In all the souvenir shops and bazaars we saw jewelry and home decorations with the blue Evil Eye Protection. For centuries superstitions have kept this shamanistic symbol to protect a person from negative energy emitted from other people, which could cause bad luck, loss, illness, or accidents. Few visitors leave without one of these truly Turkish souvenirs. A small one on a safety pin is a gift many merchants give visitors if they buy anything. Of all the Turkish handmade items rugs and tiles are the best value for the money.
Turkish hospitality is famous: just knock on a door and you are welcomed and treated royally because of nomadic hospitality when travel was grueling. Even today Turks do not like heavy furniture, a nomadic reflection of times when every possession had to be easy to carry and multi-functional. Rugs served this purpose. They could be used to make tents, to cover the ground, to sit on so that no furniture was required, and for sleeping and keeping warm. Nomads used wool from their flocks. In the Steppes landscape is a bland, sandy color and grass is gray. Eyes craved color, so rug makers used natural vegetable dyes for wool: saffron & tobacco for yellow, roots for red, blue from indigo, etc. Sheep wool was thick, so they had to use double knots to secure it. Thick wool necessitated geometric designs in squares because fewer knots were needed. 4×4 knots per square inch are all that wool on wool Pazarik rugs need, and these go back to the 1st Century B.C.
As we traveled with SmarTours through Konya and Antalya, we saw the vast terraced Steppes, important for growing crops. This is not an earthquake area. When Seljuk Turks came here in the 10th Century and met Greeks, who lived in this area, the rug makers were introduced to cotton, which is grown here. They learned how to mix cotton for warp and weft, so rug makers could fit more knots into the spaces, and rugs with 25 x 25 became the minimum standard for floral designs, as curves were possible with this thinner yarn.
We stopped at Trahis Caravan Sarai, which Aladin built in 1229. In 1278 it was owned by Seljuk Turks. The entrance is most important with handmade Arabic letters in tiles, sometimes with a tree of life. Ottoman buildings are impressive; Seljuck ones have no dome. Ottomans have a dome and thinner minarets
The nomads who traveled this part of the Silk Road came by camels, which could carry large loads and go for many hours without water. But a camel MUST follow a donkey. Because bandits would rob and kill at night, caravans traveled at sunrise and spent nights in Caravan Sarais, which were very large buildings that would house the animals and the people free for two nights. The Sarai with a green flag had room, but a red flag meant the sarai was full. The Sarai attendants would check caravans in an outdoor section first to be sure they are healthy and they would write down the condition of each animal and traveler, so if bandits attacked a caravan after they left a Sarai, the sultans compensated for the losses. In winter people and animals stay together; in summer camels are outside. Sarai owners burned plants for a better smell indoors. Anyone who wanted private quarters could pay extra. Kitchens were outside to prevent fire. One important aspect of the Sarais was they were built by water, and the Normal Tax went to help pay for the Sarais. Travelers ate in a common area and shared information, talked business, and traded goods tax free. After discovery of sea routes Silk Road lost its trade importance and became great tourist places for cultural exchange.
Konya was the ancient capital city of Seljuk Turks. St. Paul came here on his first missionary journey and ultimately established seven Christian churches. Konya is the most conservative city in Turkey, and many women cover their heads here.
We stopped for lunch at Seydisehir, where the largest sulphur mine and production of aluminum and a large hydroelectricity plant are located. Then we drove over the perfectly beautiful snow covered Taurus Moutains, 6,000 feet high. With the beautiful evergreens it reminded us of the Colorado ski areas. On the lower slopes were olive groves up to 800 years old grow, as do orange, lemon and pomegranate orchards. These mountains appear even taller than they are because they go straight down to Turkey’s Turquoise Mediterranean Coast where it never snows and summers are hot and dry but good for farming strawberries and tomatoes. This is a popular summer resort area, but many accommodations don’t have air conditioning and are built with windows strategically placed to capture the constant breezes.
