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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Location: Corum, Turkey

MapMuch of this trip is unfinished business, and perhaps the most important business item on this agenda was the hot air balloon ride over the fairy chimneys of Cappodocia that I missed seven years ago. The whole group eagerly signed up for the once-in-a-lifetime experience, despite the 4am start. The balloon company picked us up at 4:15, bussed us to the airfield and gave us breakfast, although I think I was too excited to eat much at all. As we finished, and were about to head to the take-off area, the announcement was made that the wind had come up, and the aviation authorities had cancelled all flights for that morning. "Devastated" was an understatement.

Anyway, life, and this journey, goes on. As we continued to head north towards the Black Sea, we stopped for the night in a large city called Corum, and on the way we were treated to more evidence of another ancient civilisation. This time it was the Hittites, who inhabited much of eastern Turkey and the Middle East from around 17th century BC to 12th century BC. They are famous for coming up with, supposedly, the very first Peace Treaty, which they made with the Egyptians. Written in stone, it is now in an Istanbul museum. Their capital was the city of Hattusa, and although it is in ruins, there exists some remarkable examples of their culture and stone building skills. Again, being able-bodied this time allowed me to explore Hattusa properly.

We visited two open-air temples that were used by Hittites to worship their many hundreds of Gods, some of whom had been represented in rock carvings. These temples were simply narrow crevices in a rock canyon, and as we roamed them, with Barish’s expert commentary, we could hear a thunder storm brewing not far away. Being alone in this ancient and sacred place, with sound effects coming from the heavens, it had an eerie ambience.

Apart from rock foundations indicating where Hattusa’s buildings once stood, the most fascinating part of the city is its ramparts that used to protect the inner city. Some gates still exist in these walls, most famously the Lion Gate, with two lions carved in solid stone protecting the entrance. To actually touch the handiwork of a stonemason from 3,000 years ago was a solemn experience. A long tunnel still exists beneath this wall of stone and earth, lined with very carefully placed rocks to ensure the tunnel does not collapse. The fact that it’s still standing after 30 centuries, safe enough for us to walk through, is testament to the building skill of these people.

Very little is known of the Hittite civilisation, including its own unique language, Barish told us that there is only one person, a woman, who can understand this language, and she is 106 years old. Makes you think …