Aubeterre Underground Church of Saint Jean is an amazing site. The church was carved out of the rocks from the upper side downwards. The crusader Pierre II de Castillon lived in the castle above it and reserved the best spot for himself, with view on the copy of the Holy Grave in Jerusalem. Now you can visit this spot and see what he saw in the XIIth century.
Aubeterre Underground Church of Saint Jean is also called the Monolithic Church as it was carved out of the limestone rocks, however not out of a single rock. Still it is one of the largest rock-hewn churches in Europe. There is some discussion about the origin but the main carving job was done in the XIIth century by Benedictine monks. The way to carve it, from the upper side downwards, was influenced by early churches that can still be found in Turkey’s Kappadokia. On their way to Jerusalem the crusaders must have past this region and be inspired by the way they were created and brought this idea back to France.
The work took 10 years. 9000 m3 of stone was removed! The church is 27 meters long, 20 meters high and 16 meters wide. In the middle of the floor you can find a beautiful baptismal pool, carved in the form of a Greek cross. Aubeterre Underground Church was hidden for centuries by a rock fall, and only rediscovered in the 1950′s.
Imagine the first people entering the site; their mouths must have fallen open. They might have lived next door for years without any idea of the miracle that was created there in medieval times. See also this photograph I took at the entrance: if that had not been built, one could easily pass the church unnoticed.
Aubeterre Underground Church has enormous high rounded vaults which tower above a monumental reliquary in the form of the holy sepulchre in Jerusalem. The religious artifacts are no longer there. They were brought to Aubeterre-sur-Dronne from Jerusalem by Pierre II de Castillon, crusader and lord of the castle situated above the church. There is an entrance through the rocks to go from the castle down to the deambulatory in the vaults of the church.
Visitors actually enter the church from downstairs and take stairs to go up to the deambulatory that is perched beneath the vaults. Here is the perfect spot where Pierre II as the lord of the castle could overview the whole church. Seeing the holy sepulchre from here creates a highly spiritual ambience. However, the deambulatory is also home for bats. Don’t let it influence your spiritual experience! Aubeterre-sur-Dronne lies on the road to Santiago de Compostella and always had many pilgrims passing to see the relics.
Once back downstairs, don’t forget to have a view at the ‘cemetary’, on the side of the church: a complete necropolis that is also hewn out of the rock. It shows the popularity of the church and the holiness it had for visitors and inhabitants. All the graves head in the direction of Jerusalem.
I often went to the beautiful city of Hoorn but I never visited the Westfries Museum Hoorn. That was a mistake! When I finally took the step to visit last week, I saw how beautiful it is, both the ancient building and the collection; I should have gone there before… Learn about the Dutch Golden Age, the 17th century when the Netherlands were a brandnew state, full of ambition in wartorn Europe. Enjoy the attractive presentations!
Westfries Museum Hoorn is like the Frisians are: it won’t easily show from the outside what is in it. I was never aware that behind the walls of the indeed beautiful ancient building, a wealth of antiquities awaits the visitors. Rooms are decorated like they were in the 17th century. The picture to the left shows a wood carving in a chimney (oak), of men catching a whale: a wonderful picture. This is in the ‘tavern’, a real nice room where you can imagine how people sat together for eating and drinking.
17th paintings are everywhere. The museum has got magnificent pieces and they have a lot of them. Moreover it is far less busy than museums in Amsterdam so you have all the time you like to watch them in peace and silence. It is incredible how this 17th century ‘beginning’ country The Netherlands that was threatened from all sides, both by real ennemies like England and Spain, and by natural ennemies such as sea and rivers, built up an imperium with little means, by joining forces together and showing guts and re-thinking trade. It made cities like Hoorn thrive abundantly. Look at this wonderful painting Hoorn View by Hendrick Vroom in 1622 – admire the colours, the details…
Another painting I particularly liked is the Kitchen maid who cleanes fish in front of farm with dog by Egbert Lievenzs. van der Poel (1621-1664). It is so different from the paintings of all the important guys (Westfries Museum Hoorn has many in this kind). Ordinary life with ordinary people can be as interesting or even more than the endless row of portraits on all the other walls.
Now I show you some other pieces that attracted my attention. It is only a selection, to give you an impression of what to expect and indeed I was deeply impressed. Enjoy the variety of what the Westfries Museum Hoorn has to offer!
The best piece for book lovers: chronicles of Hoorn, published in 1740. Telling the begin and the growth of Hoorn, and in particular the events (the ‘troubles’) until the year 1630. Written by Theodorus Velius, a doctor and a well know chronicler who wrote this in 1704. You can find the tekst of the first pages (in Dutch) on this site. The 1740 version has annotations by another expert, what a joy. Imagine how they produced this, in a time that a book was printed page by page!
