Back at Didim Marina after the most fantastic trip of South-East Turkey with a group of fellow yachties, we were happy to find all was well aboard S/V Sunday.
There was no time to get back into the daily rhythm of life aboard however, as we were booked to fly to the Netherlands in just a few days to visit our daughter and son-in-law and to pick up our camper van for some more land adventures.
Other marina residents were also departing that week to visit family and friends – some to Portugal, others to Australia and Thailand. With so many people leaving it was decided to have a Friday night farewell barbecue.
It was a great evening!
The following day we flew off to the Netherlands and had a very smooth trip with none of the possible hiccups that we have have come to expect in these Covid times.
It was wonderful to see how lush and green the Netherlands was. It had only rained once or twice since the beginning of March in Turkey and on the drive to the airport everywhere looked so parched. There was not a scrap of green grass to be seen – everything was brown and lifeless.
We had brought with us a lovely carpet we had bought earlier in the year in a small carpet shop in Uçağız, a small fishing village in the heart of the landlocked bay of Kekova Roads.
We didn’t have room for it aboard Sunday but we were very happy to find it was the perfect fit for Hannah and Pieter’s hallway!
We had a quiet time the first week or ten days of our stay as we took the Dutch Government’s advice and quarantined at home. However, we went for lovely walks every day and had the occasional lunch at a cafe (outside!) with Hannah and Pieter.
We so enjoyed seeing the last of the late autumn leaves in the gardens and woods nearby to their home.
The second weekend after our arrival we had an extra special visit from my sister Sarah and her husband Martin. Due to all the Covid restrictions, the last time we had seen them was just before Christmas 2020 and then it was only for a brief lunch in their garden (fortunately it was a relatively mild day!)
It was so exciting to welcome them as they came off the Eurostar train from London to Amsterdam.
On the Saturday we all went for a tramp and ended up at the windmill cafe in nearby Nootdorp.
Very fortunately for us the windmill was not only working but also open for tours. We were able to go up into the miller’s loft (two at a time) and be shown round the various working parts and have a demonstration on exactly how the sails worked – listening all the whike to the delightful clack of them going round and round.
We also paid a visit to the local farm shop and purchased some lovely fresh produce for dinner that night.
The following day we all went to the local garden centre which according to Sarah and Martin was bigger than any they had visited in England!
It has become an annual ritual to go and see the Centre’s wonderful Christmas displays and decorations and stake out which Christmas tree looks the best, and buy Christmas plants, fairy lights and other festive goodies.
The other part of the ritual is to have afternoon tea in the garden centre cafe where they serve (among many other lovely things) Dutch apple pie with lashings of slagroom (whipped cream)!
We also took the bus into beautiful Delft – the canal-ringed Medieval town just 15 minutes cycle ride from Hannah and Pieter’s place.
It is always lovely to walk around this gorgeous place with its massive market square, the graceful Renaissance- style 17th Century City Hall , the Oude Kerk (old Church) and the Nieuwe Kerk (new Church) which was actually completed in 1496!)
Best of all, it’s just wonderful to wander alongside the canals, crossing them when the fancy takes you and discovering new alleys and path ways along the way.
All too soon it was time to farewell Sarah and Martin as they joined the Eurostar to head back to London. It had been a lovely weekend but like all good things, it went far too quickly!
Our tour of south East Turkey was drawing to a close but there were still some fabulous things to see and do.
We left the incredible and innovative Museum Hotel in Antakya and drove for around 50 minutes to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea near Samandağ (the medieval port of Saint Symeon).
It was wonderful to see the sparking blue waters of the Med as we walked up the hill to visit the next amazing historical landmark – the Vespasianus Titus Tunnel.
The tunnel is part of a water diversion system built during the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD to divert floodwaters that ran down the mountain carrying sand and gravel and threatening to silt up the harbour.
This ingenious piece of Roman engineering transferred flood waters to the sea through an artificial canal and tunnel.
According to the archaeological records and the various epitaphs on the tunnel, around one thousand people – mostly slaves – constructed this technological marvel.
The tunnel has been recognized by UNESCO as one of the Roman Empire’s most incredible engineering feats.
We were able to walk along most of the tunnel’s 1,380 metres (4,527 feet) and imagine what a ghastly time the slaves (many of them from the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 66-79 AD) would have had during its construction.
The tunnel is seven metres high and six metres wide and was built with no heavy machinery and no explosives. Just those poor slaves chipping away with hammers and chisels, day after day – for years on end.
We walked back down the hill to our mini bus, taking a closer look at other Roman remains including some tombs in a cave and a pretty bridge.
By this time we were feeling peckish and our guide Baran, knowing how much we all loved being by the ocean and near to boats, took us to a small fishing harbour for a late lunch.
The wharf was a hive of activity with fishing boats being made ready for sea and lots of comings and goings.
After watching one of the larger craft leaving to fish in the open sea, we went to sit down at a “pop up” restaurant where we ate absolutely divine “Balik Ekmek” (a grilled fish fillet inserted in a half-loaf of bread along with a scoop of “salata” (lettuce, tomatoes and onions,) made all the more delicious by being washed down by a bottle of beer obtained from another restaurant nearby.
The following morning was taken up with the drive to Adana from where we would all fly back to our respective boats. Before going to the airport there was still some brilliant surprises! First of all, Baran – our guide – took us to the second largest mosque – and one of the most marvellous – in Turkey, called the Sabancı Merkez Mosque.
The mosque was largely paid for by the Sabanci Foundation (run by a mega wealthy famous Turkish family) – hence its name.
