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Friday, September 22, 2023

Anatolia: A Tapestry of Ancient Civilizations Beyond Cappadocia’s Balloons

CultureAnatolia: A Tapestry of Ancient Civilizations Beyond Cappadocia's Balloons

Anatolia, Turkey’s Asian gem, offers an immersive historical experience that goes far beyond the commonly seen hot-air balloon images from Cappadocia that adorn social media. This expansive plateau, soaring over 1,640ft, has seen civilizations from both Europe and the Middle East come and go. Its storied history involves the Hittites, Phrygians, Greeks, Romans, and more before the Seljuk Turks, in the 11th century, began forming what would be modern Turkey.

As global tourists seek authenticity and meaningful experiences, Anatolia’s backdrop of the February 2023 earthquake serves as a poignant reminder of the resilience of this region. It is not only a destination rich in UNESCO World Heritage sites but also a sanctuary away from the tourist crowds. The landscape itself is a testament to history, encapsulating the essence of agriculture’s beginnings, the rise of early settlements, and the traces of the Byzantine bureaucracy.

One such historical marvel is Harput, a town that dates back 4,000 years. Here, an impressive fortress stands as a sentinel over former Silk Route trade pathways. Despite time’s wear and tear, the castle still offers panoramic views, including the ancient Church of the Virgin Mary, which continues to serve the Assyrian community. Meandering through Harput’s streets, the 12th-century Ulu Mosque stands as one of the oldest functional mosques. Its intriguing, Pisa-like leaning minaret has become a subject of countless photographs.

A short drive unveils Malatya, an apricot-rich city aiming to become a tourist hub. With sprawling museums, including Asia’s most extensive camera collection, and links to coffee’s rich history, it’s a city steeped in both tradition and modernity. Its main attraction, however, is Aslantepe or Lion Hill. This site dates back to 6000BC and showcases layers of civilization, with walls still standing tall, and artifacts from bygone eras, revealing glimpses of the earliest forms of bureaucracy.

Journeying further south, the Roman bridge at Cendere, built around 200AD, emerges as a marvel of ancient engineering. This majestic yellow-stone bridge, bearing inscriptions praising the then reigning Roman emperor and his family, stands as a testament to the Roman Empire’s architectural prowess.

Not too far from Cendere lies Arsameia, a burial complex replete with stone carvings and underground burial sites. The intricate carvings, etchings of handshakes between kings and gods, symbolized the union of divinity and royalty. But perhaps the crown jewel of Anatolia’s historical offerings is Mount Nemrut. At its peak, enormous stone sculptures, remnants of the Commagene kingdom, survey the horizon. These decapitated figures, once grand statues of gods and kings, now serve as silent witnesses to the region’s tumultuous past.

With the local economy seeking rejuvenation through tourism, Anatolia beckons to those willing to explore its historical riches. Amidst its vast landscapes, one can’t help but feel the weight of history and the compelling narratives of the civilizations that once flourished here. It’s not just about capturing moments for social media but truly immersing oneself in the stories that Anatolia so generously offers.


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