic shower curtain liner that now is used as a floor mat, made up our chairs, and sat down to admire our view of the surrounding mountains and olive grove filled valley. The sounds of the bells hanging from the necks of each and every goat trickled down from the hills. The "oooooo eeeee", "yip yip yip", or "hay ya" emanating from the throats of the goat herders added to the pastoral setting. Brian even tried his hand at goat herding, clapping his hands and yelling to shoo the goats away from the olive trees under which we'd camped.
From behind there came a yell. I turned to see a tall, skinny young man with curly brown hair. He wore dirt covered pants, a green long sleeved shirt, and tattered shoes. He carried the traditional crook used by sheep and goat herders since the animals were first domesticated. He bounded across the plowed olive grove headed right in our direction. "Uh oh", we thought. We're getting tossed out. But no. His face was covered with a bright grin as he reached out his hand to shake ours. He wanted to know where we were from. "America" we said. He then spouted off the only two English words he knew, "yes" and "OK". It never ceases to amaze me how common that old political adage has become. Our goat herder host didn't stay long. He'd just dropped in to chase the goats away from the olive trees, a job Brian had already accomplished. He shook our hands once again and was soon bounding off across the rocky slopes continuing to push his herd downhill. I wonder, he must know every nook, rock, crevasse of this hillside by heart. Later that evening another farmer in a pick-up truck drove up the dirt road to the olive grove, looked around for a bit, and then left. Making no comment about these two crazy bikers camped in his grove, he simply waved. It seems it'd take a lot to rattle these folks.
We had camped high in the mountains, tucked against one of the rocky hillsides. Throughout the night thunder and lightening storms streamed from west to east overhead. It poured most of the night. The morning found us high and dry lying upon well drained soil. Dark clouds whisked across the sky and drizzle threatened to keep us wet most of the day. But our route was to the east, back to the coast and sea level where we could see clear skies and sunshine. During a brief respite in the rain, we quickly packed up and headed off hoping to reach the sunny side of the hill before the next cloud burst. We reached our final peak in the climb and then looked down upon one of the most amazing roads we'd seen in Greece. Like a ribbon, it twisted and turned back and forth, zigzagging its way down the nearly vertical mountain wall. Turns were 180 degrees, hairpin appearing almost as full loops from above. It was a 20 km long rip roaring , twisting down that seemed to just go on forever. That's perhaps one of the best rewards of bike touring, what goes up eventually gets to come down and often that down is spectacular.
Upon hitting the flat valley we had to make our way through another one of Greece's traffic snarled towns. Argos, laid out in the flat valley filled with orange groves, is said to be Greece's longest continuously inhabited town. In fact, the valley was the seat of the earliest known civilization of mainland Greece, the Mycenaeans. Just east of Argos lies the ruins of one major Mycenaean city, Tirens, and to the northeast lies another, Mycenae. Mycenae is the city made so famous by Homer's epic poems as it was the home of the great king Agamemnon. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the Illiad and Odessy is the fact that until the late 1800s people considered the poems to be pure fiction or mythology. After all, the stories are filled with gods and goddesses as well as real historical people. Achilles, of the Achilles heel fame, Nestor, Paris, Parim, Hector, and Helen of Troy are just a few of the more famous characters. It took a man named Henrich Schliemann, who happened to be a self made millionaire, who could finance his own excavations, who happened to have an obsession about the Homer epic, and who happened to be an amateur archeologist, albeit a bit unorthodox by both today's and late 1800's standards, to find the truth. I recall reading about him in high school. What made him so different for his time is that he took the words from Homer quite literally. While others may have searched in vain for the famous Troy and Mycenae, he just read the directions from the book. The description of the location was sufficient for him to find both. Although, it is said that another man named Carter actually discovered Troy as it was located on his own land and he'd already been poking around a bit. Carter didn't have the finances to do his own excavations, so after showing Schliemann the spot, Schliemann took over both the excavations and the credit for locating it. In any event, Schliemann's name is now inextricably linked with both sites despite his less than careful approach to excavations.
To visit the sites of both Tirens and Mycenae is almost spiritual. Standing in the middle of the palace of each site is to stand among structures built over 3400 years ago, long before Christ, long before Socrates, Alexander, Caesar, and Homer. Even the Olmecs of Central America came after. To think that for 400 years people were born, lived, and died upon this small acropolis of a city. What were their daily lives like? How did they view each other, their surroundings, nature, technology? What did they eat and drink? How did they trade? What defined wealth, poverty, and their class system? Today we can only imagine the answers through the small glimpses the Archeologists give us. All that remains to view are rocks, lots and lots of enormous rocks, somewhat cut to rectangular shapes piled one atop the other to form walls and foundations. The walls surrounding the cities are enormously thick, over 7 meters (25 ft) in Tirens, and are made from rocks that weigh many, many tons. Ancient Greeks thought that Cyclops must have been used to build the walls hence the name "cyclopean" wall. The foundations of the houses are made from rocks that don't appear to have been cut, just piled and chinked where necessary. Archeologists say that above the foundations, the house walls were made from air dried brick. An adobe type structure. The bricks haven't survived, but the foundations give a good feel for the lay of the towns.