Located on the banks of the Seyhan River, Sabancı Central Mosque is a majestic structure with six minarets. Eight massive pillars carry the main dome that has a diameter of 32 metres (105 feet).
The interior of the mosque was breathtaking – everything about it was designed to inspire and impress. The sheer scale of the auditorium (built to contain 28,500 people) the massive tiled panels, the wide expanse of luxurious wool carpet, the immense lighting structures – everything was designed to be awe inspiring.
Next was a very pleasant lunch on the terrace of a restaurant/patisserie overlooking the Golden Lake where there were some very tempting and delicious looking cakes on offer.
We were then whisked off for a quick look at some of Adana’s main sites, including the 32 foot Great Clock Tower, (Büyük Saat), the bazaar and the Oil Mosque, (so named due to an Oil reservoir in its precincts) which was once a crusader Church and converted into a mosque in 1501.
Parts of the madrasa (Islamic school) in the courtyard were used as craft workshops and we were able to see some of their marbling and felting work during our rather brief visit.
By this time the sun was becoming low in the sky and Baran hurried as back onto the bus as he wanted us to experience the sunset in a very special spot.
Our driver Cezar, dropped us off on the banks of the Seyhan River near the majestic Taşköprü (stone bridge) – a historic Roman Bridge known as the Ponte Sarus when it was built in the second century AD.
Since 2007 it has only carried foot traffic but up until then it was one of the oldest bridges in the world open to motorized vehicles. The bridge has 21 arches but some of them are now not visible due to stabilisation work on the river banks.
Walking onto the bridge we were surprised to find a festive atmosphere with lots of people milling around, vendors selling snacks and drinks and a group of people launching Chinese paper “sky”lanterns.
The views from the bridge were stunning – especially those of the Sabancı Merkez Mosque that we had visited earlier in the day.
The river was completely calm and serene with not even a ripple of wind to disturb the perfect reflection of the twinkling lights of the mosque as the sun set.
It was almost time to head for the airport but there was one last stop to accomplish something very important – something that everyone one who visits Adana is urged to do – eat an Adana kebab!!
Baran took us to the famous Cik Cik Ali restaurant where we feasted on the delicious kebabs cooked on hot coals and served on a wide metal skewer.
Made from lamb mince meat, mixed with red bell peppers, the Adana kebabs are served with charred peppers and tomatoes, an onion-sumac-parsley salad, and lavaş (thin flat bread).
These delicious kebabs are hand minced with two rather curious implements more reminiscent of scimitars than kitchen utensils!
Ali, the owner was delighted to demonstrate his prowess with his “swords”, twirling them in the air above his head like an oriental warrior.
Too soon it was time to drive to the airport to fly off to our various yachts. All that was left to do was say a goodbye to our new friends and to say a huge “çok teşekkürler” (thank you very much) to our amazing guide Baran and our ever patient driver Cezar for giving us a trip of a lifetime round South East Turkey.
It was a lovely drive from Gaziantep to Hatay, Turkey’s southernmost province – bordered by Syria to the south and the east.
Out of the minibus windows along our way we gazed at vast fertile plains that extended as far as the eye could see – with mountains looming in the far distance.
Antakya, the capital of Hatay, had a quite different vibe to some of the other places we had visited on our marvellous tour of SE Turkey. This was hardly surprising as the city is very cosmopolitan and home to Sunni and Alawi Muslims, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholics, Protestants, Maronites, Greek-Orthodox Arabs and Armenian communities.
Sovereignty over the province still remains in dispute with Syria and a substantial proportion of the population are of Arab origin.
The busy town which in Biblical times was known as Antioch, has been described as “the cradle of Christianity” and fact is was here that the term Christianity was first coined.
Because of its diverse population Antakya is full of exciting sights and sounds and there is a plethora of delicious foods and drinks to try.
Our fantastic guide Baran took us to some amazing eateries. First we visited Pöç Kasabı ve Kebap – a busy three-floor restaurant where all the food is cooked in a roaring wood-fired oven in a tiny kitchen at the entrance to the shop.
Our tasty Tepsi (tray) kebab (the region’s most famous meat dish) made with spicy minced meat disappeared very quickly – it was delicious!
We went for a delightful walk through the bustling bazaar and were fascinated by the stalls making something that looked like a cross between shredded wheat and fine noodles that was being spun like candy floss. This turned out to be one of the main ingredients of künefe – an Antakya specialty.
Baran took us to a a tiny cafe under a centuries-old plane tree near an equally old mosque in the Long Bazaar where we tasted this wondrous confection.
The strange thin strands of pastry that we had seen being made were steeped in a sweet sugar-based syrup and then baked around a core of mozzarella-like cheese and finished off with a sprinkling of finely chopped pistachio nuts. Even though I’m not normally a lover of desserts, I have to admit it tasted divine!
We also stopped at Çayırcı Bakla Humus Salonu – a hole-in-the-wall cafe which has two items on the menu, bakla (a mashed fava bean spread) and humus.
We were able to watch as both these delicious dishes were made by hand. No whisks or mixers were used – just old fashioned mortars and pestles and elbow grease!
Both dishes were served with beautiful garnishes of various pickled vegetables, rosy tomatoes and chopped herbs as well as fresh flatbread known as tırnaklı ekmek. The food looked and tasted superb – I don’t think I have ever tasted such creamy hummus!
While wandering through the bazaar we came across a drink seller with a colourful sash around his waist and a silver ledge over it on which plastic cups were placed.
He had a massive silver jug with a long spout and a bunch of flowers attached at the top from which he flamboyantly poured a rather ghastly viscous-looking brown liquid into the plastic cups – rather like a fez-wearing cocktail waiter.
