24 February 2018
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Turkey, where Europe meets Asia

Tour guide, writer and photographer: Aage Myhre



Today we publish the last travel report
from our journey around Europe. We hope you
have enjoyed the photos and articles, and that it has
been possible to understand from what we have focused on
that Lithuania has its rightful place in the new Europe, and that
there are an infinite number of Lithuanian footprints in many countries.

Today's journey begins in Istanbul, the ancient metropolis located on both sides of the Bosporus
Strait separating Europe from Asia. We then follow the footsteps of St. Paul through Galatia,
before ending up in Myra, the south-western Turkish hometown of Santa Claus!



Today’s journey:

“Peace in the homeland, peace in the world”

- Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938)

 Turkey's prominent leader and reformer during the interwar years
Year 860: The Vikings arrive in Istanbul after a very long river journey all
the way from the Baltic Sea.

The Vikings arrived in Istanbul in year 860,
stayed there till year 1204

I am in Hotel Conrad in Istanbul. The view from the terrace outside my hotel room is amazing. I look down at the beautiful city I've learned to like so well. The boats on the Bosporus Strait bustle frantically back and forth between the Asian and the European side. Large ships are heading towards the Black Sea. Others to the Mediterranean Sea.

It must have been quite a sight to see the armada of Viking ships sailing in here in the year 860. The Vikings came to plunder. They had travelled far; starting from the Baltic Sea, following the rivers through Russia, then ruled by a Viking, Rurik. They came here through the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea.

From there it was only a short distance through the Bosporus Strait until Istanbul, or Miklagard (‘The Great City’) as they named the city – at that time the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, with hundreds of thousands of residents and colossal treasures the Vikings had never seen before.

Huge walls met them when they sailed in here from the Black Sea and docked in the harbour of the Golden Horn. The huge wealth made contemporary Istanbul a tempting prey for the Vikings, but the size made them chose to go into service of the emperor instead of trying to conquer the city. He appointed them to a guard of mercenaries, known as 'The Varings.'  Their most famous chief was Harald Hardrada (1015 - 1066), half brother to the Norwegian king Olav who was killed in the famous Battle of Stiklestad outside Trondheim in the year 1030. Harald became king of Norway in the year 1046. During the seven years he was here in Miklagard, he had a comet career and was named the top-commander of the The Varings. From Constantinople he led a total of 18 major battles around the Mediterranean Sea, such as against Sicily and North Africa. He conquered no less than 80 cities.

The Viking era in Istanbul came to an end after 344 years(!) here on the banks of the Bosporus, in 1204, when the Crusaders conquered the city.

From my terrace I look over to the mosque that was once the world’s largest church building, Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom Church). It was completed in the year 537. On one of the pillars is written, clearly visible to this day, 'Halvdan was here'. Carved into the pillar-marble in the contemporary Norse language, the Runes, some time at the end of the 800's. Think about it. A Norwegian Viking was behind the world's first graffiti ...

Down at the Bosporus shore I see the lavishly beautiful Dolmabahce Palace. It was there in the palace he died in 1938, Turkey's first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938). Founder of the country as a republic and a modern, democratic society, a revolutionary and wise statesman, who more than any other has made Turkey a tolerant nation where the country's many nationalities and religions generally live in peaceful coexistence. Probably also the best guarantor for conflict management in the Middle East. It is said that Turkey is the very barometer of how the state of peace and harmony in the world. Atatürk's famous epigram, "Peace in the home country, peace in the world" still applies.

My international family gathered at Hotel Conrad's rooftop in Istanbul. Phenomenal views of the Bosporus and the Asian part of the city. Lithuanian, Iranian, American and Norwegian in perfect harmony!



Istanbul is the largest city of Turkey. Istanbul metropolitan province (municipality) had 13.26 million people living in it as of December, 2010, which is 18% of Turkey's population and the 3rd largest metropolitan area in Europe (including the Asian side of the city) after London and Moscow. Istanbul is a megacity, as well as the cultural, economic, and financial centre of Turkey. It is located on the Bosporus Strait and encompasses the natural harbour known as the Golden Horn, in the northwest of the country. It extends both on the European (Thrace) and on the Asian (Anatolia) sides of the Bosporus, and is thereby the only metropolis in the world that is situated on two continents. Istanbul is a designated alpha world city.

