The Magical Mystical Tour – Finale

So, here we have it – the finale to this wonderful, enlightening trip. Salvaged from Archers of Okcular and originally posted February 2013.

Our last port of call on this ‘mystical’ tour is to the Çarşı or Marketplace Mosque in the village of Yazır Köyü some 14 kms SE of Acıpayam just a few kilometres off the D585 Denizli-Antalya road. There are family links through marriage between Acıpayam and my own village of Okçular. The town lies more than 150kms over the mountains at the far end of the track used for centuries by nomadic herders to move their animals from Denizli to winter pastures around here.

portico and magnificent plane tree

J and I arrived at the mosque shortly before midday prayers and there was time to sit under the magnificent plane tree and admire the proportions of this substantial, stone-built mosque. In fairly short order J was ‘discovered’ by one of the village ladies and whisked off to the quilting course being run nearby, which left me to drink tea and mumble and nod with the locals at the kahvehane.

Çarşı Camii is a fully functioning and very well attended mosque. With namaz over we were introduced to the imam who, as with every other place we visited, was delighted by our interest and very pleased to show us around and explain some of the history.


There is an inscription over the door that dates the mosque to 1802 and the endowment to Hacı Ömer Ağa. The front has an elegant portico and the door is flanked by two mihrabs. Inside, we were both astounded by the quality of the unknown artist’s workmanship. This was not the naïve brushwork that we had found in any of our previous visits and was more akin to that found in the painted konak in Birgi with splendid panels depicting various different flowers in vases and others of buildings. One feature stood out for me and that was the amazing alabaster plaster work window frames. Many had some or a lot of damage but enough were intact to convey an image of how the interior would have looked.

this beautiful alabaster window frame has suffered some damage

There is a mystical, other-worldliness to these places that has to be experienced – for me, a lover of fantasy fiction, it is like standing in a real live setting from Lord of the Rings or similar. I have no difficulty transporting myself back to a time when flickering candles provided light and adherents of Sufism practiced the Dhikr or Sema, moving rhythmically in a circle and chanting or singing their devotions.

I’ll leave you to your own imaginings as you browse through a few photos; I do hope you’ve enjoyed the tour.

more sophisticated artistry
the beautiful and elaborate ceiling
as you look at these decorations remember that this mosque was built in an isolated, rural corner of this vast country more than 200 years ago
the women’s gallery
ceiling detail
and another
the minbar
richly decorated mihrab with Koranic verses
panel detail
from the women’s gallery

Postscript: as J and I prepared to leave we were told that there was a wonderful cavern by the name of Keloğlan Mağarası on the way back to to the main road, so we took ourselves off to see it. At some point it looks as though there were considerable public funds expended on a road, a restaurant and an office or two. It was also evident that visitors were few and far between.

view from the cavern entrance back to Yazır Köyü

The guardian was ensconced behind his steamed-up window; there was a hand-written notice asking for three lira per person; J grabbed the tickets and stuck her cold hands back into her pockets. The guardian eyed my cameras with suspicion and pointed at the notice (no flash).  He obviously didn’t trust me because he insisted on following us inside the caves which, as it turned out, was not a bad thing.

Now, you know what these places are like – dripping wet with concrete and steel walkways and stairs. We had wandered about a hundred metres or so, ‘Ooohing!’ and ‘Ahhhing!’ when it happened – power cut, all the lights went out and nobody had considered any emergency back-up! We froze where we were on the steps surrounded by a Stygian blackness, listening to our breathing and the dripping of water – we could see nothing. Then a voice from the darkness asked ‘Sizde bir çakmak var mı?’ ‘Have you got a lighter?’ Bloody hell! Truth to tell we don’t smoke and it hadn’t occurred to us to bring one, so we held on to each other as the sound of shuffling footsteps faded away replaced by the eerie, high-pitched squeaking of bats. It took a while but the fellow eventually returned with a torch with about two minutes of life left in the battery and led us out.

here’s a picture of what we didn’t get to see (Acıpayam tourism office)

So, we never did see the cave, we didn’t get our money back either and later J noticed that the ticket price was TL2 – the sod had ripped us off! Burası Türkiye!’

