An Ottoman Bridge, a Greek Temple, and Baklava

I had enjoyed my time in Troy for many reasons. The first was my taste for Ancient History and Greek civilisation. The second was the Helen myth; the Spartan princess over whom kings and princes fought. My own name is Heleny, so, out of curiosity, I searched for the meaning, and, of course, the answer was: Heleny is a variation of Helena (Greek). Following the trail on the Internet, the next aspect to discover was the meaning of the name itself. Some scholars consider Helena a variant of the Greek word that means “torch”. A further possibility is Helena derives from the Greek ‘Selene’, goddess of the moon. I definitely preferred the latter.

Firat had noted the match of my name and that of Helen of Troy, and I told him how my father had chosen the name from a noticeboard on a wall next to a GP’s office.  He was in a bus, going to work, and he saw the name. It was like be illuminated by the letters composing the name. Then, when I was born, he remembered. I became Heleny. While we talked about Troy, my family and the Trojan war, we headed for Assos.

Assos was a name I hadn’t heard, or read of, before. Firat told me the actual name was Behramkale, but most people still called it by the ancient name: Assos. The town is located on the coast of the Adramyttian Gulf, and the road leading to it passes fields of crops, olive trees and some greenhouses for fruit production. The journey was smooth with few other cars on the road, and after one hour, Firat stopped for a smoke while I enjoyed some silence near the road side. After 87 km, we were almost there when Firat, again, stopped the car abruptly. “I need to take a photograph of that bridge!” And so, he did, commenting that the bridge had let him breathless, it was so beautiful.

Thirty minutes later, it was my turn to be breathless. Firstly, because the place was fabulous; secondly because the hill was very steep and I’m not used  steep slopes an expert in climbing ; and thirdly, because Fırat moves fast, and you really need wheels to keep up. I managed to get to the top about 5 minutes after he did, and then to glimpse the incredible temple of Athena.

Assos is an archaeological site where we can find traces of this 6th century BC temple of Athena side by side with  a 14th century mosque. The mosque, itself, was probably rebuilt over an earlier Byzantine church. Not only that, there are many ruins from the Hellenistic period (the period between the ancient Greeks and the blossoming of Mediterranean history i.e. between the death of Alexander the Great and the emergence of The Roman Empire). With its theatres, a bilaterian – a place for meetings, speeches and shopping – and, of course, a Necropolis, it was a very rich but little-explored site.

Standing beside the Temple of Athena, all I could see was the gorgeous blue of the ocean stretching out before my eyes. The day was cold but bright and blue and the horizon was clear, allowing us to make out the Greek Island of Lesbos. After taking many photographs, some conversations and a study of the model of the temple, our stomachs had begun to rumble. I didn’t know what Firat’s plans were, and he didn’t ask me if I wanted to have lunch. He simply took the path to the small village below, but not before taking some final shots from the mosque.

After passing some tourist stands with dry peppers, some woodcraft and other trinkets made of wool, or various kinds of natural fibres, we entered a restaurant. The place was almost empty, and a lady preparing Baklava captured my attention. The place where we were seated had a fantastic view of the valley near the river we had crossed on our way to Assos. Firat chose some pancakes, one filled with potato and cheese, and another filled with cheese and spinach. For a starter, we had some bread, with a paste made of red peppers, and black olives. The food was delicious, and the conversation about Athena and the other Greek gods flowed easily. For dessert, we had some of those tempting Baklavas.

“What about coffee?” Firat wasn’t aware I don’t like coffee, however I did know this wasn’t just any coffee, but Turkish coffee, made in a very different way from that in Brazil or the UK. The waiter prepared the coffee while Firat recorded him on video (more information on my website and in the book). The coffee smelled delicious and was served in a small cup inside a crafted silver object with a matching lid . I sipped the coffee with pleasure, although a little concerned about how my stomach would react. In the end, I needn’t have worried, the Turkish coffee was accepted quite happily by my digestive system.

A couple more minutes while Firat had a cigarette and talked with the waiter, and then we were ready for the road again. Next destination: Pergamum and a surprise…

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