“Much have I traveled in the realms of gold / And many goodly states and kingdoms seen,” begins the famous sonnet by Keats. But for ten days in March, Andrew W. Mellon Professor-in-Charge T. Corey Brennan (1988 Fellow) led a record-sized group of twenty-eight members of the AAR community on an itinerary to Istanbul and the Aegean coast of Turkey that made those participating feel that they, too, were part of a golden itinerary—and not just in that Homeric world of which Keats spoke, but in real life.
Brennan was accompanied by Andrew W. Heiskell Arts Director Karl Kirchwey (1995 Fellow), and by Programs and Permissions Associate Giulia Barra, through whose hard work so many of the arrangements for this trip had been made. Cities and sites explored over the ten-day trip included Istanbul, Troy, Pergamum, Priene, Didyma, Miletus, Ephesus, Aphrodisias, and Izmir (Smyrna).
The flight on Turkish Airlines—voted the best airline in Europe for its standards of customer service—was comfortable, and the lunch served was more opulent than anything seen in economy class on an American carrier for some years now. The group was met at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport by Okan Ağaçajak, a freelance tour guide originally from Bursa who lives in Istanbul now with his wife Dilber and two-month-old daughter Eçe (meaning “Queen;” Okan’s surname means, literally, “tree-footed” or peg-legged: his great-grandfather lost a leg in WWI).
The group began in Istanbul, a city of seventeen million, with individual explorations of the Grand Bazaar (an overwhelming labyrinth of stalls and goods) and the Spice Bazaar; Karl, Musicologist Fellow Aaron Allen and Visiting Scholar/Fellow Traveler Kailan Rubinoff also explored the Rustem Pasha Camii, built by the master architect Sinan and sheathed mostly in beautiful blue-green Iznik tile.
On Sunday, March 19, Corey and Okan obligingly led duplicate morning and afternoon tours of the Istanbul Sultanahmet (historic center), featuring the Hippodrome, Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii), Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. Some tried to squeeze in the vast Archeological Museum as well, or the Küçük Aya Sofya Camii, the so-called “Little Hagia Sophia.” But in their individual explorations, AAR group members reached well beyond the Fatih and Sultanahmet neighborhoods, into the Beyoğlu district (across the Golden Horn) and even across the Bosphorus to Űsküdar, on the Asian side of the city..
One of the most astounding parts of the Istanbul sojourn was Monday morning’s visit to the Church of St. Savior in Chora which, in the richness and complexity of its mosaic and fresco programs, was like the Sistine Chapel and Venice’s San Marco rolled into one. This site was of particular interest to Art History Fellow Carly Jane Steinborn, who is working on the Orthodox Baptistery in Ravenna.
Near the Chora Church was also the Kalenderhane Camii, a Byzantine church now a mosque, but with many of its beautiful marble wall revetments still visible. Also on Monday, a large number of AAR travelers participated in one of two “Istanbul Eats” tours, sampling the gustatory delights of one of the world’s greatest cities for food, thanks to the organizing of Landscape Architecture Fellow David Rubin and Fellow Traveler Jamie O’Neill.
Tuesday morning, March 21, featured a long bus ride to Eceabat, the Sea of Marmara always on the left-hand side, through landscapes made notorious by the Dardanelles campaign in WWI. A short ferry ride across the Dardanelles brought the group to Çanakkale (where they would spend the night) and then Troy, a place archeologically familiar to many in the AAR community because AAR Trustee Brian Rose (1992 Fellow), the lead archeologist at the site, had spoken about his work there in a shoptalk presented during his AAR Residency in the fall of 2011.
The site of Troy was the first of several the group would visit in which the sea, once a source of both wealth and devastation, had retreated over the millennia, leaving only ruins looking down on a peaceful alluvial plain. The Scamander River that Achilles dyed red with the blood of slain Trojans was nowhere to be seen. The monstrous trench carved across the site by Heinrich Schliemann in his relentless quest was visible, though, as was the stone ramp leading up through what Schliemann took to be the Scaean Gate, where he “discovered” the Treasure of Priam.
