A dream realised Eastern Turkey

| January 3, 2013

Eimear Stapleton had wanted to visit eastern Turkey for years and so was delighted when she discovered Cox & Kings’ Turkey tours.

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For me, eastern Turkey was always at the top of my priorities list. I had waited 10 years to see it, as I had missed my chance with an Irish travel agent back in 2002. For some reason, at the time, I settled for Portugal instead. In the intervening years I searched and searched, one company offered it last year, but lo and behold it was cancelled due to lack of numbers. Thus you cannot imagine my delight when I discovered Cox & Kings in December 2011.Harran was always a must – the home of Abraham and his family on transit to the Promised Land and the scene of the battle of Carrhae, where the Romans met defeat at the hands of their enemies. Impatiently I awaited this day and finally about six days into the tour we set off for Harran. We passed through the winding streets and poorer areas of Sanliurfa and at last we were off on the road to Syria. Had we continued straight, we would have reached the Turkish border town of Akacmele. Rather, we took a left turning for Harran – itself only 16km from Syria.Irfan, our guide, pointed out the city gate and walls to us; we passed the police at the entrance and came up to a couple of boys. Intense conversation – was something amiss? Alas, we were in the 'new' part of Harran, so Massoud, a local offered to take us to the ancient part of the town. Walking along with Massoud, I discovered that as this was an Arab town and that I had the opportunity to practise my Arabic. Even before I could, he spoke to me in English.

We walked along the plank. A big plain emerged in our vision. On the left were the ruins of ancient Harran. Had the home of Abraham's father Terah been discovered someone asked? Negative. To this day archaeologists from Ankara University were excavating. Massoud led us further down, straight ahead of us were the ruins of the mosque dating from the seventh century. The ruins of the university were also to be seen further afield.

I found myself reluctant to leave. Not just because I had waited for years to see it, but also because there was an atmosphere. As if something great had happened in the past. Even so, I could not stop thinking about how transient life in Harran was, a perfect example of man's mortality; the Romans came and went as did the Mongols who later destroyed the town.

We made our way to the beehive houses for refreshments and to buy souvenirs. We were greeted very warmly by the village chief and his wife. He told us to feel free to take photographs. It was like entering a biblical village and surely things have not changed that much since the days of Abraham – even the clothes would have been similar to those worn in his day. Inside the shop, I found it really pays to have knowledge of the local language. I was charged 20 liras for a book, but heard someone say 10 in Arabic to another and so I got suspicious and outside I asked my fellow travellers how much they paid. They said 10. Thankfully, when I asked a young boy serving us drinks about it, he reimbursed me immediately saying that the shop assistant could not speak English. We finished our drinks and left. I also bought some pottery, as I felt I could not leave Harran without a souvenir.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. While I may not be tempted to revisit the other places on our tour, Harran is definitely an exception. It has a majestic, mysterious feel to it and was well worth the wait. I am only disappointed I did not walk around as did some of my fellow travellers to see the university ruins, but then again, they missed out on the shopping...

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