Center of the World

Milyon column, İstanbul

Milyon column, İstanbul

The Milyon column in İstanbul (left) is one of many “centers of the world.” These centers seem to be everywhere, each signifying by its presence the yearning for a stable ground, but by their proliferation, undermining any notion of centeredness.

The column is all that’s left of a monument that was the starting point for measurement of distances for all the roads leading to the cities of the Byzantine Empire. It lasted for over a thousand years, but disappeared at the start of the 16th C. During modern excavations, some partial fragments of it were discovered and erected again.

It served the same function as the Miliarium Aureum of Rome, another center of the world, which was displaced when Emperor Constantine I the Great remade Byzantium into his new imperial capital.

Directions to the world

Directions to the world

Today, the Milyon column stands near the Basilica cistern, another ancient monument, which was covered up, then rediscovered in the 16th C. The cistern is a huge underground room to hold water. It’s 453′ x 212′, which is larger than a World Cup field, if you’d like a topical comparison.

It was built in the 6th C during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. During his era, and for centuries to follow, the cistern held fresh water for the citizens of Constantinople and the Milyon dome resting on four pylons marked the center of their world. As you explore the cistern’s eerily lit walkways, it’s easy to imagine that you’re in some mystical center of the earth.

Basilica cistern, İstanbul

Basilica cistern, İstanbul

The cistern was unknown in the Western world until P. Gyllius discovered it while doing research on İstanbul’s Byzantine remains. He was surprised to see people getting water with buckets from well holes, some within their own homes, and even catching fish.

There are many more such “centers” (click here).

Some manage to calculate the geographic center as being the same location as the Geza pyramid, which would be a coincidence supporting many mystical accounts. But more commonly, it’s calculated as being in the eastern Mediterranean Sea about halfway between Athens and Alexandria. Other methods locate it in north-east Turkey.

In either case, I like the way that it’s not too far from İstanbul. That fabulous city straddles Europe and Asia, and through its ports and the Bosporos serves as a bridge to Africa. Its layers of civilization locate it between old and new, encompassing many religious traditions. If you had to choose one center, İstanbul and its Milyon column wouldn’t be a bad choice.

Ottoman fortification

Theodosian Walls at the Selymbria Gate, showing outer walls, inner walls, &  moat wall

Theodosian Walls at the Selymbria Gate, showing outer walls, inner walls, & moat wall

Last Monday I walked along the Walls of Constantinople, then returned along the Sea of Marmara. It was a beautiful day, with great views in every direction.

The stone walls were built in 324–336 to protect the city of Constantinople (née Byzantium) after its founding as the new capital of the Roman Empire by Constantine the Great. It was the last and one of the most complex fortification systems built in antiquity. Gunpowder began their demise, but it was the large number of Ottoman invaders that caused the city to fall to a siege on May 29, 1453.

Mihrimah Sultan Camii

Mihrimah Sultan Camii

Nevertheless, the walls had protected the city for over 1100 years, making them the most successful ever built. Even after the fall of Constantinople, Ottomans under Sultan Mehmed II added to the fortifications by building the Yedikule Hisari (Seven Towers Fortress) at the Golden Gate.

The walls have suffered from wars, earthquakes, and urban development, but still stand as an impressive monument and a marker of inner and outer İstanbul. Restoration began in the 1980s.

It’s not possible to walk on top of the walls the entire 4.5 km length. There are heavily damaged sections and major roads now pass through most of the original gates. Several times I climbed up steep stone stairs overgrown with weeds and broken in many places. I’d walk a while, then find that I needed to retrace my steps. At other times, I had to walk away from the wall to circle through some neighborhood before returning to it. As a consequence, I had to walk at least twice the length of the wall itself.

Ottoman Empire, 1683

Ottoman Empire, 1683

The route is part of the Sultan’s Trail, a project to build a long-distance path from Vienna to İstanbul. That project appears stalled, but you can still see blazes for it. You can also see many aspects of İstanbul: beautiful vistas and trash piles, new and ancient constructions, carefully planned development and urban sprawl. In Turkish, I’d say güzel ve çirkin, yeni ve eski, iyi ve kötü.

