Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Turkey, Fall 2011

I am going to focus this page on our Fall 2011 student trip to Turkey.  I will put brief update posts, along with a highlights video montage, on my main blog, but the pictures and most of the reports will be organized here.  A page does not operate quite like posts.  While new posts appear at the top of a blog, you will need to scroll down to the bottom of this page each time to see the newest additions to the page.

Sunday Departure (9/18/11): Flying out of Tel Aviv always takes awhile.  The Israelis are always VERY careful about security, so we needed to arrive three hours before our departure time.  We needed every minute to get all 82 students, 4 faculty, one faculty wife, and two service couples through and cleared.  But after all that rush, we boarded the plane on time only to have it take off an hour and a half late.

Arrived in Istanbul, the former Constantinople as I like to remind my students, about 7:30.  This is one of my absolutely favorite cities, and not just because of its storied Byzantine past (those of you who know me know that I LOVE the Byzantine Empire: the things I enjoy most---Greek culture and language, the Roman Empire, and Christianity---all come together in Byzantine culture).  The city is fascinating for both its Ottoman past and its Turkish present.  It is an amazing city.

I am always happy to be in Constantinople, even if there are not many Greeks left here anymore.
Moving 82 students around always takes some effort, especially since luggage KEEPS getting lost
Of course there were the inconveniences, in particular luggage problems.  Our students seem cursed with luggage problems.  Fortunately today it was just a few bags late, very late, coming down the conveyer, but at least it all arrived.

In Turkey we work with an agency and Turkish guides.  They do the bulk of the historical and site discussion, while we will fill in with scriptural and religious additions.  I have the guide, Fatih, who was with the BYU students this past summer, so he knows our routine.  But he is also willing to let me jump in with my own historical commentary, because he was pleased to hear that I have been here before and love the country so much.  Need to make sure that I do not overdo it, though.

We are staying in the "newer" part of the city that developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries north of the Golden Horn Harbor and above and beyond the old Italian quarter of Galata.  I have never stayed here before or really been to this part of the city, because in my previous visits, I spent all my time in Fatih, or the "conquered" quarter of old Constantinople, particularly Sultanamet, the historic section.  But it is interesting to be here, staying just off of Taksim Square, which is like the Turkish Times Square.

Did not manage to get a picture of that, but I did get some pics, and even a video, of my students at our first Turkish dinner.  They are excited to be here . . . and you will not from the video that they all know how much I love it here.

Visiting with the students in the airports, on the plane, and especially at dinner tonight is some of the most fun that I have had with them so far.  I really enjoy them and hope they like me a bit.  It reminds me of Choir tour.  It is always exciting to join the Tabernacle Choir, but I did not really feel "part" of the group till I toured with it.  Getting on the road for more than part of a day likewise does a lot to cement the bonds between us and the students.

Full Day in Istanbul (9/19/11; see "First Full Day in Istanbul")Today was an exceptionally full, but good, day in Istanbul.  A city of 15 million today, it was once the capital of the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire and long served as the capital of the Ottoman Turkish Empire before the Turkish Republic moved the capital to Ankara in 1923 or so.

Today also witnessed my first blogging disaster.  I wrote and formatted an incredibly long and full page with videos and lots of pictures . . . and just lost it all.  It is now after midnight and we are leaving early in the morning for Troy, so I am going to need to just throw together some video clips and a few pictures.  My internet is not good here and photo uploads are slow.  The video clips are already on YouTube and so are simple links.

So, in brief, this is what we did today: gazed at Hagia Sophia (she is closed on Mondays so we will need to come back on Saturday when we are back in Istanbul); visited site of old Roman hippodrome; Blue Mosque; Topkapi Palace (the former sultan's residence); Basilica Cistern; lunch; Grand Bazaar; cruise on the Bosphorus almost to the Black Sea; dinner; back to the hotel.

Here are the clips:

 My first excited look this trip at Hagia Sophia and the Sultanahmet area.