Cutting art, art produced by cutting with scissors; it was difficult to photograph because of the glass reflection as you can see but hopefully you can get a good impression. De Faem was made by Gilles van Vliet, a vinegar maker and wine merchant in Rotterdam 1686. This was only his hobby! But his work had a certain fame because of his ‘excellent curieuse pieces’. Absolutely amazing work and you wonder where someone finds the patience for this art…
Down in the cellar, a lovely niche is reserved for this wooden Maria statue. It dates from 1450 – 1500, is made out of oak, the crown is made of gold with silverthread, pearls and gemstones. A sign mentions that it is called a ‘Maria in sole’ because she stands on a crescent moon, and she is lit by the sun and the stars, as described in Johannis’ Revelations. The cellar was totally quiet when I was there; it is a good place for meditation and prayer. Two chairs in the little niche facilitate visitors to do so.
Also in the cellar are these tiles, deriving from a farm in Andijk, not far from Hoorn in Westfriesland, dating from 1700-1730. The whole piece forms a ‘wall heater’ and depicts biblical scenes. There are more ‘wall heaters’ in the cellar as well as other interesting tiles. So do not forget to visit the cellar – if you skipp that part of the museum, you really miss something!
Another underground treasure: this painting that is part of a large piece, a tryptich, the Hoorn Panel of Justice. It used to hang behind the judges at the wall of the court room of the old townhall and shows the assumptions of jurisdiction. Most probably several painters worked on it from 1521 – 1530 and it contains 5 stories. I loved story number 4 (on the photograph), the Verdict of Herkenbald. Herkenbald of Bourbon was very ill in his bed when he ordered that his cousin had to be locked up for assaulting a maid. His order was not followed. Therefor Herkenbald cut the throat of his cousin all by himself. Whew…. I stood there thinking what this meant for the court room and the judges that were sitting in front of this painting in the 16th century… What could be the right interpretation of this story?
This is one other of those incredible museum pieces. The painting dates from 1589, that is now exactly 430 years ago. And what do they show here? The Westfries Museum Hoorn does not just have the painting, it also has the original box that is depicted in the painting. Isn’t that wonderful? I stood there in surprise and believe me, it matches: the box is exactly the box that was painted 430 years ago. Little is known about the painting, the sign mentions ‘two members of the Saint Joris Guild’ – oil painting on linen. OK, so far what we can know about it. As said knowing is not always the most interesting part.
Another very interesting piece, the gold plated silver Bossu Goblet: I did not find this beautiful or so but it served as a trophy for Hoorn and that is intriguing. It once belonged to the Spanish admiral Maximilien de Hénin-Liétard, the earl of Bossu. In the eternally ongoing war at that time (the 80 year war) the admiral was defeated in 1573 in a war on the water (or sea) close to Hoorn. The goblet in the hands of the people of Hoorn symbolized the new power of the city of Hoorn (and Enkhuizen, also in Westfriesland) that thrived after this heavy battle against the Spanish that they won. I find it so interesting in the Westfries Museum Hoorn, that every object has a story with historical relevance.
A coffin dating from 1658: who knows how many bodies were transported in this coffin? Intriguing that it has been preserved during centuries. The four corners are decorated with silver plate angels. I did not find any further explanation about this piece (feel free to comment below!) such as until when it was used and whether it was for the rich only or also for ordinary people. However, very beautiful…
How often do you see table ware with a hare? Here they are, in different shapes and colours. I loved them! Just for the motive. But if you like to know more, this is berretino-style faience from Liguria, Italy, 1580 – 1620. It appears that the coloured one is a local copy of the Italian work – quite a succesfull one, imo 🙂 –
Last but not least, I found this silver miniature, dating from 1751. The name of the maker is Arnoldus VAN GEFFEN – not really family I guess but I rarely hear my family name in this region far ‘above the rivers’ > Geffen is a village below the large Dutch rivers. So I was happily surprised! Well done Arnoldus, I love your silverwork 🙂 –
House of Dionysos in Paphos, Cyprus, has floors full of mosaics. It dates from the 2nd century AD but there is evidence it was built upon a much older building. The mosaics are worth your visit all by themselves, although they lie in a larger archaeological parc next to the seaside of Paphos, with much more to see.
The Phaedra and Hyppolytos mosaic for example form a refined work. Hyppolytos is there with his hunting dog and he reads the love letter his stepmother Phaedra sends him. An explanation says he ‘looks embarrassed’ and she is ‘waiting anxiously for his reaction’; I leave it to you to decide whether these observations are correct… Cupido directs a burning torch to her heart as a sign of her passion.
Platforms above the mosaics walk you through or better to say ‘over’ the mosaics. Signs are in Greek and English ànd braille: very customer friendly!
