Turkeys, Zeus, A communist and good food

26 February 2011

That morning everybody around us was driving fast, including Firat. The passion for velocity was Firat’s most annoying feature. He was always driving as the world would end on the next hour. In the beginning, I was afraid, arguing each driving infraction he committed. However, soon I came to understand arguing with him only result in more velocity, more violations (like a spoiled child, he usually did precisely opposite what I was saying). I glance the car velocimeter, 120 km/h. I thought it wasn’t too fast, in Brazil, travelling to Ribeirao Preto where my in-laws lived, and my partner did the same. But Marcelo was an experience and very cautious driver, Firat was the opposite. I concentrated in the music that was playing something from Armin van Buuren trying to enjoy the mountains around. I had discovered my passion for mountains in Turkey. Mountains are like giants sleeping waiting someone with wisdom come and awake them. 

It was like Firat had lost the car control when suddenly we made 90 degrees change on its direction crossing the motorway and taking a secondary road. I had no time to understand what was going on just pressed my feet on the car floor and tried not to hit my head on the window. “I never came here, I do not know where it is, but here there is a sort of valley, as in Kapadokya, is known as Phrygian Valley. Let’s go there.”  What would I say? No, you’re crazy enough to go to a place you do not know, deciding it in the middle of the road when the car was at 120km/h? It was a bit late to that, the best I could do was a cold smile and enjoy the ride to the Phrygian Valley 

We arrived in a plain. The unknow valley was there — the valley large mouth open waiting for us. Frig Vadisi (Phrygian Valley) runs haphazardly past Eskisehir, Kutahya, and Afyon. It’s a popular destination for those who are adept of hiking and is relatively untouched. The best parts of the valley are near Afyon and Eskisehir. The valley is the guardian of many intact relics from the Phrygians. In 2015, a Russian geologist made a controversial affirmation saying the ancient routes that crisscross the Phrygian Valley were caused by an unknown and intelligent race between 12 and 14 million years ago. This unproven and unlikely theory added more myths and mystery to the place.

“We will enter the valley?” I was keen to try the track, but Firat wasn’t so sure.

“It’s late, I don’t know the way, and I am concerned about how you will face the hills…” It was an excuse, I knew. But, I decided to let that go, knowing one day I will experience the unknown track.

Returning to the motorway, out next stop was an ancient city called Aizanoi.

Azan, a mythical hero, was one of the three sons of the king Arcas (a hunter, son of Zeus and Callisto,  who become king of Arcadia) and Erato (a priestess and prophetess of the god Pan). Azan was in the ancient tradition supposed to be the forefather of the Phrygian. They settle along the river Pankalas near the cave of the goddess Meter Steuben. It was Azan name which originated the name of the city Aizanoi. The city was the capital of Aizanitis which belonged to Phrygia.

We enter the city passing by many old houses, and a flock of turkeys. Firat stopped (in the middle of the street) to take a photo and comment “These are Turkish turkeys.” One more of the mixed ironic-funny jokes he was always making.

“Did you know Aizanoi is called second Ephesus?”

“Really, why?”

“The ruins are amazing, and there is the most well-preserved Temple of Zeus in Anatolia.”

“Zeus…”

I don’t know if you know the myth about Zeus so that I will tell you a little about it. Zeus was the son of Cronus and Rhea and defeated his father freeing his siblings – Hestia, Hades, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, and Chiron. After that, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades divided the world between them. Zeus would rule the skies and the air, Poseidon the seas, lakes and all the water, and Hades received the underworld. One rule was clear, Gaia, the Earth, could not belong to any them.

Zeus was the almighty from the Mount Olympus. Supreme leader of the gods, married to Hera, the father of Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Persephone, Dionysus, Perseus, Heracles, Helen, Minos and the Muses, Ares, Hebe and Hephaestus. His children were the result of his numerous affairs with other goddess and humans.

When I finished to think (and tell you) about Zeus, Firat stopped the car near a place where some ruins were exposed. A Roman collonaded street was open to visitation without any impediment or paid tickets. The mosaics were remarkably active ad the Ionic capitals from Artemis Temple. While I was taking some photographs, an older man approached Firat. They were talking cheerfully, the guide profoundly interested in what the man was saying. “Come”, Firat called me. “We will saw the museum he created.”

The museum was installed in the first floor of the man’s house. Firstly, he invited us to have a çay and meet his wife. The home was comfortable, a typical countryside Turkish house. The woman was dressed in the Turkish style, and seated on the floor, near the door. Firat and I sitting on a sofa, and the man in a bed (I supposed we were on his bedroom, or something similar). The small fireplace was burning wood, and the woman served us çay. 

“My wife is shy.” The man said. We talked for about twenty minutes, Firat translated the essential to me. The man was the ex-mayor of the city and a zealous communist (there are many of them in Turkey). He had a vast collection of communist memorabilia and pamphlets. After the tea, we visited the museum he had created using the pieces founded in ruins around the city.

Leaving the mayor hospitality and the museum behind we follow to the take some photos from a bridge built in September 157 AD  as we could read in an inscription on the bridge structure. The reliefs found on the bridge walls showed scenes from the man who had donor the bridge to the city crossing the sea. The donor name was  M. Apuleius Eurykles. 

The Zeus’ Temple was located in a hill, making it a very dominating scenery in the city. The most recent excavation results reveal that in the area of the Temple of Zeus, the main sanctuary of the town, the upper layers of a settlement mound dating back to Anatolian prehistoric times had eroded away. Direct below the temple courtyard, settlement debris was found which based on extensive ceramic remains can be dated to the Early Bronze Period II (2,800 – 2,500 BC). The construction of the temple begun in the second quarter of the second century AD. The temple was massive, the colonnade of the temple had eight Ionic columns in the front and back, and fifteen along the sides. The distance between the columns and the walls of the inner rooms (pronaoscella, and opisthotonos) was twice as much the distance between the columns, that means the building is a Pseudodipteros (Dipteros means two-winged).

But Aizanoi wasn’t only the Temple of Zeus, there were much more to be seeing and enjoy.  I seated in one of the ruins and enjoyed the view of the theatre, stadium, Agora, Roman baths and other structure I couldn’t point what they were. Walking in the middle of a city which existence ended centuries ago make me feel venerable. Thought about how we are ephemera, and power is something we really did not possess, make me think about the world reality. Many civilisations lived and perished in the millennia humans were transforming the natural world to accommodate their necessities. And now? My question was, what the future will bring u. The same destruction and obliviated the culture of the Phrygians suffered? However, I also understand that even the civilisation had disappeared, the humans had not. They changed, moved to another place, pledged fidelity to another king or god. In the end, the Phrygian culture mixed to others and become a new civilisation. 

In ancient time, the merge between cultures was possible. Today, the borders, flags and all the nationalism created to take from us the freedom to move wherever make us happy or life comfortable. The common forms of communications and spread of fake news, transforming facts and something dubious and not trustable. These seem to make the merge of cultures, the rising of another way, a mix between all the countries in the world, something improbable, not to say impossible. 

After all the reasoning and conversation. Firat told me it was time to retake the road. The final destination was Bursa. It was almost 4 pm in grey and cold day. Our stomachs were protesting, asking for food and a warm place to have it. We stopped in a roadside restaurant, very similar the many I had seen or visited in Brazil. The place was empty, only the people who served were seated in some tables watching television. Firat talked with some of them, and soon food was being placed at our table near the fireplace. They brought us salad, bread, ayran and a delicious meat skewer kebab. The food was simple but tasty. And the fire burning in the fireplace made the ambient warm and welcoming.

Resuming our journey. The next stop was Bursa.