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A Journey Through Western History in Time and Space

by Jane Ginn

I recently returned from a 14-day cruise on the Eastern Mediterranean that made stops at a number of archaeological sites and UNESCO World Heritage sites in Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt and Greece. The time period of the ruins and artifacts we viewed covered the neo-Babylonian era (artifacts in the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul), through the Egyptian period, through the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, and Ottoman periods; roughly about 8,000 years of human history. Acropolis

I thought the best way to share this trip with my readers is through a photo journalistic essay.

Click through the images on the following slide show to see some of the shots I took at the various sites.  I have reproduced the text for each of the images below the slide show for ease of reading for size, and for translation for my foreign readers.

[To view the slide show in a larger format, click on the blue title, below.]


Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia – Holy Wisdom of God

Built in the 5th Century A.D. by Emperor Justinian after the original basilica, built by Constantine was destroyed by fire, this church served as the center of the  Orthodox Christian world for a millennium.

In 1453 Mehmet the Conqueror had it converted into a mosque.  Minarets were added to the exterior and the calligraphy for the name of god (Allah), Mohammed, and the Caliphates were added to the balcony level (visible here).  Today it is a museum.

Hagia Sophia – Restored Mosaics

When Ataturk, the founder of modern, secular Turkey, converted the Haghia Sophia into a museum in 1935 he had the artisans remove the plaster that had covered the Byzantine era mosaics that were covered by the Ottoman Turks. This is detail from one of the most beautiful mosaics on the second level of the complex.

Blue Mosque

Built by Sultan Ahmet I in 1616 A.D., this mosque is known throughout the world for its beautiful blue tiles that cover the interior walls. Envisioned as a structure that could rival the nearby Haghia Sophia,  Architect Mehmet Aga created a structure on a similarly grand scale.

Blue Mosque – Courtyard Detail

Every architectural feature of the Blue Mosque was executed with great care and precision. This shows some detail from under the archways in the main courtyard. Practicing Muslims wash themselves before going inside to pray.

Hippodrome – Chariot Races

In the center of the Old Town area of Istanbul sits the historically important Hippodrome.  This was where the chariot races of the Roman era were held and political rallies toppled governments throughout the centuries.

The most commanding structure is the Obelisk of Theodosius.  It was carved in Egypt during the reign of Thutmose III (1549 – 1503 B.C.) and transported to Istanbul during the Byzantine era. It sits on a Byzantine era base.

Grand Bazaar

A crazy cacophony of sound, chaos and color, the covered Grand Bazaar contains over 4,000 shops, restaurants, mosques, banks, police stations and workshops.  It contains several kilometers of lanes to tempt any tourist.

Spice Market

More popular with the locals, the spice market is a crowded, active and aromatic sensation.  The colors will delight every one who dares to wander in.  There are booths selling bulk spices, restaurants selling Turkish food and, of course, Turkish coffee shops.

Canakkale, Turkey

Troy – Homer’s Iliad

Leaving the the port at windy Canakkale, southeast of the Dardanelles and near Mt. Ida, we traveled to the remains of the city of Troy.  Famous for Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad, Troy is a UNESCO site that has been excavated in successive layers. It was first settled in about 3,000 B.C. – The era when the Trojan War was believed to have been was sometime between the 12th, 13th or 14th Century B.C.Pictured here is the area where sacrifices were made to the gods.

Kusadasi, Turkey

Ephesus – Center of Artemis Cult

A short drive from Kusadasi is the UNESCO site of Ephesus.  Capital of the Romans’ Asia Province, this city is one of the great treasures of Turkey’s vast inventory of historical sites.  At one time it was a prosperous port city; however, now, it lies miles from the nearest shore line due to deposition from the Meander River. Pictured here is the famous Library of Celsus building.

The library  was located directly across from the brothel, and connected by an underground passageway.

Ephesus – Roman Amphitheater

A long Arcadian Way leads to this immense theatre complex that is estimated to have held 20,000 spectators.  It sits directly across from a large agora or commercial complex that would have been bustling with hawkers and shop keepers for hundreds of years.

Until recently modern music festivals were held at this location; however, this practice has been discontinued due to the deterioration of the complex.

Rhodes, Greece

Church of our Lady on Mt. Filerimos

This medieval era church was built on the foundations of an ancient temple to Athena. In the 12th century A.D. it was restored by the Knights of St. John.   After the fall of Rhodes to the Ottoman Turks it was used as a stable until its restoration about 30 years ago.

The restored monastery is still occupied and used for traditional Greek Orthodox ceremonies.  On the day of our visit the local clergy was preparing for a baptism ceremony.

Medieval Rhodes town – Knights of the Order of St. John

A collection of medieval buildings built by the Order of St. John, including a hospital to treat Crusaders traveling to and from the holy land, a series of compounds where the Knights resided, and the imposing Palace of the Grand Masters, is pictured here.

