| Salbiah Said |
ISTANBUL (Bernama) – The muezzin’s call to prayer at the crack of dawn echoed from the loudspeaker of a mosque, and through the window of the four-star Kaya Hotel in Istanbul on Sept 19, the last stop for a group of Malaysians on a 10-day trip to Turkey.
It was this wake-up call that pushed the group, to an early start on the day. The visit from Sept 12 to Sept 21, was rewarding with a rich mélange of sights, sounds and smells.
The tour was organised by the Association of Women and Wives of Bernama Employees (Benita) and Vreka Travel and Tours Sdn Bhd.
Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, straddles both the European and Asian continents and connected by the Bosphorus Bridge, is 99.8 per cent Islamic. Turkey itself prides in its resplendent mosques, palaces and historic ruins. There are 82,693 mosques in Turkey, with the highest number (3,113) in Istanbul, as at March 2013.
The architectural grandeur of Istanbul comes from the world famous Blue Mosque now turned into the Hagia Sophia museum, Suleymaniye Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace and the Galata Tower, which gives a bird’s-eye view of the entire city. The square in front of the Blue Mosque covers the site of the ancient Hippodrome, one of the most famous areas in Byzantine Constantinople.
On the first day in Turkey, the group boarded a bus, which took them to the various iconic buildings in Istanbul. After spending a few hours here, the group took the ferry headed for Bursa, which lies in the northwestern part of Turkey near the Sea of Marmara, about 20 km inland.
Most of the historic sights of Bursa city date back to the early period of the Ottomans. Today, with a population of over 2.5 million, Bursa is the fourth largest city in Turkey after Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. It is famous for its peach, chestnut, and silk, although lately, heavy industry located in the outskirts of the city has surpassed these traditional industries.
Turkey boasts three wonders of the world. They are the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and the Mausoleum of Massollos at Halicarnassus, which are listed as two of the original Seven Wonders of the (Ancient) World. They sit alongside the former mosque Hagia Sophia in Istanbul – listed as one of the Wonders of the Medieval World.
From mesmerising coastline to archaeological sites and bazaars, visitors are enchanted by the sights and sounds of this country ranked as one of the hottest tourist destinations in recent times.
It is no wonder that many film makers have chosen Turkey to be the stage and back drop in their feature films because of its cultural and historical significance and its varied locations.
To name a few, Taken 2 starring Liam Neeson was 80 per cent shot in Istanbul, Turkey. Skyfall, the 23rd instalment of the James Bond characterised films was shot in Istanbul and Accidental Spy, a 2001 film starring Jackie Chan, was shot in Istanbul and Cappadocia.
Throughout the 10-day visit, the tour guide Melih Tunali, often referred to as Mel, had every information at his finger tips, and would carry up his signature green umbrella as he led the group of 40. Visits to Bursa include Ulu Cami Mosque, Cumalizik Village, the oldest surviving Ottoman village and Mozaik Lokum, a Turkish delight and apple tea outlet.
The Ulu Cami mosque (Great Mosque), which is sited next to the city museum, is the largest mosque in the city. Its 20 domes were supposedly built to represent the 20 mosques which Sultan Bayezid I had promised for winning the 1396 Battle of Nicopolis.
From Bursa, the group moved on to Kusadasi. Kusadasi, which means ‘bird island’, a gulf in the Aegean region, is known for its turquoise sparkling water, pristine sandy beaches, bright sun and large marina with a capacity for 600 boats.
Located 90km south of Izmir, Kusadasi is popular with tourists as it is very near to the historical sites such as the Ephesus and Isabey Mosque. In Kusadasi, a tour of the Populer Leather Centre, which produces jackets, bags and wallets such as Burberry, Louis Vutton and Prada, kick started with a fashion show.
Turkey is one of the world’s leading producers of leather goods. The leather outlet in Kusadasi was more of a teaser as the next visit took them into the cradle of civilisation, and that is the Ephesus. The ancient Greek city, which later became a major Roman city, has been described as the best-preserved Roman city in the Mediterranean region.
