Istanbul's Blue Mosque.

TURKEY – MORE THAN AN ANZAC PILGRIMAGE

While unprecedented numbers of Australians will head to Gallipoli (Gelibolu) and Anzac Cove, near Canakkale, to make a pilgrimage to the 1915 landing place and the poignant cemeteries to mark the centenary of ANZAC, many may, in their haste, miss other unforgettable attractions in Turkey, some not far from the Dardanelles.

JOY DODDS reports.


The Dardanelles and the Gallipoli Peninsula are not only where the Australian legend was forged – the region has always been somewhat of a cultural bridge between Europe and the Middle East, centred on the Bosphorus . Accordingly, no visit to Gallipoli is really complete without an exploration of the wider area of Turkey.

The country abounds in interest, from extensive ancient ruins and historic underground cities, to exquisite scenery including the magnificent Aegean coastline, and retail meccas, notably the throbbing bazaars of Istanbul.

Not far from the Gallipoli Peninsula are the ruins of ancient Troy at Truva. Legend has it that the Spartans attacked the Trojans using a giant wooden horse filled with soldiers, but the ruins, in fact, go back even further to the Bronze Age. The panoramic vistas of the Dardanelles are breathtaking. The surrounding countryside of the North Aegean Coast is dotted with olive groves and fishing villages like Ayvalik, from where ferries to Greek island Lesbos may be caught. There’s an acropolis with amphitheatre and temples at Bergama (ancient Pergamum). About 100km away to the south lies Izmir, formerly named Smyrna, birthplace of Homer in 800 B.C. and near Selcuk is Efes (formerly Ephesus), a beautifully-preserved classical Roman city which has among the most famous remaining monuments and buildings from the Ancient World. Pamukkale, 200km east of Selcuk, is famous for its travertine terraces and hot springs dating back to Roman times and nearby are the ruins of Hierapolis, a former Roman spa town, on the way to Cappadocia.

Not far from the Dardanelles, by land or sea, is Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, an eclectic mix of Greek, Roman, Ottoman and Western history because of its nodal position at the junction of East and West. Istanbul dates back to the 9th Century B.C. and today offers a throbbing excitement, from its magnificent Aya Sofya to the Grand Bazaar. Its greatest influence resulted from the Ottoman invasion in 1453, when Mehmet the Conqueror ended its Byzantine era , marching to Aya Sofya, a giant domed church named Sancta Sophia, the largest in the [then] Christian world, and converting it to a mosque. Istanbul became the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and great rulers such as Suleyman the Magnificent, built impressive buildings during the 16th Century.

The Bosphorus Strait (Bogazici), between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, separates Asia from Europe. The city spreads from its western shore and the Golden Horn (Halic) into Old Istanbul (Eski Istanbul and Stamboul). Travellers arrive by air through Yesilkoy Ataturk, the international airport, or by train at Sirkeci station (from Europe) or Haydarpasa station (from the east). Our hotel, Sumahan on the Water, was brilliantly located on the Asian shoreline, at Cengelkoy, near Uskudar, with a motorboat service to Old Istanbul on the opposite [western] bank of the Bosphoros. A converted former mill, the hotel was spacious, luxurious and located in an up-market residential sector of Istanbul, throbbing with restaurants and coffee shops, well away from the touristy hype on the alternate bank. The hotel is currently Conde Nast's Waterfront Hotel of the Year, a much-deserved accolade.

Other Istanbul attractions include the Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmet Camii, with its luminous Iznik-tiled interior, in front of which lie the former chariot grounds, known as the Hippodrome, from 203A.D., where ancient obelisks and columns still stand. The nearby museum (Turk ve Islam Eserleri Muzesi) in a former palace unfolds the history of Turkey. Explore the Sunken Palace Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici) built by Emperor Constantine for water use in summer and in times of siege. The city walls, particularly between the Topkapi Gate and Belgrat Kapisi, are fascinating, as are the water traffic and numerous fishermen on Karakoy Harbour - another must-see!