The Knights moved here from Cyprus in 1309, long after being expelled from Jerusalem by the Muslims. The double-headed griffin was and important symbol of the Order.

Antalya, Turkey

Perge – Best Preserved Roman Baths 

A short drive from our port at Antalya is the ancient city of Perge, first settled by the Hittites around 1500 B.C. St. Paul visited Perge in 46 A.D. and preached his first sermon here.  Pictured here are the remains of an extensive Roman bath complex that included extensive clay pipes to bring in the hot water and steam for the city patrons.

Perge – Archaeological Museum

One of the best collections of Roman marble carvings outside of Istanbul is the Archeological Museum in Antalya.  It houses finds from the Neolithic era up to and through the Ottoman empire.  Remains of a major Roman aqueduct can be seen outside of the city.  And, as in many places throughout Turkey, weavers are constantly working in their various showrooms and workshops, creating beautiful rugs for domestic use and foreign trade.

Alanya, Turkey

Aspendos – Roman Stadium 

One of the best preserved of the Roman stadiums at the ancient town of Aspendos is a short drive from Alanya, Turkey.  Legend has it that Aspendos was founded shortly after the Trojan war. The city came under control of the Persians in 546 B.C.  Alexander brought the city under his control in 333 B.C. and taxed its residents heavily.

Larnaca, Cyprus

Greek Cypriot Coastline

A beautiful drive along the coastline from Larnaca in Greek Cyprus reveals how charming and beautiful the Mediterranean countryside can be.  A visit to the market proves to be fruitful. In the area, a medieval Castle in Limmasol is famous because it is where Richard the Lionhart, King of England, married Berengaria of Navarre and crowned her Queen of England in 1191.

Medieval castle of Kolossi

Built in the 13th Century by the High Command of the Knights of St. John, this castle sits among extended vineyards.  A poorly preserved fresco of Jesus on the cross is visible in the main entry hall.

Haifa, Israel

Acre (Akko) & the Crusader’s Castle

The old city of Acre (spelled Akko in the Arab world) is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The Hospitaller Fortress, with it’s fortified Knights Hall, is one of the key structures at this large complex. The Order moved its headquarters to Akko in 1191 after being expelled  from Jerusalem. The interior shot shows the construction of the archways so typical of the design of the Gothic period.

Baha’i Gardens

With over half a million visitors a year, the Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa are among the most popular sites in the Middle East. Their unique design, combining geometrical shapes and exquisite detailing with loving conservation of natural and historic landscape features, leaves an indelible impression on visitors. These gardens were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.

Jerusalem, Israel

Wailing Wall

In the top center of the so-called ‘Temple Mount’ of the Old City of Jerusalem is the famous Wailing Wall, the only remaining portion of the second Jewish Temple. The Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. It sits between the gold-topped Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, pictured here.  In the foreground of this photo is an archaeological dig site from the Roman era.

Artist’s Vision of Ancient Jerusalem

Along the passage of the archaeological  dig of the main street of ancient Jerusalem is an artist’s rendering of what it must have been like 2,000 years ago.  Notice the modern age schoolboy in the right foreground that is talking to the ancient girl in a white dress and blue shawl.  The new meets the old in Jerusalem.

Israelis and Arabs Coexist in Old City

For centuries the Arabs and Jews have been at odds over the control of the Temple Mount. There is, today, an uneasy truce as both groups co-exist in this busy section of the city of Jerusalem. There were hookah smokers and  security officers on every corner.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

One of the main pilgrimage sites in Jerusalem is the beautiful Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  The interior dome is made up of a beautiful and intricate image of Jesus, pictured below. The church was  built under the guidance of Constantine’s Mother in the 3rd Century A.D.

Prolific Arts and Crafts Community

Artisan crafts that target the tourists is an important part of the local economy of Jerusalem.  Tourism is one of Israel’s major sources of income, with 3.45 million tourist arrivals in 2010.

Cairo, Egypt

Giza Plateau: Pyramids and Sphinx 

The sun bleached sand and rock of the Giza Plateau is not very busy with tourists these days. The vendors are getting ever more desperate due to the drop in tourism after the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.  The beauty of the Sphinx and the geometric perfection of the pyramids lives on, regardless of the ups and downs of human political actions.

Tourists on Camels

Only the tourists ride camels in Cairo these days. And, since the Egyptian Revolution, there are fewer and fewer  tourists. Economic prospects for the country are very grim and the desperation is visible everywhere in the eyes of the vendors that rely on tourism for their daily income. Public services contractors from overseas have cancelled contracts since the Revolution  and the quality of life has deteriorated in many cities.

