Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A Bit On The Side

Hang on, you lot... Side is a place in Turkey! It's pronounced see-day and after our time at the Manavgat Waterfall, described in the previous entry, this is where we came to on the excursion from the Thomson Celebration which had docked in nearby Alanya on Turkey's Mediterranean coast.

Side has some wonderful Roman remains, including temples, a massive amphitheatre, a gateway and a few arches of an acqueduct. Above can be seen the scant upright remains of a Temple to Apollo, behind our merry bunch. The guide here is making up for the fact that there wasn't much to say at the waterfall and is now assaulting us with the most banal commentary...

A sample: "Behind us is the harbour, it was very important for trade..." Inspiring stuff... I have a foolproof guide for tour guides. They can say whatever they like but it should be in this order:

  1. tell tourists what they need to know - meeting times and places, where the loos are, directions to stuff they might want to see that you won't come to.
  2. Tell them when they can wander off on their own if they like
  3. tell them stuff they might want to know (that isn't just bloody obvious!)
  4. tell them the stuff that interests you personally (this comes last!)

All around us are massive columns from the temple. This place had a chequered history. Alexander the Great came here without any great opposition and left a small garrison. For a time it was under the control of his General, Ptolemy, who decided to proclaim himself King of Egypt in 305 BC and started a chain of kings called Ptolemy (and incidentally a chain of co-rulers called Cleopatra), one of whom we still remember far more than we do any of the Ptolemys. She probably knew this place too - we'll meet her again in the next entry at Alanya, just up the road where the ship is waiting for us.

Side was captured by the Seleucid Empire (it covered a lot of today's Arab states and as far east as north western India). They in turn were defeated by Rhodes, working together with Pergamum and Rome (who must have been pleased as this event saw the defeat of the fugitive Hannibal, he of the elephants across the Alps jaunt). In the first century BC the place was captured by pirates who set up their slave trading centre there. The Romans booted them out twice, the second time being by General Pompey but they quite liked the slave trade and kept it going. From the 4th century AD, Side was plagued by raids from the mountain people, Arab fleets, Christian zealots and also suffered several earthquakes. Small wonder that the population thought "bugger this..." and fled. It remained deserted but for a stubborn open-all-hours corner shop (clothes pegs, slaves and fridge magnets) until around the 1100s when people came to see if the raids had stopped and started to rebuild the city.

The Temple of Apollo has a fine mesh fence all round it apart from one aspect which has the view blocked by a construction hut and one corner where I stretched to my full height (I know... laughable...) and poked the lens through a gap in the fence.

There is a large amphitheatre which I wanted a look at. We asked directions and made our way up the busy shopping street and found ourselves back opposite the coach park. We walked up to the ticket booth all excited and found they only took Turkish Lire (we only had euros) or credit cards - and of course we had left that behind...

A bit deflated, we walked around the outside of the theatre anyway. Steel supports have been added under the Roman arches that support the massive public gallery. The theatre seated around 15,000 spectators and hosted all sorts of events including gladiatorial combat.

But then a wonderful thing happened. We came to the edge of the theatre, passed through the city gate and came to the site of a temple to Dionysus outside the theatre.

And having walked around the temple, by looking back, we get a really good view of the galleries of seating in the theatre. Miss Franny wouldn't let me go back to the ticket office to gloat...

In front of the seating is a wall, which would be the back of the stage or orchestra - this was an amphitheatre not a full arena, so a semi-circle of seating with a stage at the front. On the bit of grass in the centre of the temple site is a reconstruction of a fountain that stood before the main entrance of the temple.

A closer look at the fountain. Dionysus is the Greek version of the Roman Bacchus - the god of grapes, harvest, wine, etc... He'd do well in Blackpool...

Things got a bit too giddy at his last debauch and the temple ended up strewn about like skittles... On the other side of the temple to the amphitheatre were several old ruins, one with some mosaic flooring and a rather taller ruin of a 6th century hospital.

We walked back through the Vespasian Gate to the old city and realised that we were back at the coach half an hour early. We walked back to the top of the shopping street and bought a few bits and pieces and most importantly a cool drink each.

We bought them here. The owner was a very helpful chap whose mother (I presume) worked in the shop. I was taken with the miniature Turkish carpets on the stand outside the front door. A more practical souvenir than some of the real full size Turkish carpets that are very very nice but with price tags in direct proportion to niceness!

We bought cans to drink and sat on benches in a little square with the view above. Very pleasant indeed. Some familiar faces started to drift by us and we realised it was time to head back to the coach again.

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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Manavgat Waterfall, Turkey

Sunday 6 October. Thomson Celebration sails into Alanya on the southern coast of Turkey.

