Izmir Turkey

Through the Ancient Ruins and the Turkish Riviera: Turkey (Part 2)

May 13, 2015

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So now we begin the second part of our Turkey travel posts.

Warning: This entry has a lot of (beautiful) photos!

For the second leg of our trip, we flew out of Istanbul to get to the province of Izmir. This city was our entry point since our goal was to see the ancient city of Ephesus—the city much talked about in the Bible and other history books, the city made from excavated ruins. 

From the airport, we went straight to our first sight: the Temple of Artemis (photo above), which is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The temple is believed to have been built thousands of years ago during the mid-6th century BC.  Today, all that’s left in the Temple of Artemis is one column and a few low stones. There have have been a lot of fires, earthquakes, plundering, and hundreds of years of neglect that turned the temple into what it is now.

From the Temple of Artemis, we passed by a cooperative called Barok Authentic Looms to learn more about Turkish weavers and the art of rug weaving.

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The women in this region of Turkey learned this art of weaving from their ancestors. They are so talented and creative, and possess such skillful hands!

“Sitting on a small tool, the weaver begins weaving the carpet from the bottom upwards. As the weaving progresses, the carpet is shifted behind the loom. Upon completion of the row of knots, the weaver then passes the horizontal thread, called weft, through the warp threads (below and above) across the width of the carpet, and firmly presses on the knots with the shed stick. The ends of the knots which have been cut roughly with a knife at the time of each knotting, are then trimmed with a special pair of scissors to make them even with the face (pile) of the carpet.”

Can you imagine how many hours it takes to complete just one carpet?

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This very nice lady taught us how silk is formed from the cocoon of the silk worm. She explained that this requires a great deal of handling and processing, which is the reason why silk is one of the most expensive fibers in the world.

I saw some of the most beautiful carpets and rugs here that were made of silk!

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Handmade carpet production is considered both a tradition and art in Turkey. Carpets, rugs, and kilims are an integral part of their everyday life. They are both practical and functional. These beautiful pieces of art provide comfort and warmth as well as decorate their homes. All these reasons make Turkish carpets one of the best and most in demand worldwide.

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They are generous about sharing their knowledge and love for this art. Here shown is a Turkish weaver teaching me the basics of carpet weaving. (Of course, I gave up after a few minutes!)

There are environmental, sociological, economic, and religious reasons for the widespread art of carpet weaving among the Turkish people. Throughout the ages, their handiwork and labor, coupled with their cultural heritage and love for the art, are shown in their carpets, kilims, pillows, and tapestries.

From carpet weaving, we move on to the major highlight of this leg of the trip: Ephesus. 

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The ancient city of Ephesus is a must when visiting Turkey. It is impressive because it contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. This excavated city from ancient ruins is very well preserved and reconstructed.

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The stunning architecture of the preserved columns, statues, and the Ancient Greek inscriptions give a glimpse into the grandeur of this ancient city.

Here are a few of the main sites that reflect the splendor of Ephesus’ former life:

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The Fountain of Trajan: Built around 104 AD, this fountain featured a statue of Trajan which stood on the facade overlooking the pool. The pool was then surrounded by columns and statues of Dionysus, Satyr, Aphrodite, and the family of the Emperor.

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The Flying NikeThe winged goddess of Victory and the messenger of Zeus. She holds a wreath of laurels, which is the symbol of victory in her left hand and a stalk of wheat in her right hand.

Notice her flying, upward position? This is the inspiration from the major sports brand Nike that we know now.

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The City’s Public Toilets: At that time, you had to pay an entrance fee to use them. The toilets lined the walls around a pool in the center of the room.  There was a drainage system under the toilets. And as you can see, there was definitely no privacy back then as they all shared one bathroom!

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The Theatre: This was built during 3rd century BC and was enlarged during the Roman times to what it is today. It has a seating capacity of 25,000, making it possibly the largest outdoor theater in the ancient world.

This theatre hosted plays, concerts, religious, political, and philosophical discussions, as well as gladiator and animal fights.

From this point, we drove to another ancient site, but still within EphesusThe Basilica of St. John.

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The Basilica of St. John was a great church in Ephesus constructed by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. It stands over the believed burial site of St. John, who is identified as the apostle, evangelist (author of the Fourth Gospel), and prophet (writer of the Book of Revelation).