Alan Fenn, Okçular

ps as this beautiful mosque is fairly close to our mountain cabin hidey-hole we regularly take friends to see it. Since this post was written there has been some very careful, well-crafted restoration work carried out including the beautiful alabaster stained glass windows. The building is now good for another two hundred years.

The Magical Mystical Tour 3

Our mystical tour moves on . . salvaged from Archers of Okcular first posted February 2013

Boğaziçi and Kocaköy

mm1Finding the village of Boğaziçi from our base in Pamukkale meant a drive of about a hundred kms – first south to Denizli and then east to the junction of the D595 Uşak Yolu. I find this a rather sad stretch of road having covered it several times; rather like driving through an industrial wasteland with only the view of the beautiful snow-capped mountains to redeem it. Follow the Uşak road and just after the village of Denizler fork right for Baklan. Then take the second turning on the right (approx 3kms) signposted to Boğaziçi and look out for the minaret.

Boğaziçi is a very small town and having found the old mosque (tucked in behind the new one) locked and shuttered we made enquiries at the nearby belediye offices. Here, yet again, we came face to face with that most wonderful of Turkish traits – a willingness to drop everything, talk, drink tea and help a guest/stranger. We were taken to the tea house, phone calls were made and the keyholder of the mosque was located – miles up in the mountains cutting wood!

now we are really trucked!

‘Problem yok!’ (No problem!) We had a car and a willing guide was found and off we set, twisting and turning along dirt roads that were a mixture of dust, puddles, ruts and quicksands! At one stage we were forced over to the edge to let a huge grading machine through before finally coming  to a forced stop by two trucks, one of which was suffering a serious health problem! Undaunted and without a word our guide got out and set off along the track – we had no idea if or when we might see him again. Twenty minutes later he returned triumphant with the key and we were on our way back to Boğaziçi.

nondescript, unused and jammed in behind the new mosque

Boğaziçi mosque was built around 1774; well, there is an inscription that dates the kalemişi (painting) to that date, and it was repaired and repainted in 1876. There are similarities of style with the mosque at Belenardıç so the same artist may have carried out the work. With floral and geometric artwork inspired by Sufi beliefs and geometric and cross-banding decoration to the ceiling and beams that are reminiscent of some of the earliest medieval mosques of Anatolia, what awaited us inside was magnificent. The warmth of the colours is incredible, I’ll let the photos speak . . .

the mihrab
part of the fabulous ceiling
 mimbar and fallen plaster, early signs of neglect
beautiful geometric and floral designs on the women’s gallery
stunning in close-up



The village has registered a foundation to try and save this beautiful piece of Turkey’s heritage, there is hope that it might have a future.

mm4Kocaköy and its Şalvan Mosque, so-called because that was once the village name, lies about 28kms north west of Boğaziçi as the crow flies (a lot further by country roads), through attractive landscape and tiny villages. It is a poor little place with a beautiful outlook over a sweeping valley. We parked at the mosque and set out to find the kahvehane (tea house) where we were immediately engaged by some young men who sent a boy off to find the imam. Meanwhile we were joined by Yaşar, groomed, dressed in a suit and looking every inch a ranking bureaucrat  With the arrival of the imam the four of us set off back to the mosque and so began one of the most enjoyable interludes that J and I have ever experienced on this type of visit.


Yaşar was an astounding fount of knowledge about the mosque, history, old cultures and customs – in many instances the imam deferred to him and listened as intently as we did. The Şalvan Mosque was built around 1800 and the exterior is far more elaborate and well cared for than any other of the village mosques we have seen so far. There is an inscription above the door saying that it was ordered by Hatip Mehmed Ağa, son of Hacı Musa, in that year.

