Bayram II- Bergama (Pergamum)

Kurban Bayrami 2014 Part 2. You can read part one, about my trip to Chios, here. For more on Izmir, click here.


Most people who spend a decent amount of time touring Turkey make a point of visiting Ephesus (Efes), the ancient Biblical city, as I have. Though they are almost equidistant, far fewer people make it to the city of Bergama, known in ancient times as Pergamum (or Pergamon… according to Wikipedia, both are correct).

This is unfortunate.


Bergama is located 100 km north of Izmir, today a city of about 60,000 people. Its current name in Turkish reflects its ancient stature. We went for an afternoon from Izmir and just barely had time to see three of the main attractions there: the Acropolis, the Asclepion, and the Red Basilica.

Having been a big fan of the Disney rendering of the story of the Greek god Hercules, I was fired up to visit the Acropolis; to climb up the mountain to have a chat with old man Zeus myself. Things in life never go exactly the way they do in the squeaky-clean animations though, and the climbing was mostly done in an old cab with a disgruntled but courteous driver blasting Turkish dance-pop music. In addition, my chat with Zeus in his altar is pending, as I’ll need to arrange a trip to Berlin to see the remains, thanks to the persuasiveness of some opportunistic German archeologists in the late 1800’s. I’ll also have to wait about 5 years, as the exhibit in Berlin undergoes renovations. Always, the renovations.


A consolation, though. The magnificent tree pictured above stands at the site of the foundations of the Altar of Zeus.


IMG_5622 IMG_5605

Nevertheless, the site is stunning, and the vast majority of its structures remain, including an insane 10,000 seat theatre carved onto the side of a steep cliff. Significant portions of the Temple of Trajan also remain, pictured above. The view from the top of the site is breathtaking, a picturesque modern day Bergama with hillsides and red-tiled rooftops.




A more orientalizing blogger may suggest it’s as if one goes back in time, gazing over the landscape. Besides being silly, that would also be patently untrue as the cable car which can take visitors up and down the steepest part of the ascent to the site (dropping off right at the ticket booth) obstructs the pastoral in many directions.


You can make out a bit of history though, especially if it’s a clear day: a view of the pillars lining a walkway at the Asclepion, about 5 kilometers away as the crow flies.


For those of you who didn’t know (I didn’t), the Asclepion at Pergamum was a renowned ancient center of medicine. According to my Lonely Planet Guide, “Treatments included mud baths, the use of herbs and ointments, enemas, and sunbathing. Diagnosis was often by dream analysis.” That can’t have been all they were up to, because this was also the site where the great Galen was born and worked; his studies had a major impact on ‘western’ medicine for a good century and a half. Nice.


It was sunny and lovely, and my travel companions and I really enjoyed traipsing around the almost empty site. (Fellow visitors included two Turkish families, and two small tour groups, one geriatric group of Brits, and one with all members wearing matching “UPENN ALUMNI hats. That’s it!)


We wandered through the aforementioned bazaar street lined with Roman columns, looked at but didn’t drink from a sacred well (which was the same color as the now infamous algae blooms of Lake Erie this past summer, yum), and scaled and (I) sang in the very well restored theatre, which continues to host theatrical and musical performances in the summer.


I was also intrigued by signposts which advertised an app that allows users to visualize the way the site is presumed to have originally used, using 3D imaging technology. Sorry for the poor photo quality:


I enjoyed one of my favorite Turkish indulgences, freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, while perusing a gift shop chock full of replica parchment, echoing Pergamum’s fame as the site of the development of the stuff. My pride in the innovations of ancient Egypt instilled by my grandparents got the best of me, and a Google-search later permitted a not-fully-deserved “I told you so;” parchment for use in the famed library of Pergamum was developed beginning with a shortage of papyrus shipped from Alexandria.


Our cab ride back into town took us through a neighborhood teeming with traditional old houses, some of which have been carefully restored as boutique hotels.


It also led us to the Red Basilica; another reason for Pergamum’s fame.  It was originally a massive temple to some Egyptian Gods, and Christians who later acquired the building actually just built their basilica inside the structure. The Book of Revelations lists this site as one of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, specifically as the throne of the devil. To be honest though, all I saw was a whole lot of renovation and not a lot of Basilica.