There are also great mosaics showing animals, and other aspects of nature, like the animals here: a wild boar purchased by a tiger (?), a bear, a deer, a bull for example.
All together the House of Dionysos in Paphos has 556 m2 in mosaics so there is a lot to enjoy. Also the more figurative mosaics are very fine, I loved them.
The House of Dionysos in Paphos lies within a larger archaeological parc called Kato Paphos with more interesting remains to see. Some interesting floors in the open air were covered with protective carpets when I visited, alas. Also the weather was very hot: if you go during the summer, be early to be able to look around the archaeological site without a burning sun over your head. The mosaics of the House of Dionysos themselves are covered with a roof but of course not the whole area is.
Further on in some corner of the site lie interesting tombs. There was nothing to explain them so if you have information about it, please comment here. They seem to be different from the Tombs of the Kings mentioned on wikipedia, but maybe they were part of them. Some of the tombs were a bit of a mess, as you can see on the photograph to the left.
As said, the House of Dionysos in Paphos was built in the 2nd century AD upon more ancient remains; the oldest one was a sanctuary carved into the natural bedrock. It was destroyed most probably by an earthquake in the 4th century. The leading role Paphos used to have in Cyprus was then transfered to Salamis, also a very interesting site to visit. The coins found on this site can be seen in the Museum of the History of Cypriot Coinage in Nicosia.
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Salamis was a city with 100.000’s of inhabitants in ancient times. Only a small part of the city has been excavated, showing Roman and Byzantine remains. Much more is to be discovered as Salamis was founded already in the 11th century BC, ruled by Assyrians, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Persians and Alexander the Great.
Salamis lies next to the sea, at a not very proper but well accessible sand beach. As temperatures can be quite high here in the summer season, this offers a great opportunity to combine a visit to hot Salamis with a good swim to cool down. The site of Salamis is a deserted place. The first excavations here date from 1880 and all excavations stopped after the division of Cyprus in a Turkish and Greek part in 1974. The largest part of Salamis is still covered under sand and bushes. Visitors are scarce.
The part I liked most is the bathing complex from the 1st century BC, as it has several statues around it with the beautiful dark marble statue of Persephone (on the right). Salamis prospered during 15 centuries until it was destroyed by earthquakes and tidal waves in the 4th century AD. Only some Byzantine activity persevered in Salamis but Arab raids in medieval times brought islam and made an end to christian domination. Many stones from Salamis were used to build Gazimagusa (Famagusta) and other buildings all over the island. All other remains were covered under sand dunes and bushes.
Worth your attention is also the 6th/7th century AD Basilica of Campanopetra. Cyprus was a very early christian island, as the apostle Saint Barnabas was born in Salamis from a Jewish family. There was a large Jewish community in Salamis, most probably due to its nearby location to Israel. Saint Barnabas spent time in Israel, became a christian and an active apostle, traveling to major 1st century cities. He returned to Cyprus together with the famous apostle Saint Paul in 46 AD.
The gymnasium of Salamis was among the largest of Roman era. Byzantines rebuilt it upon an older complex, destroyed in 4th century AD earthquakes. The marble columns do not match with the capitals on top, most probably the rebuilders just took pieces from elsewhere in the Salamis ruins. To be honest, the gymnasium itself is not very special to visit except for the impression of the large size; however the 44 (!) latrines where people would sit side by side in a semi-circle is a unique place to see.
They had good plumbing systems to secure hygiene, fortunately, that are still visible here. Note the funny sign in Turkish, Antik Tuvalet = antique toilet.
Particularly interesting are the roads that have been excavated. They show how well the roads were made, and also how large the city of Salamis must have been (for example in the 1st century AD it problably had 350.000 inhabitants).
Here some pictures of beautiful streets.
However, the best may still be uncovered here. Salamis has known Assyrian, Egyptian, Persian and Greek times: all I saw were the much more recent remains of Roman and Byzantine times. The nearby Royal Tombs and other excavations show that deep down there is more to see; much more. Salamis is waiting to be discovered.
Royal Tombs dating from the 8th and 7th century BC can be found in Northern Cyprus. The burial practices offer a good insight into ancient rituals just like Homer described them in the Iliad. However, it is more the knowledge about the Royal Tombs than the visit to the tombs themselves that is interesting.
Homer describes in the Iliad how kings and other noble personages were buried. His words are confirmed by the discoveries at the Royal Tombs in Northern Cyprus, although there are also archaeological theories about Homer being first to tell and invent and then the rituals on Cyprus following his epic narrative.
It is easy to find the Royal Tombs. If you go to the grave or the monastery of Saint Barnabas, north of Gazimagusa / Famagusta, you will see them along the road in the fields. Most objects found are in the Cyprus Museum in the South of the Island; I have not been there yet but it seems interesting as findings include chariots, a throne, incense burners, ivory objects, bronze horse bits and decorated breast plates, pottery and amphorae that contained oil and wine. Kings were buried with lots of grave goods.
