When Turkey was Greece: Reflections from Western Turkey

Aspendos, Hierapolis, Aphrodisias, Ephesus, Assos. Reading the names of many of the sites we visited makes it seems like the weeklong study tour I recently returned from was in Greece, not in Turkey-and 2500 years ago, that would have been the case. While the settlements of Western Turkey are now fully Turkish, the profusion of ancient cities across Turkey’s Aegean Coast and hinterland testifies to the thousands of years of Greek settlement in this area, an era abruptly brought to an end in the wars, massacres, and population transfers of the early 20th century (though just a few miles from shore lie Greece’s Aegean Islands). Needless to say, this trip was heavily focused on history, both ancient and modern. All the previously mentioned sites are ancient ruins from the Greek or Roman ages, most boasting only a theater and perhaps the façade of a temple remaining amid the acres of stone and broken columns that were all that remained of cities that once held tens of thousands of inhabitants until time and the geography of the region-shifting coastlines and earthquakes, brought them down. Much of the history we explored was more recent, however, including the early Turkic citadel of Selcuk, the quaint Greek fishing village of Ayvalik, the cataclysmic and expansive World War I battle of Gallipoli (the Turkish perspective on a battle where they were on the opposite side of America’s allies was enlightening), and the modern city of Izmir, whose bland modernity hides the fact that half the city (then known as Smyrna) was burned – and half its population slaughtered or expelled in 1922. One of the most remarkable occurrences was on November 9th in Izmir, when at 9:10 AM, the entire city froze and turned on its sirens to remember Ataturk’s death – a man who was instrumental in the destruction of the city 80 years ago. Speaking of Ataturk, I’ve mentioned the adulation for him before, but Izmir (Turkey’s most liberal city) probably takes the cake in terms of Ataturk memorial – they have his visage carved out of a mountain overlooking the city, a la Mount Rushmore. The trip was not entirely history, though, as it did include the hot springs and travertine formations of Pamukkale, and we toured a small textile-producing village and an olive oil factory. Remarkably, given the pessimism I’ve developed regarding Turkey’s economic development, both Ayvalik and Assos retained an undeveloped, small town feel that was very relaxing compared to the hectic pace of Alanya. And, given the time of year, many of the sites we visited (save internationally renowned Ephesus and Pamukkale) were fairly empty of other tourist groups, while the weather was the first encounter with an autumn climate in Turkey. A cancelled flight resulted in an extra 14 hour ordeal traveling back to Alanya, but other than that, it was welcome to get back to a road trip style of traveling. But even with a week of traveling, there were still so many places that we came so close to, but had no time to see – it seems every five miles is another ruined ancient city. Back in Alanya, I gained another tie to Turkey when I became a legal resident – for two weeks, thanks to bureaucratic incompetency at the immigration office. It’s crazy to think that only one month remains in this adventure, but now classwork needs to finally replace traveling as my focus while everything winds down.

Aspendos Theater

Aspendos Theater

Antalya Clock Tower

Antalya Clock Tower

Hierapolis (Pamukkale) Theater

Hierapolis (Pamukkale) Theater

Landscape of Hierapolis

Landscape of Hierapolis

Hierapolis Theater

Hierapolis Theater

Pamukkale Springs

Pamukkale Springs

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Aphrodisias

Aphrodisias

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Aphrodisias Stadium

Aphrodisias Stadium

Aphrodisias Gateway

Aphrodisias Gateway

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Kusadasi Fortress

Kusadasi Fortress

Library of Celsus, Ephesus

Library of Celsus, Ephesus

Ephesus Gateway and Agora

Ephesus Gateway and Agora

Main Road, Ephesus

Main Road, Ephesus

Ephesus Theater

Ephesus Theater

Izmir Bay

Izmir Bay

Konak Square, Izmir

Konak Square, Izmir

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Taksiarchis Church, Ayvalik (Cunda Island)

Taksiarchis Church, Ayvalik (Cunda Island)

Cunda and Ayvalik Islands

Cunda and Ayvalik Islands

Streets of Cunda

Streets of Cunda

Abandoned island off Ayvalik

Abandoned island off Ayvalik

Main hill, Cunda Island

Main hill, Cunda Island

Temple of Athena, Assos

Temple of Athena, Assos

Assos city gates

Assos city gates

Assos Theater

Assos Theater

Trojan Horse replica, Canakkale

Trojan Horse replica, Canakkale

Battle memorial, Eceabat (Gallipolli)

Battle memorial, Eceabat (Gallipolli)

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Trenches at Gallipoli

Trenches at Gallipoli

Landscape, Gallipoli

Landscape, Gallipoli

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