November 28, 2007


Virgin Mary's Resting Place View through a Window

The six hour bus ride from Bursa was taking me to the provincial capital Izmir, with a further 2 hour minibus drive to the coastal fishing village of Kusadasi. I was the guest of the gracious and hospitable Ali Acundas, staying at the Club Caravanserail Hotel an original 17th century Ottoman Caravanserail. Tonight its 8 ft thick stone walls were a refuge against the torrential downpour which seemed to be following me everywhere. The base of the 18 foot arched iron doors was pooled ankle deep in water and the steps to the second floor sleeping quarters were twice thick making it necessary to steady myself on the slippery stone. The two floor layout was typical for the caravansarail or roadside inns, since caravans had from 100-500 people tending to livestock each carrying around 300lbs of merchandise. With camels, yaks, and horses, safely stowed on the ground floor in arched stalls situated along the interior walls, the merchants climbed to the second floor and settled into massive rooms with 20 foot vaulted ceilings then heated by fireplaces, Similarly I prepared my camera’s for tomorrows visit to the best preserved Roman ruins in Eastern Mediterranean. Ephesus is important to the story because it was here that the upper class wore the silks which originated in China.

Wandering through Hadrian’s gate amongst the mausoleums, temples, baths and private homes I was virtually alone, except for the Japanese tourists clustered around their English speaking guide moving slowly down the marble walkways like a giant black beetle against the white ruins. By myself, I was free to imagine the elegant Roman men and women getting ready for the late afternoon performance held in the 25,000 seat Amphitheater. In the early days of the Silk Road the fabric was so precious only swatches were worn as decorations; ribbons sewn through hair or as embellishments on collar and cuff. A length cost as much as 300 denair or the price of one Roman soldier’s wages. Later, when the silk trade was fully developed, women wore garments made of the luxurious cloth. Creating somewhat of a scandal, the wearing of the clingy fabric revealed an almost naked body. Coincidently, this branding as decadent, coincided with the Roman Senate’s efforts to curtail society’s obsession with Silk as it was draining gold and nearly bankrupting the economy.
Perched high above all this decadence on the slopes of Mt. Koressos (Turkish: Bülbüldağı (Mountain of Nightingale) is the Virgin Mary’s last home and where she died. She was taken there by Saint John the Baptist whose basilica and tomb are nearby.
“ It is believed that after the crucifixion of Jesus, Saint John left Jerusalem and came to Ephesus, one of the biggest and safest cities of its time (capital of the Asia Minor province of the Roman Empire), and built a small hut for Virgin Mary just outside Ephesus in order to protect her from the non-Christian community of Ephesus.”

As I traveled farther away from the cosmopolitan centers of Istanbul, and jet set Aegean coast to regions with more traditional values I contemplated the notion of modesty in a pagan culture and Mary’s virginity with the rise of Christendom.
Tomorrow’s 17 hour bus ride would take me through Konya to Turkey’s southern province of Hatay or Old Antioch in biblical times. This was the Mediterranean terminus of the Silk Road and the site of the first Christian church established by Saint Peter.

November 17, 2007


Koza Han, Bursa

Visiting Bursa was more about the end of the Silk Road, where the Chinese monopoly on Sericulture was broken, than it was about the beginning of my journey. “Located at the western edge of the Silk Road the city became a serious rival in the 15th century with the production of silk cloth and thread for the thriving carpet trade” My destination this evening was the still vibrant 600 year old Koza Han (cocoon market) and Ipek Han (silk Market) known as the Silk Bazaar. Tonight it was crammed with locals Friday night shopping at the “mall”. I was to meet Muhammed Can at the “city center, last stop on the Domas before going into the Bazaar. In this torrential rain, I was not going to wait a minute longer than it took to dash from taxi to souk, knowing one would somehow find the other.

The miracle of all the water was that I had met him earlier that day when we agreed to share a taxi into town. Exhausted from carrying the heavy bags up and down the stairs of the high speed ferry and then from the dock after crossing the Sea of Marma to Yalova. I had at last boarded the bus for the hour long drive to Bursa’s autogar to catch a taxi to the hotel. And this was the short route, rather than the five hour drive around the coast, 60miles south of Istanbul.

