Turkey – Hiking Selge and Aspendos

Turkey offers day hiking that combines moderate exertion with a journey into the past. We hiked along mountain paths that include parts of Roman construction for Silk Road traffic.

With an early morning start, we drive to the Pamphylonian city of Selge – one of the most isolated and dramatic of ancient cities. The road narrows as we climb out of a narrow canyon, crossing Roman bridges. The pine forest gives way to chestnut, thorn and olive trees. The conglomerate rocks form lopsided towers, creating a vast, natural stone metropolis. We arrive at the village of Zelk (modern Selge), populated by formerly nomadic people. As we hike thru the village careful observation reveals many Roman columns and capitals and other architectural elements become raw building materials in stables and farm houses.

Starting at the impressive Roman theatre, we are joined by a local guide to explore the remains of the agora, acropolis and city walls. Then we hike down the valley, dropping almost 1000 feet. After about 10K we emerge from the Koprulu Kanyon at the ancient Roman bridge. We stop by the river for a lunch of local fresh fish, at a restaurant overlooking a mountain spring.

Freya Stark Alexander’s Path

Strabo mentions these bridges in the mountainous country which abounded with precipices and ravines and kept the Selgians from being ‘at any time or on any single occasion, subject to any other people’. This one joined two cliffs with one arch across the river far below and its road, cut in the precipice continuedto show itself at intervals, in slabs of stone placed end to end for miles into the hills.

.. here solitude floated up from the vertical gorges, filled with cypress or cedar as if with black spears. The silence buried the sound of its own waters, and a thin haze, spun in the blueness of air, divided one range from another, as if the heights wore haloes… Higher up the oak leaves lifted into sunlight, and their tyrunks, and those of a tall tree like a chesnut, stood furrowed like stone among the strange hieratic stones. These ribs of rock, symmetrically ranked, descended, one felt, into the hill’s foundations, and the bare rain-washed scaffolding that shows must be a part of the hidden scaffolding of earth. … There was a human kindness about these trees; as there was in the floor of the road whose giant stones we kept on meeting, and in a cistern scooped solid through the rock at the rim of the cliff.. The symmetrical, natural rocks encircled this place and must have made it religious long before the days of known history or the knowledge of the Greeks. Small pointed hillocks were framed in these formal borders, and … we reached a cemetery of stones and marble fragments scattered under high oak trees and saw the village now called Zerk .. scattered among prostrate columns under a Roman theatre in a hollow.

It was shallow as a saucer and the ploughed fields filled it and small pinnacles surrounded it, where temples had stood on easy slopes. Beyond them, the high peaks rose with unseen valleys intervening.

The town of Zelk lies today at the end of a winding road, but in ancient times was an integral part of trade on the Silk Road. It’s a less visited place along the Aegean Coast. The amphitheatre is in decent conidtion, except for the columns and blocks of stone that now form parts of stables and houses in the village below.Don’t worry about a guide, as soon as you appear, local girls appear to show the ruins. They also just happen to have beautiful handicrafts they’ve made and you just might convince them to sell you one. From here, it’s an easy hike down through narrow gorges and fragrant strawberry trees and osmanthis.

Nearby Aspendos is a day trip from Antalya and contains one of the best preserved Greek theatres. It’s still used for performances.

Again, from Freya Stark:

The theatre stands on flat ground, like a box from which the lid has been lifted. Proud, limted and magnificent, there is a prison air about it – a difference as of death and life that one feels between the Roman and the Greek. No landscape stretches here beond a low and unobtrusive stage, for the easy coming and going of the gods. Human experience,that moved with freedeom and mystery, is here walled-in with balconies and columns; its pure transparency, the far horizon window, is lost.

In the Greek theatre, with its simple three-doored stage and chorus undertone of sorrow, the drama of life could penetrate, without any barrier between them, the surrounding vastness of the dark. I have listened to the Hippolytus of Euripides in Epidaurus where the words of Artemis and Aphrodite with the mountain pines and the sunset behind them, become a limpid fear – a play no longer, but nature and all that ever has been, anguish and waste of days, speaking to men.

Travel in Turkey – Istanbul

When we visit Istanbul, we try to stay in the Sultanahmet area since it’s in easy walking distance of many major attractions, including the Grand Bazaar. And  Hagia Sophia is a short walk towards the Golden Horn, while nearby is the sprawling complex of the Topkapi palace which takes a day in itself.  Topkapi host everything from the sultan’s harem, Mohammed’s sword, jeweled clothing of the sultans,to the famous Topkapi jewels and the kitchens that fed thousands of Janissaries.  And that doesn’t include time for the separate museums on its ground such as the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Middle Eastern Countries. Splendid imperial mosques include the Blue Mosque, the Suleymanie, and Hagia Sophia. Vivaldi played in the background as we toured the enormous Basilica cisterns.

Sultan Ahmet Camii ( Blue Mosque ) glows in early evening light
Sultan Ahmet Camii ( Blue Mosque ) glows in early evening light
Galata Tower originally built as a fire watchtower in Istanbul, Turkey
Galata Tower originally built as a fire watchtower in Istanbul, Turkey
Head of Medusa as column decoration
Head of Medusa as column decoration
Ancient columns in water

Ancient columns in water

Sometimes magnificent works of art are preserved by a quirk of fate. An Ottoman pasha had the mosaics of St. Saviour whitewashed, and they were only recovered in the 20th century. These mosaics and frescoes of the Chorae  Church form one of the visual highlights of any tour. If you’re interested in calligraphy, you’ll want to visit the small museum devoted to this artform near Bayezit.

In addition to the imperial mosques, many exquisite, smaller mosques are scattered thru the city, and display incredible Iznik tiles and other decoration.

In the Taksim area, Gezi Park was quiet on our most recent visit. There was a small protest near Galatasaray, but the police presence was much larger. Several dozen police and a water cannonvehicle nearby. A hundred yards up the road, a similar detachment of riot police; repeated several times all the way back to Taksim Square itself where there were more police and tanker trucks to re-supply the water cannon. Luckily the day ended peacefully.

Elements of Architecture