There are many interesting sights along the wall. My favorite is the Mihrimah Sultan Camii (mosque) at Edirnekapı (the Edirne Gate). It was designed by Mimar Sinan (“Sinan the Architect”) for the favorite daughter of Suleiman the Magnificent, Princess Mihrimah. It’s filled with light due to the extraordinary number of windows, a speciality of Sinan’s. Although it’s a large cami, it has only one minaret, symbolizing the loneliness of Mihrimah and Sinan due to their forbidden love. Edirnekapı itself is where Sultan Mehmed II entered the city after its defeat in 1453.

Ottoman furniture today

Ottoman furniture today

As I walked, I imagined what it would take to make something like the Promenade Plantée in Paris or the High Line in New York City. With some repairs to the wall, a little new construction, and handrails for people like me, İstanbul could have the best of these new urban walkways.

Walking back through a park along the Sea of Marmara made this into a strenuous, but rewarding day. I was personally fortified with a tradtional Ottoman dinner in the Sultanahmet area at Pasazade and appreciated the Ottoman-style furniture in our hotel. The day after, we ate at Asitane, which claims to have done six months of research on the details of fine Ottoman court cuisine in order to recreate that food culture.

The Way of the Lycians

Our neighbor

Our neighbor

If I could rank civilizations in terms of how important and interesting they are divided by how much I know about them, Lycia would be near the top. Of course, that works only if I leave out the many I know nothing about.

Lycia is a region along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast between Antalya and Koycegiz. Its rivers, including Xanthos and Alakir drain the Anatolian plateau and are among the largest in the country. The entire region is mountainous, with some peaks rising over 10,000 feet. The mountain ranges encroach on the sea, pausing only enough to allow for beautiful beaches.

Barley in the Bezirgan yayla

Barley in the Bezirgan yayla

Our B&B is in a yayla (summer pasture) about 3000 feet above the sea. Nearby, the Kaputaş beach provides a good example of the topography.

It’s at the base of Kaputaş canyon, a narrow cleft at the foot of the Taurus mountains. The beach is 200′ wide and 70′ deep, with a scarp rising 80′ straight up behind. You can reach the beach by boat or by a staircase with 187 steps (seemed like more to me). Off its eastern end the sea has eroded the Blue Cave, nearly 200′ across, and a favorite of small tour boats and inner tube riders.

Kapitaş beach at the base of the canyon

Kapitaş beach at the base of the canyon

The Lycian civilization developed within this region. They probably came from Crete around 1400 BC. They had their own language and unique script, still not fully understood. They had unique customs and funerary architecture.

Even though they lived in mountainous terrain with seemingly inaccessible villages, the Lycians formed a union while the rest of the Greek world was warring city states. They had representative government when Greek cities still had rule of the whole body of citizens. In the later Lycian League, they had a bicameral legislature, panels of judges, and other complex civic structures.

Lycians used matrilineal lineage: People identify themselves by their mother and their mother’s mother, not the father. Moreover, offspring of a Lycian woman are automatically legitimate, whereas those born to a Lycian man and a foreigner are illegitimate. Herodotus thought that this was unique, but many other cultures employ a similar system. Our B&B host cites it as evidence that the Celts derive from Lycia.

Xanthos

Xanthos

The Lycians resisted domination, being the last in Asia Minor to become a province of the Roman empire. They won some of their battles, either by force or diplomacy, but the losses were dramatic and tragic.

In 540 BC, the Persian commander Harpagos attacked Xanthos, the largest and most prominent city. Finally succumbing to a blockade, the Xanthians gathered all the women, children, slaves, and household goods and set fire to them, then fought on until every Xanthian had been killed or committed suicide. Every item of value had thus been destroyed. Later, 80 Xanthian families who had been elsewhere during the fighting returned and rebuilt the city. The poem below, found at the Xanthos site, describes this event:

We made our houses graves
And our graves are homes to us
Our houses burned down
And our graves were looted
We climbed to the summits
We went deep into the earth
We were drenched in water
They came and got us
They burned and destroyed us
They plundered us
And we,
For the sake of our mothers,
Our women,
And for the sake of our dead,
And we,
In the name of our honor,
And our freedom,
We, the people of this land,
Who sought mass suicide
We left a fire behind us,
Never to die out…

Poem found on a tablet in the Xanthos excavations, translated by Azra Erhat

Keçiler (goats) on Lycian Way

Keçiler (goats) on Lycian Way

This scene was repeated when Brutus sacked the city in 42 BC. He offered a reward to any Roman soldier who could save a Xanthosian by preventing his suicide. But only 150 survived.