Troy was also the first of several sites the AAR closed down, in its archeological zeal; others were the Asclepion at Pergamum, the city of Miletus, and the archeological museums at both Ephesus and Aphrodisias. After the mandatory photographs of community members peering from the windows in a three-story-high wooden horse (if windows had featured in the prototype, Laocoőn would not have had to pitch a spear into the Greeks’ gift) and photographs of the sun setting behind almond trees in flower, the group discovered that in fact the site gates had been closed for the night. But their gleaming white Marvel Tours Pullman (with driver Erol Baş at the wheel) was soon on its way.
On Wednesday morning, March 22, there was an early departure for the fabled city of Pergamum, accessible by cable car (some with a fear of heights could only avert their eyes). Instead of well-groomed ski trails, the group arrived at the top to find an ancient acropolis, the remains of the Altar of Zeus (one of the wonders of the ancient world), a Greek theater seating 10,000, and the remains of a Temple of Dionysus. A visit to the Asklepion followed, a health spa in antiquity, with its Propylon, Temple of Asklepios, and Greek theater (seating 3,500). Patients began their time at the Asklepion with a medical consultation and then slept at the site, hoping to receive diagnostic and prescriptive advice in a dream from Asklepios, the god of healing. One cure in antiquity featured a regimen of pine cones and honey; both were still for sale at the entrance to the site.
In Kuşadasi the group stayed in the suggestively-named Hotel Fantasia, one of a number of holiday behemoths erected on that stretch of the Aegean coast for the sea-sand-sun (and beer) package tour set. When the Marvel Tours Pullman arrived, evening had fallen. The hotel was floodlit a hot pink, and there were a pair of sculpted ramping black stallions flanking the entrance.
Thursday’s explorations began with a visit to Priene. The group visited the Bouleuterion or Odeion (council chamber) and the Temple of Athena Polias, an Ionic masterpiece of which now only a few columns have been resurrected, dramatically situated under the hills from which the stone for them was quarried. Also noteworthy in Priene was the beautifully-preserved theater (seating 5,000), including even its stage buildings. The stadium (some of the starting blocks on its track apparently still intact) was visible at the bottom of a steep hill through fields full of what David Rubin identified as flowering wild allium, but there was no time in which to investigate.
Lunch on Thursday was at a restaurant in site of the great sanctuary of Apollo at Didyma, and what was featured, in addition to the usual substantial buffet, was fresh-caught grilled sea bass. After lunch, the group investigated the sanctuary, on which Archeology Fellow Meg Andrews’s advisor Lothar Haselberger had worked, and about which Meg spoke. In fact the entire group scoured the walls of the temple to find the etched architectural drawings left by the ancient workman, detailing the taper size of the pillars. It was Artist Fellow Siobhan Liddell who finally located them. The poet in the group was seen quietly plucking a souvenir leaf or two from the sacred laurel of Apollo still growing where the oracle used to breathe the fumes and babble her prophecies.
At Miletus, though the sea has now retreated several kilometers away, much of the ancient city was flooded by spring rains. This was where St. Paul convened the Ephesians (he had no time to travel to Ephesus itself, as he had to be back in Jerusalem in time for Pentecost) and took a tender leave of them, as detailed in the Book of Acts. The sound of frogs mingled with that of the bells of rams; the parking lot was full of Turkish sheepdogs, a distinctive breed that looks like a yellow lab with a black muzzle. A farmer befriended Architecture Fellow Angie Co, as she wandered through the fields, and she was seen rejoining the group, in her bright red jacket, mounted on the farmer’s horse. The group also visited the ruins of the imposing Baths of Faustina.
Following a full Friday morning (March 23) and early afternoon spent in the ancient city of Ephesus, lunch was served at a government-sponsored carpet-making center and showroom. Okan once more unerringly steered the group to a splendid lunch served outdoors. A demonstration of carpet-making techniques followed; Visual Arts Fellow Mary Reid Kelley was seated at the loom beside a woman in a headscarf who was an expert. The group learned about single and double knotting, and watched as silkworm cocoons were boiled and the filaments of silk were spun off at great speed.