Inside my reactions were mixed – the walls were painted an almost luminous green and there was an ugly, white tiled mihrab with just a small part of the original exposed.

enough said!
the amazing ceiling
richly decorated women’s gallery
another section of ceiling
a rather novel hoca!
Yaşar, J and Imam deep in discussion

Yaşar explained that much renovation had been carried out because of the poor state of the plaster-work and in the process everything, including the wooden pillars were covered in a sort of roughcast and then painted. What might have once been unique depictions, ‘Heaven’ on one wall ‘Hell’ on the opposite, were forever lost. All was not totally lost however, our eyes were drawn up to the ceiling that, although in need of some repair and restoration, remains intact and it is stunning!

Our time in this mosque followed by a visit to the restored village çeşme (spring) and then back to the teahouse for more tea and talk is an enduring memory. Can you imagine sitting in a steamy kahvehane in rural Turkey, discussing politics, religion, French philosophers, archaeology, the state of the environment and much else with a farmer dressed in an immaculate business suit and an imam who is also an animal farmer and who could give Omar Sharif a run for his money. I’ll tell you this, we have an invitation to go back for more exploration and chat and I do believe we’ll take them up on it! Yaşar wants to take us to the Menderes valley just below the village where ancient underground grain stores of stashes of wheat and barley were discovered by the villagers with amphora so large that two men could get inside.

Our plan was to make a great loop back to Pamukkale via the town of Güney. There was an ulterior motive to this as the Pamukkale wine company have their facility here and it is possible to buy mixed cases of their excellent products at wholesale prices – so we did! We had also eaten nothing since breakfast so coffee and cakes at the pastane (pastry shop) were called for. This led to another enjoyable and time-consuming interlude with several young teachers over shared coffee, cakes and then more tea! By the time we left it was dark with the long and winding road across country back to our hotel ahead of us – but what a day!

. . stay tuned for the final episode of magic and mystical . .

Alan in Okçular

The Magical Mystical Tour 2

Continuing our tour of discovery of enchanting old mosques.


Akköy and Belenardıç

Dhikr_Rifa-iyyaThis is supposed to be a ‘mystical’ tour, seeking out village mosques that have their foundations firmly rooted in the tenets and traditions of Sufism. Sufism has had a chequered history of misunderstanding and persecution but its influences on music, poetry, painting, calligraphy and much else have been profound. In making this tour I find that being able to take a moment to conjure up mental images of bygone times have added greatly to the experience. Times when candles flickered and worshippers swayed and circled rhythmically chanting, perhaps to the soft and beautiful whisper of the ney.

Our dismay at the poor condition of the Hanönü camii at Kızılcabölük meant that we approached the mosque at Akköy, a few minutes drive from Pamukkale, with some misgivings. It, like Hanönü, was crowded by a very new (2008) mosque.

not a lot of promise

Outside it looked a trifle sad with broken windows and bags of coal stacked in the entrance. As it was nearly prayer time we sat and waited for the imam and congregation to arrive. When they did the key was produced and we were invited to carry on whilst they got on with their devotions in the new building.
What greeted us as we stepped over the threshold took my breath away for here was everything that we might have hoped for.

the stunningly beautiful interior

Built around 1877 and redecorated in 1909, this is a gem that shines and sparkles. Although no longer used for prayers it is used for study and instruction and is so obviously cared for and loved.

the ceiling and cupola

Look at the stunning cupola and wooden ceiling, the vivid blue cypress trees intertwined with flowers – in Islamic visual art a representation of the beloved’s figure and the reunion of lovers. The names of the artisans and artist who created this treasure are lost in time, so here are some photos by way of tribute to them and to whet your enthusiasm for your own visit.

the elaborate and metaphoric mihrab
the Day of Judgement, Hell, Heaven and Ka’ba
the women’s gallery

The imam and his congregation were very welcoming and delighted that interest was being shown. The new mosque has been very nicely decorated with tiles and painted decorations and is worth a visit when you are here – these people were proud of both.