Despite these tragedies, in most cases the Xanthians succeeded against plunderers, until their artifacts were finally conquered by the British Museum in 1838.

Much evidence of the Lycian civilization still remains, as do, I suppose, descendants of those early peoples. The 300 mile long Lycian Way, which runs through our village, near Kaputaş beach and Xanthos, is Turkey’s first long-distance, waymarked path. Along the way one can see endless structures from the Lycian era and imagine its history stretching back 3400 years.

Kemal Hakki Tor’s Lycia is a good introduction to the area.

Smile for the camera

EAB attendees: Mustafa et al.

EAB attendees: Mustafa et al.

Turkey has an incredible number of archaeological sites, 52 in Ankara alone according to a display at the outstanding Anadolu Medeniyetleri Müzesi (Museum of Anatolian Civilizations).

The museum was selected as the first “European Museum of the Year” in 1997. It has examples from Paleolithic, Neolithic, Early Bronze, Assyrian, Hittite, Phrygian, Urartian, Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuq and Ottoman periods.

More EAB: Fatih, Ömer, Fettah

More EAB: Fatih, Ömer, Fettah

But whether in the museum or at an actual site, whether the people are Turkish or foreign, whether it’s a recreational event or a conference on educational research, the event of the day is the photo op, often in the form of a selfie.

Our civilization adds the latest sediment on top of layers of complex and beautiful artifacts. This is the digital photo, often destined to reside forever within the memory of a smart phone, and occasionally to be shared on a social media site.

Everywhere there are people taking photos or asking to have theirs taken. I hear “one, two, three, cheese” spoken with a variety of accents. But there are many other ways to alert people to the click of the camera and to get them to smile. In Turkey, i’ve heard “one, two, three, peynir,” or “bir, iki, üç, peynir,” substituting the Turkish for “cheese,” just as an Italian might say “uno, due, tre, formaggio.”

People in China sometimes say “Qiézi (茄子),” which sounds a bit like a three-syllable version of “cheese.” Continuing the food theme, many Korean speakers say “kimchi.” In Norwegian, some say “smil,” both requesting a smile and making one happen. One of the more interesting ones I’ve heard is the Turkish, “üç yüz otul üç,” a tongue-twister meaning “333.” However, there are always some spoil sports, including some who say that “cheese” and expressions like that are not good for photos anyway:

Global understanding

 

Finding Turkey

Finding Turkey

It makes sense that global understanding starts with understanding the globe. At least that’s what some children and I think.

It was a Monday in the Multipurpose Unit Early Classroom Intervention Program (MUECIP) in Çanakkale, Turkey. This program is an innovative approach for 4-5 year-olds from low-SES families, which integrates music and arts. The student teacher, Dilsad Korkmaz, did an excellent job of keeping the children engaged and allowing for the inevitable individual differences.

The program draws from approaches such as Orff, Babies with Identity, and High-Scope. There is ample use of graphic displays on class size, seasons, daily activities, birthdays, responsibilities, etc. Family participation is encouraged through interviews with the families and home visits to observe children in their natural lives. Parents rotate in providing breakfasts, which also gives them an opportunity to observe the class and engage in the activities.

Finding Cape Cod

Finding Cape Cod

Research by Özlem Çelebioğlu Morkoçc and Ebru Aktan Acar at Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University has shown that the program supports overall development, including cognitive and psychomotor skills, self-care, language, and personal-social skills.

It was more compelling to me that the children seemed so engaged in learning. They were excited to talk and share, to dance, and to investigate everything. I had to remove my electronic fitness bracelet when it became too great a distraction. Besides, it was embarrassing that they figured out how to operate it in about 1/10 of the time I had taken.

At one point we drew upon a globe for some collaborative map work. Using many fingers, we first found Turkey, then Cape Cod. I’m not sure how much they comprehended about the globe versus how much they just wanted to interact with each other and their American “uncle.”

Personal questions

Lonely Planet publishes a good Turkish phrasebook, which has been handy in many situations. It provides some basic information about the language, the country, and the culture. I’d recommend carrying a copy, unless you’re fluent in Turkish.

