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.
Never has a city evoked so many varied emotions from me within such an exceptionally small space of time as Şanlıurfa – Glorious Urfa – managed to do this past weekend. The three days I spent there were actually so amazingly eventful, and unexpected in the most peculiar ways, that I will be splitting my experience into three posts. This one will focus on the city of Urfa itself, in all its glory.
I left Malatya for Urfa at 5:30 AM, and I was lucky enough to arrive on a quick intercity bus – made by Mercedes Benz with personal TVs, which I did not take advantage of as I promptly fell back asleep – by around 10:30 in the morning.
[quote style=”1″]I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read…
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
-Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley
Earlier this week Danielle, Fabio and myself set out on what we assumed would be a short excursion to Sultansuyu Harası on our university rep’s suggestion. What seemed like it would start off as a few hours outside the university quickly spiraled into a long, drawn out day of confusion, and eventually picture taking and fish.
The first sign that things could get tricky was our reps insistence on giving us scavenger hunt directions: i.e. go to Malatya Park Mall, and then call me and receive further instructions. From the mall, we were told to catch a mini-bus to Akçadağ, a good 20 kilometers outside of the city proper – no problem. Getting off the bus is always the hardest part, and we were told to get off the bus once we started seeing horses close to Harra… or something. After that we would be met by his sister-in-law. It’s around here that things get a little hazy.
Gorged from the unexpectedly massive lunch of Turkish kebaps, we made our ways towards the bus stop to catch a minibus towards Battalgazı – the site of Old Malatya, which still contains old Roman walls and other historic artifacts. Our end goal was to see an old Ottoman caravansary as well as an even older Seljuk mosque, Ulu Camii, from the turn of the 13th century. It was on this minibus that we met Mehmet, who was collecting money from passengers to help out his uncle, the driver.
Ankara is a hilly city – seriously, you can’t go anywhere here without hiking up some hill or mountain. This was precisely why Ankara was chosen as the capital of Turkey during the War of Independence: the mountains it is built upon, and it’s overall remoteness, provided an ideal defensible position.
Today Ankara, luckily, does not face threat of attack so its hills have been put to a variety of uses. In the center of the city, on the highest hill, sits Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of the revered Attatürk, founder of modern Turkey. I went to the mausoleum when I was in Ankara last summer too, but this time the tour was in English and I gained a new appreciation for the building. Each segment of the structure was constructed and planned as a synthesis of all the cultures that have inhabited Turkey – from the Phrygians of ancient times up through the Byzantines, Ottomans, and Muslim influence. As I heard someone once say, “If you like the Lincoln Memorial, Anıtkabir will blow you away.”