On the location of the Royal Tombs however, only the stone buildings of the graves remain as well as the skeletons of horses: try to see one behind the glass on the picture (left). I am not sure if the glass ‘protection’ is helpful; most of them were so humid on the inside that it was impossible to see anything or take pictures. How can a humid glass house be protective for such old remains? My visit was December 2018; maybe it is dryer and more clear in summertime.
Burial in the era of the 8th and 7th century BC did not just come with the above mentioned grave goods but also with sacrifice of horses, donkeys and even humans. Archaeological research only started in the ’60ies here and gave a wealth of information. Whoever thought that Homer just made up his stories in the Iliad, found out that his description of burial practices was very accurate (unless you support the theory that the rituals were only shaped under the influence of Homer’s stories).
Most probably (part of) the Royal Tombs were used during many ages. Saint Catherine’s Tomb, number 50, for example, had a chapel on top that dated from the 4rd century BC. Archaeological research in the ’60ies revealed that the chapel was built on a tomb dating from a thousand years earlier than the 4th century chapel. By the way, the chapel was used for Saint Catherine’s veneration even in 1950 BC! So this location was special to many people during at least 2600 years…
Not everybody could afford a Royal Tomb. Next to the Royal Tombs lies a necropolis of hundreds, or even thousands of graves. Just like the nearby ancient city of Salamis and the nearby Bronze Age city of Enkomi, only a minor part of the fields have been unearthed. What has been excavated, shows us tombs people could go to by steps downstairs that were cut in the rocks. Large stones sealed the entrances of the burial chambers that were used almost continuously from 700 BC until 400 AD.
The picture on the right shows the immense fields with so much left to excavate. Further on you can see the grave and monastery of Saint Barnabas between the trees. Next to the chapel of Saint Barnabas’ grave there are also findings of burial chambers. Maybe that is just ‘the other end’ of the same necropolis….
Like the Royal Tombs, there is not so much ‘to be seen’ here. Nevertheless in the same time it is an exciting experience to stand there and oversee the place and consider that all you see might have been part of an immense necropolis, used during more than 10 centuries by hundreds of thousands of people. Neither in the nearby cities of Salamis or Enkomi nor at the Royal Tombs or Cellarga necropolis any excavation took place since 1974: the year that Cyprus was split in a Turkish and a Greek side. But nothing stops you from visiting the sites already now: you can feel the vibe of Homer’s Iliad here quite clearly!
Huis van Hilde, in english Hilde’s House, ‘is home to a spectacular exhibition of the archaeology and human history of Noord-Holland’: thus the introduction of the museum website. Nothing in these words is exagerated. Huis van Hilde is a fascinating museum where old findings are combined with new technologies in a way I didn’t see before in archaeological museums. That makes your visit a high quality experience!
Heavy fighting of the people of Holland with the people of Westfrisia in 1297 has left traces in bones that were found in the medieval village of Vronen, close to actual Alkmaar. They prove that the fighting was not just about winning but also about setting an example, learning the Westfrisians a lesson once and for all. Traces of stabbing with swords show the cruelties committed.
That history is the first thing you see when you enter the museum part of Huis van Hilde. It is intriguing to learn that in the 13th century there were both women and men in the fight. Every artefact shown in Huis van Hilde can easily be looked up in the tablets: this really opens a complete collection without being boring (if you’re not interested, you just don’t look into it).
Screens on the walls show videos with more historic background or archaeological research. Findings of skeletons are used to bring people back to life, like the Archaeological Museum of Haarlem had done. The skeleton on the left here belonged to a man from the stone age (2500BC). The picture below shows the man as he must have looked in real life.
Models of farms show how people lived during different ages. And so on. Huis van Hilde is a very rich museum and very capable too: they know how to show you their treasures. Languages used are Dutch, English and German; the tablets are Dutch only but very clear, you might be able to understand stuff. I can only show some of the artefacts I liked here: there is a lot more to see. Artefacts I liked:
Two wooden canoes Found in the soil of Noord-Holland.
On top is a canoe from Uitgeest 600 BC
Below is a canoe from the Wieringermeer polder 3300 BC.
Sacrifice and ritual Very interesting objects found in a sacrificial site at Velserbroek. During ages, starting at Iron Age, people threw objects in the bog such as jewelry, human bones, coins and pots. The presence of animal skulls – horses and dogs – and spearheads indicate worship of the Germanic god Wodan.
