Istanbul – A stroll in the old city

DSCF0025Turkey’s been going through some difficult times in the last year or so. Fortunately for Turks, their economy is not dependent on one factor: oil, like Venezuela, or tourism, like the Maldive Islands.

Nevertheless, tourism is a big earner, and that sector took a few hits in recent years. A trigger-happy Turkish pilot (let’s call him that) shot down a Russian Mig  – and in retaliation, Russian holiday-makers were ordered to stay home in their frozen wastes instead of flocking to the beaches on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

Then various wealthy Western governments (including my own beloved New Zealand) started advising their citizens to avoid visiting the country – though I think the annual Anzac Day pilgrimage was relatively unaffected.

Well, the Turkish Lira’s not doing so well at present, but (or maybe, so) the tourists have been flocking back. The people at Bloomberg published a piece of research showing that Turkey ranked 4th this year in a list of ten countries “where tourism is skyrocketing”. Then the “editors and experts” of Time Out produced a list of the “Fifty Coolest Neighbourhoods in the World”, and Istanbul’s Kadıköy was on it.

Now I have to tell you, I have mixed feelings about the effects of tourism on a country’s economy, not to mention its natural environment. And I have some doubts about the taste of people who would rank Los Angeles at No. 9 and Istanbul at No. 43. I was also a little surprised to see London’s Peckham come in at No. 11. When I worked there briefly as a high school teacher 20 years ago, “cool” was not a word I ever heard applied to the district, but clearly times have changed.

Still, these days, I think most Turks will be grateful for any encouragement they receive from western news sources.

Anyway, I was moved to get out on an overcast Tuesday and check out some of what Istanbul has to offer. I took a ferry over to Eminönü in the old city, and headed for the Archaeology Museum.

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One of my favourite trees, a plane tree by the tram station at Gülhane. Not as big as our Tane Mahuta, but it must be a few centuries old, and seems remarkably healthy.

 

 

 

 

DSCF0028Model of a Byzantine-era trading boat in the museum garden. One of 37 ships dug up from the ancient Harbour of Theodosius during excavations for the Yenilapı Metro Station. It was a 10-metre-long and 2.30-metre-wide cargo ship, and is supposed to be the most accurate example to date of a small commercial ship once used in the Middle East.

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One of a group of votive statues dating from the 3rd century CE found during excavations beside the Golden Horn in 1949-50. Believed to have been part of a nymphaion (commemorative fountain) or a museion (a building dedicated to the works of the Muses).

 

 

 

DSCF0007A sarcophagus dating from the Imperial Roman period. There was a vast necropolis in the city of Chalcedon (modern Kadıköy) that was used between the 6th century BCE and the 3rd century CE.

DSCF0009Sections of pipe used to bring water from forests outside the city of Constantinople to cisterns in the city which then supplied the fountains and public baths.

DSCF0010DSCF0037Part of the head of one of the serpents forming a column in the centre of the Roman hippodrome. The headless creatures can be seen entwined outside the gates of Sultanahmet Mosque.

 

DSCF0012A mosaic panel discovered in the Kalenderhane Mosque, formerly a Byzantine Church dating from the 12th century.

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DSCF0042A fountain presented as a token of friendship to Sultan Abdülhamid II by the German Emperor in 1895. Abdülhamid is generally condemned in the West as one of the more evil Ottoman sultans (“The Red Sultan”), accused of slaughtering thousands of helpless Armenians in what are often labelled the “Hamidian Massacres”. Well, clearly Kaiser Wilhelm viewed the matter differently. I’d strolled past that fountain many times before without making the connection.

DSCF0057A recently restored Roman underground cistern built by the Emperor Theodosius in the 5th century CE – opened to the public with free admission!