During its long history, Istanbul has served as the capital of the Roman Empire (330–395), the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922). When the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed on 29 October 1923, Ankara, which had previously served as the headquarters of the Turkish national movement during the Turkish War of Independence, was chosen as the new Turkish State's capital. Istanbul was chosen as a joint European Capital of Culture for 2010 and the European Capital of Sports for 2012. Istanbul is currently bidding to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. The historic areas of the city were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985. The city covers 39 districts of the Istanbul province


Istanbul is nothing but amazing

Water and land are living together in great harmony here in Istanbul.
A captivating beautiful, ancient, modern city.
Photo: Aage Myhre


Leaving Istanbul

It is late afternoon when my plane takes off from Istanbul Ataturk Airport. The flight is set to Antalya in southern Turkey. Soon I gaze down at the impressive mountain massifs that so beautifully characterize this country. I've got a window seat on the left side and look down towards the area where today's capital, Ankara, is located.

Galatia, in the centre of today’s Turkey, was a
Biblical land of Celts from Ireland and Britain

File:Galatia Map.png
The Roman province Galatia in Asia Minor.

During the time of St. Paul people here spoke Galatian, an extinct Celtic language spoken from the 3rd century BC up to at least the 4th century AD, although ancient sources suggest it was still spoken in the 6th century.

During nine centuries the Galatians lived here in the mountainous areas of Asia Minor. They were Celts who had come all the way from Ireland and Britain to settle.

They were the people Apostle Paul wrote two letters to, both ‘published’ the New Testament of the Holy Bible.

Apostle Paul went on foot from Istanbul to his birthplace Tarsus in southern Turkey, now called Yalvac (Psidian Antioch). It was here in today’s southern Turkey that Paul and Barnabus lived, and from here introduced Christianity to our pagan world. Yalvacs history dates back to 280 BC. In Paul's time the area had a mixture of Jews, Romans and Greeks.

The many people movements through the history of mankind never cease to surprise me. It might well have been that it was through the Galatians that Christianity came to north Europe.

Reaching the Mediterranean Sea

The sun has already disappeared into the evening azure Mediterranean Sea as we slowly descend towards Antalya. I can still easily study the pine-clad Taurus Mountains, sloping down towards the sparkling clear sea outside the irregular coastline of rocky headlands and secluded coves. It is said that Antalya is bathed in sunshine 300 days a year. It is therefore not surprising that this is a tourist paradise with a focus on sunbathing, swimming and water sports. But Antalya also has a large number of historical sites, beautiful mosques and much more scattered in the surrounding landscape characterized by pine forests, olive and citrus trees, palms, avocado and banana plantations.

This is the fascinating backdrop to my visit. I have come to Antalya to participate in the inauguration of a so-called "Religious Garden" which will include a mosque, a church and a synagogue, designed to beautifully symbolize the glorious history of many nationalities and religions living side by side here in Turkey since historic times.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has arrived from Ankara to perform the official opening, and as he opens this complex of Muslim, Christian and Jewish places of worship, he emphasizes that his government will eliminate all remaining obstacles to religious freedom in Turkey.

During the subsequent dinner, the Prime Minister tells us that religious tolerance in Turkey is a legacy from the Ottoman Empire. He cites the regulations that once upon a time were introduced by Mehmet the Conqueror, the sultan who captured Istanbul in 1453, that the Ottoman Empire would always show respect for non-Muslims."Because of this significant historical experience, Turkey is currently a guarantor of peace and brotherhood in this region," concludes Prime Minister Erdogan.

Netherlands’ 'European Affairs Ministers', Atzo Nikolai, and members of the diplomatic community in Ankara and religious leaders representing Turkish, Greek, Armenian and Jewish minorities participate in the ceremony. Applaud the Prime Minister's speech.

"People will be able to freely practice their religion in this Garden of Tolerance. This is a very important message," says AtzoNikolai, and adds: "The EU will continue to encourage reforms in Turkey. It will probably still be frictions sometimes but the reforms Turkey has undertaken are encouraging. "

Leaders of Turkey's non-Muslim minorities support the opening of the new "Garden of Religions", but not without acerbic remarks about legal matters that increasingly restrict their activities. "Catholics are able to practice their religion in Turkey, but has no property rights over their own churches. I hope we will get this right one day," said Father Alphonse Sammut, a representative of the Catholic church in the country.

The Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Mesrob II, emphasizes that non-Muslim places of worship as soon as possible should be opened in all major Turkish cities. "This should be done either by renovating historical sites or to build new ones such as the one here," he says.