The amazing Blue Mosque

A somewhat humorous clip after touring the harem of the Topkapi Palace

Byzantine engineering at its finest

Entrance to the Grand Bazaar

Sweets shop!

Boat ride out of the Golden Horn (the harbor) into the Bosphorus Straits.

Troy (9/20/11; see "Troy Highlights"): A lot of today was spent on buses today, and that will be the case for the next several days because Turkey is a much larger country than it seems when glancing at a map.  Just the drive from Istanbul through Thrakia (ancient Thrace, modern European Turkey) to the Dardanelles took the better part of the morning.  We drove down part of Gallipoli, the scene of a terrible battle in World War I.  We did not have time to stop, but I spent some time here last May, visiting both the Turkish and Allied memorials in and near ANZAC Beach.

We took a ferry from the town of Gelibolu (ancient Kallipolis, "Beautiful City," hence Gallipoli) to the Asian side of the Dardanelles and then drove past Canakkale to the site of ancient Troy.  We spent a couple hours there in the afternoon, seeing the remains of the earliest settlement and walls (Troy levels I-V)  until the Late Bronze Age remains (levels VI and VII) that were mostly likely the city destroyed and then vaguely remembered, and embellished, in Homer's Iliad.

Our students enjoy a mock up of the Trojan Horse at the beginning of the site

The site of Troy consists of nine different major habitations levels, stretching from the early Bronze Age to the Early Roman Empire.

Artist's reconstruction of Troy VI, one of two levels that likely might have been the Troy of Homer

It does not need to be all serious at a site like Troy, however, as my students showed me:

Brad Pitt eat your heart out!  Too bad that Ben got to be Achilles and I ended up as dead Hector.

Trojan Frog Catching

Brielle does Byzantine at Troy.  Even at the most famous of Bronze Age sites, my students know where my heart lies!

After Troy, we drove to our hotel outside of Canakkale, where our students had one of their rare evenings of free time.  We allowed them to walk on the beach and play in the pool, where I even joined them for a round of rowdy chicken fights.  

Following dinner, I returned to my room to try to upload photos and video clips for the blog, but the Internet is painfully slow here.  At 10:30 I had the unpopular duty of going out to the hotel grounds to announce curfew.  The students have had a wonderful time today and especially this evening, though I worried that the loud karaoke music I heard downstairs might have been bothering other guests.

Still, I must say that this trip is turning out to be a real bonding experience for the students, and I think that we faculty have gotten much closer to them as well. 

I will try to load some more video clips, so check this section of the "Turkey Page" again a few times to see any changes and/or update

Assos and Pergamum (9/21/11; see "Assos and Pergamum highlights"): Assos was Greek colony in northwestern Anatolia, not too far from Troy.

It sports a beautiful temple to Athena that sits on a high promontory overlooking the sea on two, almost three, sides. From it one can see the nearby Greek island of Lesbos just across the strait.  The philosopher Aristotle lived here as the guest of the tyrant of Assos, Hermias, who had been a fellow student of Plato and who become Aristotle’s father-in-law.  The apostle Paul passed briefly through here at the end of his third missionary journey.

Assos survived into the Byzantine period, which gave me a chance to regale my students again about Byzantine culture and archaeology.  It has become somewhat of a joke among the students that Hunts loves all things Byzantine.  Later in the day, in fact, one of the students took the microphone on the bus, donned my hat, and went on about all things Byzantine, as well as pretending to chant the opening lines of the Iliad in Greek.  I think this means that they like me.

A funny moment was when we came down from the acropolis of Assos and saw a small Turkey pen with three birds in it . . . yes, Turkeys in Turkey!

Our students enjoyed the hike up through the modern Turkish village of Berhamkale and onto the site, which provided them with many photo opps and some fun as well.  We read the accounts of Paul getting called to Europe near hear at Troas . . . he wanted to go to Asia Province and the big cities south of here.  The spirit said no.  Then he wanted to go to Bithynia and some important cities to the north east.  And the spirit said no again.  Then he had his vision of the man in European Macedonia, calling on Paul to go help him.  So we sang “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go, Dear Lord.”

