B.C. Archaeology

Study Tours of the Ancient World


Our 2011 Tour of Turkey ran from 24th September to the 15th October. It included a great group who were very interested in seeing and experiencing all that Turkey has to offer. The group included: Lyn Heilbronn, Trish Pemberton, Margaret Gaydon, Olga Komarova, Roma Dix, Karen Hoare, Kim Shephard, Colin and Anne Sheppard, Francois Devos, Robyn Butler, Gabriel and Joan Farago, Brian and Terry Coleman, and Robert and Mara de Jongh. Our local Turkish guide was Sijkin who really looked after us and gave us lots of information about life in modern Turkey.

Haghia Sophia interior
The Harem of Topkapi Palace

I arrived in Istanbul a few days before the group and met up with Joan and Gabriel who had also arrived early. We had a very pleasant meal at the Panorama Restaurant which has wonderful views over Topkapi palace and Haghia Sophia Church. I then spent a day on the Asian side of Istanbul, crossing the Bosphorus on the local ferry and exploring a number of historic mosques in the area of Uskudar. There was a wonderful view of Topkapi Palace from the water as we came back. I also spent a day walking around the medieval quarter of Istanbul with Margaret Gaydon, and we visited the Sulemaniya Mosque, the great Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent.
The rest of the group arrived into Istanbul on the 25th September and after getting the rooms sorted we went for a walk down to the Golden Horn, one of my favourite places in the world. After a coffee we saw the beautiful 'New Mosque' and had lunch in the local markets of Sirkeci. We then walked up the hill to see the stunning Basilica Cisterns of Justinian and the historical monuments in the hippodrome. A visit to the Haghia Sophia Basilica was rewarded with a fabulous view of the interior unencumbered by scaffolding, a sight I have not seen for 25 years! The result of the restoration is stunning and the new lights hanging from the ceiling really brings the interior alive. It is a completely different building!

The following day we visited the magical Topkapi Place, home of the Ottoman Sultans. We explored the harem with its beautiful tiled interior and saw the Ottoman treasures including the famous Topkapi dagger - a highlight is the view across the Bosphorus and up the Golden Horn from the Great Loggia. In the afternoon we went to the Grand Bazaar - most of the group treated this visit as a rekhy with a view to coming back again later on during the tour.

The group explores Hattusas
The 'Fairy Chimneys' of Cappadocia

On Tuesday 27th September we drove by bus from Istanbul to Ankara, stopping en route to buy Turkish delight and baklava, and have a coffee of course! The scenery along the Sea of Marmara is beautiful. We went to see the Temple of Augustus with its important inscription; the res gestae or last will and testament of the Roman Emperor Augustus. The following morning we went to the impressive Mausoleum of Ataturk, founder of the modern nation - the Mausoleum is in many ways a parallel for the Temple of Augustus. It contains a fascinating war memorial with details of the Gallipoli Campaign. We also saw the fascinating collection of artefacts in the Ancient Civilisations Museum and went for a walk in the old quarter nestled in the citadel of Ankara.

We then drove east for about 3 hours to the village of Bogazkoy which would be our base for 2 nights. The village is very pleasant and we went for a walk around the centre, part of the way being followed by a flock of geese. The following day was spent at the ruins of the ancient Hittite capital of Hattusas. We explored the ancient walls including having a look inside the recently built German reconstruction of part of the fortifications. The Lion Gate and King’s Gate are impressive examples of Late Bronze Age construction. We also saw the rock carvings in the shrine of Yazilikaya, and then I decided we should try to visit the Corum Museum. I had not been there before but it actually turned out to be a highlight, with excellent displays of Hittite artefacts. The following morning we visited the pre-Hittite tombs at Alaca Huyuk, and saw the impressive sphinx gate.

On Friday 30th September we drove south to Cappadocia. This area is famed for its stunning natural landscapes which have been carved from the natural pumice by the wind and rain, creating the famous 'Fairy Chimneys'. We stopped for numerous photos, and climbed to the top of Uchisar Castle for a panoramic view across the entire region. Most of the gents in the group went for a Turkish Bath in the evening, the one in Urgup being a traditional complex - we all felt much cleaner at the end! The following morning we visited the painted churches of Goreme and then went for a walk in the scenic Zelve Valley which was a monastic retreat in medieval times. We also visited a carpet factory to see how silk is extracted from the cocoons and in the evening went to a beautiful restored Selcuk Period caravanserai, the Sarihan, to see a display of sufi dancing.

The next morning we had some free time - most of the group went for a scenic balloon ride over the ruins and came back with tales of adventure. We drove to the nearby town of Kayseri to catch our flight to Izmir, stopping en route to photograph the dramatic snowcapped cone of Erciyes volcano. At the end of the short flight we were met by our bus and transferred to our hotel in Selcuk. We stayed at the family run Nazar Hotel for a week - this would be our base for exploration of the local antiquities sites.