It turned out that this was a cold (non alcoholic) liquorice-based drink. It didn’t look very appetising so I didn’t try it and judging by the faces of those who did, I made the right decision!
As well as being a foodie heaven, the town has some intriguing sights. On a walk round some of the streets in the old quarter of Antakya we had the good luck to find the Italian-born priest “at home” in the tiny Catholic Church, set in a beautiful courtyard garden.
The padre welcomed us cordially and told us some history of the building and of the Catholic Community in Antakya. He said that the location of the Church was important as it was located where several of apostles, had lived.
From a flat roof of a church building we were able to see the Church, a nearby mosque and a Jewish Synagogue all within a stone’s throw of each other. The priest explained that their proximity to each other typifies the friendship, respect, tolerance and peace between the different communities in Antakya.
One of the fascinating places we visited was the cave Church of St Peter, one of the oldest Churches of the Christian faith.
The original simple grotto dug out of the soft volcanic rock is said to have been by carved out by St Peter himself. The oldest surviving parts of the church building date from at least the 4th or 5th century and include some pieces of floor mosaics and traces of frescoes.
There is still a tunnel inside the Church which opens elsewhere on the mountainside and is thought to have served as an escape route in case of attack on the early Christians.
The Church facade was constructed by the Crusaders in 1100, and rebuilt in the 19th century.
From the Church of St Peter we headed to the splendid Hatay archeological museum where we saw many fabulous treasures including the impressive two-tonne, 3,000 year-old statue of the Neo-Hittite King Suppiluliuma, found in 2012 at the ancient site of Tayinat, 35 kilometres from Antakya.
Inscriptions on the back of the statue provide a whole catalogue of information about his victories and border expansions.
There were many fascinating exhibits including some amazing mosaics. One of my favourites depicted a skeleton enjoying a drink which was unearthed in 2013 and dates from the third century AD.
It apparently warns people “Enjoy life as much as you can because tomorrow is uncertain.”
Another stand-out exhibit of the museum’s huge collection was the Antakya Sarcophagus (Antakya Lahdı), a spectacularly carved marble tomb from the 3rd century with a reclining figure on the lid that has remained unfinished.
Moving on from the archeological museum we went to what turned out to be the absolute highlight of our visit to Antakya – the Museum Hotel.
This is a unique archeological site where ancient remains lie exposed under an ultra modern hotel.
The extensive archeological findings were discovered when the foundations of the hotel were being dug. Work halted immediately and the hotel owners told that the site would have to be excavated before any more work was carried out.
Because of the importance of the findings which included the largest intact mosaic ever found, the original plans for the hotel were scrapped and an innovative and impressive design to incorporate the archeological site into the hotel structure was created.
The result was a combination of engineering marvel and architectural beauty.
The hotel is an astonishing combination of contemporary steel columns with stacked rooms that “float” above the archeological remains. These are linked by walkways and bridges.
The mosaic under the hotel is a 1,050m² work of art which was started around 300 BC and, it is believed, was a work in progress for more than 15 centuries.
Walking on the labyrinth of raised glass ramps and bridges we were in close proximity to the remains. We were able to gaze down not only on the mosaic but also a Roman streetscape complete with a bath house, forum and other buildings.
Antakya was absolutely full of treasures and surprises and we felt incredibly privileged to have been able to see just some of the highlights of this fascinating part of the world.
Our visit to the mysterious tumulus and the ancient heads on top of Mt Nemrut left us feeling intrigued and slightly overwhelmed – quite sure that we had seen the very best that South East Turkey had to offer.
However, the following days were equally fascinating and just as enjoyable.
The next adventure began with a bus ride from our hostel on Mt Nemrut to Halfeti where we went on a boat ride – a great choice for a group of cruising yachties who hadn’t been on the water for a few days!
We picked up the timber boat on the banks of the Euphrates River at Halfeti – a town that had partly been submerged under water when the Birecik Dam was commissioned in 2000/2001.
Shortly after our boat took off we stopped at a waterside restaurant to pick up lunch supplies – delicious Turkish gözleme (savoury stuffed turnovers) and (after everyone’s hands shot up to the question “who would like a beer?”), bottles of Turkey’s local brew – Efes.
Chugging along happily over the clear waters we admired the beautiful scenery- particularly the soaring cliffs that rose high above the flooded area.
At one point we saw the remains of a once magnificent Roman Fort that was another “victim” of the dam project. It is now only accessible by boat.
The construction of the dam meant 6,000 people lost their homes and had to be resettled.
Seeing the remains of a village partially “drowned” was very poignant. We could not help thinking about all those displaced people and how hard it must have been to leave their homes that had possibly been in their families for many generations.
In addition, many important antiquities had to be rescued as below the area to be flooded by the dam were the ruins of the ancient city of Zeugma which had only been excavated sporadically and not at all thoroughly.
With only a fraction of the site excavated, archeologists feared that many mosaics and other treasures would be permanently lost. Thankfully, only few months before the flooding was to start the American philanthropist David W. Packard donated US$5 million to fund an emergency excavation allowing archeologists to preserve the mosaics that would otherwise be inundated by the dam.
Just before we boarded our minibus after leaving the boat, we witnessed the most extraordinary sight, one I had never seen or heard of before – a dog suckling a rather large kitten! We were told that she lost her puppies at the same time as a litter of kittens had lost their mother and the dog adopted the kittens!
Our next stop was our digs in Gaziantep – a glorious caravanserai that had been converted to a thoroughly modern hotel with an old world vibe.
