B.C. Archaeology

Study Tours of the Ancient World


The B.C. Archaeology Tour of Turkey for 2007 took place in September and October and was a great success with everyone enjoying the archaeological sites of this wonderful country. There were 12 of us including: Ian Casey, Daniel Glancy, Kevin Hayes, Graham Littlejohn, Jacinta Prentice, Alex Radford, Caroline and Bryan Riddell, Philippa Shaw and Toni Messiter. The tour leader was Dr Michael Birrell and our Turkish guide was the wonderful Deniz who really gave us her insight into life in Turkey.

The tour began with the group arriving in Istanbul. About half the participants had come early to spend a few days in this wonderful city before the start of the program including: Michael, Ian, Daniel, Graham, Caroline and Bryan - this gave us the chance to explore some of the other places in the area. We explored numerous mosques and churches and some of us took the public ferry up the Bosphorus to the entrance to the Black Sea. This is such a pleasant experience that we will be adding it to the program in future.

The group was united at Istanbul airport and we drove to Ankara, passing though some beautiful, scenic country on the way as we skirted the edge of the Sea of Marmara. We had some lunch en route and when we arrived we headed to the Mausoleum of Ataturk in the centre of Ankara. This dramatically located building, inspired by classical and modern fascist architecture, contains an excellent war memorial with an emphasis on the Gallipoli campaign and WWI.

Mausoleum of Ataturk, Ankara
The Lion Gate, Hattusas

The following day we explored the excellent Museum of Anatolian Civilisations with its impressive collection of artefacts from the Paleolithic Era down to the Roman period. The collection is housed in a beautiful Selcuk han (caravanserai) and is excellently labelled. Of particular interest are the neo-Hittite reliefs from Carcamesh and the Assyrian letters from Kanesh. We went for a walk in the medieval fort of Ankara which provides a panoramic view over the city for our lunch. We also had a look at the famous Res Gestae text of Augustus. In the afternoon we drove NE of Ankara to our hotel near Bogazkale. We all kept our eyes peeled for the Halys River (today called the Kizilirmak) but somehow we managed to pass it by without realizing!

The following day was dedicated to the ancient Hittites as we make a short trip by bus to Hattusas, the capital of these ancient peoples. In the morning we toured the city ruins including the royal citadel, the Great Temple and the impressive city gates. We had a very pleasant lunch in a nearby café and then went to see the rock-cut shrine of Yazilikaya which preserves remarkable representations of the Hittite pantheon. The following morning we saw the antiquities of Alaca Huyuk, an ancient fortified Hittite site with tombs.

We then travelled south by bus to the region of Cappadocia, famous for its remarkable landscape of natural 'fairy chimneys' made from volcanic pumice (we finally encountered the Halys River in its upper reaches!). We checked into our comfortable hotel in Urgup. In the afternoon we visited the old city of Uchisar and climb to the top of the pumice castle for a superb view over the whole of Cappadocia. In the evening we saw a wonderful display of sufi dancing at a magnificently restored Selcuk han.

Uchisar Castle, Cappadocia
The theatre of Ephesus

The following day we travelled by bus to the village of Goreme where we saw the famous painted churches. Carved from the volcanic pumice, these mediaeval churches are richly decorated with Biblical scenes. We also saw the ruins of the ancient settlement of Zelve, home to a monastic community in the Middle Ages. The inhabitants cut their houses and the monasteries from the local volcanic pumice and protected their dwellings by movable boulders (very Indiana Jones!). We enjoyed a delightful picnic amongst the ruins.

Next morning was set aside for rest and relaxation. Many members of the group opted for an early morning balloon ride over this fantastic landscape. We had a perfect clear morning with views to the Erciyes volcano in the distance. The rest of the day members of the group went walking, or shopping. In the evening we flew to Izmir and then travelled the short distance by bus to Selcuk, our base for the next 6 days as we explored the archaeological sites of the local area.

Our first day in the Selcuk area was devoted to exploring the ruins of Ephesus. In the morning we stopped to look at the remains of the Artemis Temple, one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. At Ephesus we wandered round the city, admiring the small theatre, the marble monuments of Curetes Street, the temple of Hadrian, the remarkable library of Celsus (for which Ephesus is most famous) and the awe inspiring Hellenistic and Roman theatre. As a special part of our program, we saw the fascinating ruins of the Roman private houses which preserve beautiful frescos and mosaics.

