Tag Archives: explore

The Wealth of Mardin

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Due to the protracted military conflict between the Turkish military and Kurdish rebels – which luckily seem has come to an end, finally – South Eastern Turkey has long been a no-go zone for tourists. With the easing of tensions in recent years the wonders of Turkey’s south is becoming a more and more enticing option. At the top of the list for any would be traveler in this area should be Mardin, a truly cosmopolitan city overlooking the fertile plains of Mesopotamia.

Wealth of Mardin
Looking down onto a mosque and Mesopotamia

The wealth of Mardin is hard to put into words. An old city built on top of a mountain, crowned with a castle, Mardin is much more Arabic than Turkish. Mardin is actually unique in Turkey in that the general spoken language in the city is Arabic, the language in the province is Kurdish, but the national language is still Turkish. If you’re lucky, you can also hear and see scatterings of Syriac – one of the few living dialects of Aramaic – still spoken by the Syriac Christian community of the city. Mardin is also apparently home to members of the elusive and secretive Yazidi Community – a faith that seemingly blends together elements from Gnostic Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, among other faiths.

Wealth of Mardin
Looking through a madrassa’s arch at the castle,

Wealth of Mardin

The wealth of Mardin is not just measured in people. The city is known throughout Turkey as being the home of the best handcrafted silver goods available. The silversmith trade was a noted profession of Syriacs, and would often be passed down through a family line in older days. Syriac wine is also famous, and the main street of old Mardin is full of authentic wine stores selling their goods to Turkish tourists and city locals alike. The main street of the city functions as a checkerboard of dried fruits from the Mesopotamian plain, Syriac wine, and silver stores.

The Wealth of Mardin

The wealth of Mardin also manifests itself in the buildings of the city. Similar to the old city of Urfa, old Mardin is a maze of narrow streets and older honey colored stone houses, with the addition of immense madrassas interspersed with ancient churches. Rooftop cafes rise throughout the city, competing for views of the plains below while the Leylan Cafe and Kitab bookstore in the center of the city sells wine, as well as books in Turkish, Kurdish, and Farsi.

Mardin

The wealth of Mardin is something that must be experienced rather than read about, seen not heard about. Although a long way from the normal tourist destinations of Istanbul and Turkey’s western coast, Mardin is a must see. The warmth of the people alone – a mixture of the general Turkish/Kurdish/Arabic love of guests, coupled with a small town feel – makes Mardin a city I will never forget.

Wealth of Mardin

Where Russia and Turkey Met

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Rising from the high steppe that leads into the Caucasus is the jumble of small alleys and narrow boulevards that make up the provincial city of Kars. Most foreigners who come to Kars are drawn by one of two reasons: either they are inspired to see the city because of Orhan Pamuk’s fabulous novel Snow, or they are using the city as a base camp to see the ruins of the old Armenian city of Ani. Either way, visitors on the whole are rare.

Kars Panorama

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The Ancient City of Ani

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Forty kilometers east of the Turkish city of Kars, high on the windswept steppe, is piece of land jutting into Armenia like a dagger. Surrounded on three sides by deep, nearly impassable chasms and the barbed wire fence denoting the still closed border between Turkey and Armenia, lies the ruins on the ancient city of Ani – the one time capital of the greater Armenian Kingdom of the Middle Ages.

Ancient Ani
For the sake of scale, remember that I am 17 feet tall.

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Touristic Istanbul

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When Jen came to visit Istanbul – over a month ago, as hard as that is to believe – she had one major goal for what she wanted to see in the city: the Aya Sofya. Although Istanbul is a magnificent city worth much more than it’s well known tourist draws, Jen was right to have that be her goal. One should not go to there and not bother seeing the Aya Sofya and the old city where Constantinople, and Byzantion before that, once stood. So, on Jen’s last day in the city, we set out to see the touristic Istanbul.