IMG_5697 IMG_5692 IMG_5687

Though the archaeological museum was closed, we were able to walk through the historic covered bazaar, and we also spotted an old hamam, which is still operational.


Our day ended with some piyaz (white bean salad) and “Bergama koftesi,” the defining trait of which seemed to be copious amounts of cumin.

As my travel companions from last year would say, “On to the next adventure!”


Kurban Bayrami Part 4: Ephesus

But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. Ephesians 5:13 (NIV)

God is the Light of the heavens and the earth; the likeness of His Light is as a niche wherein is a lamp (the lamp in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star) kindled from a Blessed Tree, an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West whose oil wellnigh would shine, even if no fire touched it; Light upon Light; (God guides to His Light whom He will.) (And God strikes similitudes for men, and God has knowledge of everything.)

Surat al-Nur 24:35 (Arberry)


On our final day in Izmir, at the end of our whirlwind Bayram vacationing, my friend and I woke up early and hopped onto one, two three cheap buses that took us to Efes, the biblical Ephesus, by way of the tourist town Selçuk, where we stopped for lunch after bus #2. I’m sincerely hoping for an opportunity to return to this city, which is chock full of historical and religious sites we didn’t have time to explore, including the burial site of St. John the Evangelist on Ayasoluk hill (Ayasoluk meaning Divine Theologian, aka St. John), the Artemision (the sanctuary/temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), and Meryemana, or house of Mary, an alleged site of residence for the Virgin Mary (some theologians argue that she accompanied John when he went to Ephesus). The house is now a chapel which is frequented by Christian and Muslim pilgrims alike, as “Mother Mary,” as she is known, is a revered figure in the Islamic tradition as well; indeed she is mentioned more frequently in the Qur’an than the New Testament. Trips to some of these sites are accessible, and frequently included within package tours of the area offered by tourism agencies; however, since my friend and I opted for the low-budget version of the trip, the extra taxi rides etc. to these sites were forgone.

What we did see, however, was potentially the largest and best preserved ancient city in the Mediterranean region: Ephesus. Perhaps the most mind-boggling part of the whole experience was the knowledge floating in my head throughout my visit that, according to the Ephesus Foundation, ONLY 10-15% of the site has been excavated!! The implications of this were clear as restoration and further excavation efforts were clearly visible throughout, but… wow.

IMG_0955 IMG_0957 IMG_0962 IMG_0970 IMG_0974

“As the capital of Roman Asia Minor, Ephesus was a vibrant ancient city with a population of over 250,000 inhabitants. Counting traders, sailors, and pilgrims to the Temple of Artemis, these numbers were even higher, meaning that in Ephesus one could encounter the full diversity of the Mediterranean world and its peoples.”

The Ephesus site has two entrances, and you go through the site as though walking through the city. Technically we went “backwards,” but that’s where the dolmus dropped us and honestly, it didn’t matter (and more on the rewards of doing so later.) Our tour began near the Great Theatre, Stadium, Gymnasium of Venus, and ‘Harbor Street,’ pictured above.

Unlike Termessos, the city I visited near Antalya, much is known about the ancient history of Ephesus, and is widely online. Though it was then a port city, years of silting contributed to the city’s decline, despite efforts of those including Attalus II of Pergamum, Nero, and Emperor Hadrian, “…swamps developed and the port was lost…” (Hence the area known as Harbor Street which now leads to an agricultural plateau rather than the Aegean Sea. Today one must stand at a high elevation (from the Great Theatre, for example) to view the sea from a distance. However, “in the future, Turkish authorities are planning for war against the silt accumulation that defeated all previous Ephesian civilizations…” Good luck with that.

IMG_0981 IMG_0985Shortly up the way from the Stadium is one of Ephesus’ main attractions, the famed Library of Celsus. Celsus was the third largest library of the ancient world, capable of holding 12,000 scrolls. Unfortunately, the statues you see in these images are replicas- the originals are in Vienna at the Ephesus Museum there; the Austrian Archaeological Institute was responsible for the restoration of the Library…. incidentally, they’re also continuing work to the present on the Great Theatre.

IMG_0988 IMG_0990

Also in the vicinity of the Library are the Lower Agora, (pictured below) the brothel (love the title and description on the placard, below,)  and the Terraced Houses, which we opted out of due to time.