Tirens, located closer to the sea coast than Mycenaea, is far less dramatic and far less visited. Yet even here you can spend hours wandering as there's always something new popping up. There's an interesting drainage system that takes water from two directions and funnels it into an underground storage system. There area also has a lot of walls outlining the former palace and other houses, plus that amazingly thick defensive town wall.
Mycenaea, on the other hand, has a spectacular view. Another 9 km further from the sea, it still has sea coastal views, a necessary feature during times of war. Its most spectacular and photographed items are the grave circle A, the huge stone bearing two carved lions supporting a column above the main gate, the palace court, the reception room, the bedroom where Agamemnon was murdered by his wife, and the treasury of Atreus which was actually a beehive tomb. Grave circle A, a place where the royalty were buried, consists of 2 walls of rectangular stone slabs standing on end making two concentric circles ranging from 3 to 5 ft high. The two walls were originally capped by another set of stone slabs as evidenced by the notches cut on each vertical slab. Its purpose seems to have been to make one very thick wall surround the graves. Within were found 6 pit graves, each about 3 meters in depth, rectangular in shape, and lined by carefully placed stones. It is within these pits that Schliemann found many of his most famous artifacts. However, stunning and imaginative this circle may be, it's the bee hive graves that really draw attention. There are 2 at the site, one right next to the acropolis and the other a few hundred meters down the street. These are underground chambers lined with rock. Each is shaped like a beehive, hence the name. Entrance to the chamber is along a 25 meter passage lined on either side with enormous rocks that were carefully cut to fit. A tall rectangular door frame made entirely of rectangular rocks and a small triangular passage above the door are the only entrances to the tomb. The purpose of the triangular passage above the door was to distribute the load of the wall above to the side columns rather than have it rest on the top horizontal slab. This shos good knowledge of load bearing capabilitie by the ancients, or else lots of experimentation. At one time each doorway was decorated with carved and painted rocks, but these decorations have since been removed to various museums. Inside each tomb were found not only the bodies but tons of gold, jewelry, pottery, statues, etc. They were tombs that somehow managed to escape the pillaging that so many other tombs experienced and Schliemann was one very lucky person to have found them.
Three hours is what we spent up on the Mycenaea acropolis. There was so much to look at, so many nooks to peer into. Yet we found it terribly amusing to watch the numerous bus tours that descended upon the site. While it is not only possible, but encouraged, for you to wander just about anywhere you please or can gain a sure footage, the rocks are quite slippery, the bus tours stop at only 4 locations, the front gate, the grave circle, the palace, and the furthest beehive tomb. That's it. The time they spend at the site is probably at most 1 hour. They are then immediately hustled off to a nearby restaurant where they probably spend another hour or so eating, then a stop at a tourist junk store where they get to spend another hour or so shopping, and then off to the hotel which is likely somewhere between Mycenaea and their next stop, Mystras or Olympia where they spend the rest of the evening doing nothing. Yuck. How in the world anyone can spend their money and time on one of these bus tours where the concept of delaying an extra hour or day to see something of particular interest is not even considered is beyond me. It's no wonder bus tour types develop a pushy attitude to other visitors at a site. They've paid a ton money and get only an hour or so to "see it all". I'll stick to independent travel, thank you very much.
We dallied around Mycenaea for 2 full days. After all there were the ruins to visit, a really great grocery store within a short 10 km ride, the campground was nice and shady, and opportunities for day rides to the pretty seaside city of Nafplio and around through the orange groves abounded. After this we were headed back to the mainland of Greece and the noise of the booming megalopolis of Athens, a city we weren't looking forward to riding into. We did have to leave, finally, and make our way north over a few more hills and then across the Corinth canal. What a shock the canal was. It connects two very important bodies of water making the travel distance from the major, and I do mean super major, port of Piraeas to Patras and then on to Italy significantly shorter. It's not very long, maybe 15 km at most, but it is quite deep at the center. Yet for it to take from 67 AD until the 1800s to complete is unbelievable. You would have thought even just one man with pick and shovel could have gotten it done long before then. But, hey, political moods swing back and forth and interest in the canal followed suit. We crossed at the most eastern end on the old National road which passes directly above the water on an unusual submersible bridge. Far above and further to the west we could see the three bridges of the other crossings. Thus with the exception of these four bridges, the Peloponnese is now actually a man made island, more or less. It does have the more quiet and relaxed feel of an island.
