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Friday, July 16, 2010

TURKEY: Traveling in the Footsteps of Alexander the Great


Going back my first trip to Kusadasi, Turkey in the early 1980's when I lived in Greece, the port was very small then, mainly a stop-off for cruise ships allowing their passengers to go up the road a few miles to the archaeological site at Ephesus. A friend who was traveling with me at the time had been there before that and said it was even smaller then, just a small tobacco growing village on the sea.

I returned to Kusadasi a number of times and each visit the town had grown, until the last time I visited there in early '90's it had become a bustling, crowded tourist resort town with five-star hotels built along the sea shore. I couldn't even find my favorite kebab shop. I did find the lovely old Stella Hotel up on the hill overlooking the port where I like to stay.

I'm hoping to pass through Kusadasi again on this trip, and wonder what it will be like? I'm meeting a travel writer friend on the island of Naxos and we will then hop over to Samos, and hopefully I be able to spend a few days in Turkey seeing a few old sites and new.
The Theatre, EPHESUS
I've made three previous visits to the ancient city of Ephesus, and I don't think I'll ever tire of walking those time-worn streets. And no doubt more excavations have been made. The theatre there is a particular wonder and from my knowledge of Biblical stories, this is where Paul preached to the Ephesians who weren't too happy with him as they worshipped Aphrodite.

I'm anxious to have another look at Ephesus, because I have been writing several scenes in my novel "Shadow of the Lion" that are set in the city. In Hellenistic times it was ruled by King Lysimachus who was one of Alexander's companion. He was given the city to rule during the battle for control of Alexander's empire by the Diodochi (Alexander's generals). The Hellenistic city wall was built during his time and that's one site I'd like to see. Of course Ephesus is full of magnificent ruins including the fabulous library.

My friend lives in an ancient town called Didyma (Didim in Turkish) located between Izmir and Ephesus. This is one of the little treasure I've not visited before so I am looking forward to exploring here with my friend as a guide. This was a sacred place from the 8th century BC and a cult center for the city of Miletus which is nearby. There's a ruined Temple of Apollo here. There is also a temple to Artemis. These temples had been destroyed by the Persians in 494 BC but were rebuilt on Alexander the Great's orders. Didyma is "The Gateway to the Land of Oracles". Now, that sound intriguing enough to merit a visit!


The nearby ancient site of Miletus is one of those places I've been trying to get to for years. The first time I went to Turkey in 1975, my Turkish boyfriend wanted to take me there but due to circumstances we were not able to go. So if I get to Miletus this trip I will be definitely thinking of Hakki and how he had planned to take me there, knowing my interest in Alexander.

In ancient times the city was located at the coast at the mouth of the River Meander. It had four harbours and was a major port for commerce in ancient times. It was one of the 12 most important cities in Ionia and was mentioned in Homer's Iliad. Miletus was destroyed by the Persians in their invasion of 499 BC and never regained it's strength or status. Alexander the Great seized it after a great battle in 334 BC and this ushered in a new time of prosperity and trade. After Alexander's death, his general Lysimachus took control of Miletus and made generous donations to the city.

Today, Miletus four harbours have silted up and it's hard to imagine what it had been like so long ago in the past. The ruins are now located on a broad plan 5 km inland. But there are still a good many things to see there and I look forward to this first visit to another place in Alexander's footsteps.

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