Lecce, Italy

Lecce is sometimes spoken about as the ‘Florence of the South’. It is a beautiful city filled with Baroque churches and noble buildings in the famous honey-coloured Lecce limestone. The city has an ancient past, however, as this picture shows: it’s the partly excavated Roman amphitheater in the old  city’s main square. I know of few cities that are so pleasurable to walk around in.

Alberobello

Alberobello is the home of the famous constructions known as the ‘trulli’, dry masonry houses and storage rooms with conical domes/roofs. The collection of them in the town of Alberobello (though they are also found in the vicinity as well; in the countryside) is the most famous. It’s like a fantasy village where gnomes might live. They are in the beautiful region of Apulia in south Italy.

More Matera

I took this picture this morning in Matera, of the Sasso Caveoso, the eastern section perched above the cliffs. The limestone houses, these still abandoned, blend into the landscape. I had a great day exploring the city, but also just enjoying its piazzas, including a lunch at the Piazza Sedile, my favorite place. Off to Alberobello, Ostuni, and Lecce tomorrow.

Matera, Italy

Matera and its famous ‘Sassi’ are really one of the wonderful things to see in Italy. This is a picture I took today shortly after arriving. It was overcast, but the even light made the ‘Sassi Barisano’ even more striking, like a monochrome cubist painting. I’m looking forward to a couple of days here and enjoying this marvelous part of Italy.

Valley of the Temples

The Valley of the Temples at Agrigento, ancient Akragas, is one of the world’s most wonderful sites. Several temples, in various stages of ruin–but including the Temple of Concord, the world’s best preserved Greek temple–dot a ridge about a kilometer long. This one is on the highest point, the Temple of Hera. In fact, nobody knows to which god or goddess the temple was dedicated when in was built 2500 years ago. It’s just one of the many wonders of Sicily, my favorite Mediterranean island after Cyprus.

National Museum, Athens

It was great to be back in Athens for a couple of days. The National Archaeological Museum, which I first visited in 1981, still elicits wonder. One of the first faces that greets you is the gold foil Mycenaean death mask that the excavator Heinrich Schliemann fancifully called ‘the face of Agamemnon’. He wasn’t right, but it hardly mattered. Recently doubts about its authenticity have been raised, but this golden mask still serves as a potent entry point to the history of the ancient world.

Santa Ynez Valley, California

While I’m teaching my summer classes at UC Santa Barbara, I have wonderful friends, Cassandra and Philip Grant, who are nice enough to let me stay with them in the Santa Ynez Valley not far from Los Olivos. All around are beautiful oak trees, and I took this picture near sunset after some dark clouds from a tropical storm had made their way up to central California. At night there’s the yelping of coyotes and the occasional ‘whos’ of owls and cooing of morning doves. A lovely part of the world.

Eski Kahta

In 1982 I spent three months travelling in Turkey with a British friend of mine, Martin Dent. We backpacked around a country that hadn’t changed much in a century, or even millennia. It was like travelling in time. All around us we saw modes of life that hadn’t altered for ages. One of my fondest memories was visiting the extraordinary site of Nemrud Dagh (post coming soon). I had had a teacher at Simon Fraser University, Richard Sullivan, who had excavated at Nemrud with Theresa Goell, who was a fascinating, though controversial  figure. From my studies with Sullivan I knew that the real or ‘authentic’ way to get to Nemrud was via the ancient processional route from Arsemeia, and that began at Eski or ‘Old Kahta’ (also known to day as ‘Yenikale’ [New Castle] or ‘Kocahisar’ or ‘Old Castle, which I know is confusing but there’s an explanation; Arsemeia is known as Eski Kale, which also means ‘Old Castle’). At any rate, when Martin and I arrived in Eski Kahta when the sun was setting and casting a rich light on the medieval castle. We found no accommodation except for a storage pen with a dirt floor; a place where animals would have usually been kept. I think we may have been charged 75 cents each for the night. I know, since both Martin and I kept immaculate financial records, that our entire trip average was $4.70 CDN per day, all inclusive. That ancient building is still there, and is the first image in this Eski Kahta slideshow. We slept there that night. Luckily we were well prepared with bedrolls and sleeping bags. The next day we set out to find the ancient route and find it we did, hiking up the beginnings of the Kahta River, which flows to the Cendere and onwards into the Euphrates. I don’t know how we did it. I could never do that today. It was at least 15 miles and I think we were carrying our packs as well, climbing the mountain at the end of it. Some peasants gave us tea and some food on the way up. It was a remarkable day. This current trip, 33 years later, was in some ways to find the old Turkey I’d seen decades before. And believe me, that’s not easy. In the intervening decades Turkey has modernized at a terrific rate. Imagine my surprise when I went again to Eski Kahta and found it virtually unchanged, with the house and shed Martin and I stayed in completely intact, and still with its dirt floor (see the picture of the house with two arches; our ‘room’ was on the lower right). Luckily, however, there was a fellow running a kind of pension out of his house which was quite comfortable and reasonable at 30 TL a night. The porch of the house gave a magnificent view of the Mamluke castle of Eski Kahta. So much of old Turkey is gone, but in the east you can still find fragments, and Eski Kahta is one of them. In the slideshow many of the pictures are just of the incomparable spring morning landscape, lush with new grass, and the Kahta River flowing fresh and cold. I took these pictures the morning I went to Arsemeia and, later, Nemrud Dagh.

