When you say the word “Turkey” what pops into your mind?. What thoughts are conjured up? For the typical American the response would most definitely be Thanksgiving. The next thought after an American holiday would hopefully be some country near Europe. If I were to ask you to describe the location of the country Turkey the response might be the middle East. Turkey is actually located on both the European and Asian continents and has been the center of religion and politics for thousands of years. If you are up on your world religions you probably know that Turkey is an Islamic country but at one time was the home of the Roman Catholic church. If you say the word “Islam” you will probably have visions of terrorism, deserts, oil and camels. I asked these questions of myself and I was guilty of being an ignorant American who knew nothing about the Islamic faith and had obviously not paid attention in World History class. I ,of course, knew that Muslims worship a God named Allah but I had no idea who this God was or what part religion played in every day life. After our visit to Turkey I realized that stereotypes and too little knowledge can be a really bad thing.
Our first encounter with an Islamic country was Malaysia and for the most part we really enjoyed ourselves and the people were super nice. We felt that Malaysia was a travel discovery because we had not heard anything about it from other travelers. Turkey was a different story because we had only heard great things about Turkey as a travel destination. At the beginning of our trip I was guilty of relying on stereotypes and felt the best way to see Turkey was from the comfort of a cruise or organized tour. I was a little scared that showing up in an airport and traveling on our own would be difficult and dangerous. The answer was found in a cruise from Athens, Greece to Istanbul, Turkey and it would be a great way to travel with Karen’s parents. The cruise was on the Marco Polo ship and included four days in the Greek islands visiting archeological ruins, followed by a two stops in Turkey. We spent four days in the Greek Islands and it was time for our first port of call in Turkey. For some reason we would be stopping at a place named Kusadasi and going to see some ruins called Ephesus.
Our tour group was the first off the boat at 7:00 AM and our bus was the first to arrive at the ancient ruins. So far we had spent every day in the Greek islands visiting archeological ruins and for the most part I was very impressed with the Greek and Roman structures. None of the ancient ruins or history was a complete surprise because I had heard it before in school or had seen it in some movie version of Hercules. It turns out that Turkey was once part of the Roman Empire and Ephesus was a major trade port to the Far East. It even turns out that the Temple of Artemis an ancient wonder of the world was located here but only one column remains standing today. Apparently, the British decided that the ancient wonder would be better preserved if the columns were located in a British museum.
The ancient city of Ephesus was located on the coast of Turkey next to a major river. The ancient wonder Temple of Artemis was located at the edge of the ocean and as a structure was four times larger than the Parthenon in Athens. The river created a problem for the ships because the water washed soil into the harbor creating sand bars which made navigation difficult. The free standing water from the river also created a Malaria problem and it was decided that the entire city should be abandoned in the six century AD. This allowed the river to continue its destructive work and after 1200 years the once coastal city of Ephesus is now located four miles from the coastline. The city of Ephesus was buried and forgotten only to be discovered again this century. What remains today are probably the best preserved ruins of the ancient world.
I really did not know what to expect when we arrived at the front gate but I knew we were the first tourists of the morning and I quickly went ahead of the group in the hope of getting some really good pictures without tourist heads in every shot. As I walked into the main square following the same path once used by the citizens of Ephesus I couldn’t believe how little has changed. On the edge of the main street you are surrounded by shops, public bathrooms, a huge library and a large theater for concerts and plays. Only thirty percent of the city has been excavated but you could tell it was an impressive city.
One of the most interesting features of the city was running water into the buildings delivered by an underground plumbing system. It is also the first known location of public toilets which had seating for at least thirty people. The bathroom was a large room and along the walls were stone benches with a keyhole cutout for sitting and reading the newspaper. At that time the newspaper had not been invented so the locals spent their time sitting together discussing politics and the business of the day. The setup was very modern because the bathroom planners installed running water underneath each of the seats to carry away the waste. They even provided running water at your feet for a quick wash of the hands. Two-ply toilet paper had also not been invented.
The library was located in the main square and is the most completely restored structure at Ephesus. It is a complete two story facade with statues and the classic roman look. The library consisted of a series of rooms that stored hand written copies of the literature of the day. The rooms were designed to control the humidity and preserve the quality of the paper. It is an impressive structure.
The final ten minutes of the tour of Ephesus is spent in the middle of the field at the Church of Mary. The structure is quite large but has had no restoration work performed. It is believed that Ephesus was the final home of Mary the mother of Jesus. This is a difficult historical subject for the Turkish government to deal with because Turkey is an Islamic country. After asking numerous questions about the Islamic religion I learned that this subject is what separates the Islamic religion from Christianity. The Islamic religion believes in the Old testament and that Jesus was a prophet like Noah and Moses. What they do not believe, like the Jewish religion, is that Jesus was the son of God. So it appears that the restoration of the church built in honor of Mary, the Mother of the son of God is a low priority. It is such a low priority that they do not even have a sign pointing you to the proper abandon field. It was at this point that I began to realize the history and religious significance of Turkey.
The next stop was another empty field that was once the home of an ancient wonder of the world. Only one column remains of the Temple of Artemis and it is left standing in the middle of an empty field. The Temple of Artemis was a holy site that drew pilgrims from around the ancient world. The temple must of been an impressive structure because it was four times larger than the Parthenon in Athens and located on beach front property. The temple was built in the 7th century BC and greatly expanded by King Croesus who had the temple redone in marble. It was then burnt down by a disgruntled worshiper in 356 BC. The ruins were then stripped for materials to build Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Church and Seluck’s Basilica of St. John. The Basilica of St. John is located a mile from the Temple of Artemis. Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia was the first of the grand Catholic churches which was later converted to a Mosque when the Romans left Istanbul. The conversion to a Mosque was performed by adding tall Minarets on the four corners of the church. This domed church and surrounding Minarets is the style of all Mosques built around the world.
Our day was well spent in Kusadasi but it was time to get back on the Marco Polo and head to our final destination of Istanbul. Kusadasi has an impressive shopping district and an oddly high percentage of Irish bars which appeared to be doing a brisk amount of business.