Gaziantep Museum by Fred
by Fred Moore - October 2005
Another great discovery, the museum at Gaziantep; this past weekend we had an opportunity to join a bus trip to this ancient city.
The historical literature tells us Gaziantep began its history 3,000 years ago! There were Assyrians and Cimmerians at odds during its early years. It has been Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk, and Ottoman prior to modern history, just to name a few ruling civilizations. The name 'Gaziantep' is of recent coinage; and most Turks today still refer to it by its prior designation; Antep. Gazi comes from, 'fighter of the faith', a prefix added toward the end of the first world war when the French were trying to establish a foothold in southeast Anatolia.
Side note: Turkey after the first world war was headed for a major split up; you see, Turkey sided with the Germans in the war. As a result the Europeans (Britain, Italy, France and Greece) intended to divide it up as spoils of war; Ataturk (the Father and founder of modern Turkey) called on his countrymen to resist with 'every drop of blood' in their bodies. The movement became 'The Great War of Independence'. It was fought across the country and there was an Alamo-like siege in Antep Castle (the locals were triumphant) against the French in 1920 and thereafter the city's name became Gaziantep.
This city is first and foremost know for the 'pistachio' nuts; it's also know as the heartland of 'pasta' in Turkey, as there are vast plains of grain. The city also is a center of copper and brass making. However, my reason for joining the trip was centered on Zeugma. This was an ancient city located on a Roman trade route. In the very recent past, it became a high profile archeological tragedy; it was consumed by a dam reservoir. Again I digress just a moment; the southeast of Turkey is extremely dry and there's a national movement to rectify that condition with a number of dam projects. Progress is a two-edge sword in this vast land of ancient treasure; in a move to aid economic growth in this region water for irrigation has become more valuable than oil. Zeugma has fallen under the mass construction of progress.
The literature tells us little about this ancient civilization but in the rapid excavations of the past several years a plethora of magnificent mosaics have been extracted and preserved for our view at the Gaziantep Archeology Museum. I'm quite certain there must be vast notebooks from archeologist that await the time and energy of publication. Sadly too, there have to be many artifacts that will never see the light of day, for they now lie under fathoms of new life-giving water.
Forgive me, let's backup for just a moment; the trip has to have a progression from leaving home. This trip is by bus. We have a group of 30 folks going 'shopping'; that's how the trip was booked, I've already told you our intent. Our adventure began at 7:15 as we headed east toward Ceyhan to get the first exit onto the autobahn. We had a fairly nice fall of rain in the last couple weeks so things are green! The autobahn takes us through some very lovely rolling hills as we move east. The air is clear and the view spectacular. All along this route we encounter enclaves of migrant labors engaged in agricultural activities; today their gathering onions in a number of fields and picking cotton (by hand) in many others. All of the camps we see today are far too distant from the highway, so no photos today.
We're breaking over the hilltop just above Osmaniye and the panorama 180 degrees left to right across in front of us is beautiful. We're actually descending into a valley and we'll cross it to the other side and once again ascend into even higher mountains. There's a bus stop just ahead and we're an hour and half into the trip, we stop for stretching and snacks at the market. Turkish cookies are never off the list of great refreshments.
OK, back on the road again, we don't travel far before we begin our ascent into the mountains. The cuts in the mountainside right here are covered in vines and they have all gone red for fall. Imagine ivy growing up the side of any building; it's the same. These vine tentacles reach up and spread in the array like a fan here and they look like fingers just over there and so beautiful a red, it's difficult to describe in simple words. Now, there goes the first sign indicating the tunnels are just ahead; we'll move through four in all, one of which seems to never end. Between and beyond the throat of several of these tunnels are viaducts; the last one gives the feeling of flying as we look endlessly to the valley floor below.
We're ascending now gracefully onto the plain that ushers us into the Gaziantep. This is no village on the eastern plain; the sign as we enter the city indicates a population in access of 850,000 souls. Depending on the age of the sign, we could easily be entering a city of over a million people. We're headed for the city center, the heart of the old city, the shops of coppersmiths and other masters of old. This place has '50s charm; it has a cacophony of hammering, shouting and traffic. The bus finds its nesting place and the rush is on; there are shops to be conquered.
As was our intent from the beginning, we go in search of the museum. We learn we're eight or ten blocks away. No matter, we set off in the direction pointed out by a gentleman in the street. One is never lost in this country; someone is always ready and willing to offer you directions and/or personal guidance to your desired location. The gentleman's instructions are on the mark; we find the museum easily. It's nearing eleven o'clock and we march up the front steps to the desk just inside the door. We're greeted warmly by two young women at the desk, pay our two Lira entry fee and go up the steps behind the desk where we're greeted by one of the most incredible mosaics I've ever stood in front of.
There are no flashes allowed so photos will be minimal if we get any. The entry hall here in front of us holds several pieces; there is a young man at the foot of this first piece and he's drawing it free hand. The lad has talent even though his drawing is only the outline of the figures peering back at him from this amazing mosaic.