Outside the Aya Sofya
Outside the Aya Sofya

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The Golden Hill Rule

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Seeing Istanbul by night from the Galata Tower really inspired me for the travels I later took in Germany and Israel – specifically, I developed the philosophy that if there is a hill or mountain behind any sort of city or town, climb it! The views offered in reward for this are almost always worth it. 

The first iteration of this rule in practice was the climbing of Schlossberg behind Freiburg with my mom. Although we had no idea what was at the top of the hill, we were treated to fantastic views of the city at the top. Also unbeknownst to us, but heavily implied by the mountains name (Schloss means castle in German), was the old fortifications of Medieval Freiburg – awesome!

Golden Hill Rule

World of Graffiti

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I’ve noticed that the more I travel the more interested I become in smaller intricacies of each city I see – particularly graffiti. Having just come back home to Malatya from almost three weeks of traveling in Istanbul, Germany and Israel, I am amazed by the amount of amazingly artistic work I saw and the range of topics covered. Particularly interesting was how a large portion of all the art was in English – I guess the world of graffiti is flat.

world of graffiti
Welcome to Tel Aviv – The city’s watching you

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Turkey in Review

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As 2012 wraps to a close, I feel compelled to give a special post of ‘Turkey in Review.’ I’ve been extremely fortunate with the amount I’ve been able to travel and see within the past four months and, although I’ve missed a lot, I can’t help but be happy with what I’ve seen. So, without further ado, here is a quick and dirty review of some hot-spots in Turkey for any of you thinking of traveling in this amazing country.

Mount Nemrut

Visiting Mount Nemrut (Nemrut Dağı) was my first major Turkish excursion, and it also featured prominently on my life bucket list. Built as a burial mound on top of one of the highest peaks for the king of the Commagene Kingdom in South Eastern Turkey, the mountain is definitely worth a visit, though maybe not necessarily for the reasons you may think.

Look On My Works

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Where History And Modernity Collide

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Our meeting with Fırsat on the bus to Hatay proved to truly be an auspicious start to one of the most enjoyable weekends I’ve spent in Turkey yet. Although, if I had to wager, I would say that it would be very difficult to not enjoy a weekend in the old city of Antioch – in very few places have I truly gotten the feeling of a vibrant city feeling right at home being the place where history and modernity collide.

For example, although being on the border with Syria and having a strong Middle Eastern influence, Hatay was extremely casual in terms of dress. Whereas Malatya is much more conservative with any inter-sex displays of affection or any sort of daring clothing, women in Hatay “commonly wear mini-skirts, if you’ve noticed” as Fırsat had earlier put it with a wink at me and Fabio over tea. This is all the more interesting when put into context – you’re almost as likely to see a Syrian rebel enjoying some R&R in Hatay in full combat fatigues or military boots as one of these modern ladies.

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The Eager Alawi

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Taking the overnight bus from Malatya to Hatay with Danielle and Fabio, I immediately cursed my bad luck as I was forced to sit next to a wide squat Turk who was expanding into my seat. No sleep for me, I thought to myself; of course, I was wrong. I fell asleep almost immediately and did not truly stir until we arrived in Hatay province.

Still with a half hour to go until we reached our final destination – the city of Hatay, formerly known as Antakya, the old city of Antioch – my seat mate and I made eye contact and started to chit-chat.

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The Ruins of Harput

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This past weekend, after being completed exhausted from my Istanbul trip, I decided to take it easy and relax in, and around, Malatya for a change; however, I very quickly became antsy – no matter how much Breaking Bad I was watching – and I decided to go check out the old city of Harput in Elazığ, Malatya’s neighboring province and longtime rival. I had thought I would be alone, having only made plans Friday night for Saturday, but my German neighbor Suzanne was also intrigued and volunteered to come along with me.

Harput kalesi

 

So, on Saturday we set out together. After a bus into the city center of Malatya, a mini-bus from Malatya to the center of Elazığ, another mini-bus to a different bus terminal, and then a final short bus ride we had arrived at Harput. Harput reminded me instantly of Battalgazı – b0th are smaller, historic cities that are quickly becoming depopulated and swallowed up by the new city built below it. Whereas Elazığ is a thoroughly modern city, Harput has apparently been the city of dwellings – and castles – since at least the 8th century BC. Pretty intense!

