Saturday, February 23, 2013

27. Phaistos Disc

We're just back from a six-day trip to Greece. It's winter, so we obviously weren't sunbathing in the islands! We were staying with a friend in Athens, then the three of us headed to the mountains to stay with four other friends in Arahova. A few of them went skiing at Mount Parnassus — the hubster and I explored the village and then drove the few kilometers around to Delphi!

After our weekend in Arahova, we headed back to Athens for a day of exploring — which is when I learned about the Phaistos Disc.

The Phaistos Disc is an enigma, a circular clay disc covered with inscribed symbols on both sides that are unlike any signs in any writing system. It was discovered in a palace in the ancient city of Phaistos in southern Crete in 1908. It's thought to date to around 1700 BC.

This object has been the subject of many studies. Someone has claimed to have deciphered it, and that it was a document in an archaic form of Greek. Others say it is a poem or a song. Because no other similar artifacts have ever been found anywhere in Crete, it's thought that the object was foreign and brought in from another place. The place of its origin is extremely speculative. A sign depicts a helmet with crest, which was used later by Philistines. Another sign depict a structure similar to sarcophagus used by the Lycians of Asia Minor.

Because there is essentially no variation between different copies of the same symbol, it is very likely that stamps were used to create these highly detailed signs. While not really a printed work, some have labeled the Phaistos Disc the earliest typewritten work.

Even though the disc is generally accepted as authentic by archaeologists — the assumption of authenticity is based on the excavation records by Luigi Pernier — this assumption is supported by the later discovery of the Arkalochori Axe with similar (but not identical) glyphs.

The possibility that the disc is a 1908 forgery or hoax has been raised by two or three scholars. According to one report, the date of manufacture has never been established by thermoluminescence. In a 2008 review, it's argued that "a thermoluminescence test for the Phaistos Disc is imperative. It will either confirm that new finds are worth hunting for, or it will stop scholars from wasting their effort." Fair enough!

OK, the end of the story is that I had to buy these:

Earrings: from George at Aphrodite Jewelers
in the Monastiraki neighborhood, Athens.

Ya know, as one of my trip souvenirs! Pretty stinkin' cool if you ask me. Thankful that the hubster encouraged me to make the purchase! xx

Saturday, January 5, 2013

26. Angora = Ankara.

The hubster had some business to attend to in the capital this past week, so I tagged along as I so like to do! Ankara is the capital of Turkey and, with a population of ~4.5M, it's the country's second largest city after İstanbul. The highway between İstanbul on the European continent and Ankara on the Asian continent was long, quiet, and more mountainous than anticipated. (Yet, surprisingly, not up-the-mountain down-the-mountain.) The countryside was dotted with small villages with maybe 20 houses surrounding a mosque, and not a single parked car in sight.

Ankara lies in the center of Anatolia on the eastern edge of the Anatolian Plateau at an altitude of 2,800 feet (850 meters). The weather felt colder for sure. The province is mostly fertile wheat steppe land—with forest in the northeast. It's the center of the Turkish government and houses all foreign embassies. It is an important crossroads of trade, strategically located at the center of Turkey's highway and railway networks, and serves as the marketing center for the surrounding agricultural area.

The city was famous for its long-haired Angora goat with its prized mohair wool, a unique breed of Angora cat, white rabbits with their prized Angora wool (the cruelty of that trade is best left for another entire post), pears, honey, and the region's muscat grapes. Um, easy to see why it was, at one point, known as Angora!

Under the Greeks, the history of Ankara thrived. It became a new trading center for goods traveling between the Black Sea and the major cities of the region in every direction. During this Hellenistic/ Byzantine era, the Greeks gave the city its modern name, Ánkyra, which means 'anchor'. The city was an important cultural, trading, and arts center in Roman times as well, and an important trading center on the caravan route to the east in Ottoman times. It had declined in importance by the nineteenth century, but it again became an important center when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk chose it as the base from which to direct the War of Liberation. Because of its role in the war and its strategic position, it was declared the capital of the new Republic of Turkey in 1923.

What we found was a city more modern than our gritty and chaotic Istanbul. A noticeable amount of green space and considerably less traffic made Ankara seem more laid back and livable than Istanbul—yet we wouldn't choose to live someplace that feels so isolated. Truth be told, he big draw for me was the availability of a U.S. commissary. Hurray for American junk food and bacon! Both of which are hard to find in our city where East meets West.  xx

25. Whirling Dervishes!

On Christmas Eve, the hubster and I met up with our friends (who were in town from Austria) for a lovely Turkish dinner—followed by my first experience watching whirling dervishes.

Honestly, I thought these shows were true performances but, in fact, they are religious rituals. No clapping allowed. It's interesting and mesmerizing to watch the Sufis move through the ceremony with deliberation and concentration. The group we watched had a young member who really was captivating in his dance movements. It's one "touristy" event I won't mind seeing more than once.

The show was performed by members of the Mevlevi Order, a Sufi order founded in Turkey. Let's begin with understanding that a Sufi practices the mystical dimensions of Islam which they call Ihsan (perfection of worship). According to Wiki, classical Sufi scholars define Sufism as "a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God."

Some history: The Mevlevi Order was founded in 1273 by the followers of Rumi—who was a 13th-century Persian, Muslim poet, theologian, and mystic. They believe in performing their devotion in the form of dance and musical ceremony (sema). The sema represents a mystical journey and spiritual ascent through the mind. Turning (whirling) toward the truth, the follower grows through love and deserts his ego.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī | Rumi

Dervishes wear tall, conical felt hats, white robes with full skirts and voluminous black cloaks above it. The hats symbolize the tombstones of their egos, white robes signify the shrouds of their egos, and the black cloaks represent their worldly tombs. At the beginning of the ceremony, the black robe is discarded to signify their liberation from the attachments of this world. A comforting and freeing thought, indeed!

The sema is very specifically practiced and performed in a ritual hall. It begins with a chanted prayer, then kettledrums, and a reed flute. There is the occasional bowing throughout, which signifies salutation from soul to soul. I like the sounds of that—kind of a namaste!

Watch and listen to a small clip.

They complete three circles, then drop their black cloaks and each approach the master with their arms folded across their chest. After bowing and kissing his hand, they spin out on the floor. During the whirling, they keep their right hand palm up (to receive the blessings) and their left hand palm down (to transfer blessings to the earth). This goes on for some time, then they kneel, pray, and start again—times four. Then the sema concludes with them praying for peace for the soul.

UNESCO has proclaimed the "Mevlevi Sema Ceremony" of Turkey as being amongst the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. You can read more about that honor here:

True Masterpieces of Humanity!