We had been walking for many months to see them. The Walls of Constantinople. They are stirring, ancient, like the decaying teeth of a defeated warrior. These walls have protected different Cities, all in this place. There was walled Greek Byzantium then a small affluent, Roman City centred on the hill now supporting the Topkapi Palace, then the City of Constantine – the New Rome. This new City was chosen to be the Capital of his Christian Roman Empire. It has been Latin (Catholic crusaders pillaged and occupied the City) and of course Ottomans after their conquest in 1453.
Constantinople 1422 – Crisroforo Buondelmonte
The City has been seen as a prize and indeed a jewel. Each time, both the occupier and would-be coloniser has craved the City and each has stamped an identity on it – and their own history. That is the nature of division and conflict.
Some months later we are walking out of the Jordan Valley from Jericho in the West Bank, through stark dry desert mountains towards Jerusalem. We have walked through restive Arab Countries which view Israel as Palestine and the proper homeland of Palestinian people who have lived there for very long periods, so they claim. (both Israeli and Palestinian claims to ancient possession of the land are dubious) Again, Israel reminds me of Byzantium.
Massively armed and more developed, but surrounded by enemies (however interspersed with Christian communities). Israel is also building walls to protect itself – and the entirety of its desired lands. The 700km long Security Walls, reminds me of the Long or Anastasian Walls built 65km in front of Constantinople in the mid 5th Century. Although only 56km long, they were 3.30 m thick and over 5 m high – reminiscent of the Security Wall. The 5th Century walls could not be staffed and were abandoned at some time in the 7th century.
Hagia Sophia, Constantinople? A Christian Church – now an Istanbul museum.
It is easy to go to the remaining great Churches of Constantinople and to be wistful about the loss of the great Christian city. The remaining Byzantine Churches are museums – in particular Hagia Sophia, so crowded with tourists, and Chora (Church of the Holy Savior in Chora), busy but not totally overrun by the impercipient. So we can have some sympathy with the racial loss apparently felt by elements of Judaism? Maybe or maybe not. But to recreate our faulty or falsified perception of history, and a racial history at that? Then to enforce that with force, and displace other populations? I think we may not properly seek that in Istanbul, or in Israel.
Without some fair settlement and convergence in development and cultural achievement, I see nothing but suffering on all sides, and the same outcome for Israel, Palestine and those separated by the “Security Wall”. Separating races with walls has a bad history.
Banksy graffiti Israeli Security wall
Jericho to Mizpe Yeriho and Jerusalem
Once entering the West Bank, Jerusalem is very close. It is quite possible to walk in a long day from Jericho to Jerusalem. We decide on two.
From Jericho, where Jew will not set foot, we head West and along the smaller road past Herod’s Palace – or rather the site of it. The ancient road is not easy to find – and indeed we don’t find it.
The old road from Jericho to Jerusalem 1934
This is Arabic Land, and along this parallel route we enter more and more remote areas as we climb into the dry hills. After a while the road is blocked – and and on the other side of the blockage, a few tourist coaches. We are surprised to find them. They are taking some tourists and school children to the Orthodox Monastery of St. George. We quickly descend and glad to enter the place and visit the monks before the crowds arrive. The Monks have good relations with the local populations as usual.
St George’s Monastery
On leaving we notice a trail heading down the Wadi floor – which is quiet, very quiet. This is the way into Wadi Al Qelt, a narrow gorge which widens into Bedouin grazing and some ancient water systems.
Wadi al Qelt – Arabic Language defaced
It’s significant because there is an Israeli walking trail thereabout – and that the State plans to cleanse the area of the Bedouin and resettle them in villages elsewhere – presumably outside the planned State? Certainly, there is no indication that anyone plans for this area to be part of a Palestinian State. The deafening silence from the West, (and indeed from Abraham Path Initiative, Israel) about this ethnic cleansing is sad. Emails remain unanswered and I guess they never will be.
