Travel feature: Wandering through Turkey
May 5, 2013
Editor’s note: This is the eighth story in a series of installments from photographer Dennis Jones, who is traveling in the eastern Mediterranean.
Being a photographer, what I love most about traveling is wandering the old neighborhoods and back alleys of some exotic locale. Turkey offers this in spades with the added benefit of safety. I have not felt unsafe for a minute.
Unfortunately for photography, the government is pushing urban renewal. The slums are fast disappearing. Developers are given government land in exchange for building modern apartments that are given to those whose houses are then bulldozed.
Yes, I said given. The developers turn their profit on the additional condos that can be sold. This enlightened approach is transforming Turkish cities and the lives of the poor.
The coastal Aegean city of Kusadasi is an example. Kusadasi is the bedroom for tours visiting the ancient and cosmopolitan, biblical city of Ephesus. Four- and five-star hotels dominate its headlands and coves. The azure waters of the Aegean washes lazily at its rocky foundations.
The city’s pedestrian, waterfront plaza is evidence of the urban transformation. New sculptures, restaurants and playgrounds follow the sweep of the city’s bay, which terminates in a slum encrusted hill at its south end.
An enlightened attitude
Wandering the steep lanes and narrow alleys of this poor neighborhood, I find old, Ottoman houses in various states of decay. Children play hopscotch in the cobblestone lanes while a man on his balcony proudly displays his prize fighting rooster. Observing this is an elderly grandmother safeguarding the neighborhood from her rooftop perch.
Turks are invariably friendly and eager to help. Several stop to talk as I wander, some offering me cookies and fruit juice.
The tree-filled park crowning the hill provides a panoramic view. Urban renewal is evident in the new, multi-colored apartment buildings stacked upon the surrounding hills.
Rooftop, solar hot water installations are ubiquitous. With Turkey’s lack of petroleum resources, it makes sense to use the abundant sunshine.
Turkey’s enlightened attitude influences not just urban renewal and energy use, but it extends into infrastructure, education, social security and health care.
The country is investing in its future with new roads, bridges and communications access. Education is mandatory and free. Win entrance to college, and the government picks up the tab. Everyone has access to free, quality health care, and government retirement benefits are generous.
This hasn’t always been the norm. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1922 brought frequent upheavals during the following decades. Since the Turks embraced democracy and modernization, there has been a steady rise in prosperity and stability.
A lush oasis
Moving east into Western Anatolia, the fertile Menderes River Valley reminds me of California’s enormous central valley in miniature; a long, broad, agricultural valley bordered on one side by hills and low mountains and on the other by magnificent, snow-covered peaks.
After several hours traversing the valley, a white scar becomes evident along a bench on the northern mountains. This is the national park of Pamukkale, or Cotton Castle, one of Turkey’s major tourist destinations.
Drawing closer, the enormous size of the majestic, travertine cliffs becomes apparent. Think Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone on a truly mammoth scale. The brilliant, white formation is a mile and a half long and more than 500 feet high. People have bathed in its terraced pools for thousands of years.
The ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis sits on a broad bench of ancient travertine behind the cliffs. Green hills sprinkled with crimson poppies rise behind the ruins. Hierapolis must have been a magnificent city in a spectacular setting. People from around the Roman world came to take the cure and many, to die. A vast Necropolis of tombs and sarcophagi lies west of the reconstructed ruins.
The modern spa and hot springs allow visitors to partake of the ancient waters amid a lush oasis. Columns and pedestals of the long dead civilization provide resting places for those enjoying the healing waters.
The more I explore Turkey, the more impressive it becomes. Coming from a country with a historical perspective of only a few hundred years, it is difficult to imagine the viewpoint of a Turk.
America has known only two civilizations in 1,000 years of history. The Anatolian Peninsula has known 623 years of Ottoman civilization preceded by the rise and fall of numerous civilizations during some 8,000 years, back to the very dawn of history. This must influence their outlook.
Dennis Jones is a local professional photographer and writer. He and Yolanda Marshall are traveling in the eastern Mediterranean. To see more photos, visit his blog at http://www.dreamcatcherimaging.com.