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Sea of Blooms

Botanical travels along Turkey's southwest coast

The magic of southwest Turkey can still catch you unawares, especially if you sail. Botanist Ro FitzGerald boards a fine ketch and plots a course for that stunningly beautiful corner where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean.

Much important botanical work has to be done in quite dreary places, and often in lousy weather. Luckily, botanists are easily pleased. Cracks in pavements, weedy airport flowerbeds, building sites, road verges seen from traffic jams – all kinds of ugly places can be interesting habitats. And as we are used to getting our modest kicks from unpromising material, a chance to look at classy plants in beautiful places is truly wonderful. I have been visiting Turkey whenever possible since 1990, to botanise with the Cornucopia contributor Andy Byfield while he was studying the Important Plant Areas (Ipas, now with a published register) and their incredibly rich and fascinating flora.

Turkey’s key position between Europe and Asia, well known in art history, is also true for its plants and gives botanising there a glamour and mystery well beyond the satisfaction of lists of Latin names. In such a huge country there is always the lure of new species to be found, and for British botanists such as myself even quite common Turkish plant communities are not quite the same as at home, being both familiar and utterly strange in this liminal zone between West and East.

Geographically my former visits had been quite limited, though enough to make me love and dream about the country, to want to see and know more. So this chance to turn the corner from the Aegean coast into the Mediterranean was irresistible, and travelling by boat – on the beautiful Ariva 1 – for five days sounded fun. I was unprepared, though, for the intense element of wonder that this method of travel provided. Turkey has always seemed a palimpsest – geological and human history overlaid with always another layer to try to see through – and the boat itself proved to be the first and most essential of these transforming filters. I had been told Ariva 1 was a gulet (similar to the French golette, meaning schooner), one of the traditional coastal sailing boats of southwest Turkey, mostly powered by diesel now and converted to carry tourists. I’d imagined a rather dumpy vessel like the converted Brixham trawler sailed by my stepfather in Scotland.

Kaptan Günay, who looked after us on board, assisted by his family/crew, told us that, though traditionally built, Ariva 1 is really a ketch, rather than a gulet, but regardless of terminology the beauty of the boat – broad-beamed, buxom, with tall masts and a glorious sweeping bow – was a daily pleasure. Swimming under bow or stern, watching ripples reflected on her smooth wooden curves, was always entrancing, but the boat also gave us a direct connection with history.

We travelled between Yalıkavak and Fethiye, and as soon as we had passed the construction sites blotching the coast of the Bodrum peninsula, it was obvious the sea had been, and still was, the only way to reach much of this dramatically craggy coast, with its cliffs and strange rock formations dropping straight into the sea, hiding occasional small bays that look accessible from land only by abseiling. To watch from the modern comfort of the cushioned stern as each fascinating new rockscape appeared was to see this coast as it had been seen since prehistory – without the dreaded separation of a tour-bus window.

Turning the corner at the end of the Datça peninsula, where a modern shingle bar joins headland to mainland, linking the two harbours of the Carian city Cnidus (the Dorian Hexapolis), was quite a moment. We moored in the southern (Mediterranean) anchorage, with the Aegean water of the northern harbour visible only yards away. Cnidus is reputedly wonderfully healthy, the crew told us, situated as it is where the winds of the two seas meet. On a mellow afternoon it was also extraordinarily beautiful. Carian stonework is superb, (as at Labraunda, Cornucopia 43, 2010,) and here both limestone and a beautiful, fine-grained creamy stone are used.

To read the full article, purchase Issue 44

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Issue 44, 2010 Classics with a Twist
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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 44
  • The Bottle-Top Mansion

    An architectural extravaganza built in America’s Gilded Age for the man who invented the bottle top, the Everett House in Washington DC has a long and colourful connection with Turkey. Thomas Roueché charts its history. Photographs by Jürgen Frank.

  • On the Road to Ruins

    John Henry Haynes was the father of American archaeological photography. Many of his images are the only record of a vanished Anatolian heritage. On the centenary of his death, Robert Ousterhout pays tribute.

  • Plum Perfect

    Only Kastamonu in the hinterland of the Black Sea, boasts the naked plum (üryani erik). In Daday, a valley just outside the town, a handful of villages have been encouraged to keep cultivating this plump, purplish-blue variety. When it is ripe and oozing with fragrance and sweetness, the delicate skin peels off easily to expose the amber-coloured flesh.
    More cookery features

  • Adventures in Istanbul

    There was never a dull moment growing up in the British Consulate in Sixties Istanbul. Griselda Warr selects photographs from her mother Gillian’s album and tells tales of shooting stars, benign espionage and a call girl wronged

  • Queen of the Wild Frontier

    She may be unconvinced by Noah’s Ark, but Min Hogg finds plenty to feast on as she journeys across the vast borderlands where Turkey approaches Armenia and Iran. From Kars to Van, from Silk Road to honeycombs and colossal breakfasts, she brings a wry, painterly eye to her lively account

  • Silent Witness

    These empty homes on Istanbul’s Asian shore were once full of life, hopes and dreams. Maureen Freely studies the haunting photographs of Metehan Özcan

More in the Guide
Buy the issue
Issue 44, 2010 Classics with a Twist
£8.00 / $10.13 / 331.55 TL
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