IMG_0982 IMG_0987 IMG_0997 IMG_0999

Now this is what I call the lap of luxury (latrine):
IMG_1017 IMG_1022

You may find the Temple of Hadrian (above and below) a little more glorious than the pre-modernity potties (to each his own). Architecture fiends, check out the central keystone (Look Ma! No mortar!).


Here are some more beautiful sites (mostly around Curates Way I think,) including this stoae, directly below, the colors of which blew my mind and a cat, because you didn’t really visit Ephesus if you didn’t take pictures of the Cats of Ephesus (incidentally, the name of an article in the TCDD state train transportation complimentary magazine, and also the title of this lovely coffee table book… seriously).

IMG_1024 IMG_1011 IMG_1026 IMG_1030 IMG_1036

“Wow, this is a big archaeological site,” you’re thinking. “She must’ve had a difficult time picking photos that captured it’s essence so she didn’t make too long of a blog post.” Yeah. But there’s more (now occasionally featuring humans!):

IMG_1039 IMG_1043 IMG_1045 IMG_1046 IMG_1047

So after walking up the long path pictured above, we eventually reached the Upper Agora and the Odeon, one of the original homes of forensic mastery, and a debate nerd’s dream.

IMG_1053 IMG_1059 IMG_1083 IMG_1089 IMG_1091 IMG_1092

I’ve skipped over lots of details (particularly for the history and architecture buffs (the differences between Ionian Greek and Roman columns, for example, both noticeable throughout the site) and maybe mislabeled some things… going back to write this post was like a going in a time warp back to the site, except it isn’t raining in my office and the view is a little different. Visiting Ephesus is more than overwhelming, with lots of information being thrown at you, and the magnitude of the site and the history it contains was a lot to absorb. I’d like to end the post here, to give you the reader and myself some relief, but the story isn’t quite over….

Once we reached the Odeon, my travel hombre and I turned around and headed back through the site, the way we came to catch our return minibus to Selcuk (downhill this time, instead of uphill). Everything was the same until we were near the Lower Agora and we spotted a sign leading off the trail we were on that said “Church of Mary.” A curious streak and the knowledge that we wouldn’t have time to visit the House of Mary later on spurred us to investigate.

Long story short, though I haven’t found a guidebook yet that mentions this, there is a 5th century church known as “Mary’s Church,” or Mereyem Kilsisi in Turkish, that is located within the Ephesus site! It is also known as the Church of the Councils because it is believed to have been built for the 3rd Ecumenical Council (of Ephesus) in 431. This church was also the seat of the Bishop of Ephesus through late antiquity. Needless to say, Miss RLST nerd was geeking out, and very glad to have been rewarded for getting off the (tourist-trod) beaten path.

IMG_1094 IMG_1100 IMG_1101 IMG_1102 IMG_1106 IMG_1114

Following our exploration of the church we hopped on a dolmus back to the city of Selcuk, from where we caught another inexpensive minibus to the tiny resort-ish mountain town of Sirince. From Lonely Planet, “Once a Greek-populated mountain village, Sirince’s clustered stone-and-stucco homes, bucolic wooded setting and long winemaking tradition have made it popular…. Legend says that freed Greek slaves in the 15th century resettled here, calling it Cirince (Ugliness) to keep others away. However, by at least the 19th century it had become Kirinje. Under the new republic in the1920’s the name Sirince (Pleasantness) came with the exodus of the Greeks, who largely moved to a village they called Nea Ephesos (New Ephesus) in Northern Greece…. The local alcohol trade [remained], and today you can sample their unique wines (made from raspberry, peach, black mulberry, and pomegranate) in local restaurants and cafes.”


These unique wines were the reason for our visit, and my travel hombre and I enjoyed glasses of cherry and pomegranate wine, respectively, over a delicious dinner overlooking a mountain vista at Sirincem Restaurant and Café. In fact, we joked then and to this day that it was the most the romantic setting for a platonic dinner date to ever be conceived. The wines we drank were made in house by the owner, a fruit farmer, and they brought us a complimentary fruit plate after dinner which quite possibly lived up to the waiter’s assurances that it included “the most beautiful apple you will ever eat.”

