Wednesday, May 06, 2009
On the tenth of April we came down from the Anatolian highlands to Bodrum, where we met the Aegean for the first time--- we had seen blue water here and there, but we were never on the shore, and always en route to one place or another.
Bodrum was the place where we ended up taking a vacation from our vacation.
Bodrum is on a long peninsula, with striking views all around. A hotel had been recommended to us, but the streets in the old part of town were little better than alleys, driving was insanely complex verging on dangerous, and we never found the hotel we were looking for. (Patricia, who was driving, should be complimented on keeping her cool under very trying circumstances.)
While driving past a hotel, I noticed that it had its own parking lot!, and I pointed and yelled, "Pull in there!" If the place turned out to be too expensive, we could at least ask directions to the place we wanted to go. But I'd also noticed that there were no cars in the parking lot, and I suspected we would be welcome.
We were. We got very reasonably-priced rooms for a beachside resort, and though the rooms were nothing to write home about, they served our needs perfectly well. And while we had no views of the Aegean, we were about half a block from the water. (I wish I could remember the name of the hotel.)
Within a few short minutes we were checked in and shambling down to the plage. A wide bay opened up in front of us, filled with divinely blue water sparkling with the golden light of the late-afternoon sun. Sailboats were anchored just offshore, with the Greek island of Kos visible just on the horizon. The Crusader castle of St. Peter was silhouetted off to the west, as in the photo above. I took one look at the water and immediately a phantom steel drum band begin to play in my head. I looked left and right, at the curve of bars and restaurants that lined the bay, and about twenty years of weight dropped off my shoulders. I turned into Beach Puppy on the spot.
So that night there was wandering along the shore, drinks and seafood under an umbrella next to the water, and that darned steel drum band that kept using my skull as an echo chamber.
By next morning we'd decided that Bodrum was worth a second night's stay.
Bodrum is built on the site of ancient Halicarnassus, home of (1) Herodotus, Father of History, and (2) the Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Mausolus was ostensibly a Persian satrap, but he pretty much ran his own show, and conquered those parts of Caria he didn't already own, along with a big chunk of Lycia. When he died, his wife (and sister) Artemisia, who ruled after him, built the Mausoleum to house his ashes. (She also used to sprinkle his ashes in her wine, as a show of mourning.)
The Mausoleum was seven storeys of white marble crowned by a quadriga (four-horse chariot), and my guess is that it would have been visible to ships for at least twenty nautical miles. It was capped with a pyramid, which--- along with the brother-sister marriage thing, and the whole elaborate-tomb business, suggests to this mind a strong Egyptian influence.
The structure of the Mausoleum remained more or less intact until the 15th Century AD, when the Knights Hospitaller moved in and built their Castle of St Peter, using the stone blocks that Artemisia had so conveniently stacked for them.
Strangely enough, the Knights of St. John had the permission of the current Ottoman sultan to build the castle, as they were both trying to hold off Tamerlane at the time. Bits of ancient ornamentation are still visible in the walls of the castle, though the best of these now reside in the British Museum.
When the Knights surrendered the island of Rhodes a hundred or so years later, the Bodrum castle was evacuated, and the Ottomans moved in. Bodrum became a sleepy little sponge-diving town until the late twentieth century, when it proved defenseless against the Tourist Horde.
We crawled all over the castle the next morning, before it got too hot. It's an enormous place, situated on the peninsula that separates the town's two harbors, and the stonework is in remarkably good shape. The coats of arms of the various Grand Masters, and other knights, are carved over many of the lintels.
What makes Bodrum Castle special is the underwater museum. Local sponge divers have been turning up wrecks for decades, and whenever stuff was brought up from the sea bed, it was dumped in the castle, because there was noplace else for it. Eventually the decision was made to organize the collection and turn it in the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, probably the best of its kind in the world.
The underwater museum is scattered all over the castle, so you can walk into one or another of the towers and see amphorae, jewelry, glassware, Mycenaen pots, metal ingots, seals, weapons, anchors, elephant ivory, ostrich eggs, and the eerie carved eyes that were fastened to the stemposts of ancient ships.
The oldest of the wrecks dates from the 14th Century BC, and carried goods from Mycenean Greece, Egypt, Assyria, and most of the places in between. It demonstrated that commerce was much more widespread in the Bronze Age than had been heretofore believed. (And what were the ostrich eggs for, one has to ask.)
We also checked out the Mausoleum, which now consists of a large hole in the ground, though the hole does in fact contain the actual carved rock tomb where Mausolus' ashes (minus those consumed by his consort) were eventually laid to rest. The tomb was uncovered by the Hospitallers, but it was late in the day and a decision was made to postpone opening the crypt till the next morning. When the knights arrived that morning, they found the tomb had already been broken into and looted. Sic transit, etc.
The afternoon was devoted to wandering around town and shopping. I napped and consumed raki. Lunch and dinner were spectacular meals of fresh seafood eaten on the waterfront. The steel drum band didn't vacate its place in my skull for days.
Altogether, a place of delight. But after two nights, we were on the road again, on our way to Pergamum.