We had a beautiful sunny day for exploring the ruins of Priene, located south of Selcuk. A wonderfully situated ancient site, there are sweeping views over the Meander River Valley. The city is remarkably well preserved and the theatre is very special. We all had gozleme (Turkish pancake) for lunch, whipped up in no time by the local café. In the afternoon we returned to Selcuk where we visited the local antiquities Museum - it has an excellent collection of objects from Ephesus including many statues.

The Temple of Athena at Priene
The stadium at Aphrodisias

On the 4th October we went to the beautiful ancient site of Aphrodisias, located up the Meander Valley to the east of Selcuk. The journey is a scenic drive in itself. We explored the site which includes a stunning stadium, and very impressive theatre. The on-site Museum has some of the most magnificent sculpture to survive anywhere in the Roman world. The evenings were spent exploring the many interesting shops in Selcuk and having dinner in a range of good little restaurants. Margaret Gaydon searched long and hard for her intended carpet most nights and eventually had success.

The following day was our free day - most of the group decided to take the ferry over to the Greek island of Samos for the day. I arranged a taxi to go to the ancient Lydian capital of Sardis, located to the east of Izmir. The site includes impressive remains from the Roman era and a beautiful Temple of Artemis located in the nearby river valley. I also explored some of the royal tomb mounds which dot the plain in front of the city - I climbed to the top of one of them for a superb view!

The following day we went south again to see the ruins of Miletus and Didyma. The first site is famous for its stunning Roman theatre. We also walked round the agora and saw the ruins of the well preserved Roman Bath. We had lunch at Didyma and then went to see the impressive Temple of Apollo - although much is missing, it still has the power to impress. On the way back to the hotel we stopped to see the supposed House of the Virgin Mary in the hills above Ephesus - despite having no archaeological or historical basis for its attribution (or interest to the author), it is an interesting example of 21st Century cult practice and thriving money making enterprise. Bring back Artemis I say!

We had juggled the itinerary around a little so as to avoid going to Ephesus when many cruise boats were in town - it made a difference for our visit as we could avoid the worst of the crowds. We had a bright sunny day to explore the ancient remains, taking our time to walk down the hill and see the council chamber, baths, private houses, Library of Celsus and theatre. The site is one of the best preserved in Turkey and creates an impression of grandeur. The Roman Houses are fascinating - a huge ongoing project of restoration is slowly rebuilding the marble panels of the main houses. We had lunch nearby and visited the 'Cave of the Seven Sleepers', a Christian shrine. Robert gave an excellent impression of rising from the grave after 100 years!

The next day, the 8th October, we headed north of Selcuk, saying farewell to our wonderful hosts at the Nazar Hotel. We stopped in Izmir to have morning tea with our guide Sijkin’s family - we had a very warm welcome and far too much food (delicious though!). We then continued out journey north, arriving in the city of Bergama, our base for 2 nights. Here we toured the superb ruins of the Hellenistic period - the site is now reached by using the new cable car which takes visitors up to the summit. The weather was stormy and very windy but somehow the rain held off for our visit. We walked down via the houses with mosaics and the superb gymnasium. We also saw the Temple of Serapis, the Asklepieion medical centre, and the local Museum. There was good shopping in Bergama.

On the 10th October we headed north, stopping to see the ruins of the Temple of Athena at Assos. It was wet and windy for our visit and the view over the Aegean only permitted a hazy view of the Island of Lesbos. From here we headed to Troy - this fascinating site contains a rich history but it was blowing a gale and raining heavily and we beat a hasty retreat to the comforts of our hotel in Canakkale. The following morning we crossed the Dardanelles Strait to visit the WWI battle sites at Gallipoli. The weather remained clear and we had the main sites to ourselves. This is a very melancholy and touching experience and the overcast weather added to the feeling of foreboding. We had a pleasant seafood lunch in Gallipoli before heading off to Istanbul.

The akropolis at Pergamum
The moon rises over the Bosphorus - magical!

We ended our tour of Turkey with a few days in Istanbul. On our first day we had a cruise up the Bosphorus to the entrance to the Black Sea. I hired a private cruise boat for us which made it much more comfortable - plenty of chances to talk about the beautiful palaces and castles along the way, and to share baklava and tea. We climbed to the castle at Anadolu Kavagi and had lunch overlooking the water. On our return to Istanbul we visited the fish market, took the 'Tunel' tram to the top of Galata and ascended to the summit of the Galata Tower for a superb view over the Golden Horn. We then headed off to the Pera Palace Hotel which has recently re-opened after being refurbished. Here we had cocktails and saw the room where Agatha Christie stayed. The last official day of the tour was spent at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum which contains a huge collection of artefacts - a highlight is the 'Alexander Sarcophagus' from the Lebanese royal tombs at Sidon. We then went to the Blue Mosque to see this wonder of late Ottoman architecture, and also stopped to see the Mosaics in the nearby Museum. The following day was free time in Istanbul due to changes in scheduling by Singapore Airlines. Some of us went to see the Byzantine Mosaics and frescoes in the Chora Church and to walk along the Walls of Theodosius. All in all, this was a wonderful tour with many happy memories.

Michael Birrell

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