Monday, March 30, 2009

Fieldtrip to Konya

Several weeks ago, we went with a group from the Research Center on a fieldtrip to Konya. Konya is a very religious, traditional city which is best known for its associations with Rumi (lived 1207-1273), also known as the Mevlana. Rumi was the founder of the famous religious order still known as the Whirling Dervishes, and he is buried here in Konya, where he lived most of his life. The religious beliefs that Rumi put forward in his writings are not always the same as those of mainstream Muslims. For example, many of his religious poems show what many Muslims would consider a very lax attitude towards following the dogma of religion, as well as a very open attitude about who might participate in the religious experience of his dervishes. From one of his most famous works:

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.

Despite the non-traditional nature of his religious teachings, his tomb is still regarded as an important place of pilgrimage for all Muslims, and the people of Konya, although very conservative in their own beliefs, are proud of their city's role as the home of the Mevlana.

The skyline of Konya , backed by gorgeous mountains, announces its religious devotion in all its interesting confusion. Look closely at the skyscraper in this picture:




DETAIL OF THE TOP OF THE SKYSCRAPER

Skyscrapers are considered by the citizens of Konya to be indicators that they are modern and advanced, so they love to construct them whenever possible. The top of this skyscraper in particular uses the forms of two important buildings: the lower pavilion-like section is based on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the holiest of Muslim sites, while the smaller section on top of that is the same shape as the tomb of Rumi, whose mysticism is both part of, and at odds with, mainstream Islam.

We took an overnight train from Istanbul to Konya, and when we arrived we found a frozen city, covered in snow. None of the mosques or museums we visited had heat, so by the end of each day we were fairly frozen!

The main point of the trip was to see some of the most important examples of Seljuk architecture. Scott, the Director of the Institute, is a Seljuk historian, so it was very educational to tour the sites with him. The Seljuks were a pre-Ottoman state that ruled much of Anatolia, into Persia, in the 11th-14th centuries. Konya was their capital, and much of their architecture remains.

Before seeing the buildings in town, though, we traveled outside the city to a caravansaray to see a fine example of the buildings that were used by caravans when they were traveling to and from Konya. This one is called Zazadin Han:



Our next stop was to see what is left of the original Seljuk walls of Konya. They are now to be found (and visited, if you have the right connections), in the basement of a "dershane", a center for test preparation. You can see all the college-prep test booklets stacked against them in the pictures.




Next we entered the Karatay Madrasa, (a madrasa, or medrese, as I have mentioned in previous posts, is a school for Quaranic learning). This building has been converted into a museum, and we were not supposed to take photos inside. I had, however, snapped one picture of the amazing tiled dome before they told us that. These tiles are especially amazing because the Seljuks did not have the technology to fire tiles with more than one color on them, so they had to fire each small piece of the design separately, in whatever shape they wanted, then fit them together to achieve the desired pattern:



From there we moved to another Madrasa, the Ince Minare ("Slender Minaret") Madrasa, which is now a museum of architectural elements such as stone and woodwork. Its highly-decorated carved portal is one of the most important remaining Seljuk monuments:



Our final stop of the day was the Alaeddin Camii, in the interior courtyard of which stand the tombs of most of the Seljuk rulers. None of my pictures of this are very good, probably because I was too cold to take anything decent by this point.

That night we were able to meet up at the hotel with a fellow Fulbrighter, Dee Dee from South Carolina, and her husband Michael. We were happy to hear that they love living in Konya, although it is a more difficult assignment because it is so much more traditional and conservative than Istanbul. Dee Dee was also able to join us for our tours the next day, which was nice.

We started our second day with a trip to the tomb complex of Rumi. It's greenish-blue tiled tower is the most recognized landmark of the city. No pictures are allowed inside, but in addition to the actual tombs of Rumi, his father, and various important individuals, we saw many other objects associated with the history of the Whirling Dervishes, such as musical instruments and manuscripts. It is really an amazing place to visit, and we highly recommend it.



After a nice lunch, we visited two more sites in town: the archaeological museum which, although not very well-kept or labeled, houses some very interesting objects, including this sarcophagus depicting the 12 Labors of Hercules:





Another interesting sarcophagus in the museum had an unusual version of the Jonah story. I've never seen him being swallowed headfirst before!