That evening I walk along one of the endless, soft Antalya beaches, listening to the lazy waves that slowly wash in from the Mediterranean Sea. A clear, dark sky with billions of twinkling stars arches over me. Almost reflecting the dramatic historical events that have taken place in this area through more than 2000 years. I wonder about tolerance, religious freedom, brotherhood and peace can really begin to grow out from here to neighbouring countries in the Middle East, where war and hatred still dominate...

That evening I walk along one of the endless, soft Antalya beaches, listening to the lazy waves that slowly wash in from the Mediterranean Sea.
Photo: Aage Myhre.

The Ottoman Empire

Europe in 1430, when The Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Ottoman Empire both were leading forces.
The Ottoman Empire was a Turkish empire which lasted from 27 July 1299 to 29 October 1923. Grand Duchy of Lithuania) was a European state from the 12th century until 1795. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic Baltic tribes from Aukštaitija. The duchy later expanded to include large portions of the former Kievan Rus' and other Slavic lands, covering the territory of present-day Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and parts of Moldova, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. At its greatest extent in the 15th century, it was the largest state in Europe. It was a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state with great diversity in languages, religion, and cultural heritage.

The Ottoman Empire was one of the largest and longest lasting empires in history; such that the Ottoman State, its politics, conflicts, and cultural heritage in a vast geography provide one of the longest continuous narratives. During the 16th and 17th centuries, in particular at the height of its power under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the empire became the most powerful state in the world – a multinational, multilingual empire that stretched from the southern borders of the Holy Roman Empire (until the outskirts of Vienna), Royal Hungary (modern Slovakia) and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the north to Yemen and Eritrea in the south; from Algeria in the west to Azerbaijan in the east; controlling much of southeast Europe, western Asia, and North Africa. The empire contained 29 provinces and numerous vassal states, some of which were later absorbed into the empire, while others were granted various types of autonomy during the course of centuries.

With Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), and vast control of lands around the Mediterranean basin, the empire was at the center of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries.

After the international recognition of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (GNA) headquartered in Ankara, by means of the Treaty of Lausanne signed on 24 July 1923, the GNA proclaimed on 29 October 1923 the establishment of the Republic of Turkey as the new Turkish State that succeeded and formally ended the defunct Ottoman Empire, in line with the treaty. The Ottoman Caliphate was abolished on 3 March 1924.


Turkey is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia (mostly in the Anatolian peninsula) and in East Thrace in South-eastern Europe. Turkey is bordered by eight countries: Bulgaria to the northwest; Greece to the west; Georgia to the northeast; Armenia, Azerbaijan (the exclave of Nakhchivan) and Iran to the east; and Iraq and Syria to the southeast. The Mediterranean Sea and Cyprus are to the south; the Aegean Sea is to the west; and the Black Sea is to the north. The Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus and the Dardanelles (which together form the Turkish Straits) demarcate the boundary between East Thrace and Anatolia; they also separate Europe and Asia.

Turkey is one of the six independent Turkic states. The vast majority of the population are Muslims. The country's official language is Turkish, whereas Kurdish and Zazaki languages are spoken by Kurds and Zazas, who constitute 18% of the population.

Turkey's location at the crossroads of Europe and
Asia makes it a country of significant
geostrategic importance.
Photo: Aage Myhre.

Oghuz Turks began migrating into the area now called Turkey (derived from the Medieval Latin Turchia, i.e. "Land of the Turks") in the 11th century. The process was greatly accelerated by the Seljuk victory over the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert. Several small beyliks and the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm ruled Anatolia until the Mongol invasion. Starting from the 13th century, the Ottoman beylik united Anatolia and created an empire encompassing much of South-eastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. After the Ottoman Empire collapsed following its defeat in World War I, parts of it were occupied by the victorious Allies. A cadre of young military officers, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his colleagues, organized a successful resistance to the Allies; in 1923, they would establish the modern Republic of Turkey with Atatürk as its first president.

Turkey is a democratic, secular, unitary, constitutional republic with an ancient cultural heritage. Turkey has become increasingly integrated with the West through membership in organisations such as the Council of Europe, NATO, OECD, OSCE and the G-20 major economies. Turkey began full membership negotiations with the European Union in 2005, having been an associate member of the European Economic Community since 1963 and having reached a customs union agreement in 1995. Turkey has also fostered close cultural, political, economic and industrial relations with the Middle East, the Turkic states of Central Asia and the African countries through membership in organisations such as the Turkic Council, Joint Administration of Turkic Arts and Culture, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Economic Cooperation Organisation.


