One of the great things about being a Fulbrighter in Turkey is all the other Fulbrighters that are here doing the same thing. It’s nice to have a support group when times are challenging, plus the other Fulbrighters are all pretty amazing people, they make excellent travel companions, and they live all over the country, providing a convenient excuse to visit in-between places. Two weekends ago I set out on my first bus ride in Turkey. I had heard the buses were a pretty high class way to travel, and it is true. The panoramic windows allowed fantastic views of the sweeping landscape, which I enjoyed from my air conditioned ‘lounge chair.’ There was a tv in the back of the seat in front of me playing Turkish soap operas, which wouldn’t tickle my fancy if it weren’t for all the Turkish women around me laughing and crying about the show. That makes for a good time (as long as there are also headphones to escape with once you’ve had your fill). There was also a steward that went up and down the aisles making sure people got off at the right stop and serving tea, coffee, and water.
I rode this bus to Malatya. The 4.5 hour ride turned into 6.5, but no problem. We made it. I hailed a cab and met Fulbright friends at a restaurant called Moby Dick where we dined, caught up, and indulged in nargile. After just a few weeks apart, there was A LOT to catch up on. Everyone had tales of adventure and misadventure. Some had traveled as many as 13 hours to be there in Malatya. I’d say it was worth it.
We tried to pry ourselves away from conversation and get some rest before our early morning departure. Twelve of us were finding spots in two apartments at İnönü University. The view from our hosts’ apartments was incredible! Only a mosque and a few meager structures stood between their balconies and sandy mountains, a stark contrast against the bright blue skyline.
The van İnönü University had arranged to transport us that day showed up bright and early, and we were off. We filled up on a smorgasbord of a breakfast in a roadside restaurant with waterfalls, and then we were really off. I knew we were headed to Mount Nemrut, and that there were heads of statues at the top. I knew there were some historic ruins along the way. But I was not prepared for the grandeur that awaited us. The entire drive was stunning. Here are some views that really don’t do it justice:
We left Malatya Province and drove into Adıyaman Province. Research in this area reveals continuous civilization during the Bronze and Stone Ages, with evidence found from 40,000 BC. Various groups occupied the land, of course, including Assyrians, Persians, and Macedonians. In 69 BC the Commagene Kingdom was founded, and it is they who created the artifacts at Mount Nemrut and around. This Kingdom lasted until the Romans took over in 72 AD, followed by Byzantines, Ummayads, Abbasids, Arabs, and Turks.
Throughout the day our van pulled off the road at various sites containing ruins far older than I can conceptualize. The first stop was at the Ancient City of Perre, also referred to as the Caves of Pirin. This was one of the five major cities during the Commagene Kingdom, especially important due to its prime location between two major cities and because of its quality water source.
Next we stopped at Karakuş Tümülüs, an artificial burial mound built in 36 BC by the Commagene Royal Family. Going along with the theme of the day, the view was pretty wonderful. The mound is surrounded by a few columns that are topped by various animals (an eagle, a lion, a bull, some not easily identified). We climbed to the top to get a better view, then stumbled down and found some shade. This mound is said to encompass the bodies of several female relatives of King Mithridates II.
We drove on to the Cendere River, where we checked out Cendere Bridge, a Roman bridge built in honor of Emperor Septimius Severus in the 2nd Century AD. Three of four original Corinthian columns are still standing, and the bridge is most impressive. There were several groups of people picnicking along the water under the bridge. In fact, they slaughtered their dinner, a goat, while we were looking around. Some young boys were splashing in the water, which looked so refreshing. However, we resisted and moved on down the road.
We soon came upon another Roman bridge that wasn’t quite as impressive, but the structures we spotted in crevices between mountains were amazing.
For lunch we dined poolside and enjoyed a variety of offerings. Rachel, who studied in Berlin, and I overheard a couple speaking German, so we stopped by their table for a chat. After all, we were in a pretty desolate location, plus there’s never any harm in making friends with other travelers. It turns out they had spent the past year road tripping the US. They shared their route and a few tales from the road, which was interesting to hear (they didn’t make it to Oklahoma this time), and it’s always fun to communicate in German. Our group was getting ready to depart so we said our goodbyes and finished our tea. As we rounded the corner to climb back in our van, we spotted what had to be this couple’s vehicle. It was a massive Hummer that looked ready to survive in any condition for as long as possible. If it’s possible for such a vehicle to look friendly, this one did, complete with a map of the US highlighting all the states they had stopped in, as well as stickers from at least a dozen other countries they had apparently toured. We really wished we could stay and chat more with this couple, but alas, it was time to discover Nemrut. On we drove.