As Ephesus has little shade, you need to wear hats, sunglasses and bring along umbrellas and mineral water. The city, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, is the most famous Greek city of ancient times with a heritage dating back to 6,000 BC.
Mel led the group to the ancient city through the Magnesia Gate and strolled along the street made of marble slabs. Among the fascinating ruins in the Roman city are the famed Temple of Hadrian, which dates back from the 2nd Century but underwent repairs in the 4th century and has been re-erected from the surviving architectural fragments.
Others include the Grand Theatre, with an estimated 24,000 seating capacity and believed to be the largest outdoor theatre in the ancient world and the restored Library of Celsus. Between 12,000 and 15,000 scrolls were housed in the grand Library of Celsus.
Next stop is Pamukkale, one of the most sought after destinations in Turkey with its cotton-look terraces. The underground water which once gave life to the ancient city of Hierapolis now helps Pamukkale to be one of the most important thermal centres of Turkey. Hierapolis, whose name means ‘sacred city’, is a World Heritage site.
In Turkish, Pamukkale means the Cotton Castle, which is parallel to the spectacular view of the site. The most distinct features of this ancient place are its natural thermal pools, one of which is called Cleopatra’s Pool.
The legend says that Cleopatra was aware of the beautifying properties of the water of Pamukkale. Visitors can go for a swim in the famous Cleopatra’s pool!
Also on the itinerary was a visit to Isa Bey Mosque. Constructed in 1374-75, it is one of the oldest known examples of a Turkish mosque with a courtyard.
From Pamukkale, the tour headed for Konya, but stopped over for a short break at a caravanserai (roadside inn). Being built eight centuries ago for travelers during their journeys across the continent, the caravanserai still hosts tourists along the Konya-Aksaray highway plotting their path to Cappadocia.
In Konya, the group visited the Mevlana Museum, the mausoleum of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a Persian Sufi mystic also known as Mevlana or Rumi.
The group stayed the night in Cappadocia, with city visits which included the Underground City of Serhatli, the Pigeon Valley, Uchisar Castle, Local Cave House, Avanos Pottery Village, Bazaar 54 Carpet Factory as well as a hot air-balloon ride.
Lunch in Cappadocia was at a restaurant in the Underground City of Serhatli.
A visit to the Avanos pottery outlet was a refreshing experience and entertaining too as the group was ushered to several long benches.
The group was introduced to world famous pottery artist, Galip Korukcu or Chez Galip, who skillfully showed the art of pottery making as he pounded his feet to start the wooden wheel spinning and his hands smoothed a lump of the wet clay that spattered his trousers and vest. The Albert Einstein look-alike Galip, or ‘Master Galip’ as he is known, has been practising ceramic pottery in Avanos for over 50 years.
The group was also taken to Bazaar 54, a local weaving cooperative where local women learn and hone the craft of carpet weaving.
Its production manager Kemal Boybasi said unlike other carpets, Turkish ones are double knotted to ensure that they are extra sturdy and durable. Turkish carpets have been coveted for their beauty, quality and longevity since the Ottoman Empire.
The grand finale of the tour was a ‘flying carpet’ show by Kemal’s assistant, who unveiled a variety of its handcrafted carpets with traditional designs as well as patchwork and contemporary pieces. Customary to Turkish tradition, apple tea was served after Kemal finished unveiling the best of the store’s carpets to the group.
Also on the Cappadocia itinerary was a visit to a jewellery outlet, the Ozler Art Centre. Jewellery is a good buy in Turkey because of its cheap prices and high quality of carat.
It was an amazing and dazzling experience, so-to-speak, as jewellery lovers among the group made some purchases at the outlet. The centre, a family tradition handed down over the generations since 1974, sells onyx, which is the most popular in the region.
All products at the centre are produced from natural stones that have been carefully crafted with expertise. The centre also showcased a good selection of turquoise. The word turquoise comes from the French for Turkish stone, as the gem was originally imported from Turkey.