Tag Archives: Archaeology

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.


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.


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.


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!)


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.


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.


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.


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.

Indiana Jones Style

We woke up today in Pamukkale, a city whose spelling I have to look up almost every time but more importantly is famous for its natural springs and breathtaking cliffs.

You can spot the cliffs of Pamukkale, or the “cotton castle,” from our hotel—huge white faces of travertine stone that glimmer amidst the surrounding hills. Today, water flows over the travertine terraces to keep them a shiny white, since they don’t receive as much natural water flow as they once did.


Fun Fact: The people of Hierapolis were the first to wear underwear!

First thing in the morning, we traveled up to the top of Pamukkale to visit the ancient Greco-Roman and Byzantine city of Hierapolis, which was built on top of the white “castle” beginning in the first half of the 3rd century BC.

Once at the site, we had free time to explore the ruins and thermal pools. Alex and I ended up walking to the far end of the old city, where thousands of broken sarcophagi fill the old necropolis, or cemetery. Since nothing was roped off, we were able to climb right inside of the tombs, peeking inside where once the wealthy were laid to rest. Because the waters of Pamukkale were thought to have healing powers, many sick people traveled to the city hoping to be treated. As a result, Pamukkale had the largest cemetery of the ancient world.

It was unbelievably cool to duck through doorways and climb down marble slabs into the tombs. Because most tourists stick to the thermal pools, the area around us was completely empty besides us. On more than one occasion, we turned to each other to ask, “Are we supposed to be here?”


And so, we got to explore the old tombs of Hierapolis much like archaeologists might several decades ago.

We eventually made our way back to the city’s famous hot springs, where large groups of scantily clad tourists waded through the pools. The cliffs were beautiful! The stone was so white that it almost looked like stone.

Quickly, the day was getting hot, so we got back into the bus to drive to lunch. On the way, we stopped by another hot spring known for its red waters—instead of the calcium-rich waters of Pamukkale, this hot spring had large quantities of iron in the water.

After lunch, the constantly rising temperature made half of our group want to go back to the hotel to rest. However, there was no way I was turning down a chance to visit an archaeological dig in progress.

So, our remaining group of two professors and four students continued in the sweltering bus to Laodicea, where there’s an ongoing archaeological dig to investigate the ancient metropolis dating back to the 200s BC.

Along the way, we stopped at a traditional kahve in the middle of a tiny agricultural village. They were surprised to see us, but welcomed us to have some çay!

Notice that we were only given three cups. In village culture, sharing is extremely important, so usually groups will only get one cup from which to share. (Because we were guests, we got three to drink water from.)

Notice that we were only given three cups. In village culture, sharing is extremely important, so usually groups will only get one cup from which to share. (Because we were guests, we got three to drink water from.)

We met up with one of the archaeologists from the site, who had been working on the dig for almost 11 years since he was 19 years old. The archeological dig operates 12 months per year, with a staff of 100 workers, to slowly uncover the vast ruins of the ancient site.


While Ephesus and Pamukkale were impressive in their own respects, it was even better to see the archaeological excavation in action. Unlike Ephesus, where almost 80% of what you see is recreation, the ruins at Laodicea were relatively well-preserved, since it was ultimately several severe earthquakes that caused inhabitants to abandon the city.

One of the most exciting finds at the site is the Laodicean Church, which was established in the earliest period of Christianity and dates back to the 3rd century. It’s best known for being one of the seven churches addressed by name in the Book of Revelation. They are still working on restoring the church, so it wasn’t yet open to the public, and they’re waiting on the Pope to come to the site for the first public unveiling. However, our guide was able to get us in to peek at the inside of the church for one minute.

When we ducked inside, we were able to see the expansive, beautifully intricate mosaics that covered the entire inside of the church. What was more impressive was that every piece of the mosaic was original—the archaeological team hadn’t added or recreated any portions themselves.

By the time we left Laodicea, it was hot—the thermometer was registering 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). We got back into our bus to head back to the hotel for some much needed time in the pool!