This is about a visit to the ruins of the ancient Ionian city of Teos. These ruins are in what is now the district of Seferihisar, in the province of İzmir, on the Aegean coast of Turkey. On the web there is a lot of information about the site. There is a 28-page illustrated guidebook in Turkish and English (pdf file). However, Ayşe and I did not consult any of this information before visiting. What we had was George Bean, Aegean Turkey (London: Ernest Benn, 2d edition, 1979). Bean himself died in 1977. Once we were at the site of Teos, we learned something of its layout from the posted map.
I am going to describe our visit to the site; and yet one great pleasure of our visit was its unexpectedness. We had come to the area for a short beach holiday before Antalya Algebra Days XVII, which would be held not in Antalya, but at the Nesin Mathematics Village, further down the coast from Teos in the hills above Ephesus. In Istanbul, packing my things for our trip, I finally remembered to check Bean’s book to see what was in the area we would visit. Bean had a number of pages about Teos, along with some enthusiastic words; so I found room for the book in my backpack.
The density of Istanbul can make the city seem unfit for human habitation. At least I know that other ways of living are possible, and this knowledge itself provides some mitigation of the rigors of the city; but I am sorry for the Istanbul babies who can only be taken out on sidewalks that are too narrow and bumpy to properly accommodate a stroller. The city does have its own compensations: the grand traces of history; the concerts, exhibits, and restaurants; the physical setting on two continents; the spirit of the Gezi Park resistance. But one of the best compensations for life in Istanbul is the ability to get away to a place like Teos: to see the lonely ruins of a forgotten city, now lying amidst olive trees that seem almost as old as the ruins, and fields of wildflowers buzzing with bees, with a deserted beach at the far end.
Teos is on an isthmus, lying between the mainland of Asia on the east and a headland to the west. The headland will become an island if the sea rises enough. According to Bean, the sea has already risen a fathom since ancient times. Teos had two harbors, to the north and south. Ayşe and I stayed near the northern harbor, at a pension within medieval walls, around which has grown up the modern town of Sığacık. Bean says the walls are Genoese, though displays near them (which I did not study closely) seemed to describe them as Ottoman.
We arrived in Sığacık at midday on Saturday, May 16, 2015. We had taken an overnight bus from Istanbul to Izmir, then the bus company’s minibus service to Üçkuyular, then a dolmuş to Seferihisar, and finally another dolmuş to Sığacık. The best place to swim in Sığacık was apparently over the hill to the west, at Akkum (“white sand”). The dolmuş from Seferihisar continued thither, but we just walked after leaving our things at the pension. You could supposedly get to the ruins of Teos by turning off the road to Akkum. A sign pointed the way, but the Teos road was lined with new cottages overlooking the beach, and the ancient city itself did not seem to be near; we just went back to the main road and down to the beach.
A grassy area shaded by trees behind the sand was filled with tents. Somebody was playing recorded music from my youth. It was not music that I wanted to be reminded of; but I was amused to hear AC/DC’s “Back in Black” (1980) and the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” (1977) on a beach in Turkey in 2015.
On our way back to the pension, we met three people walking in the other direction. A fellow with a white beard asked in a Scottish brogue if his group were on the way to Teos. We said a sign pointed the way, though we had not gone there. He said he thought there should be a shortcut somewhere.
There was indeed a shortcut, as we would learn the next day. We walked back towards Akkum and turned left at the sign for Teos. We passed the holiday cottages and found ourselves on a forested ridge. Eventually the road turned inland and made switchbacks down to the site of Teos. A grand edifice was being constructed there, apparently to serve as a museum associated with Ankara University. We wandered around a bit, up to the acropolis and down to the theater. Five people speaking English were having a picnic. One of them worked for NATO in Izmir; the others were spouse and guests. This was told me by the pipe-smoking fellow, who seemed to be American, though others may have been British. He and his wife had lived in Izmir for 18 months, and they often visited Teos. He said swimming was not possible at the ancient southern harbor, for it was silted up.
We would find that he was wrong. Meanwhile, the dirt road labelled as a bicycle path on the map took us back quickly to Sığacık. No sign on the road itself indicated where it went in either direction. We had a wonderful dinner with friends from Ankara who happened to be in the area. Late the next morning, after the long filling breakfast that is an attraction of our pension, we returned to Teos along the unmarked dirt road.
I do not recall seeing olive trees elsewhere that were as large as those of Teos. These have been trimmed and thus, presumably, kept productive; but the trunks have continued to expand over the decades or centuries, and then the dead wood inside has withered away, sometimes making the old tree into a ring of new trees.
There was no obvious path to a collection of beehives. You could walk across the tall grass, but the grass did not seem to be beaten down anywhere. Still, from a distance, at least some of the hives appeared to be active. I have been disturbed to learn lately that what is billed as honey today may not be real. One of many dishes served us for breakfast at our pension appeared to be butter covered with honey and walnuts; but real honey may be too expensive to place before guests who might not even bother to eat it. What we were served must have been some kind of cheap imitation. At any rate, unlike the samples of some six fruit preserves that we were served, the supposed honey had little flavor beyond mere sweetness. It certainly did not have the richness of, say, the expensive jar of carob honey, from the mountains above Mersin on the Mediterranean coast, that I had been sold at the organic bazaar that is held on Saturdays behind our university building in Istanbul.