At Antalya we checked in at the lovely five-star Dedeman Resort for two nights, and we all got seaview rooms with balconies. This is the best time of year in Antalya. The resort had beautiful tennis courses, a walkway and elevator down the cliff side to the sea, where a diving club and swim platform are located, but it was too chilly to use this time of year. The fabulous buffet dinners and breakfasts included so many different stations laden with scores of choices, hot and cold, that it was impossible to sample everything, but every bite was delicious!
If you intend to have a Turkish Bath in a real Hamam this is the most sanitary and professional place to do so. Those who went to the spa here could have free sauna and steam room or pay and select from the various kinds of massages and treatments. The Hamam is unisex but the bath is given in a private room. The patron decides whether to have a man or woman attendant. In town Hamams are separate for men and women and are always located beside a mosque since cleansing before prayer is required. They were used in ancient times for the builders of the mosque to cleanse before work. It is recommended to sweat in the sauna room only covered with a towel before your massage. The philosophy our guide joked about was, “I don’t know you; you don’t know me; they don’t know us, so enjoy your private bath!” First the attendant uses a kesse cloth to exfoliate your entire body. Next the attendant uses a foam bag to squeeze a soap all over you and then scrubs you with warm water. Next you have the shock of cold water, then more warm water. You can finish in the steam room. The process requires about one hour. We teased the ones who partook of this very Turkish tradition, but they all found the Turkish baths to be a great experience for anyone visiting Turkey.
We took the optional tour to the ancient city of Perge, the largest in Pamphylia, which was at its zenith under Alexander the Great. We toured the second largest stadium (12,000 people) with many arches, identifying it as from the Roman period or Emperor Claudius. Perge had a very large bath complex, and Matin our tour director described in detail all the elements of the various buildings that made up these baths. The city possessed a very long main street that was some 65 feet wide and was once lined with shops and flanked by statues of prominent citizens. The water canal for this city ran down the center of this street, coming from an elaborate fountain at one end of the street. This was all built when the city was enlarged in the 4th Century AD.
Next we went to Aspendos, founded according to ancient tradition in the 13th Century BC. In the 4th Century BC Alexander the Great took over the city, and then in the 2nd Century AD during the rule of the Roman Emperor Marcos Aurelius the huge theater and aqueducts were built. This Roman theater is one of the best-preserved ancient theaters in the world, seating 20,000 and still used today for concerts and stage productions. Because the Romans had figured out that the curve of an arch can hold up weight safely, they built theaters with an enclosed building behind the stage for the actors’ use, and seating was in semicircular shape. Greeks built amphitheaters in the side of a mountain with only horseshoe seating and had no stage building for these outdoor theaters but enjoyed the scenery of nature behind the stage.
Since Turks themselves did all of the Perge archaeological digs, the ancient artifacts from Perge are in the Antalya Museum where we went next. Statues, friezes, coins from centuries before Christ are in amazing condition. Matin, our wonderful guide who has a Ph.D. in political science and sociology, explained Greek and Roman mythology pertinent to the statues we saw in nearly perfect condition. He was always generous in sharing his wealth of historical facts also and told us interesting tidbits about many of the cases where the items were displayed in timeline chronology. We learned that Greek statues have expressionless faces, but Roman ones have expressive faces and were commissioned by even average people, so they are plentiful. When Christians defaced them as idols, the noses were cut off so the face was not identifiable. Extended hands and arms were often lost through time or defacement, but those close to body were not destroyed. We were given free time to explore the museum and see Byzantine Persian clothing, weapons, house articles from later history and weapons and coins from all periods. The museum is very well done with signs in English also.
Until the last day of our two-week tour we were blessed with great weather, pleasant 60 – 70 degrees. Everywhere in Turkey is so clean, no trash except some in little villages, which certain people are paid to collect for recycling. Traffic is orderly in cities. Buildings are modern, and high-rise condos are in Easter egg colors, especially in areas where natural scenery is bland.