One of the most glorious things to do in Istanbul is take in the sunset and twilight light on Hagia Sophia. The proper vantage point is between the venerable church (then Mosque, then museum) and the nearly equally famous (but not nearly as impressive or historic) Blue Mosque, from which nice views of the latter can also be had. Patience rewards one with a transition of stunning views—and you can grab a durum döner to go at the adjacent Dervish Cafe and enjoy it with the changing light.
Of interest in current research by myself and David Maltsberger is Çatıören, yet another (of many) ancient ruins partly concealed by the jagged rocks and accursed (I have certainly cursed them) scrub oaks of aptly-named Rough Cilicia. The main attraction for us is a building that apparently served as a synagogue, owing to the Jewish menorah symbol carved on the lintel of the entrance door.
The date of the synagogue is debatable. The building’s walls are of a Hellenistic style of masonry, but it is likely that its final use coincides with that of a nearby church and therefore probably 5th-6th centuries AD. The juxtaposition is all the more interesting when an equidistant pagan temple to Hermes is considered.
The Hermes Temple has symbols representing the caduceus of Hermes in relief prominently carved above the main doorway. Crosses, naturally, are found on the Christian basilica. Cilicia is known to have remained a mix of paganism and Christianity (and Judaism) several centuries into the Christian Era. The religious structures at Çatıören highlight this cosmopolitan situation.
The carved symbols on those structures no doubt represent group identification in a period of pluralism; and perhaps even an attitude of exclusivism or tribalism, such as we see too often in today’s world. But it is also possible that they represent identification in a period of dialogue and mutual peace. Returning to tonight’s church discussion: Jason made the cogent observation that ecumenism and interfaith dialogue carry a certain risk—and that dialogue, understanding, and acceptance of others should not imply or include a loss of conviction in one’s own beliefs. There is no way to know for certain, but I would like to think that the residents of Cilicia in late antiquity carried on in such a manner. I found evidence of this ten minutes after leaving Çatıören in the necropolis (cemetery) of Korykos (modern Kizkalesi). There, sarcophagi (big stone coffins) with Jewish menorahs, pagan symbols, and Christian crosses lie next to each other with no hint of animosity—only symbolic proclamations of the faith under which they lived and died.
Lost in the cursed scrub-oaks, jagged rocks, dusty unpaved roads, and small farm plots of Rough Cilicia, one finds (if one is really looking and knows where) Köşkerli—the modern name given to a scatter of ruins around an ancient Byzantine church.
The main door of the church is nearly blocked by an oddly-placed small chapel that seems out of place or an afterthought. In front of the chapel is a rather large single fallen column. On my first visit to Köşkerli, I didn’t think much of the arrangement. But while researching another issue about the site, I obtained the Turkish language report of the archaeological survey there.1 The author noted that the single column is too large to have come from the church itself and has no matching columns among the ruins. He speculated that it fell from the chapel (or immediately outside it) and was possibly a column for a Stylite, or “pillar-dwelling monk.” As it happens, Stylites were something of a feature of the eastern Asia Minor-Syria regions in the Byzantine period. I think the idea has merit. So, on a subsequent visit last year, and again this week I paid special attention to the column.
It is tempting to make observations on the outcomes of elevating a man above others so his “holiness” can be observed, but I am trying to avoid politics and theology in this forum.
Thanks for looking!
1 Semavi Eyice, “Güney Anadolu’da bir ören yeri Köşkerli-Anadolu,” Araştırmaları 16 (2002): 227-39.
Yesemek is a rather unusual archaeological site in Turkey, 6 km from Syria. The “ruins” are really a workshop for production of standard Hittite (and Neo-Hittite) monumental statuary used to decorate palaces and public buildings.
The basic forms were created here and then transported and perhaps detailed at the cities where they were installed. Hundreds of standardized forms still stand on the hillside, like the concrete statue places found outside of cities all over the world today.
On maps it appears (when it appears) as Soğmatar, but the Turkish ğ is not pronounced and historians and archaeologists know it (when they know of it) as Sumatar Harabesi. It will definitely be the subject of a You Don’t Get This on the Bus Tour post, as it is one of the most mysterious, bizarre, and perplexing places I have been.
The site consists (in brief) of: A hill with large building remains at the center of a small village; a cave in the village with carved figures, cult symbols, and Syriac inscriptions; a plateau shrine atop a nearby hill with more carved figures and inscriptions; and seven monumental structures on separate hills within a radius of just over a kilometer, interpreted as temples to the “seven planets” of antiquity around a central shrine.
This is Karasis. It is a kale, or “castle,” high above a lake just north of Kozan. The site was unknown to archaeologists and historians until relatively recently—a factor of its invisibility from the lake side and unbelievably difficult access. This pic shows the “lower castle” from its apex (not nearly the top of the site), with the wall and large towers at center.
The fortress was apparently put in its final form under the Seleucid Empire (one of the Hellenistic kingdoms resulting from Alexander the Great’s conquests and breakup of his realm). Evidence for this is found in pottery sherds from the 2nd century BC and the striking elephant carved in relief over the inner entrance of the best-preserved tower.
It is possible the the site’s origins are slightly earlier, as a “treasure city” of Alexander the Great, but that will be left to a separate You Don’t Get This on the Bus Tour post.
Today’s Pic Of The Day is of the eponymous church at the site Çanlı Kilise on the western edge of Cappadocia in modern Turkey. The site is one of the ubiquitous Byzantine period settlement-monastery-church ruins in the region, noted for its unique geology and resulting topography.
Çanlı Kilise is unusual in having such a well-preserved above-ground church structure in addition to the usual rock-carved, semi-subterranean chambers. The site also has many tunnels and rooms carved below the surface and used for defense (hiding) and other purposes—a feature known at other sites as “underground cities.”