Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A flaming mountain, St Nicholas, and ancient legends.

One of the many chimera atop Mt Olympos
Another day, another sweaty hike up a mountain.  This time it was  Mt Olympos to see the chimera (fire vents)at the top.  In legend this myriad of small craters with natural gas flames erupting from them are said to be the breath of the monster, Chimera,  part lion, part goat, part snake, which roamed the hillside.  A small ruined temple is nearby,  built to offer prayers for protection from the said monster.  According to Homer, Poseidon stood on these mountains and watched Odysseus escaping on a raft.  Poseidon then invoked a massive storm which shipwrecked Odysseus on the island of Scheria.  We are finding that everywhere we go in Turkey there is something fascinating to learn!

The ruined temple on Mt Olympos

Walking amongst the chimera

It was a very hot day to start with but even hotter amongst the flaming chimera.  We picked our way cautiously across the hillside being careful not to step into a gassy cauldron.  They are not obvious until you are nearly on top of them. Apparently the flames can be seen for quite a distance at night.  Some people even make the challenging hike up in the dark to see them which must be quite an eerie experience.

Ooops!  I think it might be ice cream time!

The beach at Cirali

Our van had broken down just as we arrived at the mountain and was still being repaired when we returned to it, however, we were very happy to have an excuse to sit in the peaceful pine forest and eat ice creams from the tiny shop there.

 All fixed and ready to go we headed to the nearby village of Cirali to have our first swim in the Mediterranean. The water was crystal clear and warm.  I noted in my diary that it was "refreshing and delicious" and very welcome after the hike.  After the swim some of us wandered further along the stony beach to the entry to the Hellenistic ruined city of Olympos.  We didn't go in but took time to admire the well preserved Lycian tombs at the entrance.

We ate lunch at a beach restaurant, typical Turkish style with long cushioned benches, which we were invited to lounge and relax on between swims.  For lunch I had what was becoming a great favourite of mine, lentil soup with a half lemon squeezed into it.

Inside St Nicholas' Basilica

St Nicholas statue, Demre
After lunch we travelled on to the town of Demre to see the St Nicholas Basilica.  This Byzantine (5th centuryAD) church is on the site where St Nicholas lived and worked in the 3rd Century AD.  St Nicholas is the patron saint of Russia and Greece and there were many very devout and visibly moved pilgrims from both countries visiting while we were there. He was famous as a protector of fishermen, travellers, children and the poor and was the model for Santa Claus due to his habit of leaving coins in shoes people left out side their houses. The Dutch Sinterklass, which is a corruption of 'Saint Nicholas', is the basis of the name Santa Claus. The basilica is gradually being restored and still has quite a few of the original floor mosaics and some ceiling frescoes.  I found it to be a calming and peaceful place.  We sat and had our photos taken at the statue of St Nicholas in the town square and wondered what he would think of Santa Claus and the commercialisation of Christmas.

From Demre we travelled on to Kas, arriving at this stunningly beautiful seaside town in time for a glorious sunset.