Belenardıç lies up in the mountains 20 kms north of Pamukkale; the road is narrow and winding but good for driving. It is a small and poor village of less than 400, most of the buildings are in sad condition with many in a state of collapse.

so much looked like this
once again an unpromising exterior

The mosque lies at one end of the village square and the kahvehane, our first port of call, at the other. Coffee and tea houses are a great source of help and hospitality – as a visitor you will not be allowed to buy your own tea. Having struck up a conversation with the men who were sitting outside smoking and joining them for tea, it wasn’t long before someone went off to speak with the muhtar and gain permission for us to enter the mosque.

the beautiful and elaborate mihrab framed by Koranic verse
evening sun illuminates this working mosque

Built in 1884 by ‘Mehmed, son of Ali of the Denizli Hafız Ağazade’ and painted the following year. The paints used in these mosques are referred to by locals as ‘made from roots’, ie they are made from natural dyes. The mihrab is highly symbolic and depicts a lamp behind parted curtains and refers to the 24th Sura of the Koran (Al-Nur, The Light). It is surrounded by Koranic verses.

the simple and rustic women’s gallery

The walls are painted with flowers, moons and stars, and apocalyptic images of heaven and hell. High up you will see the names of four caliphs and the grandsons of the Prophet (PBUH). There is much simple carving and incising of the ceiling beams.

incised beams and caliphs’ names

Gaining entrance to this beautiful and much loved mosque was to experience old technology; a finger is pushed up through a small hole in the door jamb which lifts a locking latch and allows the door to open. As it opens a further latch lifts and holds the door in place – a simple and very effective system. Once again, photographs will save a thousand words.

the ‘secret’ locking system
the locking/latching mechanism

Having satiated ourselves we retired to the kahvehane for more talk and tea. Evening was drawing on and it was getting cold so we stepped inside and were hit by a wall of heat from the soba and steam from the customers! We were also greeted by a wall of curiosity written large across many faces – J has a set piece address for these situations so we were soon joined by a few of the extra curious as the rest got back to their games of ‘Okay’. After the joy of discovering this gem of a mosque for ourselves we were able to wind down with an hour of tea and good company – a perfect end to the day.

I hope these posts will encourage you to explore off the beaten track, what you will discover will likely be (as ‘Bones’ used to say in Star Trek) ‘. . life Jim, but not as we know it!’

Alan in Okçular

The Magical Mystical Tour

Begun in January 2013 this series of posts in Archers of Okçular that epitomises what living in and exploring Turkey and Turkish life is all about. It has given me considerable pleasure to save and resurrect them – I hope you enjoy them again too.

Part 1 – Kızılcabölük

Magical? Absolutely! Mystical? Sort of, depending on your ‘inner self’. It was also to prove to be so much more with people adding a delightful and surprising element to the whole trip. Our aim was to visit some of the old, painted village mosques around Denizli that have their foundations firmly rooted into the traditions of Sufism. Our hope was that there would be someone available and willing to let us in and, if possible, to make a photo record that we could share with you. Our expectations were mixed – were they met? You’ll have to read on to find out.

mm1The small farming town of Kızılcabölük near Tavaş is a place of many mosques and few visitors. It is home to the Hanönü Camii (in front of the Han) which has an unusual history because it was built by Ümmi the daughter of Köse Mehmet Ağa sometime around 1697. There is a date above the mihrab that indicates redecoration in 1895. With a modern, concrete mosque jammed in alongside, the state of the exterior did not bode well for what we might find inside. Broken metal sheets were nailed across the entrance, sections of the roof were falling away and there was a general air of filth and dilapidation. Pulling aside a corrugated sheet of metal we ‘broke in’!

Standing at the door and looking inside left me with a mixture of wonder and profound sadness. This had once been a place vibrant with colour and life and it wasn’t difficult to picture how it might have looked when adherents of this inner, mystical form of Islam gathered together for worship.

Glory in Decay – ceiling Hanönü Camii
mihrab, mimbar and rotting floorboards
colonnade and women’s gallery
the ornate mihrab
the name of God left to rot

Now, water dripping through the ceiling was rotting plaster, floorboards and the faded but still beautiful ceiling panels. That no one cares was obvious – why, was not.

