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I have to say, I am impressed with eastern Turkey.  This is not because private benefactors or the government have done such a bang-up job preserving their cultural sites out here; quite the opposite is true in that regard.  There are crumbling, tumbling castle walls and fort-ruins all over the place.  Huge Hittite base-blocks have Seljuk stones heaped on them, with Ottoman crenellation at the very tops of these ancient, collapsing structures.  No; preservation is not it.  It is the fact that so many of these places exist to begin with – and in such close proximity to one another – which so impresses me.  What was out here at one point impresses me.  But then, you know what they say about someone who can play with a rubber-band for hours…

Hoşap Castle

I drove out to Hoşap Castle, south of Van in Güzelsu, Turkey.  The castle here is a great example of what I am talking about.  Okay, it’s not “Hittite” old, but still.  A little TLC would go a long way toward making this place enjoyable for future generations.  You know what would also be helpful?  The guy with the key to let visitors like us inside of the locked main gate would be helpful.  At the behest of the “Chai Guy” (some vendor with a dirty white van of some European make parked at the gate) who said he called Key-Guy on his cell-phone, I waited around for 30 minutes.  Along with me, there waited a group of four middle-aged, Middle Eastern men and a much older fellow they kept referring to in Arabic as “Abu” (“Father”).

Note the contrast between the very old (the remnants of castle outer-walls on either side) and very new (the new buildings in the background). Even the squat two-room home in the foreground – modeled after old mud-huts that were similarly constructed but of different materials in ancient times – has a satellite dish atop it.

After a solid 30 minutes of snapping pictures of the hamlet at the base of the castle, I thought, “Tammom,” (“Okay” in Turkish) and left.  So be it.  Here’s the thing: around here, you have no way of knowing in advance, whether a place like this will be open or not.  You don’t actually find out until you have arrived and Chai-Guy (who in instances like these ought to also double as “Assistant Key-Guy”) gives you the shoulder-shrug.

Far from disenchanted, I went to where the grass really was greener, figuratively and literally.  There is an Armenian church on Akdamar Island out on Van Lake, to which I took a $2.00 ferry.  The island served for several centuries as a type of Armenian boarding school for children.  Obviously, the Armenians were “disinvited” from further religious and academic activities out there, but the place still looks great, and smells strongly of sweet cherry blossom this time of year besides.  The travel book I read clearly states that the café on the island serves Kurdish dishes – something I was curious to try.  The kid behind the register laughed at that, and told me that my choices were tea or bottled water.  If you’re headed that way, my recommendation is to pack a lunch, lift a blanket from the hotel for the day and enjoy the idyllic setting looking out at captivating Van Lake.