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.