Friday, November 1, 2013

Tour Second Day: Yesemek Open Air Museum; Islahiye; Zeugma Museum

Carvings are found sitting all up the hillside at Yesemek Open Air Museum.
These are ancient and have withstood the ravages of the elements well.
After a leisurely breakfast and a fairly late start on the day our group departed the hotel in Gaziantep at 09:00 for Day 2 of our tour.  This day we had a new driver and a really nice Mercedes small bus.  It had less luggage room than the bus yesterday but had much more leg room and very comfortable seats.  Our driver did not speak any English but he always had a smile for everyone and had a great personality.  He invited us to visit his village and share a drink of ayran provided by his wife.  We all thought that would be a nice thing to do, so he drove first to his village.  
As always, click on any image for larger view.

Bus driver and his youngest son

We westerners were quite the novelty in that little village!  Women were looking down at us from their second-story windows and soon were holding their babies and toddlers out the windows for us to photograph.  We could smell the goats of the village but I don't remember seeing any of them walking about.

Bus driver's wife serving us ayran.
The driver's wife served glasses of ayran to everyone.  It is considered very rude in Turkey to refuse something offered to you.  But both Bill and I did refuse anyway, as neither of us can stand ayran.  I think it is positively vile!!!  I would gag involuntarily if I attempted to be polite and drink that salty tangy liquid.  That would be even more rude than simply saying "no, thank you."  I think everyone else in our group liked ayran, or they at least drank that one glass of the stuff. Most of them really did like the stuff and drank it several times during this trip.  Ayran is like the national drink of Turkey. 

Village women showing us their babies.  Hold on
tight!  That is an upstairs window.
Here is a recipe; you be the judge as to whether this is something you might like to drink:        How to make ayran

The driver very much wanted us to visit the new Gaziantep zoo.  He was quite proud of it.  Our group declined; we have all seen very nice zoos in many cities; this trip was to experience ancient sites.  

The first scheduled tour stop was a drive of several hours -- almost on the border with Syria! There have been no 'incidents' at the Syrian/Turkish border in recent weeks and we were not near any of the re-settlement camps so we honestly were not concerned with any safety issues. 

Syria as seen from my bus window
The drive took us along a good distance within 2.5 miles of the border.  What do you know! That part of Syria did not look a bit different than that part of Turkey.  Hard to tell exactly where that official border is.  We had discussed this with our guide yesterday.  This part of Turkey has a long history with its neighbors.  The population of this region of Turkey is roughly 1/3 Turkish; 1/3 Arabic descent (which includes Syrians); and 1/3 Kurdish; with a nominal number of Syriac Orthodox Christians.  

Syria viewed from my bus window
All of them get along just fine.  They have lived together for more than 2,000 years and there are family relations across all the borders of Turkey/Syria and Turkey/Iraq and Turkey/Iran.  The countries might have borders but the family relations do not.  The Turks will not abandon their Syrian relatives and friends during this time of crisis in Syria.  There are now officially more than 600,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey; locals estimate the actual number to be about one million.  Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan wants to give these Syrian refugees the right to vote in Turkey.  Hmmmmm.........wonder who they might vote for in the next election.  And their Turkish relatives and friends would probably vote for the same person -- the one who allowed the Syrians to enter Turkey and is assisting with housing and granting voting rights even through they are not citizens of this country.  What a way to guarantee an election!

Picking cotton in fields near Yesemek.  There were
many, many cotton fields.  Had no idea so much
cotton was grown in this part of the world.

Anyway......politics aside......we were on holiday so we forgot about the Syrian troubles and focused on our day.  Our destination was the Yesemek Open Air Museum -- the oldest discovered sculpture workshop in the world, dating back to the second millennia B.C.  Turkey has opened several Open Air Museums around the country.  This is the first one we have visited. 