In the morning we travelled south to Priene, an ancient city located on a dramatic hill overlooking the Meander River. This superb site includes a picturesque agora (town square), town council hall, theatre, and magnificent Temple of Athena. It was a perfect sunny day and we enjoyed walking through the forest of pines which grows through the ruins. We had lunch in the local town and then returned to Selcuk. In the afternoon we had a look at some Turkish carpets and visited the Archaeological Museum, home to a superb collection of Classical and Roman sculpture from Ephesus. A highlight is the remarkable statue of Artemis draped in bulls testicles!

The Temple of Athena, Priene
In the Agora at Miletos

The following day we explored the ruins of the ancient city of Miletus and the Temple of Apollo at Didyma. The morning was spent at Didyma - here we see the awe inspiring ruins of the Temple, one of the largest in the Classical world and once home to a famous oracle. We had a pleasant picnic lunch at Miletus before exploring the picturesque ruins. Highlights included the monumental Hellenistic and Roman theatre, the agora and the well preserved Baths of Faustina.

We next visited Aphrodisias, cult centre of the famous goddess of love. We wandered through this gorgeous place, set in a lush green area of the Meander River. Aphrodisias is renowned for its remarkably well preserved Roman stadium, theatre and agora (marketplace). A highlight of the visit was the museum, with its impressive collection of Roman sculpture from the site.

The following day was a free day to relax, read a book, or go shopping in the markets of Selcuk. Some members of the group went to see nearby archaeological sites (for just one extra dose of antiquity!). In the afternoon we visited the village of Sirince, a pleasant village in the foothills renown for its cottage industry.

We next headed north to Bergama after stopping to have a look at some Turkish leather - Bryan looked particularly fetching in a leather motorcycle cap! We spent the afternoon in the fascinating Archaeological Museum of Bergama which preserves magnificent sculpture and other artefacts from the local excavations as well as models of the chief monuments. The following day we visited the superb ruins of the ancient city of Pergamum, a Hellenistic city perched on the summit of a precipitous mountain. Highlights of the day included the acropolis area with its royal palace, theatre, library and temple dedicated to the Roman Emperor Trajan. We were also lucky to see the display of the Roman house with mosaics which is not often open. In the afternoon we saw the Temple of Serapis (the 'Red Basilica') and the enclosure of Asclepeios, god of Medicine. Here we were revived by a drink from the pleasant fresh water spring. At the end of the day we explored one of the huge tumulus tombs, even convincing our Turkish guide Deniz to follow us into the gloom!

We travelled north by bus from Bergama to the ruins of Troy. On the way we passed through some beautiful mountainous scenery. Opposite the island of Lesbos, in a cool olive grove, we stopped to hear Jacinta read some of the poems of Sapho - magic! At Troy we explored the remarkable ruins of this picturesque archaeological site, famously excavated by the German entrepreneur Heinrich Schliemann in the late 19th Century. We stopped for a while to reflect on the words of Homer as we imagined the sack of the city. In the afternoon, we had a short bus ride to Çanakkale where we checked into our hotel.

In the morning we crossed the Dardanelles to the Gallipoli Peninsula and explored the WWI battle fields of Gallipoli including Anzac Cove, Lone Pine and the Nek. No visitor to the can fail to be moved by the story of heroism and we were so lucky to have Jacinta read from family letters enabling us to appreciate the incredible hardships of the fighting. In the afternoon we headed north by bus to Istanbul where we went to the Grand Bazaar to explore the warren of shops.

The stadium at Aphrodisias
The Blue Mosque at sunset - magic!

In Istanbul we explored the Basilica Cistern, the huge underground water storage facility developed by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th Century AD. We saw the incomparable Haghia Sophia church (which is over 1000 years old), visited the Blue Mosque (constructed in the early 17th Century) and explored the highlights of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. A day was also spent in the Topkapi palace with its superb harem rooms, and fascinating collection of artefacts and treasures from Ottoman times. All in all, a wonderful tour and a great group to travel with.

Michael Birrell

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