Güzelyurt, Turkey: Beautiful Land
Güzelyurt is the kind of discovery I love to feature in my guidebooks — almost no tourism, lots of history, plenty of character.
The ancient town seems one
with the rock out of which it was carved.
16 centuries ago, monks built monasteries into the cliffside.
Erosion has driven most of the residents here
to more stable dwellings,
but some remain, and exploring the town,
you appreciate the tenacity of its people.
Though seemingly abandoned,
there's still life in the old town.
Residents somehow eke out a living
from its crumbling terraces
and neglected gardens.
People do their humble chores,
as if stubbornly refusing
to give up on their town.
This is the kind of discovery
I love to feature in my guidebooks.
It's a perfect back door. Almost no tourism,
lots of history, and plenty of character.
Today, like Turkey in general, Guzelyurt is Muslim.
But for centuries, Christians worshiped here,
and the city has an interesting connection
with Turkey's neighbor to the west, Greece.
Until the early 20th century,
Greece and Turkey were both part of the Ottoman Empire.
There were Muslim communities in Greece
and Greek Orthodox communities here in Turkey.
Like many Turkish towns, Guzelyurt was once a Greek town.
Then, in the 1920s, they had a huge population swap.
Most Christians here were moved to Greece,
and Muslims there were sent to Turkey.
That's why Guzelyurt's historic church is now a mosque.
Today, its single minaret indicates that this
is a valley where the people call God Allah.
Above that 1,600-year-old church are Seljuk arches,
Ottoman facades, and on the horizon
gleams the tin dome of the main modern mosque.
The market square is the heart of Guzelyurt.
It's busy with people enjoying petite glasses
of sweet chai and the happy clatter
of backgammon dice.
Ah, it's sixes! Ha!
That's good! Look at that!
And easy way to have fun with locals
is over a game of backgammon,
a daily treat for me anywhere in Turkey.
If you don't know how to play,
it's no problem.
If you pause, someone will likely move for you.
Okay. Oh, nice, huh?
Nice game. Thank you.
Very good. [Laughs]
My partner, my good luck.
And my friendly opponent, Kadir,
is taking us to meet his family.
Greetings are warm but formal.
As is the norm in Muslim households,
leave your shoes at the door.
The eldest gets the most respect.
A splash of cologne leaves us refreshed and clean.
Tea making is given great importance and done with pride.
And good luck if you want it without sugar.
As things loosen up, I share pictures of my children.
But now she's quite big.
She's like you, about like that, yeah.
The daughters add to the fun,
and we enjoy a little Turkish fashion show.
And the grandfather entertains
with tales of 30 years of shepherding.
For me, intimate encounters like these
are as rewarding as visiting the great museums.