Log of the Eclipse (10) (All Over Again)

by wjw on July 30, 2006

I’m reloading this installment of the Turkish trip because I found that one of the links— in fact the most crucial link— wasn’t working. So now, when you click to look at the Neolithic goddess, you’ll actually get a picture of the Neolithic goddess described in the text, and not something else.

Frankly, you’ll just have to read the whole post all over again.

2 April, 2006

We Meet The Goddess

Though there were about 90 great minutes, for the most part this day sucked.

We had to get up early and get on the bus for the long ride to Ankara, where we would spend only a few hours before getting on a plane for Izmir, after which there would be yet another bus ride to the Grand Blue Sky Hotel in Kusadasi.

Why so much frantic travel, when we could just fly straight from Cappadocia to Izmir?

Because the Museum of Anatolian Civilization is in Ankara, that’s why. The Museum of Anatolian Civilization is one of the great museums of the world, and was worth all those boring hours in planes and buses.

I was annoyed that we only got a couple hours in the museum. They’d take us shopping every damn place, but the archaeological and cultural feast was to be brief. I have no sympathy with those who prefer shopping to history.

The ride to Ankara was dull in the extreme. I presume we had lunch somewhere, and that the lunch began with lentil soup, but of the meal and most of the trip I remember nothing. Maybe I used the time to catch up on my sleep. The only moments of interest came in the vicinity of Turkey’s large Salt Lake, where we saw a lot more bird life than we’d seen elsewhere in the country, including herons and storks.

Ankara is an ancient city more than 3000 years old, and was formerly known as Angora, home to famous breeds of long-haired goats and rabbits. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk moved the Turkish capital from Constantinople to Ankara in 1923, and it holds his monumental tomb. Driving through the sprawling city, we passed a huge equestrian statue of Atatürk surrounded by statues of his soldiers, one of which surprised me by wearing a big World War I lugged German coalscuttle helmet. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, since in the Great War the Turks were Germany’s allies.

A note about the personality cult of Atatürk. The U.S. has many Founding Fathers: Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Lee, Hamilton, Madison, etc. The Turks have only Atatürk. Mustafa Kemal defeated the British and ANZACs at Gallipoli, formed the Turkish nationalist government in 1919, won the War of Liberation, organized the government, reformed the state, banned the fez as “feudal,” drove the Islamic fundamentalists from power, overthrew the Sultan and the Caliphate, secularized the government, served as president for nearly 20 years, introduced the Western calendar and the Western alphabet, moved the Day of Rest from Friday to Sunday, and still had the time to party. (He legalized alcohol and died young, of cirrhosis.)

There is considerable debate about whether or not he was a dictator. He was certainly authoritarian. But his policies kept Turkey secular— it remains secular now, even under what is ostensibly an Islamic government— and also kept the country from tipping into fascism or Communism.

His picture is everywhere: on all the currency, in every business, in many private homes, and in or on every state building. Statues to Atatürk are found in all towns and cities. There are bridges, dams, stadiums, and airports named after him. The entire country shuts down for a minute at 9:05 on November 10, the anniversary of his death. It’s flat illegal to say anything bad about him.

That said, some of Atatürk’s official portraits are rather eerie. His sharp-featured face with its turned-up eyebrows can look elfin or satanic, depending on how he’s depicted, and in some portraits he looks more like Dracula than a modern statesman. I wonder if the portraitists are engaging in subtle forms of political protest here.

Ankara is a large modern city built around the citadel on the old acropolis. The Museum of Anatolian Civilization is built in and around an old caravanserai snugged up against the citadel walls. It’s smallish as great museums go but exceedingly well organized, with a large central room devoted to monumental Hittite antiquities, and galleries surrounding the central square that take you through the history of Anatolia from the Neolithic through the Roman period.

Along with civilization itself, let’s start at Çatal Höyük, the world’s first actual city, dated to around 7000 BCE. The town was similar to classic Indian Pueblo architecture, in that the buildings had walls of mud with an entrance through the flat roof. In the museum I saw the usual Neolithic artifacts, spear points, knives, fish hooks, and pots. Deceased members of the community were buried under the floor, similar to other Neolithic settlements.

What made Çatalhöyük astounding— aside from its age— was its frescoes, the first known to exist anywhere. There were frescoes of hunting scenes, of scenes with leopards, and also a fresco— at picture of which you can find at the top of this post— showing the world’s first town plan, and also an eruption of the volcano Hasan. Since Hasan has been inactive for millennia, this may in fact be a depiction of Hasan’s last eruption.

(A detailed 3D reconstruction of the so-called “hunting shrine” may be found here, along with a link to a 3D fly-through of the town which didn’t work for me. Your mileage may be better, however.)

Supposedly many of Çatalhöyük’s frescoes did not survive the excavation, deteriorating immediately on being uncovered. The only record we have of them came from archaeologist James Mellaart, who supposedly sketched them in the brief time before they vanished from history. Mellaart is a sufficiently controversial figure so that the existence of these vanished frescoes was challenged by other archaeologists, who accused him of inventing them. No photos exist to support Mellaart’s claims.

A chief characteristic of Çatalhöyük was its religion— another controversial point on which Mellaart’s views were questioned back in the day. But excavations at other sites have confirmed Mellaart’s findings, so I think this particular controversy has shuffled away in total embarrassment.

