On Friday 6th May we left Istanbul, and set off on our tour of Turkey. We took our first long-distance bus journey (six hours, including a 30-minute ferry crossing). The bus was comfortable, and the journey was cheap – about £12 each, including soft drinks and snacks at regular intervals.
After leaving Europe and crossing the Dardanelles, we reached the city of Çanakkale. This is not at all a tourist town, something we were quite grateful for as it meant we were not constantly hassled by men trying to entice us into their restaurant or carpet shop. It is however, a lively university town, full of young people, with plenty of cafés and bars – we tried our best to sample some of them. We’d not been in the town long before we were approached by two students (one male, one female) who were doing a survey and wanted us to be interviewed on film! The questions this time were about why we’d come to Turkey, how long we were going to stay there etc.
On our second day we went for a stroll along the riverfront, then to the park where there is a naval museum (we were too late to go in) and lots of military hardware outside. What surprised us was the large number of (obviously local) people walking around. Later, when we went down to the harbour, there were literally crowds of people doing a paseo. Why, we never found out. Was it because it was Saturday? Or because the weather had improved dramatically since the previous day? Or is it a regular occurrence?
Along the harbour promenade there is a model wooden horse, built for the 2004 film Troy, starring Brad Pitt. And that is a clue to why we were in Çanakkale. Pleasant though the town was, we wouldn’t have thought of visiting it (indeed, we wouldn’t have heard of it) had we not been keen to visit the ruins of nearby Troy.
At the entrance to the site, there is another wooden horse, older and quite different from the one made for the film. This one you can climb inside and look out of the windows (not a design feature of the original, if it ever existed). Then you follow a path which takes you around the ruins, with boards helping you to understand what you are seeing.
There were nine different periods of occupation at Troy, and (even with the explanatory boards) it was not always easy to identify which ruins dated from which century. But to us, it did not really matter. The site is tranquil and picturesque, with spring flowers (especially poppies) growing among the ancient stones. It’s probably true to say that we are more interested in photography than history!
From Çanakkale we had another long bus journey to the city of Bergama, the site of ancient Pergamon.
There are two major archaeological sites, one on each side of the modern city. On the afternoon following our arrival, we went up to the Asklepion, an ancient sacred healing centre. The ruins were peaceful and picturesque, like those at Troy although with fewer poppies! We did however see a lot of turtles at one of the pools. We were interested in the history of the place, and amused to learn that – when people presented themselves for admission and potential healing – those expected to die were refused entry (as were pregnant women). Obviously they wanted to keep up their survival statistics!
Next day we went to the Acropolis, a much larger area of Graeco-Roman temples and other buildings, now ruined but with impressive remains, some partly restored. The Acropolis is on a very steep hill, but there is a cable car to the top, and magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. We walked down the hill through the ruins, and found our way back to the city.
After a late lunch we walked across the road to visit the ‘Red Basilica’. This was once a temple to Egyptian gods, and later a small Christian church was built in the confines. It is thought that the ‘throne of Satan’ mentioned in Revelation 2:13 refers to it. The Red Basilica is now being restored, and one end is covered by scaffolding. We could not go inside the building, but we could walk round the grounds and take photos of the exterior.
After Pergamon our next place of interest was Sardis. It took a combination of six taxis, buses and minibuses to get there, including a change in Izmir (ancient Smyrna) and a detour into Manisa to check into our hotel.
There are two sites to visit close to Sartmustafa village (ancient Sardis, the home of Kings Midas and Croesus). The first has a gymnasium and bath complex, a synagogue and a Roman road lined with shops. There has been some impressive restoration, especially the Marble Court (entry to the baths) which looks as it first did when built in AD 211. As at Troy, there were lots of poppies!
The second site is the Temple of Artemis, one of the four largest temples in Asia Minor. A small Byzantine church was built close to the remaining two complete columns. The temple is in a beautiful setting, surrounded by wooded hills. And both sites were very peaceful, with few visitors other than ourselves.
Manisa is an ‘ordinary’ Turkish city, not a tourist town. We enjoyed our brief visit. Our hotel was in the main shopping street, which was quite westernized, except for one thing. There were lots of cafés packed with people drinking apple tea or Turkish coffee, but alcohol was very scarce. We had dinner in a café overlooking a courtyard and facing a mountain lit by the setting sun. Afterwards we strolled through the city, along with many other people! We came to a park, where there was a display of ‘dancing’ fountains, with changing colours. An unexpected treat.