This is my first installment of what has been a quarter of a century love affair with Turkey. I know it sounds a bit naf the word ‘orientalist’ Like something directly from previous centuries the name invokes memories and feelings of those who came before us, who for some reason escaped their homelands and were mystified, hypnotised by all things ‘oriental’
Pierre Loti being among the most famous he has become a bit of a whacky hero of mine. For years I’ve sat in the cafe near his house above the cemetery in Eyup and pondered the situation of the world much the same as he probably did. His love of things Turkish and his beloved nargile are two things he and I have in common.
I accidentally found myself on this foreign shore in 1984. A bit of an eccentric backpacker that year some friends and I set out to sleep in as many ancient sites as possible. We made our way through the US where we slept in Anasazi ruins in Colorado, through damp old castles in Scotland and the UK and along the Rhine Valley, through old buildings and ruins in the Balkans until we reached Greece. Fascinated by our choice of unguarded ruined temples, citadels, fortresses and theatres we though to ourselves, ‘It just don’t get any better than this! Then whilst in Samos, sleeping in the Temple of Hera we ran into a Canadian guy named Chuck, he scoffed at us when we told him where we’d been and what we had done. He said “You ain’t seen nothing till you’ve been to Turkey man” He had just spent a month travelling through Anatolian Turkey and instantly he had me totally enthralled. He said that barely two hours away from where we stood was one of the ancient worlds finest marvels….. Ephesus. This was to be the start of a love affair that now has me happily married and living in this great country. Initially we were a bit worried about carrying on our adventures in Turkey, afterall we’d not long seen Midnight Express and had visions of us sleeping in some definitely ancient Turkish prison without much of a choice in the matter.
He told us that even though Ephesus was a bit of a drawcard for foreign tourists that in 1984 the local infrastructure and tourism industry was still quite basic. He said we’d need to hitch hike out to the site and we would find no shortage of places to quench our thirst for sleeping in the old places full of ancient ghosts.
We caught the ferry across to the Turkish mainland to the seaside town of Kusadasi (Kus = Bird, Ada = Island) We found a dodgy very very old ottoman building supposedly imitating a hotel and not doing a very good job of it. We wandered the old part of the town and fell in love with Turkey instantly. The old market square was part of a Caravansaray, I remember finding an old shop selling disused weapons from a bygone era, swords, sabres, bayonets, muskets, rifles just loads and loads of beautiful rusty old relics, leftovers from the turbulent past of the Ottoman Empire. Coming from Australia where at that time it was rare to spot anything more than Dad’s old .303 or the odd shotgun for clearing rabbits off the farm I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing.
Next day we caught a local bus (dolmus) towards the town of Selcuk. The driver dropped us off by a turn in the road, in the distance above the trees we could see tempting hints of our goal. We walked a while and passed close by overgrown ruins and monumental structures. We finally made it to the entrance gate and paid some money to the guard, deposited our bags and entered the site. The number of people who visit Ephesus on a daily basis these days 2010 must number in their tens of thousands. Today in June 1984 we had the whole place to ourselves, not another soul, living at least…………
We followed the stone and marble, if we took a wrong turn we would find ourselves distanced from the whole world in silence and surrounded by blackberry bushes and the ghosts of past Ephesians. We found the theatre which at this time had received very little attention from the Austrian archaeologists digging at the site. We scrambled over stones and found ourselves in the tunnels that serviced the gladiatorial equipment, props and dungeons. It was like being a kid and having one of those amazing dreams kids have with an overactive imagination, just touching the stones you felt an energy surge though your bones. I was hooked!
The sun was setting and we secretly had made our plans. We set off for the gate to collect our gear and bid farewell to the lonely guard but not until he’d offered us sweet tea and some bread with white cheese and honey. He also tried to sell us some relics he and his buddies had somehow come across. We wandered back down the lonely deserted road until we found (what we were to discover later) was the Hippodrome and the Triumphal Gate. We slipped off the track and found ourselves surrounded by the seating and entertainment area of the complex. There was a chilly breeze that blew on our faces, there was that feeling of danger, risk, that bring on the butterflies in the gut.
We unrolled our sleeping mats and bags in an area looking eastwards and away from the road. My companions decided that we’d need some supplies for the night and wandered off towards the road for bread, cheese and the newest beer in our experience Efes Pilsen. I was left alone in the site and decided to find my sketch pad and pencils. I was totally at peace. I heard sounds that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, I imagined toga wearing or bronze armoured men looking over my shoulder as I tried drawing. The sun set and my companions returned. We lit a small fire between some fallen stones where nobody could see from the outside. We spent the night in almost total silence, no need for conversation, no need for jokes, no need even for sleep……. We, each of us totally immersed by these wonderful ancient surroundings in total silence. Like standing at the portal to a forgotten time, we felt as if we were indeed time-travellers who had found the doorway to another time…………………………..
This story is a journey of discovery that can’t be told in one installment. I hope to carry on the story and hope you will enjoy reading it.
Written by Roachie from RoadRunner Travel