The Turkish Coast: through writers’ eyes

The Turkish Coast: through writers’ eyes


The Turkish coast between Izmir and Antalya is an area of drama and beauty – towering wooded mountains, river-cut gorges, isolated valleys, secretive headlands and remote coves. Rich in the ruins of antiquity, it remains comparatively unspoilt, a magnet for a trickle of discerning travellers and boat-borne holidaymakers wishing to explore its colours, scents and monuments. This collection brings the fascination of the region into sharp relief, travelling in the company of Hesiod and Homer, following the route of Alexander’s army, sharing the excitement of the first British antiquarian explorers and game-hunters, as well as celebrating the delights of Turkish cooking and the steam-filled vaults of the hammam.

With a foreword by Jeremy Seal and an evocation of life in the ancient world by Ffiona Gilmore Eaves

Including: Lord Byron, Louis de Bernieres, Homer, Hesiod, Pliny, Patrick Kinross, Freya Stark, David Sutherland, Edith Wharton, Jeremy Seal, George Bean, Thomas Hope, John Freely, Ernle Bradford. 

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The Turkish Coast: through writers' eyes
Written, selected and edited by: Rupert Scott
ISBN: 978-1906011-09-3
Format: 246pp demi pb
Place: Turkey



Extract from Preface

This book concerns itself with only a small part of Turkey’s vast shoreline, known as Caria and Lycia by antiquarians or remembered by thousands of holiday-makers as ‘The Turquoise Coast’. This name is a fairly recent but highly convenient invention to describe the area between Antalya and Bodrum. It is a coast of limitless fascination and astonishing beauty. The landscape is in places huge and dramatic. Mountains such as the Baba Dag ̆ above Ölü Deniz rise to over 2,000 metres, almost directly from the shore. Rocky headlands alternate with idyllic beaches and sheltered bays. There are literally hundreds of these, and often they are not accessible by road. Huge stretches of the coast are barely inhabited. In summer there is something almost ethereal about the intensity of the light and the colour of the sea.

What we like about this coast nowadays is its emptiness – the wonderful reality that it is still possible in the twenty-first century to sail from empty bay to empty bay, to swim, to see Homer’s ‘rosy- fingered dawn’ and the sunset more or less undisturbed by others. But if we had come here 2,000 years ago we would have been struck, I think, by how busy this coast seemed. This was the epicentre of the Hellenic-Roman world, and since there were few roads on land, virtually all goods and people went by sea. There were at least thirty cities, some large, others quite small, on or near the coast between Bodrum and Antalya and there would have been many boats plying between them, and also out to the myriad islands. On those boats there would have been tourists from all over the Empire visiting the great ‘sights’ of the ancient world – like Praxiteles’ famous statue of Aphrodite in Knidos, or the temples and oracles on the coast, or the Colossus of Rhodes. Some of these cities had large populations – there were perhaps 70,000 people in Knidos at its height. Many of the bays that are now empty would have been farmed. And in many of them, if you look carefully enough, you will find some lingering hint of ancient occupation – pieces of cut stone reused in walls, or broken terracotta handles of amphorae. And if you look up into the hills you can some- times see the terracing of what were Roman vineyards. Amphorae carrying the exports of the cities along this coast have been found all over the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

A combination of piracy, invasions, and the general breakdown of peace, saw the complete ruination of this world. What had been the most visited part of the Mediterranean became the least visited. It is not an outrageous generalisation to say that from the waning of Byzantium to the Age of Enlightenment, from the ninth century to the nineteenth century, the Turquoise Coast was virtually unvisited by foreign travellers. But there were exceptions, and these accounts are all the more fascinating for their rarity. Visitors to this coast almost invariably came with a purpose – they were botanists like John Sibthorp, gathering specimens for the ‘Flora Graeca’, or carto- graphers like Captain Beaufort making charts for the Royal Navy, or antiquarians and archaeologists trying to locate ancient cities or excavate their remains. They were zoologists and geologists and even hunters of big game. This coast remained a frontier and a challenge until very late. To quote Captain Beaufort: ‘It does appear somewhat strange that while the spirit of modern discovery has explored the most remote extremities of the globe . . . this portion of the Medi- terranean has remained undescribed and unknown.’

By the early twentieth century the Turquoise Coast was more settled and more prosperous, but it did not entirely escape Turkey’s brutal experience during the years from 1914 to 1924. There was an Italian occupation from 1919 to 1922, and in 1924 came the Exchange of Populations. By the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, which formally ended the Greek-Turkish War, the Orthodox population of Turkey was exchanged with the Moslem population of Greece. Some three million individuals were involved in this exchange. This must have been traumatic for the individuals involved and for the economic life of the communities they left behind. Some parts of this coast lost a third of their population. And with the Exchange there ended the harmonious cohabitation of this coast by Greek and Turk that had lasted more than five hundred years.

From 1948, when the Dodecanese Islands became part of Greece (from 1912 to 1943 they had been Italian), the separation between the islands and the mainland became complete. It became almost impossible for Turks on the mainland and Greeks on the islands to visit each other. Only in the last few years have relations between Greece and Turkey improved, but in the intervening decades the people on the islands and the people on the mainland have grown apart. But despite this modern separation of peoples, this coast retains a blend of East and West – it as much Europa Minor as it is Asia Minor.

The first writer to draw attention to the delights of sailing on this coast was Cevat S ̧ akir, the ‘Fisherman of Hallicarnassus’, who was exiled to Bodrum in 1926. He invented the expression mavi yolculuk (blue cruise) for his expeditions of discovery in small boats along the coast in summer. Like Homer, he would pull his boat up on to the beach at night, and sleep on the shore. His books and stories describing his experiences were well known in Turkey, and in the 1950s there was a sudden rush of foreign imitators – two British writers, Freya Stark and Patrick Kinross, made the mavi yolculuk on the same small gulet, the Elfin, in successive years. Freya Stark sailed west-to-east and Patrick Kinross sailed east-to-west. Both wrote charming books about their journeys. Freya Stark wrote that ‘there are not many places left where magic reigns without interruption and of all of those I know, the coast of Lycia was the most magical’.

Although the popularity of the blue cruise steadily increased, most of the Turquoise Coast remained undisturbed until surprisingly late. In 1975 June Haimoff (later to become famous as the environmental campaigner, who saved I.stuzu Beach near Dalyan) brought her gulet, Bouboulina, into Turkish waters. She was amazed at the sheer emptiness of Dalyan beach which, when first seen from the boat, ‘stretched away in a flawless white arc, losing itself in the far distance under a summer haze – serene, solitary and mysterious’.

The last twenty-five years have brought huge changes. Some areas have been developed very fast and with little sensitivity. From an aesthetic point of view it is difficult to find very much to admire in the towns that have appeared out of almost nothing – like Marmaris, Datça, or Fethiye. But at the same time vast areas of the coast remain remarkably unspoilt – almost all the north and south sides of the Datça peninsula, all of Bozburun and most of the Lycian coast. Encouragingly, there are signs that the protection of the shore and of the sea is now being given a much higher priority by the Turkish government.