To my mind, it’s clear that Çatalhöyük had rooms that were devoted to religion, and that this religion had to do with nature and fertility. (I mean, duh. Look at the pictures.) There were rooms with stacks of bull’s heads and horns planted in the walls so that a whole phalanx of horns would present itself to the viewer. There were altars with horns on them. There were a lot of goddess figurines, the big-hipped, pregnant-looking female whose images are found all over ancient Europe and Russia. Some of the goddess figurines have two heads and four breasts, which is kind of unearthly.

And there is this goddess in particular. She is seated, with huge hips, thighs, tits, and calves, and a vast pregnant stomach. She is supported on either side by wild animals. She may have just given birth, as there’s the tiny figure of a boy-child underneath her, with his head between her ankles and an impish smile on his face.

This particular Goddess, it seems to me, bridges the gap between formal religion and something that have originated as a cult figure or fertility charm. Though later in her history she slimmed down and acquired a big mushroom-shaped headdress, the motifs of the wild animals and horns were to stay with this goddess for millennia as she appeared under many names. She was known to the Hittites as Kubebe, to others as Kubaba or Kubele, to the Greeks as Cybele (pronounced “kibbili”), and to the Romans as Magna Mater, the Great Mother. Over the years she acquired a more well-defined mythology involving her resurrected son Attis, a habit of hanging out in caves, and priesthood of castrati who dressed as women.

I’m not qualified to judge Mellaart’s claims that Cybele has survived into the present day as a common motif in Anatolian rugs, so I’ll just pass on the meme and see what happens.

Later in the Copper Age we see various ceremonial objects which continue the bull’s horn motif, the latter also having solar disks which may combine Cybele’s horns with a male sky god. (“Ceremonial object,” by the way, is usually archaeology-speak for “we don’t know what the hell it was used for,” but it’s assumed that these were carried in formal procession.)

The museum’s central area was full of wonderful Hittite statues and reliefs, including the usual huge Hittite guardian lions, kings in chariots hunting or trampling their enemies, fantastic animals, and seraphim.

Elsewhere in the museum is found nothing less than the reconstructed tomb of King Midas. Yes, this is Midas of the Golden Touch, who in addition to being a figure of legend was a perfectly genuine and extremely wealthy 8th Century king of Phrygia. His body was found surrounded by precious objects in a wooden tomb buried under the Great Tumulus at Gordion. Much of what was found in the tomb was made of wood and hasn’t prospered over the centuries, but include his bed and an ingenious folding table. Also found was a portrait bust of Midas himself, which shows him to be a round-faced man with a haughty expression and a pug nose. He looks like a belligerent Irish pub crawler. Pictures and descriptions of many of the treasures can be found here.

From the Hellenic age there are displayed pots, statues of Olympian gods, reliefs, coins, and jewelry. From the Romans are some remarkable portrait busts, including a bronze Trajan, and a seated statue of Cybele, who has lost a lot of weight over the last 7000 years and got a new hairdo.

On leaving I wanted to get a museum guide so that I could linger over pictures of all the treasures I hadn’t got to linger over in person, but I couldn’t find one in English. (In fact, finding souvenir books in English was a consistent problem. I don’t know whether they don’t print enough, or whether swarms of Americans always carried them off just before I arrived.)

So I am now the proud owner of Museum Für Anatolische Zivilisationen. Even though I can’t make a lot of sense of the German, I’m better at reading German than Japanese, which was my other choice.

We now drove to the airport. Again there was much suspense over the fact that Kathy was still carrying a ticket identifying her as “Paul Hedges.” Once this mistake had been made, there was apparently no way to correct it. I hung around behind Kathy as we went through multiple security lines, ready to assure the guard that this was in fact my beloved wife, Paul. Once again, nobody noticed the discrepancy.

Despite the flight lasting no longer than 45 minutes, Turkish Air served us a full and tasty meal, with wine.

As we flew toward Izmir (Smyrna) and the Aegean, we could see many greenhouses below us, and we looked forward to chowing down on the fresh vegetables therefrom. The Aegean coast was clearly a garden spot.

Once in Izmir we were packed onto another set of buses and driven to our hotel, a drive that took over an hour. The final part of the drive, past ever-more-exotic hotels and a huge amusement park, on winding narrow roads overlooking the sea, was spectacular.

The hotel was grand and gorgeous, perched above a mysterious cave on the Aegean coast, with the waves beating against the cliff below. Our room had a balcony with a sea view, showing the nearby town, with boats moving in and out.

We would have liked to have explored the hotel and the area, but we never had time. The only time we spent in the hotel we were sleeping or eating the remarkably bad food on the hotel buffet.

Sharing the hotel with us was the European Chess Championship, which allowed me to discover the answer to a ageless question: Who is more nerdy, chess players or astronomers?

Astronomers, definitely. Not even close.

Next: Top This, I Dare You

Foxessa August 2, 2006 at 10:09 pm

It is irksome that traveling is really about shopping, primarily.

Another reason I so enjoyed those cultural tours to Cuba, which normally I don’t care for group anything. It was all culture, etc. all time. Even if people wanted, there was no shopping, not really, not as U.S. consumers understand shopping. Except for rum … and who would object to that?

Love, C.

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