The desert Wadi is spectacular, and the Bedouin so friendly, I cannot ask them about their situation – or explain what we are doing, so we pass by too quickly. After the valley widens, we head back to the new main road, and meet the first leisure trekkers – two young Israelis. It is also shocking to meet a normal (for us) couple with a women who speaks for herself. It is difficult not to find the meeting comfortable and acceptable. They have a high quality map, bought in a shop – which would not have been possible since North Italy. When we tell them where we started – in Jericho – “the Arab town” as the lad describes it, they visibly recoil, imagining terrible things of us, and quickly they are gone on their way. It is a curious thing – we have been judged as belonging to “the other side” by each of those sides in just a few hours. Maybe they are both correct, a little.
The next day we will enter Jerusalem – where the underlying spiritual presence seems to exemplify every negative and dividing quality in the inhabitants. It seems in this world, great spiritual purity is always accompanied by great difficulties in the group mind or individual personality.
View over the West Bank and Jordan Valley
Am Freitag den 11.11.11 haben wir unser Ziel dieser Pilgerreise endlich erreicht. Dass wir ausgerechnet an diesem Datum in Jerusalem ankommen würden, haben wir erst vier Tage zuvor realisiert. Man mag es Zufall oder Schicksal nennen, aber das Ende dieser langen Pilgerreise ist ein bedeutender Tag für beide von uns. Langsam beginne ich zu verstehen: Wir sind angekommen. Nun will oder muss ich nicht mehr zu Fuss nach Jerusalem gehen, denn während den letzten viereinhalb Monaten habe ich eben genau das getan! Dieses Unternehmen ist somit abgeschlossen und auf den 11.11.11 einen neues Kapitel aufzuschlagen, ist wahrlich ein freudiges Gefühl.
Wir starten unseren Aufstieg in die Stadt Jerusalem von Mitzpe Yeriho aus. Dies ist nicht das allgemein bekannte Jericho am westlichen Ufer des Jordans, sondern eine neue jüdische Siedlung etwas weiter westlich, die im Völkerrecht als illegal betrachtet wird. Mitzpe Yeriho fällt durch seine massiven Schutzzäune und einem durch bewaffnete Siedler kontrollierten Schranke auf. An unserem letzten Tag des Pilgerns durch das Palästinensische Autonomiegebiet sehen wir von Weitem einige dieser Siedlungen. Sie sind wegen den fehlenden Minaretten, den Schutzanlagen und dem deutlich besseren Baustandard der Häuser unschwer zu erkennen.
Am Stadtrand Jerusalems werden wir dann ohne viel Federlesens durch den israelischen Checkpoint gelassen, so dass wir gegen 15 Uhr die Altstadt erreichen. Vom Damaskustor aus der Via Dolorsa folgend gelangen wir so dann zur Grabeskirche.
Jerusalem weckt in mir sehr gemischte Gefühle. Unglaublich froh angekommen zu sein, erlebe ich dennoch ein Moment der Ernüchterung. Die Idee eines Jerusalems, in dem Menschen verschiedener Religionen und Kulturen friedlich miteinander leben können, ist fernab der Realität. Ich spüre den regelrechten Konkurrenzkampf um die Heilige Stadt, in der jeder seinen Glauben beweisen muss.
Wie wir zu Beginn des Sabbats in der Via Dolorosa in einem Café sitzen, sehen wir die Chassidim in ihren schwarzen Gewändern zur Klagemauer eilen. Aus einer anderen Gasse kommt eine Gruppe von christlichen Pilgernden in die Via Dolorosa. Zwei von ihnen tragen sich kasteiend ein schweres hölzernes Kreuz auf den Schlutern. Die muslimische Minderheit mischt weniger mit, behütet den Tempelberg jedoch so wie den eigenen Augapfel. Kein Nicht-Muslim ist ausserhalb der sehr kurzen Besuchszeit (eine Stunde am Vormittag und eine am Nachmittag) und ausserhalb der für Turisten konzipierten Eingangsrampe zugelassen.