The bazaar at Gaziantep must be one of my top favourites in Turkey. The atmospheric narrow lanes were packed with gorgeous wares – everything from colourful spices and dried fruits to balls of string and rope; sparkling copper and stainless steel wares to lovely handmade leather shoes – I bought two pairs! You could even buy a brass topper for your minaret!
Our wonderful guide Baran, took us to various stalls to sample local delicious delicacies such as Burma kadayıf, Kunāfah and delicious baklava.
At the baklava shop where we tasted the most divine examples of this delicious dessert. The shop owner told us that the best baklava shouldn’t be “drowned” in honey. To prove his point he turned a tray of his most delicious wares upside down. They were sticky enough to cling to the tray but not a drop of honey fell as they hung precariously over his head!
Early the next day we headed to the Zeugma Mosaic Museum, where the treasures saved before the ancient city was inundated by the dam flood waters.
Now I have always appreciated mosaics as a pretty amazing art form – making a picture from thousands of little chips of stone must be extremely painstaking and require a lot of patience and talent. However, I don’t think I have ever been that excited about mosaics. I have to tell you though, the exhibits at the Zeugma Mosaic Museum have changed all that! The mosaics there were absolutely mesmerising!
Some of these fabulous works of art would have been buried for ever had it not been for the rescue operation that happened at the eleventh hour.
Photos of the mosaics do not do them justice – the nuanced shading, the intricacy of design and the absolute genius of imagination and artistic ability – but I would highly recommend this unexpectedly wonderful, brilliant museum.
In addition to all the beautifully presented mosaics – two highly recognisable treasures reside there. The first being a stunning statue of Mars found during the excavation campaign of Zeugma.
The statue is not only one of the most interesting and spectacular finds from this city but also gave experts an important opportunity to study ancient working and casting techniques.
The second very famous piece – dubbed the “Mona Lisa” of Turkey – is the Gypsy Girl mosaic, rescued from a 2nd Century Roman villa.
Even though there is still debate about “her” gender, this haunting face has become – in the public imagination – a mysterious “Gypsy Girl” and an important symbol of Turkey’s classical heritage.
Each day of our tour in South-East Turkey was simply amazing. Every place we visited was fascinating, beautiful, or spectacular – usually all three.
In addition, we managed to tick off several places on our bucket list – one being Mount Nemrut, surely amongst the most dramatic ancient sites we have ever visited.
On top of this 2,134-metre high mountain sits a mysterious mausoleum scattered with massive stone heads.
Fortunately we didn’t have to walk all the way up from the bottom of the mountain – there is a car park about 750 metres from the summit! Nevertheless, the climb was steep and quite rugged in places.
Our lovely guide Baran joined me at the tail of the group and we took the precipitous path in a sedate manner.
The steep climb was absolutely worth it! That first glimpse of the magnificent stone heads was breathtaking.
So what were these heads doing there? Apparently they were built by King Antiochus l of the Kingdom of Commagene in 62 BC as a “very modest”enhancement to his tomb and a “gentle” reminder of his greatness and power after his death.
This ambitious construction included statues of himself, two lions, two eagles and various Greek and Iranian gods such as Heracles and Zeus, Apollo and Hermes.
At some point in the long and distant past the heads had been knocked off their eight or nine-metre-high seats. How the statues lost their heads remains an unsolved question, although the most popular suggestion is that it was a result of natural causes – a combination of earthquakes, snow and strong winds.
The magnificent heads have remained “knocked off their perches” and never restored to their original positions.
Another unsolved mystery is what lies under the 50 metre tumulus – the artificial embankment made from crushed rock sitting on the peak of the mountain?
It is possible that the tumulus of loose rock was built to protect what was underneath from robbers, since any excavation would quickly fill in.
Despite extensive excavations conducted since the beginning of the 1880s, the actual burial site of King Antiochus l has never been found and the mystery of what lies beneath the loose stone tumulus still remains unsolved.
After soaking in the magnificent sight of the heads and the tumulus from the East terrace, we walked round to the West terrace where there were more heads – bathed in the last vestiges of the golden sunlight.
It was really, really, icy cold but fortunately we came prepared with red wine to help warm us as we watched the sun sink lower and lower over the horizon.
After the magnificent sunset we walked back down to the car park on a different route. It was rather rough in places but perhaps a little shorter.
We slithered and slid down the uneven slippery path and soon were in the minibus heading for our hotel for the night.
The mountain lodge we stayed at was fairly basic but the room we ate in had a cosy fire and the meal was warming and substantial.
After we had finished dinner we sat round the fire chatting and exchanging stories.
After leaving atmospheric Mardin in South-East Turkey, we travelled onwards to what has been described as the world’s oldest place of worship – Göbekli Tepe – a mysterious Neolithic archeological site that dates back to between 9600 and 8000 BCE – 6,000 years older than Stonehenge and 7,000 years older than the pyramids!
Excavations of this extraordinary place started in 1995 and what has been discovered has upended the conventional view of the rise of civilization.
Previously archeologists believed that the adoption of farming was the impetus to cause people to settle down and begin to build permanent homes and religious and iconic structures. The discovery of Göbekli Tepe has led many experts to believe the reverse – that the building of such a massive collection of structures actually caused people to adopt farming in order to feed the hordes of people that would have been required for the building work.
Whatever the truth is, the remains that are on display are absolutely extraordinary especially considering that’s they were built in the the Pre-Pottery Neolithic age.
Looking down onto the excavations we could clearly see a number of T-shaped pillars, about five metres tall, many of them carved with marvellous studies of animals such as foxes, lions, snakes, as well as boats and abstract symbols.
The stones are arranged in giant circles and ovals — each structure is made up of two large central pillars surrounded by smaller inward-facing pillars.