Another Great Old Face

I couldn’t resist adding this image as well (see previous post; Old Mosque, Old Faces), this fellow had such a wonderful smile and a beard and eyebrows that were truly magnificent. He was also happy to see his old pals.

Old Mosque, Old Faces

I don’t often take pictures of people, partially because I always fear it’s rude. But on May 6th I found myself in the courtyard of the Ulu Cami Mosque in Diyarbakir with my telephoto on and many old fellows coming in for noon prayers. I took some pictures of these old fellows and the one above I liked the best. He was happy to see his friends at the mosque. He might seem like a man out of another age, but note that he just muted his cell phone before going to prayers.

Persian Inscription of King Xerxes, Van Castle

It may seem odd, but this is the picture that I’m most proud of from this trip, partly because the thing was so difficult to find. With the 300mm lens and perfect light, I was pretty happy with it. The Van castle was probably first built by the Urartians in the 9th to 7th century BCE. The inscription in the picture was commissioned by King Xerxes in the 5th century BCE, and is a trilingual inscription in Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian. I had to walk around the entire citadel to find it, but I was determined to get to it somehow. It was a beautiful morning and the fields below the citadel were filled with lush grass and the ruins of old mosques. A wonderful morning. Later in the day, I hitch-hiked to Igdir, where I caught a minibus to Kars.

Achtamar

One of the real highlights of my trip through eastern Turkey was the visit to Achtamar, the Church of the Holy Cross, which is on a little island in Lake Van. The church is 800 years old and was inhabited by monks for centuries. Restored in recent years, it is a lovely place to visit, especially on the sunny spring day with green grass all around and the snow still on the mountains around Lake Van. I put together a short slideshow of some of the pictures that I took.

Mosaics from Zeugma

One of the most remarkable museums in eastern Turkey is at Gaziantep. There a new museum has been built just for the incredible ancient Roman mosaics from the archaeological site of Zeugma. The lighting was a bit dramatic but I liked the place a lot. It’s a place of pilgrimage for Turkish tourists too. There were hundreds of them there. It’s a great museum. The picture above is the face of the figure Oceanus from one of the mosaics. Here’s a slideshow of some other pieces. I didn’t stay in Gaziantep (locals just call it by its old name, ‘Antep’), so I just took a minibus from the Otogar (bus station) to the museum. It’s only about 3 km away. I was wanting to get to Sanliurfa before dark. I made it…

Grand Tour, East Turkey

I’ve now finished my two week backpacking, busing, and hitch-hiking tour of eastern Turkey. My route took me first on a ferry from Kyrenia, Cyprus, to Silifke, Turkey. From there on to Adana, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Eski Kahta and the sites at ancient Arsemeia and Nemrud Dagh, on to Diyabakir, Tatvan, Van, Kars (Ani), and Erzurum. Finally, back to Silifke for a couple of days. Now I’m back in Cyprus and I have a few days to catch up on the blog and some new postings for the trip. I should be posting something each of the next few days until I start working again on May 21st, in Istanbul on the ship Variety Voyager: two back-to-back cruises of the Black Sea. Stay tuned!

Bellapais Monastery

Today I went to Bellapais Monastery with some students and we had a relaxing time exploring the site. It was a stunning day with clear blue sky and warm spring sunshine. It had been a couple of years since I’d been here, and I have to say it was one of my nicest visits and I was happy to have some company and people who wanted to learn about the buildings and their history. Later, we walked up to Lawrence Durrell’s house, christened ‘Bitter Lemons’ house, predictably enough. The best news: I’m feeling much better and the cold is past. Wednesday catching the ferry to Turkey… or at least that’s the plan.