Friday, June 11, 2010

Farewell to the Dodecanese

Having spent rather longer than we would have wished in Palon, Nisyros Island the wind finally changed in direction and moderated to give us a cracking sail to Kos where we prepared for the arrival of Jane and John, Miggy's sister and brother in law. Bella was in her element and doing what she enjoys most; sailing in 15 to 20 knots of wind on a beam reach.
Onward then to Turkish Gumusluk, a protected anchorage on the north west tip the Bodrum peninsula. The anchorage is pretty but quite deep (we had 45m of chain down) and the village stands on the site of Myndos built in 350BC the remains of some of which are sunken beneath the waters of the bay, the former ancient harbour.
A tour of Gulluk Korfezi, the area in which we were to cruise with Jane and John, did nothing to endear us to the place; in fact quite the opposite. We had entered holiday home hell, the hillsides surrounding the gulf being crammed with white box like buildings more akin to painted barrack blocks. There is hardly a bit of maquis or rock and certainly not a tree to be seen between these endless unimaginative developments. It is Planning gone horribly wrong; an utter nightmare. The mountainous terrain and sparkling blue waters of the Turkey that we love has disappeared. Even the people, mostly fishermen who tend the many fish farms in these waters are not the friendly Turks that we have come to know. In Asin and Gulluk harbours local boats were taking up all the space on the long quay with splayed bowlines and there was no sign of any help in finding us a place to berth in the spaces that did exist between boats. This is clearly not yachtsman territory; we may be tolerated but we are not welcome!
A rather disappointing day was made a little more exciting when we were lashed with torrential rain; violent thunderstorms too close for comfort and squalls of 40 knots of wind.  Legends of boys swimming with dolphins originated at 5th century AD Iassos, now Asin, and we did see three dolphins during our 45 miles at sea.
Our itinerary for Jane and John's visit naturally changed to go firstly to Gumusluk for a taste of real Turkey and then to the Greek islands of Leros, Lipsi and Agathonisi and finally to Didim Marina, Turkey where would hire a car to visit Ephesus.  
Lakki town on the island of Leros has a strange feel of former times with art deco buildings dominating the skyline; in fact a fascist dream town built during the Italian occupation to represent Mussolini's vision of a new Roman Empire. The civic buildings, constructed in the mid 1930's, include a saucer shaped market, a cylindrical town hall and fascist centre and a vast hotel, cinema and theatre complex. Mussolini's summer residence still stands within the Italian naval dockyard.

The Island was occupied by the Knights of St John from 1309, by the Turks from 1522 to 1831, by the Italians in 1912 and by the Germans from 1943 until Allied liberation. A simple memorial stands on the harbour side as a poignant reminder of the sinking of HMS Intrepid during the Allied assault and the lives of the seamen lost.  Leros was reunited with Greece in 1948 and when the Junta took power in 1967 they exiled political prisoners to the prison camps on the island. With its association in antiquity with Artemis, Leros, an island with rolling green hills and fertile valleys is known today, more encouragingly, for its strong tradition of music, dance and poetry.
The island of Lipsi, one of many islands claiming to be where Calypso enchanted Odysseus, is enthralling with its plethora of blue domed chapels and gaily painted houses typifying Greek island life. The waters of the bays at Lera Lipsi were crystal clear and turquoise over the sandy bottom; a swimmer's paradise.
The hamlet of Ay Yeoryiou on the tiny island of Agathonisi, the northernmost outpost of the Dodecanese archipelago, was enchanting a Greek warship took up all the space on the quay making the limited anchorage quite crowded.

Back now in Turkey the Marina at Didim is huge and only about 10% occupied. Being only a year or two old it appears pristine with modern services and an excess of extremely helpful friendly staff both in the office and on the pontoons. The Marineros are superb and attend in ribs from the marina entrance. They would leap on board and park the boat for you if requested or given the slightest opportunity. The laundry is collected from and delivered to the yacht beautifully clean, ironed and folded and the acres of yard are surrounded with chandlers, engineering shops and sail makers.  There is a Carrefour Express supermarket on site and a 5 star Yacht Club the facilities of which are open to bertholders including the magnificent infinity pool.  Despite its grandeur the Marina is somewhat soulless being out of the joint towns of Altinkum and Didim, resorts of the worst kind with all the baggage that goes with such places.
Ephesus, as one of the greatest ancient sites in the western world is, of course, very popular with tourists as we discovered to our chagrin. Unlike our visits to other ancient ruins made in virtual solitude, on this oppressively hot and humid day we were four amongst a hoard of many thousands disgorged from three cruise ships berthed at nearby port of Kusadasi.

The effort of trying to avoid the marching masses was, nevertheless, worthwhile and the well preserved remains of this city are remarkable. Ephesus was first inhabited around 2000BC and, although the city we see today was founded by the successor to Alexander the Great, Lysimachus, during the 4th century BC most of the extant structures date form the Roman period when Ephesus became the principal port of the Aegean.  
Of those surviving buildings the early 2nd century AD Celsus Library with its fine colonnaded facade with statues of ladies representing wisdom, virtue, intellect and knowledge stands out supreme. Construction of the colossal 25,000 seat Great Theatre was begun in Hellenistic times and extended first by Nero in the 1st century AD and then by Septimus Severus at the end of the 2nd century AD. Wide colonnaded marble streets connect these magnificent remains as well as the Harbour, Stadium, the Temple of Hadrian, State Agora and Palace of the Council, the Odeon and many other notable buildings and monuments. Perhaps the most entertaining of the ruins is that of the brothel and the Latrina or public toilets.