Back at the kahvehane (coffee house) for a morale reviving çay (tea) and a chat with the locals we were directed next door to the Textile Museum. This turned out to be a super little place with a delightful curator (the people bit) who took us on a conducted tour (as I said, there are not many visitors). He knows his stuff and had some of the machinery up and working for us. The mechanical ‘computer’ on the still functioning and in use loom was a source of considerable joy to this old boffer.

our curator and guide at the textile museum
the man knows his stuff
the amazing mechanical ‘computer’ on this still working loom

Is it worth a special trip? No! But if you are anywhere near Tavaş then it surely is. To find such a place in such a town was a surprise and a treat and deserves some support. Just head for the centre of Kızılcabölük and ask at any of the coffee houses; the mosque and museum are right there – at least one will still be standing this time next year!

to be continued . .

Alan in Okçular

Slobber Chops!

J and I have an inbuilt, genetic fascination with camel wrestling events here in Turkey. I know some of you out there will shudder and/or point an accusatory digit and even start sticking pins in voodoo dolls because you hate any and all forms of animal exploitation (but hope the pins will cause bits of my person to experience great pain or even fall off!). I understand your objections but remain unrepentant.

a magnificent beast decked out in all his finery

These events have their roots in the nomadic culture of Asia that goes back, quite possibly, for thousands of years. During the rutting season, which lasts just a few months, nomads would gather at long-established traditional sites for the prime purpose of breeding their she-camels with the strongest bulls. These bulls would go through a natural selection process amongst themselves by ‘wrestling’ for the right to pass on their genes.


there is much pushing and shoving and frothing at the mouth
much lifting of one’s opponent off the ground

In many respects it’s a bit like watching Mick McManus and Giant Haystacks without the gouging or forearm smashes. The animals can’t bite as they would naturally do because of a special binding on their jaws. I’ve never once seen a drop of blood or an injured camel apart from the occasional bruised ego!

until eventually one or other gets pinned for a count of three
once the referee makes his call teams rush in and haul the protagonists apart
and the victor gets to put on his most arrogant face and strut his stuff

J and I prefer to frequent the venues where the spectators are usually all local Turks – small towns and even villages away from the areas with expat communities. This is not a snobby thing but a seeking after the authentic experience because there is more than just watching these magnificent animals do their thing.

Towns like Buldan and Çal in Denizli Province are magnets to us and so worth the extra miles of driving to get to them. Often the only barrier between a couple of tons of tunnel-visioned contesting-for-the-damsel’s-favours camels and the picnicking spectators with their barbies, bottles of rakı and mixed grill is a chicken wire fence. When hormonal gladiators run amuk or even amok there is no funnier site than a bunch of shouting, gesticulating, well lubricated men trying to save their very hot barbie, rakı glass in one hand and waving plastic chairs at two single-minded, blind-to-all-else furry gladiators with rumpy-pumpy on the brain!

stalls selling everything from camel sausages
to scarves, to tea, to Sunday lunch

Finally, a couple of examples of why it is not a good idea to wear your Sunday-best or a hoody come to that . .



Let me finish off back where I started about animal exploitation: I accept that these days camel wrestling has become more of a spectacle for townies than a folk gathering of nomadic herders. I oppose commercial whaling in all its forms but support the rights of Inuit peoples to hunt at sea for food whether they use traditional tools or a powerful rifle. In the same way that Morris Dancers no longer believe the fertility angle in their entertainment I support the rights of Turks to enjoy a link to their nomadic ancestry – camel wrestling is not a blood sport, long may it continue!

Alan back up the cabin.

Trains And Boats And Planes . .

koc1. . they mean a trip to Paris or Rome tra-la-la . . or, in this case, Istanbul – to the  historic dockyard, founded in 1861 by the former Ottoman Maritime Company. It lies on the north shore of the Golden Horn in the district of Hasköy. The site, together with the Lengerhane building (which was initially used for casting anchors and chains for the Ottoman navy, during the rule of Ahmet III (1703–1730)) across the road, houses the Rahmi M Koç Museum. This is, in my opinion, one of the finest industrial museums you will ever visit – a world-class establishment!

a reciprocating huff’n’puff

If you love things that go rumble, huff and puff, whirr and whizz, reciprocate, go in and out or up and down, have classic lines, need steam or petrol or oil or oars or sails or . . . whatever, to bring them to life, have knobs and buttons to fiddle with and burnished metal and coachwork to stroke – then I promise you’ll want to take this place home and introduce it to your mother! It is gorgeous!