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The large building behind is the home of an organisation calling itself the World Academy for Local Government and Democracy! It seems this NGO is actually based in Istanbul! You can visit their website:

http://wald.org.tr          Turkish

http://wald.org             German

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Tip of the Iceberg – Ancient civilisations in Turkey

Among its multitudinous sins, Turkey faces a barrage of criticism over its supposed lack of due respect and care for ancient archaeological sites and artefacts within its borders. I’d like to share with you just a few news items detailing some of the archaeological finds in the past week:

Roman, Byzantine remains found at Istanbul train station

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I’m all for history and archeology – but what about modern Istanbul’s desperate need for better public transport?

Restoration work on Istanbul’s Haydarpaşa train station at Kadıköy has unearthed the remains of what is believed to be a coastal town with findings so far dating from the late Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods. The station was opened in 1909 with German support to link Istanbul to Baghdad.

In those days a little history wasn’t allowed to stand in the way of progress. Today, a small army of 50 archaeologists armed with teaspoons and paintbrushes are picking over the site, keen to hold up progress on the much needed and long-delayed rail link for months, if not years.

An open-air museum to rise from the ruins

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What’s left of Bıukoleon Palace. Well, it’s 1,600 years old, for God’s sake!

Restoration work is beginning on the remains of the ancient Byzantine Boukoleon Palace, located on the shore of the Marmara Sea near the popular tourist sites of Sultanahmet Mosque, Hagia Sofia and Topkapı Museums.

The palace, with its own private harbour, was built by the Roman Emperor Theodosius in the 5th century and extended in the 9th century by another emperor, Theophilus. It has long lain in ruins, and much of what remained was demolished in the late 19th century for the Orient Express railway line, and later, in 1959 when a road was constructed along the sea coast.

These days, of course, more value is given to such relics of history, and the government of Turkey is planning an open-air museum with an extensive park and overhead walkways to make the ruins more accessible and attractive to visitors. A big question, of course, is – Who pays for all this?

Two-thousand-year-old Roman bath

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The Basilica Therma at Sarıkaya near Yozgat

A thermal spa located in the central Anatolian town of Yozgat is being opened to visitors who will be able to immerse themselves in healing waters once employed in the treatment of members of Roman royal families. One might be tempted to criticise the commercial exploitation of such a priceless relic of an ancient civilisation – but again, who is going to pay for their restoration and upkeep?

Dionysus, Pan sculptures found at temple of goddess Kybele in northern Turkey

kybeleArchaeologists working at Kurul Castle in the Black Sea province of Ordu have found more ancient statues in excellent condition. A 2,100-year-old statue of Kybele found there in 2016 was hailed as one of Turkey’s most important recent archaeological finds.

Historic tombstones found in wall of school in eastern Turkey

tombstoneTombstones dating back to the 12th century have been found in a wall in the grounds of Şair Nefi Middle School in the province of Erzurum.

If you want to make a contribution to the preservation of these sites, I’m sure Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism would love to hear from you.

Phrygian Way attracts nature lovers

PHRYGIAN WAYThe Phrygian Way, which passes through four provinces in the Aegean and Central Anatolian regions, has become popular among nature lovers with its 506-kilometer route, the third longest hiking trail in Turkey.

The Union for the Protection and Development of Phrygian Cultural Heritage (FRİGKÜM), which was formed in 2009 for the revival of the Phrygian Valley, has realized a project that will enable people to discover the historical, cultural and natural beauties in the region as a whole by walking and biking. 

The entire route has been marked with red and white colors at international standards to provide safe walks for travelers on the Phrygian Way and informative direction signs have been placed at 73 points. 

One of the best cultural routes in the country, the Phrygian Way passes through eight districts and 44 villages in the province of Afyonkarahisar, Ankara, Eskişehir and Kütahya. 

phrygian_wayThe Phrygian Valley, with its rock formations from the Phrygians, rock monuments, rock tombs, churches and chapels, fairy chimneys and other natural beauties, is one of the most charming valleys in Turkey. 

One of the most important features of the region is thermal water springs. Since the Phrygians, it has been used for healing purposes and the region became known as Healing Phrygia. Because of this, interest in thermal resources in the Afyonkarahisar, Eskişehir and Kütahya provinces will increase,” said Tutulmaz. 