Lady selling brochures for the museum.  She is wearing
the colorful typical Turkish clothing.  
Back to the topic at hand--our visit to Yesemek Open Air Museum.  According to the brochure purchased at the museum, the Yesemek quarry and sculpture workshop was first discovered in 1890 by Felix von Luschan, director of the Zincirli, ancient Sam'al excavations.  The sculpture workshop provided study of Hittite and Neo-Hittite art and sculpture.  It shows methods of quarrying and shaping basalt blocks.  It provides examples in every stage of production of rough-outs of sphinxes, lions, relieves, statues in the round, etc.  It provides stone rough-outs of motifs of many things, including those lions, sphinxes, mountain gods and man-bears.  This work shows the cross-cultural exchange of symbols that are present in sculptural art.

A sphynx weighing several tons.  How did they move
these heavy stones all up this hillside?

The first craftsman were probably of Aramaean origin in the Neo-Hittite period of 10th to 8th centuries B.C. when the region was within the Kingdom of Sam'al.  Later the Hittites worked here.  None of the tools used in making the sculptures have been found.  Analysis of samples from various stages of the sculptures indicate that tools used likely included stone hammers and chisels, polishing stones and levers. 

Note the detail of this face and headdress
and think of how old it is.  These are well
preserved to have been exposed  so long.

No evidence of the saw or drill has been recovered in Yesemek; nevertheless basalt orthostates with drilled holes found 6 miles north of the workshop in excavation levels dating to 18th and 17th centuries B.C. suggest that the drill was known to the stone masons at Yesemek.  Architectural sculptures commissioned from Yesemek were sent to their final destination unfinished and did not have holes drilled into them.

A tiny piece of old art.
The Yesemek quarry and sculpture workshop was abandoned in the last quarter of the 8th century B.C.  The partially-carved and some fully-carved stones are placed all the way up the hill. 

Two people.

Some of the workmanship is astonishing considering the tools that must have been available at the time.

Detail still visible.  Man with upraised arms.

Next we drove to the nearby town of Islahiye for lunch.  Prior to the current Syrian rebel uprising, this town was the railway connection for the train direct to Damascus, Syria.  That train route has been discontinued due to the civil war in Syria.  
One of the many cups of tea daily.
This is how Turkish tea is served.

Small town of Islahiye where we westerners were a surprise.
You should have seen the stares we got from the local people!!  They do not get tourists here; we were very much oddities!  A local girl overheard Tas speaking with us so she could tell he was our guide.  She asked him in Turkish, "Why are they here?"  Tas got a laugh out of that.  There are no historical sites in Islahiye, so why were we there.  Just to eat a local lunch.  Which turned out to be the least expensive meal of our entire trip and just as good as any of the more expensive city places where we later dined.

I noted later on our map of Turkey that when at Islahiye we were only about 70 miles from the first Christian church in the world.  The very first Christian church.  Supposedly founded in 32 A.D. by the Syriac Orthodox Christians.  It is located at Hatay, Turkey, a/k/a Antakya; and in ancient times was known as Antioch.  But it is not possible to see everything and this group tour did not go down to Antioch/Hatay/Antakya.  Very sorry we missed this. Especially regrettable since later in the tour we would be visiting several Syriac Orthodox sites.  More basic information can be found here:

Portion of a 2nd century floor mosaic
Rather than continuing south to Antioch, we continued north to the highway connecting eastward back towards Gaziantep, about a 2 hour drive.  Next destination was the fabulous Zeugma Museum.  I cannot praise this museum too highly; it is great.  The full name is something like the Gaziantep Archeological Museum but it is known as the Zeugma Museum.  Here are housed some of the artifacts and spectacular mosaics which were rescued from the very important ancient Roman city of Zeugma.  The site of Zeugma was flooded after the building of the Birecik Dam on the Euphrates River in year 2000.
2nd century floor mosaic covering an entire room

Most of the mosaics dated to 2nd century A.D.  These are just unbelievable.  Such precision craftsmanship!  As well as artistry.  Most of the mosaics were enormous sections of floor designs.  Some were from pools but most were from regular floors.  Those ancient rich Romans did enjoy elegant homes of that period.  Photography is allowed inside the museum but only without flash lighting.  So my resulting non-flash photos most definitely do not do justice to these beautiful mosaics.