Flutes Amazing to find a flute and a pan flute in the vitrines. The flute was found in Broek op Langedijk. It was made out of the ulnar of a crane. Information in the tablet says that flutes in this part of Europe go back to 36.000 years, but this one is from 0-300AD. The pan flute is made out of boxwood. Only 4 pan flutes were found in Europe and this one from Uitgeest is in the best condition. It was probably imported from the Mediterranean 150-250AD.
How to get there Huis van Hilde in the village of Castricum has easy access. Officially coming by car is not encouraged but you can find enough parking spots at walking distance from the museum. Coming by train is indeed very easy: Huis van Hilde lies right next to the trainstation of Castricum. From Amsterdam Central Station, a train leaves every 20 minutes; traveling time is 25 minutes (from Alkmaar, trains also leave every 20 minutes and traveling time is 10 minutes).
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Panagia Tochniou Monastery or in Turkish, the Bulușa Manastırı lies in a beautiful spot of the Kyrenia mountains in Northern Cyprus. A high Cypress Tree that is 500 years old serves as a wishing tree. The place is deserted and peaceful when I arrive there.
Panagia Tochniou Monastery is in a better state than I expected when the locals of the village Agıllar (in Greek: Mandres) showed me the way, complaining that heritage is left abandoned and that nobody takes care of it. Panagia Tochniou Monastery lies at only 3 kilometers distance of Agıllar; follow the tarmac, you do not need to go over unpaved roads even if your map tells you so. The first 2,5 kilometers you think you will end up in the middle of nowhere with nothing to see.
Then suddenly a great view opens in front of you: tree, monastery, fields and the Troodos mountains far away. The Cypress Tree is said to be 500 years old and 15 or 18 meters high. It was bigger once upon a time but it was struck by lightning and is now hanging over like the tower of Pisa. The tree is full of little papers and cloths symbolizing visitor’s wishes: may they all become true! Large iron rods protect the tree from falling: a merciful act accomplished by English inhabitants, a local in Agıllar told me.
Inside, some traces of frescoes can be found in the dome and in arches. The tomb in the north wall seems to be the founder’s tomb.
In front of the church is a courtyard with buildings around it. On one side they are intact. You can enter the rooms that are empty. The view from the windows is spectacular. How on earth did they find this kind of spots in the middle ages to build their monasteries? Well done, for sure!
There is not a lot left from the other buildings around the courtyard of Panagia Tochniou but a look around is interesting. I saw several different marble pillars that are certainly not medieval. Most probably they took them from the ruins of nearby Salamis, an ancient city that thrived for over 1200 years until it was destroyed by the Arabs in the 7th century.
On a visit in 2012, a reporter from the local newspaper described the place as a total mess (you can read it here in Turkish, quite funny) where nobody ever picks up the garbage, but when I visited Panagia Tochniou Monastery (December 2018) it was clean. And peaceful, most of all. A beautiful place.
Agios Mamas Agıllar lies in a small village of just a few hundred inhabitants, called Agıllar in Turkish and in Greek: Mandres. Nobody looks after the church. In the village, there are tensions between Turkish Cypriots and Turcs. My visit was more interesting for the meeting with the locals than for the church Agios Mamas Agıllar.
Agios Mamas Agıllar is an abandoned church taken over by the pigeons after being used as a mosque for many years. It took me quite some time to find the name of this church and now that I have the name, I still haven’t got a clue how old it is. Feel free to comment below if you have information about this church, that would be interesting.
I met a local who felt uneasy about the state of the church: ‘our municipality should care more but they do nothing’. I wondered, is it not the Greek-Cypriot religious authority that is responsible here? But he was sure, ‘no, for general maintenance the municipality is responsible’. Well, in that case they surely lack in task execution…
The only thing about the church that struck me was the fact that it still has a clock. Usually clocks are removed as soon as churches are turned into mosques. Maybe they did remove the Agios Mamas clock but kept it in a safe place and put it back when they did no longer use Agios Mamas Agıllar as a mosque.
Agios Mamas Agıllar was maybe not that interesting for a simple tourist like me but the meeting with the locals was. A conversation that started in the streets of Agıllar soon ended in the local cafe La Marina, a century old house that had the traditional shape many houses had before they were broken down by the Turcs who came to live here. Indeed it is a beautiful place with nice arches and a wooden roof. Tea and cakes were offered by the Turkish-Cypriot inhabitants.
They told about the existing tensions between themselves as Cypriots and the mainland Turcs who had come to live in Agıllar and now form the majority. One of the Turkish Cypriots worked in the Greek South where he tried to learn Greek and his colleagues Turkish because they have a deep Cypriot desire to understand each other and share a common culture again.
