Sunday, December 2, 2007

Back in Time-- it was muddy

This is the first installment written by Linda's husband Michael. Most of you know me but if you don't-- hello. My writing differs significantly from my Wife's. She writes to entertain while I generally write more to educate. Some will like hers more (most of you most likely) but hopefully I will have my fans as well.

I am a history buff and as often as I can I drag my wife off to some ruin or church or castle or... whatever. Usually she goes willingly but sometimes she has to be bribed, tricked, or cajoled. It wasn't long ago that I was standing in a field- thats right a field- talking about some battle which had taken place there. (The Battle of Issos which occurred in November 333BC where Alexander the Great defeated Daruis III King of Persia. This was the first time the Persians had been defeated with their King present. This marked the beginning of the end of Persian supremacy in the region and marks one of the most important Battles of Western Civilization In my mind I'm seeing phalanxes of hoplites, Persian archers and Macedonian cavalry but all she sees is a dirty river and acres of mud and the flaming heat and complaining children. Needless to say I'm lucky to still be married.

Anyway- Last week we went to Anavarsus (aka Anavarsa or Anavarza). It is an ancient Roman city that became part of the Byzantine Empire and later was used by Cilician Armenia as a provincial capital. On the hill overlooking the city the Armenians built a castle. So there was a lot to see. Here is a brief overview lifted from a travel site (

"Beside the Sumbas Cayi, near the village of Anavarza in Upper Çukurova, to the east of the Ceyhan-Kozan road, lie the easily recognized walled ruins of Anazarbus, at one time the minor capital of Lesser Armenia. Perched dizzily on an isolated crag some 200m/650ft directly above the town (and reached by steps from near the theater) are extensive remains of the fortress (upper and lower fort). In addition to the ancient main street other town ruins include a Roman stadium, a theater, an aqueduct, several churches and a fine gate to the south. The local open-air museum (situated away from the site itself, in the center of the village) has some famous mosaics from the third century. Founded in the first century B.C. Anazarbus was a Romano-Byzantine town. In the 12th century, after numerous disputes with Byzantium and with the aid of the Crusaders, it passed to Lesser Armenia, the principal capital of which was Sis (Sisium/Kozan). Although from 1199 onwards the Armenian princes styled themselves kings, they were always forced, in the final resort, to acknowledge Byzantine supremacy. While close links between the royal house and the Mongols preserved Anazarbus from destruction, in 1297 a Mongol prince had 40 Armenian noblemen, together with Hetum their king, murdered at a banquet in the town."

We got a late start and so did not get to see the whole city or the museum but we did hike to the castle. We had a volunteer Turkish guide- a local who knows he can make more by guiding Americans up the hill than by raising.... whatever it is they raise there (sheep probably). He may have got more than he bargained for though as he soon realized we would not make it up the hill before nightfall at the rate we (Bennett) were moving. I already had one child (Hayden) on my back so he hoisted Bennett up on his and climbed the mountain. We walked past the remains of the Roman Amphitheater and the Roman Stadium and up onto the hill where the citizens buried their dead. This is a largely unexcavated site other than amateur (criminal) work. Occasionally we came across an excavated (pillaged) grave with bits of bone scattered about. It was kinda creepy.

Up the mountain we continued to the castle. It was a well defended site- lots of rocks and at the top of a mountain. We got to the castle and had a lot of fun running around on and in it. Arrow slits and water cisterns and everything else- our guide even pointed out the toilet. It is a large castle with multiple layers of walled defenses. A particular Armenian architectural trait was easy to see. Unlike every movie ever made where the front gate is in line with the wall (at the front of the gatehouse)- the Armenians built their front gates at a 90 degree angle to the wall (on the side of the gatehouse). This made it impossible to attack it by a battering ram. Pretty smart.

We had a great time- though we were always worried about one of the kids falling into a well or off the mountain (it is literally at the edge of a sheer cliff). From the top you can see the entire city spread out before you- probably 400 acres in size surrounded by a thick wall. The remains of an aqueduct stretch off to the North. Most of the city is flat dirt (some of it has even been plowed and planted) but here and there a temple or bath house has resisted the ravages of time. We eventually had to leave lest we be caught up there after dark.

At the car we had the offer of buying coins our guide had found around the city. We also payed the guide- he really liked my Maglite flashlight and that plus 20 dollars brought our transaction to a close. Linda and I both felt we ended up paying too much but it is hard to say no the man who carried your child up and back down a mountain on his back.

I wasn't going to write this part but Linda threatened to if I didn't. I wanted to drive along the aqueduct. I knew it parallelled the highway and figured I could get back without too much trouble. After driving for a few miles without seeing any way back to the road we turned into a small village. I did my best to get back to the highway but ended up in a farmers front yard. He and his sons were very nice and directed us to the road. Hopefully we don't become the butt of a "crazy American" joke retold for the next decade in the town.

For those of you who are Google Earth fans, Anavarsus is located at 35 degrees 53 minutes east latitude and 37 degrees and 15 minutes north longitude- the ancient city is the big green blob with the black line (cliff shadow) as the right border.