Anavarza revisted

Last month we made a return to the ruins of Anavarza castle, but we got to experience that unique landscape from an entirely different angle.

Instead of scrambling around this…

October, 2010. The castle on the edge of the cliff as we approached it from the side.

…and this…

…we started at the bottom:

The castle sits at the top of this cliff which rises straight up out of the ground. Shepherds now graze their cows, goats, and sheep through this flat stretch of pasture, but underneath lies an entire Roman city. From high above you can see outlines of structures and tops of pillars scattered about. Villagers living along the road have commandeered many bits and pieces of ancient structures, working them into their own walls, fences, and yards. Some attribute the sheared cliff to a massive earthquake, and the city underwent several rebuilds after being severely damaged by a couple of large quakes in the 4th Century.

Whatever the cause, Anavarza’s unique geography apparently brought it to the attention of rock climbers quite a while ago. We learned from our climber friends Ali and Rahime that these cliffs are littered with climbing courses established by Americans in the 50’s and 60’s. Ali, a pilot for the Turkish Air Force, and Rahime, a graduate student and instructor at an Adana university, began taking my yoga classes with the intent to improve their strength and flexibility for climbing. On a sunny Sunday in March they invited us to join them–offering to show us the ropes (pun intended).

J showing that yoga really does pay off...

Secured with belts and ropes pulled through bolts driven deep into the cliff face, we both felt entirely stable and secure. However, we soon learned the difference between climbing gyms and outdoor courses. By the end of the day, our legs and forearms felt deliciously noodly and we each sported our fair share of scrapes and bruised knees (sometimes, the only available handhold was in the middle of a thorny plant…). Throughout the afternoon we chatted about the parallels between climbing and yoga. Ali pointed out that, just like in a yoga practice, to reach the top of a course you must be entirely in the present–letting your mind rest only on the space you occupy in the moment in order to determine your next move. Another moving meditation.

Three little girls came wandering by while I was high up near the top of our second course. They asked Rahime to tell me to pick a flower from the cliff on my way down.

As the sun began to angle down we started one more course, but the air and stone grew chillier and J and I were both finding it difficult to maintain our grip with our hands. We decided pack up without finishing that third round. Hopefully, though, Rahime and Ali will have us tag along again and we’ll get another chance to tackle that route in the next couple of months.

Although the waning sun left the cliff face shaded in the early evening, it did leave us with this lovely view.

Some ruins from the Roman city. Just a few minutes before, some farmers encouraged their flocks along accompanied by a white Anatolian shepherd who looked, from a distance, like an oversized sheep with a slightly loping gait.

A couple of weekends later, we finally arranged a visit to the famous ruins of Ephesus and Pergamum outside the city of Izmir. Despite the extensiveness of those sites and the excavation, I found them sterile compared to Anavarza. Here, there are no reconstructed walls or structures. The city rests below ground giving visitors only a hint of its former size and vitality. And yet, I find that I appreciate this evidence of the passage of time. On our first visit, we walked among tombs and sarcophagi that had been tumbled and scattered by earthquakes that now seem as deeply embedded into the side of the hill as the boulders around them. Nature (as well as generations of villagers) has clearly made its presence known since the city was first built nearly 2000 years ago, allowing visitors to feel, if not see, the age and permanence of what does remain.

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