Log of the Eclipse (5)
28 March, 2006
In the morning we found a breakfast buffet waiting in a brilliant, sunny, glass-walled room with a view of the Mediterranean. The buffet itself occupied a space slightly larger than our spacious four-bedroom house. There were twelve kinds of bread, twenty types of muffins, eight types of cereal, and one type of hard-boiled egg. There was sausage a la Bologna and English-style bacon (ick!) and coffee and tea and several kinds of juice and a place outside where you could have omelettes made just for you. There was a couple kinds of goat cheese and some less interesting non-goat cheese. There were cucumbers and tomatoes and many kinds of olives and many kinds of— well, I think they’re called “salads,” but I’d call them salsas, because they were intended as sauces and not standalone dishes.
Along with my balanced and nutritious meal, I had something that seemed to be orange juice, but clearly wasn’t. There was something strangely familiar about the taste. I was trying to think of what mixture of juices— papaya? guava?— could possibly be involved, but when I went for a refill I saw that the label on the back of the dispenser read Tang. I was drinking the Mercury astronauts’ beverage of choice.
Turkey is the last great refuge for the Tang aficianado. Rare is the Turkish hotel that won’t offer to start your day with this tasty vitamin C-pumped mixture of chemicals and nutrients.
After breakfast, we checked the list posted by Jean and Michel in the lobby to discover which bus we were on— it was #4— and dragged ourselves on board. There we met Mehmet, our guide for the next ten or eleven days.
Tour guides in Turkey have to pass some kind of exam, and I suspect Mehmet was near the top of his class. He was chock full of facts, and was amiable and accommodating besides.
We set out for our one-day whirlwind tour of the ancient province of Pamphylia. If you haven’t heard of Pamphylia, or its neighboring province of Lycia (not to be confused with Lydia, Anatolian home of King Midas) I’m not surprised. I’m deeply interested in ancient history, and though I could have pointed the provinces out on a map, I couldn’t have told you a single thing that happened there. As far as Lycia and Pamphylia were concerned, history was mostly something that happened someplace else.
“History,” in this case, meaning major battles, the rise and fall of empires, the acts of world-changing heroes or villains, the appearance of major religions or philosophies, the emergence of new technologies. What happened in Pamphylia was what is happening today, which is the tale of an isolated but rich province quietly generating wealth unto itself.
Pamphylia was a district of the Hittite Empire, but became independent on its fall. It was Greek when it was Greek time, Lydian when Midas had the golden touch, Persian when the Persians were in the ascendency, Athenian when the Athenians rocked, Hellenized in the wake of Alexander, Roman when the Romans turned up, and Byzantine when Byzantium became the New Rome. By the time anyone got around to writing any of the area’s history, they wrote it in Greek. The name means “All-Tribes” in Greek, and the Pamphylians seem to have taken this as a philosophy as well as a description.
Now the new tribe are Germans, bringing Euros, kultur, and a new language. Our hotel had a half-dozen German TV stations, and only one, intermittent, in English.
Pamphylia and Lycia owe their relative obscurity to the fact that their district is surrounded on three sides by the Tauros Mountains and on the fourth side by the sea. Until the invention of air travel, the area was isolated. The first real road through the Tauros was built in the 1960s.
The area is blessed with rich farmland and warm weather. The weather is so cooperative, and the soil so rich, that the local farmers can bring in three crops per year. Driving through Pamphylia, you see rich farmland everywhere. At the tail-end of March, the wheat was knee-high, and will be harvested in June. After that, most of the land will more than likely be replanted in cotton.
Our first destination was actually in sight of our hotel, the ancient town of Side, pronounced “See-day,” and meaning “Pomegranate” in some ancient language or other. Although it’s difficult to tell this from standing in the ruins themselves, the town is built on a peninsula, as were many ancient cities (see: Byzantium, Chalcedon). Peninsulas were defensible— all you had to do was run a wall across the peninsula. And if you also dug a canal through the peninsula, you could generate revenue by charging ships to use it, in preference to the somewhat more hazardous route of rowing around.