There are workshops and slipways where real work is carried out to rebuild and refurbish the constantly growing collection. There are toys and models and the real things – you can start and stop a ship’s mighty steam engines and imagine yourself, somewhere, out there, pounding through the world’s oceans to exotic lands and ports, in the days when there were still places waiting to be discovered.

 work on the slipway

J and I have been twice now, and we’ll no doubt go again – there is never enough time and there is always more to see – try it for yourself (except on Mondays, of course). Meanwhile enjoy a few photos of the place.

old ‘Invicta’ traction engine built near to where I was born
amazing carved ivory bicycle (bad business but still amazing)
beautiful old 1933 Buick
steam-driven plank saw
immaculate restoration of steam launch ‘Esra’
tram with stuffed horses and driver
another chuffin’ puffer

There are so many more photos – from planes to submarines to motor cycles to memorabilia from Koc’s round the world sailing trip – better you go and see for yourself. My bet is that you will return time and again. Finally, here is a photo of heaven on earth for old boffers like me – when I shuffle off this mortal coil I hope they stuff me and park me at the bench, taps and dies in hand!


Alan in Okçular

You Marque My Words

amazedI’m an ‘amazed’ person; much of my life is spent saying ‘That’s amazing!’ J is always saying that I’m a very easily amazed person, which I also find amazing because it it true!
I’m amazed by the things I see and learn as I explore in the realms of what used to be called ‘Natural History’ – and I’m constantly amazed at the skill and artistry of craftsmen and craftswomen from around the world and throughout time. Engineers who have created amazing machines; quilters who create amazing works of art with scraps of material; artists who create amazingly atmospheric images with barely a detail; carpenters who created amazing structures without the use of screw or glue like the mimbar in the mosque in Birgi. And now I’ve been amazed by, what I can only describe as, ‘Marqueteers’ – creators of amazing marquetry.

marquetry2For those not familiar with this form of decoration, it is the use of thin pieces of different types and colours of wood which are cut and inlaid to form ‘pictures’ or geometric designs. It was popular with my granny and her generation and, by default, with Mr Skeets my woodwork teacher at school who was old enough to be my granny. It was also a much favoured DIY type project in the 1960s.
On our recent trip to Tuscany, J and I went with our friends to the lovely old town of Lucca. There, amongst other things, we paid a visit to the Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi (we also got free admission as Old Aged Pensioners from the EU – our Aussie friends left out an ‘a’ and an ‘l’ and were let in as Austrians). There is a lot of interesting stuff to see, particularly relating to religious artifacts, but what had me utterly amazed were these . .

what you are looking at is a flat panel – the least amazing and ‘normal’ example
marquetry door panel – now check the detail in the other door below
door panel detail and ‘No! you are not looking through it’

And then there was this . .

as you look at this amazing piece, remember that you are looking a flat panel created in the same way as the 1960s DIY picture above

These are just a few representative examples of what is on display; each piece is between two and three metres high. Flash was not used for obvious reasons – the guard would have confiscated my camera!

‘Amazed’, Okçular

The Mosaics Of Antakya

antak1J and I found Antakya, the principal city of Hatay, SE Turkey, to be an astonishingly cosmopolitan place. Laid back, Istanbul fashions everywhere, and barely a headscarf to be seen. The old parts of the town are not extensive but are a delight to explore – the people, as everywhere in Turkey, are open and warm-hearted. If that is not enough for you then there is always the local speciality dessert, Künefe.

Künefe can be found all over Turkey, but the stuff that masquerades under that name elsewhere pales into mediocrity when compared with the real thing that is served in Antakya. Although künefe shops are very common throughout Hatay, Kilis, Adana, Mersin and Gaziantep provinces, Antakya is known for the best künefe in Turkey. What distinguishes Antakya’s künefe from others is the freshly made, elastic cheese that only comes from Hatay region. The kadayıf (shredded phyllo dough) is also made from scratch at small künefe shops on almost every corner in Antakya. Watching it being made is a form of street entertainment in its own right!