Cairo Whirling Dancer

Egypt’s economy grew steadily at around 7% between 2005 and 2008 before dropping to below 5% after the Revolution.  Egypt’s tourism industry, which is $10 billion per year (approximately 6% of GDP), suffered a major blow as a result of the Arab Spring revolution in January and February 2011, and its slow recovery is highly vulnerable to perceptions about Egypt’s internal political stability and security.

Alexandria, Egypt

Nilometer at Archaeological Site

In the middle of an urban neighborhood in Alexandria stands the Pompey’s Pillar dig site.  The most interesting feature of this site was the Nilometer from approximately the 1st Century A.D. It is pictured here as the box-like structure at the left of the photo.  These structures were used to determine the tax burden that would be applied to the farmers after the annual inundation.  Also pictured, four Muslim men enjoying their morning tea.

Alexandria Library

The UN funded reconstruction of the library at Alexandria is one of the most modern structures in this otherwise traditional city.  It is a rich resource for the students at the nearby Universities.

Citadel of Qaitbey: On site of Lighthouse

This fortress is seated upon the exact location of the Lighthouse of Alexandria which was completely destroyed by several earthquakes over the centuries, beginning in the 800s and continuing to the eleventh century. By the 14th century A.D. the entire site had been destroyed and the Sultan Qaitbay decided to use the location as a defensive fort. It is a local museum with beautifully maintained grounds today, used by locals for fun and play.

Agios Nikolaos, Greece

Island of Crete: the Harbor

Agios Nikolaos has a small harbor that has been important for sailors since it was first settled in the Late Bronze Age.  Just beyond the harbor is a natural lake that, for centuries, provided the inhabitants with fresh water.  The lake water is now brackish due to intrusion from the sea water.

Crete: Minoan Civilization at Knossos

Riane Eisler in her book “The Chalice & the Blade” characterizes this ancient society as a matriarchical  society that displayed significant agricultural wealth, peace and cultural refinement. Columns were made of wood as shown in this reconstruction from the site. They were heavily engaged in trade, especially of honey, which was harvested in great quantities and stored in the large, reconstructed jars pictured here.

Knossos Palace: Throne room of the Minoans

Absent from Minoan art was the image of strong, powerful and dominant male figures.  This was characteristic of all of the other societies of the time at which Minoan civilization thrived (2600 B.C. to 1000 B.C.). The throne room, pictured here was set up for the monarch to receive traveling guests and trading partners throughout the Aegean.  The bowl was originally outside the room to allow for visitors to wash before entering.

Mykonos, Greece

Mykonos Harbor

The streets in Mykonos were deliberately laid out in a labyrinth to confuse and entrap marauding pirates from ancient times.  The religious life is predominately Greek Orthodox, and the economy relies heavily on tourism.  All of the structures in the town are covered with a white lime-based paint that gives it a clean look, even though the buildings are all from the medieval era.  There are several pelicans that wander the town.

Greek Orthodox Chapel

Individual families still maintain these medieval era chapels that were built for family worship and special ceremonies.  Weddings, baptisms and  funerals are regularly held in these unique and beautiful structures.

Windmills of Mykonos

Barley bread was the primary export from Mykonos to the surrounding islands for centuries.  These windmills are remnants of that past economy.  The present day economy is based on tourism as this island, along with most of the Greek islands, has been heavily logged and eroded through the centuries of human habitation.

Delos: Ancient City on an Island

One of the most important centers of commerce and trade during the Hellenistic era was Delos, now a UNESCO site.  The entire island is protected and there are active teams of French, German, Greek and U.S. archaeologists working on the site. Delos was where coins were first minted and it was the site of  the first stock market and futures exchange. It also has a darker history; it was the center for the Greek slave trade.

Piraeus (Athens), Greece

Acropolis – Polis on a Hill

The entire Acropolis is a 10 acre site that was the focal point of Athenian life and culture for hundreds of years. The Acropolis is a UNESCO site that is currently undergoing extensive reconstruction and stabilization.  It is made up of a series of structures that were constructed at different times in the history of the city, beginning in the Early Neolithic (6th millennium BC).

Athens – Agora

Directly below the Acropolis was the heart and soul of the city – The market and the public spaces where democracy was forged.  It is here where the first Senate building and the various supporting buildings were constructed. Pictured here, in the foreground are the ruins of one of the Senate’s major buildings. In the background is a surviving temple to the Greek god for the industrial and metal working arts. A headless statue of Hadrian the Emperor graces the walkway.

Acropolis – Parthenon 

Pictured here is the Parthenon, or the Temple of the Virgin, Athena.  This structure was a tribute to this Greek goddess, whom the Greeks considered to be their defender. It is the most important surviving building of  classical Greece’s Golden Age (circa 460 to 430 BC). The columns are approximately 10 meters, or 34 feet, high. It is considered to be the culmination of the development of the Doric Order.