Next door to the museum is the Sahip Ata Kulliyesi, a dervish "convent." As with many of the other buildings we saw in Konya, the inside was beautifully tiled. Although the main central area has been rather harshly restored, the tomb area to the side is remarkable for the beauty of the tiling not only on the building, but on the coffins themselves:





The last goal of our tour was not in Konya itself, but in the nearby town of Beyshehir. Visiting required a drive of an hour and a half or so through beautiful snowy countryside:



The main attraction in Beyshehir is the Eshrefoglu mosque, one of a rare type of mosque with a wooden interior, beautifully painted. It was constructed in the Medieval period, late 13th century, and is in a remarkable state of preservation, considering that the columns, roof, and furniture are all made of wood:




A DETAIL OF THE CARVED AND PAINTED DECORATION AT THE TOP OF ONE OF THE COLUMNS

Beyshehir's other claim to fame is its location on the shores of Turkey's largest freshwater lake (for those of you who are wondering, Lake Van's water is part saline, part fresh), which shares the name Beyshehir. We were able to spend a half hour or so walking by the water and teaching Tsameret and Ilan's children to throw snowballs. Since they are from Israel, it was their first time to see snow!


BEAUTIFUL LAKE BEYSHEHIR


THE CITY SITS ON ITS SHORE, LOOKING VERY EUROPEAN


A HAPPY, BUT THOROUGHLY FROZEN, GROUP OF FELLOWS



Soon it was time to drive back to Konya to catch another overnight train back to Istanbul. We were prepared for a boring night: a little dinner, some chatting, then off to bed. But we found ourselves sharing the dining car with a group of young Turkish soldiers enjoying their last night of freedom before reporting for sniper training in Istanbul the next day. One of them had a guitar, and our "boring night" turned into hours of singing (and even some dancing) as we rode through the frozen Anatolian plain. It was definitely a night to remember!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Holy Land Trip Day 11: Jaffa

The final day of our trip was much less hectic, much more relaxing and, consequently, much less interesting than those before. We spent the day in Jaffa (ancient Joppa), which is now more or less a suburb of Tel Aviv. It was nice to be on the waterfront, and to see what there was to see, but it didn't blow us away.

A bit of the more modern history (as opposed to the ancient or Biblical history) of Joppa will set the stage:

There used to be a saying among German and Dutch sailors, when a task was particularly difficult, and there was small chance of survival or success. They would say that to carry out that task was "to go to Jaffa beach." This saying came from the fact that the water around the port of Jaffa is shallow and peppered with sandbars and rocks that it is difficult for ships to avoid. Pilgrims who arrived to the Holy Land via this port were often dismayed to find that their ship had to stop a great distance from shore, and that they then had to ride smaller boats, or even walk through the water, to get to the land. But yet it was an important port, and may well be one of the oldest in the world, used by both the Canaanites and the Philistines.

It was conquered by Napoleon on March 7, 1799, during his conquest of the Holy Land. He was so angered by the residents' resistance that when his soldiers finally broke into the city, he slaughtered its inhabitants. Many of his own soldiers then died of plague they contracted through proximity to all of the rotting corpses. Two years after that horrible event, visitors to Jaffa said they could still smell the stench of decaying bodies. Lovely place indeed!

But for a town that has seen so much violence, its modern incarnation is very pleasant and peaceful. It prides itself on being a home to contemporary artists, and expensive showrooms line most of the small streets. The restaurants along the water are popular hangouts for locals, and we had one of the best meals of our trip there.


LOOK, I'M A HISTORICAL SITE!

In fact, the first thing we did there was eat. We had breakfast at a well-known local establishment, the Aboulafia Bakery. I had a doughnut. A real doughnut, warm and rolled in granulated sugar. That may sound like a simple pleasure, but it was the first time in months I had had one, and eating it while sitting on a bench overlooking the sea was just wonderful.

Our first visit was to the Visitor's Center in Kedumim Square, where some ruins of Roman houses have been excavated and filled with amusing mannequins:



There was also an extremely entertaining film shown there.

Another other building of note in the square is the Monastery of St. Peter, built in 1891 over the ruins of a Crusader fortress:



Just off the square, up a small hill, is the Wishing Bridge. It is decorated with bronze images of the 12 signs of the zodiac, and if you stand clasping your sign and make a wish while looking out towards the sea, it is supposed to come true. I can verify that it does not work. Or maybe it didn't work for me because I could not reach far enough to touch both of my signs, Sagittarius and Capricorn, since I am one of those rare people born on a day that falls between two signs. We will have to go back to see if Peter's wish came true, because he wished that they would make a better-looking image of his zodiac sign (the ram) to put on the bridge.