After stuffing ourselves we hopped on the last bus back down the mountain to Selcuk, followed by the last bus back to Izmir where a well-earned night of sleep met us before the long bus ride back to K-Town the next day. A fittingly surreal, once-in-a-lifetime day to end a surreal, once-in-a-lifetime vacation! 

Artwork, Adıyaman, Antiochus, and Apricots

Over the first weekend in October, my K-Town crew and I boarded a plane from Ankara and flew to Malatya, a city in Central Southeastern Turkey where 3 of our Fulbright cohorts are placed. The trip also served as something of a one month reunion, as we joined over 20 other Fulbrighters there. With the help of their university representative, the Malatya crew organized a once-in-a-lifetime chance for us to visit a number of ancient sites via bus tour, including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Mt. Nemrut. But more on that later…


During the day on Saturday we visited Battalgazi (Old Malatya), an area rich with historic sites. Our explorations started at Silahatar Mustafa Paşa Hanı, an old caravanserai dating from 1637 which now serves as a museum and fine arts school.  (A caravanserai, in Turkish, Karvan Sarayi were roadside inns across the Middle East and Central Asia, particularly along the Silk Road, which served as hubs of commerical, informational and cultural interaction.) The caravanserai is named for Mustafa Pasha the sword-bearer (silahatar) of Sultan Murat IV.


Outside the structure itself, we saw a statue symbolizing “The Erudite Human who is Carrying the Weight of Both Worlds on His Shoulders.” Standing at 4.5 meters, the statue was carved from a single intact tree, felled during the restoration of the caravanserai, which occurred from 2007-2009.

IMG_1325While we were there, we were the recipients of an impromptu demonstration and lesson about ebru, a distinctly Turkish Islamicate art form. You can walk through the tutorial we were privy to and learn more about ebru here In addition to the gentleman who taught us about ebru, we were able to visit the workshops of a number of artists who now work and give lessons at the caravanserai.IMG_1336 IMG_1334

Old Malatya is home to a number of historic and religious sites, some of which I was able to visit:

  • Ulu Camii (The Grand/ Exalted Mosque) was built in 1224, during the reign of the Seljuk Anatolian Sultan Alaettin Keykubad I. According the placard outside the building, “This structure is unique in the sense that it is the sole Anatolian example of the mosque tradition of the Great Seljuk Empire of Iran, called ‘four-iwan’ plan. Though this architectural style was known by the Anatolian Seljuks it was not adopted here as it was not suitable for the climate conditions prevailing in this region. Therefore, the Grand Mosque is the first and sole example of this design.” Among other things, the placard also notes the stunning turquoise and purple mosaics that decorate the walls and inner dome of the mosque, and which were restored in 2007. I think it’s rather exciting to note that this was the first mosque I entered in Turkey. IMG_1373 IMG_1374 IMG_1367
  • Directly to the south of Ulu Camii is the site of Sahabiyye-i-Kübra ve Suğra Medreseleri (The [Islamic] Theological School of Sahabiyye-i Kubra), constructed during the reign of the Memluk Sultan El Melik-ul Esref Saban (1363-1376), under the direction of Emir Sahabettin Hizir. Though no physical ruins remain of the structure, it is known that religious education was conducted on the site through the 18th century.

Other significant nearby sites include the Ak Minare Camii and the Halfetih Minare (Minaret), which both date to the 13th century.

After visiting these sites, we took a break to eat döner from a shop in the town square, at which time our group was approached by a group of small children who, after we’d scarfed the schwarma, led us to a section of the city where the houses had been beautifully restored. On the exterior of the houses throughout this district, ceramic and other mixed media artwork were installed on the exterior walls of the houses, apparently the products of art students from a nearby university. The whole affair was something of a fairy tale, but I’ll let the artwork speak for itself:

IMG_1398 IMG_1380 IMG_1385 IMG_1396


Our adventures that Saturday began at the crack of dawn, as the whole Fulbright crew loaded onto two privately rented minibuses which were to become our home for the next 15 hours of so. We watched the sun rise from the buses as we set off for the neighboring province of Adıyaman, where we would visit a number of ancient sites, including the magnificent Nemrut Dağı.

