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Freya Stark made her name with her vivid writing about Persia and the Arab world in the Thirties. After the Second World War, already fifty-nine, she started tracing Alexander the Great’s route through southern Turkey. Molly Izzard, her biographer, recounts the discomforts and discoveries of her five punishing journeys
Between 1952 and 1958 Freya Stark made a series of journeys in southwest Turkey, exploring ancient Greek settlements and tracing the route taken by Alexander the Great. She was 59 when she began her journeys, a small, plump woman – ‘rather a bundle of a woman, with a marvellous bright eye’ was how one admirer described her – and she embarked on these journeys at a period of some despondency, a rash, shortlived marriage disposed of after the statutory five years and a successful wartime career as a public relations expert on the peoples of the Middle East now behind her.
With some hesitation, she was resuming her career as a travel writer, begun in 1934 with the success of her first book, The Valley of the Assassins; this launched her not only as an enterprising traveller, recognized and rewarded by the geographical societies, but as a writer gifted with a wonderful ability to evoke the spirit of her experiences in elegant, ruminative prose, and to illustrate, with her own photographs and thumbnail ink drawings, the places and people she encountered in her wanderings.
Turkey was a new experience for her. Hitherto she had travelled and worked mainly among the Arabic-speaking peoples of the Levant and southern Arabia, though her first travels, between 1930 and 1932, had been in north-west Persia, a series of mule-treks with local guides, noting and photographing what she saw. Expanded into a book, they made her literary reputation.
Well supplied with useful introductions, Freya landed at Izmir at the beginning of September 1952 with the intention of again making a book out of her experiences, on the model of her pre-war successes…
Linda Kelly tells the story of André Chénier, father of French Romantic poetry, who was born in Galata, the Genoese quarter of Istanbul. Executed during the Paris Terror, Chénier produced some of the most moving documents of the Revolution
In the sweetly scented forests of Turkey’s Aegean coast, bee-keepers and their families harvest the royal jelly once sought after by sultans. The late Rosemary Baldwin, herself a royal jelly enthusiast, revisted the fruitful hives of Samsun Dağı, ancient Mount Mycale
A favourite decorative prop of Orientalists in the 19th century, the Oriental carpet was often painted with extraordinary realism. By Penny Oakley
With his victory against the Persians at the Battle of Issus, fought in 333BC on a plain in southern Turkey, Alexander the Great changed the course of history and started his transformation into demi-god. But his troops endured a hellish march to get there. Critic and art historian Brian Sewelll tried to retrace the Macedonian conqueror’s arduous route to the battlefield. Photographs by David George
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