This is my entry for The Weekend Assignment #335 : History.
We don't all live near the site of a battlefield or other world-famous event, but any place has its own history: political, cultural, even natural history. How aware are you of the past of the town, city or state where you live now? Share with us a story of local history.
Turkey is full of history, of course. It's where you go if you want to visit Athens or Rome. But it's old, terribly old. And, to me, at least, it makes the artefacts of other centuries pale dreadfully. I cannot walk past an ottoman palace without worrying it's going to faint on me. And what's modern is mostly drab. Here, anyway.
Old is everywhere. If you visit the citadel in Ulus, you find that the walls are made out of leftover Roman ruins. There's a fountain somewhere with an upside down Roman dignitary. It's all rather strange.
Then, of course, there's a lot of mosques, and a lot of wooden houses, with the ottoman selamlik, where the men sat, and the harem, where the women lived (Turkish men seemed to do a lot of sitting. To some extent, that's still true).
But none of that is part of a history I understand. I wasn't brought up with it, and, even if I read about it, it's not speaking to me. Part of the problem is that it's been muted and is not saying much to anyone. The Ottoman past is a bit too close still as far as Republican, secular Turks are concerned. It's not so much something to wonder about as it is something to hush up. Europeans like to visit the torture chambers of old, see what was done to people when they were dragged to this or that historical tower. But you need distance for these things to become history, and to become appealing. Distance and familiarity together, and I have neither.
Of course, I love the ancient ruins. Who wouldn't? And I do spend a big part of my professional life talking and writing about people who lived in those ruins, so I have more cause than some to find them fascinating.
Some of it is disappointing because there's so little left, some of it is done up too heavily and looks like a movie set, and some of it is simply charming. But it's all over the place. Even Ankara has its sites. There's a big column and some Roman Baths.The column used to be topped by a giant nest inhabited by all sorts of birds. They've been asked to move, much like the Roms in France are being asked to move. There's also the remaining wall of a temple in which Augustus had his famous speech the Index Rerum Gestatum inscribed in both Greek and Latin. When a friend took me to see it, we had to coax the guard into letting us in, promising we wouldn't take pictures. Archaeologists are a jealous lot! And there's the bits and bobs stuck in the citadel's walls, of course.
Ankara is not a famous city historically speaking. It was made the Capital of Turkey by Ataturk, partly because it wasn't Istanbul, and partly because it was a quiet little town in the middle of nowhere (aka Central Anatolia). But there are references to it nonetheless. There's Paul's letters to the Galatians (yep, that's us) written when he was down the road in Tarsus, complaining about the Council of Jerusalem, I believe. And there's a scene in Greenmantle, where they ride to the old city of Angora, to find that it's occupied mostly by goats. That's us again, minus the goats.
But if you want to see somewhere truly marvellous you should go down south and see the Temple of Artemis in Efesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the world.
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