Wie auffallend notwendig an genau diesem Ort eine grundlegende Erneuerung ist! Ein Neubeginn, wo alte Formen keine so wichtige Bedeutung mehr finden. Ein Neubeginn frei von religiösem und politischem Extremismus.
Auch die Realität des Nahostkonflikts ist in der Tat bedrückend, wobei die Einheimischen dieser Region ständig und viel stärker unter dieser Situation leiden als wir das erlebt haben. Checkpoints. Kontrollen. Kein Bus wird bestiegen ohne dass man vorher durchgescannt wird, in kein Parkhaus wird gefahren ohne dass der Kofferraum geöffnet und auf gefährliche Gegenstände, also Sprengstoff, kontrolliert wird.
Auch wenn Jerusalem heute sowie vor 2000 Jahren nicht ein besonders freundlicher Ort ist und war, so ist die Heilige Stadt dennoch das Ziel von Tausenden von Pilgern jedes Jahr. Denn hier hat sich Bedeutendes für die Menschheit zugetragen: die Auferstehung von Jesus Christus.
By the actions of the Imperial Powers, and out of their self interest this unified part of the Persian, Roman, and Ottoman Empires and the promised single Arab State, is now divided into little and not so little states. If only the British and French had Americans had understood the significance of oil, I wonder whether Saudi Arabia would exist today?
The Levant after Sykes-Picot 1916
Leaving Syria to enter Jordan you would expect to be an easy enough affair. It is not, at least for those not used to the extremes of these places.
To get to the border, we have chosen to bypass a town with current insurrection – Deraa, and then to cross the frontier itself with the security of numbers in a local bus. Traversing this border may indeed, not be possible or permitted on foot. So it proves to be.
The border processes are cluttered with glass-fronted counters and decorated uniforms, enforcing unreasonable exit fees…and then again on the Jordanian side, it is less friendly and just as dubious. Is it a governmental choice to make the first impressions – and the last ones so unfortunate?
Then suddenly we are in Jordan. We have had to exchange pounds, dollars and euros to cross an artificial line in the landscape, made tangible with razor wire and concrete. I guess the currencies themselves are equally imaginary and temporary? The various individuals and businesses in the border zone have a captive public, of the uninitiated. The posters of the Assads in various imperious roles, are replaced by the more beneficent but equally patriarchal pictures of the Hussein, and others of the Hashemite dynasty. There are no sunglasses though.
Hashemites – present and future
Neither is the leaving of Syria simple, emotionally. In revolutionary times, we fear for the cohesion of the peoples of Syria and for Christian and other minority communities. The West’s portrayal of the place has seemed naive and its interventions concerning. In Italy we saw Nato planes returning from bombing in Libya, in Turkey US military freighters flying off from their base at Incirlik, with their heavy loads of weapons for Israel. Here, so many of the human stories from our time, are incomplete. All of them, in fact.
More immediately, there is a practical problem – the bus from Damascus will not let us off after the border, and we will have to back-track to the border from Amman. The bus is “deerekt” .
Amman, is confusing without maps or assistance. It is now a very large city, and the JETT bus drops us at their own terminal, where there is no information and no obvious way to the centre, The iPhone cannot help – the 2G Syrian SIM doesn’t do much really, and certainly doesn’t do maps!
An overnight in Amman and then we are backtracking to the route – the Decapolis of Hellenic and Roman times was a grouping of Cities with Damascus, the Northern outlier.
The Catholic Encyclopedia describes the Decapolis thus: –
“The earliest list of the ten cities of the Decapolis is Pliny’s, which mentions Scythopolis, Pella, Hippo, Dion, Gerasa, Philadelphia, Raphana, Canatha, and Damascus. Later, Ptolemyenumerates eighteen cities, thus showing that the term Decapolis was applied to a region. The importance of this league was greatly strengthened by the advantageous positions of the principal towns. Scythopolis, the capital of the Decapolis, lay at the head of the plain of Esdraelon, to the west of the Jordan, guarding the natural portal from the sea to the great interior plateau of Basan and Galaad. The other cities were situated to the east of the Jordan on the great routes along which passed the commerce of the whole country.”