Other sites in Jaffa include this interesting living statue:


A SUSPENDED ORANGE TREE IN THE ARTISTS' QUARTER.

Since the late 19th century, oranges have been the main export of Jaffa, and many of you have probably had some of the famous Jaffa oranges at some point.

Jaffa (Joppa) was also the port from which Jonah embarked when he tried to flee from God, and was eventually swallowed by the big fish (Jonah 1:3). A whimsical statue commemorates this event:



Joppa was also one of the places where the apostle Peter stayed for some time, at the house of a man named Simon the Tanner (Acts 9:43). The house is still there (sure), but it was locked when we went by.

For those more interested in ancient Greek and Roman mythology, the port of Joppa was famous as the site where Andromeda was chained up as an offering to a sea monster, and where Perseus swooped in with the head of Medusa and saved her. Here is the actual rock:


YES, THAT LITTLE ROCK OFF TO THE RIGHT OF THE PICTURE. WOW, RIGHT?

It's really not very impressive at all, especially when you consider how shallow the water is around it. Some seamonster!

It was a pleasant day, and just what we needed to unwind from the intense touring we had been doing for almost two weeks.

A JAFFA MYSTERY: WHAT IS THIS MACHINERY? ANYONE? DAN PERHAPS? FOY?




THIS IS IT IN A VERY DEEP HOLE

But we had one more task to complete before making it back to the Research Center that night. We were bringing Tsameret's two children back from Tel Aviv to Istanbul. I was slightly surprised that we were even allowed to leave the country with them, since they have Israeli passports and we do not.


SHEKED IN THE AIRPORT.


ILAN AND YUVAL.

Their father, Ilan, was able to come with us to the gate, but even so I would have thought security would have been tighter. But of course we are all glad it was not. The plane ride home was VERY bumpy -- much more than usual, even with some weather turbulence. The kids thought it was great fun, but Peter and I were quite nervous. Of course the littlest, Yuval, fell asleep only about 10 minutes before we landed, so for a few hours we were very busy entertaining two kids that we don't even share a language with! But it was fun, and we came out of it with a new respect for parents traveling with small children.

We finally made it back home, completely exhausted, but with much to contemplate. History, religion, politics -- the trip changed or augmented our understanding of many things. It was a very valuable experience indeed.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Holy Land Trip Day 10: Jerusalem Day 3


THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHER, SCAFFOLDING AND ALL. VIEW FROM THE BELL TOWER OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCH OF THE REDEEMER.


A MONK IN A DOORWAY INSIDE THE CHURCH

Our last day in Jerusalem started very early. We wanted to be back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where we had finished our previous day, early enough that there would be few people there. It opens at 4:30, and we managed to make it by about 5:30.

As I mentioned in the last post, the final Stations of the Cross are inside the church itself, which was constructed on the presumed site of the crucifixion and burial of Christ. So, in effect, the church was built on top of Golgotha, and encompassing the tomb at the foot of it.

After passing through the external courtyard, if you turn right inside the door and climb the steep stairway there, you find yourself atop Golgotha. There are three further Stations here:


STATION 11: CHRIST IS NAILED TO THE CROSS. THIS CHAPEL IS OWNED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.


TO THE LEFT OF THE CATHOLIC ALTAR IS A SMALLER ALTAR CALLED THE "STABAT MATER," WHICH IS PLACED TO THE RIGHT OF THE SPOT OF THE CRUCIFIXION, MARKING THE PLACE WHERE MARY STOOD AND WEPT.



STATION 12: CHRIST DIES ON THE CROSS. THIS BEAUTIFUL GREEK ORTHODOX ALTAR IS PLACED DIRECTLY OVER THE SPOT DESIGNATED AS THE ONE WHERE THE CROSS WAS PLACED. YOU CAN APPROACH THE ALTAR, KNEEL, AND REACH UNDERNEATH TO TOUCH THE ACTUAL ROCK OF GOLGOTHA, AS I AM DOING HERE.


THE ROCK OF GOLGOTHA. LESS IMPRESSIVE IN PHOTO FORM.

