Greece and Turkey - February 2000

Bart and the kids fended for themselves for 10 days while my friend Deborah Arant and I took a whirlwind tour of the eastern Mediterrenean. We spent two days in Athens, a day on Crete, a day on Rhodes, a day on the Turkish coast at Kusadasi, a day on the boat in the Dardanelles, and two days in Istanbul. It took a full day to get there and a full day to get back. Here are a few pictures I took as we tromped over historical sights and haggled over rugs.


plaka chapel

In the heart of Athens, at the upper edge of the Plaka (the old market district) a Byzantine chapel finds itself next to a busy intersection with an office building planted on top of it (picture at left). I wonder what it looked out on when it was built.


        We did our first rug shopping in the Plaka.



We paid a visit to the Parthenon and looked down from the Acropolis at the sprawl of modern Athens. It was mid-week, off-season and threatening rain, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves In front of the Parthenon, my cousin Do Lee is on the left and Deborah is the one in the hat. Do lives on Mykonos and joined us for a day of sightseeing in Athens.

The picture on the right is the view from the Acropolis of the temple of Hephaistos, the most intact temple of its kind. It stands in the Greek Agora the original market place. Just to the right of it is the lower edge of the Plaka.

Medieval Crusader fortifications guard the harbor in Heraklion, but the real treasure is the Minoan palace at Knossos, just a few miles inland. We took the bus there and were two of only a handful of visitors, trying to imagine it in its heyday 3500 years ago. After wandering the traces of the elaborate network of hallways and seeing the dozens and dozens of bull figurines and bones at the museum, it's easy to see how the legend of the minotaur in the labyrinth got started.  This is me on the right, in front of a colorful fresco of a charging bull.  


We were told this is the only intact and inhabited medieval city left in Europe. Six thousand people still live within the old city walls. As we walked through the narrow, cart-width streets, we saw people walking their kids to school, working in their gardens and opening up their tiny shops for the day. A modern city carries on just outside the old battlements.

The Crusaders came through about 700 years ago and built their fortified palace (picture at right) on top of what is now believed to be the site of the pagan temple of Helios. I felt like a pawn on a chessboard next to the towers which flank the palace entrance. 



Istanbul was a sleepy fishing village called Byzantium until Constantine moved the throne of the Roman Empire there in 330 A.D. and declared Christianity to be the state religion.  Since then it has seen revivals of Paganism, been attacked by Persians, Arabs, and Bulgars and been sacked by underpaid crusaders before falling to the Turks in 1453. The Aya Sofia cathedral/mosque  (left) reflects this hodgpodge of history. Two columns from a Temple of Aphrodite were used in its construction in 532 A.D. A millennium later, the Turks added minarets and plastered over the figurative Byzantine mosaics to conform to Islamic law. When Turkey became a republic in the 1920's, Aya Sofia became a museum, a monument in stone and brick to Istanbul's tumultuous history.

The Grand Bazaar, on the other hand, brings that history to life. In its teeming, vaulted corridors, people live and laugh and  bargain as they have in this hub of civilization for hundreds of years. It is impossible to be both western and inconspicuous.  We stood out like neon signs and learned quickly not to enter into any negotiations we didn't intend to finish. To ask a price is to invite bargaining.

When you intend to buy something, the bargaining is half the fun. Taking home a treasure or a bargain is the other half. If you look serious about a rug, for instance, tea is summoned from a street vendor who brings the distinctive tulip shaped glasses full of hot tea to the shop on a steel tray suspended on curved brass rods from a brass ring. Then rugs are laid out and commented upon until the floor of the tiny shop is mounded with them. A favorite is selected and discussed; the more able you are to tear yourself away from your chosen rug, the lower the price goes. When all objections have been met, the deal is done. Your rug is rolled into an impossibly small (but heavy) bundle and you are given a cheap, black soft suitcase to carry it in. This black bag is a sign to other rug vendors to try extra hard to lure you in to their shops. We walked out of the bazaar on the last day to cries of  "Now, it is my turn," "Lady, let ME take your money," and "Don't walk away. You break my heart."