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
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
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
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
Archaeologists 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
Tombstones 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.
Cuisine hailing from the southern province of Hatay, included in UNESCO’s “Creative Cities Network” in the field of gastronomy, is now set to be branded and introduced to the world.
With over 600 dishes, Hatay cuisine is famous for its unique features and rich variety across Turkey.
The Hatay Metropolitan Municipality now plans to share the province’s tastes with the rest of the world through promotional projects that will help Hatay cuisine become a global brand.
Speaking to state-run Anadolu Agency, Hatay Mayor Lütfü Savaş said the province has been at the center of trade for centuries at the junction of Anatolia and the Middle East.
“We live in a very important region located on ancient pilgrimage routes. Thirteen of the 23 world civilizations have lived here. We have a historical past, cultural values and civilization accumulation. Here, many food cultures have lived in peace with each other, not conflicted but inspired by each other. And today we are talking about a region that has over 600 dishes. It is unthinkable to not share them with the rest of the world,” Savaş said.
He added that they have been working since 2010 to make Hatay “the world’s gastronomic city” and noted that the province was included in the Creative Cities Network by UNESCO last year.
Savaş said they promoted the tastes of the city by organizing “Hatay Days” across Turkey, which they will now take elsewhere in Europe and the Middle East.
“We organized promotional events during the ‘Hatay Days’ in Ankara, Istanbul and İzmir. We will now share this with the world too. We want to glorify the Hatay brand,” he added.
Sedat İnanç, the Chairman of the Association of Hatay Cooks, said the region’s cuisine took inspiration from the Arab world, Anatolia, Central Asia and Europe.
“Turkish cuisine is something separate from Hatay cuisine. Here we have over 250 types of breakfast … We want to gather them all in a book, including forgotten dishes. As fast food has become more popular, these traditional dishes have been forgotten,” İnanç said, adding that people across the world are now seeking new tastes.”
“There is great interest in Hatay dishes but we still don’t have skillful cooks or facilities to serve them. But if we manage to overcome this problem, I believe that Hatay cuisine will reach the renown that it deserves,” he added.
Source: Hürriyet Daily News
Note: Hatay is also known as Antakya, in ancient times, the city of Antioch
If I were at all inclined to religious fundamentalism, I’d say God must be just about ready to blast these people with a major disaster . . .
Anyone want to buy a dinosaur? Two on sale in Paris
The skeletons of an allosaurus and a diplodocus are up for auction in Paris this week, marketed as hip interior design objects for those with big enough living rooms.
“The fossil market is no longer just for scientists,” said Iacopo Briano of Binoche et Giquello, the auction house that is putting the two dinosaurs under the hammer on April 11.
“Dinosaurs have become cool, trendy; real objects of decoration, like paintings,” the Italian expert said, citing Hollywood actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicolas Cage as fans of such outsize prehistoric ornaments.
Cage, however, did hand back the rare skull of a tyrannosaurus bataar, a close cousin of T. rex, that he bought in 2007 after it was found to have been stolen and illegally taken out of Mongolia.
Dinosaur bones are increasingly gracing collectors’ cabinets, with another huge skeleton, that of a theropod, expected to fetch up to 1.5 million euros when it goes up for auction in June.
“For the last two or three years the Chinese have become interested in palaeontology and have been looking for big specimens of dinosaurs found on their soil, for their museums or even for individuals,” Briano said.
The new buyers are now bidding against multinational corporations as well as ultra-rich Europeans and Americans, the “traditional” buyers of dinosaur skeletons, Briano added.
“They have killed the Istanbul I loved” – a plaintive cry from Turkish Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk in an interview he gave recently to the Italian newspaper La Stampa. Apparently the poor guy can’t live there any more because his memories have been destroyed.
Well, I can empathise with Mr Pamuk’s problem. It’s a function of getting old, I guess, and of spending a lot of time away from the place of your birth. I haven’t lived in my hometown Auckland for 16 years. When I go back for a visit now, I hardly recognise the place I once knew so well. But there’s no use crying about it. It’s the way of the world. Some Native Americans possibly wish they could turn back the clock to a time before those Palefaces arrived – but sad to say, they can’t. There is a Turkish saying, “İt havlar kervan yürür” – “The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.”
But Orhan Pamuk likes to bark, especially in the cause of selling more books – a shameless self-publicist who has no scruples about running down his own country and people to further his own “literary” career.
It’s an interesting exercise to follow interviews Pamuk has given to western journalists over the years, and to observe how his projected self-image has morphed according to his own self-seeking agenda. In the La Stampa interview he says he is “jealous of Western writers” as they are not constantly questioned about politics by interviewers. He claims he has been forced to answer politically charged questions and this has “turned him into a political writer.” This is the guy who, back in 2005, speaking to a Swiss journalist, said that “a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in this country and I’m the only one who dares to talk about it”.