Back downstairs, directly beneath the chapel at the top of Golgotha, there is a smaller chapel, built up against the base of the rock. It is called the Chapel of Adam (early Christian tradition held that Christ was crucified over the spot where the skull of Adam was buried), and you can see there a fissure in the rock of Golgotha that some believe was caused by the earthquake that occurred as Christ died:


THE ALTAR IN THE CHAPEL OF ADAM

Outside this chapel is the Stone of Annointment (or the Stone of Unction), a slab that commemorates the wrapping and preparation of Christ's body for burial. The marble that is there now dates only from 1810, but the spot has been revered at least since the Medieval period. Many visitors display a lot of emotion when viewing this spot, with many kneeling to kiss the stone:



Going another story below the church to the Chapel of St. Helena (the mother of Constantine, the one who discovered the "True Cross" of the crucifixion in the early fourth century and convinced her son to build the first Holy Sepulcher on this spot), you can see not only the scant remains of the first church that remain on this spot, but also many examples of graffiti carved over hundreds of years by devout pilgrims.


THE STAIRS DESCENDING TO THE CHAPEL OF ST. HELENA


THE WALL ON THE WAY DOWN IS COVERED WITH THOUSANDS OF CROSSES CARVED BY PILGRIMS


THIS CROSS ON THE FLOOR MARKS THE SPOT WHERE ST. HELENA DISCOVERED THE "TRUE CROSS"

The rest of the church is filled with small chapels, some of which were open and some of which were not. As I mentioned in the last post, each is owned and maintained by a different denomination. The morning that we were there, early as it was, there was already a mass going on on the spot of the 11th Station, as well as another service that was making full use of the impressive pipe organ. I will try to attach a video below so anyone who is interested can hear it.

We were very glad that we had been able to enter the Tomb of Christ the day before, as it was closed for a service this morning. There were four or five monks inside chanting, although we could not of course see what they were doing.



THE FRONT OF THE SHRINE OF THE TOMB, WITHOUT ALL THE TOURISTS OF THE DAY BEFORE


PETER BESIDE THE SHRINE BUILT AROUND THE TOMB

On the back of the tomb is the smallest chapel in the entire church -- the Coptic chapel on the back of the square shrine. The Copts claim that a stone inside is part of the original tomb, but this is highly doubtful as it is granite and the interior of the tomb is limestone. There is always a monk sitting here, and visitors may light a candle.


LIGHTING A CANDLE IN THE COPTIC CHAPEL. YOU CAN SEE A MONK BEHIND ME.

Behind the square shrine is the entrance to yet another chapel, the very interesting Syrian Chapel. The Syrian Orthodox church maintains this area, which many visitors miss. It is of great archaeological interest because inside, along the back walls, are several tunnels whose sides are covered with Jewish rock-cut tombs that date from 100 BC to 100 AD. This of course proves that this area was used for burial, which somewhat shores up the assertion that Christ's tomb may have been in this area. It also indicates the limits of the area that Constantine dug out of the rock to build his church:


THE ALTAR IN THE SYRIAN CHAPEL


A NOT-VERY-GOOD PHOTO OF SOME OF THE TOMBS. FLASH PICTURES INSIDE DARK CAVES NEVER TURN OUT WELL.

All in all, the Holy Sepulcher is not only the holiest site of all for Christian believers, it is one of the most important religious sites in the world. It is a case study in archaeology, religious history, and the mediation of modern conflicts between religious groups. Definitely a not-to-be-missed site.

From the church, we went back to the Jaffa Gate and walked the second section of walls, the one we had not had access to the day before because it passes the Muslim section of town. Some views:


A VIEW ALONG THE WALL TOWARDS THE DOME OF THE ROCK


SOME CHILDREN ON THE PLAYGROUND AT A SCHOOL. YES, THEY ARE WAVING AT US.


THE CHAOS OF JERUSALEM

The place where we came down from the wall is very close to the church of St. Anne's, which I mentioned in an earlier post. The archaeological excavations that are ongoing on the grounds of this church are fascinating. Archaeologists have determined that this was the site of the Bethesda pool, where the Bible says that people afflicted with various conditions would lie and wait for the waters to move (because they were stirred by an angel). When this happened, the first one into the water would be healed. Here, Christ healed a lame man who had gone to the pool every day for many years, but had no one to help him into the water. The site is most interesting not only because it matches up with the story in John 5, but because excavations below the Byzantine and Crusader churches built on top of the site have revealed an ancient temple to Asclepius, the Roman god of medicine, indicating that the water at the site continued to be utilized for its healing qualities in the centuries after Christ:


THE EXCAVATIONS AT THE SITE ARE IMPRESSIVE. THE TALL RUINS SEEN HERE ARE OF A CRUSADER CHURCH ON TOP OF A BYZANTINE CHURCH


AT THE POOL OF BETHESDA

After St. Anne's, we stopped briefly for a photo op at the Ecce Homo arch, part of a Roman triumphal arch that Christian tradition says is the spot where Pontius Pilate showed Christ to the crowd, who then called for his crucifixion. "Ecce Homo." "Behold, the man." The arch is actually datable to a later period than the crucifixion of Christ, so there is nothing but tradition behind its identification as this spot, which was more likely near the Citadel discussed in an earlier post.