The Persian, Hellenic and Roman roads came this way from the North. The Hajj route to the South has come this way since the 7th Century, with Philadelphia, now Amman, a major halt. On our journey, we have shared the road with Hajj Coaches – hundreds of Turkish and other Hajj Coaches. Once, the faithful would have been on foot, and every other means of transport to the South. In these parts, the idea of being on foot is really and truly forgotten. The idea of walking for enjoyment, or for another purpose is unknown. Being on foot means you don’t have a choice, if something rather different, in our case
Despite the City development and tradition of movement in the ancient world, there is much work to be done to create a good route here. There are a few wonderful options, including the Via Trajana Nova.
We have considered the Abraham Path Initiative’s route – but it is so far “off line” and so manufactured – designed by committee for poverty alleviation rather than Pilgrimage. It is a mistake, made from inexperience. Pilgrimage Routes were created by the necessity of Pilgrimage, and by the feet of those Pilgrims. No one going to Jerusalem will use that route this year, and probably no one will next year, or indeed in the ones after.
Intact Roman surface, Jarash
We head for Jarash, the best preserved ancient metropolis of the Middle East and a key Decapolis City. It has been the scene of Pilgrimage for a very long time.
From there we head back on foot to Amman and thence onwards 30km to Madaba, on the modern road. The modern Arab town lies over bibilical Medeba. The Madaba pavement is a Byzantine mosaic map of the Holy Land from the rule of Justinian in the 6th Century. (www.upload.wikimedia,org/wikipedia/commons/8/8f/Madaba_Map_reproduction.jpg) Rediscovered during the building of the Church of St. George – it has a large and stylised representation of our goal at its centre – Jerusalem. It is interesting indeed to see this ancient explanatory map of the places of Christian faith, at the end of three months walking where official modern maps were absent, and kept secret by the various regimes. It would have been a welcome explanation to the Pilgrims of an earlier time, as much as it confirms the deep basis of our route to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem from the Madaba Map
From Madaba, it is a couple of days walk to the border of Palestine – and the West Bank. The route descends from highland Madaba, always in sight of Amman’s new towers, past Mount Nebo, and plunges into the Jordan Valley in sight of the dead Sea. We are incongruous, on foot on this desert road, which in due course takes us to the Jordan crossing and then to the second border – the King Hussein Bridge. We are excited and apprehensive at once.
The View of the “Promised Land” from Mount Nebo
Now as hard as the Syrians and Jordanians made their mutual border, the parties to this second border – Jordan and Israel have combined to create a modern nightmare, out of a political impasse. We have to cross the King Hussein Bridge.
We arrive at the Jordanian side of the border, where the usual government extortions are collected as gracelessly and inefficiently as one could contrive it to be. Then, there is the wait for a bus. The JETT bus is compulsory, and curiously expensive. Passports are taken away and only returned on the bus, to ensure the monopoly.
After a short drive to the Palestinian border, we find instead – the Israeli border post. It is staffed by the usual inquisitorial but effective border staff, and guarded by non-uniformed settlers with some very modern weaponry. It is rigorous and reasonably efficient, but the Palestinians are reduced to handling the baggage and inviting me to donate parts of my luggage as a “gift”. Not a great way to advertise the future state.
After clearing the controls, searches and waiting rooms, we are told that “even the Army” can’t walk from that border post. A young and very middle class Israeli settler, with a mighty automatic weapon tells us we will have to take an Arab bus to Jericho. More surprising prices later, and we are on the road to the modern bus station into the West Bank.
At the bus station, there is another – Palestinian – border procedure. The controls at border number three are performed with a slightly surprised welcome. It is relatively efficient, but far less invasive place, with a certain pride. Not many Westerners come through here, and the warmth and welcomes are real. A good impression has, at last been made by a “border crossing” however nominal and symbolic. In the distance, we can just see and feel the future -with real new borders, but without their suspicions and failings.
