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Ionia


Paul Andruss and his partner moved to Turkey three years ago after deciding to stop moaning about life and start living it.  Each year they take a trip: this year it was to some of the ancient sites a few hours drive away.

This land of gods and heroes fills me with irrational love and irrepressible longing. Here a sister married her brother and built him a tomb so magnificent it became a wonder of the world. Here, a nymph saw a young man drink from her spring and desired him so fiercely, she prayed they would never part. With cruel humour, the gods joined flesh to flesh, creating the first hermaphrodite...


This is Bodrum, once Halicarnassus, home of the mausoleum. Behind the town, hidden in hills of olive and pine, is the spring of Salamcis where the son of Hermes and Aphrodite drank. The heartland of Ionic Greece was already ancient when the Parthenon shone brand-new on the lion coloured rock of the acropolis. Cities old as time ringed the Gulf of Latmos; even then a dying seaway, choked with mud from the Meander River. First Priene and then Milatus were left high and dry.  Abandoned since antiquity they provided tourist attractions for Ancient Rome.

To one side of the silted estuary is Lake Bafa, formed by the tears of the Moon goddess weeping for the shepherd boy, Endymion. On the other, the city of Miletus, where in the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul awaited the Ephesian elders. Once, Lake Bafa was seashore. The freshwater lake only formed when the estuary silted. The men of Heraclea faced with the retreating sea, dug desperate channels, causing seawater to make the lake brackish. Legend says the moon goddess, Selene, was so smitten with Endymion she threatened to forsake the sky. In response, the fearful gods made him sleep for eternity and as she wept for her lost love, she cried a lake. It was a good day in November and Bafa was body warm, we swam and can confirm the water does indeed taste of tears.

The Meander estuary is now a fertile plain. Having never seen it in November we were surprised by hundreds of cotton wool balls littering the roads. It was cotton-pickin’ time. Turkish women, in traditional rural dress of headscarf and baggy trousers, picked tufts of gossamer from branches of stunted, scrawny bushes. It could have been a hundred years ago if not for the huge blocky harvester devouring the adjacent field; it’s parallel rows of vertical teeth leaving only broken, skeletal stalks. In factory courtyards were cotton castles of pearl- grey lint, while caught in the wire of the perimeter fence, grimy candyfloss streamed in the wind. The first stop was the ancient city of Eurymos. All that is left is the Temple of Zeus. We were the only people there. It was like discovering it for the first time, as if we were some Victorian explorers with Sir Richard Burton - the one who translated the Arabian Nights, not the one who married and remarried Elizabeth Taylor.

The only problem with fantasy is truth. Although sites look undiscovered they are actually the result of extensive excavation. Unexcavated, they are under 2,000 years and at least 20 feet of wind blown soil - like the rest of Eurymos. One field is the forum and another is the theatre. Each has its herd of indifferent sheep, munching as they have munched for millennia, placidly unaware of their contribution to history, falling out the other end. 



The temple of Apollo at Didim was never finished because during the centuries it took to build, Christianity became the state religion and pagan temples were abandoned. It is impossible to convey the sheer size of the site. Nothing is on a human scale, the column bases; the cyclopean stones walls - only a third of their original height. All of it dwarfs you. Awes you. It is like something built by giants. 

There is a sacred spring in the temple grounds. It had recently rained and the area was marshy. It should have prepared us for what was to come at Miletus…. It didn’t. Here we saw tortoises mating. And it was lucky they were tortoises. When Tiresias saw two snakes copulate, he changed sex. Because of his unique perspective, Zeus and Hera asked Tiresias to settle an argument about who needed love the most. Tiresisa replied that if love had ten parts, women needed nine. Hera was so furious she blinded him.  Leaving Zeus to compensate with the dubious gift of second sight.

Back at the car, we saw a stone placed at the base of a wall. As it was obviously for looking over, we discovered part of the sacred way stretching from Miletus, 26 km away, to the shrines of Apollo and his sister, Artemis. 






We had read that Miletus has a fantastic theatre but not much else. Because of this, our friends decided they had had enough of scrambling over ruins and went to the site café, leaving us to explore. 






Reaching the top of the theatre we saw the rest of the city hidden to the side, the wreckage of the harbour mouth monument, now miles inland, the forum, the stoa and senate house lining the start of the sacred way. 






The site was boggy and halfway through, mosquitoes attacked. According to the guidebook the café owner was trying to sell our friends, when the Meander River silted up, the city became a malarial swamp and that was another reason it was abandoned. One of our friends said we came fleeing out of the ruins like Tippi Hedren in “The Birds” – obviously in search of a phone box to shelter in. In our defence, the mosquitoes did seem the size of Hitchcock’s gulls. 


Our friend Jack is thinking of writing a travel book and, caught up in the idea, has a tendency to pause after each utterance as if waiting for an unseen amanuensis to jot down his musings for posterity, which is probably not far from the truth as he is committing the phrase to memory for future use. 




From Miletus we drove through the alluvial plain to Priene, crossing the mighty Meander, now tamed to the size of the Regent’s Canal. Approaching the site, we saw the remaining columns of the Temple of Hera on the hillside and a ruin-lined road snaking down to the old port, now farmer’s fields. 

Priene is another huge area of tumbled stones, smashed columns and fractured walls sheltering under black cypress and pine. Unchanged since the time of Caesar and Christ, the view across the plain takes your breath away.





The next morning, no doubt due to a sleepless night of trying not to scratch souvenir mosquito bites, we were up at daybreak. Duly covered up like Turkish cotton pickers, we walked down to the lakeside to watch the full moon turn the far water silver, while the light bringer, Lucifer, the morning star, ushered in a dawn of lemon and rose – the flavours of Turkish Delight.




The rest of Paul's enhanced photos of Didim, Miletus and Priene and extensive
footnotes can be found on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/book-drawings/sets/72157625509728092/


His novel Thomas the Rhymer - 'A children's story for adults' can be downloaded from his website.



1 comment:

julia said...

Reading about Paul and Russ' trip is like being there with them - only with a knowledgeable and lyrical guide to accompany you!
Julia

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