Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cappadocia to the Coast

If there's one thing I've learned since the tour portion of my adventure in Turkey began, it's this: background information or "schema" is critical!  These terms may be education jargon, but the idea is probably familiar.  Basically all I'm trying to say is this: when you don't know anything about a concept, it's really challenging to learn the concept when there is little or nothing already there in your brain about the concept to attach the new information to.  (Yes, I know that sentence is long and grammatically incorrect; bring on the Grammar Hammer!)

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we toured parts of "Central Anatolia" that were geologically spectacular, but culturally foreign to me.  The landscape of Cappadocia, formed by volcanic forces and shaped by rain and wind over millenia, is utterly breathtaking.  Taking it all in via balloon is the way to go!  Culturally, this land is identified with the Byzantine era, where Christians took refuge in the caves here, building extensive cities.  Another reason people come to this part of Turkey is to pay homage to Celaleddid Rumi, the mystic philosopher and poet whose followers were organized into the brotherhood called the Mevlevi, or whirling dervishes.  I am only vaguely familiar with Byzantine, Ottoman, and Muslim history, so while I could appreciate the beauty of the landscape, oogle at the architecture of the cave dwellings, or feel the peace of the dervishes as they whirl, I felt as if all other historical and cultural information about this place is still suspended somewhere in Never-never land in my brain, not really connected to anything else.

Add on to that over six hours of driving during each of the last three days in a relatively small bus with 17 other people, and you might start to take some pity on me and my trials in this foreign land.  I mean, I've hardly had time to process any of this new information.  And as a teacher, I know how important it is for students to process, review, manipulate, retell, and analyze what they learn.

I know, I know; it's hard for you to shed a tear for me and my problems here in Turkey!

On Thursday and Friday (July 7 and 8) I felt like I was back on terra firma: ancient civilizations!  An era I am fairly familiar with!  Who knew I'd see my good friends Zeus, Aphrodite, Hermes, Apollo, and all of their relatives here in Turkey?  Well, actually, I knew as much!  After all, the Aegean Sea was not a dividing line between nations in the ancient world.  On the contrary, the Aegean was the bridge, connecting the land east and west.  At certain points during the history of the region, goods and ideas flowed more from west to east.  At other times the flow was in the other direction.  The two sides of the Aegean have many, many similarities, despite the national border that exists between the two land masses today.

Hieropolis was a Hellenistic city, founded in  190 BC by the King of Pergamum.  The chief god of the city was Apollo.  Like Delphi and Didyma, the temple had an oracle.  The source of inspiration was an adjoining spring called the Plutonium, dedicated to Pluto (God of the Underworld).  Confirming the direct link to Hades were the toxic vapors that rose from the earth (carbon monoxide) that killed animals presented by priests there.  Also at the site of the ancient city and necropolis are springs rich in calcium, which still flow today.    As the springs flow over the cliffs the calcium is deposited, creating spectacular visions of snow covered mountains in this desert-like region.



Afrodisias is my new favorite ancient site.  There really are no words to describe this ancient city: spectacular; awe-inspiring; breath-taking; unique.  None of these words do the site justice.  Photos only marginally capture what is there.  The Lonely Planet: Turkey guidebook may actually sum up things about Afrodisias the best.  They boldly state that if Afrodisias were located on the coast (or convenient to get to), the place would be a complete mob scene.  In the 1960s a young Turkish photographer visited the village that sat upon the ancient site of Afrodisias.  He noticed what he thought was Roman material in the area...even pillars coming up from the ground in the town.  Sure enough, the ancient site of Afrodisias lay beneath the soil there.  The village was relocated, and excavation began in 1961.  The site is enormous, although only a fraction of the site has been excavated.  Excavation continues (we saw work being done in several areas!), under the auspices of the Turkish government and NYU.  Afrodisias is the only excavation site where none of the findings have left Turkey.  But the best aspect of touring Afrodisias on Thursday.....we pretty much had the entire landscape to ourselves!  The stadium of Afrodisias measures approximately 270 by 65 meters...humungous!  And while the stadium's capacity is about 30,000, yesterday just 16 Fulbrighters and their guide sat on the marble seats at the end of the oval where gladiator games were staged in the second century A.D.  The experience was remarkable.  I am thrilled to have visited this monumental site at this time.  I imagine so much more to be excavated and recreated in the next 20 years, which is terribly exciting to think about....but with it will come the crowds.  Yesterday was one of the highest high points of my trip thus far.
The Stadium at Afrodisia

The Tetrapylon (Four-way Gate) at Afrodisia

Detail on the Tetrapylon at Afrodisia

Every day I wake up and cannot image that the day's itinerary is any more spectacular than the day before.  But every day I am shocked to find that it is!  Today (Friday) we toured Ephesus.  Apparently Ephesus is a nightmare of a mob scene, due to the cruise ships that dock at Kusadasi (the resort town on the Aegean that is nearby......Kusadasi is our "homebase" for four days while exploring this region).  But we totally lucked out today!  Only one cruise ship docked this morning, and I'm not sure that crowd made it to Ephesus.  So, relatively speaking, we had the place to ourselves!  It has been a thrill for me to walk the streets and agoras of every ancient city that I've come across.  But there was something extra-special about Ephesus, knowing that the apostle Paul walked these streets as well.  But as far as sixth graders are concerned, perhaps the most interesting part of Ephesus is the public latrines.  Yes, the toilets.  This large rectangular structure was really more of an ancient men's club, where the "real" business of the city was conducted.  Has much changed in 2,000 years?  The latrine is lined on three sides by a long slab of marble with seats carved for the business of the latrine (I know you know what I mean...), and a channel on the floor, the length of the seats, served to deliver fresh water through the building, with which the men could clean themselves.  In the middle of the latrine was something aking to a courtyard, where plants and other decorum beautified the building.  The seats of the latrines were nice and cool in the summer.  But in the winter?  Well, the rich men sent their slaves in to warm the seats before they would bare their backsides on such cold stone!
The Library at Ephesus

The even MORE interesting Latrines at Ephesus

KT just sitting on a random capital, one of many littering the landscape of Ephesus

More ancient sites tomorrow.  I wonder what Miletus and Didyma have in store for me!

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