Palestinian number plates, ready for a new state
It is Eide, and all of our friends and contacts are away, celebrating or out of contact, and eventually we head from the slightly chaotic centre of town to a large and also friendly guest house. Like so many things here, it has been paid for by foreign governments and agencies – but the administration is definitely Arab!
It is the difference and yet proximity of Western Israel and Israelis and the Arab peoples which will colour and inform the rest of our journey to Jerusalem. More of this later.
In einem von Unruhen und Konflikten geplagten Land wie Syrien veraendert sich das oeffentliche Leben fuer Einheimische und Fremde bedeutend. Durch all die Ereignisse der letzten Monate scheint die persoenliche Sicherheit staendig in Gefahr zu sein. Auf unserer raschen Durchreise haben wir jedoch manchen sehr ruhigen und geschuetzten Ort gefunden…
Die Kapelle in Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi (Kloster Hl. Moses) in den Bergen von Nebek. Das Kloster und die Gemeinschaft von Nonnen und Moenchen wurde in den 90er Jahren wieder aufgebaut unter der Leitung von Pater Paulo aus Italien.
Malula. In den Flesen beim Nonnenkloster der Hl. Thekla befinden sich Graeber der fruehchristlichen Klostergemeinschaft. Nicht weit davon ist Deir Mar Sarkis, ein griechisch-katholisches Kloster.
In der Sayyidah Zaynab Mosche in Damaskus befindet sich das Grab von Zaynab, die Nichte des Propheten Mohammeds – ein wichtiger Schrein fuer die Anhaenger der Schia (Schiiten).
Deir Mar Jacoub (Kloster Hl. Jakob) bei Qarah, ein Katholisches Melchitenkloster mit einer sehr lebendigen Gemeinschaft geleitet durch Schwester Agnes aus dem Lebanon.
Having decided to enter Syria, but bypass the troubling and troubled areas, it was not hard to see that we would be on foot for a limited period of time.
Nonetheless, we followed the route as best we could. Aleppo, past Hama and through Homs to Hyssia, then Qarah, Dier Mar Mousa, Damascus and round Deraa to Jordan. I will post more of the route and the Country later. Syria remains one of the most interesting territories I have visited.
So what of Syria in chaos or as the West would have it, – civil war? There were so many warnings not to enter the place – some more or less self-serving, others with genuine concern based on the reporting.
The first thing to say as a British national, is that I distrust the BBC’s coverage of the events. Whereas a BBC journalist indicated that she was smuggled into Homs in a burka, pretending to be dumb and deaf, we went there in a taxi, openly and shook hands with the security forces. Towns under siege? Certainly not. Towns guarded by regular and irregular troops, certainly, and those forces being without too many rules? Yes, for sure. As we saw in Northern Ireland, the cameras and reporting tend to focus on the terrible moments of bloodshed and not the normal lives of the majority in a distressed Syria. Of understanding – I have found very little indeed from Western news agencies. I guess careers are being made, and ego’s established in the Kate Adey model of opiniation and arrogance. She is thankfully gone, and hopefully her methods forgotten.
So what is the truth? From the mouths of Syrians, we have many and indeed every position and point of view. The majority of the population is Sunni, with the “ruling classes” Alawite – a mystical sect of Shiite Islam. There is a considerable Christian Minority made up of every type of Oriental Orthodox Church and others besides.
For some – there is a gratitude for Western involvement and support for a revolution. Of these a number openly want to see the regime fall and its leader hanged. When we arrived in Damascus, on seeing Westerners, a group of young Syrians shouted out “we want freedom” without the caution we were used to in other areas. We were urged to bring more Western involvement and help – more Western weapons to end up in Syrian hands. There is no doubt at all in my mind that the West is supplying weapons to factions inside Syria. The West in this instance means the US and France.
Others we have met, want no Western involvement, seeing US and Israeli motivations, and assumptions. This group is by far the majority, whether or not they want an immediate change of regime.