Almost by accident I find out that there must be an old monastery nearby, nowadays called the Bulușa Manastırı, the Bulușa monastery. Again it took some time to find the real name that appeared to be the Panagia Tochniou Monastery. A local explains that it is abandoned just like the church. That makes him angry. Next to the monastery stands an old and precious tree that might be falling down. Who takes care of the tree? Not the Turkish Cypriots, nor the Greek Cypriots. They are worthless and do nothing for preservation. It is the English who safeguard the tree. Isn’t that a shame?! I do not know how to answer to this tirade of a Turkish Cypriot and nod silently. Whether I talk with Greek or with Turkish Cypriots: it always seems to be someone else’s responsability… I must see this monastery for myself, that is clear. The goodbye is with warm greetings and an invitation to come again. Plus indications for the road to the monastery that is a few kilometers off the road.
Agıllar, just a few hundred inhabitants with a Turkish Cypriot minority compared to Turkish mainlanders. Warm hearted and visionary in different aspects of the word: worth your visit, especially if you speak enough Turkish to exchange ideas on a profound level with the locals.
Freedom Museum Şanlıurfa, in Turkish ‘Kurtuluș Müzesi’, was closed when I got there but a most friendly guard let me in anyway. There are few visitors for the Freedom Museum Şanlıurfa and certainly not tourists from outside Turkey. Apart from the museum I also had a look at the Müslüm Gürses Museum, the museum for a very successful musician from Şanlıurfa – and at the joyful museum cat Keto…
Freedom Museum Şanlıurfa houses in an old complex (1903) consisting of several traditional and beautiful Urfa houses around a court. One house is the Freedom Museum. The room of the museum is very beautiful, look at the glass works on the picture above. There is also the Folk Art or Folk Music Museum (didn’t see it) and the Müslüm Gürses Museum. As it had been raining a lot in the period before my arrival, there had been serious leakages at the Freedom Museum Şanlıurfa. All guns and rifles were removed from the showcases and the museum was closed. A very friendly Turkish-speaking guard took his key and let me in anyway.
Like Gaziantep (‘Antep’), Şanlıurfa (‘Urfa’) played a major role in the freedom war 1919-1923 after Turkey had been defeated in the 1st World War. After this war, western powers divided Turkey. Turkey’s South with cities like Antep and Urfa were supposed to be under French rule. But they resisted, under the guidance of Atatürk who later founded the ‘new’ Turkish state. The Christians were fighting on the side of the French and they were hated for that. Why did the Christians do that? During the 1st World War, Antep and Urfa were a direct witness and probably also an actor to the terrible fate of the Armenians and other Christians: 1,5 Millions lost their life. Complete neighbourhoods lost their inhabitants. Like in Gaziantep, there is not a single reference to this part of history. It all starts with the war of freedom 1919-1923.
Atatürk reportedly asked the leaders of Şanlıurfa to wait for a certain moment to be indicated by him to join the fight against the French. But in the scene depicted in the Freedom Museum Şanlıurfa, the leaders decided to start fighting anyway. They did not wait for Atatürk’s orders and joined the fight. Their contribution was so heroic that Atatürk granted the title ‘Şanlı’ = ‘glorious’ to Urfa. From then on, Urfa’s name became Şanlıurfa.
There are some photographs in the Freedom Museum Şanlıurfa. The guard showed me his great-great-great-grandfather’s picture, here on the left. Historically, the museum offers little information and the few infos given are in Turkish only. Maybe it’s more interesting when the objects removed from the showcases are there again. What I liked about this museum is the impression of the ‘couleur locale’ it gave. The guard stressed that I would have a look in the Müslüm Gürses Müzesi, now that I was there anyway – so I did. A happy and jumpy young cat, Keto, followed us.
While I watched clothes, LP’s, tapes, books and instruments that had belonged to Müslüm Gürses who died a few years ago, museum cat Keto hid behind one of the closets and the guard was busy to get him out. The guard was unsuccessful and decided to close the door of the museum anyway when I left. However clever Keto took an enormous jump and came out just in time, to run past us into the courtyard. The guard laughed and so did I. Cat lovers always find common ground, world wide.
The guard offered me a cup of tea. He did not want any money for his efforts as he was paid by the government already – very much like the guard of the kastel I visited in Gaziantep. He told me the government is a good and reliable boss; much better than the private sector in Şanlıurfa where workers regularly have to wait for their wages to be paid. Well the government certainly does something good when it creates honest and friendly employees that show Urfa’s best face to visitors. Thanks!
Churches in Şanlıurfa are remainders of a different past when Christians and Muslims lived together in this region. All three churches that I visited are mosques now but it is still possible to see that they were churches before. Few locals speak English. If you speak Turkish (or Arab), locals explain you without any problem what they know about the history of the buildings.
