A Cast-Iron Church In Istanbul

This church on the shoreline of Istanbul looks ornate yet pretty normal – that is until you go up and take a closer look. The Bulgarian St. Stephen Church isn’t made of stone but rather of cast iron. It’s a rare survival of a 19th-century craze in prefab cast-iron churches.

Also known as the Bulgarian Iron Church, its parts were cast in Vienna in 1871 and shipped down the Danube in a hundred barges to be assembled in Istanbul. This building marks an important time in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Bulgaria and Greece were both ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Bulgarian Christians were under the domain of the Greek Patriarch, but the Bulgarians complained that he favored Greeks over Bulgarians. So the Sultan granted the Bulgarians their own Exarch, giving them a religious independence that they have to this day.

If you’re in Istanbul, head on over to this church, pull a coin out of your pocket and tap it against the wall. You’ll hear a loud ding ding ding that proves it’s really metal! Needless to say, iron buildings need love and care. Currently the building is undergoing restoration work so that it can amaze visitors and churchgoers for generations to come.

Liverpool can boast two cast-iron churches, St. Michael’s and St. George’s, although they are only partially iron. For the full prefab effect, you need to go to Istanbul.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Göbekli Tepe: the ancient temple that changed our view of the beginning of civilization

On a dusty hilltop in southwestern Turkey is an ancient temple that shouldn’t exist.

In 9,000 BC, people set up a series of round buildings decorated with giant “T”-shaped pillars carved with pictures of animals and humans. The buildings are 10-30 meters in diameter with a taller pair of pillars in the center and smaller ones at regular intervals around the circumference. The pillars range from 3-6 meters tall and weigh 6-10 tons each.

The hauling, cutting, and setting up of the pillars would have taken a huge amount of work, especially considering that 11,000 years ago people had no metal tools, no agriculture, not even any pottery. The temple at Göbekli Tepe has taught us that people were setting up major buildings before they even lived in towns. It’s turned out idea of prehistory upside down.

Now Göbekli Tepe is undergoing conservation by the Global Heritage Fund in order to preserve it for future study and protect it from looters.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Göbekli Tepe is that only about 5 percent of the site has been excavated. Who knows what this temple, built by hunter-gatherers 6,000 years before Stonehenge, will teach us next?

[Both images courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Excavations at ancient city of Perge in Turkey celebrate 65 years

Archaeological excavations at the ancient city of Perge in southern Turkey have reached their 65th year, the Hürriyet Daily News reports. This makes them the longest-running excavations in a country with a wealth of ancient sites.

Perge (aka Perga) is in Turkey’s Antalya province and was founded 3,500 years ago by the Hittites. It became a prosperous Greek colony like Ephesus and Pergamon and was for a time under Persian rule. Many of the surviving remains are from the Roman period. In the early days of Christianity, St. Paul preached there (Acts 14:25). Several interesting monuments can still be seen such as a theatre, a stadium, two city gates, and a temple to Artemis.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site is so massive that more than a half century of digging has only uncovered a quarter of it. The current project is to restore many of the columns that once lined the streets.

Perga is at one end of a challenging 300+ mile trek called the St. Paul Trail that cuts diagonally across the country.

For more information and photos, check out this Anatolian travel page.

[Photo courtesy archer10 (Dennis) via flickr]

Poison alcohol kills Russian tourists: three things they should have known

Poisonous alcohol has been blamed for the deaths of three Russians on a cruise off the Turkish resort of Bodrum.

The Russians were part of a trip by travel agency managers exploring tourism possibilities in Turkey. In total, 20 Russians and one Turk were poisoned by the drinks. The $50 cruise included 10-12 mixed drinks. While some reported that the alcohol had a strange taste, it appears that didn’t stop them from drinking it.

Initial reports suggest methanol was added to the booze.

This tragedy could have easily been avoided if these travel professionals had followed three simple rules:

1. Be wary of alcohol in Muslim countries. I’m sorry if this offends any legitimate Muslim brewers or vintners out there, but the fact of the matter is that much of the alcohol produced in Muslim nations is substandard, and apparently in this case downright dangerous. A culture that frowns on drinking pushes drinking underground. This lowers standards both for producers and consumers. Also, consumers are less likely to know what’s good and what isn’t. I’ve traveled all around the Muslim world and have seen a lot of dodgy booze.

2. If it tastes strange, don’t swallow. This is standard travel health practice. One of my worst cases of food poisoning happened in India. It was a hot day and I bought a local brand of cola. I took a big slug of it and swallowed, only to wince at an acrid, industrial chemical taste. I spit out what remained in my mouth but it was too late. Within an hour my gut felt like I’d swallowed a dozen razor blades. I learned my lesson: taste first.

3. Don’t overdrink. The cruise included ten to twelve mixed drinks? That’s poison even if the booze is normal. Overdrinking overseas (or even in the wrong bar back home) can make you ill, get you robbed, or worse. Drink sensibly. You’ll enjoy your vacation more.

[Photo courtesy Georges Jansoone]