Sunday Photo Dump: People Photos and Bursa

Anatolian Skies

Anatolian Skies

Drove to Divriği today. About 400 kilometers round trip. Rented a car. Splendid. The day was as close to perfect as could be asked. I took some rural photos for Don, and also I stopped at a place where they breed those Anatolian Shepherd Dogs everyone is raving about. Enjoy the photos.

Blue Skies and Seljuk Tiles

Photo Dump: Seljuk Malatya

Photo Dump: Lake Van and Diyarbakir

Hasan Padişah Kümbeti, Ahlat Van GölüThe photos for Diyarbakir and the Tigris Valley begin here.

The photos from Lake Van and Ahlat begin here.

The photos from the Ulu Cami, an 11th century Damascene mosque in Diyarbakir begin here.

The scenery from Lake Van is fantastic. There are no other words.

I’ll let the photos do the talking.

As for my favorites, this one of the Tigris Valley from the old Diyarbakir Walls is one.

And this one of Persian heraldry on the Grand Mosque of Diyarbakir is cool.

I don’t know what it is that I find so interesting about Kufic inscriptions, but here’s one I like.

More soon.

Wannabe Wheat Harvester

Şanlıurfa Street Scene“I’ll take you to harvest some wheat today if you like,” said Huseyn this morning.

“Why would I want to do that?” I asked him, shrugging my shoulders and throwing my arms up in the air.

He clicked his teeth–er, gums and said, “you like wheat don’t you?” He looked around at his pals sitting at the table, summing up his audience, retold yesterday’s story in short bursts of something that sounded like Turkish and Arabic mixed.

“Yeah, to look at!” I said.

“My friend’s wife needs help clearing a field today,” he said pointing at his portly friend with a lavender turban on his head.

He dangled his keys.

“Why don’t you and he go,” I said, pointing at them both. “That’s mans work, his wife shouldn’t do it.”

“Oh-ho! She doesn’t work. She tells us what to do,” he smiled. “She’s a work-bashi, besides you’re a young man, I’m old. We’re old.” And they were both decrepit, if charming old timers. I fear meeting the wife.

“Sorry,” I grinned back at them both, “I’ve work to do today already.” I held up my camera.

“Hard work that must be,” Huseyn said.

I smiled, feigned an insulted look and said, “I’m lazy, Huseyn, and proud of it.”

They both burst out into laughter, followed by coughs and wheezes.

“You Americans are strange people,” he said.

“You don’t know the half of it!”

Driving With Huseyn

Chay! Chay! Chay!It was a wild place. We drove for about forty minutes out of Sanliurfa to the northeast of town. We passed through a narrow gap in the hills and drove up the cleft of a valley. We crossed a tributary of the Euphrates along the way and the water was just indecent. It looked liked water in a pool back home it was so clear and blue.

Then we passed through a village and there were these children. I’m writing this on the fly and haven’t put much thought into it okay, but they all had this wild, windswept look about them. Little girls’ hair frilling about out of their head scarves, little boys with wind-blown afros. And the wind did blow! Out of the east at about 20-25mph. They were all dark skinned little kids with impossibly blue eyes. They looked feral, unkempt, and most of them were herding goats or sheep and they were all beautiful. If they were chocolate I would have taken them all home for my little sister. My she loves chocolate.

Finally we started up into the hills. My driver was probably 70 years old, if a day younger, and he drove like a madman, all coughs and wheezes! “Allah khorosun,” indeed.

So, we’re switching back and forth along a beat up old dirt road and I’m thinking, “where the fuck are we going? And can we please NOT get there!”

It was gorgeous. You know there is a cliché about wheat fields waving in the wind and all that–and damned it I wasn’t living in the cliché. (And I’m too fucking lazy right now to come up with some metaphor, or analogy or simile so deal with it.)

I asked Huseyn the driver to stop the car–he speaks Russian, Turkish and Kurdish, so I spoke Russian too–and just laid down in one of the wheat fields looking up at the sky. That’s when I took this photo.

Huseyn thought I was nuts. Smiling at me with hardly five teeth in his mouth, a cigarette dangling from his lips.

“Are you crazy, just laying down in the field like that?” He asked when I got back into the car.

I smirked at him and said, “konechno,” in Russian, which basically, in the context of our conversation means, “yeah, I’m nuts.”

“You’re the first American I’ve ever met,” he said. “Are they all like you?”

“Hell no. THEY’RE WORSE!” I shouted over the din of the wind and the engine.

He smiles, the car almost swerves into a ditch (and I was wearing no seat belt–walking on the wild side this one!)

“That fat-tailed lamb missed us by three inches!” said Huseyn.

“He was lucky,” the old stinker winked at me.

“He should not be in road,” he roared and gunned the old Fiat up the hill.

So we drove on. We finally arrived at the summit. It wasn’t but about 800 meters above sea level but what a view! I tried hard to imagine what the place looked like 11,500 years ago, all gazelles running in fields of wild wheat, apricot groves, creeks and rivers running hither, tither and yon. Maybe a lion or two lurking in the valley below, leopards in olive trees eating their daily kill. And then I imagined this troupe of hunter-gatherers hiking up to the hill, all scraggly looking, wearing animal skins with that same wild wind swept look about them the kids in the valley had, all carrying offerings to unnamed spirits.

