Friday, May 9, 2008

Turkey Thursday May 8


I really had no idea that Turkey had this many ruins that would knock my socks off. I’m going to let Pat’s prose tell the story for the day.

It was nice to have a more leisurely start to the day. Because we’re staying a second night in Van, there was no baggage call, and we were on the bus at 9am. After a yummy bread (pide) and yogurt breakfast, we took a walk in the neighborhood. We are on a narrow side street lined with shops of all kinds. We headed for the nearby Blue and Omar mosques and a city square with many nearby fountains. Pedestrians beware of crossing major streets here! We board the bus heading south about 45km to Hodap Castle perched atop a rocky outcrop in a river valley looking from afar like a Scottish castle. We drive through a roughshod neighborhood village (a lot like Walpi in New Mexico) with flat-roofed stone and mud huts up the bumpy road to the castle – and find it closed! While standing in front, we were “visited” by 4-5 neighborhood kids 6-11 years old (not in school) hawking handmade knitted goods, scarves and sundries. I was especially saddened to hear from Akun that the 11 year old came to the city because there was no school in her home town – only to be turned away because she was too old to start.

We took more photos of the 1600AD Kurdish castle, and then headed back about 5 miles to a side road to Cavanstepe on a narrow hill. This is an exceptional ruin – a 750BC Urartu fortress. There is a cuneiform inscribed temple, walls, storage urns and cisterns. Below, we see fertile fields that once had vineyards and 2300 year-old water channels still in use (but no longer vineyards). Mr. Mehnmet – a guide has been at the site for 48 years, and is one of 39 people in the world who can read the Urartu cuneiform – which he did for us. We buy a black basalt carved pendant with the cuneiform alphabet and a picture of the god Halde (god of weather). As we return to our bus, we hear muezzins on the plain below calling to prayer.

We head back towards Van, and stop right by the lake for a Kirdish lunch of sizzling beef with peppers and tomato with a side of cracked wheat and baklava. Very tasty. A group of German tourists follow us into the dining room – our first meet up with tourists.

There we board a boat for a 30 minute trip to an island in Lake Van which houses an important Armenian Church - Akdanar Killsisi (Church of the Holy Cross). This 900AD church is quite small, but has exquisite carvings with bas reliefs all over the outer walls depicting scenes from the mostly old testament, as well as animal figurines. Inside was also charming with a cross-like floor plan in the “main hall”, but also a domed baptistery and interesting side area. Akun said this church was for a time the “center of the Armenian church”.- hard to believe that such a small church would serve as a headquarters.

Back in the bus and back to Van where we stopped at the Urartu Weaving Center. We see Kurdish nomadic women refining their skills making Kilims, and double-knotted carpets, mostly silk. They work 6-12 months on a small rug, with 300 knots to the square inch. We then gather into a showroom, and are served tea, coffee, or wine while we get the full carpet sales treatment. Gregory and I fall for a Rahrah Kilim – probably among the finest of the kilims. This tribe is 10,000 strong with extremely detailed geometric design. We get a 5 X 7 foot rug to hopefully hang on our bedroom wall. Four other rugs are sold to our group. A quick stop at the ATM and we are back to the Hotel Tamara and dinner.

The group is really melding – laughing and joking together. Akun has an amazing wealth of detailed historical knowledge at his fingertips – quoting dates and dynasties at the drop of a hat. He also has a nuanced appreciation of the political situation of his country. We have learned much from him.

Tomorrow is another baggage-out day by 7:30am. We head for Diyarbakir.

To view the photographs for the day, click on: Turkey Thursday May 8

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