But like any guidebook, the advice about social interactions is necessarily simplified, often essentializing differences. For example, the book advises:

Avoid asking questions about someone’s age, religion, or sexual preference, as the Turkish prefer not to discuss these topics openly. They love talking about politics, but exercise a little caution when expressing your opinion – some Turks verge on the fanatical when it comes to the ‘p’ word.

Phrases such as “the Turkish” or “They” are red flags, which can never be universally valid. I accept the advice to avoid personal questions on a first meeting, but I’ve found that at least some of the “They” actually like to talk about these topics. I’ve been asked: How old are you? Where do you live? What religion are you? How tall are you? What do you think about Obama? What do you think of Turkey?

When in an eczane (drugstore), I took advantage of the free scale to weigh myself. A druggist peered at the scale to check my number and then gave his approval. That may have been professional monitoring, but I sensed simple curiosity at work as well.

I’m sure that some of the They “love talking about politics,” but we were cautioned not to bring up politics with two men, who despite being friends and colleagues, had radically different political views. On the other hand, in the US, I know many people who “verge on the fanatical when it comes to the ‘p’ word.” Maybe they all have Turkish heritage.

The phrasebook also suggests,

When you meet someone of the opposite sex who has strong religious beliefs, avoid shaking hands or kissing them. Instead, greet them with the Arabic words selamin alekküm. (p. 105)

Again, broadly useful advice, but off in so many particulars. Turkish people we have met seem to vary widely in terms of talk and gestures. Some women initiate the double cheek kiss. Moreover, in a city, especially in university communities, there are people from all over the world with diverse habits. “The Turkish” vary a lot in terms of their international experiences and customs. And I haven’t heard selamin alekküm used in greetings.

One might also ask how to know whether someone has strong religious beliefs if that topic hasn’t come up. You can guess by clothing styles, but that’s far from infallible. I have a friend here who is deeply religious, but dresses in a modern style and drinks alcohol. Some women dress very conservatively, but for reasons of family or personal choice, not religion.

At another point, the phrasebook suggests,

When talking with people you’ve just met, or those you’re talking to in the polite siz (you) form, it’s considered rude to cross your arms or place your hands in your pockets. (p. 108)

This reminds me of a different guidebook that warns “the Chinese” do not like it when you point a finger at them. In my experience, most people sense that crossed arms, hands in pockets, pointing at people, and so on, are at best informal, and usually off-putting. I might just as well suggest to a Turk, “when meeting someone in the US for the first time, especially in a formal situation, don’t stand there with your arms crossed or point your finger at them. The American doesn’t like that.”

World Englishes

Kachru's three circles of English

Kachru’s three circles of English

The concept of World Englishes has been much studied by groups such as the International Association for World Englishes (IAWE), including my own colleagues at the University of Illinois. They consider localized English in global contexts, how it’s spoken and written, along with pragmatic factors such as appropriate use and intelligibility.

When traveling, I notice these issues frequently on a very personal level. For example, one day we were waiting for the elevator (i.e., lift) in a hotel in İstanbul. A couple of people from Munich came up to us to ask about the hotel. We described our room, and then began to talk more generally. They then asked where we were from and were surprised to hear that it was the US. They had judged by our accent that we were from the UK.

Norwegian Star

Norwegian Star

In this case, I don’t think the confusion was due to our having British accents. Instead, it was from having enough interactions with speakers of various World Englishes that we had unconsciously muted our marked US accents, especially my Texas talk. That possibly more subdued and more clearly articulated dialect has proved necessary in travel and work with international colleagues.

Another example arose later the same day. A different couple approached us on a sidewalk, with one saying in a strong Arkansas accent, “Are y’all cruise people?” What was interesting then is that we were marked by appearance as possible cruise people without having said a word, an example of non-verbal language. Moreover, Susan couldn’t understand them, but I, who had grown up in a neighboring country, could.

We had to confess that we weren’t cruise people, but we were able to tell them where their ship was docked. It was a 2000 passenger Norwegian cruise ship about three blocks away. I’m not sure that it was the Norwegian Star, but it was one that looked similar to the one shown here. In any case it was hard to miss, but we were happy to help them find their way home.