Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of a four-part series.
I had visited Ephesus years ago and about the only new restoration I noticed was some terrace houses with many beautiful hand painted walls. They had hot and cold running water even in ancient times, as well as heating via hot air delivered by a clay pipe system. There is an extra fee to view this area as one walks on special walkways to see the ongoing restoration through glass floors. It is well worth the small additional cost.
Reading Greek myths about Greek gods before visiting will add immeasurably to visiting these ancient sites. There are other legends, such as the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers, which is located on Mt. Pion near Ephesus, which claimed seven Christians were walled into a cave, slept for more than 300 years and then came out none the worse. A Christian church has been built over the grotto, but again our tour did not mention or include a visit. I would have enjoyed such a visit in lieu of some of the factory stops.
A visit to Ephesus can be enriched by a well-informed guide, but finding one requires searching the Internet and relying on recommendations from past travelers. Unfortunately, in three different visits my licensed guides were disappointments, but were not one of those recommended. If visiting on your own, one of these recommended guides should be reserved in advance.
The tour did offer an optional visit to the reputed home — now a shrine — where the Virgin Mary spent her last days. A German nun, Anne Catherine Emmerich, once had a vision of the location and the construction of the house, which she relayed to author Clemens Brentano, who likely altered much of what she described because of his own convictions, thus tainting much of Emmerich’s pronouncements. Neither had been to Ephesus, but the description was so accurate that the Catholic church has slowly accepted this as the House of the Virgin Mary, and it has been validated by visits from popes. St. John the Apostle supposedly cared for Mary as tasked by Jesus. He is buried at a nearby tomb and a church was built at the site. Only columns and tomb remain here. While I didn’t visit the tomb on this trip, I had been there long ago and was the only visitor.
The weather was in the high 80s in May and gradually sapped the enthusiasm of those visiting Ephesus. After three hours, the tour group went to the countryside for a delicious homemade lunch that included fried zucchini blossoms.
The lunch stop was followed by a visit to the small rural village of Sirince, which has 600 inhabitants. Legend has it that the town was settled by freed Greek slaves who named it Çirkince, which means ugly in Turkish, so they would not be followed, but in 1926 the governor of the province changed it to its present name, which means pleasant. It was indeed a pleasant interlude seeing villagers selling handicrafts and elders playing board games while drinking and smoking. Some guidebooks describe the area as Turkey’s Tuscany, where delicious wine is produced. Turks apparently love to visit on weekends to enjoy the wines and reasonably priced food.
We stopped at a fabric store selling pashmina shawls, towels and bedspreads and fabrics made of angora, silk, bamboo and cotton. We were told Turkish cotton is close to Egyptian cotton in quality, but as usual, high tourist prices deter me from even looking.
The next day we leave from Kusadasi on our way to Canakkale and stop at a carpet factory. These mandatory factory stops are irritations for me, but some of the others seem to enjoy them.
We stop in the town of Bergama, where a hilltop acropolis housed the Pergamon Temple. The great altar was removed to become the major feature of the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, one of the finest museums I have ever seen. We did not go to the hilltop, but instead toured the Asklepion, which was a health center built for the god of health and medicine, Aesculapius. Patients with mental and physical problems supposedly were fed opium-laced sweets and “magic” water and then rested in a tranquil setting where the sound of water and music soothed their cares and later their dreams were interpreted to aid in their cures. This was ancient psychotherapy before Freud. Famed physician, Galen, was here in the second century A.D.
Lunch in town consisted of low priced doner kebab, meat grilled on a vertical spit and sliced off placed in pita bread. It was inexpensive, delicious and nutritious.
Next, we made another irritating stop at an onyx shop that also sold other semiprecious stones.
On our drive to the Troy, our guide tells us a family living in Istanbul requires a minimum of $60,000 to live comfortably, whereas living in other cities such as Ankara or Antalya requires half as much and even less in rural villages. Urban dwellers have small families compared to farming families of six to eight. Income tax based on income ranges from 15 to 35 percent and social security payments are required to fund retirement of women at age 58 and men age 60. The majority of the population is under 35. Unemployment is around 9.8 percent. There are few golf courses but soccer is the favorite sport followed by basketball.
The story behind the discovery of the once thought mythical Greek city of Troy, which is described by Homer, is just as interesting as the city itself. The story described by our guide, however, turned out to be completely inaccurate compared to what I later learned on the Internet.
Our guide praised the efforts of Heinrich Schliemann, who was actually a chronic liar and thief. He was an amateur archaeologist and his roughshod technique did more to destroy valuable evidence than aid in its discovery. Also, the actual landowner who provided the impetus for the discovery of Troy’s ruins, was another amateur archaeologist, Englishman Frank Calvert. A book describing these events, “Finding the Walls of Troy: Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann at Hisarlik,” is interesting reading.
The site is now a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s guarded by a replica of the Trojan horse. Reading about Troy’s background (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troy) will help sort fact from fiction. Aside from the replica horse, one only sees ongoing excavation and conjectures as to what might have been where, but at least one can know they visited this historic site. Everyone was tuckered out after such a busy day and dinner was quickly consumed to allow as much time for rest as possible.
The next day, the tour returned to Istanbul for an overnight stay before returning home. On the way to Istanbul we cross the Dardanelles on a ferry and pass the Gallipoli peninsula where a major Ottoman victory over British troops occurred. Australian and New Zealand Army Corps volunteer troops were called ANZACs, but they were under British command. The date of the landing of the troops on April 25, 1915 is known today as ANZAC day in Australia and New Zealand to originally commemorate the brave soldiers who lost their lives here and now is the most important Remembrance Day for all Australian and New Zealand service members, surpassing Armistice Day in importance for these countries. Citizens of both countries make pilgrimages to this site on this date annually.
My thoughts about escorted tours remain unchanged. The advantages are a known cost, ease of transport to stated sites on a set schedule and not having to worry about hotel or dinner plans. The disadvantages are it is difficult to interact with natives to understand their views, too many factory tour visits selling overpriced products thus losing time to explore important historic sites, guides imparting limited information and sometimes inaccurately. Accommodations selected on my own might have been less expensive. The tour group fortunately was very friendly, there weren’t any chronic late arrivals, and we dodged the bullet of the chronic complainer whose personal entitlements supersede courtesy to all others.
The bottom line is, I would recommend a guided tour to Turkey booked through a knowledgeable travel agent but still prepare with lots of prior reading to be more fully informed as to what is seen.