Well, those are politically charged issues in Turkey, as Pamuk knew full well – and many Turks were of the opinion that he was making such statements with a view to attracting the attention of the Nobel Awards committee. It’s a well-known fact that novelists from developing countries unpopular in the West who criticise their own governments give themselves a head start in the race for Nobel honours. When Pamuk achieved his goal of Nobel literary honours in 2006, Turkey’s President at the time, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, broke with his normal practice of congratulating high achieving Turks, and refused to acknowledge his countryman’s Nobel Prize. It should also be noted that Sezer was not aligned with the current AK Party government, but held the presidency by appointment of an earlier secular republican Kemalist administration.
But to return to the Italian report, Pamuk acknowledges that he spends much of his time in New York City, so we can understand that he will be somewhat out of touch with developments back home. “The old houses I love have been destroyed,” he laments. Well, the guy grew up in the old money quarter of Nişantaşı, with parents wealthy enough to send him to the elite American Robert College, to buy carloads of books to feed his passion for reading, and to support him while he dropped in and out of university without ever troubling himself to work for a living. If he had ventured, as a young man, to other parts of his beloved Istanbul during the 1970s and 80s, he would have seen vast swathes of old wooden Ottoman houses bulldozed and replaced by slum shanties for migrant workers from the east of Turkey. But he didn’t. And one thing is definitely true about Mr Pamuk – he was no youthful revolutionary idealist activist during Turkey’s most turbulent period of political upheaval in those decades. In a New York Times interview in 2014, he further admitted that, “while his friends were risking their lives facing down soldiers, he spent most days reading at home in Nişantaşı.”
In contrast, then, one of the images Pamuk likes to create for himself is that of a lone courageous voice calling his government to task for historical human rights abuses. He was charged, he loves to repeat, with treason for his outspoken support of Armenians and Kurds, and lived abroad in virtual exile for fear of incarceration or worse. What he omits to say is that the charges were brought by an ultra-nationalist private citizen, not the Turkish government, and were subsequently dropped.
But the Western media love him – and that’s probably another reason to be suspicious.
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I’m happy to be back in Istanbul after spending most of the summer at our seaside retreat. We were rocked by a moderately disturbing earthquake in Bodrum – but it seems the big city suffered worse damage from torrential rain and a storm of super-sized hailstones. Gentle reminders from Mother Nature about who’s actually in charge on this planet. Anyway, I have to start work again, a necessary evil in order to sustain a lifestyle above subsistence level.
My good lady is still out of town, so, looking for ways to amuse myself in her absence, I headed over to the European side of the city. I was keen to see Taksim Square, Gezi Park and İstiklal Avenue, having heard so much negative comment about their descent into a black hole of fundamentalist Islamic horror.
My first target was Küçükçiftlik Park, which I had seen advertised as venue of the 4th Istanbul Coffee Festival. I passed through tight security before emerging at a ticket booth totally lacking in any kind of queue. On asking the entry price I understood why . . . 35 Turkish Liras! What? Unable to believe what the young lady had said, I asked, “What’s in there? Is it worth it?” I took her momentary hesitation to mean that she herself had doubts, so I headed for the exit. 35 Liras! Last year it had been held in the grounds of Topkapı Palace, and admission was free. So what had changed over twelve months?
While in the vicinity I decided to check out Maçka Democracy Park, a good-sized island of greenery (yes, another one) in the inner city I hadn’t visited in a dog’s age. It was named in happier times when regular military coups ensured the preservation of democracy and secularism, at least for the nation’s ruling elite. It turned out that visiting the park was easier said than done. Clearly much of the lower end has been leased out to whatever private concern is now scalping citizens for entry to the Coffee Festival, and I had to walk a kilometre or so up the hill to find a gate.
Maçka Park has been in the news recently over an event where a couple of scantily clad young women were harangued by a guy who found their short shorts unseemly – giving rise to a series of protest meetings where sisters gathered (in shorts) to assert their rights to expose however much female flesh they thought necessary or desirable. Me? I keep out of such issues. I just try not to ogle too blatantly when vistas of naked leg and cleavage appear before me 😉
I was pleased to find that the cable car I remembered from years gone by still crossed the valley from Şişli to Taksim – and more pleased yet to find that the spectacular view over woodland to the Bosporus was less disfigured these days by youthful inscriptions etched into the perspex windows of the carriage.
A short walk brought me to Taksim Square, still a rather barren space despite council claims that they had planted a large number of trees. Gezi Park, location of much political excitement four years ago, is actually a rather more accessible and pleasant spot than in former times. The whole area has been closed to motor traffic which has been diverted underground. An exhibition area hosts thematic displays of handcrafts and the wares of micro-businesses. On this particular day, dozens of stalls were purveying second-hand books, classic movie posters and prints of old Istanbul, and several outdoor cafes offered Turkish coffee brewed slowly, in the traditional way, on glowing charcoal.