The majority of the remaining 70 km into Athens was fairly good. Once past the smelly, belching refineries just beyond the canal, the old road skirts along the sea coast passing through small coastal communities that appear to be fairly affluent. Even riding through the larger towns isn't so much an ordeal, despite the Greek passion for haphazard parking. It was after we hit the town of Elefisina on the outskirts of the city of Athens that the riding became a nightmare. Elefisina, a city of high traffic, horn happy Greeks, suicidal motorscooter riders, trucks and cars parked everywhere, was torture. But, the final 2 km uphill ride just after Elefisina and right before Athens was awful. The road is wide, or at least has a wide shoulder that some drivers seem to think is an extra lane just for them. However, the traffic. Wow! Even for a Sunday it was nonstop. On weekdays we quickly discovered it was even far worse as each and every morning there was a stop and go traffic jam right outside Camping Athens a full 7 km out of town. Athen's traffic problems seem to be manifold. First there are few dedicated mass transit lines, such as trams. This will hopefully be alleviated a bit when the new metro lines are completed in the year 2000. Next, the Greek parking behavior causes traffic stoppages all the time. There are no limited access highways that lead around, above, or under the city. And the Greeks are all busy trying to buy cars as quickly as possible. One day we took a bus across town, from the camping ground to the town of Glyfada, a distance of just 25 km. It involved 2 bus trips and a walk, pushing the suitcases, of around 1 km. The total time involved was 3 hours. Going back, minus the suitcases, took 2 hours. A bus ride of 7 km that took 1 hour required only 1/2 hour by bicycle. On bike one has the big advantage of being able to scoot around traffic jams. After seeing the traffic mess the Athens citizens have to contend with each and every day I've concluded there's no way you could get me to live in that city.
We stayed in Athens several days spending much of the time preparing for our journey through Turkey. We'd decided to leave the camping equipment behind, along with the ultra heavy trailers, and give ourselves a bit of a treat by staying in pensions and cheap hotels as well as eating in a few restaurants. Turkey is cheap, double rooms in pensions costing around $10 US in off season including breakfast. We'd been paying that much and more to sleep in a tent all summer long. So why not take advantage of it. Besides, camping is not a big thing in Turkey, campgrounds would be closed, and wild camping usually draws a crowd of curious on lookers who are much more interested in staring at the foreigners camped in their fields than in watching reruns of old American TV shows. We hear that even in some of the remotest regions crowds still gather. We'd rather avoid that.
We did take one day to see some of the magnificent National Archeological Museum. It happened to be the Greek national holiday called "Ohi", meaning "No", which is the day Greece said "No" to Mussolini's request to send troops across Greece. For us this meant the museum's 2000 dr fee was waved. Free's good. Once inside we concentrated our visit on viewing those artifacts found from the Mycenaea cities we'd already visited. Whereas the city remains seem to be piles of gargantuan rocks that were barely cut to make pseudo rectangular forms, the jewelry, statues, pottery an other items found in the tombs show an intricacy that would rival anything made today. I was particularly struck by an amazingly delicate gold chain used to hold a barrel shaped gold bead. The chain was as fine as any I've seen today. One could spend days and days in the museum, but one drawback of national holidays means shorter hours. We only got to see about 1/3 of the rooms. It'll be a place we need to revisit someday.
Our trip over to Turkey was fairly uneventful. An overnight ferry deposited us on the dock of Vathy on the pleasant Greek island of Samos at the wee hour of 6 AM. We had to wait for the sun to come up and the Greeks, not your early rising types, to begin stirring,. We bought our ferry tickets to Turkey, after waiting for several travel agents to open so we could get a price a good 3000 dr less than the official rate, and then headed out for a short 66 km ride of the north coast. The narrow 2 lane road took us into the surprisingly lush, green hills and then dropped us beside the incredibly blue/green sea waters for a spectacular ride right along the water's edge. Back into the hills again and then another drop to the water to the village of Karlovasi. Not a particularly interesting town, but a good place to eat lunch and turn back around. We returned to Vathy with a good 1 1/2 hours to spare. It would have been nice to spend more time on the island, but with the tourist season dropping off dramatically, the number of ferries going to Turkey was being cut to few a week. "When the boat fills it goes. Otherwise, not." we were told. There was definitely going to be a ferry that afternoon. The next day, maybe. After that, who knew. We decided to go with the sure bet and leave that day.