Perhaps the best-known historic attraction in Istanbul is the Topkapi Palace Museum, built for sultans after 1453. It contains the famous Harem, entered by a gate near the Tower of Justice, with its Black Eunuch’s/Concubines’/Consorts’ Courtyards; the Emperor’s Chamber, decorated in tiles from Delft, and Dining Room of Ahmet III. Other Istanbul highlights to explore include the three Archaeological Museums, and the Grand Bazaar or Covered Market (Kapah Carsi) covering nearly 70 streets and 4500 shops – the ultimate retail therapy experience but beware of pickpockets! Ditto at the Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi) near the mosque in Eminonu, where the shop of the inventor of delicious turkish delight is located. The Spice Bazaar near Galata Bridge offers panoramic vistas of the Golden Horn, maritime Istanbul and, yes, more fishermen.

And what of the rest of Turkey? The South Aegean Coast features Bodrum, a beautiful town and ferry port not far from Kos and Rodos (Rhodes) with breathtaking scenery, best seen from a wooden yacht, or "gulet". Known as Halicarnassus in the ancient world, it was the birthplace of Herodotus, known as the Father of History, and headquarters of the Knights of St John, who built the Castle of St Peter in the 13th century Crusades era, today sitting grandly above the harbour. In fact, the entire coastline, known as the Turquoise Coast, is breathtaking, from Marmaris to Fethiye to Antalya - the area formerly known as Lycia - dotted with bays, coves and ruins. A popular travel activity is to walk the 500-km Lycian Way through coast and mountain ranges, including the summit of Mt Olimpos (Tahtali) and the Chimaera, a natural “eternal flame”, said to be the breath of the subterranean monster killed by Bellerophon astride his winged horse Pegasus. Inspiring legends, inspiring place!

To the east and inland are the dramatic landscape and rock formations of Cappadocia, with its underground cities and “fairy chimneys” where early Christians huddled and worshipped in caves, living underground to escape persecution. Goreme, a village perched on tuff and honeycomb escarpments, has a rock-hewn monastery and other cave churches as well as murals dating back to the 8th century. The underground cities of Derinkuyu, Kaymakh and Mazikoy are fascinating, with labyrinths over multi-levels.

While Ankara is more the administrative hub and capital, planned from 1923 à la Canberra, its grand mausoleum of Ataturk, Anitkabir, honours the visionary who forged a modern republic from the Ottoman Empire. - and uttered those memorable words about our fallen Australian soldiers lying now in the loving arms of Turkey. The Museum of Anatolian Civilisations and the Citadel (Hisar) should also not be missed. Further east, in Kurdish territory, towards the Iranian border, lies Mt Ararat, near Dogubayazit, supposedly where Noah’s Ark landed in Biblical times. This region can be risky and travellers should be vigilant at all times.

And one last tip – no visit to Turkey would be complete without a physically-pounding work-out session at a hamam, or Turkish bath, amid the steam, heat and smells. A trifle painful, yes, but truly unforgettable!


HOW TO GET THERE AND AROUND:

From experience, trains are a great method of traversing this large country, offering comfort and reliability. Night trains are well-appointed and a great alternative.

TCDD, the state railway system, covers the entire country, and highly recommended routes include the Istanbul-Pamukkale and Istanbul-Ankara route, as well as routes to Eskisehir, Denizli, Kars, Edirne, Adana and others.

The Eurail Global Pass and Eurail Select Pass are both valid on al TCDD routes.

The connections between Turkey and Europe fall within the Eurail system although the building of a new high-speed line in Bulgaria has temporarily halted train travel, and buses operate. From Istanbul there is an international connection to Iran (Trans-Ekspresi).



For more information: Call International Rail Australasia on 1300 EURAIL (387 245)

WHERE TO STAY IN ISTANBUL:

Hotel Sumahan on the Water, Kuleli Caddesi 43, Cengelkoy

info@sumahan.com

Voted
2014 Best Waterside Hotel by Conde Nast Johansens

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