Harput kalesi

 

The original reason that I had set my eyes on visiting Harput was its historical significance. One of the first cities built by the Turks when they arrived in Anatolia, the city remained an important trade-hub and strategic location up through the fall of the Ottoman Empire; today, however, much of the city’s former greatness has been lost following a devastating earthquake a few decades ago. The city is only now truly being restored to it’s former glory. Due to this, the Harput kalesi – which I had hoped to be thoroughly impressed by – was a bit of a let down as only the stronger outer walls survived the devastation.

harput kalesi

The views from the castle’s summit outpost continued to be fantastic, though, especially since modern Elazığ is built in the valley below. I had also been hoping to be able to explore the castle’s dungeons – which one housed Count Baldwin, a crusader king – but they were also unfortunately blocked off. By complete chance, though, Suzanne and I stumbled upon the remains of Mother Mary Church – now just the collapsing outer walls of what was once probably a beautiful structure. This, and the peaceful fall colors of the surrounding hills, made up for any disappointment the castle may have caused.

harput kalesi

harput kalesi

Mother Mary Church

After what we wrongly presumed would be a light lunch – typically – Suzanne and I visited the other famous sight of Harput, Ulu Camii (the Grand Mosque). Although not incredibly interesting or beautiful without context – it is a simple rectangular mosque, which is technically interesting since it follows the Arab design instead of the round design the Turks would later adopt from Orthodox Christians – the mosque is renowned for two reasons: it is one of the first mosques built by the Turks in Anatolia, and it also has a famous leaning minaret which is still in use although it constantly looks ready to topple.

Ulu Camii, Harput

 

On the way back from the mosque we also stumbled upon the shrine, and burial sight, of Mansur Baba – a Sufi saint from the region. Apparently Harput is full of folk heroes and saint shrines, but unfortunately we did not have time to find the rest and we begin our multiple bus trips back to Malatya.

Mansur Baba türbani

 

All in all, Harput may not have been the most amazing place I have seen in Turkey. I did see a beautiful sunset from the mountains there, though, and the historical context of the area certainly made it fascinating in retrospect. There is something about visiting historical sights, especially when they are still living, that truly helps to put give life some sort of, perhaps not perspective, but emphasis.

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Harput

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Harput

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Culture Shock

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It was Friday night, and I was staring at a restaurant menu along with three other Fulbrighters in shock. The prices listed were at best twice as expensive as anything I’d seen. Even more surprising, alcohol – several types of alcohol, to be exact – were listed alongside the food. Quickly, the restaurant that had only a few minutes before sat only us, began to fill up as more and more people came in from the street. I can’t believe this, I thought to myself, I’m going through culture shock. Where am I? 

I was in Istanbul, and I had never felt further from Malatya.

Culture Shock from Malatya
I swear there are more people on Istiklal than I see in Malatya on a normal day.

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Fairy Tale Amasya

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This past week I’ve been a bit incommunicado as it was a combination of two holidays – Kurban Bayramı and Cumhuriyet Bayramı – so I have been traveling for the past ten days. Cumhuriyet Bayramı is Republic Day in Turkey, and celebrates the founding of the modern Turkish Republic. Worth noting, though, is that Kurban Bayramı is the Feast of Sacrifice Holiday, and it celebrates the moment in Islam when Abraham almost sacrificed his son Ishmael – not Isaac, as in Judaism and Christianity – to God. Just an interesting note.

Anyway, for the holidays I decided to visit my old host family in Ankara with a three day stopover in Amasya on the way, which allowed me to visit my friends Kate and Erin posted there. I already had fairly high expectations of Amasya from what I had read online, as well as the photographs I saw Erin post on Facebook; however, I was not prepared for how blown away by the city I would be.

Fairy Tale Amasya
My “being blown away” face

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