It was a rough crossing. Expecting another of those huge ferries that could handle perhaps a hundred cars and many more passengers, we were rather surprised at what showed up. The tiny boat, appropriately named the Sultan I, could carry at most 50 passengers and maybe 1 or 2 cars on the back. That's it. The wind was howling and sea swells a good 20 ft high. The boat pitched up and down, side to side, fore and aft for the 2 hours, much longer than usual, needed to reach the opposite shore. Needless to say there were a lot of very green people on board and a lot of very happy people to get off. I managed to do just fine. In small boats I do OK. It's the big ones that really get me.
Stepping off the ferry into the bustling Turkish city of Kusadasi we became instant billionaires. Bill Gates look out. No we didn't hit the lottery. It's the Turkish Lira value. At a rate of 480,000 lira (no I did not slip in an extra zero or two or three) to the dollar becoming a millionaire is a piece of cake. Even to be a billionaire is no problem. To bad it's not real. Go to a restaurant to buy a large pizza and it'll cost you 2.7 million. An ice cream cone 500,000. Now I had thought that buying a car in Italy was a real heart stopper. Imagine buying one in Turkey. A whopping 3.6 billion lire for an el cheapo Lada. A Porche will set you back 165 billion. Also the rate is changing constantly. The rate of lira deflation is well over 100% per year. A mere 4 years ago it was around 78,000 to the dollar. Two years ago around 200,000. In any guide book costs for most hotels and tourist attractions are quoted in US dollars as the Lira rate changes far too fast. We arrived with the value running around 470,000 to the dollar. By the time we leave it'll be over 500,000.
Ah Turkey, an exotic land of camels, sultans, elegant harem ladies, Islam, and mosques. Actually the Turkey of today is quite western, thanks to the efforts of one Mustafa, Kemel Ataturk. But, I get ahead a bit. Backing up, if the history of Greek civilization is a gazillion years old, then the Turk history is a gazillion plus one. Nomads were moving throughout the region well over 100,000 years ago. But more importantly, remains of the oldest agrarian settlement known in the entire world is located in Turkey just east of the capital Ankara, a village called Catal Hoyuk. Inhabited somewhere around 7,500 B.C. it had streets, boulevards, and squares. We won't get to visit the site this year, but it's definitely a place we plan to see someday.
From the earliest time the histories of Greece and Turkey are nearly inseparable, at least the western part of Turkey that is. At times the Greeks, such as Alexander, controlled much of current Turkey territory and at other times, the Ottoman empire, the Turks controlled Greece. There were also times when the Romans controlled both. So to talk of the ancient Turkish history is to talk about much of Greece's ancient history. In brief, the Proto-Hittite and Hittite people established themselves in the area during the Old and Middle Bronze Ages (2900-1200 B.C.) which overlaps the time of the great Egyptian empire. The 10 year long Trojan war, starting in 1250 B.C. was between the Hittite empire and the Achaean Greeks, Mycenaeans. But by this time the Hittites were on the decline and were finally swept aside when the Aegean Turkey coast was overrun by Greeks fleeing the Dorian invasions.
After the Hittites several smaller states took their place. The Phrygians and Mysians invaded from the Thrace region in the north-west and established a kingdom centered on the city of Gordium just 106 km southwest of Ankara. It's most famous ruler, King Midas (715 B.C.) of the golden touch. The Aegean coast from around the modern city of Milas to Fethiye was populated by native people and Greek invaders. This region was called Ionia and is responsible for one of today' most recognizable architectural features, the Ionian capital used on top of many columns. Further east were the kingdoms of Lydia, Fethiye to Antalya, and Pmaphylia, east of Antalya. Over the years Lydia grew to dominate the entire Ionia region and was based on the large city Sardis located 60 km east of Izmir. It is famous for a great invention created by King Croesus (680-547 B.C.), coinage. Far to the east were another group, the Urartians, somewhere around Lake Van. There were also the Cimmerians who invaded Anatolia, conquered Phrygia, and settled down to add to the eclectic mix of cultures in the region. It was the invasion by the Persians in 547 B.C. that brought the Ionian civilization to a close.
