If ever I were in charge of a large civilization and wanted to expand my territory, Turkey would be at the top of my list of potential conquests. It is uniquely located, the gateway to Asia or Europe depending on which way you are heading; the landscapes are scenic enough to keep you interested as you march through, and the fresh produce is delectable. Of course, I would not be the first person to lead my army across the Anatolian plains. Since the dawn of recorded history, this region has been traversed, conquered, and lost. if the inhabitants don’t like their current occupier, they need only wait a couple hundred years and a new one will pass through. All these conquerors and civilizations make leading one’s family across Turkey much more interesting, as it truly is the crossroads of history.
I have long looked forward to visiting Turkey. Two of its wonders have been at the top of my list of places to visit for years. The first is the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. This building has sparked my imagination since I took an art history class during my first semester of college. In a booming Ivy league baritone, our ancient professor, perhaps the world’s preeminent scholar on architecture, gushed effusively about this building. He spent an entire lecture enlightening us on the wonders of this marvelous sacred space and the profound influence it would have on the great cathedrals to be constructed 700-1000 years later. The second is Ephesus. This well-preserved Roman city was once a hotbed of activity for the early Christian church. Both Paul and John spent significant time here and the inhabitants of this city were the recipients of a letter from Paul later to become the book of Ephesians in the New Testament. Little did I know that these sites would be only the beginning of the history we would brush up against in our short time in Turkey.
Initially we had hoped to be in Ephesus for Easter, but we delayed our visit so we could have Grandma and Grandpa with us. This was a wise decision, since it turned out to be a highlight for all of us. The grandparents barely had time to recover from their 4 flights and 36 hours of traveling before we had them exploring Ephesus. We couldn’t have picked a better day. Spring has just sprung in coastal Turkey. The flowers are blooming and the heat we had heard others complain about is still a good month or two away. We took this lovely weather as a reason to slowly peruse the ruins. The three younger kids led the way as they climbed and jumped from what Asher called “launchers.”
We explored whole sections of the ruins that were not well traversed. The grass growing on the paths was our first sign that possibly we had stepped out of bounds. The chains and the “Do Not Enter” sign we approached from the wrong side confirmed our suspicions of trespassing. But much like a skier at the bottom of an out of area bowl, we shrugged and considered ourselves double lucky, once to have experienced it and second not to have been caught. After foraying out of bounds, we sat down in front of the library facade and had a nice lunch of feta, figs, dried apricots, walnuts and olives.
We sat for a long time and talked about the history of the site and enjoyed watching the various nationalities of tourists who passed through. After about an hour we got moving again and made it about 100 yards down the path to the large auditorium. Again we sat and watched as different groups found their own ways to enjoy the ruins. Some passed through quickly, herded through their by their tour guides, and bobbed their heads trying to quickly absorb all the theater had to offer. Others ran the stairs and celebrated with Rocky-like triumph as they reached the top. The most interesting however was the Turkish dignitary. Moments before a small group of “important” people entered the auditorium, a group of muscular men wearing dark suits and earpieces ran onto the stage and assumed watchful positions at the different exits.The important men stood around for a few moments and then made moves to the exit. The secret service men sprang into action and ran to better advance positions. All the while we sat and chatted, speculating as to the identity of those being guarded.
As we walked out of the ruins, we talked about how different life was 2000 years ago and how much things have changed. We stared down the street that headed to the old harbor. The water was gone. The silting process has now moved the ocean a good mile off into the distance, but the colonnade was still there with its rock path and large pillars on either side. Blocking our way was a big “Gilmiriz” (Turkish for Do Not Enter) sign. Another trespassing adventure crossed our minds, but with more Roman, Greek, Trojan, and even an Australian site to come, we didn’t press our luck and instead headed down the prescribed exit path.With all the Turkish police and secret service people running around, it was definitely a good idea to march along with the throngs of Korean and Japanese tourists.