2nd December, 2012
Sille, Lystra, Taurus Mountains, Antalya
For all photos for 2nd December, click here to view them on my dropbox site. If you don’t have Dropbox, use this link to sign up and you and I will both get a bonus amount of free storage space.
The Anemon hotel in Konya really is very nice – I’d hate to know what it would cost if you just rocked up and asked for a room. The single rooms all had king sized double beds, and our twin room had two king-singles. The room was the most spacious that we had yet stayed in. There was a proper desk at which to work, with very good internet connection – even somewhere I could dock my iPhone to play my music while it recharged. And above all the internet service was excellent and fast. The buffet dinner and breakfast had a rather more limited number of dishes than some other hotels we had been at, but since the range in the past has been vast, that wasn’t really noticed (except no sweet rolls for breakfast).
We had a “sleep in” this morning: our bus was only leaving at 8:30am. It was good to hear the muezzin call for morning prayer at 5:40am and then to be able to roll over and go back to sleep (the benefits of being a Christian). This morning’s prayer call was actually quite melodic, and there was only one voice with a long echo, so I suspect that they have only one muezzin for the entire city and his voice is broadcast to every loud speaker in every minaret across town. A much more pleasant effect than the usual competition that goes on, although there is a “certain charm” to that cacophony as well!
We made our first stop at the village of Sille, just out of Turkey, which – until 1924 – had a large population of Greek Orthodox. These used the Church of St Helena, which (although first built in the 4th Century) had been rebuilt in the 1830’s. Apparently there are some really nice frescoes inside this church, but we were not allowed in as the church was undergoing extensive restoration in preparation for reopening as a museum (the usual fate of a religious building in modern Turkey – although you can rest assured that there will be little public praying going on in this one when it is reopened – plenty of private prayer though, I would think). Actually the entire town is undergoing an extensive facelift, as the government is pouring huge lira into restoring the town as a quaint Turkish village. Even now it has an attractive character. All the old buildings have little numbers on them identifying them in preparation for restoration. There are about four mosques in the village, as well as another Christian chapel up on the hill above the very large and extensive and OLD Muslim cemetery. At first I had thought that this would be a Christian cemetery – placed as it is between St Helena’s and the chapel on the hill. But it soon became clear from the orientation of the grave, the shape of some of the grave stones, and the Arabic script on some of the stones that this was an exclusively Muslim place of burial. So where, I asked myself, were the Christian graves, if this was supposed to be a predominately Christian town? One of our tour group, Diana, had an answer. She said that she had read that the Greek Christians in the area still maintained the practice of exhuming the graves of their dead after six or seven years and placing their bones in ossuaries in the church, which made it possible for them when they were evicted from the country in 1924 to simply take the bones of their ancestors – their history – with them into exile. Quite a nice idea really, but one on which I would like to check up.
We then headed out, following Paul’s trail (cf. Acts 14), to the Tel of Lystra, the mound under which the ancient city of Lystra waits to be uncovered. It is off the beaten track – there are no gift-shops and it is pretty hard to find on the map! – in fact there is no sign of human activity other than farming for miles around. The tel has been positively identified by the inscription on the stone we saw in the Konya Archaeological Museum, which was found on this site. But there is no sign of any excavation at all. It boggles the mind that no one has come up with the cash or sufficient desire to carry out an excavation on a city which is so historically and religiously attractive. As we walked up the steep sides of the tel, it was easy to spot artifacts that gave evidence of the past: First I found a hexagonal piece of marble, perfectly flat and smooth on the top – a tile? Then I found a large piece of curved, thick pottery with a bit of a lip on it – the top of a water jar? Then (really delightful) I found a pot handle, a bit bigger than the size of my thumb. All this was just lying in the grass. What must be under the soil? At first sight the mound looked to small to be the site of a city, but when we reached the top, we saw that it was several hectares in size. For the most part the top of the tel was flat, but it dipped a little in the middle, and on the (western?) side of the tel there is a kind of semi-conical incline down to the bottom, which led Rosemary to wonder if there was not (perhaps) an ancient theatre on this side. There was not much to see at the top (other than a couple of stone blocks that had obviously been shaped by human endeavour, and a jolly good panoramic view of the surrounding countryside), but my curiosity was piqued by the sight of several white stones down on the other side. Some were in a tumble at the base of the mound, others were further off, and had been lined up along the edge of the fields. I climbed down for a closer look. While most of them were severely worn, enough still bore the unmistakable straight sides and 90 degree angles of building blocks, or the cylindrical shape of columns. One piece of stone even bore a decorated edge on one side. So there is a lot of material lying about which should excite the interest of any visiting archaeologist. (Note to self: come back one day with a shovel…)
From the Lystra tel, rather than turn back to where we left the main road to Antalya, Bilgi, our driver, decided to take a country road through to a point further along the highway. This took us through several small villages (with a lot of traditional timber and mud brick housing), although the countryside was sparsely populated. At one point the road that we were travelling along was not even marked on my Pocket Maps app. Here the terrain was rocky (not unlike Cappadocia), wooded with small oak trees (with dead dry leaves, as we are just entering winter). We saw a number of wood choppers out with their tractors and trailers hauling logs of oak.