In his short 13 years rule, Alexander the Great managed to toss out the Persians and for the first time unite western and eastern cultures. But soon after his death in 323 B.C., his empire was divided among his generals. Lysimachus took western and central Anatolia but was then slain by Seleucus, king of Seleucid lands from 305 to 280 B.C. Most of Anatolia remained under Seleucid rule through the remainder of the next century. Next came the Celts in 279 B.C. They established a kingdom called Galatia based in Ancyra (modern Ankara) while a kingdom called Pontus based in Trebizond (Trabzon) ruled the east. There were several other small kingdoms, Bithynia near Bursa and an Armenian kingdom in the southeastern region. The most powerful and impressive kingdom was Pergamum which, by the time Eumenes II (197-159 B.C.) became king, stretched from the Dardanelles to the Taurus mountains near Syria. The last Pergmum king died heirless in 133 B.C. and bequeathed his kingdom to the Roman empire which brought most of Turkey under Roman rule for the next 3 centuries.
By 250 A.D. Roman rule was falling apart. The Goths attached the Aegean sea ports while the Persians once again threatened from the east. It was in 324 that Constantine took the Roman Empire and established its seat in the city of Constantinople, now Istanbul. So while the Roman empire wilted away, the eastern remnants remained strong for some time. On his deathbed, Constantine adopted Christianity thus calling curtains on the ancient Roman and Greek cults. While barbarians swept through most of Europe, Emperor Justinian (527-65 A.D.) brought the great eastern Byzantine Empire to its greatest strength. He retook Italy, the Balkans, Anatolia, Egypt and North Africa. His successors, while good, weren't good enough and the conquests were soon overtaken by other forces.
Muhammad was born in the city of Mecca in the year 570 A.D. In 612 or so, while meditating, he heard the voice of God commanding him to 'recite'. These recitations, written down by family and friends, would later be assembled into a book called the Koran. Many folks in Mecca didn't care for Muhammed's teachings and he was forced to flee. But within a short 50 years, the armies of Islam returned to conquer everybody from the city of Medina back to Mecca and then on to Persia and Egypt to eventually knock at the door to Constantinople. He was succeeded by 2 great dynasties ruled by caliphs, the Umayyads (661-750) based in Damascus and the Abbasids (750-1100) based in Baghdad. Both continually challenged the Byzantium.
Now finally came the true Turks. Turkish armies data back to the reign of the Abbasid caliph Al-Mutasim (833-42). He formed an army of Turkish captives and mercenaries that became a formidable strength. They were so strong, in fact, that later caliphs found their protecting army had become their masters. The first great Turkish state to rule Anatolia was the Great Seljuk Turkish Empire (1037-1109). They stormed out of Central Asia, taking Baghdad plus the entire Anatolia region along the way. They soon ruled over Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. The Suljuks were a short lived empire, however, soon to be replaced by the Ottomans. The crusades of the 1000s to 1200s did more to firmly establish Turkey as a Muslim state than it did to keep it in the hands of the Christians. The unruly, ragtag bunch of the forth crusade skipped heading for the holy city of Jerusalem and instead sacked the Christian city of Constantinople instead. Leaving behind chaos, the Byzantines remaining in the city were quickly overtaken by the Ottomans, followers of a leader named Osman, in 1453. The great era of Ottoman power began and was not to be defeated until the Turkish war of Independence, 1920-1922.
As W.W.I. came to a close, so did the reign of the Ottomans. They made the fateful decision of siding with the German and Austrians during the war. In addition, western powers had long had their eyes on the Ottoman empire which just prior to the war, in 1912, included all of Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, southern Italy, as well as parts of Georgia, Armenia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Egypt. Even before the end of the war the allies were promising pieces of the pie to countries who gave them assistance, promises they could not necessarily keep. The Kusadasi area was to go to the Greeks. So after the war, when it appeared that Kusadasi was not forth coming, the Greeks invaded with more or less British blessing and maybe even encouragement. They took Kusadasi and marched on to the front door of Ankara with little resistance. To the rescue came one strong willed Turkish general named Mustafa Kemel. A strong willed bastard, as a woman we met called him, he had already distinguished himself during W.W.I. and was considered a national hero. He managed to muster the Turkish forces, turn back and then even expel the Greeks. The treaty of Lausanne signed in 1923 left the Turkish and Greek borders pretty much as they are today. Kemel then went beyond. In 1922 Mustafa Kemel decided it was time for a more democratic rule and he turned on the rulers. The Ottomans were deposed, a parliamentary form of government was put in place, and Kemel was placed as head of the government resigning his military commission at the same time.
Often the man who has the strength to precipitate a revolution doesn't have the ability to carry on with his vision after the fighting is over. Kemel was one of the few who did. He had a strong vision of what the modern Turkey should be like and he pulled it off. He separated church and state, secularized marriage, legalized divorce, instituted all sorts of reforms, and even passed a few unusual laws such as requiring everyone to take a last name. His name became Kemel Ataturk, Ataturk meaning father turk. Today he is considered quite a hero, sort of like our own George Washington, and to speak badly about him in any manner is quite a no no. However, as our George, he was not a saint. He was quite brutal to the Armenians and Kurds who were not included in his grand plan for Turkey. He died on November 10, 1938 of, well let's just say a bit too much raki passed those stern lips.