Feeling a little hungry, I headed down a back street and found a tasteful little restaurant calling itself “Gezzy” where I enjoyed a most delicious pide, a kind of Turkish pizza with cheddar cheese, tomatoes and green peppers.
From there, I carried on down the road known as Tarlabaşı Boulevard. On the downhill slopes to my right spread the colourful neighbourhood featured in numerous Turkish films about the underground life of gypsy music, prostitution in all its multitudinous guises, and the world of crime in general. I remember, years ago, on first seeing the narrow lanes of rundown Victorian tenements (or whatever the Ottoman equivalent was), wondering when the mixed blessing of gentrification would arrive in an area so close to the beating heart of the metropolis. Well, arrive it has – amid much fanfare, accompanied by somewhat justified wailing and gnashing of teeth.
I cut back up the hill towards Beyoğlu, passing by the fortress-like walls of the British Consulate. Built in 1845 as an embassy, in ostentatious imperial neo-classical style, adorned with the requisite inscription in Latin and the date in Roman numerals, the enormous edifice provides little in the way of services, to locals or UK citizens. A bombing fourteen years ago that killed a number of Turkish citizens, and accidentally got the Consul-General, led to the building of a defensive wall. Once an important outpost of empire in the Ottoman capital, Pera House these days looks like little more than an expensive anachronism.
The back streets running more or less parallel to İstiklal Avenue, the commercial thoroughfare leading out of Taksim Square, are lined with imposing buildings of similar vintage in various states of decrepitude and restoration: The Pera Palace Hotel, famed for its role in accommodating wealthy travellers disembarked from the Orient Express; the Grand Hotel de Londres, a reminder that French was a more fashionable language than English in those days; the Italianate façade of the Beyoğlu Council building, erected in 1857. These and more recall that for centuries, in Ottoman times, and before, when the city was capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, citizens lived in the ancient city across the Golden Horn. The district known variously as Pera, Galata or Beyoğlu was a satellite town of foreign traders and diplomats.
Most visitors to modern Istanbul take time to visit Galata Tower, built by the Genoese in 1348, and providing panoramic views of the city from its 63-metre viewing deck. In those days, the Genoese and their Venetian neighbours controlled trade in the Mediterranean, and it was their contact with Eastern civilisations that contributed to the Renaissance in Europe. Subsequently their control was challenged and more or less replaced by Ottoman power – which may have been a major motivation for Western Europe to get its political act together in the interests of defence.
I had thought Galata Tower was the only remnant of the walls that formerly enclosed the enclave of Galata, but as I walked down the hill towards the Golden Horn I came across another tower and section of ancient fortification in a sorry state of decay. Turkey is often accused of failing to protect its rich architectural heritage, but when you get out and wander around the city, or the country as a whole, you may be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ancient churches, castles, mosques, temples, bathhouses, theatres, stadiums, city walls . . . Every day, it seems, some farmer ploughing his field turns up the mosaic floor of an opulent Roman villa. This is world heritage – but mostly Turkey is expected to foot the bill for protection and/or restoration. Just as the Middle East refugee tragedy is a global problem – but largely locals are left to house and feed the displaced homeless.
Behind the decrepit tower I caught a glimpse of a bell tower clearly belonging to a Christian church. I wandered round the block trying to get closer, but it was well protected by the walls of a decaying 18th century inn, and a locked gate. Nevertheless, I did identify it as an Italian Catholic church dedicated to the apostles Peter and Paul, erected in 1843 to replace a more ancient edifice that had been converted to a mosque in 1475 after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople.
In the 19th century, the district of Karaköy, at the foot of the hill below Pera, became a major commercial district where banks and other businesses established their headquarters. I’d heard about Salt, Istanbul, and took a quick look in as I passed by. It’s a kind of research library, museum and exhibition centre housed in what was once the HQ of the Ottoman Bank, established in 1863, according to the BNP Paribas website, “by the Turkish government in partnership with French and British financiers” with the aim of “restoring Turkey’s finances to health and helping to modernise the Ottoman Empire”. Yeah, right! Wonder if the Rothschild family were involved in any way. On the wall inside is another inscription in imperial Latin: “Extra fortunam est, quidquid donatur amicis; Quas dederis, selas semper habebis opes.”
My Latin’s a bit rusty these days, but the Internet came up with this translation:
“Who gives to friends so much from Fate secures,
That is the only wealth for ever yours.”
So were those French and British financiers claiming to be friends of the Ottomans? Well, that friendship didn’t turn out so well for the locals in the end, did it! Empires come and go, but leopards don’t change their spots.