Rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewed by Will Gourlay
Loved the beaches, bays, ruins and villages of southern Turkey? Well, you’re not alone. In Turkish Coast: Through Writers’ Eyes, Rupert Scott has gathered a collection of ecstatic writings about the southwestern corner of Turkey from the last three millennia. To be fair, not all of them are ecstatic. After its classical heyday, the coast was an undeveloped rural backwater until quite recently, and some travellers were decidedly grouchy about what they discovered. Still, what’s not to love about a holiday destination boasting untouched expanses of coastline and all of that enticingly blue sea?
Setting itself a restricted field of view, this book concentrates on the coast between Bodrum and Antalya, the regions known in ancient times as Lycia and Caria. Then, with the enthusiasm of the passionate traveller, it gleefully expands beyond its own self-imposed limits. Stories are drawn from inland (including an amazing news report from the 1930s of a young girl apparently raised by a bear), from across the water amid the sponge-divers of Kalymnos in Greece, and include non-marine topics such as the delights of Turkish cookery and the pleasures of the hamam.
In fact, this stretch of coast was at its busiest thousands of years ago, when Greeks and Romans and all manner of others built temples, sanctuaries, amphitheatres and marble-paved cities at picturesque or strategic sites, all now elegantly crumbling to become the ruins that are part of the appeal of the area, from magnificent Ephesus to lesser known Didim. This was the coast where the Greek gods used to play, where oracles spouted off, where, in short, the supernatural was to be expected, such as the unquenchable flame of the Chimaera, near Olympos.
This book doesn’t just dwell on the ancient era, however. It includes a wealth of information on the wildlife of the coast (including the fight to protect endangered loggerhead turtles), the lore of the sea (accounts of shipwrecks and diving expeditions), tales of rugged pioneering archaeologists, recollections of seaside idylls in the 1970s as well as excerpts from the writings of Louis de Bernières, Freya Stark and John Freely, among many others.
Scott’s thoughtful commentary links the short extracts (few sections are more than a few pages), providing context and historical background. In short, this is the perfect reading matter for a Turkish sojourn: it will inform, inspire and give you plenty to muse about as you bask in the sun or ponder another dip in that beguiling, glassy sea.
Over almost two decades, Will Gourlay has been a regular visitor to Turkey, as a backpacker, journalist, teacher and, most recently, parent. The younger generation of Gourlays like Turkish icecream and beaches, so now he has an excuse to continue visiting. Will is currently contemplating doctoral studies in Turkish society and culture.
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