The group enjoyed an outstanding traditional Turkish breakfast at a beautiful wooden restaurant, complete with waterfalls and fish ponds.

a view of the sunrise from the bus

a view of the sunrise from the bus

breakfast spot

breakfast spot

After a few hours on the bus, we arrived at the first site, the view from which was admittedly more astounding than the ruins themselves. Karakuş Tümülüs (which translates to Monument Grave) was built in 36 BCE, a memorial grave of the Commagene royal family. From my Lonely Planet guidebook: “A handful of columns ring the mound- there were more, but the limestone blocks were used by the Romans to build the Cendere Bridge.”(See below) The site has a handful of columns, one topped with an eagle, another with a lion and a bull. A third column has an inscribed slab depicting King Mithridates II shaking hands with his sister Laodike, allegedly explaining that the burial mound holds his female relatives.

The view from the monument site

The view from the monument site


couldn't resist the titanic opportunity we had

couldn’t resist the titanic opportunity we had

The next site we visited was the Cendere Bridge, built in the 2nd century CE by the Romans in honor of Emperor Septimus Severus. (The bridge was almost immediately rechristened the “Snape Bridge” by we the band of nerds.) We took the opportunity to soak up some gorgeous sunshine, and some folks even dipped their toes in the Cendere River over which the bridge stands. Some of the original Roman columns and stelae remain. IMG_0549 IMG_0553 IMG_0547

Our journey continued with a stop in a small tourist town closer to Nemrut where we stopped in a grocery store and bought a variety of picnic foods which we would eat for lunch at a tea garden at our next stop, which was Eski Kahta (Kocahisar)/ Yeni Kale (Old Kahta/ New Fortress or Castle). To paraphrase the broken English on the placard outside the site, archaeological research has determined that the palace of the Commagene kingdom was at this location. What is now visible are the remains of a 13th century Mamluk castle (hence the name “new castle,” as opposed to an “Eski Kale, old castle” a few kilometers away, which was the site of the ancient Commagene capital of Arsamenia, which we didn’t visit.) The stones used to build this Mamluk fortress were 300-350 meters high, with only one entrance. Inside the castle are the remains of water tanks, a bazaar and marketplace, a mosque, and a prison. Unfortunately, due to a massive renovation project which is currently underway, we were unable to enter the site, but I was able to snag some pictures of the exterior. IMG_0570 IMG_0563 IMG_0564


After a winding and nerve-wracking journey up the mountain via a narrow roadway, our series of site visits concluded with a visit at sunset to the magnificent Nemrut Dağı (Mount Nemrut). From Lonely Planet:

“The spellbinding peak of Nemrut Dağı rises to a height of 2150m in the Anti-Taurus Range…. Nobody knew anything about Nemrut Dağı until 1881, when a German engineer, employed by the Ottomans to assess transport routes, was astounded to come across the statues covering this remote mountaintop. Archaeological work didn’t begin until 1953, when the American School of Oriental Research undertook the project. The summit was created when a megalomaniac pre-Roman local king cut two ledges in the rock, filled them with colossal statues of himself and the gods (his relatives- or so he thought), then ordered an artificial mountain peak of crushed rock 50m high to be piled between them. The king’s tomb and those of three female relatives are reputed to lie beneath those tonnes of rock. Earthquakes have toppled the heads from most of the statues, and now many of the colossal bodies sit silently in rows, with the 2m high heads watching from the ground.”  IMG_0578

here I am!

here I am!

IMG_0585 IMG_0584 IMG_0589 IMG_0587 IMG_0590

This incredible site, most famous for these massive heads, is stunning, surprising, and well-deserving of its place on the UNESCO World Heritage sites list. When you arrive at the mountain you hike up a long ceremonial path to the peak, where men walked up and down crying “taxi,” referring to the highly decorated donkeys they were leading, in case you were too lazy. Once you reach the summit, there are two sides of the mountain which host the statues. On the eastern terrace, there are 5? Bodies arrayed in place, with their respective heads below: the god Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes; the goddess Tyche of Commagene; the god Zeus-Oromasdes; Antiochos himself; the god Heracles-Artagnes-Ares. On the western terrace there is an even larger collection of massive head carvings, detached from their bodies. In addition, there are a number of large stone reliefs. From UNESCO: “Three superb reliefs show Antiochos exchanging a handshake with Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes, with Zeus-Oromasdes and Heracles-Artagnes-Ares. They are framed by an allegorical group of Antiochos and the Commagenes on the left and an astrological relief called ‘the king’s horoscope’ on the right. The inscription, which has been deciphered, gives the date 10 July 62-61 BC: the date that Antiochos I was invested as king by the Romans.”

