A trip to Turkey

A Trip to Turkey

A Map of our TravelsIt was a great trip to Turkey the year of November, 2011. Lots of learning that included shedding faulty perspectives, creating new mental maps and timelines, and making new connections. Many thanks to our Turkish guide, Inci. (The account here comes from our guide augmented by guidebooks which we bought at the site. The pictures are mine.) The route took us in Western Turkey, away from the earthquake area of the Kurds in the East.

We stayed at 5-star hotels and ate some great breakfasts with an abundance of fruits, Turkish cheeses, yogurts, and bread as well as the traditional bacon and eggs.  The heating systems did not handle the transitional time between summer and winter very well but that is the only complaint and the swimming pools and spas made up for it. As for dinner or lunch, Turkey is known for tasty kebobs, breads including pita bread and other Mediterranean dishes. But my favorite meal was a lunch with pita bread and high quality vegetables and fruits. Yummmmm.

I have always wanted to visit Istanbul and see the great church called the Hagia Sophia. It met all expectations of size and elegance. The Blue Mosque nearby complemented it and is the grandiose mosques among mosques.

Hagia Sophia Inside Hagia Sophia The Blue Mosque

AtaturkThe most interesting personage we heard of on the trip is Ataturk, the "Father of the Turks.”   The story is this:

Before the start of World War I the Turkish government, then the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, signed a secret alliance with Germany.  Russia, Britain and France declared war on the Ottoman Empire and Ataturk was sent to the Dardanelles where Winston Churchill had organized an attack, thinking of attacking Germany from the Black Sea. Turkey was allied with Germany so the allies Russia, Britain and France devised the strategy to take control of the Dardanelles, the strait that links the Aegean Sea with the Black Sea and on which Istanbul is located. Churchill sent the units including a very young and large Australian unit to the Dardanelles. Unfortunately they landed at the base of some very steep cliffs. This attack by the Allies was totally unsuccessful and the Australian troops died to the man.

A Memorial to a fallen soldierA MemorialThere was a consequence of the death of 1000 Australian troops that were sent to and were killed at the Dardanelles. This tragedy influenced the Australians during the Second World War to say no to the British Empire. "We will not help you. You did not help us. Instead we will defend our own sphere and country against the Japanese” and they did not help the English Empire during World War II. Ataturk commemorated the death of these young soldiers in a very generous way: There are also individual headstones that have message from "My only darling boy” to "it was a good cause.” Ataturk then fought against both the Allies and the Ottoman Empire to take control of Turkey. He was successful and his goal was to bring Turkey into the modern age.

In 1928 he did something so radical it blows my mind. He had Turkish put into the Latin alphabet when they had been using the Arabic alphabet. Imagine Obama changing the Latin alphabet we use to the Russian… He also required family names. And it was then he was given the surname "Ataturk,” meaning Father of the Turks.  He did everything in his power to make Turkey a secular democracy and gave equal rights to women. He himself adopted five young ladies and also a boy who had been a shepherd. He organized a historical society which has succeeded in getting a number of countries to participate in unearthing the many historical sites that are so popular with tourists. (There are still many sites to be excavated.) And he had Turkey adopt the solar year.

There is a wealth of information in his mausoleum in Ankara that we did not get a chance to read.  The esteem the Turkish people have for the man is visible on his birthday when the country stops for 5 minutes on his birthday to remember and thank him.

At the present Turkey is a young nation: the number of people under 20 is 60%. The unemployment rate is ca. 9.2%. 99% of them are, thanks to the efforts of the Ottomans, Muslim.  The present government is a conservative Muslim party who is in conflict with the principles laid down by Ataturk of secularism and women’s rights. The country is becoming stronger in the Arab League and might even become a leader. To watch the news about Turkey in English, view http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/ or google Turkish news.

The western part of Turkey has a wonderful climate and soil and it exports fresh vegetables and fruits as well as wheat, cotton and sugar from sugar beets. The country imports oil for energy and it encourages the use of solar panels on all the apartment buildings for hot water. Its tourism industry is very strong. Our guide told us that in November and off-season, all hotels were full of Germans, Japanese and some Americans English and Australians.  The Turkish government subsidizes traditional arts like carpet weaving, ceramic making, etc. and a visit to a factory for each trade is part of a tour.

Carpets Ceramics

Health services and education even at the university are free, given the proper paperwork, of course.  A man can retire at 50 and a woman at 45. I have no idea about the financial picture of this country. I do know that the sales tax is 18%.

The Turks are very social people, spending much time with family and neighbors. They do not travel very much outside the country, according to our guide, but rather choose to buy an apartment near the sea at which they spend 3 months in the summer, the husband driving to work during the week into the city. Apartment houses are built by collectives instead of buying mortgages. That means people choose the site and put money towards the building of the apartment. A cluster of apartment houses is the most economical scenario with the result that a cluster of 5 or 6-story apartment houses stands surrounded by vacant fields.  One interesting note is that you do not pay the heavy taxes to the government's property taxes until the building is finished. Consequently, there are a number of buildings around the country that are unfinished on the top floor or on the side portion it. It looks tacky but I guess that's what they do to accommodate themselves to the government's rules while saving money.

