THIS AND THAT: A day of biblical proportions in Turkey

The name on the itinerary, Kusadasi, Turkey, didn’t mean anything when my wife showed the places we were to visit.

The Mediterranean cruise was to take us to places I knew of like Rome, Naples, Istanbul and Athens. I’d heard of Crete, Mykonos, Santorini and Sicily. Even the country of Montenegro had a familiar sound. But Kusadasi? Not a clue.

As I’ve learned over the years, the lack of familiarity doesn’t mean that amazing things are not in store. And that is the way it was in this Turkish port on the Aegean Sea. It was a stop of epic, even biblical proportions.

Mary Lou and I climbed into the bus that would take our group to three stops on the tour we had booked. Our guide, Tunch, introduced himself and began telling us about the country and the portion of Turkey that we were seeing.

The first stop was the Basilica of St. John atop a hill near Selcuk. Christian tradition has it that this disciple of Jesus came to the area to take care of Mother Mary during her final years. John asked to be buried there as it is a peaceful spot with a dramatic view overlooking a valley.

The site of John’s burial is marked with four columns, and the nearby portions of walls and pillars let visitors know that this was once an impressive structure.

Twenty minutes later the bus was climbing up a mountain road through cool pine forests to another landmark. Catholic tradition has it that the structure we were about to see is the final earthly home of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Three recent popes, Paul VI, John-Paul II and Benedict XVI, have visited this site, and the church recognizes it as a holy place. A statue of the Virgin Mary outside the building welcomes the thousands of visitors who travel here each year, and a smaller statue stands inside the house. We waited in a long line for our 30 seconds inside the tiny, stone structure. Everyone was instructed that photographs inside the home were not allowed, and we all entered with reverent silence.

A short ride down the mountain took us to the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus. It was to the church at Ephesus that Paul wrote one of his New Testament letters, and it was there that he stayed for three years during his ministry.

Once a thriving port, Ephesus is now more than two miles away from the sea because of silting over the centuries. Yet it is not hard to imagine a bustling city with a population of a quarter million people during its heyday.

The streets of marble and adjacent sidewalks take today’s tourists past shrines, temples, homes and businesses. Prominent are the Temple of Hadrian, the Forum, the Gate of Augustus, Library of Celsus and the Theatre of Ephesus, which held as many as 25,000 spectators.

Tunch, our guide, wove his way through the throngs of visitors, and keeping up with him was not always easy. But he painted an oral picture of this city and its inhabitants across hundreds of years and a number of empires.

He pointed out an area where terrace homes are being excavated. He spoke of the death of Cleopatra’s half-sister in this city, and we were entertained with a short play involving the Egyptian queen and her visit to Ephesus.

Finally we made our way back to the bus where a hawker sold boxes of Turkish delight – a treat that neither my wife nor I find particularly delightful.

While the name Kusadasi meant nothing to me prior to this day, now it holds a new place – a place of biblical proportions – for me.

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