Myra, Turkey – where Santa was born

(sorry Finland...)

St. Nicholas, who later became known as Santa Claus, was a popular bishop at Myra in the 4th century AD, born in Patara between 260 AD and 280, famous for his miracles and known for his kindness.  His parents died of the plague and he was left a wealthy young man.

It is said that he was thrown into prison by Emperor Diocletian, perhaps participated in the Council of Nicaea, implored Emperor Constantine for a large tax reduction for Myra which was granted and destroyed Myra's renowned temple of Artemis (among many others).  After the death of St. Nicholas, Myra became a rich pilgrimage centre with many new churches built.
Rock-cut tombs of Myra.
Photo: Wikipedia.

Bari, Italy, where Santa is buried...

In 1087 Italian merchants, during the confusion of the Seljuk invasion, stole his body at Myra and transported it to Bari in Italy, which became a pilgrimage centre and where his relics are still preserved today.  An oily substance called Manna di S. Nicola, which is highly valued for its medicinal powers, is said to flow from them. 

St. Nicolas who later became better known as Santa Claus, and Bona Sforza, the Grand Duchess of Lithuania, are both buried in the cathedral of Bari, Basilica di San Nicola.

And ironically enough, the relics of the woman who was such a leading symbol of Lithuania's greatness are to be found, not in Lithuania, but in southern Italy along with the remains of the symbol of today's Christmas  traditions, a bishop from Myra in today’s southern Turkey..

St. Nicholas' cult spread beyond the Byzantine Empire in the 6th -11th centuries, celebrated especially in Holland and the East Church under Russian imperial patronage.  He later became the patron saint of Greece and Russia as well as of children, sailors, merchants, scholars, those unjustly imprisoned and travellers.

St. Nicholas was known for his charitable nature and humility.  Several legends about him have been based on his kind and giving nature and have led to the development of Santa Claus.

For more information about St. Nicholas, see the website St. Nicholas: Discovering the Truth About Santa Claus.

Myra was a leading city of the Lycian Union and surpassed Xanthos in early Byzantine times to become the capital city of Lycia.  Its remains are situated about 1.5 km north of today's Demre, on the Kaş-Finike road. Most of the ancient city is now covered by Demre and alluvial silts, for it is located on the river Demre Cay in a fertile alluvial plain.  Today this large plain is almost covered with greenhouses stuffed full of tomatoes.  In ancient times this area was probably farmed extensively, for export and trade with the interior of Lycia.

The date of Myra's foundation is unknown.  There is no literary mention of it before the 1st century BC, when it is said to be one of the six leading cities of the Lycian Union (the other five were Xanthos, Tlos, Pinara, Patara and Olympos).  It is believed to date back much further however, as an outer defensive wall has been dated to the 5th century BC.

The city is well known for its amphitheatre (the largest in Lycia) and the plethora of rock-cut tombs carved in the cliff above the theatre.

Myra once had a great temple of the goddess Artemis Eleuthera (a distinctive form of Cybele, the ancient mother goddess of Anatolia), said to be Lycia's largest and most splendid building.  It was built on large grounds with beautiful gardens and had an inner court defined by columns, an altar and a statue of the goddess.  Not a trace of it remains today, however, since St. Nicholas (the bishop of Myra in the 4th century AD) in his zeal to stamp out paganism in the region, had the temple of Artemis, along with many other temples, completely destroyed.  See more about St. Nicholas below.

In Roman times the emperor Germanicus and his wife Agrippina paid Myra a visit in 18 AD and were honoured with statues of themselves erected in Myra's harbour (Andriace, located 5 km southwest of Myra).

St. Paul changed ships at Myra's port on his way to his trial in Rome, in about 60 AD, after he had been arrested in Jerusalem after being charged with inciting to riot.  Andriace was a chief port for Egyptian vessels passing through the area; Egypt was the breadbasket of the Roman Empire and the imperial government had a fleet of grain ships that carried grain to Rome and other parts of the Empire.  Andriace was a major trans-shipment point for grain from Alexandria - grain came from the plain near Myra, and was also possibly brought in by boats, to be shipped onwards from Lycia.  It is likely that Paul made the trip to Rome on a grain ship as these were often used to transport passengers as well.


People I’ve met in Turkey




My views of Mediterranean Turkey


Bosporus – between Asia & Europe

Category : Blog archive

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