Submerged village and miraculously rescued mesmerising treasures

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.

The ancient heads on top of Mt Nemrut

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!

The view from our hostel on Mount Nemrut (photo credit: Janice Holmes!)
The rugged landscape on the way to Halfeti
Arriving at Halfeti
Looking down on the Euphrates River

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.

The timber boat that we picked up on the banks of the Euphrates
Halfeti as we draw away on the boat

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.

We stopped at a waterside restaurant to pick up lunch supplies

Chugging along happily over the clear waters we admired the beautiful scenery- particularly the soaring cliffs that rose high above the flooded area.

It was great to be on the water again!
Enjoying our gözleme and beers aboard
We admired the beautiful scenery- particularly the soaring cliffs

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 remains of a once magnificent Roman Fort
The fort is now only accessible by boat

The construction of the dam meant 6,000 people lost their homes and had to be resettled.

A partially “drowned” village

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.

The minaret is the only part of the mosque that remains above the water

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.

Homes and gardens partially sunk in the flood waters of the dam

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!

Believe me, this was a cat being fed by a dog- a sight I’d never seen or heard of, before

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.

Our hotel in Gaziantep
Even the bathroom lampshade was gorgeous
The caravanserai now transformed into a beautiful hotel
The hotel cat always has food provided
The cat has free rein throughout the hotel
There were some interesting things to see in the hotel lobby
There was a display of items that would have once been used in the caravanserai

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!

Gaziantep’s fabulous bazaar
The bazaar was very atmospheric
I loved seeing these strings of dried vegetables
Aromatic spices, pistachio nuts and walnut “sausage” (walnuts on a string and dipped in a grape molasses)
More wonderfully aromatic spices
You could every kind of string or rope
in this lane
These sparkling copper and stainless steel stalls are very enticing!
It was interesting watching this
craftsman working
My new shoes!
And the man who stitched them
His fingers tell a tale
You can buy a top for your minaret here!

Our wonderful guide Baran, took us to various stalls to sample local delicious delicacies such as Burma kadayıf, Kunāfah and delicious baklava.

Waiting to taste local delicacies
That disappeared very quickly!

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!

I was very tempted to buy some of this delicious baklava
The owner of the shop with his best baklava
To prove his point the owner turned a tray of his most delicious wares upside down!
A simit (the Turkish version of a bagel) seller

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.

A reminder that Gaziantep was an important stop on the Silk Road

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!

Brian from our tour group entranced by this gorgeous mosaic
The level of detail was remarkable
The mosaics were absolutely mesmerising!
Amazing how they even made
them three dimensional
Who would believe that this work of art was made from thousands of tiny chips of stone?

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.

This border was so intricate that it was difficult to believe it was a mosaic
Some of these fabulous works of art would have been buried for ever had it not been for the rescue operation

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.

Photos of the mosaics do not do them justice
We were captivated by the nuanced shading, the intricacy of design and the absolute genius of imagination and artistic ability
The colours in this mosaic were so vibrant
The intricate detail is hard to comprehend
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 stunning statue of Mars found in the emergency excavations of Zeuma

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 Mars statue 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.

The famous “Gypsy Girl” mosaic

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.

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

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