This final post dedicated to our adventures through Turkey’s classical past winds through three different sites, each with its own particular historical import. We’ll make this brief, since, at the time of writing, this is the last night before our long trek back to Istanbul for the final leg of our stay here. Without further adieu:
We spent our nights in Bergama nestled in a restored old Ottoman residence, but most of our daytime hours were spent milling about town or, most prominently, exploring the ancient acropolis perched atop the city. The acropolis included a famous library, a cult sanctuary for Athena, a theatre, and some excavated ruling-class residences. Additionally, the strategic value of the acropolis became clear when peering over its edges at the expanse of land below; it offers excellent visibility despite the city being surrounded on all sides by mountains.
The Aegean coastal site at Assos did have a fairly impressive temple complex, but the most spectacular aspect of the mountaintop location was its uninterrupted view across the Aegean to Lesbos, the home of ancient poet/philosopher Sappho and, apparently, still a favored retreat for Greek intellectuals to this day since it is relatively free of international tourists.
Though far from the most extensive site on our itinerary, Troy is of course freighted with significance. A universal touchstone of Greek/Western history transferred to us through the epic poetry of Homer, the city is now a tangled maze of an archaeological site. Its complexity results from the fact that multiple waves of settlement starting in 3000 BCE and extending though the late Roman era built over the previous constructions rather than at alternate sites, as in Ephesus. Of course, the impact of the site is still resounding even if somewhat muted by the kitsch surrounding it, which itself oscillates between being disturbing and laughable.
Conclusion: Turkey and its Classical Past
After surveying many of these sites, absorbing their historical lessons and their possibly less than savory handling in the present, we can now say a few words in closing about Turkey’s relationship to its classical heritage. Though there is a mixed record of preservation, with some sites like Laodicea being operated in a roughshod fashion, many of them are well-kept and groomed for visitors. Notably, all signs are in Turkish and English––occasionally with German added as well––which shows that the tourist sites are just as interested in foreign money as they are domestic tourists.
As in the past, these function both as places of (secular or religious) pilgrimage and traps for visitors looking to memorialized their stay with a few overpriced knickknacks. That doesn’t necessarily detract from the aura of places like Ephesus where St. Paul walked or venerable Troy, but it does reflect the changing relationship of both the State and the base of society to the monuments. Turkish flags are a noted feature at the majority of these sites, if not all of them, accompanied in some cases by the reverent busts or paintings of Ataturk. This indicates that the Turkish Republic is eager to capitalize on both the revenues and the prestige of these ancient locations, some of which are among the most famous in the world. These are spaces set apart for commerce, sightseeing, and contemplation––not to mention serious study––and that separates them from the bustle of the cities below, at least now in January. As we get into the final part of the trip, thrust into the heart of modern Turkey, hopefully some of the strange calm of the ancient sites can accompany us.