Small section of a floor mosaic.  Taken
with zoom lens but no flash

A large wall mosaic.

Here is link to a bit of information on this museum:

Zeugma Museum

And here is a link to a YouTube video of some of the mosaics in this museum:

YouTube Video of Zeugma Museum

Latrine on left. Floor pools flow toward the latrine; then
waste was removed by the water down the pipes and out
of the building.  What a convenience to have indoor toilets.

The photo on left was taken from 2 stories above, looking down on floors of several adjoining rooms which were removed from the ancient town of Zeugma and reconstructed here in this museum.  This reconstructed exhibit was approximately 80-feet long by 20-feet wide.

Probably the most famous mosaic housed here is the one of the Gypsy Girl.  The Gypsy Girl is mounted on a wall inside a darkened room accessed via a series of turns from the well-lighted interior of the museum, resulting in almost no ambient light in the room at all.  The eyes do appear to follow you as you move about the room.  How the artist achieved this using small squares of stone is amazing.  And with only those tools available back in those ancient times makes it even more amazing.  Bill and I were reminded of our friend Randal on M/V Dora Mac.  Randal got very interested in mosaics in Cyprus, Turkey and Tunisia.  He would have especially appreciated this Gypsy Girl.

The Gypsy Girl was found beneath layers of soil in the House of Menad.  Historical artifact traffickers had raided this building of all other mosaics, but they did not find the Gypsy Girl during their illegal diggings because she was covered with soil.  She was later found during the proper archaeological excavations performed before the dam flooded Zeugma.  As a joke, the excavation workers dubbed this mosaic The Gypsy Girl because of her uncombed hair, round face and earrings.  That name stuck.  There is no illuminating data regarding her identity but some scholars claim she is one of the maenads present in Dionysus festivals because of the tendrils near her head.  (In Greek mythology, maenads were the female followers of Dionysus, and the most significant members of the Thiasus, the god's retinue. Their name literally translates as "raving ones")  Others speculate that she might be a portrait of Alexander the Great.  Frankly, I don't buy that idea.  The appearance of both sadness and joy in the facial expression illustrate the stage artists had reached in portraits composed by tiny mosaic colored tiles.
The Gypsy Girl.
Remember, no flash was allowed or there would be a better photo.
The museum building on the right-hand side houses mosaics from the 5th century A.D.  These are very different from those mosaics crafted 300 years earlier.  And the differences were dramatic.  Very dramatic even to our unlearned eyes.  

The mosaics from 2nd century were precision cut and mounted; colors were vibrant even after all these years; designs were extremely intricate.  

The mosaics from the 5th century were not precision cut and mounted; the tiles were not nearly as tiny as those produced earlier and the edges appeared roughly cut.  The designs were not intricate and exhibiting artistry.  The designs of the 5th century appeared crude in comparison. Plus, the 5th century mosaics were just plain beige background spaces with crudely designed animals, birds and leaves in basic brown and black tiles.  No colors; no artistry; poor craftsmanship.  
The best wall mosaic in the building housing 5th century work
What happened during that 300 year period to destroy man's ability to produce this artwork?

This is pure speculation but it might have something to do with the Christian belief at that time that it was sacrilegious to depict a human being in a painting or sculpture or mosaic.  That period could feasibly have resulted in a loss of artists' ability to create beautiful works as they had been able to accomplish 300 years earlier.   That is the only logical explanation that occurs to me.  Religion told them not to do it and over time they lost the knowledge and ability to do it.

Whatever the reason, the decline in quality of craftsmanship and artistry is remarkable.

1 comment:

  1. As always, amazing info and pictures! So much history, it's hard to comprehend. Hope the Syrians find some peace soon...


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