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Legend has it that John wrote his gospel in Ephesus at the request of other disciples, then died in the church named after him on Ayasoluk Hill.

Now moving on to the most moving part of Ephesus for me: The House of the Virgin Mary.

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The House of the Virgin Mary (Meryemana in Turkish) is located in a nature park on top of a hill. The peaceful site is sacred to both Christians and Muslims, and it is visited by many tourists and pilgrims.

This is the place where Mary is believed to have spent her last days and died. She might have come here in this area (a few years after Jesus’ death) together with Saint John, who spent several years in Ephesus to spread Christianity. Mary preferred this remote place up on a  hill, rather than living in crowded place.

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Local Christians say it is because of St. John that the Virgin Mary has a place in Turkey. According to John’s Gospel, as Christ was on the cross, He looked down and saw His mother and John, known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  Jesus told Mary, “Here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother”, and the Gospel says that from then on, John took care of Mary and brought her into his home (see Jn 19:25-27).

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It has always been my fervent wish and prayer to be able to make it to this sacred place. It is more than an answered prayer actually, that not only was I able to see Mary’s house with my own eyes, but that I was able to hear the consecrated Holy Mass here as well. The masses’ schedule changes frequently and, more often than not, are not open to the public. What a wonderful blessing to have seen the Mother of Christ’s last home, and with my complete family in tow at that.

On August 15 (the Feast of the Assumption of Mary) each year, the Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim clergy conduct a service together at the shrine—which is one of the rare occasions that this happens anywhere. Imagine three different religions praying at the same time in the House of Mary!

Next, we travel again to another beautiful site within this region of Turkey: Çeşme.

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This coastal town of Çeşme has a long, beautiful seafront that gives you a glimpse of the Greek island of Chios. It is currently the most famous holiday resort for Turkish tourists and is becoming increasingly popular with the foreign visitors as well. The main square has restaurants, cafes, tea houses, and nice sunset views of the Aegean Sea. Because of its natural beauty and lifestyle of the people living around it, it is also popularly known as the Turkish Riviera. 

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Çeşme‘s small fortress, now nicely restored as the local museum, is located in the main square and provides a nice big dose of history and architectural character in this coastal town of Izmir.

And last but not the least, we end this post in a charming, quaint little town called Alaçatı.

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Alaçatı is a small Aegean town filled with white-and-blue stone houses and cobbled streets.  This place is known for their slow food movement and delicious regional fresh food. Open-air restaurants, boutique hotels, cafes and little shops dot the streets and make this one of the prettiest and liveliest towns in Turkey.

Here we ended up having lunch in Barbun, a highly recommended restaurant known for its farm- or sea-to-table dining concept. Look at how our dishes looked so simple and yet so real and fresh!

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Bucket of Sardines with Rocket and Turnip Salad

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Homemade Tagliatelle with Shrimps, Squid and Mussels

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Lamb Chops with Bulgur Wheat Rice and Grilled Spring Onions

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Red Beets Ice Cream with Almond Crisps and Dark Chocolate Souffle

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And of course, my rich dark Turkish Coffee to end the meal just right!

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Two days and two thousand things to see, as my children would always tease me. Yes, all these beautiful sights and amazing experiences, we were able to squeeze in just two whole days!

This part of our Turkey trip definitely meant a lot of things for me.  Our visit to ancient Ephesus opened my eyes to a whole new or rather, old world. I saw up close how the ancient people lived. There is so much history in this one place that tells me how rich our past and our world is.

Being face-to-face with some of the world’s most important historical sites reminded me why travel is important—it is the best teacher after all. Travel connects us all and reminds us where we came from and why we are where we are now.

But more than anything, the visit to the House of Mary proved to be my most heartwarming one. This place touched me in more ways than I could have ever imagined—something which I have carried home with me.  To stand in the same place where Mary lived her last few days, died, and assumed to heaven was nothing short of awe-inspiring, almost miraculous even. It’s a major highlight, an incredible experience, it’s something I will take with me and remember for the rest of my life.

Read about my entire Turkey trip:

Part 1: The Vibrant Colors of Istanbul

Part 3: Cappadocia’s Cave Rooms and The Whirling Dervishes

Part 4: Cappadocia’s Göreme, Fairy Chimneys, and Underground City

Part 5 : Seeing Cappadocia from Up in the Air and a Surprise Snowfall

Also, read about my Favorite Things from Turkey.

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