The capital of religious tales, Selcuk takes one on a historic journey rooted in associations.The noise of the crowd mingles with that of the zurna, that wailing Turkish ancestor of the clarinet. In Selçuk, in the middle of a square surrounded by thousands of people, two camels vie for supremacy. The drummer brings his stick down hard on the taut skin. One of the camels trips the other, and is about to bring his opponent down. Suddenly I hear a bell jingle behind me, and turn to see a boy shaking this bell at the camels waiting their turn to wrestle. Then the sounds of the drum and bell mingle, and in my brain there begins a historic journey rooted in associations. And it takes me to those roads where camel caravans passed with their jingling bells, and armies marched by to the sound of drums; then to the shores of the Aegean and to Ephesus, which is named for an Amazon, a woman warrior.
In the Grand Theater the cries of spectators in their tens of thousands mingle with the roar of the lions loosed on the gladiators.As blood is spilled in the arena, out there on the foothills of Mt. Panayir the bright red anemones are blooming.
A dog bursts out of a cave, and then seven men emerge rubbing their eyes. Bewildered, they look around, and one of them calls out to the dog frisking in the grass: “Kitmir, come here!” Belief has it that during the reign of the Emperor Dacius seven Christians fleeing persecution at the hands of idolaters fell asleep in the cave where they were hiding. Centuries later a goatherd with his grazing flock moved the rock that blocked the exit, and light seeped in to wake them up. The cave is in Selçuk, and since the 5th century has been held sacred by Christians. And Kitmir is the name of the Seven Sleepers’ dog.
Selçuk is the capital of a number of religious tales like that of the Seven Sleepers. One of them starts in a village on the banks of the Rhine. A peasant woman named Anna Katharina Emmerick, who had been bed-ridden for twelve years, dreamed of Jesus and Mary. In 1842, after her death, the things she had told were made into a book. In 1890, as this book was being read to nurses at the French Hospital in Izmir, a nun was intrigued by details concerning a house. She spoke to two priests who were at the hospital to teach and conduct mass, and asked them to investigate whether these revelations were true. When a research team went to Selçuk in 1891, they stumbled on a monastery which matched the details in Emmerick’s book, even though she had never set foot in the region. This monastery gained even further prominence thanks to a visit by the recently deceased Pope John Paul II in 1979, and today is a destination for Christian pilgrims.
LET’S HEAR IT FOR ALEXANDER THE GREAT
One of the most important dates in Selçuk history is July 21, 356 B.C. That day,those who wished to plunder the Temple of Artemis-one of the seven wonders of the world-set fire to the building, and the people at first in shock over this great devastation, then began to debate why Artemis had not guarded her ‘house.’ After a while they had the answer. That day the stars had announced to Artemis the birth of a child who would later rule the earth, and because she was the goddess of birth she had gone to aid in the delivery, thus leaving her temple unguarded. When the child grew up he would become a great king, and on arriving in Ephesus would be welcomed with applause. You all know his name: Alexander the Great! When the Persian King Darius came down to this region, after laying waste to Anatolia, he was stopped not by armies but rather by a single man, a sage. Herakleitos was the son of an Ephesian tyrant, and when he renounced the throne for philosophy and the study of nature’s mysteries, most Ephesians laughed at him. Herakleitos is known for his dictum that you can’t bathe in the same river twice, and Darius wrote him a letter with the offer of a comfortable life at his court. The answer he got was, “I am content with my little portion of bread.” Herakeitos didn’t go off to Persia, but he earned Darius’s respect and saved Ephesus. Until then no one had imagined that the day would come when, through his ideas, a philosopher would stop the armies of an invader who respected him.Time has buried the secrets of history in the silt swept along by the waters of the Little Meander, and now Ephesus gazes at the stones used to build St. John’s Basilica. Beneath this edifice, in the middle of Selçuk, was found the grave of Jesus’ most beloved disciple, St. John.
ROAMING THROUGH CLASSICAL TIMES
One place worth seeing in Selçuk is the village of Sirince, 8 kilometers away. On weekends especially, the place is packed. Some come to see the old houses, others to taste the fruity wine, and still others simply to catch their breath. Another sight is the Outdoor Steam Train Museum in the village of Camlik. The curator, Atilla Misiroglu, has not only devoted himself to trains, but at the same time is the son of a railway man who used to work at the old station in Camlik.
The huge black trains, after bringing countless people together, have gathered here. Thirty locomotives, thirty ‘black lions,’ seem to have put their heads together to reminisce. Another private museum is the ‘Cultural Village‘ at the Pamucak-Selçuk-Gümüldür junction. You won’t get many chances to visit an old Anatolian village represented by dolls. But of course one of the most important spots in Selçuk is the Ephesus Museum. Here there are important artifacts from classical times: matchless statues of Artemis, Eros riding the back of a dolphin, the head of Socrates, Priapos, the statue of a warrior, and the altar from the Temple of Domitian, to name just a few. As I wander through the museum a woman comes up to me, and pointing to the statue of Artemis whispers, “I’m waiting for the guards to go in the next room before I touch the white marble. Did you know that Artemis presides over the stars and the signs of the Zodiac; that she’s the moon goddess who aids women in labor?” “Yes,” I reply, “and in these parts Artemis is the goddess of hunting.then, do you know which camel won today’s wrestling match? Was it Engin from Kursunlu in Çanakkale, or Arap from Milas?”