We then got on the buses for several hours to Pergamum, where, unfortunately Father Zeus did not smile on us.  It not only rained, it poured!  Pergamum is a fantastic site . . . an important Hellenistic site with an acropolis that rivaled and even outstripped that of Athens . . . and a library that competed with Alexandria.  It is also one of the “seven churches of Asia” mentioned in Revelation 1-4.  We got through about half of it with wind and drizzle, but after we saw the theater the rain began to fall more steadily, and by the time we got to the top, to the Roman Temple of Trajan, the rain was a downpour and we almost had hail.

The students are amazing in these situations, though.  They sang “Singing in the Rain” and “the rain came down and the floods came up!”


Ephesus and Miletus (9/22/11; see "Ephesus and Miletus highlights"): One of the real drawbacks of this kind of whirlwind tour is that there is hardly time to do sites justice.  I cannot help thinking back to my time in Turkey last year with my friend Jon Rainey . . . though we moved quickly and covered a lot of ground and a lot of sites, we still had time to examine everything in some detail and to visit the major museums.  

Now I feel like we can only take our students through the main parts of each site . . . and in some ways working with Turkish tour guides (which we are required to do) is more work than I would need to do on my own.  They are very knowledgeable, but I need to always be thinking of how to “fill in the gaps” when what they say, or their accents, get in the way of my students can understand.  And then I must be constantly policing the students, making sure that they are listening to the guide on their headsets, not wandering off by themselves, etc.  I love these young men and women, but sometimes it is like herding cats! I need to constantly remind myself that this is not about me and my enjoyment of the sites . . . it is about the students and their experience.

Ephesus, as many of you known, was an important Greek city in the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods, but it was in the Roman period that it experienced its heyday.  It was the fourth, perhaps even the third, largest city in the empire, and its ruins are some of the most magnificent in the world.
My group near the remains of the base of the Temple of Domitian

Public latrines were an oddly social experience in Roman culture, as the closeness of the seats would suggest!

In front of the famous Library of Celsus

There is so much to see here: the Processional Way, the Temple of Domitian (perhaps the imperial cult practiced here gave rise to the discussion of the two beasts, the one across the sea and the one from the land encouraging people to worship the first), fountain houses and baths, latrines (oddly interesting), libraries, and a magnificent theater.

But what I do not remember from previous visits was the ubiquitous presence of dogs and cats all over the site.  What is up with all the animals lounging about.  The dogs languidly lie around, not even bothering to twitch, let alone move, as crowds walk around and right over them.  The cats look benignly at us from column tops and stone walls.
A torpid Ephesian dog that did not bother to do anything but lift an eyebrow as we moved all around it

In the theater, we made our biblical connections and held our devotional.  I read from and talked about Acts 19, culminating in the riot against Paul that took place in that very theater. Mindful of Paul’s boldness in preaching Jesus anywhere, anytime, we sang “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” rather heartily, earning an unexpected applause from other tourists on the site.  We also sang “Nearer, My God to Thee.”  Some of our students then went down on the stage and sang and even danced, really danced in fine, classical form, for us.

As we were about finished with the main site, we saw a funny little performance by actors dressed up like Romans and Egyptians.  Whatever.

Of course Paul was not the only biblical figure associated with Ephesus.  John spent the latter part of his meridian ministry here, and tradition also places Mary here.  So as we left, we stopped at the Church of St. Mary, where I gave my students an ad hoc lecture on Byzantine architecture and the development of Orthodox and Catholic veneration of the mother of Jesus.

Stopped briefly at the site of the Artemesion, the once magnificent Temple and precinct of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, which is now in such a ruined state that only a single column stands.  Above it we saw the acropolis of Medieval Ephesus, now Turkish Selcuk, where we could see the Byzantine church of St. John the Divine (where his reputed grave is) and a Seljuk fortress above that.

Slowly I am converting the group to Magnum "Beyaz" or "white" ice cream bars: vanilla ice cream, white chocolate, with almond slivers.

