Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Turkey | Hasankeyf

Update: An Ancient Turkish Town Could Disappear Underwater In Weeks.

Wandered by Hasankeyf, on the Tigris River about forty-six miles northeast of Mardin. As long as 3600 years ago a cave settlement was established here in the cliffs and ramparts bordering the Tigris River. It was later occupied by the Romans and turned into an important stronghold on the Roman-Parthian and later Roman-Persian border. In times of peace it served as a strategically located way-station on the Silk Road between the Orient and Occident. The headquarters of a Orthodox bishopric during early Byzantine times, it was conquered by the Arabs in the 640s and Islamized. The Mongols attacked and sacked the city in 1260. The details are unclear, but this assault on Hasankeyf may have been made by Mongol forces under the command of Kitbuqa Noyan. This Mongol army would later suffer a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Egyptian Mamluks in Palestine. In 1550 the city became part of the Ottoman Empire. It may not exist much longer. A dam now planned for the Tigris River will flood much of the area. 
Remains of the bridge over the Tigris River built in 1116 by the Artuqid Sultan Fahrettin Karaaslan. Local guides claim the the supports of this bridge were build on the foundations of an earlier bridge built by the Romans. It was one of the largest bridges in the world in the twelfth century. The Citadel can be seen on the corner of the cliffs to the left. The pier-like structure extending from the left bank is the dining area of a restaurant which serves fish fresh from the Tigris River (click on photos for enlargements). 
 Ruins of one of the main bridge supports 
 The Citadel looming above the Tigris River
 Ruins of ancient Hasankeyf
 Cave residences
Cave residences and ruins
 Pathway leading the top of the massif where the royal palaces and mosque are located. 
Another view of the pathway leading the top of the massif where the royal palaces and mosque are located. 
 Cave dwellings
 A view of modern-day Hasankeyf from near the top of the massif. The new town is inhabited by Kurds, Arabs, and Syriacs
 Another view from the top of the massif
 A massif which according to locals served as the site of an important mint where silver and gold coins were made. The only access to the top, where the mint was located, was via the staircase carved out the rock which can be seen winding its way upward near the middle of the massif.
 Another view from the top of the massif where the royal palaces are located
 The top of the main massif
Ruins of dwellings on the massif
 Ruins of one of the royal places, reportedly built by the Ayyubids, descendants of the great Saladin,  who conquered the area in the 1230s. 
 The Ulu Mosque, at the top of the main massif, was probably also built by the Ayyubids in the thirteenth or fourteen century. 
 Another view of the Ulu Mosque
 Graveyard associated with the Ulu Mosque
 Tombstone with the Ulu Mosque in the background
 More tombstones
We descended from the massif and walked up the valley to a famous spring where people go to either meditate or indulge in Dionysian bacchanalias, depending on their inclinations. 
 The spring. I consider myself a cognoscente of drinking water and this water was excellent. It was not mineralized and icy cold, even though the air temperature was in the low 90ºs F.
A couple of miles from Hasankeyf is another smaller cave complex. 
 Cave dwellings
 Cave dwellings
 Just upstream from current-day Hasankeyf is the tomb of Zeynel Bey, ruler of the Hasankeyf area fron 1462 to 1482. 
Current-day Hasankeyf is famous for its fish restaurants with fresh fish from the Tigris River. Many of the restaurants feature dining on barges in the river. 
Relaxing on the dining barge in the Tigris river. Ancient cave dwellings can be seen on the far bank of the Tigris.
Information About The Dam which will flood much of the area if built. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Croatia | Istrian Peninsula | Pula

From Venice I wandered on down to Pula in Croatia.
Old Roman-era portal leading to the old town of Pula (click on photos for enlargements)
Statue of James Joyce outside a cafe he frequented when he lived in Pula
Square in the old town of Pula, which is a pedestrians-only area. It was early morning so there was no one about.
Temple of Augustus, built by Emperor Augustus (r. 27 BC–AD 14), said to be the oldest Roman monument in Croatia. On the right is a Neo-Pagan tree offering.
The most famous Roman monument in Pula is the Amphitheater built in the first century a.d. by Roman Emperor Vespasian (r. 69–79). The amphitheater seated about 20,000. Gladiators fought each other here (whether they fought to the finish is unclear), and also fought wild beasts like lions and tigers, whose cages can still be seen. Nowadays we have only the NFL. But James Harrison would have made a great gladiator!






By the fifth century the teachings of the Nazarene, a temple to whom can be seen in the background, had replaced the pagan beliefs of the Romans and gladiatorial bouts were outlawed. Nowadays the amphitheater hosts concerts, film festivals, and other cultural events. The Foo Fighters, Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, Norah Jones, Alanis Morissette, Sinéad O'Connor, Elton John, Sting, Michael Bolton, Seal, Tom Jones,  Leonard Cohen, and Grace Jones, among others, have all performed here.

Turkmenistan | Darwaza | Portal to Agharta

Update: Turkmenistan Leader Drives Donuts Around 'Gateway to Hell' In Footage Following Death Rumors.

One of my main objectives while in Turkmenistan was visiting the ruins of Urgench, which had been trashed by the sons of Chingis Khan back in 1221. Urgench is 290 miles north of the capital of Ashgabat. It is possible to drive from the capital to Urgench in one day, but most tourists like myself prefer to drive to the Darwaza Crater, 150 miles north of Ashagabat, spend the night there, and then continue on to Urgench the next day.

The Darwaza Crater is widely touted as the Portal to Hell. Indeed, the word darwaza reportedly means “portal” in the Turkmani language. The portal is not, however, a natural phenomenon. It was created in 1971 when geologists accidentally drilled into a huge underground cavern filled with natural gas. The cavern collapsed, leaving a crater about 230 feet in diameter. To keep from poisoning the local environment the geologists set fire to the huge amounts of natural gas seeping from the crater. They apparently thought the gas would burn off in a few days or weeks. Instead, the gas has been burning ever since and the leakage shows no signs of abating. No one has offered an estimate on the value of the gas which goes up in flames here each day. Natural gas is so plentiful in Turkmenistan that no one seems to care. 

The crater is in the middle of the Karakum Desert. There are no facilities in the area. Like the thirty or forty other tourists who spent the night there, I brought my own tent and vittles. There were people from Russia, Germany, Austria, Australia, Hungary, and other sundry locales. The people from Australia said they they had come to Turkmenistan specifically to see the crater. They had driven from Ashgabat that day and were returning there the next morning. 


There are other reputed Gates to Hell, including One In Turkey (this Turkey video also has views of Darwaza). Thanks to Snuggles in Richmond VA for bringing this video to my attention.
 View from Space: Darwaza, the Gate to Hell, is the small dark spot in the middle, not the larger gray area (click on photos for enlargements).
 The Darwaza Crater is about 230 feet in diameter
 Darwaza Crater
People on the edge of Darwaza Crater. On the downwind side the heat emanating from the crater is almost unbearable.
Darwaza Crater at night: Dante would have loved this place.
There are rumors that the cavern which the geologists inadvertedly drilled into was an extension of Agharti (also spelled Agharta), the underground Kingdom described by Marquis Alexandre Saint-Yves d’Alveydre and Ferdinand Ossendowski. The King of Agharti was reportedly none too pleased by this incursion into his domain and has been in a snit ever since. See the King of Agharti’s Predictions. His threat to return to the surface of the earth in 2012 was not fulfilled, however, and at this point in time the Darwaza-Agharti connection must be relegated to the realm of pure speculation.