For Turkey we splurged on a full-day tour of the highlights of the area. The guide was engaging, knowledgeable and brought a personal and cultural perspective to the sites we visited. Though she was quick to mention that Turkey is a secular country (meaning religion and government are separate), it is clear that Islam is the predominantly practiced religion.
Our guide made several jokes throughout the trip in her explanations to us about the differences and similarities of Christianity and Islam. She also talked about the significance and observation of Ramadan. When talking about the Muslim call to pray five times a day she joked that good Muslims still adhere to that standard. “What are bad Muslims doing?” she asked. “Taking you guys around the country.” She explained Ramadan by saying her father had told her that if she used the fasting as a diet it didn’t count. Though her humor was quick her openness to share added an extra layer for thoughtful consideration to the days events.
Our first stop was the house of the Virgin Mary. The story is that a nun who had never visited this part of the world had a vision that this was the location of Mary’s final home. When archaeologists started exploring the area they soon found the small structure in which they also located several pottery pieces indicating it had been a private residence. This seems to be to be scant evidence for claiming it is the home of Mary, but I can believe that it could possibly be true – but it could also be untrue with only these arguments. Perhaps there is more to support these claims, but I did not do extensive research before visiting so that may have to be a project for a later time (when I’m not putting souvenir money towards internet time). It was beautifully situated high on a hill – the reason for which was to better escape persecution. There were three fountains portending to have holy water – one was for health, one for luck and one for money.
The next stop was the excavation site of the ancient city of Ephesus. It is truly remarkable what remains and the condition it is in. The city had been built in a fertile valley with lush green hills/mountains to the side, a sea port and pristine white marble streets. It would have been a very elegant place to live. Flooding and earthquake destroyed and buried much of the city so that now they are still uncovering remnants on the site. I believe she mentioned that a group from Austria had put $11 million into excavating and researching the homes of the wealthy located along one of the streets – and that was just for one section. There were columns, fountains, a pharmacy, statues, the 2-story Celsus Library (with a secret escape to the local 2-story brothel), a 40-person latrine and two large theaters for entertainment. They believe they may find a larger “entertainment-center” in further digs – used primarily for the persecution of Christians at the time.
As with the other sites, I always end up taking pictures of all the beautiful flowers growing in and among the ruins. I believe I need to put together a collage of sorts and call it “Rebecca’s International Flower Garden”. That might be the best use for the preponderance of photos from this trip and others that focus squarely on the touches of floral color. At our first stop we remarked that there are so many varieties of trees and flowers in the area. It was challenging sometimes to find two trees of the same kind next to each other – there was an abundance of green but it took many forms. Some flowers were intentionally placed and others grew quite naturally. I wonder if my Asiatic lilies have bloomed at home and if they’re already dead? I think a photo garden might be much more rewarding for me.
We stopped at another small museum to see additional artifacts and finds from the site. Perhaps at this point I had seen enough ruins – it was a similar feeling to going through Europe and visiting castles and large homes – you hit a wall eventually (figuratively speaking).
And you push through.
Our final visit was to St. John’s Basilica. It is no longer a functioning church (and for good reason, it’s in ruins as well). Our guide said it was considered the seventh largest church in the world. The structure was designed not only to hold worship services but also to house the Christian community at the time for greater protection. (There were a lot of pretty flowers here too!). It was a beautiful site with a perfect view of the area.
Then, more good stuff. We had a Turkish lunch at a five-star resort, complete with some traditional dancing for entertainment. The dancing was forceful and beautiful. The food was tasty and the baklava sweet.
The highlight of the trip, for me anyway, was the Turkish carpet demonstration. We watched the process of creating the silk threads and then watched an artist at work before seeing several completed and colorful finished products. Before we entered our guide shared perhaps the most poignant story of the trip. She talked about the significance of Turkish rugs from her own experience. Her grandmother had given her a rug and said that the money she had sitting in a bank would quickly be used and her name forgotten, but the rug would go down through the generations as her gift to their future.
The man who spun the single strands from the cocoon learned from his father. He had been doing it all his life and is of a dwindling number of people who can work the silk from cocoon to thread. A thread of silk is comprised of four strands of silk; 30-40 cocoons are used to create one strand.
The artist who we watched working on a 2’x3’ carpet had been working on it for a year and did not anticipate finishing the piece until August or September of this year. There are 640 double knots per square inch. Each region in Turkey is known for different styles, colors and designs. The artists get their designs from the patterns and images passed through their community.
After watching the process and seeing the effort that goes into making a Turkish carpet we fully appreciated the pricing. Though we did manage to get a good price, we ultimately didn’t purchase a small sample. Maybe when we’re old and gray we can afford a big one. Seeing the process from cocoon to carpet was priceless. The tour cost was well worth it, too.