The Byzantine basilica of St. John the Divine above Medieval Ephesus, built by my man Justinian.

The remaining column of the once great temple of Artemis

After lunch we headed south to Miletus, another great Greek city in Asia Minor (Anatolia or Asiatic Turkey), which, like Ephesus, was later abandoned because a changing river and seacoast left its harbor high and dry and ruined its economic vitality.

In its theater, my colleague Andy Skinner taught the students about the end of Paul’s third missionary journey from Acts 20, how he had stopped here on his way to Jerusalem, seeing the Greek saints for the last time, warning them of coming apostasy, and blessing them.  I followed with a brief testimonial about what it must have been like for him to say goodbye to people he would never see again in this life.  Unexpectedly, I was prompted to talk about my final visit with and blessing of my father before he died.  We sang “God Be with You Till We Meet Again.”  Missed Dad.  Missed my Choir friends.  Was thankful for Jesus Christ and his gospel.

Andy Skinner, the dean who hired me in religion, teaching our students in Miletus

It was a LONG drive from the Aegean coast to Pamukkale, where we are staying the night before our visit to the hot springs and the ancient city of Hierapolis in the morning.  This is the nicest hotel that we have stayed in yet, almost a 5-star with hot tubs, springs, and pools, as well as performances, including traditional Turkish belly dancing.  But alas, no internet in the rooms, so I sit here in the lobby posting this blog, and despite the quality of the hotel, the internet is, once again, slower than tar.

 Turkish belly dancing? Really? Glad it is after curfew and most of my students are in their rooms!

Hierapolis and Thyatira (9/23/11; see "Hierapolis and Thyatira"):  We started our day at the site of ancient Hierapolis or "Holy City."  This is an ancient city in west central Turkey in the upper Lycus River Valley, near Laodicea and Colossae, two New Testament sites.  

Hierapolis is situated at the top of some stunningly white cliffs, which are white from the action of thermal springs over the course of thousands of years.  This has given the area its modern Turkish name, Pamukkale or "Cotton Castle."  Part of our visit included wading through these springs and on the hardened calcium carbonate or travertine rock.

Hierapolis has many of the usual features of an ancient Greek, Hellenistic, or Roman city (and it was the latter two, with a later Byzantine phase as well). But in addition to city gates, colonnaded streets, and a wonderfully well-preserved theater, it also has one of the best necropoleis that I have ever seen.  A necropolis, literally "city of the dead," is an extensive cemetery and burial ground outside the city walls.
I don't think that this missionary door approach is going to get very far

Trying on an ancient tomb for size
Teaching students about ancient tombs
The students reprising Michael Jackson's "Thriller" in the Necropolis of Hierapolis

In the theater we talked about the Lord's warning to nearby Laodicea, which the Lord rebuked for being "neither hot nor cold," after which we sang "Choose the Right."

Today we had "drive bys" a few of the Seven Cities of Asia of Revelation 2-3.  We did not actually go by Laodicea, even though it is really close to Hierapolis, so I am including my video clip from my visit here a year and a half ago.

We did, however, drive by ancient Philadelphia and Sardis (wish we could have stopped there, it is a magnificent site), and we then stopped briefly at the ancient site of Thyatira, where the ruins of a Byzantine church are surrounded by the modern Turkish city of Akhisar.

This evening we pulled into Bursa, which was the first capital of the Ottoman Turks.  After we got into our rooms and freshened up, we held a sacrament meeting in one of the hotel meetings rooms.  It was a nice experience to take the sacrament of the Lord's Supper in this land that saw so many of the earliest Christian churches.

Last Day - Bursa, Nicaea, and again Istanbul (9/24/11; see "Last Day highlights"):   After checking out of our surprisingly nice hotel in Bursa (and following an even more surprising good breakfast, we drove over to the site of the Grand Mosque in Bursa, built by the Ottoman sultans when Bursa was their capital.  They subsequently moved their capital to Erdine in European Turkey, and, sadly, to Constantinople (now Istanbul) when they captured our beloved Byzantine city.

