Saturday, May 30, 2009

Castle Hopping (aka Torturing the Kids)

Good afternoon (actually early morning for those of you in the western hemisphere). Michael here. I was in charge of the last outing so I get to write about it (actually there has been one other outing since then but we are trying to go in order). Last week I took the kids into the Taurus Mountains to see some castles. Linda stayed home. She has never been as interested in the history of this area but she has indulged my particular idiosyncrasy and even volunteered to keep the smallest one home. So it was me and the three oldest kids.

The castles we here hunting for were the castles that guarded the passes through the Taurus Mountains from the Anatolian Plateau down to the Cilicain basin. The so called Cilician Gates. It is the classical route that invaders have used since time immemorial. Cyrus the Great and his Army of the 10,000 on his way to Greece, Alexander the Great on his way to fight the Persians, Paul the Apostle on his missionary journeys, The Knights of the First Crusade on their way to Jerusalem all came through here. The Germans also built the rail line to connect Istanbul with Baghdad through these passes. So castles were built to guard the passes and control the passage of people and goods. There are three main passes and each is guarded by a castle (the main pass by 2). And we went and saw each one.

Here is a map of the area we went to (of course too small to see). The yellow pins represent the castles. The Anatolian Plateau lies to the left (North) while the Cilicain Basin lies to the right (South). The green areas are the river valleys cutting down through the plateau.

The first castle is called Tekir Castle. It was a small castle and not as old as others- probably dating to the medieval period. But because it is newer the walls were in good shape. The thing the kids liked most was the turtles. That’s right turtles- actually tortoises and there were a bunch of them. And they were pretty big. We found 5 in the hour we spent at the castle. And the first ones we found were um… mating. That’s right- spring was in the air and they were going at it. At least the male was. The female was just not that interested. Maybe she had a headache. No surprise given that the way the male shows his interest is to ram her shell repeatedly with the front of his shell. That’s right. Just banging away and it was loud- could hear “bonk, bonk, bonk” all over the mountain. Maryn was pretty embarrassed and the boys didn’t understand what was going on. But it made it pretty fun for the kids (they usually tire of the actual castle part after about 5 minutes).

The next castle was Gulek Castle. And it was not as impressive as I had hoped but I had been warned in advance. It was built on a promontory so there were not many walls (why build walls when nature has given you a cliff) and the walls that were there were in pretty poor repair. There was a cool gateway and a few little towers but that was about it. What made the site interesting was the views. The views from Gulek were stunning. In all direction you could see forever. It was said the sentries at Gulek could see an army three days away. And I believe it. We had a picnic lunch with a campfire (again- had to keep the kids interested and my kids love fire. Wonder where they got that from). And then on to the next site.

The little black strip Bennett is pointing at is the 6 lane freeway at the base of the hill.

The next site was a distance away on a less than impressive road. Pretty remote. On the way there is a large lake and the kids had hoped to go swimming (bribe to get them to come along) but the lake’s banks were really muddy and we decided to push on with a promise being made that there was one other spot to swim later on. The name of the castle is Lampron or Namrun. It was the seat of the Armenian Hethumid princes in the middle ages. It ruled over a wide fertile valley and guarded the pass.

By the time we got there it was raining but I had driven 2 hours and was not going to skip it just because of a little rain. The kids were not excited to climb the hill in the rain but they did not have a choice. Like Gulek, the castle is built on top of a mesa with cliffs all around. And with cliffs who needs walls. There was a keep situated at the north end but could not be reached. The rope in place to climb the bluff was slippery and while I might have been able to get up, the kids would never have made it. So we took our pictures and pressed on. In the picture Maryn is smiling but really mad at me. She has the best fake smile of all the kids. (Later I found out that a path leads around the back of the bluff and allows you to get up there).
You can see the wall on the cliff behind the kids. The Keep has a flagpole on it which shows up as a line on the top of the Keep.

Bennett thought he could keep the rain off by keeping his hands on top of his head. He kept them there for probably an hour. They really didn't keep him very dry.

The next castle was on the other side of a steep gorge. Without a paved road. In the rain. Sounds fun. Lets go. The view was stunning. With the cool air and the rain in the pine trees I could have been in Oregon. We switch-backed down the mountain to the river at the bottom. It was running high due to snow melting and the rain but true to my word I said the kids could go swimming. They got their suits on and went to the water and put their feet in and retreated from the freezing water and back into the car. We tried to make it up to them with a little fishing but the flow was too fast and I’m not sure I had the right tackle. A local turk (out walking her goat) tried to help but the language barrier made it impossible. So we pushed up the other side of the gorge and on to the next site.

Here are the kids glaring at me for the inadequate swimming facilities.
Again- the scenery was stunning. Spring in the mountains. Everything was green and fresh with the recent rain. Farmers out with their flocks and fields full of thriving vegetables. I could have been in the south of France. We drove through a few small villages and into Gozne. The castle at Gozne was really just a watchtower. 2 small buildings built on a promontory overlooking a broad valley. From the tower you could see all the way to the Mediterranean ocean. The kids were not impressed. In Maryn’s words it was “the dumbest castle you have ever taken us to”. (I disagree- The castle as Limonlu was far worse. I think she was still mad about having had to hike in the rain).

And then to the car and home.


HalfWitt said...

Smack your kids for me (and Linda, too, while you're at it)
I would seriously give a LOT to be able to see and experience some of the things that they are...well... seeing and experiencing. Gah!
This post was hilarious, by the way. I laughed through the whole thing.
What are you going to call your blog when you move to England?

Cory said...

Torturing the kids?!? I saw no photos of water boarding in there! Were you still able to get the info you needed from them?

;) Cory

Cory said...

Never mind I just Maryn's black eye . . . I bet that worked!

Debbie D said...

Cool castles! Looks like a fun time.

Blog Buddy said...

Sounds like a child's dream-hiking and posing on arches and bridges. I think that's pretty INCREDIBLE!!!!! Thanks Michael for giving us an update:)

Blog Buddy said...


Someone found me on Facebook-that you just might know: She's living in Katy, TX :D

Charles Ford said...

Great pictures. I lived in the region for 10 years during the 80's and 90s, took my kids everywhere also. some of their best memories were of the castle hopping's we did. didn't hit G├╝lek of Lampron. By the way I went to Lampron last Oct, almost gave up on climbing in. If you walk the path along the west side overlooking the town its an easy clime.

thanks for sharing, I bet the kids still talk about the trip.