Tag Archives: Archaeological Sites

More art than they know what to do with

Our City of Florence class has been one of the highlights of this semester thus far, giving us the opportunities to try our hand at painting in a local artist’s studio and examine how the Scuola del Cuoio constructs leather goods by hand. This time, however, our City of Florence class took me back to one of my favorite museums in Florence, the Opificio dell Piedre Dure. By the recommendation of our host mother, Julia and I visited this museum during one of our first weekends in Italy, and it’s one of my favorite museums in Florence.

However, this time we were granted special access to the restoration workshop and school that accompanies the museum. At the school, a select number of students learn the traditional Florentine practice of creating mosaics with delicate pieces of semi-precious stone, an incredibly demanding craftwork that requires a ridiculous amount of patience and exactitude.

First, we met our guide, who graduated from the school and now works full-time as an artisan. Funding from the state is shaky and never guaranteed, so artisans like her are often hired for short contracts to restore a particular piece of artwork. “But this is my passion,” she told us.

We huddled into the workshop itself, where the artisans were diligently hard at work.

In their spare time, the artisans are currently working on recreating a painting into a mosaic comprised of countless tiny pieces of stone. There’s another one like it in a vault somewhere in a collection, though none of the artists have ever seen it. Once they finish this mosaic, they hope to compare it to the older piece to see what was done differently.

Interestingly, the best way to cut out the tiny pieces for the mosaics is by hand––machines cannot yet achieve the exactitude or carefulness that the artisans can achieve themselves. Though they also have top-grade stone cutters, they often stick to the old-fashioned method since it’s less likely to crack the pieces.

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After touring the school, we then visited the restoration workshop, where unfortunately no cameras were allowed. They were currently working on restoring an old Roman mosaic floor that was found underground the Baptistery. It was only accessible by a narrow, deep hole, so they had to break up the mosaic to restore it once they realized that it was suffering from water damage. However, there’s no space for the mosaic floor in any museum in Florence. So once it’s restored, it will go back underground––never to be seen by the public.

But really––restore a Roman mosaic floor so it can go back underground? Couldn’t something else be done?

It’s strange to think how countries like Italy have such a wealth of art and archaeological artifacts––way more than can ever be on display in its many museums. We came across that in Turkey, too. Many of the archaeological sites we visited had way more to be uncovered, though it will take huge amounts of money and time to finally uncover what treasures may still lie there, like in EphesusPamukkale, or Laodicea.

Our group then headed into the museum, where once again I got the opportunity to admire this beautiful craft.

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So impressive!

So impressive!

There’s a lot of directions you could go with a class called the City of Florence, but I appreciate how our professor chose to focus on the art scene that’s still very much alive in the city. You can stare at masterpiece after masterpiece of centuries-old art in Florence’s many museums. But art is also alive today, kept in practice by the many artisans who are still very much engaged in the city’s past and making it the city’s future.

Walk Like a Hittite

On our long drive to Anakara today, we detoured to Hattusa, the long ago capital of the Hittite Empire during the Bronze Age.

The Hittites Empire dates back to the 18th century BCE, when the kingdom at Hattusa was first established. At its height in 1285 BCE, the empire comprised a large part of Anatolia, northwestern Syria, and upper Mesopotamia. When one considers the fact that the peers of the Hittites were the other great empires of the Egyptians or Assyrians, it’s surprising that one doesn’t hear as much about this powerful empire.

Map of the Hittite Empire at its greatest extent under Suppiluliuma I(c. 1350–1322 BCE) and Mursili II (c. 1321–1295 BCE).

The Hittite kingdom was commonly called the Land of Hati by the Hittites themselves. The term “Hittite” actually comes from the King James translation of the Bible, as in the “Children of Heth.” In the 19th century, archaeologists originally attributed their findings to these biblical Hitties. Today, there remains some dispute over whether the biblical Hittites were those headquartered in Hattusa or one of the neo-Hittite empires that came later.

In Hattusa, we first visited an open air sanctuary from the Hittites, which was most likely used for some kind of worship. The stone carvings were quite well-preserved.

We then explored the various gates of this former capital.

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The Lion Gate of Hattusa, which was one of two city gates.

The Earth Gate, or Sphinx Gate, was particularly striking. Underneath the former city wall is a 70-m long tunnel, built from flat stones that lean towards each other to form a triangle. You can still walk through it today. The purpose of the tunnel is unknown––since its entrance was clearly visible from the outside and flanked by two sets of stairs, it seems dubious that the tunnel could have had any serious defensive role. Most likely, it served for some kind of religious or ceremonial purpose. (Imagine, building a 70-m stone tunnel just for a ceremony!)

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We had a long drive ahead of us to Ankara, but we broke it up along the way with a visit to the Ballıca Cave. It was huge inside!

I’ll write soon with an update about our time in Ankara (NGOs galore!), but in the meantime, you can check out my latest post for the Berkley Center’s Junior Year Abroad Network:

In Turkey, nationalism is part of the daily political discourse. While the state plays an active role in the cultivation of this nationalism, the feeling runs deeper. The omnipresent Atatürk paraphernalia goes beyond state sponsorship—you can buy Atatürk earrings, Atatürk phone cases, and Atatürk notebooks.

Meeting the Muhtar

At last, we checked out of our final hotel today, bags packed for the final trek to Alanya, the city that will be our home for the semester.

