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Monday, July 23, 2012

The Silk Road


We’d left Cappadocia and were driving along the Anatolian plain in central Turkey when our bus pulled off the road and headed down a narrow path, gravel crunching beneath our tires. I had no idea why we were stopping but at least it was an opportunity for me and Mrs. C. to stretch our legs. Our guide informed us that we’d arrived at the Sultanhani Kervansaray.


“The what?” I mumbled under my breath. I didn’t remember reading anything about this on our itinerary.


“Where the hell are we?” Mrs. C. asked, glancing around at a place that looked like time had forgotten.


We stepped out of our bus and immediately missed the air-conditioning; the stiflingly hot air was thick with dust kicked up by our tires. The terrain was flat and treeless except for a few apricot trees incapable of providing much shade. A score of unpainted concrete houses matched the muted colors of the landscape. The only structure of interest was a colossal stone wall with an arched opening where the portal appeared to have been designed by a swarm of massive wasps.



Selchuk, our ever-cheerful guide, explained. “Welcome to the town of Sultanhani. It isn’t much to look at, but a thousand years ago this was a hotspot on The Silk Road. Bandits prowled the countryside preying on caravans loaded down with precious silk, gold and silver, and spices.” He pointed at the thick wall. “Behind that wall is a kervansaray, or caravan fort. These have been used since the tenth century, offering amenities and protection for merchants and stabling for their animals.”


Selchuk was a wealth of information. “In kervansarays, foreign as well as native traders would find hospitality for three days. Their shoes would be repaired or the poor would be given new shoes. The ill would be treated and animals would be tended, and if needed horses would be shod. For their religious practices, travelers would use a small mosque in the center of the courtyard.”



As we passed beneath the arched entrance I remembered reading an article in an archeological magazine purporting that Jesus hadn’t actually been born in a stable as we’ve come to imagine it. He was probably born in a large compound that housed up to three thousand people and half as many animals. According to the article, in ancient times forts were constructed for travelers with rooms lining the inside of protective walls. In the center of the fort was a large courtyard where animals were kept. Those who couldn’t obtain a room slept in the courtyard with the animals. The fort I’d read about, the so-called stable where it was speculated Jesus was born, was much like the kervansaray Mrs. C. and I were walking through, even though this one had been built a thousand years after Jesus’ birth.



We almost stepped on a snoozing Anatolian shepherd that had taken shelter from the withering heat in the shadow of a dried-up fountain. His colors were so close to the grey-brown stones that he was nearly invisible. The huge dog lifted his head and blinked slowly at us as we disappeared into the cool, dark interior where centuries earlier travelers and their animals had huddled for protection from storms.



We were alone inside. It might have been my imagination but my ears picked up the excited talk of heated discussions, and when I inhaled deeply I could smell the lingering scent of camels and horses, spices from far-a-way India and China, along with the effluvium of those intrepid travelers who, for a time, made this one of the most prosperous regions on earth.


I’d come to this place by bus, not by caravan, and souvenir peddlers chased us when we departed instead of bandits waiting to slit our throats and seize our precious goods. But we felt strangely safe in this place where goods and ideas were exchanged, where cultures joined together like different ropes creating a single knot, and where the world we now live in was created.


37 comments:

  1. The heat must have been killing but the trip well worth it :)

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  2. So Jesus wasn't born in a manger and all that? Do we have to change all our Christmas songs now?

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  3. Excellent. The writing is so good and the way you express yourself, you help readers to experience what you did. Very interesting indeed.

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  4. Oh I'm gonna go with the stable story I think, but only coz I'm a Baptist. :D Interesting story. :)

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  5. Fascinating place that happenstance brought you to...I could smell the camels from the pages of your blog.

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  6. For a moment I was transported to another place and a long ago time to enjoy what once was. Thank you for taking us there~

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  7. You have a way of sharing your experiences that makes the reader feel like they are there with. you

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  8. Good story, lots of details that made me feel I was there. Your pictures added a lot to the experience. What a great trip you had. Mindy

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  9. You've been to interesting places, thanks for sharing.

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  10. fascinating peek into the past and into a place I doubt I will ever see for myself, thanks!

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  11. Glad you had a great time.

    Have a terrific day. :)

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  12. What an amazing experience. You've sure got a way with words. I didn't appreciate that the Anatolian shepherd was a dog until you made that clear!

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  13. What a nice explanation of an exotic place. I am glad that you were able to be in the moment instead of running back to the AC on the bus and shaking your head in dismay as many tourists do.

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  14. Another educational piece, well-written as usual.

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  15. It's wonderful to be able to see history, isn't it?

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  16. You certainly do get around! But thanks for the history lesson and the great photos.

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  17. I would have liked to have seen that place. Good of you to share it with an untraveled sod like myself.

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  18. This was fascinating! I envy you on your travels. My days of poking about ruins are in the past, sadly. Speaking of how hot it was....I remember taking a tour to Cairo (in 1979!!). When our tour bus stopped at the Sphinx, I didn't get out because it was also frikkin' hot. Which is why my pictures of the Sphinx look double-exposed. The bus's windows did that.

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  19. I live on the Chinese end of the silk road, in Hangzhou. Let me know if you're ever in the neighborhood.

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  20. You took me there, and for that, I am grateful. Your recent travels were to the last place on earth I would ever go. Now, if you've toured medieval castles, scaled Machu Picchu, or hunted big game (with gun OR camera) on an African safari, I would love to hear about it!

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  21. I like your comparison to the birth of Jesus. As a little kid I always thought of one of those small little barns in the cold winter. They didn't have such things. Your description makes much more sense.

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  22. How interesting! An ancient equivalent to our truck stops and Motel 6!

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  23. Absolutely fascinating.

    Love,
    Janie

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  24. I love love love this, especially the last paragraph. Poetic.

    I knew that where Jesus was born wasn't like what we typically think of (cute little barn-like structure) but I never knew it was more like a courtyard out in the middle of a big building!! Love learning something new!

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  25. This reminded me of a history lesson I had years before. But you made it so much more interesting!

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  26. oh my gosh! how fabulously fascinating!! Someday I hope to visit this whole country...lucky you!

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  27. am enjoying your travelogues immensely

    Although its odd to try and imagine a nativity scene with a couple of thousand people present

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  28. Looks pretty dark and forbidding ... is it at least cool? Are you still in Turkey, or back in Portland? Curious readers want to know!

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  29. This was fascinating, and the explanation of Jesus's birthplace makes a lot of sense. Thanks.

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  30. I've traveled quite a bit but the one place I've never wanted to visit was Turkey. Now you've got me interested Mr. C. Smiles - A.

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  31. It would be interesting to make a trip that links up all the major karavansari throughout the Middle East/ Some of them are still in use, not for camel trains though. Always very interesting and full of atmosphere. You make everything sound like an interesting story.

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  32. This is a fascinating story! When one travels to other lands, they invariably return home with a stronger appreciation for all the many blessings we have here in the U.S.A.! Just the same, it's nice to see other cultures. Great post!

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  33. I've been to a bunch of places on the other end of the silk road in China, but I've never been to Turkey. It's definitely on my list and has been for a a while. Seeing your pictures bumped it up a few spots.

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  34. Absolutely fascinating. I would love to see this, love to be somewhere where "goods and ideas were exchanged, where cultures joined together like different ropes creating a single knot".

    Sounds wonderful.

    Pearl

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  35. I was there. At least that's how it felt. Thank you for bringing us along on the experience. So wonderfully detailed.

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