- What’s On
Iskenderun and Aleppo were once vital trading posts of the Ottoman Empire. Today they straddle a border and are raffish outposts worthy of Graham Greene. Amicia de Moubray accompanied Iskenderun’s Honorary British Consul on a whistle-stop tour of the two cities. She discovered the legacy of liquorice and the East’s most enticing bazaar. Photographs by Simon Upton
Day One: Iskenderun
“I was delighted with the idea of going into the East.”
So wrote Lady mary Montagu in 1716, on learning that her husband had been appointed ambassador to Turkey. As I set off on a short expedition via Iskenderun, in southern Turkey, to Aleppo, just over the Syrian border, I felt equal anticipation and curiosity. I would be in good hands; one of my fellow travelling companions was to be Jonathan Beard, Honorary British Consul in Iskenderun.
For centuries Iskenderun was a pivotal point of the Levantine trading empire, being the nearest port to Aleppo, described in the seventeenth century as “the chief mart of all the East”. Hence the need for a British consul. Today only a few families remain of the once populous levantine trading communities. The children of these predominantly British, French and Italian families are studying in America, and the odds of their returning to Iskenderun are slim.
Anatolia’s new peat gatherers follow a rugged, self-sufficient way of life. But they are taking their toll on the rare flowers of the Turkish moors.
Wherever he went in search of books on Turkey for his collection, Omer Koç was dismayed to find that the mysterious Mr Atabey had been there before him. Then, in an apartment in Paris, all was revealed: the world’s most magnificent collection of volumes on the Ottoman Empire and the Levant - a veritable treasure trove of beautiful books.
In the seventeenth century, Evliya Çelebi, the Ottoman traveller, praised the size of the pumpkins of Varna on the Black Sea: a single fruit could weigh up to 60kg. Today in the Balkans, the custom is to slice off the stem end of a ripe pumpkin, scoop out its seeds and pour honey into the cavity. The top is then replaced like a lid and the pumpkin baked in the oven.
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Veterans of the Peking-to-Paris rally know that if you can nurse your car across the deserts, mountains and yak tracks of the great Asian landmass and reach Istanbul in one piece, the final leg on Europe’s roads should be a cruise. Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, an entrant in this year’s 90th anniversary event, sent home a diary of his - and others’ - adventures on this 12,000 mile marathon from Peking to Paris.
High on a honey-coloured Cappadocian hillside, a remarkable Frenchman set himself the challenge of restoring the crumbling stone houses in the village of Uçhisar. Today, lovingly brought back to life, they stand tall once again. David Barchard was bewitched. Photographs: Sigurd Kranendonk