Turkey managed a precarious neutrality during W.W.II, becoming a real hot seat for spies spying on other spies. Since the war it's been pretty much business as usual. Corrupt governments are elected. The finances of the country are woefully mismanaged. People just go on about their daily lives getting along despite government's intervention. The only real unusual events have involved the island of Cyprus, the main cause of friction between Turks and Greeks today. In 1974 Turkey invaded the northern section of Cyprus and still maintains a hold on about 1/3 of the island. To hear the story from the Greek and news point of view it sounds as if Turkey is the bad guy. However we happened to meet an Austrian who was on Cyprus at that time. She says that the Greeks actually were the instigators. The Greek government encouraged harassment of the Turks, I suppose in an effort to get them to leave voluntarily. For example a Greek owned company that happened to employ Turks would be told to fire all the Turks. They created such an intolerable situation that Turkey finally invaded to give their own kind a place of refuge. The Cyprus problem remains unresolved even today.
One interesting historical aside for Turkey happens to involve our cherished Christmas icon Santa Claus. The famous 4th century bishop named Nicholas lived in the Turkish town of Demre. He used to drop bags of gold coins down chimneys of houses of doweryless girls thus allowing them to marry. This is why he is the patron saint of virgins. He later became the patron saint of almost everyone, sailors, children, pawnbrokers, Holy Russia, you name it. But believe me, our concept of a Santa Claus living in a snow laden country couldn't be further from the truth. It's more like southern California scrub and there ain't no snow.
The ferry from the Greek island of Samos dropped us at the town of Kusadasi. Kusadasi is one of those towns that you will either love or hate, depending on your disposition towards the ultra touristy type of place. It reminded us a lot of Cancun. The beach front is lined with high priced, western style hotels, restaurants, and tourist shops. An environment that is so completely unlike the rest of Turkey that it's questionable whether one can claim a visit to here as truly a visit to Turkey at all. The further away you get from the beach the more the houses become rundown, the more dilapidated things get, the more litter is found on the streets, the fewer foreigners you find, the friendlier people become, and the more Turkish the city is. Down by the water front you'll find yourself constantly accosted by the ever present Turkish carpet touts. Walk by any shop, doesn't matter which one, and the tout, always standing outside on the alert for a new victim, will start with the usual "Where are you from?" Make the mistake of stopping and you'll soon find yourself inside buying a carpet you didn't want in the first place at a price you never would have thought to pay. We learned that if you really do want a Turkish carpet your best bet is to go to one of the nontourist towns where they are made, such as Milas. Better yet, if you happen by a farm where the lady of the house is beating her carpets clean, make an offer. I'd be willing to bet you'll get a much better value and much better quality. I guarantee the Turkish women know how to get a good carpet for the best price.
Within a few short hours we got our first introduction to the Muslim life, or at least the daily call to prayers. Each and every small town has at least one mosque recognizable by its tall, skinny rocket shaped minaret Large towns seem to have a mosque on every corner. Mounted on each minaret are large speakers pointed in all directions. No less than 5 times a day the loudspeakers come to life and the ululating wail of the call to prayers emanates at decibels loud enough to be heard in every corner of the city. It starts in the wee hours of the morning just before the sun rises. The call will come from each minaret, each caller has his own style, and they won't be quite in sync with each other. It sounds eerie, sad, more like a funeral dirge than a call to perform a spiritually uplifting duty. We were told the message goes something like "Allah is great. Allah is the one god. Come pray to Allah." But the warbling of the voice is far more disturbing than comforting. Yet I suppose a more cheerful call might seem a bit frivolous. In any event, for the tourist it takes a bit getting used to as the call happens daily, each and every day of the year, 5 times a day and we westerners aren't quite used to that I did notice that even though the call was quite regular it appeared to me that the followers did not necessarily head the call every time. Shops stayed open and people continued to go about their daily lives. Let's say I didn't see anyone suddenly drop to their knees in the middle of the sidewalk to perform a series of bows in response to the call. So I had to wonder if the Turkish faithful were starting to go the way of more western Christians, not quite so serious about praying every day. Certainly the younger women are forgoing the traditional scarf headwear for the most part.