Both St Paul and St John the Evangelist lived in Ephesus. The former spent five or six years trying to preach in the city but was banished after conflict with the locals about the God of Christians and all the pagan gods.

St John spent the last years of his century long life in Ephesus, probably between 39AD and 48AD, during which he is said to have written the fourth Book of the New Testament. He died here and was buried at the foot of Ayasuluk Hill where by the 10th century AD Lysimachus's city of Ephesus was finally resettled because of an unhealthy climate at the original site and of its economic decline due to the silting up of the direct access to the sea.
On the Cross Jesus said to John ''She is your mother, John'' and to Mary ''This is your son, mother''. Thereupon John undertook his responsibility to the end and on his leaving Jerusalem for Ephesus took Mary with him. She spent her final years of 30AD to 35AD in peace and died in a modest house just 8km from Ephesus on Panaya-Kapulu hill. The Virgin Mary's House is a shrine revered by both Christians and Muslims alike. There is certainly an aura of sacristy and serenity within the House and at the Fountain of St Mary nearby where the healing waters once sipped by Mary are, even today, claimed to perform miracles. Our visit to the House was made more moving as we witnessed the Blessing at the end of a small service held in a tiny open air chapel nearby delivered by a visiting young Polish monk.
Between our visit to Ephesus and that to Virgin Mary's House we took a simple typically Turkish lunch in the shade at a Lokanta in the nearby town of Selcuk and on the way back to Didim we visited the ancient city of Priene. Construction of the 4th century BC Temple of Athena was supervised and financed by Alexander the Great. The Romans did not inhabit the city because of its strong Greek ties and its importance declined until it was abandoned in Byzantine times. This neglect has resulted in the city and its monuments being one of the best preserved Hellenistic settlements to be seen.
Having taken Jane and John to the airport after a relaxed and pleasurable week of good company we consoled ourselves with a gozleme; thin filo pastry with a filling of strong goat's cheese; and a beer overlooking the beautiful Lake Bafa. Considered one of the most picturesque landscapes in Turkey with the peaks of 1500m high Mount Latmos as a backdrop Lake Bafa was an arm of the Aegean Sea until silt eventually closed the Gulf.

We departed Didim to explore the remainder of the Dodecanese islands with the first call being at the small island of Arki. Port Augusta, the main and only settlement on the island is a tiny fishing hamlet with two Tavernas on the quay. At first glance this is what it appears to be but on closer inspection it is a fake. This is a summer place only for chic Athenians to visit their posh villas. We were thus not that enamoured with the place, pretty as it looks on the face of it.
Thence to Patmos and what a difference a day makes. Patmos is a delightful island with scraggy hills and fertile valleys. Although a popular tourist resort and place of pilgrimage, the island maintains its Greek character and the people are friendly and outgoing. The popular harbour is well protected from the prevailing summer northerly winds and at just €3.75 a night is good value although there are no facilities except an agreeable little town where all yachtsmen's needs can be satisfied.
As the 'Jerusalem' of the Aegean Patmos's religious importance emanates from the presence of St John the Theologian, or Divine, on the island from 95 to 98AD having been exiled from Ephesus. This is a different chap from St John the Evangelist who earlier lived and died in Ephesus. For this period Patmos's St John lived in the Cave of the Apocalypse (Revelation) where he had a vision of fire and brimstone and dictated the Book of Revelation to his disciple, Prochoros. The very rock on which the Book was written, the indentation where the saint is said to have rested his head and the cleft in the rock where it is claimed he heard the voice of God are still visible today. The cleft, taking the form of three cracks radiating from the centre, is said to symbolise the Trinity.
High above the Cave stands the majestic fortified Monastery of Ioanni tou Theologou (John the Theologian) built in the 11th century AD in honour of St John. The main church within the Monastery, the Katholicon which houses a revered 12th century icon of the saint and many fine 12th century frescos, is one of the most sacred places of worship for orthodox and western Christian faithful alike. The church is one of ten chapels built within the confines of the Monastery to satisfy the edict at the time whereby mass could only be performed once daily in any one church or chapel. At present thirty monks reside in the complex whereas it was the home for many Greeks who fled from Constantinople after that city's fall.

The enchanting white rectangular houses of the Chora (old town) huddle around the massive Monastery walls. Many of the houses, some of them mansions of former sea captains wealthy merchants, have unique stone window mouldings decorated with a Byzantine cross.  From this jewel of Byzantine architecture with its maze of narrow winding cobbled streets there are fine views over the Patmos archipelago and further afield to other northern Dodecanese islands and the island of Samos, our next port of call.
And so we finally leave the Dodecanese, an archipelago 180 miles long scattered along the Turkish coast, having visited nine of the twelve inhabited islands (actually there are thirteen but Dodecanese has a better ring to it than Decatrianese we feel) from Kastellorizon at the southern extreme to Agathonisi in the north.