All we saw of Side at first was a large dirt parking lot. Since the locals didn’t want rumbling tour buses destabilizing the site, there was supposed to be a “trolley” taking us to the ruins, but this didn’t turn up, so we walked. The modern road through the area follows an ancient road and goes smack through the main gate of the city. The old sidewalk alongside the road still exists and is covered with mosaics in a geometrical pattern. “I’m walking on a two-thousand-year-old mosaic,” I thought to myself, scandalized that such a thing was even permitted. But the alternative was getting run over by a car, so I continued.
There was a processional route that entered the town (I’d guess from the old harbor), with pillars on either side. There was a Temple to Apollo and signs to a library, which we never actually found. There was an elaborate fountain or nymphaeum and a large Roman theater, where carvings of comedy and tragedy masks are still visible on randomly-scattered chunks of ruin.
During the first century BCE, Side was menaced, then taken over by the Cilician Pirates, who sold their ill-gotten slaves in the market. When the pirates were finally crushed by Pompey the Great (“That’s Pompeius Magnus to you, barbarian!”), the good burghers of Side welcomed him as a liberator (and continued their piracy on the quiet). As a result, Side was never officially annexed to the Roman empire, but allowed substantial independence. The city had its own (slightly piratical) navy, minted their own coins, elected their own officials, and sold their own (slightly pirated) slaves in their market.
Roman political figures, the emperors especially, often tried to have special relationships with the cities of Asia Minor, because Asia Minor was a lot richer than Italy. Pompeius Magnus clearly had one of these relationships in mind for Side, and you can bet that during his subsequent war with Caesar, Side provided Magnus with troops, ships, and cash.
The city gradually lost population and influence to nearby Attaleia (now Antalya), and was never rebuilt after being sacked in the 12th Century CE.
After viewing the theater we took a walk through modern Side, which is built on the very tip of the peninsula. It’s clear that a lot of the stones used in the buildings came from the ancient town.
The trolley turned up— it’s one of those diesel-run fake steam locomotives that haul tourists around in fake railroad cars— and took us back to our bus. We went across more lovely Antalyan countryside to Aspendos, a city in the midst of considerable natural beauty, where beautiful green farmers’ fields contrast with craggy ridges.
Aspendos was supposed to have been founded by the Trojan Mopsus, one of many displaced Trojans who wandered around the Mediterranean founding states, but coins suggest that it was the “Estwediis” founded by King Asitawada of Adana, a neo-Hittite monarch who lived in the 7th Century BCE.
The primary site for visitors is the huge Roman theater, which holds around 15,000 spectators, and which is still in use for plays and festivals. I climbed around this colossal thing, trying to get a picture of it from the top, but found that it didn’t lean against the hillside behind it, it was built outward from it. (Greeks put their theaters in natural amphitheaters, and had little or no backdrop behind the stage, as I remember from seeing The Trojan Women produced by the Greek National Theater at Epidauros; but the Romans had the arch, and so built their own structures for the theaters to lean against. They also had monumental backdrops behind the stage, which contained not just dressing rooms and stage machinery, but gorgeous marbles and mosaics and patterns and niches for statues.
Because I still wanted a picture from the top of the bluffs behind the theater, I had to climb down the theater, then up the hill behind it, taking zigzag goat paths through flowering bushes buzzing with hazardous bees. I only had something like ten minutes to do this in, so I did my best to run uphill. I arrived panting and out of breath, and was promptly greeted by a young hustler who handed me an orange and a bundle of wild thyme. While I was taking snaps, he tried to sell me some ancient coins he claimed his brother had dug up in his field. I didn’t for an instant believe that these coins were remotely ancient— you can find reproductions in shop stalls everywhere— but I did end up buying some, after considerable negotiation. I blame lack of oxygen after the hard climb.
Behind me atop the bluff was the acropolis of Aspendos, where the citizens tried unsuccessfully to hold out against Alexander the Great. (He demanded and got a huge fine. Alexander had a brigand’s attitude toward finance.) There were some monumental ruins there which I had no time to explore, but I’d guess they were a Roman basilica. There was also a monumental way leading up to it.
Aspendos was later pillaged again, by the notorious Roman magistrate Gaius Verres, who some years later pillaged Sicily. [Verres said that he had to be governor of Sicily for three years, so that he could (1) pay his debts, (2) get rich, (3) and have enough left over to bribe his judges. He was prosecuted by Cicero in front of some honest judges, fled into exile, and later executed by Mark Antony.] Verres rolled wagons into Aspendos and took all the statues from the public places. He carried them to Rome, where he sold them or set them up in his house.