Sitting at a künefe shop, observing the world walk by whilst savouring a plate of this wondrous stuff, topped off with ice cream, should be high on your ‘bucket list’ – in fact, it is almost worth dying for! Almost!

antak3Anyway, enough of that! This post is about feeding the mind, not the belly; and just across the river from where J and I were stuffing ourselves lies the rather sad looking Museum of Archaeology. Had we not had an inkling of what lay inside we might well have given it a miss and that would have been a mistake. There are the usual marble tombs, busts and statues of long departed emperors, governors and their ladies – gods and goddesses, nymphs and shepherds (coming away), etc. There is also one of the most remarkable collections of Roman wall and floor mosaics to be found outside Ankara or Rome.

Here are just some of them together with a bit of information about what you are looking at. The pictures are not the greatest as there was a ‘no photography’ policy at the time and trying to be discreet with an SLR is not easy! I have ‘enhanced’ some to bring out the colours more, otherwise they are ‘as is’.

Oceanus & Thetis – 4th cent. ME – Daphne one of the most photographed mosaics ever
Iphigleneia in Aulis (detail) – 3rd cent. ME – Antioc. Iphigleneia, daughter of Agamemnon with her mother
The Happy Hunchback (one can see why) – 2nd cent. ME – Antioc
Hercules Strangling Serpents – 2nd cent. ME – Antioc
Personification of Soteria (Salvation) – 5th cent. ME – Narlıca, Antakya. This is an astonishing mosaic in the Escher-esque effect of the geometric shapes
Narcissus & Echo – 3rd cent. ME – Daphne
Narcissus & Echo (detail bottom left corner)
Boat of the Pysches (with Eros) – 3rd cent. ME – Daphne
Orpheus and the Beasts – 3rd cent ME – Tarsus

. . and so many more! To finish off, here’s a couple of general shots around town.

Antakya backstreet


. . not to mention one of those marble tomb things!
. . and finally, a pair of basalt lions from the Temple at Tainat – 8th cent. BME

Alan in Okçular

İshakpaşa Sarayı

isak1Here we go on another of those ‘Tardis’ time trips; this time back to the year 2003 of the Modern Era (as we have to say now). J and I were touring around the east of Turkey with our kaymakam ‘son’ and his very new and very delightful wife.

Now, being a kaymakam is a lonely old job because, mostly, people only want to know them for what they can get out of them, and the others, who aren’t trying to extract favours, generally hold them in awe – a hangover from Ottoman times. This has created a Freemason-like fraternity with fellow kaymakams which necessitates plan-ahead phone calls and stops to socialise in every town along the route. It also results in very protracted journeys!

So it was that, later than we had expected, we were sitting in the rather imposing office of the kaymakam of Doğubayazıt in Ağrı Province sipping tea and making polite conversation. Ağrı, way over in the east of Turkey, is home to Mount Ararat, the supposed remains of Noah’sArk, the principle border crossing with Iran, a superb bazaar and the magnificent İshakpaşa Sarayı (Palace). Joining us in the sipping was a goggle-eyed Jandarma commander and a scantily clad, over-made up and very big-breasted actress and her hippy-looking Turkish ‘minder’. She was dressed (I remember vividly) in black leggings and a day-glow pink top with ‘Love Me’ emblazoned across her rippling undulations. We saw her later causing traffic pile-ups as she wandered about town; this is, after all, a rather conservative part of the country where most of the women we saw were clad from head to ground in black or brown chaddars/chadors – but that is a story for another time!

isak2The kindly kaymakam had enquired about our plans and our mode of transport (my trusty Doblo) and had hurrumphed at its short-comings in such terrain. ‘This is an important town with much diplomatic comings and goings’ he informed us. ‘I have several 4x4s why don’t you use one of those? In fact, you might as well have my driver as well, he knows the way around.’