IMG_0609 IMG_0608 IMG_0607

Obviously, Mt. Nemrut is an impressive ancient site; its grandeur speaks for itself. What shouldn’t be missed, however, is the fascinating cultural discourse that exists in the objects themselves, and what they can maybe teach us about culture and identity not just in Turkey, but globally. UNESCO puts it this way:

The Hierotheseion of Antiochos I is one of the most ambitious constructions of the Hellenistic period. Its complex design and colossal scale combined to create a project unequalled in the ancient world. A highly developed technology was used to build the colossal statues and orthostats (stelae), the equal of which has not been found anywhere else for this period. The syncretism of its pantheon and the lineage of its kings, which can be traced back through two sets of legends, Greek and Persian, is evidence of the dual origin of this kingdom’s culture.The tomb of Antiochos I of Commagene is a unique artistic achievement. The landscaping of the natural site of Nemrut Dağ is one of the most colossal undertakings of the Hellenistic period (some of the stone blocks used weigh up to nine tons)….Nemrut Dağ bears unique testimony to the civilization of the kingdom of Commagene. Antiochos I is represented in this monument as a descendant of Darius by his father Mithridates, and a descendant of Alexander by his mother Laodice. This semi-legendary ancestry translates in genealogical terms the ambition of a dynasty that sought to remain independent of the powers of both the East and the West…. the tumulus at Nemrut Dağ illustrates, through the liberal syncretism of a very original pantheon, a significant, historical period. The assimilation of Zeus with Oromasdes (the Iranian god Ahuramazda), and Heracles with Artagnes (the Iranian god Verathragna) finds its artistic equivalent in an intimate mixture of Greek, Persian and Anatolian aesthetics in the statuary and the bas-reliefs.

More plainly speaking, from my perspective at least, Mt. Nemrut is just one example of how the East-West binary so many cling to simply cannot be applied in a paradigm attuned to history. If schoolchildren in the US, for example, grow up learning about Zeus and ancient Greece as the foundation of what becomes “Western civilization,” and here we see that symbology co-existing with ancient Persian mythological figures, in modern day Turkey, what can we say? In an essay regarding how these dilemmas should vs do play out in the art history/antiquities world, (regarding Lydian artefacts) author Saba Askary notes, “The artefacts that remain… are effectively ambiguous, as well as being absolutely remarkable in this ambiguity and interconnectivity,(sic) this fact needs to be embraced and celebrated rather than overlooked.” Imagine the good it would do for conceptions of identity, history, the eradication of Orientalizing mindsets, and the contemporary nation state squabbles and “culture wars” currently underway. Inshallah.

sunset from Nemrut


Before leaving Malatya the next day, we had an important purchase to make. Many cities across Turkey are known for particular foods (Aydin figs, Amasya apples, Kayseri mantı, to name just a few examples). Malatya, as it happens, is the apricot capital of Turkey. Apricot, in Turkish, is kayısi, though I was happy to learn that it is locally known there by the Arabic miş-miş as well. According to Lonely Planet, “after the late-June harvest, thousands of tonnes of the luscious fruits are shipped internationally…” and the K-Town Krew schlepped back no less than 3 kilos of the fruit, dried, back to Kırıkkale to share with our colleagues. At the time of writing, I estimate that we still have at least a kilo and a half to go. Malatya is very proud of its apricot production: the fruit graces the city logo, which adorns buses, flagpoles, streetlights, etc., and in the city center there are two massive statues of the fruit, which incidentally serve as handy landmarks/meeting points.IMG_0525

P.S. The dried apricots we brought back are not the orangey-color one might be accustomed to seeing in the grocery store; they’re more of a mottled brown, caramel, and deep apricot/orange color. Apparently, dried apricots which retain the color of their fresh counterparts are treated with sulfates in order to do so—if they’re sulfate-free, they’re brownish when dried.