After conquest by the Seljuk Turks, the theater was used as a palace, and then as a caravanserai. Under the Turks the city declined and faded away.
Fearing I was late, I bounded back down the mountain again, until I ran into Pat Price. I figured the bus couldn’t leave without the wife of our scientific advisor, and so it proved.
Lunch was at a pleasant, sunny restaurant called “The Waterfall” in Turkish, because it’s near a famous waterfall. (I wandered around afterwards, but failed to find it.) We were given our first introduction to lentil soup, a Turkish specialty, which we were to have at every lunch break for the next ten days. Though the soup is tasty and can be made in many different ways, I grew really bored with it by the end of the trip.
We were offered a choice of meatballs on skewers, chicken on skewers, or grilled fish. I took the meatballs and they were tasty, but everyone envied the people who had ordered fish, which came from the kitchen grilled to perfection. Dessert was baklava, of which I did not get bored by trip’s end.
In order to get to and from the restaurant, we had to pass through a sort of tunnel lined with displays of all sorts, textiles and tourist crap. Again I failed to buy a fez. I believe it was here that Kathy purchased some allegedly pashmina shawls. The Turks specialize in allegedly pashmina shawls. They’re lovely, but I suspect they’re mostly rayon.
The afternoon was spent at Perge, the ruins of a very substantial city founded by good ol’ Trojan Mopsus in the 10th Century BCE. We passed by its substantial theater, having already seen two theaters, and entered the city through its stadium, where athletic competitions, pageants, and probably gladiatorial combats were held. (It’s not big enough for chariot racing.) The stadium is for the most part in ruins, but the disassembled blocks ruins have detailed carvings that show how elaborately the place was ornamented in its prime.
We walked through the first of two big gates, built during Roman times. (At some point in the past, the city expanded and built a new city wall with a new big gate.) Ahead was the much more impressive Hellenic gates, with two distinctive round towers built of stone a different color from the rest of the ruins. For a visit of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus, the inner part of these gates were spruced up with a vast courtyard, with many statues of gods and Trojans, all paid for by a rich local woman named Plancia Magna, who was a priestess of Artemis and a daughter of the Roman governor of Bithynia (the part of Asia opposite Istanbul).
Though Perge was technically an independent city in the Roman period, that didn’t stop them from sucking up to royalty.
Perge was another city plundered by Gaius Verres, who stripped the gold from the statue of Artemis Pergaia, the chief goddess of the city. (The goddess was worshipped in pre-Hellenic times under the name of Vanassa Preiia. It was only when Greeks turned up that they decided Vanassa was coequivalent to their own Artemis.) The temple is on the main colonnaded street that runs from the Hellenistic gates toward the old acropolis (which I believe has never been excavated). One of the pillars of the temple still has a carving of Artemis on it.
The main street is broad, with a pillared colonnade, and in Roman times would have been lined with civic buildings and toney shops. A water channel runs right down the center of the street from the base of the acropolis, where a large nymphaeum was kept full by the water god Kestros.
To the right of the Hellenic gate, entering, is a large agora, square with colonnades, where the ancients would have found slightly less toney shops than those on the main road. To the left of the Hellenic gate is the palaestra, an open area where young athletes would have exercised, and behind this is the Roman bath, divided as usual into frigidarium, caldarium, and tepidarium, depending on the temperature of the water. (Turkish baths still employ the same divisions.) The caldarium still shows the hypocaust underfloor heating system.
After this rather thorough day, we returned to the hotel. I went for a swim in the Mediterranean. The beach was lovely, all sand gradually shelving very gradually into the water, which however was colder than I would have liked. Normally I’m a vigorous swimmer, but with my midsection diced up by multiple surgeries I wasn’t sure how much swimming I could take before something or other gave way, so I paddled gently around for fifteen minutes or so, then headed back to shore.
That night was another massive buffet, followed by a final briefing about the next day’s eclipse. I asked Paul ahead of time if he was going to lecture us about f-stops, and he said, “God, no! Look at the booklet we sent you!”
“Booklet?” I replied. Kathy produced our copy later that evening.
Paul reported that the weather report was promising and the primary site was Go.
Tomorrow we would stand in the shadow of the moon.