Nicaea

Nicaea was a walled town. Parts of the walls and some of the elaborate gateways are still standing. In the City there is an old Greek chair and along side of it an ancient planer-tree under the spreading bows of which it is said or we are told that the Bishops sat while they deliberated on the formation of the Nicene Creed. We wandered over the ruins but our attention was far more attracted to the innumerable Hoopoes which fluttered about and the gorgeous bee-eaters with their blue metallic plumage. Dozens of queerly clad natives followed us about and insisted upon digging holes in the ground and unearthing fake statuettes which they tried to sell us.

The road to Busa skirts the borders of the Lake and then along a fertile level ground and around the foot of Mount Olympus which towers over the city of Busa. Busa is about fifteen miles from the shore of the Sea of Marmora. A narrow railroad connects Busa with its seaport. This railroad was originally built by a French Company and later owned by a British Company. Both Companies were renowned for their inefficiency - of a sort which endeared them to the Turks, - although they have had the greatest admiration and respect for the extreme efficiency of G Companies in Asia Minor, they have always felt far more at home with various foreign companies of other nationalities who do not exert the kind of efficiency which instills fear. Busa lies in a broad inland valley almost completely surrounded by hills and one mountain and Mount Olympus. It is a truly ancient Turkish city made most picturesque by numerous tombs of illustrious sultans around which the houses of the town are clustered. The slopes around the City are completely covered with mulberry groves for silk is the chief industry of the town.

We spent three days in Busa as the guests of an Englishman who had a living room which was a veritable museum with lots of statuary and colored tiles plastered all over the walls.

Then we took one day to climb Mount Olympus, the top of which is always covered with a heavy bank of clouds. After a two hour tramp through mulberry groves, we came upon the loose sandstone ground with its sparse vegetation and encountered considerable difficulty in climbing through the heavy mist until we came to the top where the sky was clear above us and from where we looked down upon a broad sea of clouds, - a fitting spot, indeed, for the ancient Gods. The Greeks who lived in Asia Minor believed that on the top of this mountain lived the same Gods who lived on the top of the mountain of the same name on the Greek peninsula. It took us all of the afternoon and well into the evening to climb or clamber down and get back to the city. The next morning we started on our journey into the interior.

The roads are good in the summer but from the lack of a rock bottom ground, they are very bad in the winter. Through one section of the extending valley we skirted hills which were surrounded by the ruins of castles built by crusaders who were so entranced with the country that they decided to live there rather than go on with their original quest. All the way through Asia Minor to Palestine the traveler comes across the most unexpected spots which were occupied by bands of crusaders who lived their lives as robber barons very much in the same way that they lived in Europe. Two days later we arrived at Yeni Sheir. Upon arriving here, two of our party, unaccustomed to protracted horseback riding, felt that they had experienced enough in the interior and decided to cut short their journey. We saw them off on the train the next morning. The two of us who remained paid off two of our horsemen and then we started off in a northwest direction through wild country. The road became more and more rough and finally ended in mountain foot-paths through the forest.

We had been riding along getting glimpses through the trees of valleys and cliffs below us and had been feeling very much alone when suddenly we spied a horseman coming in our direction. This horseman passed us with only an inquiring glance and we noticed he was fully armed with a rifle across the pommel of his saddle and a loaded cartridge belt across his chest. After a few minutes riding over fallen logs which lay on either side of our path among the trees, we saw at first one horseman and then another as they passed us we noticed that they formed a barrier in case we should desire to retreat. My companion was the owner of the one revolver in our midst but one of our horseman quietly bade him hide it well away. Presently there appeared before us a caravan of horses headed by a richly caparisoned rider, and at the head of each horse walked a man leading the horse by the halter. The horses were all laden with boxes of tobacco leaves. We had stumbled on a band of smugglers carrying tobacco into the interior in the grown leaves where they are cured and sold without the government's firman. The leader of the caravan politely accosted us and from the conversation of the various horseman, we were told in no uncertain terms that our horses were to be requisited. I boldly stepped forward and engaged the leader in conversation. His surprise was great at hearing himself addressed by a foreigner in his own tongue. I told him that we were Ingliz. His curiosity was aroused probably by two things: one, the apparent lack of fear which, in truth, was very much present in our hearts but which we were fortunate not to exhibit on our faces although Mr. E___ said afterwards that he was trembling like an Aspen leaf; the second thing - Mr. E___'s camera which we showed to him, and it was mr. E___'s inspiration when he saw the Chief glance at his camera to speak to me in English and offer to take his photograph. This offer I translated and the Chief then invited us to dismount. He did likewise and then he ordered his men to stand behind us and Mr. E___ stepped forth and moved his camera and took two pictures of the Chief and his men. These photographs never came out for Mr. E___ was truly shaking. He was not able to compose himself even to taking a picture. We explained to the Chief that our trip to the Coast was a most urgent one and that indeed it would be a most unchivalrous act and unfriendly one to deprive us of our steeds. He proved himself to be a good sport and after engaging himself in conversation regarding the politics of the day, he courteously bade us good-bye giving the order for his men to proceed and left us standing there gazing as they disappeared around the bend and into the depths of the forest beyond.

We then rode on through an intensely picturesque wild country of a sort which one would hardly expect to meet within a region which was once so thickly populated and must be considered as being the longest known in history of any land.

by Robert Chambers
david@landowne.org ęCopyright 2001