The one and only reason to visit Kusadasi is to use it as a base from which you can visit the fabulous ruins of Ephasus. Located a mere 20 km north of Kusadasi, 30 minutes by the Turkish mini buses called dolmus, it is world renowned as being the best preserved ancient ruins on the entire Mediterranean. Legend claims that the city was founded by Androclus, son of King Codrus of Athens. Legend has it he selected the site based on a prediction provided by an oracle. Oracles in ancient Greek times were older women who were sort of cloistered in various sacred places, such as Delphi in Greece. They were given whiffs of special vapors or drinks from certain springs. After ingestion of the potion they would mumble incoherent nonsense which was then interpreted by the invariably male priests. I suspect the priests kept the women well drugged. The message was in the form of some poem and usually required a lot of interpretation by the recipient. Legend says that when Androclus went to the oracle to ask where the city of Ephasus should be located the oracle responded, select the site chosen by the fish and boar. One day he and some fishermen were cooking a lunch of fish by a river. One of the fish, somehow not quite dead, jumped out of the fire igniting a nearby bush. A boar, frightened by the fire, took off from hiding. Thus the site was selected. In reality, the site had been considered sacred for some time and it was also considered a good harbor for boats. This was probably the more accurate reason for the site's selection.
Ephasus became one of the most important cities of the Mediterranean, second only to Alexandria at first and then Rome later. It was an enormous center for trade as well as a sacred site. Some of it's most important achievements included a medical center as well as a library containing 12,000 scrolls. It was visited by St. Paul and legend claims that Mary spent her last days nearby, sometime between 37-45 AD. It was the river that provided that original fish that spelled the end to the importance of Ephasus. The harbor into which the river emptied was long and narrow. Silt from the river quickly filled in the bay. By the 6th century AD the harbor was no longer usable. Today the river has silted in so much that the coastline is now a full 4 km to the west.
Once you shove your way past the trinket salesmen selling everything from miniature plaster Hellenistic statues to postcards you find yourself battling hoards of bus tour travelers all following the exact same route through the site. It follows the path of the marble paved sacred way from the agora, market place, in the saddle between the two hills to the grand theater at the bottom of the hill. We quickly discovered that the bus tours don't deviate from their route, so a short wander down some side path quickly led to more secluded spots. We walked in the opposite direction, against the tide of humanity, but did so in the middle of the afternoon when most bus tours were stopped for their obligatory 2 hour Turkish style lunch far away. It proved to be a quite pleasant visit. The original marble paving of the sacred way that at one time lead from the water's edge, through the city, and up to the higher agora is still a sight to behold. Much of the marble pave stones remain, even beyond areas that have been excavated. We followed the path well away from the central tourist site right to the edge of a hill where the pavers continued under the dirt. At one time I suppose the pave stones were all level and even. Today they're rounded, uneven, and slick as ice. Rainy weather at the site could prove to be quite dangerous. Columns supporting statues used to line the road from the main harbor to the grand theater. Today just some of the columns and the bases remain.
The sacred way comes to a T intersection at which the grand theater is placed. It's the usual semicircle shaped theater dug into a hillside with tiers of seats all carved in stone. The entire theater used to be enclosed in a tall wall, the wall behind the stage forming the backdrop. It was ingeniously designed with an increasing pitch for the seats in the nose bleed upper tiers giving better acoustics and visibility. It sat some 25,000 people. Today much of the upper tier seating is gone as well as much of the walls. But much remains giving a good idea of what a magnificent theater it must have been.
A right turn at the theater takes you further along the sacred way past the lower agora to the famous library. By today's standards this would have been a tiny library. But for its day it was quite large. Today much of the facade has been reconstructed either with original or replacement materials. It was a small building with a richly decorated facade of 2 level of columns and statues. It was squeezed between two other buildings. So to make it appear more monumental the architect used a few tricks of visual perspective to make it look larger. The two center columns were larger and taller thus making the outer columns look farther away. The setting of the small courtyard in front of the library is quite grand even today with so much of the original structures gone. The ornate gates to the lower agora are on the right and what used to be a large fountain is in one corner. It is perhaps the main showpiece of the entire site.
The Sacred way now makes a left and continues uphill with public buildings; baths, toilet, temples, shops; on the left and private houses on the right. The public toilets are particularly fun. It's a bench of stone into which are cut recognizably shaped holes. Under the bench used to be running water taken from the large cisterns located up on the hillside. The water was piped to the toilets using terracotta pipes. We understand that the poorer residents used the public toilets. Whereas the wealthy had their own bathrooms complete with running water, tubs, and flush toilets. Waste was drained into the small bay. With a population of 250,000 people at its height it would have been one smelly bay. At the top of the hill, the end of the sacred way, one finds another agora as well as city hall and the council chambers that look much like a smaller theater. I must say that this site does give one a very good impression of what ancient city life might have been like.
