It’s intriguing how people decide give a name to a place. Some choose to emphasise the bad characteristics of the place like we saw in Sirince (the previous name was Çirkince, meaning “ugly”, while others invent a name so beautiful that you know whoever chose it must have been a poet. Gököva was one those places. Gök can mean sky, heaven, the blue, celestial or firmament; öva means a plain, lowland or meadow. After I discovered all those possible interpretations, I chose one for my feeling about Gököva: “the blue plain”.
It was 8:00 am, and I had already packed my things, preparing my backpack with the essential pullover, camera, batteries, water, and some snacks. Firat had meticulously arranged all his clothes in two small pieces of hand luggage. “It’s cold today, take you scarf too.” I did, but was unconvinced about the precision of his weather prediction, outside the sun was bright, the sky the colour of cobalt. Cold? I thought, maybe 14º C?
Gököva was a very welcome stop, not because we would visit any ruins, but because we would be able to take a break from the strenuous visits. To relax in a small seaside village was currently my definition of paradise.
It was typical for Firat to take us on some detours, this time was no different. He left the main road and took a small, unsurfaced secondary road. After 500 metres, or perhaps a bit more I could see a coffee shop. Above it, the name: Stratonikeia Café. My first impression was that Firat had decided to stop here to have his usual çay and cigarette; I wasn’t totally wrong, but Stratonikeia was to be more than a short stop.
“Whichwould you prefer, to visit the ruins or to have our çay first?”
“Ruins? Where they are? I can’t see any!”
Stratonikeia or Stratonicea is said to have been founded by the Seleucid king Antiochus I Soter (281 – 261 BC), although some scholars would contest the date, saying that, probably, the city’s founder was Antiochus’ son, Antiochus II Theos who named the city Stratonikeia after his mother Stratonice. Others argue that the city may have been founded by Antiochus II, the Great, the grandson of Stratonice.
What is really known is that the city was founded by the Lycians on the site of an old Carian town called Idrias (also called Chrysaoris). In 435 BC, Idras appears in some Athenian registers as being responsible for payment of the considerable sum of six talents. As with many other non-Greek settlements, no documents have been found indicating whether Isdras did actually pay any tribute to Athens.
Under the succeeding Seleucid Kings, Stratonikeia flourished. The city was adorned with splendid and costly buildings. Later it fell under the control of Rhodes, and then to Rome. Stratonikeia played an important role in the Carian revolt against the Romans in 130 BC.
The city was renamed by the Romans as Hadrianopolis, Christianity subsequently transforming the place into a bishopric. Today, Stratonikeia is part of the village of Eskihisar, and a section of the site’s necropolis has vanished with the opening of a quarry to extract the lignite reserves that feed the nearby Yatağan power plant. It is proposed to transform the quarry into a lake in the future, once the reserves there are exhausted. The village has a local museum, which contains mostly Roman remains; but the most remarkable object is a Mycenaean stirrup-cup, coloured buff with horizontal red stripes, which has been dated to the 12th or 11th century BC. All objects in the exhibition were found locally.
Firat told me the site is not considered of significant importance. The government does not see it as a place worth preserving. From my point of view, walking on the narrow paths, the sight of the theatre with its partially flooded orchestra, and then of the remains of past civilisations being used by the locals as a source of material to build their homes, it was all a bit shocking. I simply couldn’t understand why the study of our past wasn’t thought important…each piece is one more element to complete the puzzle of who we were, and how we arrived at where we are now.
While we were taking photos, a lady, in her sixties came out of her house to clean up some rubbish that had accumulated at the side of her house. I discretely photographed her. More photos, and then we returned to the place where the car was parked and identified a promising-looking café. Before sitting down to enjoy a çay, Firat decided to visit the small mosque, made of wood, nearby. This time, as a woman, I waited outside – in small villages it is always best not break the traditions.
Finally, we sat down to have our tea. While we were talking about Stratonikeia, a car parked near us. A man from inside the café went across to it and talked to the driver, who then got out and examined some urns (they looked old to me) and said something to the café owner. I asked Firat to translate. “The guy from the café wanted to know if he could use those urns to store some olive oil. The other guy, who is an archaeologist, said no, they date from the 1st century BC.” I smiled and thought, “Only in Turkey is seeing something like that, possible.”
On our way to Gökova there was one more stop to have another çay and to admire the landscape. The possibility to stretch our legs was welcome, but this time we sat in silence. I was curious about Gökova, but Firat would only say that the place was “belissimo!”.
We reached Gökova by 14:30, and soon, Fırat was dragging me towards the river that ran next to it. A beautiful mixture of landscapes spread in front of me: the river, the sea receiving the river, and the mountains. We took a boat and went along a stretch of the river, clear, clean, and full of fish and vegetation. It wasn’t just us, there were families with children, and some individual couples there, too. It was a moment of peace, even with the sound of all those voices. It also provided a precious opportunity for me to observe people and how they interacted with each other.
We left the boat, and walked along the sea shore. It was winter, so not many people dared go swimming, but there were some paddling in the cold water, or sitting in boats, eating some fish. Firat negotiated a hotel for the night. The room had a balcony facing the sea, we stayed there having a beer and watching the sun set in all the warm colours our very own star is capable of producing in the atmosphere. It was like poetry in motion – the sun slowly sinking to the horizon, burning the line between the sea and the sky; saying a farewell with grace; letting us know he will return anew, in fresh and blazing glory.
“I want to invite you to a dinner near the river. What do you think?”
It was already dark and the village wasn’t well lit, and the idea of Firat driving in the precarious streets made me nervous, but what is life, if not for adventure? You can either accept, or just sit, merely surviving in the shadows. “Ok, let’s go!”
It took some time, many holes in the road and some discussion, but finally we found the restaurant. Firat asked for a table near the river, and ordered fish, salad, calamari and rakı. It was the first time that I had tried this alcoholic beverage made of aniseed, a drink often served with fish.
What I can say about rakı? It’s strong! It has 40% alcohol content, with an intense taste of aniseed. Normally they mix rakı and cold water, diluting it a bit. Firat insisted I have a glass of water near me, having a sip of it each time I drank the rakı. In the end we drank a complete bottle, leaving Firat surprised. “You said you don’t drink?” Well, I don’t but there is always an exception.
While we were in the restaurant, a group of children came along and talked with Firat. I guess they were curious because, in winter, it wasn’t common to see tourists there. They asked many questions that Firat answered patiently. Then, pointing to me, Firat asked them what they thought about me. Of course, I will never know what they really said, but Firat’s translation was very flattering.
Our return to the hotel wasn’t simple… too much alcohol, too little light, and too many holes in the road, but we finally reached the hotel room. We spent some time looking at the stars before tiredness took hold of us. Next morning we would be leaving early – it was time to dream.