We finally rejoined the main road and journeyed to Seydisehir, where we had lunch. On the way Hakan broached the topic of the relationship between the state and the religious life of the people. He told us much that I already knew, but it was interesting to get the view of a secular Turk, rather than the view of the religious Turks to which I am accustomed. His main point was that by controlling the practice of religion – including state employed and accredited imams who were shifted every two years to a new place and were restricted by law to preaching the pre-prepared Friday sermon distributed by the ministry for religion. Yet, I was not quite happy with the picture of paradise that he painted, and I asked a number of pointed questions – such as the difference between “freedom to worship” and “freedom of religion”, as religious practice in public is still quite severely curtailed. He said that what was okay for Australia was not okay for Turkey, where the possibility of a return to Sharia law or the political power of a particular sect was an ever present problem. I also asked – if democracy and equality were so important to the Turkish people – about the possibility of female imams. He declared that such a thing was impossible because the people did not want such a thing, and even if they did, what woman would want the job? “Only a liberal would want such a thing, and all the liberals are secular, not religious!” What about same-sex marriage? No, he said, but homosexuals have full rights and could also vote, so if there were ever enough support for it, well, maybe. Interesting.
After lunch, we quickly approached the Taurus Mountain range, which rises suddenly from the plain of the plateau. This range runs all along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, raised by the slow but relentless migration of the African continent towards the north pole. The mountains are massive, rocky with little soil, but with many pine trees growing among the rock (up to a certain altitude above which the mountains were bare). Paul would have needed to cross this range after landing in Pamphylia on his first missionary journey in order to make his way north to Pisidian Antioch. We were travelling by a different route than Paul, as we were coming directly from Iconium, but also because our road was only 20 years old. The highest point along this road is 1825m which we reached about one quarter of the way through the mountains before beginning the descent. The descent was much longer than the ascent, as the northern plateau on which we started was already 1000m above sea level. During the descent, we passed a large crevice in the mountain which marks the fault line between the African and Asian continents. At the base we entered into a long fertile but narrow plain between the mountains and the coast, and took the road which led us gradually into the Turkish equivalent of the Gold Coast.
Hakan had a couple of interesting theories about why Paul took the route north to Antioch in Pisidia. For a start, he said, it was a centre of the tent making trade. I am partial to the theory which says that Paul’s family actually ran a large tent making business and this is the reason for the family’s Roman citizenship in the army base city of Tarsus (since any army needs a lot of tents). If that was so, then perhaps Paul was already familiar with this centre even if he had not been there before. Of course, there was a Roman road north from the coast to this city. Another reason that Hakan gave for Paul choosing Antioch is that the proconsul Sergius Paulus with whom Paul had had conversation in Cyprus (cf. Acts 13) was from there – a piece of knowledge which we now have because an inscription was found in Pisidian Antioch with the proconsul’s name on it. If this was the case, Hakan thought, maybe Paulus told Saul (“also called Paul” from this point on according to Luke) that Antioch would be a good base from which to work (references too perhaps?).
Any way, we arrived on the coastal plain about 3:30pm, stopped for afternoon tea, and then kept on going towards Antalya and our home for the next two nights. We passed some excellent Roman ruins at Aspendos, from about the 2nd Century – a still used Roman bridge, a theatre (said to be the best preserved in the world and in which, until recently, concerts would be held – but now, in order to preserve the ruins, a new modern complex had been built nearby to accommodate this practice), and an aqueduct. Unfortunately, due to the lateness of the hour, the theatre was shut and we didn’t have time to stop at the ruins.
We are staying tonight in the Crowne Plaza Hotel on the beach at Antalya. This is a beautiful building, built in neo-Seljuk style, and is quite comfortable, although the rooms are small and the internet (though free) is only available in the lobby. So I am sitting outside on the terrace by the swimming pool finishing this for the night and uploading my pictures. We have a late start in the morning (10am!) and are staying here for two nights (so I took the chance to do a bit of washing before mass this evening). It is getting cold out, so I will go inside now.