I said the olive trees of Teos had been trimmed; but perhaps they had not been trimmed regularly. The trees in one field showed signs of a recent removal of very large branches. Grey patches here and there in the grass suggested that the trimmed branches had been burnt.
From the acropolis of Teos, one could see the northern harbor. Bean found it remarkable that the acropolis was not the headland west of the isthmus, but a smaller hill in the middle of the isthmus.
One of the burnt patches of grass contained the misshapen remains of a molten wine bottle.
Sığacık is part of the Cittaslow movement. The owner of one dusty car left on a dirt road in Teos seemed to have taken this to heart: the message on the windshield reads, “Child of the slow city.”
I have not seen many squirrels in Turkey. I managed to take a photo of one in Teos that tried to stay on the opposite side of a treetrunk from us.
Old railroad ties had been laid down as a framework for what might become some kind of roadway. But why? One path seemed to lead to no attraction but a few stones.
The orgasmic climax of an archeologist’s life must be to re-erect a tumbled-down column. This climax had been partially achieved with an Ionic column at the old temple of Dionysus in Teos. According to a sign on site, as well as Bean’s book, the ruins of the temple had been uncovered in the eighteenth century by the Society of Dilettanti. The sign did not tell us what Bean did: that “an enterprising Smyrniote” then proceeded to use the ruins as a marble quarry.
Regarding its past as well as its future, the world is in such a state that I am content with the remaining stones in Teos. If all you know of archeology is photographs of the Pyramids or the Parthenon, you can hardly be impressed by a low pile of scattered stones. But on a sunny day in May, a day that was warm but not hot, in the middle of fields still green from the rains of winter, the scattered stones were all I needed to see.
Mimar Sinan and other architects of the Ottoman Empire found inspiration in the great dome of the Church of Saint Sophia. Most mosques built in Turkey today seem to be designed on the pattern of the great Ottoman Imperial mosques. But the construction material is no longer stone, it is reinforced concrete. The dome of a mosque no longer solves an architectural problem. The flutes on the Ionic columns of the Temple of Dionysus at Teos solve no architectural problem either, I think; but a society that can cause them to be carved has achieved—something.
Is there any chance that flutes on columns were inspired by the corrugations in the trunk of an ancient olive tree?
On Sundays, the streets of the old town of Sığacık are one big bazaar. There I bought a jar of chamomile flowers. I had been growing sensitive to the questionable quality of the chamomile that I had been buying in bulk from herb shops in Istanbul (and steeping for tea, most mornings). The Sığacık chamomile looked good. It is good: I am drinking its tea as I write these words. Had the flowers possibly been gathered from Teos?
There were primitive residential or agricultural compounds here and there among the ruins of Teos. At one of these compounds, stones from the old city seemed to have been gathered and painted white (along with a large cheese tin).
From the bouleuterion (Bean calls it the odeum), we could see the theater, particularly two openings of the tunnel under the upper ranks of seats. The bouleuterion is better preserved than the theater, presumably for having sat buried till the twentieth century.
There were fields of flowers.
There were fields of cereal.
The map of Teos showed a road down to the southern harbor. A car came back from there, and as we passed, the driver seemed to say to another driver, in English with a German accent, “Probably your car cannot make it.” Probably the speaking driver had taken a wrong turn. We took a wrong turn and found a truck, parked at a point beyond which driving would be hard. We found the driver nearby: he was an auto mechanic from Seferihisar who had started coming to Teos four years before, and it had changed his life.
We went back to the fork in the road and took the correct way down to the coast. There was a holiday village on the right, but nobody seemed to be around.
We had the beach to ourselves until a few others showed up, including the German visitors we had passed: it seems they found the correct road after all.
We walked back north, past the Temple of Dionysus.
Then we headed over to Akkum for a beer and a snack and a swim.
If you hang out in the sea for a while, I suppose oils from your body float up and form a film on the surface of the water, and the film keeps the water flatter and shinier than usual.
Perhaps the houses of Sığacık have been painted white for the sake of tourists; but the effect is pleasant.
Here and there, some of the plaster on corners of houses has been removed to reveal the stones of which the houses are actually built. Were the stones recycled from the ruins of Teos?
In the fortress within the city walls, a girl and boy battled over a soccer ball.
We had take-away baklava by the northern harbor.
A dog played in the shallow water of the harbor. Actually he tore at the float attached to one of the boats until he got it free.
Next day (Tuesday), we had our last leisurely breakfast, then caught the dolmuş back to Seferihisar. The dolmuş from there to Kuşadası took the two-lane road along the coast, giving us the beautiful scenery that occurs where hills meet the sea. After an hour or so we reached the plain of silt wherein lies Selçuk. We got off at the junction and waited five minutes for a dolmuş heading to Selçuk from Pamucak beach. Finally, at the Selçuk otogar, we caught the dolmuş up to Şirince.