There is a mysterious reason why this amazing site remained undiscovered for so long – the enclosure was deliberately – and very carefully – buried under hundreds of metres of dirt consisting of small limestone fragments, broken pieces of stone vessels and tools and other refuse, creating a tell.
Why on earth would these lovely structures with extraordinary artwork be totally buried some time after 8000 BCE?
Perhaps further exploration of this vast hilltop site will provide an answer – only five per cent has been excavated so far!
We left Göbekli Tepe with many questions swirling around our heads but we were totally enthralled by the experience.
Our next stop was the marvellous museum in Şanlıurfa (aka Urfa)which is just 12 kilometres from Göbeklitepe.
Here we were able to walk amongst a true-to-life reproduction of one of the stone circles we had just seen at Göbeklitepe. It was fantastic to see close up the reproductions of the absolutely beautiful and incredibly accurate carvings of animals that we had seen from afar at the site.
We also saw the renowned “Urfa Man” which dates (unbelievably!) from 9,000 BC and is the oldest life-sized sculpture of a human ever discovered.
There were also many wonderful exhibits from other nearby Neolithic sites – most importantly those from Nevali Çori which were excavated when plans for the Ataturk Dam and Reservoir were made and the site set to be inundated.
It was really mind blowing to see such fabulous artefacts that dated back to many, many, thousands of years ago.
That evening we went to an excellent traditional restaurant in what used to be a caravanserai (a roadside inn where travellers could rest and recover from the day’s journey) for travellers on the Silk Road.
After our meal we enjoyed listening to some traditional Turkish music that by chance was being performed at the restaurant.
The next day we were able to see the Ataturk dam for ourselves. Built between 1990 and 1992, this massive construction definitely left an impression.
Located on the mighty Euphrates, the dam has a surface area of 817 km² and a volume of 48.5 cubic kilometers, making it the third largest lake in the country.
After stopping to view the dam (where we enjoyed a glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice!) we drove on to the Karakuş Tümülüs, the burial place of the mother and sister of Mithridates ll.
This fine funerary monument was built between 30 and 20 BCE and the site commands the most incredible views. The tumulus is surrounded by three columns – each about 9 metres (30 ft) high. The columns are topped with reliefs and statues of a bull, lion and eagle.
The tumulus was covered with hundreds of thousands of river pebbles – such a clever idea as this made it impossible for robbers to dig down to find the tomb’s entrance – try and dig a hole in the gravel and a load more pebbles fill it immediately!
Our next stop was Cendere Bridge (yes we packed in a lot in that day). Also known as Septimius Severus Bridge, it was built in late Roman times.
The bridge is a simple and unadorned single arch and is thought to be the second largest remaining Roman Bridge in existence!
Up until quite recently it was used to carry traffic but now a replacement bridge has been built nearby.
Our final stop before reaching our main destination for the day – iconic Mount Nemrut – was another site that was associated with Mithridates ll. It is thought that this place (Arsameia) was where his father, Antiochus (who was responsible for the construction of the mausoleum at Mt Nemrut) had his summer residence.
There are few remains to see now but there is an intriguing network of man made caves here – possibly used for storage of supplies but no one seems certain about this.
After a reasonably short but steep climb we reached an impressive carved stone block depicting King Antiochus shaking hands with Hercules.
Next to this, over the entrance to the nearby cave, is an important inscription that gives invaluable historical information about the establishment of Arsameia and the life and laws of the kingdom including all the elements to be followed during rituals.
It was late afternoon by the time we reached Mt Nemrut but the story of that adventure must wait until next time!
Just imagine that your family had lived in the same modest house for generations. One day your father starts some renovation work – when he starts digging he finds what appears to be the remains of a staircase.
Soon it is apparent that there is something significant down there and he digs down further. Archeologists became involved and it is discovered that there is a 6th century Roman water cistern underneath what used to be your barn!
This is what happened to Mehmet- our guide at Dara, an important Roman fortress city in what was once northern Mesopotamia and which now sits close to Turkey’s border with Syria.
The remains of Dara lie close to Mardin where we stayed for two nights on the start of our tour of the culturally rich and fascinating South-East Turkey.
Mehmet led us through a small gateway, right next to his house and led us down deep underground into the cistern. Apparently the 18 metres deep and fifteen metres wide cistern was used to supply water to travellers such as merchants who during the turbulent 6th Century wouldn’t have been allowed inside the fortress.
It was fascinating to hear Mehmet talk about the discovery and the family’s amazement and excitement when it happened.
Close by to Memhet’s home is a massive gallery grave where hundreds of people were buried together. The massive burial site in which the gallery sits dates back more than 1,500 years and was only unearthed in 2010.
Mehmet told us that he used to play soccer here blissfully unaware of what lay below.
From Dara we drove to Dayro d-Mor Hananyo – an important Syriac Orthodox Monastery usually better known by its nickname, the “Saffron Monastery” because of the beautiful honeyed stone from which it is constructed.
It is said to have been built on the site of the temple to the Mesopotamian sun god Shamash, and we were able to go down to the basement room to view what is believed to be the site of the temple.
Dayro d-Mor Hananyo became a monastery in 493 AD and was the residence of the Syriac Orthodox patriarch of Antioch from 1166 to 1923.
We were very fortunate to be invited to observe the monks at midday prayer which was quite different from any Church service we had ever been part of.
The service was conducted in a form of Aramaic – close to the language that Jesus would have spoken.
It was quite an experience to listen to the ethereal sound of the sung prayers and to observe the ritualistic movements of the bearded monks in their black habits and their unique embroidered hoods.
After the service we wandered around the courtyards and tried to identify the many species of trees that had been planted there.