Where are the Jews and the Christians, I asked in Gaziantep one year before my visit to Şanlıurfa. Locals felt embarrassed to answer and in the end of the day I found out that a painful history of the ‘80ies made them careful to speak out. Şanlıurfa has its own history. If you mention the word ‘Jew’ here, faces go blank. Jews is rather something from the time of Sogmatar, long gone, far away, non-existent. ‘Jew’ is not a word that I could hear anyone pronounce in Şanlıurfa.
As for Christians, locals do remember them but I could not find anyone to go into detail about why they are not here any more. Like Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa played a major role in the freedom war 1919-1923 after Turkey had been defeated and divided in the 1st World War. In 1924 the Christians of Urfa migrated to Aleppo. The neighbourhoods they left are still recognizable in style. It is also where the former churches are found. For the history of the churches in Şanlıurfa I visited, the responses are unanimous: already in the ‘50ies, the churches in Şanlıurfa were long deserted and in an neglected state. I met no one who spoke about a period earlier than the ‘50ies.
My first visit was to Fırfırlı Cami, the former Armenian-Protestant Fırfırlı Church dating from the 11th century. Fırfırlı is a nickname, used because of the sound of the whispering wind here. The original name was Church of the 12 Apostles. It must have been a big complex and still has a nice court. Many details both inside and outside were added in the 1956 restauration to turn the church into a mosque. Local opinions differed about the question which details were or were not original when I asked so you have to guess a bit yourself.
Part of the complex is now a guesthouse. Upon request, they will show you around for a few minutes. There are traces of the mosaic floor that lay here originally. Interesting is also the entrance of a tunnel that goes all the way to the Kale, the castle, as an escape road for people living in the castle when they were under siege.
After the Fırfırlı Cami, I went to the Reji Kilisesi, the former Syriani Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It was made in 1861 on the ruins of a church dating from the 6th century. When Urfa’s Christians migrated to Aleppo in 1924, the Reji Kilisesi was used as a tobacco factory and grape store by the board of excise = régie in French. Documents and sepulchral monuments were moved to the Urfa Museum (not sure what museum is meant, I did not see them in the Arkeoloji Müzesi – maybe I was just obsessed by the great antiquities there). Apparently the church was restaured with European money and is therefor not allowed to change it into a mosque or put a minaret on it. It is used as a kind of community house. Have a look inside to see. Also the courtyard – photo on top of this blog – is worth your attention.
The third former church I visited was the Ulu Cami. A sign at the entrance tells us that the Saint Stephen Church was built on the remains of a synagogue in the 5th century. In the 12th century it was transformed into a Mosque, first called the Red Mosque because of the red marble used. The octogonal tower originally belonged to the church and now serves as the mosque’s minaret. I asked if I could visit the mosque at the inside. Alas that was only possible through the women’s prayer room – not so much a ‘do-as-you-like’ mosque here… And that was very disappointing.
The women’s prayer room is completely separated from the general mosque. It is very ugly from the point of view architecture: how to ruin the beauty of the past…! Moreover, it felt like a second or even third class place to pray. Women here litterally pray against a gypsum wall, locked up in their own space. I did not stay long, strongly regretting religious practices that offend women to such an extent.
So far my search for churches in Şanlıurfa. A local told me that there are still some Christians in Şanlıurfa and that they live a completely hidden life. The score on Christian-friendliness of Şanlıurfa is certainly lower than in other Turkish cities: not for incidental visitors who temporarily adapt to basic rules. But for those who live here, circumstances are (very) unfavorable.
Sogmatar: white hills under an endless sky. At night, the view of the moon and the stars must be spectacular here, at Sogmatar. No doubt that the view is an important reason why humans with a religion following nature chose these hills for their temples: seven temples, each temple on a different hill. Visiting Sogmatar was an amazing experience, uncomparable to anything else.
The first sign of Sogmatar is the cave of Pognan. In the middle of nowhere, unprotected by any protection measure whatsoever, I find old carvings of humans against the walls of this cave. One assumption is that the human figures symbolize the planets, part of the religion of nature practiced here with a central place for the god Sin, the moon and the father of the gods. General knowledge so far relates Sogmatar directly to practices at Harran. Sogmatar could even have been Harran’s open-air temple.
After the cave, the road goes on to the hills. Poor houses are scattered around the place. Children approach to say hello. Do they not go to school? Yes they do, they say. They have a very old teacher and he is not giving lessons this afternoon. But there is a small building that forms the class room.
What should happen to these innocent children in the rather cruel environment of fundamentalists on the one side, and immense technological progress on the other? Can this half abandoned village prepare them for the world outside? I pass a goat, a dog and some garbage, to end up at the foot of a hill. On top of this hill lies the temple of the Sun or the central sacred hill (like in Harran, sources differ here so I can not give you precise information about what hill is what). The way to go up is rather easy, sport shoes would be nice but my boots with high heels do not create problems for the way up (and down).