Then, there are those who believe that chaos should be avoided – and the regime to represent the best of a bad situation in the national circumstances. There is a fear of the chaos and destruction of the Libyan revolution, and the destruction visited on the cities and the nation. Some fear division between muslin communities and between Christian and Muslim communities. Those fears seem to have some basis. We heard from several trustworthy sources stories of division between Christian and Muslims in the areas around Homs. We understand that some Christian communities were unwilling to take to the streets, causing resentment and violence against the Christian community. There are stories of kidnapping of Christians in Homs, although disputed by others. We have no means of verifying these claims or refuting them – but the existence of the story is significant. Certainly the usual harmony between these communities is something to be worked for.
Of course, there are those who simply support the regime. There have indeed been massive demonstrations in favour of the regime in Aleppo and Damascus. We heard smaller pro-Assad rallies in Damascus, although following advice to stay away from any public demonstration whatever its purpose. Syria is a country draped with images of the young Assad and his father, and there are literally hundreds of thousands of such images in shops, and homes. It would be a mistake to assume that these images are all forced on the populace, or that the regime does not have considerable natural support. It does.
No doubt, in the surveillance society which is Syria, displaying such an image is politic. Surveillance in Syria is a way of life, an East German life. At times, people knew who we were before we arrived in places, while in Aleppo we were tailed by a far-too-friendly plain clothes man. I asked him directions at one stage, which was happily provided!
Last, but by no means least – there are some views that pressure to change is necessary, but that the change needs to be gradual and not revolutionary. This is the approach of the Arab League and the latest agreement (2nd November 2011) they have brokered.
What of that agreement? Why does the violence continue? I have been distressed to find no proper explanation from the BBC – until John Simpson came up with the simple and well-understood truth. The Assad family are not a unified whole – what dictator’s family is! Bashar, mild-mannered negotiator of agreements, for instance with the Arab League – is being undermined by his younger Brother, Meher – who is described as having a violent personality. He is is the commander of the Republican Guard and the army’s élite Fourth Armoured Division. Fail to understand the structures and the West fails to understand the events. Nothing new there?
Tarsus, Adana, to Ceyhan, Aşağiburnaz, Payas and over the Syrian Gates (pass) to Iskenderun.
Tarsus shares a history with the rest of the coastal lowland strip between the Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean. This strip has been a contact point and place of change between cultures throughout the historical period. The history is more than human…it is the history of the Earth itself.
Hearing of the earthquake in Van the day before yesterday, I am reminded of geological complexity of Asia Minor, and the relationship of those events to the region we are crossing. I am also reminded clearly that Geology can predict culture and history – as if the land makes the people, as much as the people make the land. In Turkey four “plates” meet and create the land and its shape. They are the Eurasian, African, Anatolian and Arabian.
Humans have lived with that Geology for a long while – the Neolithic people of Çatalhöyük knew it well. For modern Turkish Kurds, the latest earthquake is a disaster. Without looking at the Kurdish issue, it is possible to extrapolate a great deal about modern Turkey and how its society works – the standard of construction, with characterless and poorly built concrete frames normal, and even to a casual examination being hardly capable of supporting the buildings that are hung on them. I understand that Turkey has very limited building standards, and even where they exist, there is no system of enforcement, and certainly none that cannot be subverted. Turkey is however, a seismically active area – and it has always been so!
You will probably know about plate tectonics – perhaps more than just a theory. The plates have been moving around in different ways throughout most of the history of the earth, creating complex landforms where they meet, move apart, rub along each other and dive one under another.
This very general map gives a good idea of the global scale and directions of the movements, while the one below shows generally the relationship between the Anatolian, Arabic and African plates – and the faults where they meet.
The further map below shows something more – the directions of movement. The Earth and it’s plates are not always as rigid and fixed as we like to think. The plates move relative to each other – they flex and bend under pressure, continental plates are made and destroyed over geological time.
Unsurprisingly, the movement of these vast masses causes mountains chains to rise – oceans to open, and continents to be shaped…and all of that is accompanied by earthquakes and volcanoes, etc.
