Friday, August 5, 2011


On Friday, August 5th we travelled to Antakya, Turkey.  Antakya, also known as the ancient city of Antioch, is well known for its history of religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity.  Both of our classes for the Duke in Turkey program have focused on these three topics and we felt that Antakya was an apt location to study these issues further.

We began our first day at the Hatay Archeological Museum (Hatay is the province in which Antakya is located).  The Hatay Archeological Museum has artifacts from the Chalcolithic, Old Bronze Era, the Middle and Late Bronze Era, the Hittites, and the Roman Era.  Across the whole museum there are beautiful mosaics not only Antakya but from surrounding towns such as Daphne (modern day Harbiye) and Samandag.  I was very surprised by the size of some of the mosaics; they were gigantic and the walls were full of pictures of animals, portraits of people, and geometric designs.   Most of the mosaics were from the Roman period and there were some Roman statues as well.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the town and trying to get a feel for Antakya.  Luckily our hostel was right in the middle of the city and to get anywhere to eat or explore was literally a hop and a skip away.  Antakya is almost right on the Syrian border and I expected that the city would be more provincial and conservative than Istanbul.  However, I was surprised by how modern and cosmopolitan the city was.  I felt completely comfortable walking around in shorts and more women than I expected (especially women around my age) wore shorts or less conservative clothes.  I also expected all the women to wear headscarves but again I was surprised to find that there was almost equal percentage of women who wore headscarves as those who did not.  On the streets of Antakya you could find many of the same stores you would find in malls in Istanbul and we met people every day who spoke at least some English.

The second day we woke up early in the morning to beat the heat and walked about 20 minutes up a mountain to the Grotto of Saint Peter, which is said to be the first Church established by Peter, a disciple of Jesus.  We were the only ones there that morning and the Church was beautifully situated in the side of the mountain.  The Church used to be an open religious space but in the last couple of years has been turned into a museum by the government.  Isa (an Eastern Orthodox Christian who I will talk more about later), told us the next day that he used to go up to the Church all the time to pray but that after it was turned into a museum by the government the guards  told him he had to pay in order to enter.  Isa refused to pay to enter a place that was sacred to him and he told us that they eventually let him in without paying.

Antakya is rich not only in Christian history but also Jewish and Islamic history and we were lucky enough to meet an Isa on our third day in Antakya.  Isa spoke English and walked us around all the religious sites in Antakya including the Eastern Orthodox Church, a Protestant Church (the minister was South Korean and many of the signs in the Church were both in Korean, Turkish, and English), the Roman Catholic Church, a Jewish Synagogue, and the Habibi Neccar Mosque (which used to be a church).  We were so fortunate to meet Isa randomly, that the only way I can describe it is as serendipitous.  Isa was a wonderful contact and friend; he even helped us set up a beautiful full day boat trip in the Mediterranean the next day.

Antakya was full of unexpected but wonderful people, culture, and traditions.  There is nothing better than the discovery that a place and the people who live there are more than you could have ever expected or hoped for.  Antakya served many roles for me but it will remain a place in my heart of serendipitous meetings, friendly locals, gorgeous scenery, rich history, and an inspiring example for everyone of religious, ethnic, and cultural tolerance.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"Of course, it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it's not real?"

July 13, 2011

Today was a long day with lots of walking.  We went to four districts of Istanbul - Galata, Beyoglu, Taxim, Nisantisi.  We started out our day near Galata Tower which was built in the 6th century by the Byzantines.  The story goes that this tower and surrounding area in Galata was not destroyed when the Ottomans conquered Istanbul in 1453 because they did not resist against the Muslim invaders.  Hence today you can still see the Galata Tower on the Golden Horn skyline.

We were given an assignment to walk through Galata, Beyoglu, Nisantisi and see if we could feel the huzun (melancholy) that Orhan Pamuk writes he could feel in his memoir, Istanbul.  While you could see broken fountains and a couple of disintegrating wooden houses, there was still a vibrancy to the area.  My classmates and I had already decided that Pamuk suffers from depression, as we have a hard time finding the dying melancholy city he writes so often about.

We ended our class trip discussing Pamuk's memoir and travels that day at Limonata, a very nice (and expensive) restaurant at the top of a mall in Nisantisi that specializes in exotic flavors of lemonade.  After a long hot walk through the city it was nice to get to relax and drink some really good lemonade.

The highlight of my day, however, was getting the chance to see the last Harry Potter movie in Beyoglu.  Because we were in Europe and the time change, I actually got to see the movie almost two days ahead of everyone in the US.  Going to the movies in Turkey was definitely a different experience.  We walked in a small but tall doorway and it opened up to a large marble room with gigantic ceilings.  I think the movie theater used to be an old opera house because there were opera boxes on the side of the room and in the back.  Surprizingly there wasn't very many people there besides us and we had most of this gigantic theater to ourselves.   A man looked at our tickets and helped us find our seats with a flashlight (like in the old movies you see).  Then halfway through the movie the screen went black and the lights came on.  We didn't know what was happening, our first assumption was that something was wrong with the movie or the screen and we weren't going to be able to finish watching the movie.  To our surprise the man who helped us find our seats came back out from behind the curtain in the door and had boxes of popcorn, candy, and drinks (like at a baseball game) and we were relived to discover that in Turkey you have intermission and the film was not damaged so we would be able to continue watching the last Harry Potter movie.

It was a wonderful day exploring the city and beginning to feel like a true Istanbullus.