Interior of the Great Mosque in Bursa

Entering the Silk Market, which was at the end of the silk route from China

Inside the Silk Market

We then took our buses to Iznik, which is the modern name of ancient Nicaea (it is a Turkish version of the Greek phrase eis ten Nikaia, hence Iz-Nik, like "Istanbul" is actually Greek for eis ten polin, since Constantinople was "the" city).

Important in the Hellenistic, Roman, and then Byzantine periods, Nicaea served as the temporary capital of the Byzantine Empire in the thirteenth century when the nasty Crusaders drove the Greeks out of Constantinople.  Later the Turks took it, and it is now the center of Turkish tile production of "Iznik ware."

Walls of Nicaea

Jon Rainey, this one is for you.  Remember driving in Turkey?

Of course, Nicaea is important in Christian History as the scene of the First and Seventh Ecumenical Councils.  We held a lecture and devotional on the seaside site of Constantine's winter palace, where Andy Skinner talked about the history and the significance of the Nicaean Council, I talked about the christological debates and decisions of the council, and Steve Harper talked about the council from a Restoration perspective, talking about the insights into the relationship of the Father and the Son gained from Joseph Smith's First Vision.  Latter-day Saints do not accept the various creeds (which gets us hammered by many other traditional Christians), but I wanted us to focus on what we did believe, so I led our group of 92 in reciting the first article of faith, "We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost," and in singing "I Believe in Christ."  It was rather stirring.

My colleagues and friends Steve Harper (green shirt) and Andy Skinner (red shirt) taught the students on the shore of Lake  Nicaea about the First Ecumenical Council and LDS beliefs.  I led them in the First Article of Faith and in the singing of "I Believe in Christ."

Inside Hagia Sophia in Nicaea, the site of the Seventh Ecumenical Council on Church Images.  I talked to the students and bore testimony about the importance of being born again and bearing Christ's image in our countenances.

Earlier we had stopped in the Church of Hagia Sophia (a much smaller one than the more famous one of the same name in Istanbul), where we talked about the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which restored the use of sacred images in churches after the Iconoclastic Controversy that had destroyed or removed all images from Byzantine Churches.  Once again, we are a bit different than much of Christianity in that we do not use any images at all in our churches or services, not even the cross, though we see it as an important historical symbol of Christ's saving death for us.  Instead I talked about President Hinckley's famous talk that propose that the great symbol of our faith is Christ in our lives.  We then read Alma  5:14, "Have you been spiritually born of God?  Have you received his image in your countenances?  Have ye experienced this might change in your hearts?"

We drove to Yalova, had lunch, and then took a ferry across a narrow section of the Sea of Marmara and then drove back to Istanbul.  There I had a pilgrimage of sorts as I took my students into the Hagia Sophia, once the greatest church of Christendom and the center of Greek Orthodoxy, then a mosque, and now a museum open to all.  Unfortunately, I did not set up my wireless microphone correctly here, so all the video clips that I took inside turned out as silent movies.  I was crushed, but I will be back two more times, and it was a good warning to me before I try to do "real" clips for my show on the Mormon Channel.

Hagia Sophia

Okay, the excitement was palpable as I entered the church I fell in love with in the fourth grade when I discovered it in the encyclopedia

The large central dome

The omphalos, the spot where Byzantine emperors were crowned

Papa Huntsman with all his children in their favorite Byzantine church

Justinian (right) gives Virgin and Child his church, Hagia Sophia, while Constantine (right) gives them his city, Constantinople

After a bit of free time, we had our final, farewell dinner and went to the airport for our flight "home" to Jerusalem.  I think the students had some great experiences, and I enjoyed being in Turkey, even if it was a bit more stressful "managing" students than I thought.  I think they tired of "Papa Huntsman" always nagging them and driving them to be on time, get on and off buses quickly, and listen to their guides.  But I must say that I have grown to really love these young men and women, and the bonding that we had on our week's tour was probably the best result of the trip.

Farewell Dinner