From the map above, courtesy of the BBC, you can see the 7.2 magnitude quake and its origins. If you have looked carefully at the maps above you will see the the new Van Earthquake took places along the Bitlis and Zagros thrust and fold belt – an active fault line of some size.
Indeed, vulcanicity and seismic activity has shaped Anatolia. Inactive volcanoes and their ash have been under our feet through the highlands. Earthquakes have reshaped cities and civilisation here. The plate boundaries have created the Taurus Mountains, and the dividing mountains South East of the Gulf of Iskenderun, for instance…
If you look carefully at the little strip of land going down the Eastern Mediterranean (and which is enclosed by the Mountains and the Eastern Mediterranean) – it belongs geologically to the African plate, and not to Eurasian or Arabian even – and the boundary stretching down to the Levant is known as the Dead Sea transform. We will be following that trench down the Jordan valley and into the Levant an the “Holy Land”. It is a natural route of communication now as it has been for 3,000 years – and probably much longer.
The extreme topography on our route has meant that people have needed passes – the Silician Gates (pass) and the Syrian Gates (pass from Iskenderun to Antioch) to pass through. Indeed, those passes have been strategic ways for prehistoric people to Persians, Romans, Ottomans and even the European powers powers after WW1.
For centuries under the Byzantines, Antioch governed and controlled the Syrian Gates – and therefore the Silk Road from the East as much as Tarsus controlled the Cilisian Gates and its route into Asia Minor and West. The 1st Crusaders came this way, building castles, reconstructing the places of early Christianity, as they saw it. Earlier, this lowland strip was the first area of Asia minor to become Muslim with Persians and Arabs arriving and creating a frontier with Christian Byzantium – at the Mountains. Even earlier, before the end of Rome and the beginnings of Byzantium these were areas of the first expansion of Christianity into the Roman Empire outside the Levant.
More recently Byzantine Muslims being resettled in more or less empty land – empty because of its poor ashy soil – from the new independent Greece into Turkey after 1928 – were placed in new and dismal settlements in striking distance of Tarsus and the Mediterranean. In those centreless dusty settlements, we found the only hassle from children we have found in Turkey, the only drunks and the only Turks doing absolutely nothing in the day. Dead-ended people, out of place and out of culture.
Our journey from Tarsus to Antioch is at 20m above sea level – hot sun and humidity which were forgotten in the highlands above Tarsus – massive, unattractive but friendly Adana, to Ceyhan with its nearby Crusader Castle, and Silk Road Caravanserais, then before Aşağiburnaz the villages of relocated Muslim Greeks – so rootless and unhappy. Concrete unconscious Payas beside the ancient silk road, and then after miles, literally miles, of army bases, coastal oil installations and port facilities – Iskenderun. Although Iskenderun seems more modern, less Asian and Moslem (beer is drunk in the open!) – this was indeed the Silk Road via Antioch and from China – and otherwise a vital Roman artery. After Alexandretta as it was called, we found the Syrian Gates. A difficult route past endless new motorways without pedestrian ways (nothing new, just a bit more extreme) and then a 700m pass of the Syrian Gates through the coastal range to Antakya, (Antioch). Some hours of cold again, and concrete highland towns that wait miserably for the freezing winter and first snow. These inconvenient heights are that boundary between geological zones.
Antioch itself is more middle-eastern than other parts of Turkey we have passed through. It has an old core of warren-like streets leading up hills behind the town, an old commercial core centred around the Orontes River, with a rambling covered souk, some ancient mosques – one converted from an earlier Church devoted to a Christian martyr, an a rambling modern concrete suburb – as unattractive as any we have seen. Still, there are some more ancient buildings – a standing Roman aqueduct.
Above all there is a welcome from the Father Bart, and the Capuchins who have been working in Antioch since the 19th Century.