I have seen ancient landscapes before, but none so vivid, as if I carried a genetic marker for this scene in my own DNA.

Göbekli Tepe Photo Dump

Göbekli TepeFor those of you who prefer the photos, you’ll be happy today. I’ve uploaded about fifty or so. I visited two sites today: Harran (the ancient Carrhae) and Göbekli Tepe, the oldest temple complex in the world. Göbekli Tepe is 11,500 years old. Yes, that puts it before the agricultural revolution and the simple fact of its existence raises serious question about our understanding of the transition from hunter gatherers to sedentary farmers. As the primary excavator of the site puts it: “First came the temple, then the city.” This literally turns our understanding of events here in the Fertile Crescent on their head. In the past everyone has assumed that the city came first and then the temple. (Here is an excellent background article from the Smithsonian Magazine about the site.) But this site puts the lie to that notion. It’s also quite possible that the agricultural revolution began right here. In this exact spot. It would not be an imprudent assumption to make.

Photos can be found here.

A few words on the site location are in order. The landscape surrounding Göbekli Tepe is quite fertile. (The main site sits atop a hill overlooking an amazing pastoral scene.) The rolling hills here are very reminiscent of Khorasan in Eastern Iran, although it is greener here by a few shades. Actually, the resemblance to the Turcoman Steppes is quite profound. (Compare and contrast with today’s photo.) There is no doubt that the human footprint has altered the place beyond anything imaginable 11,000 years ago. I tried my best to think about what it looked like, based on the flora and fauna native to the area. There must have been amazing fields of wild wheat everywhere. Gazelles grazing in the landscape. A wealth of fruit bearing trees. And multiple streams and rivers coursing about everywhere. But my imagination, I am in no doubt, probably fails me miserably. There are lots of landscape photos in the gallery to gain some perspective. Sometimes there just aren’t any words.

On a different topic: I failed to get into Syria therefore I’m going to head to Mosul and Erbil tomorrow. So, it should go without saying that I’ll not have internet access for several days. I will do my level best to not get blowed up.


The Battlefield Of Carrhae“They can’t all be carrying arrows, can they?” So go the apocryphal words of Roman general and triumvir Marcus Licinius Crassus in 53BC at the Battle of Carrhae as he pointed at the large camel train with the Parthian army (Frank Holt, my Roman Republic history professor at the University of Houston told me this story back in 1991.) Crassus’ son had just died fighting a detachment of Parthians a few miles south of Carrhae, the modern Harran. Crassus ordered them to form a large square, hold their shields aloft, better to guard against the Parthian arrows. They were surrounded.

Parthian cavalry ran circles around the Romans all day long. Sometimes the Romans would sally forth to attack the Parthians only to have them retreat. And then the Parthians would return: arrows falling, falling, falling, all day long. The entire camel train of the Parthians given over to arrows supporting a force of 1,000 heavy cavalry and 9,000 of the Parthian’s traditional light cavalry. Crassus had horrible luck. They were all carrying arrows. And it was the light cavalry which did him down.

I sat atop the old citadel and surveyed the countryside. I could well imagine the thirst demoralizing the Roman soldiers. Today was a nice day, about 75*F, a strong breeze came out of the West and clouds punctuated the skies. Even though it rained yesterday I could feel the dry air desiccating my hands and the dust left a fine film on my teeth. I’d already downed two liters of water and I’d only been out in the day for two hours. Crassus was a fool for not bivouacing his troops at the River Balissus just south of here. Then again, he was a wealthy plutocrat and not a born general like Pompey and Caesar. The testudo formation certainly didn’t lend itself to ventilation. And the battle happened in mid-summer. I cannot imagine the withering heat the Romans endured. And so they died on the field of battle. Arguably the worst loss the Romans had suffered since Cannae.

There isn’t anything at all left from the Roman era. Massive city walls surround Harran, still. And the Raqqa Gate is a sight to behold. The Ummayad Mosque sits just below the ancient citadel, the oldest mosque in Turkey, it dates to the mid 700s.

I can see that camel train out there in the plain. Hundreds of camels, swarms of Parhtian horseman kicking up the thin, orange dust. And I can only imagine the horror of the Roman troops. To die in such a place? So far from home? What was Crassus thinking?

A Sandstorm In The Rain

Rain and Sandstorm Over ŞanlıurfaI’ve been through my fair share of sandstorms. My first was just outside of Samarkand on the way to Bukhara in 2003. Sand stings like a horsefly when it blows fast enough onto your face and skin. Then, later that summer was a doozy in Kashgar. I also flew into and down from one in 2006 that was apocalyptically eerie. When we landed on the airfield in Kashgar there wasn’t a touch of sand anywhere, only the scent of jasmine blossoms in the air.

But I’ve never been through a rain and stand storm at the same time. At least not until today. It was, to my mind, the most incredibly warm, golden light I’ve ever experienced in life. The photos I’ve posted don’t do it justice. One just does not experience light like this at four thirty in the afternoon. And there is just something downright amazing about feeling sand prickle on your skin while the skies are unloading water.

Chalk this one down as one of the highlights of the trip.

Nota bene: I don’t usually pimp other people’s photos, but this photo is pretty damned nice.