One item of particular interest was some of the construction techniques that were used. Marble or stone blocks were cut from whatever source they had into basic shapes on site. They were then transported using an interesting roller technique to the construction site. Methods used for lifting the heavy stone usually involved cutting a rectangular shaped notch into the stone into which some sort of wedge was placed. The opposite side of the wedge was attached to a rope that went over a pulley attached at the fulcrum of a tripod. As men pulled on the rope the scissor wedge opened applying pressure to the sides of the notch. It would be firmly wedged in place as long as the rope was under tension. The men, or slaves more likely, could then pull the block up into position. Each block had another notch positioned opposite a notch on the adjacent block. A small gutter would emanate from that notch leading to the edge of the block. Once the blocks were positioned, molten lead would be poured into the gutter thus filling the notches and creating a tie between the two blocks. Once positioned and tied together the stone mason would come along to carve in the final design on the face. Now, we may look upon these construction techniques with amazement thinking about the fact that they had no machinery whatsoever. But consider what type of machinery was available in the 1800s when the buildings in the Washington D.C. mall were built. Certainly there were few machines around when the white house went up. So the construction techniques used then must have not been all that different than what the ancients used.
It was a relief to leave Kusadasi and all those carpet touts. A wide, paved road lead uphill for a good 5 km into the hills surrounding Kusadasi's bay. It then headed inland to the city of Soke, which we were able to skirt using the more major highway. Sitting on a corner beside the main road just outside Soke were a group of traditionally dressed and rather dirty and ragged looking men and women. As we passed one of the women croaked in an angry voice, "money, money" while rubbing her thumb and forefinger together. She wasn't even polite in her demand. We passed them by.
Just a short distance south of Soke we turned right onto a tiny, rough, but paved farm road. A quick lunch in the town of Golbent gave us our first introduction to the real Turkish hospitality. Having purchased soda, chips, and cookies in a small store, we prepared to sit on the store steps to eat. The man owning the small cafe next door offered to let us use one of his tables even though we had no plans to buy anything from him. We would find many other occasion for Turkish hospitality; a free map here, slices of oranges there. We quickly began to like the small town, non tourist spoiled Turks. The farm road took us along the silted up valley of the river called Menderes. Those of us from the west know it by another more famous name, the Meander. From the path of the river one can easily see why we now have the word meander in our vocabulary. We stopped at two ancient sites. Priene, an important harbor city from around 300 B.C., sits on a rocky outcrop that was once bordered by the Aegean sea. Silt from the Menderes has moved the coast many km further west. Not much of the city is left so a tour is mainly a look at a bunch of toppled rocks and a lot of wandering along stone paved streets. However, the town was most notable for its extensive use of a regular, rectangular street pattern. The rectangular street pattern actually originated in the town just another 22 km further south, Miletus. Yet, despite having been a larger city much less of the original houses remains in Miletus. There is in Miletus, on the other hand, two very remarkable structures. The first is the grant theater. It looms up at you as you head up the tree lined road toward the site. You can still see the huge structure of the seats, the large tunnels allowing access to the audience area, and much of the former stage and backdrop area. Although smaller than the theater in Ephasus, this one seemed larger simply from its position and excellent condition. The other remarkable building was one of the old baths. It's the first bath we've seen where you can actually still tell that there actually was a pool. Even a statue of Neptune still graces the side of the pool. Best of all, both sites were virtually empty of tourists. We weren't bumping or shoving just to get glimpses.
We spent that evening in a pension having one of the most remarkable views we've ever seen. In the town of Didim is a beautiful temple to Apollo that was started in 4th century A.D. replacing one which had been destroyed by the Persians in 494 B.C. This temple housed an oracle whose family was directly descended from the Delphi oracles and was considered to be just as important. It was a colossal building with over 120 huge columns of which 3 stand today. Much of the walls of the cella, the central building of the temple, have been rebuilt giving a good feel for what the temple looked like. Well, that pension we found for the evening was located practically on top of the temple ruins. Stand in the backyard terrace and you can practically reach out and touch some of the temple stones. Being the sole guests for the evening we got the room with the best view, looking right at the standing columns. Where else for a mere $10 US can one get such a room with a view.
Appendix A - Route
Oct. 14 (56.51 Km) National road from Githio to Sparta
Nov 1, (87.84 km) Kusadasi to Didyma via Soke, Priene, Miletus, Some hills with flat valleys in between.
Appendix B - Campsites or hotels
Oct. 14, 15, 16, 17 Camping Paleologio in Mystra near Sparta
Oct 30, Oct 31 Golden Bed Pension :