Oh no, look out, here comes a mass invasion of school children. (HaHaHa) Their 'male' teacher has just sternly lectured them on where they are and how they will maintain themselves, the noise dies down almost immediately. I make my way around this initial display of mosaics and the light fades to near cave level, but as my eyes adjust; the magnitude of the hall hits me squarely in the psyche. Mosaics the likes of which are hard to convey; I must be in a hall with twenty pieces in varying dimensions. Each of these pieces on close examination have multitudes of stones, not one more than a half inch square and I may be sizing that too large. Here's one on the floor beside me, (this piece is 25' by 16'), then one here on the wall that's ten by ten easy; I'm pacing them off. There are six display areas; each houses a number of these pieces, all from Zeugma. Oh how I long to know just how many of these masterpieces are lost for all time under the reservoir.
It's hard to imagine; these mosaics date from the 2nd and 3rd century AD! Some of these are 100% perfect; not one solitary stone is out of place or missing. Others show their age but still demonstrate an art that I find truly hard to fathom. Here's one as an example: Satyros and Antiope; they're in the house of Poseidon, it says. Their center-set photo in stone is surrounded by smaller photos of birds, each in a plate of stone all their own. Another one here: it says Okeanos and Tethys, husband and wife; they're depicted as fertility of the sea. The body of this mosaic reflects the couple surrounded within the main frame by sea creatures.
The museum closes for lunch; our eyes are glazed over anyway so we make our way out into the day once more. My mind is still spinning from the sheer wealth of ancient history I've just left behind; I may not have walked on any of those magnificent pieces but just walking around and through them reinforces my prospective of time. Two thousand years ago children grew up walking, playing, fighting siblings and getting sick on these mosaics! These were utilitarian floors in upscale homes, much like having Italian tile in your home today. What famous visitor walked across this floor as a guest of the homeowner? Maybe one of your distant relatives! Think of it; I can't, my mind simply goes numb.
On the sidewalk out front of the museum we look up at a modern stadium. At the moment it hard to ignore the large edifice because there is a tremendous barrage of concert music (I use that phase loosely) storming the area. It near deafening and we're outside in a very busy street. To the right, as we turn, to return in direction to which we came and just above eye level is the Byzantine Castle built in 565 during the reign of Justinian and on his orders. The Seljuk Turks and the Ottomans have reinforced it over the centuries. We're not going to have time today to get a good look at the castle but another visit is inevitable.
Not far along our route back toward the old shopping area we stop into a little kabob house, Sasmaz Yaprak Doner Salonu. There are four tables with seating for sixteen folks. One lone Turk is enjoying his lunch; he's obviously not fasting today. Since this is the month of Ramazan, no one eats between sun-up and sundown. Forgive me here, there are specific hours but it's simply easier to state it as sun-up and sundown. This gentleman may have any number of reasons for his eating, not least of which could be medical. Anyway, we had an enthusiastic invite from the owner/cook/server and it smelled great, so we sit down and minutes later have a great lunch! There are four of us, two have lamb and two have chicken, both are very good. It's just over three dollars a piece for our meals; boy do I love to eat in this country.
Back in the shopping area we do a little browsing through the narrow streets and tiny stalls of copper and brass. Bargains can be found here but one must spend time dashing into and out of many shops. I buy a Gaziantep 'mother-of-pearl' inlay walking cane from Guzel Sanat Galerisi. I also buy a small carpet-faced grain sack from another stall. I encounter my boss at another shop and she's looking at purchasing a carpet. Carol has found that the shop where I bought my grain sack has a few carpets stored away in the back, so I take the boss in to look around. We enter a very narrow hall and go up a few very cluttered steps to a small dirty/dusty old room. Our shopkeeper is dragging and tugging at pieces that do not have any indication they've seen daylight in years! This place is a FIND!
The boss has her eye out for just the right color and within minutes that color makes an appearance; I caution her, we must see these pieces outside in the sun. One should NEVER purchase a carpet in the dark or in artificial light. The only true color is seen in the sun. These two pieces are lovely, even more beautiful out here. After a short haggle both pieces have a new home with the boss. Our time is gone and we must make our way to the bus for the return trip home. We will return for more discoveries of this city's historical treasures.
As is the norm on this type adventure everyone is totting a treasure or two back to the bus. The driver and his assistant stow most of the purchases under the passenger cabin. There is a young lad from a machine carpet shop just across the street from our bus who continues to hand out small prayer mats to these 'tourists' I'm riding with. I'm told this has something to do with Ramazan but since none of these folks are Moslem I find the gifts a little odd and I make no attempt to attain one. Everything is finally in order and we're on our way.
The bus is a buzz, as everyone seems to be talking at once. Everyone is sharing with someone a tidbit of, 'where I went and what I bought and how I got this great deal' on whatever it is they're talking about. It only a few minutes before we pull onto the autobahn for the trip home. Our group has brought along coolers with refreshments for the trip, snacks and drinks for up and back. Carol and I have brought along some wine, cheese and crackers just for the trip home; now we're on the highway we both begin to set up our trays for the group. I pass out the plastic cups (color-coded for the different wines), then get the wine open and begin walking the isle to pour the wine. Carol is walking the isle passing out the cheese (cheddar and mozzarella) and crackers (Ritz and Tollhouse). We pass each other coming and going as we see to it all have a little refreshment.
This makes a fun trip even more fun, as we motor down the autobahn at 100 clicks, just over sixty-mph. The refreshments and the group are great and we've turned a mundane return ride into a Saturday afternoon social. Like all trips though, the return is so much quicker than the getting there that we're home before we know it.
Once more, Turkey has shown us part of her ancient history and modern life
thrown one atop the other.