“Now . . . a dream has come true. The Phrygian Valley is the new spot for alternative tourism with log cabins, ATVs, bicycles and boat tours on Emre Lake. Similar projects will also be carried out in the Kütahya and Eskişehir parts of the valley this year,” he said. 

FrigPhrygian Valley 

The Phrygian Valley has been home to a number of communities since ancient times. The area was dominated by the Phrygians between 900 B.C. and 600 B.C. but was dealt a fatal blow in 676 B.C. by the Cimmerians, who came from further east beyond Anatolia. Later, the area fell under Roman control

The Phrygians experienced a golden age during the reign of King Midas, who ruled from Gordion—close to present-day Ankara—and is thought to have lived between 738 B.C. and 696 B.C.

Source: Hürriyet Daily News

Antique collectors funding terrorism

The proceeds would have gone to YPG/PYD

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Sumerian gold jewellery

In five separate operations, Istanbul police seized 3,500 year-old Sumerian jewellery, Assyrian and Akkadian seals and Ottoman and Seljuk artifacts. It was understood that the historical artifacts were removed from historical graves in parts of Syria controlled by the PYD, and proceeds from sale of the priceless artifacts would be given to the terrorist organization. Nine people were detained.

Teams from departments responsible for the control of smuggling received information that tombs in regions of Syria under the control of the terror organisation PYD had been opened and the historical artifacts would be brought to Turkey and sold abroad. Following investigations, five separate operations were carried out in two weeks.

Searches were carried out at several addresses, including an antique shop, and artifacts seized included: 153 gold objects belonging to the 3,500 year-old Sumerian culture; religious statuettes from the Byzantine period; and bronze cooking implements from the Seljuk period.

During the two-week operation, nine people were taken into custody, among them an antique dealer. The nine were released after completion of legal formalities.

All the seized artifacts were handed over to the Istanbul Directorate of Museums.

sumerian artefactsContraband Goods police also seized 26,400 historical artifacts last month. In an exercise labeled “Zeus Operation”, dozens of priceless artifacts were seized including a sword belonging to the Mycaenean culture, known as the Sword of Achilles, a bust of Alexander the Great in the style of an Indian god, the royal crown of Helius and a silver medallion of Caesar. Eleven of the thirteen suspects were taken into custody.

The Mycaenean sword had drawn particular international attention. It is understood that the Police had received dozens of thank you phone calls after this operation.

There is no way to prevent artifact smuggling without genuine cooperation between countries, Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said on Jan. 29.

“It is impossible to completely prevent historical artifact smuggling without the sincere cooperation of countries, just as it’s not possible to prevent the global dimension of terror without sincere cooperation in fighting terrorism,” Kurtulmuş said at a ceremony in the capital Ankara showcasing historical artifacts recently repatriated to Turkey.

[My translation]

Original Hagia Sophia tiles in France

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Ruins of the Achaemenid city Persepolis, Iran

My step-daughter has just returned from a visit to Iran. She was there to deliver a paper at a conference, but was able to do a little sight-seeing. One of the “must-sees” for tourists is the UNESCO-listed ruins of Persepolis, ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550–330 BCE). Those guys get an honourable mention in the Biblical Old Testament for permitting exiled Jews to return to their homeland and build a great temple in Jerusalem. Their kindness to the Jews, however, didn’t save them from having their magnificent city looted and burned by the army of the Great Macedonian Alexander as he marauded his way east on his mission to conquer the world.