First impressions are very good! There's a massive wall climbing from a fortress all the way up the hillside, reminding us a a visit to Kotor in Montenegro and few years ago. And there's a line of what looks like old fashioned galleons lined up in the harbour. We'll have a closer look in a later entry. Because for now we have to get down and have breakfast before we jump on a coach for an excursion out for the morning.

We'll be visiting two places and start off at Manavgat Waterfall. This is apparently Turkey's most photographed waterfall. It is certainly my most photographed Turkish waterfall... Although it's not too high, it does spread out over the width of the river in a horseshoe shape. In fact its lack of height makes it disappear altogether when floodwaters run off down the river after heavy rain.

But there hasn't been any heavy rain so we can view it in all its glory. Along the edge of the river are terraces of decking set up as viewing platforms and some with tables for picnics or as part of a restaurant. All are deserted at this early hour and I flit from one to another finding different views. So let's enjoy a few photos...

After a while we move away from the waterfall and have a look at a few souvenir stalls. Miss Franny breathes a sigh of relief - they have fridge magnets! There are a couple of stalls selling pomegranates - seemingly to the exclusion of anything else.

Uh oh! We're being called! Time to get back on the bus for our second stop. A funny moment as our guide introduced the driver - whose name has totally by-passed me. I'll make one up... He said, "Our driver is Ahmet - the second best driver in the company!" This got everyone looking at each other in puzzlement.
"The second best? Well, who is the best driver?"
"Oh..." said the guide, "he had an accident yesterday...!"

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Sunday, 27 October 2013

Larnaca and the (Second) Tomb of Lazarus

Saturday 5 October 2013. I've skipped a day from the previous entry about Bethlehem. This is because the ship stayed in Ashdod for a second day. But so did we. We didn't venture off the ship at all.

Today however we have arrived in Cyprus. To Larnaca to be more precise. We haven't booked a tour but instead get tickets for the shuttle bus which drops us off at one end of the seafront and we stroll the length of the Promenade until we come to a wooden jetty.

This is a far simpler affair than you might expect to find at a British seaside town. The resort, at this time of day anyway, is a lot quieter than Blackpool... In fact we hardly saw anyone stirring, we had the Promenade pretty much to ourselves apart from a few other people who had also come off the ship.

Even the beach was deserted at this early hour - around 10:00am. Tourists staying in Larnaca were perhaps sleeping off the after effects of last night's binge?

A little further on from the jetty was a small fortress. Living near the coast was both good and bad in medieval and earlier times. Good because there were fish to be caught in the sea and bad because there were plenty of pirates looking for easy loot, whether that was goods or slaves.

Also by the jetty was a marble statue of the Venetian winged lion, looking very smug and pleased with itself. It had been a gift from Venice, just one of an incredible string of invading rulers since Biblical times (by legend, Larnaca was established by the great grandson of Noah) and Venice itself was chucked out by the Ottomans in 1571.

We left the seafront and saw a very grand church, which we made our way to. This church is another Biblical link - the second tomb of St Lazarus, the friend of Jesus who had been raised from the dead.

His first tomb was at Bethany on the Mount of Olives. He lived a further thirty years and was made Bishop here by St Peter. Another tradition is that he and his sisters were set adrift in a boat and ended up in Marseilles in France, which also claims a site as his tomb.

Yet another version is that after the remains of the saint were taken from Cyprus to Constantinople, they were taken by the Crusaders to Marseilles.

The taking of the saint's relics to Constantinople is a long accepted version. However in 1970 a fire caused much damage and during renovations human remains were found in a marble sarcophagus under the altar. Obviously not all the saint's remains had been removed.

The iconostasis - the framework for the row of icon paintings on either side of the altar - was carved between 1773 and 1782 and gold plated twenty years later. The church is rich in its icons and paintings, including one of St George on horseback, slaying the dragon. A large chandelier hangs over the main body of the church.

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Saturday, 26 October 2013

Bethlehem and a Battle

Thursday 3 October 2013. We've been in past entries to Jerusalem, the Garden of Gethsemane, Western or Wailing Wall, Stations of the Cross and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site of the Crucifixion. The coach picks us up near the Jaffa Gate and we set off through the border into Palestine Controlled Territory and to Bethlehem.

Manger Square in Bethlehem, looking towards the Church of the Nativity. It doesn't look like much does it really? Yet behind the people on the left of the group is the main entrance to the Church of the Nativity which stands over the site of the grotto where Jesus was born.