Rock and earth, rock and earth: the higher one climbs the more impressive the view on the area becomes. Within ten minutes I arrive at the top of the hill. In front of me are new carvings made into the rocks of the hill, even better than the ones in the caves. Amazing: on top of this hill, for anyone to see and to visit, out in the open, a man and a woman are patiently looking at the new visitor. Maybe they didn’t see anybody for ages, but it could also be that I am visitor number 2 Million. However, the hills are totally deserted now, except of some villagers.
What I learned in my visit to Şanlıurfa – former byzantine town of Edessa – is that Syriac was a general language here. I always thought it was a religious language, used by minorities like the Syrian-Orthodox. However here it is found on mosaics, in Harran, and also here in Sogmatar where nothing indicates they ever heard about Christianity. It was in Syriac that astronomers studied their science, based on Syriac translations of old Greek texts of Aristotle and the like. It was in Syriac that they deployed their rituals towards the sun and the moon and the five planets Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury, each of them having their own temple on their own hill. From the hill of the temple of sun, all other hills are visible as you can see on the photographs.
Another hill that is visible on this picture (brown and green) looks like a place where excavations could be successful. I was told that some minor research was done on top of that hill and small stuff like coins were found there. One day, there will be archaeological excavations on this spot. It might be another Göbeklitepe. Let’s hope that whatever is under the surface will be safeguarded for future generations.
I pass the statues carved in the rock wall to go to the very top of the hill. The view is majestic. I imagine that it is night and that the sky shows all planets and stars in its full glory. There might not be a better location in Mesopotamia to watch than here. The builders of these temples either were Sabeans or were related to Sabeanism (see my other blog for uncertainties in sources about that). Holes in the top of the hill show that they had statues there, set upright by putting the smaller basis at the bottom of the statue into the hole. A man made basin indicates the spot where sacrifices were made.
More Syriac inscriptions are found on top of this hill. A translation: “I am Tridates, the son of Arab Governor Adona. I built this altar and pillar for Marelahe on February in 476, for the lives of my master King and his sons, for my father Adonna’s life, for my own life and for the lives of my siblings and my children”. The date of 476 written in the scripture means around 164-165 A.D. according to Seleucid calendar.
Technically speaking, there is ‘not so much to see’ here in Sogmatar. It is also not very old site, maybe 1800 years – not an impressive age in Mesopotamia. But for me, Sogmatar beats all other sites I visited in Şanlıurfa region for a reason I can not completely explain. I think one day I’d like to return and see what it feels like at night. Sogmatar echoes a lost religion of nature that survived much longer than generally known: most probably 800 to 1000 years after the introduction of Christianity and it had some kind of co-existence with Islam. Only the invasion of the Mongols put an end to this era.
On the way back to Şanlıurfa, I pass rock graves. Apparently, people did not just come here for religious and/or scientific practices but they also lived here. Stairs are leading into the rock graves that are empty. I look around, where did these people live? Wherever I look, the fields and hills are deserted except for the few houses close to the temples. The scenery does not reveal its secrets. It is in complete silence that I return to the city of Şanlıurfa – a very conservative-islam city where nothing echoes the lost religion of Sogmatar.
Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa has several mosaic masterpieces that were found at or close to the spot where the museum is located. The mosaics are relatively recent, dating from the 5th and 6th century AD in the time that Şanlıurfa was called Edessa. I liked especially the mosaic of the Amazons, fearlessly hunting ladies.
Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa lies next to the Arkeoloji Müzesi, the archeological museum. On the other side it lies next to an old 19th century Urfa house and beyond that excavations of Roman baths, both on pictures above. On traffic signs pointing to touristic activities this museum complex is simply referred to as ‘Urfa Müzesi’, ignoring other museums because this is thé one – certainly the largest. Tickets for the Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa also go for the Arkeoloji Müzesi.
Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa is a large round building. Paths have been made over and in between mosaics. This makes your visit a pleasant walk. As you can see, I was the only visitor: lots of possibilities to watch in detail. All mosaics found are local, deriving from byzantine Edessa: villas with mosaics were excavated on this spot, called Haleplibahce by locals.
Like the Arkeoloji Müzesi, extra room on the floor is left for future findings that will certainly be done. In 2013, new pieces were added to the museum.There were three things I particularly liked. One is that the mosaic stones that reportedly derive from the river Euphrate, are much smaller than in mosaics elsewhere. This turns the mosaics in very fine representations. The best artists must have been at work here!
Two is the mosaic of the Amazons, the warrior women from ancient myths that are depicted here while fighting with predators like the lion on the picture. This mosaic was discovered quite recently, in 2007. On the wall the museum shows the mosaic as it must have been when it was complete. A great piece!
Three is the ‘zebra whisperer’: the representation of a servant with a zebra. I found that strikingly beautiful and unique in its kind.