Apparently present-day Iranians are unhappy that many artefacts from Persepolis later found their way into the collections of museums in Europe and the United States. I did a quick check online, and sure enough:

“A number of bas-reliefs from Persepolis are kept at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England. There is also a collection from Persepolis at the British Museum. The Persepolis bull at the Oriental Institute is one of the university’s most prized treasures, but it is only one of several objects from Persepolis on display at the University of Chicago. New York City’s Metropolitan Museum houses objects from Persepolis, as does the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology of the University of Pennsylvania. The Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon and the Louvre of Paris hold objects from Persepolis as well.” (Wikipedia)

Inevitably our discussion turned to the matter of other historical and archaeological treasures housed in museums far from their original homes. Step-daughter was sure she’d seen the Rosetta Stone, key to translating Egyptian hieroglyphics, in Cairo. I was equally sure I’d seen it in the British Museum – and another online check confirmed that the one in London is the real one. The same institution counts among its most prized possessions, apart from probably more Egyptian mummies than you’ll find in Egypt, the so-called Elgin Marbles – a vast store of marble friezes and sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens, smuggled away in several shiploads by the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the early years of the 19th century. Greek governments have repeatedly asked for them to be returned – but the Brits are having none of that.

Elsewhere, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna has a large section devoted to treasures from the classical city of Ephesus in modern Turkey, including a 70-metre frieze commemorating a (rare) Roman victory over the Parthians in 165CE. The Treasures of Priam, King of Troy (also in modern Turkey) were spirited away in the 1870s by the German archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann. They were exhibited in the Berlin Ethnological Museum until 1945 when they disappeared – turning up later (in 1993) in Moscow, of all places. Well, it’s hard to get self-righteous about having stolen property stolen by someone else, I guess.

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A popular conversation piece in 19th century drawingrooms

New Zealand’s indigenous Maori have for years been trying to get back tattooed human heads that were popular with European collectors of cultural curiosities in the early days of colonisation. I’ve recently been made aware (thanks Lara!) of a similar campaign by native American peoples to repatriate human remains from universities in Canada.

It seems the government of Turkey is at the forefront of this worldwide struggle to have purloined cultural and archeological objects returned to their homeland. In recent years, they have won several significant court battles resulting in the handing back of disputed sculptures and other artefacts. One such was the Sarcophagus of Heracles, smuggled out of Turkey in the 1960s, seized by port authorities in Switzerland in 2010.

And here’s another interesting one in the news this week:

A panel of tiles in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Museum were smuggled to France in the 1890s and replaced with imitations, according to museum director Hayrullah Cengiz. 

“You can see the logo seal ‘made in France, Sevres’ behind the tiles,” he said, speaking to the state-run Anadolu Agency. 

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“Identical” ceramic tile panels on the tomb of Sultan Selim II

According to Cengiz, the Hagia Sophia receives nearly two million local and foreign visitors every year. One of the two panels on the sides of the entrance of the tomb of Sultan Selim II, son of Süleyman the Magnificent, are an imitation of the original tiles, he said. 

“The tomb is a work of Mimar Sinan, the greatest architect in the Ottoman state. These tiles were taken to France for restoration in the 1890s by the Frenchman, Albert Dorigny, who came to the Ottoman Empire as a dentist. But they were not returned. Instead, imitation tiles were made in France and mounted in place of the originals. The original tiles are on the right side. You can see the difference between the two panels. These are a perfect example of 16th century tiles.”

Cengiz said the Culture and Tourism Ministry had made a request to the French Ministry of Culture for the tiles to be returned. “These tiles were being exhibited in the ‘Arts of Islam’ section of the Louvre Museum in France. They have recently been removed, most likely due to complaints,” he added.

“The restoration of five tombs here was finished in 2009. It was revealed that these tiles were imitations during the restoration work, as you can easily see the logo ‘Made in France, Sevres’ written behind them. When you look at the difference between the two tiles on the right and the left, you can see the beauty of the original ones. The colors of the others have faded and lost their gloss because they are imitations, even though they have been there for only 100 years. The original ones, which are 400 years old, look brand new,” he said.

Cengiz also said the two panels are made up of 60 tiles and the fake ones were an exact copy of the original. “It is not too difficult to copy them, but as years pass by, the difference becomes evident. Not only did Dorigny smuggle this panel, he probably stole many other tiles from Istanbul museums where he had done restorations in those years.”

Now that was a cheeky one!

Archeology in Turkey – There’s no end to it!