A friendly volunteer helped us and I took a photo of him – he had such a gentle demeanour and had striking Syriac features. Later that day, I was intrigued to see an image of Christ in the Mardin Museum with the same strong features – so reminiscent of the monks we had met at the “Saffron Monastery “.
Our next stop was the 15th Century Kasımiye Medresesi, originally an Islamic university until 1924 when Medresesis throughout Turkey were closed down in an attempt to secularise the country.
Our tour guide Baran explained the significance of the conduit and pool in the courtyard.
The source of the water is a funnel in the wall that represents birth. The water from the pool drains along a channel (representing different stages of life) and ultimately travels through a narrow slit that represents death and sirat (the narrow bridge which leads to paradise).
Back in Mardin some of us had a wander round the small but well curated museum located in what used to be the grand headquarters of the Syriac Catholic Patriarchate, before gathering for a glass of wine before dinner.
It had been a wonderfully varied and fascinating day, full of interesting experiences that left us looking forward to the rest of our tour of South-East Turkey over the coming days.
Even though we have been travelling more or less full time for six years we never quite get used to saying goodbye to our friends and family.
However, the sadness we feel at the parting of ways makes reunions all the sweeter – especially when you meet people again who you last saw in a completely different part of the world!
And so it was that we sadly farewelled my sister Julia who was returning to England and then the very next day, welcomed our friends Jan and Jack who sailed into Didim marina on their yacht S/V Anthem after crossing the Atlantic from Florida via Bermuda the Azores, Spain, Portugal and Greece.
We hadn’t seen these two since February 2018 when they had joined us on our previous boat S/V Bali Hai for the Sail Thailand Rally. Such a long time between drinks but of course, as soon as we saw them it seemed as though we had met up just last week.
Fortunately Jan and Jack had arrived just in time to join us on a fantastic trip of South-East Turkey organised by travel agent Tarik Toprak.
Tarik is based at Finike Marina where we spent a couple of months earlier in the year. He had already taken two other groups of yachties from Finike Marina on trips to this fascinating part of Turkey.
We had first heard about the tour from Sue and John on S/V Catabella when we had just arrived in Finike Marina at the beginning of April. They had just returned from South-East Turkey and absolutely raved about it. From then on, we were determined to see this incredible part of the country for ourselves.
Tarik had very obligingly opened up the third tour to yachties from outside of Finike Marina. In addition to Jan and Jack, other recent arrivals to Didim Marina – Aussies Brian and Lyn from S/V Ariel – joined us on the new adventure which took us from Izmir in the South-west of Turkey right over to the other side of the country – 1421 km away in Diyarbakir where we started our tour.
Because we had an eye wateringly early flight to Diyarbakir and the airport at Izmir is a two hour drive from Didim, we decided to spend the night before in an airport hotel. This meant we had the chance to stroll round the sprawling Kemeralti bazaar (which has been in existence since Medieval times) and then along the seafront in Izmir before catching an early night.
The bazaar is a maze of narrow lanes, some covered and some open to the elements, and covering a vast area. You can buy almost anything you want there from girdles and trusses to wedding dresses and everything in between.
In the middle of the bazaar we came across the 16th Century Hisar Mosque several times in our wanderings. This historical mosque is one of the biggest in the city centre and its interior contains one of the most striking examples of Ottoman Islamic artwork in İzmir.
Despite the early hour we made it on to our flight without too much drama although the flight was very full. Our guide Baran was waiting for us and suggested a quick breakfast stop at a nearby bakery while we waited for the Finike based group ( English couple Colin and Maggie and Canadian traveller Marje) to arrive.
Within minutes our driver Cezar delivered us to our breakfast stop and after a reviving coffee and various Turkish pastries shared between us we boarded our minibus once again for a whistle stop tour of Diyarbakir before we headed back to the airport.
We drove past the ancient city walls which stretch almost unbroken for about 6 kilometres and surround the historic fortress of Diyarbakir.
We made a quick stop at the famous 11th Century Dicle Bridge built over the mighty Tigris River. The bridge is made up of ten arches and known as “the ten-eyed bridge” by local people.
The black volcanic stone bridge (built in 1065) is usually thronged with tourists but the early hour meant we had the place to ourselves.
Then it was back to the airport to meet our fellow travellers for the first time and drive to our destination for the first night – the ancient Mesopotamian city of Mardin – such a wonderful place to start our adventure!
This gem of a place has recently suffered from dropping tourist numbers due to it’s proximity (35 kms) to the Syrian border but I would highly recommend a visit!
The town is dominated by a ruined Roman citadel, rebuilt in medieval times which rises behind the the limestone houses that cling to the side of the hill and look out over the famous plains of Mesopotamia which lie between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers.
The plains stretch as far as the eye can see – all the way to Iraq and Kuwait.
Mesopotamia is known as the “cradle of civilisation” and it is believed that some of the most important developments in human history, occurred here including the invention of the wheel, the planting of the first cereal crops and the development of cursive script, mathematics, astronomy and agriculture.
After we had settled in our hotel which had fabulous views over the plains, Baran took us on a walking tour of the narrow alleyways and cobblestoned streets, through the bazaar, stopping frequently to marvel at gorgeous buildings such as the Ulu Camil Mosque, and to buy local delicacies such as Elmali Kurabiye and other sweet delicacies tasting of wonderfully exotic ingredients such as almonds, cinnamon, dates, honey, pistachio nuts and sesame seeds.
We visited a 4th Century Assyrian (Syriac) Orthodox Church called the Kırklar Church by its congregation. One of the Church members talked about the history of the Church and the fate of many Assyrians who had fled to Sweden and Germany. He also explained that the Church members read the bible in Aramaic – the language that Jesus is thought to have spoken.
