A castle tour of Turkey 

Any traveller who follows the history of Anatolia knows how important it is to dream. Closing his eyes tight on the streets of an ancient city, he will hear the grinding of horse-drawn goods carts on the marble pavement, the voices of haggling merchants, the calls of watchmen on patrol. The strains of a chant will reach his ears in front of a monastery. And even with his eyes closed he will see the lights of the candles, lighted one by one, being engulfed in the night.

At a collapsed bridge the clatter of horses’ hooves will punctuate the murmur of the waters. Standing before a fortress, the same imaginary traveller will hear the roar of armies and battle cries, and the bitter sound of human voices will mingle with exploding cannons, clashing swords and arrows whizzing through the air. For a fortress signifies war. And war is a story filled with attacks, and the tragic heroism of the defenders. Hilltop fortresses watch over almost every city and border crossing in Anatolia. Attacked from every direction over the centuries, the lands of Anatolia found a solution in erecting fortresses, stone upon stone, in an attempt to resist the armies of the Mongols, the Persians, the Crusaders and Alexander the Great.

We have five carrier pigeons we are going to send from fortress to fortress. Our first dove alights on a medieval castle whose Arabic name, ’Hasankeyf’, means Rock Fortress, a maze of secret passages carved out of stone. These passageways, which trace a zigzag down to the banks of the Tigris, are escape routes. A long gorge that encircles the surrounding countryside was once a trail for the silk caravans. From the Artukids to the Umayyads, the footsteps of many an army resounded here on the rocky cliffs that form this road. But let us leave the fortress not at war but at a feast in the 15th century: The daughter of Shah Ismail, ruler of Safavid Iran, is marrying Halil Shah, commander of Hasankeyf, and a feather from our white dove falls on her wedding gown.
Our second dove wings it way to the Mediterranean coast, alighting on the Red Tower of Alanya Castle. The tower at first assumes it has been sent by the architect, Kettenizade Ebur Rahaoglu Ebu Ali of Aleppo. Not to disappoint, the dove explains that it has been dispatched by Alaaddin Keykubad. “No matter”, exclaims the tower, “Salutations to the ruler who had me built!” As we tour the Alanya Castle with its four gates, suddenly a loud explosion is heard. Our started dove takes flight and vanishes from view. If only we could have caught up with it, we would have said, “Have no fear. This is only the cannon being fired at Egrikapi to announce the end of the day’s fast. It’s Ramazan and the people of Alanya have been waiting all day to sit down to dinner!” But our voice is lost in the echo of the explosion, which is heard all the way up in the villages of the Taurus.

It is almost night when our third dove reaches the island fortress of Bozcaada. The whitewashed stone houses, the goats withdrawn to their pens, and the wet wine glasses are enveloped in darkness. The castle is suddenly going to be illuminated in bursts, followed by the sound of wingbeats. For this time our dove is not going far. We will tell it that fireworks are responsible for these bursts of light and that the islanders are celebrating the grape harvest. In fact, we will say, “In 1890 Semsettin Sami wrote that Bozcaada was ‘shaped like a grand piano.’ Just look at its silhouette in the moonlight.” Our dove will fold its weary wings tonight at Behramkale, ancient Assos. As it sleeps it will dream of a man explaining the difference between being and non-being to his pupils. Opening its eyes, it will see a bright blue morning. When it speaks with the castle’s crumbling walls, it will learn that the man in the dream was Aristotle, who founded his school of philosophy at Assos.
Our fourth dove will be thirsty when it arrives at Kahta’s Yenikale fortress. As it drinks from a copper bowl, it will learn that stonemasons fashioned a tunnel from inside the fortress down to the Kahta river so that the castle residents never went thirsty during a siege. There too it will hear the wingbeats of its ancestors. For there was a ‘carrier pigeon post office’ inside the fortress, once used by the Mamluks for getting news from Aleppo, Cairo and Damascus. 


Let us place our fifth dove on the shoulder of a contemporary writer of epics.
Yasar Kemal, who stands like a fortress at the summit of Turkish literature, will regale our dove with tales of Cukurova, Yilanlikale, Anavarza and Toprakkale. We cannot close without quoting a few lines from this narrative, which goes on for several days: “There must have been storks at the fortress now. Every night they would come in flocks, alighting on its tall towers to sleep there, clacking their beaks in unison until morning.”
Fortresses, fortresses and more fortresses… The Bakras Fortress, where peasants pass carrying firewood on horseback. Çesme Fortress, overlooking the Aegean with a statue of Cezayirli Hasan Pasha in front of it. Who is that next to the pasha? Why his famous lion, of course! And then the Fortress of Sinop, where prisoners once slept with the tiny ships’ models they fashioned of wood. Van Fortress, overlooking a great salt lake, compared by Evliya Celebi to a ‘sitting camel’. And Ünye Fortress with its rock grave, sketched by the French painter Jules Laurens in 1845. Here in Lycia, land of light, the fortress at Kekova, which harbours a small theatre inside it. Kumkale at Yavuzeli, which saw Caesar and Alexander the Great cross the Euphrates on horseback. Here the fortress of Harran, a true Mesopotamian bastion… And then the fortresses whose names I love: Gökgözkale at Eskisehir Seyitgazi, Harabegul Fortress at Agri, Zilkale at Rize Camlihemsin, Cincin Fortress in Aydin Kocarli, Horoz Fortress at Kilis, and Bogazkesen, or Rumelihisar, built by Mehmed the Conqueror at Istanbul… and the hundreds of other Anatolian fortresses.
Even though fortresses are the offspring of wars, we have not spoken here of blood or death. Neither have we mentioned Bozcaada Fortress, one of the bases used by the enemy armies attacking Troy and the Dardanelles peninsula in the First World War, nor the gouges made by cannonballs in the walls of the fortifications at Seddulbahir and Kilitbahir. We have left it to others to speak of conflict and have spoken the language of peace, not war. We sent a white dove to each fortress and described some of them for you. It was our hope that even if these ancient castles continue to stand as monuments on the hilltops, no new ones will be built and the word ‘war’ will be forgotten in all languages. May the words of Yaþar Kemal in his story, ‘Kalekapýsý’ (Fortress Gate), prevail forever: “On the first day of summer young girls, dressed in their finest clothes, ascended the castle. Then, singing folk songs, they scampered down across the plain, which was covered with wild tulips as far as the eye could see.”


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