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Turkey is one of those places in the world where history has been unearthed in layers of exceptional diversity. There have been human wanderers in this land for millennia, and there are nomad populations even today. Distinct possibilities exist that Civilization itself, beginning with the advent of agriculture, has its roots in this soil.

It took me some time to grasp that Asia Minor and Anatolia are two names for the same place and that today they comprise the bulk of Asian Turkey. There is a violent history of ethnic strife in this area that reaches deep into its ancient past and extends into the 20th century. The last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th were a particularly tragic time under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. This sad state has been counterbalanced by relative political stability since the War of Independence and the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1922. The bloodshed in the dark times before the republic may help to explain the lack of major movies on the history of Anatolia.

The Mother Goddess of Catal Hoyuk

The Mother Goddess of Catal Hoyuk

South of Ankara, below Konya, there is an archaeological site called Catal Hoyuk (or Çatalhöyük, say Chat-al-hoy-ook), that holds the emblematic role of the oldest city in the world.  This is not demonstrably true, but it is close enough to be a visual aid in imagining such a city almost 10,000 years ago. No movies exist to enlarge on this imaginative exercise. Many fine artifacts extracted from this site are on view at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, and it is well worth a visit. To the southeast of Catal Hoyuk is a place called Göbekli Tepe (say Go-bek-lee Tep-ee), which makes a claim to an even earlier ceremonial center, at about 12,000 years ago. It serves as a marker between hunter-gatherer clans and the beginnings of agricultural society.

Troy is at the far northwest corner of mainland Turkey and there is not much left of it.  For Hollywood’s misrepresentation of the Trojan War, see Greek World/Troy. Throughout the centuries of the Greek and Roman domination of the Aegean coast of Turkey, great cities appeared on these shores “like frogs around a pond” (possibly Plato). If you are a tourist on an Aegean cruise, you are most likely to visit Ephesus. Alexander the Great passed this way, tracking along the southern coastline and stopping at a place called Phaselis for his winter camp. See Northern Greece: Alexander. Go to Phaselis if you possibly can and you will see why Alexander wished to spend a winter there with only an army for company. It has all the qualities of an ancient resort, including a sheltered beach and a superb theater.

Over the last 2000 years, the cosmopolitan city of Istanbul has served as a capital of four major empires around the Mediterranean. In Greek and Roman times, it was known first as Byzantium and then as Constantinople.  When the city was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, it became the hub of the Islamic empire, and eventually Constantinople came to be called Istanbul. After 1922, the capital was relocated to Ankara in central Anatolia.


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