Here's the reason you could not see the doorway. It is known as the Door of Humility. You have to bow considerably to enter through it and there is room for only one person at a time. We waited in a line, thankful that our coach had arrived on its own instead of in a queue!

Having gone through this tiny doorway, you straighten up to find yourself in a large basilica with five aisles separated with Corinthian columns. There are large fragments of golden mosaics on the walls but in the most terrible condition. The Status Quo of 1853 described in the previous entry, Calvary - The Church of the Holy Sepulchre between the Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic Christians means that here again agreement cannot be reached on how to maintain the building. So they don't. The roof beams are rotting away merrily, it leaks water like a sieve causing lots of damage and creating a huge risk of electrical fire. Apparently fights break out every now and then between young trainee monks of the different factions. I can't comment without blaspheming, but I think the situation speaks for itself...

Our guide in Israel was brilliant. Our guide in Palestine is abysmal. He speaks so quietly he cannot be heard unless you are right next to him and he commits the common but ultimate sin of the tour guide - when in a place with lots to see, he keeps us rooted here in this one spot for twenty minutes and then tells us there isn't time to go down into the Grotto... It's a very old and very nice piece of mosaic flooring. But standing here in virtual silence because he can't speak over a whisper and then missing the most important sight in the place... sheesh...

When he took us further into the basilica I immediately went off on my own instead of trying to listen. This is the altar over the spot where Jesus was born. At the side a series of steps lead down to the grotto and in there two places are picked out with rich decoration: the spot where according to tradition He was born and the site of the manger in which Mary laid Him. There was a queue, but not a twenty minute one. When I looked around again he was still speaking but only three or four people were even pretending to listen.

Looking back down the basilica. Another group are standing around the trapdoor, looking at the mosaic which was the original flooring. The guide ushered us through a side door and out into some cloisters.

We were pretty much at the back of the crowd and the guide again spent a while whispering about something that we couldn't even see. For all I knew, one of the tour party could have fainted. All we knew was that the ones at the front were looking at the floor.

When they dispersed we saw that they had been looking down a stone staircase leading down under the floor of the cloisters. An iron grill kept us from exploring. I only found out when we got back and looked on t'Internet that this leads to an underground passage from the Grotto. We followed the rest of the tour party into another chamber just in time for the guide to wave everyone out again. We were swept off with everyone else and then left as a group wondering where the guide had gone, because he didn't emerge for several minutes. Very strange...

Back out into Manger Square and this time looking away from the Church of the Nativity. The guide attempted to count us and failed miserably. "Put your hands up and drop them when I've counted you," he said and then counted in silence and without making eye contact. When he had turned three circles and realised he had counted enough people for three coaches he blamed us for not putting our hands down...

From the coach, the hillsides just outside Bethlehem where the Angels appeared to the Shepherds. "Do you all know the song?" the guide asked enthusiastically (and thanks to the microphone, audibly), "Let's all sing it...!" He gave up after a while... We visited a souvenir shop and admired the really beautiful wood carvings, many of which inevitably were Nativity scenes, but by no means all. They ranged from pocket size to not-so-miniature shed. We made a few small purchases and then ran the gauntlet of street vendors (all bearing an "official tourist vendor" badge) as we made our way across the width of the pavement back to the coach.

"Three hats only ten dollars?" offered one, waving a baseball cap at me.
"I've only one head..." I answered wittily, getting onto the coach without disturbing my pocket.

The price immediately dropped for all other passengers. It was now two hats for five dollars - a reduction of 0.8 dollars per hat! I felt aggrieved for all of a second.

We said goodbye to our Palestine guide. "I've not been doing this for long," he said unnecessarily. We went through the border once again. It looks forbidding, but plenty of people were just walking through and it was obvious that on both sides there were people who live on one side but work or study on the other side. All walls come down eventually and this will be no different.

We drove for a while then the coach stopped and we followed our original guide along a path in the middle of the countryside. He stopped by a green stemmed bush and snapped off several short green twigs and handed them round.

It was licorice. Not as strongly tasting as the sweets you can buy in shops, but unmistakable and quite pleasant.

A plantation of some sort was to our right and our guide slipped through a tear in the cloth covering and brought back a red pepper. I'm not overly keen on peppers but there were enough people from the coach willing to nibble on a bit of filched pepper. Not sure what the farmer would have made of it, but after a while we heard a bit of giggling - male and female - coming from behind the cloth so maybe farmer had other things on his mind anyway... There's not a lot else to do in the middle of nowhere, after all...

The place we were standing at is the site of the somewhat short battle between David and Goliath. Although the exact spot isn't recorded, this is the only spot visible from the two hills were the opposing armies stood. Decisive Battle by Champion doesn't work unless both sides can clearly see that there is no cheating.