So, there we were, travelling up to the iconic site of İshakpaşa Sarayı in a huge Shogun type 4×4 (like the picture) complete with blue flashing lights. We made a very grand and very self-consious arrival! A group of tourists stepped back as the guardian and his staff lined up to greet these so-obviously important visitors – J and I felt like total frauds and total prats!

Our ‘son’ was grinning from ear to ear, enjoying every bit of our discomfiture! Over time we have learned to go-with-the-flow, as we keep our ‘respect for everybody’ head firmly on our shoulders; back then we were still struggling to deal with such situations.

The undeniable bonus of having ‘connections’ is that J and I have seen and been to places that we otherwise might have missed. At İshakpaşa we were given a personal tour by the principal guardian who was extremely knowledgable. We were also taken to parts of the site that were closed to the public whilst renovations were being undertaken. Completed in 1784, it is the last of the great Ottoman administrative outposts from the so-called ‘Lale Devri’ period to be constructed. It is, without doubt, a true gem and a very important and distinguished architectural relic of its period. All-in-all, an impressive place!

Once again my scanner has done its bit by converting my old 35mm pics into digital format – here are some impressions from this ‘must-see’ site in the beautiful, historic and culturally very rich east of Turkey.

iconic view of İshakpaşa Sarayı with Doğubayazit below and Mt Ararat in the distance
entrance to reception rooms


Grand Entrance detail
astonishing wooden ‘dragon heads’ on exterior wall
view to a courtyard
2010 after superb restoration work
family mausoleums not dog kennels
finally the clouds cleared enough to reveal Mt Ararat

Alan in Okçular

Akdamar – A Name Carved Into History

ak1Join me as we slip back to a time before (I had) a digital camera – it is Spring; the year is 2003 and we are aboard a small boat heading for the island of Akhtamar, or Akdamar that lies 3 kms out into Lake Van in Eastern Turkey.

First, a little background: Once, Akhtamar lay at the heart of the Kingdom of Armenia – here was built a royal complex that included palaces, gardens, parks and a monastery. King Gagik commissioned a church dedicated to the Holy Cross and employed the Armenian architect Trdat Mendet aka Manuel to oversee the work. Manuel had built the cathedral at Ani and had assisted in the repair of Hagia Sophia’s dome following an earthquake. Construction started in 915 and was completed by 921. What Manuel created was quite remarkable!

Aghtamar_1923The Church of the Holy Cross was the seat of Armenian patriarchs from 1116 until 1895 when it was abandoned due to ‘difficulties’ between Armenians and the Ottoman Empire. The church fell into disrepair – in 1951 there was a concerted effort to demolish the complex – fortunately the total destruction was prevented by an observant military officer and an enlightened minister in Ankara. Today, all that remains is the church.

akdamar2In 2005-6 the Turkish government carried out a programme of restoration and the church was opened as a museum in 2007. In 2010 the first mass in 95 years was celebrated and in the same year the cross was replaced on the dome.

When J and I paid our visit the restoration lay 2 years in the future and I was using my clapped-out Pentax 35mm film camera – digital cameras and Photoshop were something from a Star Trek script! So, here you have it courtesy of a scanner – my Akhtamar photo album . .

Akdemar in Spring
 entrance to Akdamar church
Akdamar church interior detail


Akdamar church – David and Goliath relief
Akdamar church – front facade
Akdamar church – detail


Akdamar church 2003 pre-restoration
J, our ‘son’ and ‘daughter-in-law’ heading home

Sorry for the poor quality of the photos – old technology! Here is a more recent photo after restoration work:

restored and once again used for worship

Alan in Okçular

ps The origin and meaning of the island’s name is based on an old Armenian legend. According to the tale, an Armenian princess named Tamar lived on the island and was in love with a commoner. This boy would swim from the mainland to the island each night, guided by a light she lit for him. Her father learned of the boy’s visits. One night, as she waited for her lover to arrive, he smashed her light, leaving the boy in the middle of the lake without a guide to indicate which direction to swim. His body washed ashore and, as the legend concludes, it appeared as if the words “Akh, Tamar” (Oh, Tamar) were frozen on his lips.

Isn’t that sweet?