Mosaics and Pistachios

Trip Start May 03, 2013
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Trip End May 22, 2013


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Zeugma Mosaics Museum

Flag of Turkey  , Gaziantep,
Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tuesday May 7 Day 5: Istanbul/Gaziantep
Turkish 2222 Airbus A320 (snack)
11:10AM Istanbul arrive 12:45PM Gaziantep
"Mid-day we fly to Gaziantep ("Antep"), one of the world's longest continuously inhabited cities and center of Turkey's pistachio cultivation and baklava production. Upon arrival we tour Gaziantep’s Zeugma Mosaic Museum, featuring a stunning collection of well-preserved mosaics unearthed from nearby sites."

Relatively uneventful but very full plane trip to Gaziantep. We land after the short flight in a small airport. Then the chaos commences. Immediately upon landing, everyone gets up, grabbing luggage, sometimes shoving their way through the crowd to get from their seats to their stored baggage, and then forcing their way to the doors. There's no waiting around here! Every man for himself!

The view from the plane while landing was of dry fields. The sky is also very hazy. Is this dust or hints of rain? We board our bus and head straight to the Museum.

A little background on why we’re in this small town just 20 miles from the Syrian border: it’s all about the museum!

The government of Turkey built the Birecik Dam on the Euphrates River, which flooded a large area in southeastern Turkey. And the ancient town of Zeugma is in the flood plane.

Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great’s commanders, founded Zeugma in the third century BC. It was created as a military settlement and located on the western side of the Euphrates River. He named the settlement Seleucia (of course). He also founded a non-military town across the river and named it Apamea after his Persian wife. The two cities were joined by a pontoon bridge. The Romans conquered Seleucia in 64 BC and renamed it Zeugma, which means bridge or crossing in ancient Greek. Two Roman legions were based in Zeugma. It became a major commercial city as well as military and religious center sitting on the Silk Road. The Sassanids from Persia attacked the city in 253 AD, which began its decline. It later became the home for the rural peoples of the area and their livestock, it’s ancient glory forgotten until modern times when tourists rediscovered it as well as looters.

Archaeological excavations officially began in the late 1980’s. There is evidence that portions of mosaics had already been removed and sold by local 'entrepreneurs', a process that continued on after the official excavation began. Normally, artifacts such as the mosaics would not have been removed from the site due to potentially damaging them, but with the flooding imminent and looting ongoing, extraction efforts were implemented with a great international financial and skilled conservator support. Archaeologists were able to remove a number of mosaics and house them in the small nearby Gaziantep Museum. The Zeugma Museum was built with international financial support near the ancient city’s site to officially house the more than 2000 meters of mosaics that have been retrieved and display many of them to visitors.

The museum was opened in 2011 and utilizes many modern techniques to enhance the viewing the mosaics. The museum includes a small theater area where a film can be viewed giving background information. Each mosaic displayed also includes information regarding its background. The lighting in general is very low in the spacious building. The feeling is not cramped as typical in many older museums. Its layout is open to give the feeling of actually walking through the river level homes and then up to the hills above to look down on the displayed mosaics.

A number of the mosaics on display were removed from floors and others were removed from walls. The museum displays the mosaics based on the manner in which they were originally displayed in the homes of wealthy merchants and officials. The wall mosaics are 'hung’ on the walls much like pictures would be in an art gallery. The floor mosaics are laid out on the floor. Plexiglas 'bridges’ and surrounding walkways allow the viewers to stand over the mosaics to more fully view their artistic details.

The first floor entry display simulates a building structure with pillars and background scenes of the present site.  The mosaics are displayed within portions of walls to simulate rooms. The displays leave sections blank wherever looters removed portions of mosaics.

The second floor has a special display of the iconic "Gypsy Girl" mosaic. We walk through a dark maze to reach a room that is also dark with the Girl hanging on the wall alone. Her eyes follow you. Very mystical! She reminds my of that iconic National Geographic photo of the Afghani woman. I assume there’s no photos allowed here, so I just spend the time admiring her (photos allowed in the museum with no flash).

On to the hotel, which is very different from our Istanbul experience. It’s very modern, something Frank-Lloyd-Wright-ish about the style- an open design with dark wood beams. We settle in and then have dinner on the roof- the entree is fish with many bones! Some nice sunset photos with minarets as usual.

Back to the room to upload the days photos and I discover that, in the chaos of landing, I left the iPad case with the charging cord in the seat pocket on the plane. I place an “Emergency” call to Mustafa’s room (not the last one on this trip—thank the Gods for a great, patient tour director!). He arranges for his office back in Istanbul to contact the airline and do a search of lost and found.

Wednesday May 8 Day 6: Gaziantep
"This morning we visit the Gaziantep City Museum for an enlightening orientation to the city and eastern Turkey. Later we explore the semi-enclosed bazaar and several workshops in this city known especially for its handcrafts. A renowned center of Turkish cuisine, Gaziantep boasts many acclaimed restaurants; we dine in one tonight and also enjoy a brief Turkish cooking lesson." 

This morning we start out on foot to tour the old downtown area. There have been settlements in this area since 4000BC back to the Assyrians. We visit an old caravanserai, walking into its open courtyard, now a restaurant. Can you picture camels in here? Next-door is the entrance to the old museum. We’re given little headsets to facilitate a self-guided tour. They activate in each room to give us background information on the display. Most of the rooms are background information about the area’s ancient history. One large section is about the not so distant past, the Turkish War of Independence.

Antep, as it was formerly named, was the site of the post-WWI revolt against the French. This portion of the Ottoman Empire, partitioned after the war, was given to the French as a ‘protectorate’. The story we hear is that a young boy was killed when he defended his mother when a French soldier insulted her. That sparked the local revolt. This became part of the general War of Independence led by Attaturk. The town was called "Ghazi Ayintab" or  'Antep the war hero' and that name was officially adopted in 1928 as Gaziantep.

We walk back outside and head uphill away from the main street. This area is undergoing some renovation to attract tourists, but still has some of the appeal of old narrow streets. We stop in the small Café Mina for a rest. It’s a lovely, shaded courtyard setting. The walls are covered with some very diverse and eclectic items!

We continue back down the hill to the bus for a drive to the area of the hill fort we could see
from the rooftop restaurant last night. It’s surrounded by a market place with shops and artisans. A nice photo op and pistachio purchase op as well!

We board our bus and on to a remodeled caravanserai for lunch of …kebaps! We have to walk part of the way due to major road ‘destruction’ underway. Then we walk on to the large, covered market place for even more photo ops. It’s a lot of fun seeing locals not just tourists.

That night we’re bussed up the road from our hotel to the Yorem Restaurant- filled with just us in a long table. We get to witness the preparation of one dish, but it is definitely a ‘brief’ lesson. The meal consists of many shared dishes. I enjoy most of them. Jeanne and I decide to walk back to the hotel, as many do. But we’re the last ones out for some reason. We head back to the main street alone, but it doesn’t look all that familiar from ground level. We head back to the restaurant to get directions. Luckily, I have that priceless standby-the hotel business card. One of the waiters walks us all the way back to the hotel, using the more scenic route along a river parkway.
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