Adieu to the Agean (for a while)
Vasco da Gama
Wed 31 Aug 2011 10:10
The outstanding visit I made during our meander between SW Turkey and the Dodecanese Islands was to the Castle of St. Peter in Bodrum. I took a day trip on a high speed ferry from Kos, which took 35 minutes.
The castle is the most beautiful Crusader castle I have visited so far, partly because of its location, but mostly because it's inhabited and furnished, and it's easy to imagine life going on. We visited several castles in Syria, including the extraordinary and huge Crac des Chevaliers, but they were empty and stripped bare, so that only bare stone walls and dusty stone floors and battlements were visible, but St. Peter's has colour, light, plants, hens, a cockerel and cats, also wells, furnishings, wall hangings and coats of arms, and still bustles with life.
It's built on a peninsula between two harbours at the entrance to Bodrum and the dazzling blue sea is visible on three sides, behind battlements, arrow slits, mullioned windows, at the top of towers, or from drawbridges to dungeons and prisons. The Crusaders arrived here soon after being expelled by Saladin from the Holy Land at the fall of Acre in 1291. They first set up a base in Cyprus, where there are still many castles to visit and in Famagusta, the ruins of the 365 cathedrals, abbeys, monasteries and churches they built. After their defeat by the Arab army, their new enemy became the Ottoman Turks and the Italian cities of Genoa and Venice, who had established a network of colonies along the Aegean trade routes, needed protection from the Turks and gave shelter to the Knights Crusaders of St. John in Rhodes. The Knights made their base in Rhodes for the next 200 years and the nearby castles of Bodrum and Kos, both within easy reach of Rhodes, were built in the early 1300s and became centres for attacks against Turkish merchant ships.
Today the castle is also home to the Museum of Underwater Archeology. This new science was pioneered by Professor George Bass from the Universities of Pensylvania and Texas. He and a team of divers and archeologists, both Turkish and American, explored the undersea area, where several wrecks had been reported by the sponge divers from Symi and Kalymnos. The wrecks were salvaged, including their amazing cargoes and all are displayed in various towers of the castle. One shipwreck, discovered in 1960, known as the Uluburun Shipwreck, was carrying its cargo of mostly copper ingots (many displayed, and all in the shape of ox hides). The wreck and its cargo have been dated to 1500 BC - the late Bronze Age, and indeed the copper ingots would be used to make bronze by alloying the metal with tin, a quantity of which was also discovered. In the hall where the wreck is displayed there is a video showing some of the exciting discoveries from the wreck being brought to the surface. As well as the ingots there were piles of cobalt blue glass in flat-round shapes, together with a large amount of elephant ivory, hippopotamus teeth and ostrich eggs - these would have been the raw materials for jewellery. There was also a golden chalice and from the seals, weights and lamps found, the ship has been identified as originating in the area of Syria/Palestine, which sank after and having made a trading visit to Cyprus to pick up the cargo, much of which must have arrived from Ancient Egypt.
The well-defended inner castle is approached via seven gates. Each gate has been planted with evocative Mediterranean plants - plane trees, olives, myrtle, oleander, bay, pomegranate and mulberry. In one of the walled gardens stand rows of amphorae (from the Greek amphi - two sided and phoros -portable). These were used for transporting wine, olive oil and dried food from the earliest times until the 20th Century.
Arriving back into 21st Century Kos was a bit of a shock. It's such a centre of mass tourism and there's hardly an inch of beach around Kos town that does not have bikini-clad bodies sunbathing on it (everyone, of any shape and size wears a bikini, tho' topless sunbathing is not practised, much to Ian's chagrin. From Kos we sailed north into some more remote islands, which still have a lot of charm, with hillsides grazed by goats, bee hives everywhere, and small fishing harbours. The engine crisis in Leros has been identied as a gear box failure - not too serious - but Vasco is out on the hard and I am ensconced in a very comfortable hotel for the last few days of this trip.