Country of Legends

According to legend, the Sultan of the Kubadabad Dynasty in Anatolia was told by a fortune-teller that the princess he loved would die on her 18th birthday due to a snake bite. The Sultan, intending to protect the girl from snakes, had a tower built in the middle of the Bosporus Strait in Istanbul and safeguarded her there.
The sultan built concrete pipes to provide milk and water for her. (According to the legend, it is still possible to find the remnants of these pipes.) Years went by and the sultan's beloved daughter fell ill to a merciless illness. Doctors from the four corners of the country came to help. They cured the girl and many presents were sent from around the land, meant to celebrate her return to good health. An old woman sent her well-wishes with a basket of grapes; only the basket held a poisonous snake, which bit the Sultan's girl before her eighteenth birthday, thereby killing her. The tower mentioned in this legend, today known as the Maiden's Tower, is one of Istanbul's most important symbols.

'There was once a hermit who lived on Akdamar Island, located in the eastern Turkish city of Van. The hermit had a daughter name Tamara, whose beauty was renowned in all the land. A simple Muslim shepherd working in the surrounding villages fell in love with Tamara. Every night this young man would swim to the island in order to meet Tamara and she would likewise use a lantern to signal her location to her love. One stormy night her father, who had learned of the secret trysts, made a trip down to the shore with a lantern and moved from location to location, thereby exhausting the young man and causing him to drown in the lake. Before drowning, the young shepherd called out his beloved's name one last time, “Ah Tamara.” The girl, having heard this final scream, threw herself into the water and drowned. The phrase “Ah Tamara” over time became “Ahtamar” and then “Akdamar,” as it is known today.' The Akdemir Church, it name inspired by the shepherd's wail, is now being restored as a museum.

The story of the “Seven Sleepers” cave in Ephesus was told in the Muslim holy book, the Quran, and in Christian legends, known as exempla. The story is as fascinating as the Maiden's Tower and Akdamar Island stories. In this story seven Christian youths, members of early Christianity, rejected the animal sacrifice practiced at the time by the Emperor Decius. Fleeing his authority, they hid in a cave with their dogs. After a while, the youths fell asleep and upon awakening sent one of their own to buy bread in town. As the young man attempted to pay with money used 200 years earlier, the baker, thinking he had found a treasure, took the youth to the enlightened ones of the town. After recounting his story to the elders, they realized that the youths hadn't slept one night, but rather 200 years. During this 200-year period, the Roman Empire had accepted Christianity as the official religion and was currently being ruled by Emperor Theodosius III. The story was accepted as proof of a resurrection and when these seven men died, they were buried in the cave and a large church was built in their names. The large, monumental church was discovered in the years 1927-1928 as a result of archaeological excavations. For hundreds of years people have wanted to be buried near this cave, which they consider to be holy. According to one Christian belief, Mary Magdalene is also buried here.

It is said by some that Abraham, recognized as a prophet by Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, was born in Urfa, a city in southern Turkey. King Nemrut one night saw a signal in the stars that a man would wage war against him and his paganism. This man was the Prophet Abraham. As a result of this vision, King Nemrut gave the order for Abraham to be burned and a huge fire, large enough for the whole city to see, was lit. Abraham was then catapulted from a platform that was erected between two pillars into the fiery pit. At that moment, however, the fire turned into a lake while the wood was transformed into fish. Since that day the area in Urfa called Balıklı (Fishy) Lake is considered to be holy ground. The small lake located next to Balıklı Lake is called “Ayn-Zeliha”, or Zeliha's Eye, referring to Nemrut's daughter Zeliha, who cried for Abraham and whose tears then turned into a lake. The Halil-ür Rahman Mosque, built by Salahaddin Eyyubi's nephew Melik Eşref in the year 1211 and located right next to Balıklı Lake, serves as an architecturally and aesthetically pleasing companion to the natural beauty of the lake.  

Troy, located in the region of Çanakkale, which ties the Marmara Sea and Aegean Sea together, was the setting for one of the biggest wars ever fought over a woman. The Trojan War was recounted in Homer's famous epic, “The Illiad,” written in the 8th century B.C. According to the legend, the Spartan Queen Helen cheated on her husband King Menelaus with the handsome prince, Paris. They then escaped from what is now modern-day Greece across the sea to Troy, within the boundaries of  Çanakkale. This insult committed against Menelaus was considered an insult against his brother Agamemnon as well. As the King of Mycenae, Agamemnon already held a great amount of power. To get Helen back from Troy and redeem his brother’s honor, he mobilized all the armies of Greece together in short while. All the armies of Anatolia then went to the aid of Troy. The armies from Greece got caught up in a merciless war, which went on for nearly ten years. Of course, after years of fighting, the soldiers were understandably exhausted and war-weary. Odysseus, already loved by Athena for his intelligence, came up with the idea of a large wooden horse. The horse was constructed and then the strongest soldiers climbed in the contraption. The Greek army hid behind the island of Tenedos (Bozcaada) and the horse was left on the sandy beach.  The other side accepted the horse as a gift from the gods. The Greeks then thought that they had won and that the war was over. The Trojans brought in the horse and joyfully celebrated. When it got dark the Greek army came to the city and sneaked in through the city walls that the previously hidden soldiers had opened for them. The archaeological excavations at Troy were initiated in 1871 by H. Schliemann. As a result of these digs, seven levels were unearthed, including one that is likely to be the city of the epic poem. Troy was declared a “Historical National Park” in 1996 and was added to UNESCO's List of World Heritage Sites in 1998.

When King Antioch decided to build a giant cemetery-monument complex surrounded by three tall statues during his reign 2000 years ago, the 30-degree weather conditions and limited construction time did not stand in the way of his ambitions. Antioch's architects and workers constructed and chiseled giant stone chunks into three large atriums or terraces facing east and west. Huge statues, reaching seven to eight meters high, were then built on these terraces. Antioch also commissioned a “Pantheon,” or a gallery for the gods, for himself and his close ones. He aimed to immortalize his kingdom as a nation of the gods on Nemrut's hill in the name of the god Zeus. It will come as no big surprise that over the centuries the statues crumbled, some disappeared outright, while others were damaged to such an extent as to be unrecognizable. The statues of the gods' heads are still there. For 2000 years they have been watching the meadows of Anatolia from the peaks of Nemrut Mountain.

These historical remnants and enigmatic legends, scattered out to the far corners of Anatolia, await you on your journey to a world of splendor thousands of years old.

(March 2008, 28th Issue)
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07