But first, in the morning, we stopped to tour the beautiful ancient city of Aphrodisias, an important archaeological site of the Greek and Roman period in Turkey. Along the banks of the Meander River, the city flourished from the first century B.C. through the 6th century A.D. Due to the dedicated work of one archaeologist, the site has been beautifully restored, with most of the original artifacts remaining at the site or in its own museum. (Unfortunately, many of Turkey’s precious artifacts from this period now belong in museums in Europe or other places across the world.)

We took this tractor tram from the bus parking lot to the entrance of the archaeological site.

We first toured the museum, which had an excellent collection of sculptures and artifacts found at the site.

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There were also lots of cats outside of the museum! (We’ve been very cat-centric this entire trip over all the cats in Turkey.)

We then headed into the archaeological site. One of the most famous sights of the ancient city is the gigantic sanctuary of Aphrodite, the city’s patron goddess of love.

There’s also an extremely well-preserved council hall in Aphrodisias, where city officials once met to discuss governance.

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Aphrodisias is also home to the second largest stadium of the ancient world (the largest one is in Laodicea, but it wasn’t open to the public yet when we visited). It was huge!

After Aphrodisias, we began to make our way southeast to Alanya, a good 6-hour drive away. Yet several hours into our journey, Nese surprised us with a stop in a small village known for its textile production!

She hadn’t been able to get ahold of the village muhtar by phone, so she asked around once the bus stopped to see if we would be able to get a tour of some of the production areas where they make the textiles. Luckily, the muhtar was over at the local kahve, so we walked over the meet him for the tour.

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The muhtar is the elected leader of a village, chosen due to their status and level of education. After meeting us at the kahve, the muhtar of Kizilca generously gave us a tour around the town, demonstrating the various types of equipment they use to produce cloth—from the fully mechanized Russian looms to traditional looms.

At one point, the muhtar decided to even welcome us into our home to demonstrate an old semi-mechanical machine that is used to produce the spools of thread that are fed onto the looms. As we toured the village, the villagers were incredibly welcoming and hospital, allowing us to duck inside their own homes to take a look at their handiwork.

One of the women demonstrated how to fashion the fabric they were making into a headscarf on our professor, Lauve. The muhtar then gifted the headscarf to her as a gift!

Then it was time to pile back into the bus for our drive to Alanya. We slowly made our way to Antalya. (Good news: The bus’s AC was fixed!) Once we made our way to the city center of Antalya, we finally saw the first signs for Alanya.

As we drove into Alanya, it was dark so you could only make out the outline of the ocean on our right-hand sign. Soon enough, our bus was somehow making it up the steep hill to our apartments.

Oh, how good it was to be home! The apartments are wonderful—with an even more spectacular view—but I’ll write more on that later. For now, it was time to finally unpack my suitcase.

If you liked it then you should’ve… broken my bottle?

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As we drove from Izmir to Pamukkale today, it was clear we weren’t in the city anymore. Our bus had to repeatedly stop to let sheep pass by, and we followed a winding country road to get to our hotel.

In one village we drove through, they still practice a particular traditional Turkish custom. On the roofs of some houses, you may notice an empty glass bottle. Traditionally, when a girl reaches marriageable age, a bottle is placed on the roof to alert eligible bachelors about the possible match. The bottle is broken by an interested bachelor, who then seeks permission from her father to marry the girl.

Notice the outlines of two bottles on the chimneys.

Notice the outlines of two bottles on the chimneys.

This house happened to be the home of a widow, so she put an extra large bottle on her roof!

This house happened to be the home of a widow, so she put an extra large bottle on her roof!

While many practices have faded away over the years, many small villages continue to practice traditional customs. In many ways, these small villages play an important role in preserving the traditional Turkish way of life.

 

We began the morning in Izmir, as we checked out of our hotel and bid goodbye to the city to travel down the coast to Ephesus. However, our first stop was the Virgin Mary’s House, where Mary reportedly lived until her Assumption after she was taken to this stone house by St. John.

The house itself is humble—a peaceful, small little stone room with a single altar and little decoration.

After you exit the house, there are five different wishing fountains—the first one gives you health, the second one gives you wealth, third one gives you love, and the last two are for the rest of your wishes. (I drank from the fountain for love, because isn’t all you need is love?)

If the fountains aren’t enough, you can also visit the Wishing Wall. This tradition is practiced all over Turkey, and one can find walls or trees covered with wishes all over the country, especially near historic places. People write their wishes on a napkin or piece of paper, and then tie their wish to the wall.

We then explored the Basilica of St. John, which today lies in ruins but once stood as a basilica in Ephesus in the 6th century. The grounds of the basilica are huge—you climb past column after column, marble slab after marble slab, as you climb around the ruins of the basilica.

After lunch, it was time to explore Ephesus. I’d been to Ephesus once before, but it was still as impressive as I remember it.

Only 20% of Ephesus has been excavated, yet I can’t help but walk around awestruck at the beauty of the ruins and technology of ancient Greece. I could try to describe it in words, but sometimes, it’s better to just show its magnificence in pictures:

After Ephesus, we visited the town of Sirince for some wine tasting and shopping. The village was once named Cirkince (“ugly”) because its inhabitants did not want to be bothered by foreigners or share the beauty of their village. In truth, it’s not ugly at all, located on top of a mountain and surrounded by vineyards and peach orchards. Today, it’s also famous for its fruit wines.

We then had a very hot and sticky ride to Pamukkale, with 35 degrees Celsius heat and a bus with a finicky AC. Needless to say, we were relived to arrive at our hotel for the night––but mostly to get out of the hot bus!