Spotted this in our local news today:

Excavations reveal ancient Germanicia

The ancient city of Germanicia, which was discovered 10 years ago in the southern province of Kahramanmaraş, is progressing to become the Ephesus of the region.

germanicia2Located in the Dulkadiroğlu neighborhood, the ancient city was discovered in 2007 during illegal excavations. Registration, expropriation, excavation and preservation works have still been ongoing to uncover the ancient city that covers an area of 140 hectares, including the neighborhoods of Namık Kemal, Şeyhadil, Dulkadiroğlu and Bağlarbaşı.

Social life in the era was featured by mosaics, which covered the floors in the late Roman era. The mosaics uncovered in different spots during excavations carried out by the Kahramanmaraş Museum Directorate, have entered the archaeology literature in the multi-language publication of the World Mosaic Unions and increased the importance of the region.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, the Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Seydihan Küçükdağlı said works had been ongoing for almost 10 years in the area. So far, 30 out of 50 parcels of land have been expropriated.

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And of course, the locals have to move.

“Thirteen parcels of land are in the court process and it will soon be resolved. We want this area to be projected as an archeology park, an open museum. The excavations will continue to reveal the mosaics that have been uncovered in two fields and the current archaeological data we have. Each of these parcels are in a different spot. The ancient city of Germanicia will become the locomotive of Kahramanmaraş tourism once it is completely unearthed,” said Küçükdağlı.

So far, they have completed an excavation area of 3,000 square meters and spent 13 million Turkish Liras in two years, said the director.

Some of the mosaics found in the ancient city of Germanicia have been on display in their original places and some at the museum, according to Kahramanmaraş museum director Ahmet Denizhanoğulları.

germanicia 3Last year’s works unearthed very important ruins of graves and walls, said Denizhanoğulları.

“This year, we continued excavations in a different parcel and found very important mosaics. Germanicia is progressing to become the Ephesus of the region. Once it opens for tourism, this place will change the future of our city. These were the highest quality mosaics in their era. They date back to the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries. They feature daily life and hunting animal figures. There is also a place we excavated in 2015. It is most likely a church,” said the director.

Art dealer accepts prized coffin’s return to Turkey

Well, here’s an interesting news item. Apparently Swiss law is clear on the matter of stolen antiquities – but publicly encouraging the assassination of a visiting head of state is a grey area.

“Lawyers say a Roman Empire-era coffin depicting the 12 labors of Hercules is set to go home to Turkey, ending a legal battle over a prized artifact that had mysteriously turned up in Geneva’s secretive customs-office warehouse years ago.

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This undated photo shows a 2nd century BCE sarcophagus in sculpted marble depicting the 12 labours of Hercules. Authorities say thecoffin is set to return home to Turkey, ending a legal battle over an artifact that mysteriously turned up in Geneva’s secretive customs office warehouse years ago (Ministere public genevois via AP)

The Inanna Art Services, a private cultural goods importer that had legal possession of the three-ton marble sarcophagus, had tried for months to block the restitution before deciding two weeks ago “to contribute to the return” by abandoning its efforts in Swiss courts, Didier Bottge, a lawyer for the importer, said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

From his clients’ viewpoint, “the case is closed,” said Bottge. Inanna had appealed a decision in September 2015 by the Geneva’s public prosecutor’s office to hand over what it called the “priceless” sarcophagus to Turkey.

The planned handover, expected sometime in the coming months, marks a successful cooperation between Swiss and Turkish authorities at a time of tensions between their two countries.

Swiss authorities are investigating whether any laws were broken when protesters against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the weekend held up a banner bearing the words “Kill Erdogan,” as well as allegations of spying by people linked to Turkey in the Alpine nation.

The decision follows a nearly seven-year legal saga for the sarcophagus after it turned up in the secretive Geneva Free Ports warehouse. Cultural officials have said the coffin, showing scenes of Hercules strangling the Nemean Lion and killing the Hydra, is one of 12 of its kind known in the world.

It’s been traced to the Roman city of Dokimeion, thought to have been in the modern-day province of Antalya in Turkey.”

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