It was intuition that guided me to Koza Han and by perambulating the interior square I was able to find him in the maze of silk shops nestled in the arches of this historic building. Over a glass of Chai I learned that Mohammad was a silk merchant from Istanbul and made the ferry crossing to Bursa once a week to collect the cash from his expanding clientele of vendors in the old bazaar. His desire was to do business in China and to visit the same cities of the Silk Road that I had visited; Kashmir, Delhi, Kabul. We delighted in our good fortune and the poetry of having the Silk Road as our common thread. I learned he was a Uigher, born in Turkey to parents who emigrated 36 years ago. I could see the ancestry in his face; broad across high cheek bones that narrowed at the chin, making him handsome, gentled by the slight Asian accents. He brightened when I mentioned I would be going to his homeland next spring, continuing my Peace Caravan to Kashgar, the important crossroads of the Silk Road situated at the western frontiers of China. He spoke of the tight knit Uigher community of 20,000 exiles living in Turkey. One of 5 races within China and much like their brethren the Tibetans, struggling to maintain long honored traditions and customs. It feels good to learn, to understand, and to share in his sadness for the loss for his people and their necessity to maintain their culture. I was struck with purpose and the importance to photograph our soon to be lost legacies. We vowed to meet again, perhaps on my return to Istanbul in two months time.

November 13, 2007


Balat, Istanbul
Kuzguncuk, Istanbul

The muezzen’s melodies rang in harmony from Istanbul’s infamous mosques filling the air with the call to noon prayers, indicating as well that I was late. With only a short time in each city I knew that it was impossible to see everything so I decided it was best to focus on one aspect relevant to the Silk Road. As this was my fourth visit to Istanbul I wanted to explore the older cities now absorbed into the greater metropolis. Balat, is on the European side; Kuzguncuk on the Asian side of the Bosporus, each unique, yet similar, both reflecting the early multicultural communities.

The ferry to Uskador was a quick 10 minute dash across the Bosphorus and once landed, I hopped on a ”dolmas”; this one full of men and called out to everyone; “Kuzguncuk”. I was in search of the Bet Yaakov Synagogue located at Icadiye C.9 on the same street as the Greek Orthodox Church and a Mosque. After a short ride from the docks I was dropped at a quaint colorful village of narrow winding roads lined with shops and a few original Ottoman style wood houses. I was immediately taken by the warmth and spirit of this lively community. I soon gathered a crowd of women as I attempted to photograph a sleeping cat curled tightly on the seat of a parked motorcycle. It was delightful and my joy must have radiated to this tiny wrinkled women wearing white sneakers, black tights and yellow ankles socks, who rushed toward me speaking in rapid fire Turkish. She took hold of both my shoulders and proceeded to kissed me once on the left cheek, once on the right and once more on the left cheek, all the while looking me straight in the eye chanting a long soliloquy in Turkish. I could only smile and radiate some more. I had no idea why this happened I imagined she was pleased to see someone taking interest in her neighborhood. Yet, I knew it was the blessing to begin my journey and I could only wonder what tomorrow would bring on the European side of the Bosporus.

The Turkish language is confusing to me, too many R, U and Ks in one word and so I mixed up Karikoy for Kadikoy and ended up on the wrong boat. I only noticing as we sailed past Sultanahmet veering for the Asian side. Oh well, I let time fly by and amused myself watching the sun’s rays dance on the tumult from the engines wake. Eventually I boarded the correct boat and headed for the docks at Eminonu, once an old city banked on shores of the Golden Horn where it merges with the Bosphorus. This time, I loaded into a taxi shouting to the driver the address of the old Ahrida Synagogue in Balat, where the 17th century religious leader Shabbetai Zevi once preached and was later banished when he declared himself the messiah and then converting to Islam. As we entered the once Byzantine village I was struck by the stark contrast to yesterday; here the streets were dark and narrow paved with rough cobble stones artistically set to spread sprays of earthen flowers across vast promenades. Above, the sky dripped with newly washed clothes neatly hung in order of class and style; sheets, shirts and socks perfectly lined up like Buddhist prayer flags furling in the soft gentle sea breezes. The friendly but distraught taxi driver dropped me off at the oldest and tallest brick structure as he spun down the hill thrashing his arms out the window directing me to go to the left. I was standing in the unknown with only the exact address and a very detailed map in hand but unable to locate a single landmark. Luckily my sad look drew a nice man who offered to help and suddenly I noticed I was surrounded by three people peering over the map each one telling me to go in a different direction. Finally the debate erupted into laughter when a young girl took my hand and led me in the opposite direction through an endless warren of back streets that wound down the hill. The area was now a Muslim community with the majority of women covered in black chandors, gathering their children and bustling to continue their evening chores. Eventually relying on my own instincts I found my self at the cross streets and discovered the shuttered and protected synagogue and vowed to return again with permissions to enter. Wandering down the streets empty except for the occasional groups of cigarette smokers and chai drinkers I headed back to the noise and lights of Eminoue and the Grand Mosque majestic against the night sky merging again into the 21st century.

Mt. Ararat

Marla Mossman

My photo
One woman traveling alone, in search of her religious and cultural heritage.