Adjourning to a large room, the group took seats on benches along the walls and an extraordinary demonstration followed, a kind of performance art, really, as employees of the place threw down one brilliantly colored and pattered carpet after another and they unrolled right to the feet of those seated. Wool-on-wool, cotton-on-wool and, most beautiful and expensive of all, silk: the effect of the display, from the thud of the carpet being thrown down to the explosion of color, was like nothing so much as a display of fireworks, as Fellow Traveler Claire Brazeau remarked. Several community members ignored financial prudence and bought themselves a few square meters of knotted paradise; it was noted that the majority of buyers were from the School of Fine Arts, suggesting that artists are indeed either less calculating or more impulsive (but surely not more affluent) than their scholarly counterparts.
Saturday morning, March 24, began with a visit to the site above the ancient city of Ephesus revered as being that of the Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Okan provided the historical facts; Corey, although himself raised a Catholic, provided a voice of lively skepticism. The group then proceeded to the ancient city of Aphrodisias, a three-hour drive. This city was sacred to Aphrodite and also renowned throughout the Roman empire for its marble statues. Among other notable monuments, the Fellows visited the largely-intact Stadium (seating capacity: 30,000), the grassy floor of which was indeed just the same shape as Piazza Navona, which occupies the site of the Stadium of Domitian. Several Fellows tried sprinting the length of the Stadium floor, with only their friends to cheer them on.
In the Theater of Aphrodisias, sited with a commanding view of the snow-capped Baba (“Father”) Mountain, Corey delighted in reading aloud the graffiti left in the skene by the ancient actors, while Fellow in Ancient Studies Jackie Murray earned a round of applause from her peers (scattered among the stone wedges of seats) when she declaimed from her Jamaican dialect translation of the first ten lines of The Iliad. The group ended the day with a visit to Aphrodisias’s spectacular Archeological Museum, containing, among other wonders, a huge gallery full of relief friezes from the Sebasteion. Among the figures depicted are a heroically nude Emperor Claudius slaying Britannia (imagined as a species of Amazon) and, even more amazingly, Agrippina crowning her son Nero emperor, not long before he would have her beaten to death with sailors’ oars after his plan to drown her did not succeed.
After five days of such provincial and imperial splendor—several of the greatest cities of the Roman Empire, destroyed by earthquake, or the fires of war or, more insidiously, by the sedimentation of rivers or the sheer stultification of human ambition—a certain melancholy began to set in, among some members of the group, who might have remembered the lines from W. H. Auden’s poem “The Fall of Rome,” which read: “Caesar’s double bed is warm / As an unimportant clerk / Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK / On a pink official form.”
And yet this extraordinary tour was not yet over. Sunday morning, the group visited, first the Basilica of St. John in Selçuk and then the Agora of ancient Smyrna, now Izmir, the third-largest city in Turkey (population: about three million) after Istanbul and Ankara. On the waterfront in Izmir, the group encountered the only disappointing lunch of the entire journey. Karl tried something called a “Tulum Cheese and Walnut Village Noodle Procedure,” but service was clumsy and slow, and the food (dumplings with a yogurt sauce in a dressing of red oil) not impressive.
Corey had searched Istanbul high and low without success for the famous fortune-telling Turkish rabbits; in Konak (Clock Tower) Square in Izmir he was at last rewarded. A baby rabbit—too cute, it would seem, for such weighty prophetic responsibilities—gingerly seized and nibbled a brightly-colored bit of folded paper from a row of such tidbits put before it. On this bit of paper the fortune is written in Turkish. Okan kindly translated for the group (ten fortunes were purchased, at the reasonable rate of twenty Turkish lira), though Professor Brennan was reported to be waiting until later for a private and in-depth explanation of the fortune he received.
The last stop for the group was yet another holiday hotel megalith, this one called the KayaIzmir Thermal and Convention Center, featuring a thermal bath known to the Greeks and the Ottomans and a range of service options that make the fruit peels offered by the ubiquitous Dr. Jonathan Zizmor (advertised on the New York City subway system) look very tame indeed. But perhaps a little R and R was in order, after so much beauty and so many broken stones. Corey, now in his final year as Professor-in-Charge, had plotted a spectacular tour of antiquity; the round of applause he received from all on board the Pullman, as they rode to airport, was tumultuous and sincere.