THE SO-CALLED "ECCE HOMO ARCH"

We worked our way slowly out through the Muslim market to the Damascus Gate. There, we paused outside the city to contemplate the sheer number and diversity of the people passing in and out of that famous gate. It really does give one the feeling that everyone, sooner or later, comes to Jerusalem. Knowing that it has been just this busy, with trade and pilgrims, for many hundreds of years, makes it even more interesting:



Having left the Old City, we visited the nearby Rockefeller Museum. The collection here is astounding. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed. The objects range from the first known mask in the world, a painted limestone face found in a Judean cave and dated to ca. 7000 BC, through Canaanite and early Hebrew objects, and into the Christian period. The carved lentils from the doorway of the Holy Sepulcher as it stood before a disastrous fire in 1808 are remarkable. The collection is fairly superb, but a lack of organization and explanatory labels, so common in this part of the world, mar the experience. Still, it should be visited.

From there we caught the servees to Bethlehem. Most of that experience I have already detailed in the first post about this trip, an account of our time in the West Bank. What I did not do in that original post, however, was discuss the Church of the Nativity and the Milk Grotto in any detail, and show pictures of them.

The Church of the Nativity obviously marks the supposed site of the birth of Christ. This is one of the earliest surviving Christian churches in the world, built in the fourth century, although various sections of it were reworked over the centuries. The nave itself dates to the time of the emperor Justinian, in the fifth century. It's interior is fairly astounding, including 44 pink limestone columns, most of them original to the 4th-century church, which were painted with images of saints during the Crusader period.


PETER SNAPPED THIS GREAT SHOT OF PALESTINIAN SECURITY FORCES PATROLLING THE SOUTH AISLE OF THE CHURCH


ONE OF THE CRUSADER-ERA PAINTINGS ON A PILLAR OF THE NAVE

Of course, the highlight of a visit to the church is the grotto beneath the altar, the site of the manger. The precise spot is marked by a silver star on the floor, and tourists (like us) take turns kneeling there.


WE WERE IN THE GROTTO WITH A GROUP OF PILGRIMS FROM NIGERIA.

In the smaller St. Catherine's church next door, stairs lead down to a grotto that is said to have been the study, and the burial place, of St. Jerome, and the site where, in the late fourth century, he completed the Vulgate, the definitive edition of the Bible, translated from Hebrew and Greek into Latin.

As we walked through the town, we stopped to watch some local workmen creating the olivewood sculpture that is prized all over the world:



The Milk Grotto, which I also described in an earlier post, is a modern building (1872) built on the site of another 4th century church. Although the story of Mary hiding in a cave with the infant Christ before fleeing to Egypt is not in the Bible, it was clearly important enough in the mythology of early Christianity to warrant a church. The building there today is somewhat bizarre because of its super-modern appearance:


EXTERIOR OF THE MILK GROTTO


A CHAPEL IN THE MILK GROTTO


THERE IS ALWAYS A NUN PRAYING IN THE GROTTO, DAY AND NIGHT

Since I have discussed the rest of our experience in the West Bank already, I will just take the chance to say again that our trip to Bethlehem was a powerful and moving experience, and I would urge others to take advantage of the opportunity to do so if it arises.

From Bethlehem it was back to pick up our bags at the hospice, then we caught the sunset bus to Tel Aviv (because Saturday is the Sabbath, the buses do not run until sundown). There we were picked up at the station by Ilan, the husband of Tsameret, my fellow Fellow here at the Research Center. Because we would be doing them the favor of escorting their two small children back to Istanbul from Israel the next day, her parents were kind enough to put us up for the night in their home. Tsameret's brother and sister-in-law came over, and we all had a nice family meal and discussed the upcoming Israeli elections (yes, politics over dinner. I know it is risky, but SO interesting!). It was nice after so many nights in hotels and on the move to relax in a family atmosphere.







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