A small town with layers of history:  About a martyrium, a phallic statue, storks, and a bored salesman named Ali.

For as small as Selcuk is, it boasts a lot of interesting sites that should not be missed.  I would not have seen half of them had it not been for my new attachment, the bored salesman Ali.  When I came out of Ephesus yesterday, I was looking for the dolmus that could take me back into town.  I waited for a while until a young man came climbing down from the nearby hills and struck a conversation with me.  “I am going back to town.  You can come with me”.  There was a little motor scooter and there was Ali.  No sign of the dolmus – since this is still not high season, it could be a while.  I remembered my crazy times on the motor bike going around Palmyra in Syria, last year.  What could be worse?  I accepted.

On the way back we passed a sign Seven Sleepers.  “Do you want to see?”  Sure, I want to see everything, but do you have time?  Ali told me that he was so bored that he could think of nothing better but to look for mushrooms in the hills.  That’s what he had been doing when I got there.  But he had not found any and he had as much time as I wanted to spend.  That was the beginning of a two day on and off sightseeing tour with Ali.

Before long everyone else in town in Ali’s category – that is the street vendors, who work with tourists, knew that he was taking me around.   I was scolded by some whom I had rejected the evening before for not sightseeing with them, and I was warned by others of the immanent dangers of going around with the locals.  Very funny that the loudest voice of warning came from Ramazan who works for my hotel and who had picked me up at the bus station – it’s his job to convince tourists to go with him and to check out the pension he works for.   Everything is so public in a little town like Selcuk, that I was never worried about anything except having a motorbike accident not wearing a helmet.

Thanks to Ali, I saw the Seven Sleepers, a necropolis based on a myth of seven Christians who got murdered for their faith and then were resurrected 200 years later.  It is anyone’s guess how the people reconcile the fact that there are either only 6 or 9 tombs with the fact that there supposedly were 7 men:  Three times two in a row and three along the back wall does not add up to 7.  But if you want to believe something, you will, no matter how much you have to twist your brain.   I saw the one column remaining of the Temple of Artemis – one of the original Seven Wonders of the World.  That’s where Ali works, selling guide books.  The locals seem to have divied up the town into territories.  Ali’s family has the Artemis temple.  There works his father, brother, uncle, cousin, nephew.  If one is taking off, like Ali did, others fill in and the profits remain in the family.

I saw a famous 15th century Mosque with an unusual longitudinal floor plan which reminded me very much of the early mosques I had seen in Damascus.  They seem to be derived a lot more from the Roman basilica type than the later Turkish mosques which take inspiration from the central plan churches like the Hagia Sophia.  Along the way we passed small chapels which were converted into mosques and an old dilapidated yet picturesque hamam.

Ali and I made an agreement:  For every site he showed me, I had to teach him a useful new English word.  His English was actually quite good.  All self-taught since the age of 10, when he quit school to help his parents in their business of selling stuff to the tourists.  What a waste of intellect.  Now Ali is over 30 and has little to no formal education.  His “job” is completely seasonal, no benefits, no retirement, no prospects.  In the winter he “hibernates”, and in the bridge seasons like spring and fall he is bored.  And there is no community college to give him a better chance…

On my own I saw the Cathedral and Martyrium of St. John right below the citadel and the museum in town.  And I realized once again the extent of my ignorance:  How many different Johns were there?!  And how many of them were associated with Ephesus one way or another?  I am counting three or even four so far??  The museum is small, but well set up and it boasts some pretty amazing images.   Among the most interesting are a few versions of the fertility goddess Artemis which look bizarre, to put it mildly.  And one of the most notorious sculptures, plastered on postcards from Istanbul to Van, is the ithyphallic good Priapus who is discretely suspended hanging in a darkened show case.  To see him you have to push a button activating a light.  You can’t say they did not warn you.

And with Ali, I went to a nearby town called Selince, also known as the “Greek Town”.  There used to be a lot of Orthodox Greeks living there, all of whom disappeared during Ataturk’s “people exchange”.  It now is a cute little village, famous for a variety of very sweet wines.  Two churches still exist in awful states of dilapidation and neglect but lots of tourists come to town for it’s scenery, it’s crafts, and its good food.

But most of all, I saw the citadel!  The citadel is over-towering Selcuk.  You can see it from every side when you approach the town, but for years it has been closed.  Restoration and excavation projects are under way and opening is scheduled at the earliest for 2012.  Of course, the locals know their way in…  And so, shortly before sunset, Ali took me through some barbed wire and along some goat paths right into the castle.  There are spectacular views across town from up there and some quite interesting building, including an old brick mosque.  The locals almost make a business out of this  – taking in the daring tourists for a little tip.  We passed one other group:  A local and two Italians.  One of them, was so scared walking along the inner wall of the castle  that I am sure he made it at all.  His face was dripping with sweat and he almost clutched to the wall.  Ali laughed, but I felt a lot of sympathy.   The guy must have been even more afraid than I am of heights.  You have to picture tall fortifying walls with a ledge going around on the inside.  Next to the ledge there is a drop…  But the ledge is about two feet wide.  It’s really no problem for most people.  But I admit, that my stomach had that typical butterfly reaction, I get when faced with unprotected heights.

After all that sightseeing, I bought chocolate and red wine and Ali and I finished both days with a well-deserved treat in the city park.  Sounds more romantic than it was, but it was fun.  I squeezed Ali for information about Turkey, the government, Ataturk, the army, drugs, and anything else I could think of.  It was great to finally find somebody who spoke enough English and who had time to talk.

A Byzantine aqueduct winds its way through town and for decades dozens of storks have adopted the high places to build their nests.  Year after year they return.  From the aqueduct they spread out to the minarets in town and just about every pole in town has a storks nest on it; some just feet away from people’s windows.  In the early evening you see storks flying back to their nest.  Always one minds the freshly laid eggs, the other roams around.  Storks will be the image from Selcuk that will stay with me the most.  I have not seen any since my days in Germany.

Good night.

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