Wahrend den ueber 2500km des Zu-Fuss-Unterwegsseins haben ich mich stets auf meine Beine und Fuesse verlassen koennen – fuer jeden Schritt, den ich seit Beginn der Pilgerreise getan habe. In den letzten Tagen schaute ich beim Gehen immer wieder auf die blauen Mizunoschuhe: Die Beine und Fuesse bewegen sich im selben Rythmus ueber Stunden, Tage und Wochen. Alle Sehnen und Muskeln tun genau das, was ich von ihnen erwarte. Sie tragen mich und meinen 15 Kilo schweren Rucksack Schritt um Schritt, ohne dass ich die Bewegungen im Einzelnen kontrollieren kann, will oder muss. Diese Beobachtung hat mich mit Freude, Erstaunen und Glueck erfuellt. Welch ein Wunderwerk unser Koerper doch ist! Selten bin ich mir dessen bewusst. Viel haeufiger nehme ich das einwandfreie Funktionieren meines Koerpers als selbstverstaendlich hin.
Ueber die letzten drei Monate trugen wir jedoch besonders Sorge zum Koerper und haben uns mehr als sonst um seine Leiden gekuemmert. Was ist fuer die gesundheitliche Versorgung unabdingbar? Was haben wir am Meisten gebraucht auf unserer bisherigen Pilgerreise?
Fuer mich stellt in Sachen Gesundheit ausserdem der Typ-2-Diabetes eine zusaetzliche Herausforderung dar. So trage ich nebst der normalen Reiseapotheke Insulinampullen, Injektionsnadeln und –pen sowie Blutzuckermessutensilien.
Ich bin erstaunt und erfreut darueber, wie gut bis jetzt alles geklappt hat. So halten zum Beispiel die Frio-Kuehltaschen fuer’s Insulin, was sie versprechen. Waehrend den beiden Hitzemonaten in Italien und Griechenland blieb das Insulin somit konstant gekuehlt. Die im Vorfeld kalkulierte Insulinreserve reicht exakt bis Antakya, wo mich Nachschub erwartet. Den Blutzuckerspiegel habe ich inzwischen gut im Griff und schlimmere Komplikationen aufgrund des Diabetes (Infektionen, starke Hypoglykaemien) sind mir bisher erspart geblieben. Zudem habe ich mich durch die ausserordentlichen Umstaende der letzten Monate mehr mit der Krankheit auseinandersetzen muessen. Ein spannender aber auch anstrengender Prozess ist in Gang gekommen. Immer besser verstehe ich wie die Insulinabhaengigkeit mit gewissen alltaeglichen Verhaltensmustern verbunden ist.
Was das Praktische angeht, hat es dennoch auch Schwierigkeiten gegeben. Hierzu ein paar Saetze was meine Erfahrungen angeht :
We know that Alexander was not the first to use the Cilisian Gates, and that it remained the major Roman Route into the Byzantine Period (there is an earlier milestone in a service station dated to 232 AD)
Being on foot, we have been forced to the West of the Cilisian Gates by the new motorway to Tarsus and Adana, but we find that the new road, is along the line of another ancient one, through limestone country with long histories of settlement and signs of a Roman and later road structures.
However, we are not prepared for the early Roman Road high above the valley to the East, and mentioned to us by a local.
The magnificent and little worn road carries on for a couple of Km, but we have no time to investigate it in detail. Suffice to say that it runs East – West (ish) and appears unrelated to the Cilisian Gates, but instead links an unknown region or settlement on the plateau to the rich coastal plain. It turns at a roughly reconstructed gate (poorly reconstructed by….we think by Tarsus Belediye!) – providing a panoramic view over the Coastal plane, and its Roman settlements, then runs along the scarp towards Tarsus. The surface quickly disappears…
Dropping down very steeply from the limestone Taurus Mountains to the Coastal Plane, we soon enter ugly modern Tarsus, the birthplace of St. Paul. He returned here after his conversion. There is much to say about the history of this ancient City, but with the time available I will point out only the recently found Roman Road – 1st Century AD.
It reminds greatly of the Via Appia, which we used to leave Rome – but it is in fine condition. (It is made from finely jointed black basalt) The lack of wear is interesting, and notable by comparison with the Appia.
Here is a rough panorama which I will improve when time permits.