Whilst a slingshot sounds a puny weapon, think about it for a moment. The Romans documented their respect for this weapon which was used extensively by us Brits two thousand years ago. These slings would not be a few inches of string. They were swung six feet or so (requiring 12 feet of material) around the head and a fist sized lump of rock weighing around a pound would leave it flying at several tens of miles an hour. That connecting with your skull would make you distinctly dizzy or dead... Lead was often used as a "bullet" and the ancient Greeks used to put witty messages on them in the 4th century BC including "catch"....!

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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Calvary - The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Thursday 3 October 2013. In the previous entries I described our trip to Jerusalem as part of a tour from the cruise ship Thomson Celebration. The first entry about this tour covered the Mount of Olives and Garden of Gethsemane and the second covered our walk through the Stations of the Cross.

We have now arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which covers the sites of both the Crucificion and the tomb of Jesus. The church itself was built by Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor after excavating the site - the Emperor Hadrian in the second century AD had buried the site under earth and constructed a temple to Venus (some versions have it to Aphrodite) there.

In effect there are two connected churches here, one covering the site of the Crucifixion, excavated by Helena during which she reportedly discovered the cross of Jesus and the other covering the tomb of Jesus, the sepulchre itself. This was surrounded by a building called the Aedicule. It was damaged in riots and invasions, but remained a Christian building under the Muslim rule of the Persians. It was razed to the ground in 1009 by order of the caliph, provoking strong condemnation from Europe and, it is thought, partly providing the reasons for the Crusades.

It was rebuilt over the centuries, starting as a collection of open air chapels, roofed over in 1149. In 1555 the Aedicule was rebuilt and extended to create an antechamber.

Today the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is under the auspices of Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic Christians. In 1853 a status quo was agreed meaning that everything covered by the "common ground" should be left as it was at the time unless all three factions agreed. One effect is that a ladder under a window (see above photo) has been left there ever since.

On the right of the courtyard is Station Ten of the Cross, where Jesus was stripped of his clothes.

I don't like using flash inside churches if I can help it. I have a fairly steady hand, however in this case it was just a bit too dark. The flash would not have reached to the back anyway. This is Station Eleven. The spot where Jesus was nailed to the Cross. You can see that the place was filled with people - always a problem for me at only five feet and four inches... A mosaic at the rear shows Jesus being nailed to the Cross.

The site of the Crucifixion, Station Twelve. The altar is built over the spot and you see someone kneeling underneath to kiss the spot where the Cross stood. This has a silver star around it on the ground. To either side glass panels allow a view of Golgotha's rock with the split said to have been caused by an earthquake at the moment of the Saviour's death.

To the side of this spot is a large golden mosaic showing three scenes of the Crucifixion and its aftermath. We see two of the scenes here of Jesus' body being laid on a cloth over a slab of stone where his body was washed and anointed prior to burial and then to the left we see his body carried into the rock cut tomb.

In front of the mosaic is the actual site of the Anointing Stone. The stone itself is a replacement of 1810, but the site is said to have healing powers and I took this photo in a gap of just a second or two before it was again surrounded by pilgrims, who press cloths to the stone in the hope that healing powers will impregnate them. This is the 13th Station of the Cross.

The Aedicule under the larger of the two domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This chapel-like building surrounds what was once the rock hewn tomb that Jesus' body was laid to rest in. The original ground was thought to rise at a steep angle from right to left. The antechamber that was created in 1555 covered the place where the Angel appeared to Mary and also the "Angel Stone", the stone that was thought to have blocked the entrance.

The Aedicule is in dire need of restoration. A process that is apparently held up by the Status Quo as agreement on a plan has not yet been reached. A skeleton of metal holds together the peeling red marble from around its walls. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is huge, packed with people and you can't hope to see everything. We had no time to join the queue to go inside the Aedicule and I did not know about the the chapels all around it,

To the rear of the Rotunda containing the Aedicule is a further rock-cut chamber thought to be the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. There are also chapels dedicated to the meetings of Jesus with Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary following the Resurrection amongst many others.

I tend to do things in reverse. I go somewhere and then read up on it afterwards... Perhaps I should do it the other way around.

It is still just about morning. We leave the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, pressing against the incoming tide of newly arrived eager pilgrims and sightseers in order to get out. We walk a short distance and leave the city by way of the Jaffa Gate. We walked along the hillside and then down some steps, admiring the windmill in the distance and then boarded our coach, which will now take us into Palestine controlled territory, to Bethlehem. But first a spot of lunch methinks!

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