That evening we had a fabulous meal in spectacular surroundings at a restaurant called Bagdadi. Perched high on the hill that leads up to the fortress the restaurant was entered via a steep stairway.
At the top of the stairs was a terrace where some people were eating but we were led to a private room where we were served a sumptuous meal of traditional dishes from Mardin and the region.
What a great way to end an amazing first day on our tour of South-East Turkey!
The ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey draws massive crowds of visitors – both local and international – every year. I have read that this might partly be because the ruins are easy to access from Izmir airport and Kusadasi, a nearby cruise ship port, but that seems a far too cynical assessment to me.
Compared with other ruins we have visited throughout Turkey I would say the well preserved ruins of Ephesus are easily right up there with the best.
We visited this precious ancient site on my sister Julia’s last day with us after a beautiful few days visiting a couple of our favourite anchorages on this part of the coast.
Founded in the 10th Century BC, Ephesus is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Excavations first started in 1863 and are still ongoing – led by the Austrian Archeological Institute, founded by German archeologist Otto Bendorf.
The ruins which mostly date from 27 BCE onwards, span over 662 hectares – one of the largest Roman archaeological sites in the eastern Mediterranean.
As we wandered through the ruins we were able to imagine the splendour of Ephesus in its heyday.
One of the most magnificent buildings is the Library of Celsus, originally built around 125 CE, the façade of which has been carefully reconstructed from original pieces.
A major highlight of our visit was the walk through the excavation site of terraced housing.
Covered by an amazing roof structure to protect the precious mosaics, wall paintings and other artefacts, the area is crisscrossed with glass and iron walkways leading through various levels, so you can view different aspects of the once magnificent homes of the wealthy citizens of Ephesus.
You could even see the clay pipes that once ran beneath the floors and behind the walls to carry warm air through the houses.
It was impossible to walk around and take in the whole of Ephesus in one day and we left promising ourselves another visit as soon as possible.
Sadly, the following day we had to say farewell to Julia at Izmir airport. It of course, felt sad but on the other hand, we realised we were absolutely privileged and fortunate to see each other and to be able to move about freely when so many others have their lives totally on hold due to Covid.
On the way back from the airport we dropped into the popular coastal resort of Kuşadasi for lunch.
The place was absolutely heaving but away from the busy seafront we did find somewhere very quiet to have something to eat.
We walked around the bazaar and on the way back to our car went into the old caravanserai (Kervansaray) close to the fishing harbour.
These lovely buildings served as roadside inns where once upon a time, travellers and their animals on the Silk Road and other trade routes could safely rest and recover from the day’s journey.
There was a lovely cool and peaceful atmosphere in this one and we could just imagine weary travellers enjoying the refreshing sound of the water fountain and the shade of the palm trees after a long amd day of walking or riding a camel or donkey.
How lucky we were to have brilliant weather for the short voyage with my sister Julia who was visiting our boat Sunday from her home near London, England!
We set off from Didim Marina with our sailing buddies Sue and John on S/V Catabella. The weather was glorious and the sea calm and a wonderful deep blue.
On our way to our first anchorage – Kıyıkışlacık, we went past several fish farms which smelled pretty disgusting but are hopefully a more sustainable way of producing sea bream and sea bass than traditional commercial fishing methods.
As we approached Kıyıkışlacık we felt thrilled to see once again the ruins of the Byzantine fortification tower looming out of the water at the entrance to the anchorage.
Once we had safely anchored in this beautiful place we went for a look around the village.
Although Jonathan and I had already spent an excellent few days there earlier in the season, it was still great to have another opportunity to explore this lovely spot.
As we wandered we came across a group of community minded villagers painting murals on the public toilets, the pharmacy and other walls around the village. It was lovely to watch them work together harmoniously with the sounds of Pavarotti in the background.
Later, when we went past the painters again there was a chap playing a stringed instrument which I think is called a baglama. Whatever it’s name, it created a great atmosphere!
One of the nice things about Kıyıkışlacık is that it is still very rural and hardly touched by the tourist boom that before Covid hit, had wrought such changes to nearby Bodrum and other coastal towns.
In this village, life carries on as it has for centuries, with fishermen arriving back at dawn with their catch, farmers driving their tractors through the village and cows being walked through the streets and milked by hand.
We were thrilled to show the others around the ruins of ancient Iasos including the agora, the bouleuterion (theatre) and the portico.
Although they aren’t outstanding in any way, the ruins are atmospheric and for us, definitely worth a second visit.
We enjoyed our sundowners aboard Sunday in the sunshine that evening and a little later we watched the brightest and reddest of full moons rise.
The following day we visited the remains of the Roman Villa where on our previous visit we had seen some marvellous mosaics.
This time the work on the shelter over the mosaics had been completed and some of the most elaborate and impressive mosaics had been covered over, presumably to protect them from the winter weather to come.
The views from the top of the hill where the crusaders built their fort were magnificent and well worth the climb.
The following day we set off for Tükü Bükü which we had been told, was the place “to be and to be seen”! Sometimes described as “Turkey’s St Tropez” – probably aspirational rather than rooted in reality – it is definitely favoured by the more “well-heeled” traveller.
Indeed, while we were there we saw three massive and luxurious-looking mega super yachts anchored together and observed the coming and goings with one of the tenders which was larger than our entire boat and which was stalked closely by another security vessel.
We saw the delivery of copious bouquets of flowers and wondered what sort of event was going to take place.