The Turks have a saying "You don’t buy an apartment; you buy the neighbors.” Land is expensive and the government owns most of it. An apartment costs anywhere near or over $500,000 and before buying into an apartment building, the potential buyer meets the neighbors. One of the reasons is that if a neighbor becomes sick or in need of aid, his neighbors open their door to him. There are no homeless. If a vacation is a four days, the last day is for visiting with the neighbors. There is not the moving around as in the United States so neighbor children grow up as very good friends and almost as an extension of the family. Grandparents take care of the kids so that kindergarten is almost nonexistent. This positive side of Islam is new to me. Another event that shows the care of Muslims for their fellows is the 4-day sacrificial feast where a person who has the means buys an animal and has it slaughtered. He then finds 7 poor people who need the food. That is in November when we were there.

Whirling DervishesWhirling dervishes is a small sect with a ritual of whirling to achieve a trance-like state.  They have a gentler and more loving version of Islam. A man created a school to teach the philosophy of the whirling dervishes and the father’s casket rose upright to honor his son’s burial. The school still exists as a museum. Rosary beads displayed were significantly larger and more numerous (999 rather than 99) signifying greater importance of obedience to Allah. For some reason water played an important part in their religion and the dome was removed to allow the rain to fall into a pool beside which was a water clock.  Now the dome has a cover.  This museum is in Konja, a city on the silk road which had an early Christian population. But then the Seljuk Turks took over and the city of 1 million is a conservative Muslim city.

Historically Anatolia was the old name of Turkey.  The area played a much greater role in the history of Christianity than we recognize and also in Greek and Roman history.  Now it seems obvious when we read that the Greeks settled in the area already in the 6th century BC and the Romans followed. Present Turkey has many more relics and buildings of the past than the Greeks and the Italians, a fact that is amazing to me and caused by my ignorant perceptions of the age of the boundaries of these countries. There are also many references in the Bible to places that are in Turkey. There are remnants of Christian churches and even some active Christian churches in modern Turkey.


Before the birth of Christ the land now Turkey was run by the Hittites and the Persians. Much artwork from the Hittites show a fine sense of design and are well preserved in the museum of Antalya (Antioch in the Bible, and the silk road went through it. ).. Alexander came along in the 3rd century and he took over the area (Turkey) for a while but already from the sixth century BC on Greeks had been living in the present Turkey and building theaters, marketplaces, libraries and temples.

Then the Romans came in and they also created baths and latrines (Let’s keep our priorities straight!) and used a lot of the Greek buildings and extended them or reused the material. In the fourth to fifth century the Roman Empire was divided and Turkey became part of the eastern half governed by the Byzantines who made Christianity the state religion.


The Byzantines more or less ruled until the Seljuk Turks came in 1071 and then the Ottoman Turks came and absorbed the Seljuk Turks and they ruled until 1923 what Ataturk finally got them out of the picture. That’s the history. Now onto the Christian references and the sights.

Islam accepts Jesus as a prophet and the Bible is included in the Divine Readings of the Koran. They also recognize the Virgin Mary. That said, it is perhaps not so strange to find Christians and Jews "living under the same roof” as the Muslims, although, granted, this relationship has been jeopardized by war and attacks from both sides for centuries. 

Monument to JohnBoth St Paul and St. John lived in Ephesus. St. Paul lived there for 5 or 6 years and preached from his workshop.  St John wrote part of the New Testament there and died there. His 7 churches included Ephesus. At the theater John preached and at a later time Christians were fed to the lions. The Emperor Justinian built a marvelous monument to John over his grave which was important in the Middle Ages.  John had, as Jesus instructed, taken the responsibility of Mary and brought her to spend her last days in the lovely hills above Ephesus, according to legend and the vision of a Bavarian pious woman. 3 popes have visited this spot, according to our guide. (At right, Per is standing next to the reconstructed house of Mary, Mother of Jesus.)

TheaterEphesus has a Roman theater as well as the latrines and baths used as meeting places. Public baths were required of merchants coming to hawk their wares. A Roman bath had a cold pool, a warm pool and a steam Roads of Ephesusroom with underground clay pipes. The roads were broad  and well built and still bear much traffic today.

Christianity developed in Central Anatolia (Turkey).especially during the rule of Constantine in the 4th century.   It was tolerated until the coming of the Ottoman Turks in the 11th century.  Cappadocia is said to have had 400 Christian churches in that time.
Sights:  Our tourist group on this two-week tour visited Roman and Greek ruins as well as the mysterious natural formations at Cappadocia where the underground cities were hollowed out and later housed the Christians who were being persecuted.

Ruins more Ruins

Cappadocia is the highlight of the tour because of its interesting natural phenomena. Surrounded by the wheat basket of Turkey, this volcanic formation which is so soft that whole cities with multiple stories and tunnels connecting each apartment were carved out. Some new rooms are still being hollowed out, some for tourist lodging, but many structures have softened and crumbled.

Did you know that from 1 cocoon can come 2 miles of thread?  Did you know carpets were priced according to the number of knots tied to make the carpet? Did you know that the number of minarets of a mosque signified its importance?  Did you know that a good Muslim must pray towards Mecca 5 times a day and that is why in gas stations we sometimes saw a room in which people were praying after first washing their feet?  Did you know that there used to be a man who would climb inside the minaret and up to give the call to prayer 5 times a day?  Now there are wires to a speaker and even there can be many minarets which are joined by wire and the call to prayer goes through them all.  Did you know that a pot on top of the roof meant an eligible girl lived there?  Did you know that a red scarf means that the lady is single, gray is married and pink is engaged?

My friends on the tour:  please send me information to add or pictures.  Hugs to you all!  Even the belly dancer, Frank.