It turned out that the largest of these three mega yachts – Firefox – (the 14th biggest in the world) was said to be owned by Jeff Bezos and the event taking place was Bill Gates’ 66th birthday party!
Not sure why but we weren’t invited to the shenanigans! A little disappointing but we made up for it by having a glorious Turkish breakfast at a beautiful waterside restaurant before we left this prestigious location.
The location was stunning, the weather was glorious and the food was delicious! Needless to say we really enjoyed ourselves!
One of the special delights of sailing is the occasional dolphin sighting. These have been very few and far between in Turkey but on our trip to Tükü Bükü we were delighted to spot one in the distance and soon a whole group of them were playing around our bow waves.
They didn’t stay for long but we were so thrilled by their visit – especially as Julia was with us! What good fortune!
All too soon, we had to go back to the marina in Didim as we wanted to do a couple of land-based things with Julia before her return to England.
First, was a swim in the marina “Yacht Club” pool. It was too cold for us but Julia braved the autumn chill to add to her sea swimming over the previous few days.
We also wanted to take her to the fabulous Saturday markets in Didim before her flight home and then visit the amazing archeological site of Ephesus (but that’s another story!)
It really is a small world, especially when it comes to the yachting community!
We had been anchored in Yalikavak for a couple of days when a beautiful Amel ketch called S/V Dusk came into the anchorage. It turned out that this lovely boat belonged to Tracey and Steve Bell from South Africa. After a quick radio conversation they came over to our boat S/V Sunday in their dinghy.
“We’ve just spoken to our friends on the Aussie boat Sunday,” they said. “We just had to tell them there was a boat here with the same name and they told us they knew you and to come over and say ‘hi’!”
Turns out that Tracey and Steve had spent nine months in Tunisia and Sicily (and various places in between) with the owners of the other yacht called Sunday – a young couple, Britnni and Ryan, who have a popular YouTube channel called “Sailing Sunday”.
Strangely, Brittni and Ryan were the first people we met when we sailed into Turkey in June last year and then we were the first people Tracey and Steve met when they first arrived. Sure is a small world with many coincidences!
From Yalikavak, a popular place for super yachts to stop, we went to Tükü Bükü which is described as being the place “to see and to be seen”.
There were plenty of swanky looking vessels Med moored on the way into the bay but thankfully we didn’t have to join them as we managed to find a good place to anchor.
Although it was very much the end of season, and many shops, bars and restaurants were closing down, there were still some lovely looking restaurants open and a few very exclusive shops!
There was also a fresh food market where we stocked up with a few things.
After a pleasant couple of days we sailed across the bay to Didim marina, our base for the next six months.
We had to wait for quite a while (at least half an hour) at the entrance before the marinaras came to help us into our berth. Not a great start!
When eventually the dinghy came out to greet us there was only one (young and inexperienced) guy to assist us. The whole exercise did not go well! Fortunately, things got a little better the following day. We were visited by two different companies, both very professional, who set to work immediately on the small jobs we needed doing.
The passarelle (electronic gangplank) had stopped working after we had it fixed (at vast expense) in Finike Marina. Hydraulic fluid was now pouring out of the newly installed seals. This time the repair was made in two days – a job that took two months previously – and the price was way less than half the amount we had paid previously.
The second company sent a guy up our mast to check our masthead light and replace the bulb. Other small jobs were completed in record time.
We were delighted to be reunited with Sue and John, our travelling companions and friends from our buddy boat S/V Catabella. They had been in Greece (doing a ten-day cruise rather than undergo hotel quarantine in England) and then spent several weeks with family before returning to Didim a few days before us.
It was great to have them to show us around and we quickly settled in, enjoying the facilities at Didim marina such as the beautiful “Yacht Club” hotel.
The first Saturday we went to the massive and wonderful market in town. Stall after stall of fantastic fresh fruit and vegetables, fat and juicy olives, dried fruit and nuts of every variety, as well as clothes, household goods, tableware, hand carved wooden implements and much more.
A couple of day’s later we experienced something which we hadn’t come across for more than six months – RAIN! Beautiful, torrential, soaking rain!
Although we were absolutely thrilled – Turkey has been coping with a terrible drought this year – we were also concerned about the change in weather as my sister Julia was arriving from England for a week in just a few days time.
Before Julia’s arrival we were amazed to see a strange and rare phenomenon – Mammatus clouds. They looked like fluffy bubbles in the sky and John (a retired airline pilot who knows about such things) explained that they indicate the arrival of harsh weather and alert pilots of potentially dangerous conditions .
The rainy, stormy weather continued for several days but on the day Julia arrived the blue skies were back and we had perfect weather on every day of her stay.
We decided to spend our first day together in and around Didim. We had a good walk to the beachside suburb of Altinkum and back – Julia had a swim in the sea even though the water felt a bit cold for Jonathan and me!
Later that night we had a good meal in one of the restaurants within the marina precincts – a great way to end Julia’s first day aboard!
Before leaving the picturesque village of Gümüşlük, we were determined to walk across to the other side of the isthmus and up the hill to see the remains of the ancient city of Myndos.
The walk across the isthmus didn’t take long and once there, we were captivated by the gorgeous little bays with gin-clear water and what looked like the remains of buildings in the shallows, perhaps relics of Myndos?
The walk up to the summit was quite steep but there was a good path with stairs in places.
The views were glorious – we could clearly see the Greek islands of Kalimnos and Leros surrounded by a sparkling deep blue sea – a truly beautiful sight!
Some parts of the original city wall were still visible but apart from those and a few scattered stone piles, there were disappointingly few remains. The walk was really lovely though!
Although there wasn’t an obvious path down the other side of the hill, we decided to give it a go – what could possibly go wrong?!